Monday, March 30, 2015

Curried Chicken Salad


I could eat chicken salad every single day, and most of my girlfriends feel the same way.  My go to easy appetizer when I am in a hurry is Fresh Market rotisserie chicken salad on miniature croissants. YUM. But, as always, if you have the time it's often cheaper, healthier, and more fun to make it yourself. Here is my favorite variation on chicken salad, a curried version that's sure to please! 

As always, take this recipe and make it your own. Add celery, substitute a crunchy apple for the grapes and mango, or use almond slivers instead of cashews. Add green onions or diced red pepper, whatever suits your fancy. 

I like mine on a bed of greens or wrapped up in a lettuce wrap, and I like to add celery and a fuji apple for extra crunch. 

Curried Chicken Salad
adapted from Epicurious

1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup mayo
3/4 cup plain yogurt
3 teaspoons curry powder
1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice 
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 medium red onion, finely chopped (1 cup)
1 firm mango, peeled, pitted, and chopped
1 cup seedless red grapes, halved
1/2 cup salted roasted cashews, coarsely chopped

Bring 4 cups water to a simmer with chicken broth in a 3 quart saucepan. Add chicken and simmer, uncovered, for 6 minutes. Remove from heat and cover, then let stand until chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate to cook 10 minutes, then chop into 1/2-inch pieces. 


While chicken is cooling, whisk together mayonnaise, yogurt, curry powder, lime juice, ginger, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Add chicken, onion, mango, grapes, and cashews and stir gently to combine. 


* if making in advance, add the nuts just before serving to keep the salad crunchy.

Friday, March 6, 2015

White Turkey Chili


This has been a tough week in our house, as we said goodbye to our oldest boxer Heidi after almost 11 years of life. She was the sweetest, most endearing old soul and we all loved her dearly. To us she represented love. She loved strongly and completely, and asked for just a little in return. She saw us through our best and worst times, and always looked at us with kind eyes.
So what do you do when you lose someone you love? I have realized that you have two choices: you can sit and cry, or you can stay busy and try to remember the good times. You still cry, but you also continue to live. Life is full of joy and pain. You can't have one without the other.  I realized that #2 was the better option, so I washed the dog beds, the sheets, the floors, and I made big pots of comfort food. I chopped and filled the house with the smell of onions cooking in olive oil. I made my first Marcella Hazan recipe and we filled our empty hearts with pasta and red wine. I also made this chili. 
I am remembering all my memories with Heidi, and one of my favorites was sitting in our yard in Catawba on a towel with my camera and photographing the two of them sprinting, rolling in the grass, and lounging. They loved that great big yard, and they taught me how to use shutter speed priority to get shots like this one. 
This recipe is from my mom's friend Pat, and we are all crazy for it. She always makes a double batch because it freezes so well. She filled our freezer with this chili when I was home on maternity leave so we could have a real meal at night with no effort. This has become my favorite chili, and so I've decided to share the recipe today. We all need comfort food sometimes, to celebrate the joy and survive the pain of life. Please remember Heidi today, and remember that to love is to live. 


White Turkey Chili
from my mom's friend Pat Burton

1/4 cup vegetable oil 
1 cup chopped onion
2 Tbsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 pound boneless turkey or chicken breast, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 pound ground turkey
6 cups chicken stock
2/3 cup pearl barley
1 Tbsp chopped jalapeno peppers
1 tsp dried marjoram
1/2 tsp dried summer savory
2 cans garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in half cup of water
Chopped green onions
2 cups grated monterey jack cheese

Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until tender, about 5 minutes. Add cumin and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add cubed turkey breast and ground turkey. Saute until no longer pink, 4 minutes.

Add the chicken stock, pearl barley, chickpeas, jalapeno, marjoram, and summer savory to turkey mixture Cover and simmer until barley is almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. Stir in cornstarch mixture, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve topped with cheese and scallions. 

