My Little Victory Garden: Entry Six o’Clock Dinner Secrets

My heirloom black seed lettuce will be ready for its first cutting this week.

I play lots of food games, kitchen games or garden games.  Mostly with myself, but they still entertain me for hours.  One of these activities is a game I like to call, “Beat the Restaurant.”  It involves ordering a dish I really love from a restaurant until I have “cracked the recipe code” in my own home kitchen.  Sometimes this takes a couple of years because we don’t really go out to eat that often, and the chances of Mick agreeing to go to the same restaurant just so I can order a dish I’m trying to deconstruct aren’t very high.  So what I’m about to share with you is special, and it has to do with my little Victory Garden.

My Garden Report for this past week?  Things are definitely coming along.  Spinach is now ready for early picking.  And I did, of course.  I cut about 1.5 cups of the most beautiful little perfectly deep green leaves and thought to myself, “I’m going to share my recipe for Cafe 501’s Spinach, Pear and Blue Cheese Salad!”  Other restaurants serve something similar, but I’ve never had it anywhere except Cafe 501 where they use the perfect dressing.  Yes, it’s perfect (in my head)…for a LOT of things.  I’ll tell you about the “lot of things” after I tell you about the salad, deal?  Here are a couple more photos for my garden report section:

Cauliflower is going gangbusters now. When it begins to make, I'm going to try what they do in California. They pull the leaves up over the head and tie them to keep it nice and white. I'll probably try this on ONE plant this year to see how it goes.
HERE is the reason for today's post. Mmm.

I didn’t have quite enough spinach for my whole family’s meal, so we went to the Farmer’s market at OSU-OKC on Saturday and purchased a few things.  I bought extra spinach from a new producer I’d never met.  They had b-e-a-utiful stacks of onions, lettuce, spinach, bok choy and basil.  I picked up basil and more spinach from them.  They allowed me to take a photo, but I’m not sure being in front of the camera is really their thing.  Which, of course, makes them all that much more endearing.


Yang Farm of Tulsa really "brought it" to the OSU-OKC farmer's market on Saturday.

I suppose you would learn this for yourself, but I want to write a note about washing spinach.  Because of the knobbly leaves, grains of sand or dirt can hide well, so I usually triple-wash.  That goes for all my greens.  There’s nothing that ruins a good dinner while eating salad more than that gritty crunch in your teeth!  Once you’ve washed and dried your spinach, it will usually keep for a while.  Mine has kept for two weeks with a small piece of paper towel in the container to soak up any moisture the leaves purge, but we usually eat it before that many days have passed.  Now – on to the salad.

The basic elements will be: crispy bacon, D’Anjou pears, lovely blue cheese (crumbled), candied or sugared pecans or walnuts, spinach and the secret dressing.  First, we’ll make the nuts.  I told you last week I would be using the Honey Hill honey I purchased from Crestview Farms, and I picked up some organic pecans from Peachcrest (click that link to watch an awesome video about Peachcrest!) farms at the market, so we’re going to have pecans on this salad.  I chose a recipe for Honey-Pecan Candy from Food.Com because of the ingredients.  I am using more nuts than it calls for because this is actually meant to be a candy and I want to break it apart in small pieces for the salad.  You’ll need…


6 T. sugar, 3 T. honey, 3 T. butter, 1 t. salt (my modification), 1.5 cups pecan pieces (my modification).
Stir sugar, honey, butter and salt in heavy medium skillet over medium heat until sugar dissolves, butter melts and syrup comes to a simmer.


Add pecans. Cook until syrup turns deep caramel color and bubbles thickly. Stir nuts occasionally to coat (about 9 minutes – although mine was about 6).
Pour all the cooked pecan mixture onto foil (I use my Wilton silicone baking sheet), and separate the pecans as much as you can. They’ll cool quickly, then you can break them up into tiny pieces for your salads, or leave part of it as candy for your family. Or, you can eat some. I chose options one, two AND three.

The next thing you’ll need to make is the dressing.  This is the secret part.  This dressing is the same one Pepperoni Grill uses for their Fresh Mozzarella and Tomato salad.  The Pepperoni Grill dish is a Caprese-type recipe and I’ll share that with you at some point, but once you have the dressing…it’s basically just cutting and assembly.  You can also use this dressing on sandwiches and my daughter does this quite a bit.  She loves it!  Actually, my whole family loves it and they asked me to make it so many times I taught them…then, they still asked me to make it (smile).

