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Chef's Hat: Use versatile strawberry in salads, sandwiches

Strawberry salad. Metro Creative Graphics, Inc.

The great thing about strawberries is they go well with pretty much everything. Throw them in your breakfast cereal in the morning or on your bowl of ice cream at night and on just about everything in between.

For years I've been making a Strawberry-Spinach Salad with a Balsamic Dressing. That is a great salad, but it does take a bit of prep time and it was time to expand my horizons. A simple combination of ingredients in my refrigerator turned into a quick and easy-to-throw-together salad. Adding leftover chicken breasts turned it into a very simple salad, but elegant meal.

If you're looking for a different take on the everyday, ordinary grilled cheese sandwich, try a grilled cheese sandwich with strawberries. This is not your typical "cheese" sandwich, but a delightful dish great for breakfast, lunch or even dinner.

Chicken and strawberries always go well together and the flavors of these ingredients along with a balsamic dressing make a scrumptious sandwich. The original recipe called for sourdough bread, which is not something I usually have on hand. Instead I used wheat bread and couldn't have been more pleased.

Don't get stuck in a rut when it comes to strawberries. These tasty fruits are much more than a topping for your late evening ice cream. Try them in a salad or sandwich and you'll open up a brand new world. Happy Eating!

Strawberry Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing

  • ½ bunch of romaine lettuce, approximately 4 cups (you can substitute spinach if desired)
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 cups halved fresh strawberries
  • Bottled poppy seed dressing
  • Grilled chicken breasts (optional, will turn this salad into a full meal)

Place the lettuce, onion, strawberries and cucumbers in a large bowl. Mix gently. Place heaping amounts onto plates and serve with poppy seed dressing.

If desired, slice the grilled chicken breasts into thin pieces and place on top of individual salads.

Strawberry Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Adapted from www.rotinrice.com

  • 4 slices bread (any variety works)
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 6 fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Maple syrup, if desired for dipping

Place the bread slices on a cutting board or other clean work surface. Cut the cream cheese into 8 thin slices. Place 3 slices of cream cheese vertically on 2 slices of the bread.

Place 2 rows of sliced strawberries horizontally on top of the cream cheese. Then place a slice of cream cheese on the top. Top the sandwich with the remaining slices of bread.

Heat butter on the stove in a grill or frying pan. Place sandwiches in the pan and allow them to cook for 2 minutes. Flip and cook for another 2 minutes. Cook just until sides are toasty brown in color.

If desired, serve with warm maple syrup.

Balsamic Chicken & Strawberry Panini

Adapted from www.theleangreenbean.com

  • 4 slices thick wheat bread or other crusty type bread
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • ½ cup spinach leaves
  • 6 ounces cooked and sliced chicken (leftover grilled chicken works well in this recipe)
  • 4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
  • ¼ cup mashed avocado (if you don't care for avocado you can leave this out)

Spread the butter on one side of each slice of bread. Layer the spinach onto two slices of bread - on the non-buttered side. Top with the chicken.

Gently drizzle the balsamic vinegar over the chicken/spinach. Add the strawberries and then place the slices of mozzarella on top of the strawberries. Spread the avocado on the non-buttered side of the remaining two slices of bread. Place on top of the chicken/spinach/cheese slices with the avocado side in.

Place in a panini press and cook until the outsides are golden brown and the cheese is melted. If you do not have a panini grill, heat a frying pan to medium heat and place the sandwich in the pan. Top the sandwich with a heavy lid and cook 2 to 3 minutes and then flip the sandwich over and cook an additional 3-4 minutes on the other side, just until the bread is golden brown. Serve immediately.

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