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Monday, April 20, 2015

Southwest Salad in a Jar

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Sargento. The opinions and text are all mine.
Southwest Salad in a Jar
If you were to ask me which one show I'd like to appear on, my answer would be Chopped. It's actually one of the shows my whole family will sit down in front of the tv to watch. It's fun and fast-paced, and best of all, it inspires creativity and banter—in the show and at home. Each person is shouting out what they'd make with the four mystery ingredients for that round. Heck, I shout it out even when I'm watching by myself.

Sometimes I wonder if I'd actually be able to come up with a dish on-the-spot that would please the judges. I'm not going to lie, there are baskets that leave me stumped. My plan, should I apply and be accepted to the show, is to have a handful of easily adaptable, basic recipe ideas in my back pocket. I can customize and enhance the flavors of the basket ingredients once I see them. I wonder if I'd remember any of them in the heat of the moment.

Today, I'm excited to be taking part in a little "Chopped at Home" contest! Sargento cheese challenged me to get creative and make a Chopped-inspired dish right from the comfort of my own kitchen. Just like the contestants on the show, I was given 4 basket ingredients to work with, and free use of my pantry and fridge.

Pretty darned exciting, wouldn't you say? You put on your thinking caps, and I'll show you what I made with the Chopped at Home basket ingredients: Sargento® Off the Block 4 Cheese Mexican, boneless chicken tenders, couscous, and salsa.
Sargento Off the Block 4 Cheese Mexican
I know I basically had all the time in the world, but I tried to make myself behave as if I were actually under the same time constraints as the contestants on the show. You know, throwing out quick-fire ideas and seeing what would stick. My mind immediately associated these basket ingredients with the flavors of the Southwest. The Off the Block 4 Cheese Mexican blend features Monterey Jack, Mild Cheddar, Queso Quesadilla, and Asadero cheeses. Both salsa and chicken can be worked into a southwest-inspired dish easily. It was the darn couscous that tripped me up a bit.

Fortunately I wasn't actually under a 20 or 30 minute deadline, because my first idea was a flop. Let's not even talk about it. I would've been chopped. But then the idea of a salad in a jar came to mind. It may sound boring and ho-hum to some, but I'd never made one before (I've mentioned before that I'm usually late in the current "food craze" trends). The more I tried to come up with a different idea, the harder this one stuck in my head. Salad in a Jar, it was.

I know it seems a shame that I didn't transform the cheese into something ooey-gooey and melty, but I don't regret it. As good as this cheese is for melting, it's also a super tasty addition to a salad with southwest flair. My daughter actually walked in while I was making them, did a 4-finger grab into the bag and said "mmm, this cheese is so good". So that's that. Oh, and I am officially jumping on the salad in a jar craze. A few years late, as usual. 

Have you been thinking about what you want to make for the Chopped at Home contest?

Southwest Salad in a Jar
These salads with southwestern flair come together easily once you've done a little prep work. Salad in a jar goes from the fridge to your lunch bag in no time, and you get the benefit of knowing the ingredients that have gone into your to-go lunch!
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Southwest Salad in a Jar
by Heather Schmitt-Gonzalez
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Keywords: entree salad soy-free nut-free cheese chicken lettuce couscous American

Ingredients (serves 8)
    for the couscous:
    • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth or water
    • 1 tablespoon olive oil
    • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
    • big pinch salt
    • 1 cup couscous
    for the chicken:
    • 1 pound chicken breast tenders
    • 1 tablespoon taco seasoning (homemade or storebought)
    • 1-2 tablespoons oil
    for the creamy avocado lime dressing:
    • 1/2 of a ripe avocado, pitted and peeled
    • 1/2 cup sour cream
    • 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice, or to taste
    • salt, to taste
    • white pepper, to taste
    everything else:
    • 16 to 24 ounces chopped Romaine lettuce
    • 1 (15.25 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
    • 1 (15 ounce) can corn, drained and rinsed
    • 1 (8 ounce) package Sargento Off the Block 4 Cheese Mexican blend
    • 1 cup pico de gallo salsa
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
    • 48 tortilla chips
    also needed:
    • 8 "pint and a half" sized, wide-mouth canning jars with lids
    Begin by cooking the couscous and the chicken, then allowing them to cool to room temperature (or do it in advance and store in fridge). Next, make the dressing; this can be used immediately or stored in the fridge until you are ready to assemble your salads.

    making the couscous:
    Combine broth (or water), oil, paprika, and salt in a medium-sized pan over high heat until and bring to a boil. Stir in the couscous, cover, and remove from heat; let sit 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and then let sit until cool, stirring every once in a while to keep the grains from sticking. Once completely cool, assemble salads immediately, or refrigerate until ready to use.

    making the chicken:
    Pat chicken dry, sprinkle with seasoning. Heat pan with oil over medium-high. Saute until done, 6-7 minutes, flipping halfway. Let cool and tear or cut into pieces. Refrigerate until ready to use.

    making the creamy avocado lime dressing:
    Combine all in a small food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

    assembling the salads in the jars:
    Once everything is at room temperature (or colder), the easiest and quickest way to assemble your salads is to set everything out in a separate bowl or container in the order that it is added to the jar. After that, you simply need to set out your jars, then add everything to them, assembly line style.
    How to assemble a Southwest Salad in a Jar
    This is the order and amount of each ingredient, starting with #1, which will be at the bottom of the jar.
    1. 1 1/2 tablespoons dressing
    2. 2 tablespoons salsa
    3. 2 tablespoons black beans
    4. 1/4 cup couscous
    5. 2 tablespoons corn
    6. 2 ounces chicken
    7. 1 ounce cheese
    8. 1/2 tablespoon chopped cilantro
    9. 2 to 3 ounces Romaine (push it down gently until you have just enough room left for the chips)
    10. 6 tortilla chips (it's okay if they break a little)
    Once everything is in the jar in this order, screw on the lid. Store salad in a jar in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Add one to your insulated lunch bag in the morning before heading out the door to work or school. When ready to serve, remove the lid and turn the jar over onto a large plate.

    Feel free to substitute your favorite dressing or different ingredients to your tastes. It's really good with chipotle ranch dressing, too.
    Southwest Salad in a Jar
    Available in 30 versatile varieties, unique blends and distinct cuts, Sargento Shredded Cheese is always cut from blocks of 100% real, natural cheese. For more inspiration, check out the Sargento Pinterest page or visit for more information. The Chopped at Home Challenge gives viewers a chance to create their best recipe using the selected basket ingredients, including Sargento Shredded Cheese, for a chance to win $10,000!

    This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Sargento. The opinions and text are all mine.

    Southwest Salad in a Jar