The Friday Salad

Two Fridays ago, while visiting Steve’s family, I had lunch at The Backyard in Milton, DE.  I’ve been there a few times before and enjoyed such treats as cauliflower steak and avocado fries (yes, you read that right), but this last time took the cake.  I knew I wanted to try and stay gluten-free (always a challenge at restaurants), and that quickly cut down on a lot of options.  Mostly I’m choosing from salads these days, but when there’s something like a black bean mango salad on the menu, I’m not complaining.  This was the mother of all salads.  It started with quinoa, included a somewhat spicy tomato and pepper salsa, black beans, barbecued chicken, and mango.  And in case that’s not enough, it came with a side of spicy ranch dressing.  So, creamy dressing and your feelings on meat aside, this is a pretty healthy meal.  As soon as I finished it, I knew I’d be making it myself soon.

Exactly one week later, I set out to recreate this little delight.  It actually doesn’t cost too much to make; the most expensive ingredients are the quinoa and the chicken, and you’ll have leftovers of those for other meals.  I always keep black beans in the cupboard, and I usually have some version of the Rotel tomatoes and chilies on hand too.  I’ve been working my way through a bag of quinoa for some time, and this was a great way to finish that up.  So when I started this, I needed mangoes, chicken, barbecue sauce, and ranch dressing.

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The beginning of something great.

Here’s what I did: I started the chicken and quinoa first.  The chicken needs to be absolutely slathered in barbecue sauce and baked at 350 (flipped once halfway through) for about 35 minutes.  After that, I turned the broiler on for about 5-7 minutes, flipping it halfway through that as well.  I wanted a really good coating of sauce on these because I’d be slicing them later on.  While that was baking, I cooked the quinoa in vegetable stock – that takes a total of about 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, I combined the black beans and Rotel in a saucepan with a little bit of diced red onion to punch it up.  I cooked this over low heat really just to combine the flavors.
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Once everything was cooking, I sliced up two mangoes and waited for everything else to finish up.  I did let the quinoa and the black bean mix sit and cool off for a few minutes, and I let the chicken rest for just a few minutes as well.  I didn’t necessarily want anything to be piping hot – it is a salad, after all.

And then it was just a matter of plating – my favorite part!  The only thing you can’t see here is the quinoa, but it’s hiding under there.

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I have to say, this was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever made.  I enjoyed it, Steve enjoyed it, and I will absolutely be making this again (Friday, perhaps?)!  I topped mine with some ranch dressing – not the healthiest, I know, but it balances the spicy flavors so well.

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Now is that a summer meal or what?

Mango Black Bean Salads

Ingredients

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 ripe mangoes, sliced

1 cup quinoa

1 can Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies

1 can black beans

8-10 ounces barbecue sauce

Ranch dressing

Optional: 1/4 red onion, diced

 

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

2. Place chicken breasts in glass baking dish; cover and toss with barbecue sauce

3. Bake for 30-35 minutes, flipping halfway through

4. While chicken bakes, cook quinoa according to package directions (typically, boil in vegetable stock 12-15 minutes and let sit until liquid absorbs).  Let cool.

5. In a saucepan, combine black beans, Rotel, and red onion (if using).  Cook over low heat for 8-10 minutes stirring regularly.  Let cool.

6. When chicken is cooked through, turn on broiler and broil for 5-7 minutes, flipping halfway through.

7. Once chicken is finished, let sit for a few minutes, then slice.

8. In each serving bowl, combine one large spoonful of quinoa and one of bean mix; arrange chicken and mango on top and top with Ranch dressing

 

Enjoy!

The Ingredient Chain

If I had a nickel for every time I said or heard “Grocery budgets are all about planning ahead,” I wouldn’t have to plan anything.  Unfortunately, life is not so simple.  Since I’ve started trying to eat at home most of the time, I’ve developed a real love-hate relationship with planning meals.  I might have a vague idea of what I want, go shop without a list, and then realize I’m missing ingredients, or I might have the fridge and pantry fully stocked only to have my work hijacked by dinners out or busy days turning into exhausted nights when I’m grading papers instead of cooking dinner.  This can be irritating for many reasons, but the main problem for me is that I hate to waste money and food.  I can’t stand having to throw away something that was perfectly good because I forgot to cook it, but what bothers me just as much if not more is having to throw away the leftover food that I didn’t need for a recipe.  It seems like such a waste to have to buy more than I need of something and not have a plan for the rest.  And since grocers tend to frown on you slicing off what you need in the produce department and leaving the rest behind, we need a better idea.

I don’t have all the answers (or so I’m told), but I have recently come up with a kind of a solution to this problem.  This was really just a last-minute epiphany before I went shopping, but with more planning than I put in, it could really become a long-term groove.