*this is the original recipe from my mom's friend. I used olive oil, increased the barley to 1 cup and skipped adding the cornstarch to thicken. I also used pepper jack cheese and added several dashes of Tabasco to the pot for a little heat. 

*when my mom makes this recipe to freeze, she adds the cheese at the final step so it melts into the chili. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chinese Night!


Who doesn't love a fun theme night? We've always been fans of Mexican night (with katie-ritas), breakfast for dinner, and homemade pizza night. I decided to start a new theme night, and I wish you could have see Josh's smile when I told him my plan! 

Who doesn't love Chinese take out? My only complaint - the grease, the sodium, and the swollen fingers - YUCK! I feel terrible the day after, what I've dubbed the "chinese hangover". Why not make good Chinese food at home? I started out by making Alton Browns baked brown rice (here is the link) - it's easy and the rice is perfect every time. 
Here are a few other tips I found to make great fried rice:
  1. A hot wok - flick drops of water on your wok, beads of water should evaporate in 1 to 2 seconds when the wok is heated. Add the peanut oil to the wok initially OFF the heat and swirl the oil around on the wok. If the wok smokes like crazy then it's too hot - start over. Otherwise, add aromatics first (ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, red chiles) off the heat so the aromatics do not burn. Return the wok to heat and add veggies. 
  2. Leftover cold rice - at least a day old
  3. Preparation/Organization - cut all your ingredients to a uniform size before your wok is hot and have them organized around your wok. 
  4. Ground white pepper 
  5. In China fried rice is peasant food and a way to use up leftovers, so there are no rules. Have fun, be adventurous, and use what's in your fridge or garden. 
  6. HOT wok! 

Chinese Chicken Fried Rice
3 large eggs
peanut oil
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves, cut into thin strips
2 tsp sesame oil
kosher salt 
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup peas and carrots, thawed (I used a frozen bag)
4 cups cold, cooked rice (I use brown rice and followed this cooking method)
6 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
2-3 Tbsp soy sauce
Sriracha

Beat 3 eggs with a whisk and add salt and pepper. Heat a splash of peanut oil in hot wok and make an omelette using half the beaten eggs. Turn onto a plate and repeat with remaining eggs. Place one omelette on top of the other and coarsely chop. Set aside. 

Toss chicken strips with 1 teaspoon sesame oil and season with salt. Heat 2 tablespoons peanut oil in hot wok and stir-fry the chicken strips until lightly golden, about 2 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, peas and carrots and stir-fry for 2 minutes or until onion has softened. Pull mixture into bowl with chopped egg and keep beside wok. Add 2 more tablespoons of peanut oil and 1 teaspoon sesame oil to hot wok, and then add the cooked rice and green onions, tossing and mixing until very hot. Sprinkle with soy sauce and mix together. Return chicken, vegetable and egg mixture and mix well. 

Garnish with scallions and serve with Sriracha. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Robin's Super-Healthy Lentil Soup




I was bent on getting in my kitchen over the weekend and chopping. Discovering the action of cooking again - with a sharp knife and cutting board, my favorite pandora station, and a glass of cab, all the while shimmying around the kitchen in my Ugg slippers. I'd been looking forward to an afternoon off, a little "me time" in the sanctuary that is my kitchen. 


I've been on a Shauna Niequist kick lately, and just ordered two more of her other books from Amazon Prime (cold tangerines and bittersweet). My very favorite is Bread & Wine, and it holds a special place in my heart. When I'm in a funk, a couple of chapters will get me back on track, and remind me that we are all human and we all struggle. She tells us to open the front door, bring in friends, drink bubbly champagne, laugh, cry, and be our real selves. Be present over perfect. Such solid advice. 
one of my favorite quotes on canvas - for sale on Lindsay Letters

I decided that I wanted to chop mirepoix - a fancy word for a mixture of chopped onions, carrots, and celery, which is the base of every hearty lentil soup. Shauna just so happens to have a recipe for lentil soup in Bread & Wine, so I called it serendipity and made a loaf of homemade rye bread on the side. Remember to add the splash of balsamic at the end! 
Robin's Super-Healthy Lentil Soup
from Bread & Wine (p. 137)

3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups onions, chopped
1 cup celery stalks, chopped
1 cup carrots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups lentils
1 (14.5) ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
Balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large heavy saucepan over medium high heat. Add onions, celery, carrots, and garlic; saute until vegetables begin to turn brown, about 15 minutes.