All you need is: 1 c. olive oil, 1/2 c. balsamic vinegar, 1 T. grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 T. Dijon mustard, 1 tsp. sea salt, ground black pepper, and 3 smaller or two larger cloves of garlic – peeled and cut up a bit.  Put all these ingredients into the blender and blend until the dressing is emulsified and the color of light mud.  Yup – you’re gonna eat something that looks like mud.  The mustard and cheese help the emulsification process and help hold this together so it doesn’t separate.  Here are a few photos of the process:


Here are your ingredients…
I like the way the olive oil looks when pouring the balsamic vinegar in…
Okay, there’s everything in the blender…just waiting to be whirled around! There’s my camera-hog strap.  It wanted to be in the photo too!
See? It looks like mud, or maybe a chocolate shake when it’s ready.
See how it is thick and clings to the spatula? That’s how you know you’ve blended your dressing enough.

Now for the easy part.  You just build the salad.  Depending upon whether you do this as a large salad for a group or an individual salad for yourself, you might want to layer it.  In these photos I’ve done a larger salad for about four people.  I’m layering spinach, bacon, blue cheese crumbles, a few pecans, and dollops of dressing.  I’ll build two stacks of these layers, then add my pear slices and a center of more bacon, blue cheese, dressing and pecans:


I think I forgot to show you these ingredients. I'm assuming you're pretty sharp and could have figured the recipe out just fine without them. But, the photograph made me hungry so I'm sharing it with you as well.
Okay, NOW I'm beginning the layering process...


Okay, HERE is a completed salad. How you arrange the pears, bacon, cheese,'s your own little freestyle show! I just wanted to give you an idea of what the finished product looks like. When I eat this salad, I have to really watch myself because I tend to go into "ravenous and unsightly eating mode." It's not pretty...but man, the salad is good!

Now, for next time I was going to share my secret lemon-thyme salad dressing recipe with you.  It’s a lovely and fresh dressing that I could also eat on sandwiches or with several foods…and goes great with my lettuce I’ll be cutting this week.  However, I was hunting around under the leaves for the thyme and something terrible happened.  Okay, it’s not “terrible,” but it was pretty surprising.  Here’s the deal…

I had Tonks with me in the front yard.  Tonks is really feeling her oats now that she’s spending more time outside, and I think she’s turning into a cow.  Occasionally I see her look around, all happy and dog-like, then she just puts her head down into the yard and takes a big chomp of grass.  She doesn’t really swallow it so much as she just plays around with it like a toy.  I should have remembered that before I took her out to clean the leaves from my herb bed.  I had just uncovered my thyme, smiled because it was indeed growing tiny green leaves again, then POUNCE, GRAB, PULLLLL, CHomp CHOmppppp.

Ah! My thyme! Eaten by a herb-chomping beast, right before my eyes!  I had my camera with me so here are a few photos of the process.  The first was of her foot…she stomped on it (to kill it?) before grabbing it with her teeth! However, the shot was so blurry I left that one out.  Here’s the rest of the story…


Here’s Tonks just hanging out, looking around. Dum-de-dee-dee, dummm…no big thing going on.
This is after she trounced on it. She ran it over to the sidewalk, dropped it, then commenced the eating process.
Chomp, chomp, chomp, gulp. Not even one little guilty look at me in the process!

So what are having next week?  I’m not sure.  I have a feeling it will be wilted lettuce, souffles or perhaps some kind of steak.  I DO know, however, that tomorrow after work I’m swinging by Cordero Farms to pick up some Italian lamb sausage.  My dog has NOT eaten my oregano, so we may be having Italian food!


Entry FIVE / Entry SEVEN



6 thoughts on “My Little Victory Garden: Entry Six o’Clock Dinner Secrets”

  1. Kelly,
    I enjoyed your entire recipe process as entertainment, and I actually might make your salad dressing. I don’t put nearly the effort into my meal preparation that you do, but I do like to eat. I really like the pictures to go with the process. I think I better tell Martha Stewart to watch out. I actually wondered about the T instead of t, before you corrected it.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Nancy! I’m having a problem with capital T’s when writing recipes because many times they are preceded with a period from “c.” or something, so the computer wants to make things into Tablespoons instead of teaspoons…oh, the nerve! (or, as the Lion on the Wizard of Oz would say…’da noive!’) P.S. OKC Thunder rules!

  2. Matt Burch from Urban Agrarian carries Yang’s produce at his Sunday market next to Cheevers if you miss the OKC Saturday market. Got some of their spinach and baby bok choi a couple of weeks ago, and it was the bomb! I’m going to try your dressing recipe, thanks!

    1. Thanks for the tip re: the Urban Agrarian. I’ve heard of that place, but didn’t know the location. BTW – I just looked over my post and saw that I put “T” salt instead of “t” salt. Big mistake. It’s corrected now.

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