It’s getting a little warmer outside (yay!), so I was in the mood for a burger.  Not just any burger, though – a black bean burger.  I have a pretty amazing recipe that includes sweet potatoes, leeks, and lots of spices, and I actually have started to prefer that to a “real” burger.  The problem is that this recipe calls for two tablespoons of finely chopped leaks.  I present to you what you can buy at the grocery store:
IMG_6708Yeah, so not exactly two tablespoons.  I’ve wasted leeks before, but this time I started thinking: what else can I do with them?  Is there a way I can use those leftovers to make another meal?  Well, yeah.  Potato and leek soup.  Just my luck, a five-pound bag of potatoes was on sales for $1.99 this week.  Into the cart they went.

IMG_6712-2But then came the next problem.  I don’t need five pounds of potatoes for soup for two people!  I also have found through trial and error and wasted food that I don’t need five pounds of mashed potatoes for two people.  Problem solved.  I decided to use the leftover potatoes that I didn’t need for the soup made from the leftover leeks to make a smaller batch of mashed potatoes and have it with chicken.

IMG_6716You see where I’m going with this.  You might be thinking “But wait, three chicken breasts for two people doesn’t add up either.”  Well, it doesn’t, but I’ll still cook the third and one of us will eat it for lunch. I usually cook chicken paillard, which is quick and easy, and for that you cut off the tenders.  I’ve used the leftover breast and tenders to make a version of chicken marsala served with rice or GF pasta, or I’ve cooked it and tossed it into a salad.  My point is, I’m not worried about the leftover chicken – it will find a place.

So what’s my point here?  If you can look ahead a few days – realistically look ahead, that is – you can actually plan meals with overlapping ingredients and save money and food.  I first had the idea of cooking the burgers, and when I started considering my leftover ingredients, I let those guide me to my next dinner.  It sounds like a Food Network challenge, doesn’t it?  (You heard it here first.)  In reality, I’m in a stretch of having great meals with just enough left over for lunch the next day and using everything I can.  Let the cycle continue!

Thyme is On My Side

Yes, it is!  Tonight’s dinner was fantastic.  This afternoon, I Googled “chicken thyme recipes” and found this recipe from a website called “Inspired Taste.”  It looked relatively easy, so I gave it a try.  I just so happened to have one of the key ingredients on hand:

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I’ve tried growing herbs before from seeds, and it was mostly successful, but eventually they tanked.  Of the few I had, I’ve really missed basil and thyme.  When I was at Trader Joe’s last week, I stumbled upon a little shelf of herbs for three bucks a pop.  Unfortunately they didn’t have basil, but I did replace the thyme.

Dinner tonight was really easy.  I’ll let you read the recipe on the website, but I’ll tell you that I used my dutch oven because it’s the only cast-iron thing I own.  It turned out so well!

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I’m a big fan of browning chicken first before putting it in the oven, so this was perfect for me.  I served it on top of mashed potatoes, as shown on the website, and added a couple of lemon wedges.  I love lemon in tea and water, but I’ve recently started squeezing a little juice on my chicken and fish – oh, the flavor!

The thyme was a really nice touch to this dish.  I love herbs de Provence, so I can never really say no to any component of it.  I served this with some roasted Brussels sprouts and parsnips.  Normally, I’d probably have a salad, but I had the veggies in the fridge and wanted to use them before they went bad.  They were really great, and the parsnips added a sweetness that rounded out the meal nicely.

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I won’t say too much about the roasted Brussels sprouts here because I could write an entire post on them (and likely will soon).  For now, know this: if you cut them in half, put them cut-side-down in a baking dish with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast them in a 400-degree oven for 20-30 minutes until they brown, you’ll fall in love.

 

Till next time – happy cooking!

 

South of the Border

Well, it’s finally here: warm weather!  I still don’t trust it and am constantly checking the forecast, expecting a turn for the cold.  But it’s mid-April, so I think, although I hesitate to even think it, that we may be in the clear.

I’ve always enjoyed making and eating the lighter fare that comes with warm weather.  Don’t get me wrong: you can’t beat a hearty stew in the winter.  But coming out of hibernation can be just as good.  Encouraged by the warm weather, I’ve been on a Mexican food kick lately.  Last week, I made a great red beans and rice dish from a “Five Ingredient/Fifteen Minute” cookbook Mom gave me a few months back.  It’s so handy for those nights when I get home from work late!  I definitely want to make that again soon, but tonight I decided to go with an old favorite: chicken quesadillas.