Add broth, lentils, and tomatoes with juice, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Slow Cooker Salsa Verde Chicken



All of us get stuck in a rut from time to time, and I am emerging from a major cooking rut. I used to love cooking us dinner on my days off, but in my new life that includes a 4 month old, I am fizzling out on energy and enthusiasm come 6pm. By the time Josh walks in the door, I really just want a giant hug and a dirty vodka martini. We scrap together dinner - and some nights it's my favorite popcorn with truffle salt and parmesan cheese, or triscuits and dubliner. 

A few weeks ago, Blue Apron came to my rescue. My friends have raved about BA, and basically the complete recipe is delivered to your doorstep, with all ingredients on ice and step-by-step instructions and pictures to walk you through the recipe. We signed up for 2 weeks (3 meals per week), and made every meal together in the kitchen. Needless to say, it was a BLAST. We cooked together while Charlie napped in the evening, and the instructions were very easy to follow. It didn't feel like work, it was just fun. Our favorite recipe was center cut pork chops with beet, heirloom carrot and hazelnut salad. The beets made the recipe shine, and the pork chops were seared to perfection and continuously topped with herb-infused butter while sizzling in the skillet. Our least favorite was fried rice, because the rice was cooked right then and the ONLY way to get good fried rice is to use day old rice. But, in the end, it was just what I needed to get back in my kitchen. 
If there is one thing that I want to teach Charlie it's how to regroup, get back up,  and get back in the game. We all fall down from time to time. One of my favorite quotes is if you're not failing, you're not trying. It's the getting back up that matters, with a new plan and fresh outlook. I am now back on my feet, with a new approach for our life that I'm optimistic will work. On weekdays that I am on baby duty while Josh works, I am going to use my slow cooker and make recipes in the morning when I have the most energy. I have an entire "crockpot" pinterest page with tons of recipes that look amazing. Here is a link back to my very favorite slow cooker white chicken chili

Shredded chicken in the slow cooker is a no brainer. It takes just a few minutes to set up, and the chicken is so moist and easy to shred. We used this chicken in burritos topped with pico de gallo, black beans and avocado, and in salads and ramen soup. We love spicy food so I used a jalapeno and added Tapatio hot sauce at the end. It would also be perfect in enchiladas  or a Chipotle bowl with brown rice. 
If you have any favorite slow cooker recipes, please share them with me! 


4-Ingredient Slow Cooker Salsa Verde Chicken
from Gimme Some Oven

6 boneless chicken, skinless chicken breasts
2 cups salsa verde
1 (12 oz) bottle of beer (I used Miller Lite)
2 teaspoons cumin
salt and pepper
1 jalapeno, diced (I left the seeds in for extra spice)

Add chicken to the slow cooker. Top with salsa verde and beer, and sprinkle with cumin and season with a few generous pinches of salt and a pinch of pepper. Use a pair of tongs or a spoon to turn the chicken so that both sides are coated. Cover. Cook for 3-4 hours on high heat, or 7-8 hours on low heat.

The chicken is ready when easily shreds with a fork. Shred the chicken in the slow cooker, and toss with the juices. Then remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and serve warm. Or, store the stredded chicken in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, or in the freezer for up to 3 months. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Greek Spaghetti Squash Boats


Spaghetti squash boats are so easy! I buy my spaghetti squash at Walmart, but am set on growing them in my garden this spring. They are so versatile, and in the past I have stuffed them with a traditional bolognese sauce or Cincinnati chili. One of my favorite easy sides is spaghetti squash with a little olive oil, salt, and parmesan cheese. 

