Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Open Your Mind, Open the Bag: Fresh Express Recipe Challenge

I'm not going to lie, I usually don't buy bagged lettuce or salad kits.  Why you ask? Because, I've experienced some less than appetizing surprises upon opening the bag, so I much prefer to buy the seperate components of my salad.  

Despite my fear of bagged vegetation, I was excited to be one of the bloggers chosen to receive some coupons to try Fresh Express salad kits as part of the Foodbuzz Tastemaker Program.  I know that seems contradictory, but I was eager to creatively showcase Fresh Express salad kits as more than a plain bag of lettuce or spinach.  Furthermore, I wanted to see if a fresh bagged salad was an oxymoron or something that was actually possible since Fresh Express claims to to take "freshness very seriously."  

Before I even touched a leaf, I promised myself that I would keep my recipes as simple possible so that they would be feasible to create after a busy and tiring workday as I'm always striving for quick, easy, yet flavorful meals.  After making this vow to myself, I broke into the bags like a kid on Christmas morning to see what I was working with and was surprised to find crunchy, green lettuce and spinach, chicken with grill marks, cheese that wasn't nuclear orange, and nuts that weren't pulverized.  That's it Fresh Express, rock my world and prove to me that there are quality bagged salad products.

Strawberry Fields Kit

For dinner last night I decided to try the Strawberry Fields mix.  In this bag, you will find tender baby spinach, crunchy toasted almonds, and sweet yet slightly tart dried strawberries. I'd never eaten dried strawberries before so they captivated me and I was motivated to create flavors to highlight them.  As I got to thinking, I realized that strawberries always make me think of two things: summertime and balsamic vinegar.  As a result of this thought process, I prepared balsamic marinaded shrimp to serve as the protein for my salad.  Great decision, if I say so myself.  The sweet acidity of my marinade played nicely with the dried strawberries.  Since the marinade was an addition to, rather than an overpowering of the shrimp, their fresh and slightly buttery taste still shined through and paired nicely with mild and delicate sweetness of the baby spinach.  The almonds provided a nice textural change, often serving as a surprise crunch in each bite and the tangy strawberry vinaigrette included in the kit tied all of the flavors together seamlessly. 

With a belly full of salad, I made my lunch for the next day so I wouldn't have to pack it this morning before work.  Since I'm growing tired of my lunch routine, I decided to use a bag of Fresh Express Chicken Taco Kit to make myself a nice wrap.  I'm sure you're thinking "umm, a wrap isn't interesting." You're right...usually it's not.  But! I made a spicy avocado spread using the spicy ranch dressing included in the kit (recipe at the end...just keep reading).  See, doesn't that make my wrap just a little sexier? 

The rest of the preparation came easy since cheese, crunchy lettuce, crispy tortilla strips, and juicy grilled chicken were already done for me thanks to the kit.  But because I can never leave well enough alone, I also added in tomatoes and purple onion for a little something extra. 

I enjoyed my wrap at lunch today, I really loved the avocado spread that I made using the dressing included in the kit.  It was a cool, smooth, spicy flavor with a burst of freshness from the lime juice and cilantro.  I felt like I was eating a wrap from a fancy sandwich shop, and a few people even asked me where I bought it!  I was flattered, and in love with my new lunch addition. 

The best part about the dishes that I created is that I did them both, simultaneously, in about half an hour (probably less to be honest)
.   I hope that my meals have inspired you to look at a bagged salad mix as more than just a bag of lettuce or a pre-made product that is out of your culinary control.  Personally, I will definitely be adding a few Fresh Express blends to my grocery list because they make great meals on their own or they can provide a strong base to reduce the time that you have to spend in the kitchen to make a healthful and flavorful meal.   

Balsamic Shrimp and Strawberry Salad:

The Goods:
  • 1 bag Fresh Express Strawberry Fields Salad Kit
  • 1/2 pound of large shrimp, deveined
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic
  • 3 1/2 teaspoons of brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of parsley flakes (optional)
The Deed:
  • Whisk vinegar, olive oil, sugar, and garlic in a bowl until brown sugar is disolved and oil and vinegar become one.
  • Place shrimp in the bowl and allow to marinde in the refrigerator for at least 10 but no more than 15 minutes
  • Cook shrimp on a hot buttered grill pan (or a normal pan if you don't have a grill pan)
  • Pour the contents of the strawberry kit into a bowl, place cooked shrimp on top, and enjoy with as little or as much of the included dressing as you would like.
    Southwest Inspired Wrap with Spicy Avocado Cilantro Spread:

    The Goods:
    • 1 bag Fresh Express Chicken Taco Salad Kit
    • 1 ripe avocado, cubed
    • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro (more or less to your test, I personally love cilantro)
    • juice of one lime
    • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
    • 2-3 cloves of garlic
    • Tortillas (whatever kind you like, I used the big flour ones)
    The Deed
    • Toss ranch dressing from the kit, cilantro, garlic, avocado, salt, and lime juice into a blender or food processor and blend until all veggies are incorporated and the mixture is smooth.
    • Generously spread the avocado spread on your tortilla and add the remaining ingredients of the kit.  Also feel free to add in olives, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos...whatever your little heart desires, those are just some of my recommendations.


    1. I love the sound of dried strawberries with balsamic vinegar! I'll have to seek out some dried strawberries. You've got some great flavors going on here, and you can't beat these recipes for a quick meal!

    2. Thanks Jeanne, it definitely felt fancy pants but was so quick to make :)

    3. Try subbing tart cherry juice for balsamic sometime. I liker R.W. Knudson Family Organic "Just Tart Cherry Juice." It's kind of expensive for juice, but cheaper than good balsamic. Its an interesting flavor, good for use in vinaigrettes and marinades for salmon, chicken and pork.

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