I’ve always loved these, but I don’t think I’ve ever made them before.  Sure, I’ve made cheese and tomato quesadillas – they were a favorite after-school snack for a while in high school – but before I really began cooking a couple of years ago, I was always leery of cooking meat.  I couldn’t tell when it was done, I didn’t want to make myself sick, and the whole endeavor just seemed like too much bother.  Well, through practice, a few good recipes, and advice from Mom, I feel like I’ve finally mastered at least a few basic ways of doing it.  Tonight’s chicken was perfect, and I made a simple guacamole to go along with it.

So here I present to you a recipe in pictures.  I was going to write the whole thing up, list out ingredients, measurements, and so on, but I think you’ll manage without them.  This is a meal you can tailor to your needs and tastes.  I’ll tell you what I used along the way, but make it your own!

First of all, I browned two organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts in an olive-oiled skillet over medium-high heat (about five minutes on each side).  Then they went into an oil-sprayed baking dish and into a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes.  I didn’t photograph this prep.  Do you really want to look at raw chicken?  Me neither.

While the chicken was in the oven, I made the guacamole.  Here are the ingredients (some of this went into the quesadillas too):

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Salt and pepper, avocados, tomatoes, lime juice, red onion, and cilantro.

 

I’ve read and been told a lot about how to cut an avocado over the years, but it is this writer-chef’s opinion that if an avocado is really ready to be guacamole, you don’t need a knife… except to cut it in half, that is.

I put these chopped pieces of red onion in my little food processor with about a teaspoon of cilantro leaves (again, if you want more flavor, punch it up!).  I chopped them for about ten seconds, until they looked like this:

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Next, I cut the avocados in half and squeezed them out of their peels.  I diced up one tomato and mixed that all together with the chopped onions and cilantro and a sprinkle of salt, pepper, and lime juice.

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Oh. My. Yum.

Next, I diced up two more tomatoes (I was making two quesadillas) and got some shredded Cheddar cheese and whole wheat tortillas ready to go.  When it was time for the chicken to come out of the oven, I shredded it with two forks until it looked like this:

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Then it was time to put it all together.  I heated a skillet to medium-low and sprayed it very lightly with olive oil just to keep the tortillas from sticking.  Then I loaded them up – chicken, tomatoes, leftover onions and cilantro, and cheese.

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Remember that you just want to put your fillings on half so that you can fold it. 🙂  I put each one on the heated skillet for about three minutes on each side.  The chicken was hot, so really I was just melting the cheese and warming the tomatoes.  When they’re finished, move them to a plate and slice them with the pizza wheel.

And then Steve and I had a simple yet scrumptious dinner on the balcony.

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This is a great, quick meal (even quicker if you cook your chicken ahead of time!) for a summer night.  It’s easy, it’s healthy (chips aside – I know), and the flavors are just fabulous.

Till next time – happy cooking!  Cheers!

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Goat Cheese Heaven

A couple of month ago, my neighborhood Uno’s closed.  That’s probably a good thing, because it means I’ll have one less opportunity to eat greasy pizza, right?  I suppose.  But any tears I shed over this loss were not for the pizza… they were for the goat cheese salad.

I first discovered the goat cheese salad about two years ago at Sweetwater Tavern.  When I rediscovered it at Uno’s, which was much closer to me, I was thrilled!  Stop laughing – you would be too.  Picture it: walnut-encrusted, browned goat cheese surrounded by blueberries on a bed of arugula covered in a blueberry vinaigrette.  Like I said: heaven.

There is a recipe for a goat cheese salad with roasted beets and Brussels sprouts in my new favorite cookbook, The Eat-Clean Diet Recharged by Tosca Reno, and when I made that, it turned out great.  I was seriously surprised at how much I liked Brussels sprouts – and beets, for that matter!  It was light and filling at the same time – the point of healthy eating, right?

But the other day I got a real hankering for that blueberry salad.  One quick grocery trip later, and I was making this:

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It was so good I made another one the next night… and the night after that.  I promise I’ll take a night off tonight.

I decided to go ahead and slice/crumble the goat cheese up right from the start because that’s how it turns out anyway, and I was making a smaller portion than I’d have eaten in a restaurant.  I was missing the blueberry vinaigrette (Has anyone ever seen one in a store?  Tell me!), but my old reliable balsamic worked well.

Blueberry Goat Cheese Salad

– 1 cup baby arugula

– 3/4 – 1 cup blueberries

– 1/3 round goat cheese

– 1/4 cup chopped walnuts

– Balsamic vinaigrette (blueberry if you can find it or make it!)

Very simple: toss the ingredients together and savor.

I bought a small round of goat cheese at Wegmans and used about a third of it – maybe not even that much – and it was enough for two small salads.  Feel free to indulge in a little more, though. 😉  As you can see above, I used Newman’s Own dressing – I love the flavor.  To go with it, I cooked two chicken breast cutlets (my new favorite form of chicken to buy) with olive oil, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.  Then I had the sudden inspiration to “summer it up” and add some lemon.