This week, I wanted to mix it up and found this recipe with my favorite Greek toppings - artichoke hearts, feta, pine nuts, spinach, and kalamata olives.  We absolutely loved this recipe, as the flavor is so bright and fresh. 
In my favorite parenting book, Bringing Up Bebe, there are chapters devoted to introducing children to the joy of food. There is no culture that takes cuisine as seriously as they do in France. It's normal to step into the neighborhood creche (French daycare) and find 3 year olds eating manchego with slices of ripe pears. They assume children are young adults with the ability to appreciate amazing food. Parents strive to make their children's plates colorful and flavorful. It is my goal to bring Charlie up as a baby foodie, and one day I hope he will love my colorful spaghetti squash boats! 

Greek Spaghetti Squash Boats
serves 2

Spaghetti squash
2 chicken breasts, grilled and diced (I seasoned with Cavender's greek seasoning) 
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup kalamata olives
2 cloves garlic
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups spinach
3 Tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/4 cup feta cheese
1/2 cup artichoke heart, roughly chopped
10 cherry tomatoes, diced

Roast spaghetti squash (cut in half, scoop out seeds, roast at 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, then scrape out inside). Save shells for serving. 

In a dutch oven or skillet over medium heat, add olive oil. Once hot, add garlic and onion and saute for about 5 minutes. Then add spinach and cook until wilted. Add artichoke hearts, tomatoes, and kalamata olives. Add spaghetti squash and chicken, and stir well. 

Scoop spaghetti squash mixture back into shells, and top with pine nuts and feta cheese. Serve while hot. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

GaryTalk #9: No Excuses

If you're new to the blog, or haven't been introduced to my "Gary Talks", each talk focuses on a principle that was drilled into my head during the eighteen years that I lived under my parents roof. Mind you, not a year more, as it was also drilled into my head that when I graduated high school I was getting the boot. I was allowed back over summers, with the expectation that I worked and saved money. No free lunch, maybe in the White House but not in my parents house.  

     GaryTalk #1: Work Hard Play Hard

     GaryTalk #2: Be Self-Sufficient

     GaryTalk #3: Live a Simple and Frugal Life

     GaryTalk #4: Be Your Own Person

     GaryTalk #5: Less Talking, More Doing

     GaryTalk #6: Embrace Change

     GaryTalk #7: The Gary McLean Pep Talk

     GaryTalk #8: Choose Your Crowd


I was thinking about my mom and dad on the treadmill this morning, I think because I am missing them and they are traveling. Well that got to to thinking about about a new Gary Talk. 

I went back to work a few weeks ago, and what I quickly realized after spending months at home with Charlie that #1 I was thrilled to be around adult conversation again, #2 I love my job and work with awesome people, and #3 that most folks make a lot of excuses. One particular patient gave me at least 5 reasons on why they had stopped taking their blood pressure medication - too expensive, plain forgetful, feel great without it, on and on. One by one, I could have broken down every excuse. Did you call your doctor and let them know you could not afford a name brand medication? Do you use a pill organizer? Do you understand why hypertension is called the "silent killer"?

Instead, I just laughed inside my own head. Was it funny? Not particularly. But, I realized in that moment, that each and every one of us is guilty of doing the same thing. Often, we blame work for keeping us too busy, too tired, or too stressed. We blame our circumstances, the lack of money or time. Sorry, just had "too much going on" and "feeling under the weather" are ones that I hear often, sometimes out of my own mouth. But if something is really important, we make time for it and do it instead of making up an excuse. 

When I was little, we got called on it. Why didn't you take out the trash? Why did you get a B on that test? Why did you miss your curfew? As adults, we have to call ourselves on it. No one wants to hear your excuse. Be honest.  If you make a mistake, didn't reach a goal, said you were going to do something and then didn't, just look in the mirror, own it, and do better next time.