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Let me tell you: good idea.  I’ve seen recipes for lemon chicken before, but all I did this time was juice a lemon and split the juice between the two pieces once they were cooked.  It was SO good.

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So, another great summery dinner created!  I think I’m starting to get the hang of this. 🙂

And on that note, happy first day of summer!  Get out there and enjoy it!

It Started with Mushrooms

I have to say it.  Last night, I made something truly delicious for dinner.  I’ve had an allergy-induced sore throat for a few days, and I was craving salty pasta, but rather than go to the old standby of pasta, butter, and salt, which is unhealthy to say the least, I decided to bring in a sautéed mushroom recipe I’ve made a few times.  I got the original recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, but altered it a bit to my tastes.  I added some chicken in to round out the meal and served it with a very summery berry salad.

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I started off by sautéing the mushrooms in ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat.  Once they’d cooked for about 15 minutes, I turned down the heat a little and added ¼ cup of white wine and a teaspoon of minced garlic, some salt, and pepper.  Then I added in about two tablespoons of balsamic white vinegar.  After that I added some scallions to change it up a little more.

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Right after I got the mushrooms started, I put the chicken on.  I’d marinated it in ¼ cup of white wine and three cloves of minced garlic, a little balsamic white vinegar, and salt and pepper.  I marinated it for not quite an hour because I was in kind of a rush, but you could let it go much longer for more taste.

I cooked the chicken in another skillet on the stove in about 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil for about 15 minutes (until it was done).   When it was finished, I cut it into medium-sized pieces.

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After everything was cooked and the pasta drained, I returned it to its pot and mixed in the mushrooms (and the leftover wine mix) and chicken.

In between preparing, cooking, and stirring that, I mixed up a really easy berry salad that complemented this dish well.

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I was never a fan of raspberries until I tried adding them to my berry salad last summer.  They give it a little kick and balance the flavors out well.  Like the salsa from my last post, you can really add anything you want to this kind of salad and use any dressing.  I’ve used poppy seed dressing before, but have lately become a fan of the balsamic vinaigrette.  I figured I’d stick with the balsamic theme of this meal anyway.  It was really pleasant how everything had some kind of balsamic vinegar in it.  It made it feel more like a meal rather than two dishes I just decided to have together, which is, of course, how it began.  Call it kitchen kismet.

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And speaking of tying everything together, I was even brave enough to have a small glass of the Sauvignon Blanc I’d cooked with.  I’ve heard the power of this wine described as “cat pee on a gooseberry bush” and actually saw a bottle so named today in the store.  It is strong, but drinking it with a meal that’s been mostly soaked in it made it work.

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This meal turned out really, really well.  I’m a big fan of things cooked in wine and also of berries, so I could probably cook this once a week and never tire of it.  To top it off, it was boyfriend-approved.  All-around win!

 

 

Balsamic Chicken and Mushrooms

–       ¼ cup plus 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

–       ½ cup white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)

–       4 tablespoons balsamic white vinegar

–       2 chicken breast cutlets

–       16 oz. baby bella mushrooms (I buy them already sliced)

–        1 box pasta (I used whole wheat rotini)

–       4 cloves minced garlic

–       Salt

–       Freshly ground black pepper

–       1 bunch scallions

01. Combine ¼ cup white wine, 2 tablespoons balsamic white vinegar, and 3 cloves garlic

02. Salt and pepper chicken breast cutlets and marinate in wine mixture for at least one hour

03. Cook pasta according to package directions

04. Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a medium-large skillet over medium heat

05. Stir in the mushrooms with salt and pepper and sauté for 10-15 minutes

06. After the mushrooms have cooked down, add ¼ cup wine, 1 clove garlic, and 2 tablespoons balsamic white vinegar, and reduce heat.  Using cooking shears, cut scallions into small pieces over the pan and cook for a few more minutes

07. In another skillet, heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat

08. Cook chicken in this pan until done, approximately 15 minutes, then cut into medium-sized pieces

09. Combine pasta, chicken, and mushrooms with extra wine and oil from pan and top with extra scallions

Berry Salad

–       1 cup baby spinach

–       4-5 strawberries

–       ¼ cup blueberries

–       ¼ cup red grapes

–       ¼ cup raspberries

–       4 tablespoons sunflower seeds

–       4 tablespoons sliced almonds

–       Balsamic vinaigrette

01. Slice grapes in half and strawberries in thin slices

02. Combine spinach, fruit, and nuts

03. Dress with balsamic vinaigrette

Enjoy!  I know you will. 🙂