Monday, April 29, 2013

Summer Chicken Salad

You guys.

You guys, you guys, you guys!

I am so excited to share this salad with you!

This salad is my idea of salad perfection. Salad Nirvana, if you will. (And I will.)

It comes from Cafe Zupas, as restaurant chain in Utah. We used to go often, as there was a location not too far from my office back in the day. This was my standard order. (But everything there is great -- if you get a chance you should go!) But since there's no Cafe Zupas out where we live now, I am delighted to be able to recreate this in the comfort of my own kitchen.

If you know me well, you can be no stranger to the fact that salads are not usually my cup of tea. I'll endure them, but given the choice I'll usually go a different direction. Not so with this salad. I could eat this every day and be a pretty happy camper.

It's a sweet salad -- sweet berries, sweet grapes, slightly sweet cashews, all covered in a sweet, fresh strawberry vinaigrette. But it's also well balanced, somehow. Springtime in a bowl. We served ourselves gigantic helpings with a side of toothsome bread to sop up any vinaigrette lingering at the bottom of the plate, and ate until we were stuffed full!

At least half the charm is the incredible dressing. So perfectly tangy and sweet. It uses fresh strawberries and red wine vinegar -- it is amazing. You can easily double the recipe and make enough to have on hand all the time, but even with the measurements I've included, you'll, happily, have some to spare. I have great plans for the remainder still stashed in my fridge.

But there's no need to take my word for it when you can make it yourself so easily!

And just in case you need an excuse, I hear it's "National Salad Day" on Wednesday, kicking off "National Salad Month" the entire month of May. So make this for "Dole National Salad Day", or any day, really.

Summer Chicken Salad
from Cafe Zupas


for the salad
1 bag salad mix of your choice, or two heads lettuce, washed and cut into bite-size pieces -- we used one head romaine and one head butter lettuce, but anything fresh and crisp will do. Spinach would be great in this!
1 1/2 c. sliced strawberries
1 c. red grapes, sliced in half
1 c. cubed cooked chicken
1/4 c. finely chopped cashews

for the vinaigrette
1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/2 c. canola or other mild-tasting oil
2 strawberries, sliced
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 c. sugar

In a large bowl, toss together salad greens. Top with strawberries, grapes, and chicken. Sprinkle over cashews. (If desired, you can also layer the strawberries, grapes, and chicken with the lettuce, so things are a bit more evenly distributed, but it's prettier if they sit on top.)
For dressing, combine all ingredient in a blender or food processor until well mixed and emulsified. Pour into vessel of your choice, and serve alongside the salad.

Serves 4, generously

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Happy Rice

Sometimes you just don't want to cook. Know what I mean?
Sometimes the idea of making dinner after a long day of work or play, or both, just makes you want to cry, and you succumb to the siren song of the rotisserie chicken at Costco, just so you can just not think about anything and also eat something palatable that didn't come from a drive-up window.

Or maybe you were supposed to take dinner to a neighbor and you realized at the last minute that the meal you had planned to make them actually had scads of the ingredient they requested we avoid (great planning on my part, yes?) so you grabbed a chicken for your brood and a chicken for them and rushed home to make sure they had a decent meal.

But, as I'm sure I don't need to tell you, just rotisserie chicken does not a meal make. You need something to go with it. Something easy and quick. You need Happy Rice.

It's a simple side, but it requires no more than 20 minutes of your time, most of which is just the rice cooking. Serve it with your rotisserie chicken and a green salad for a pretty well-balanced meal in a jiffy.

You could also serve it with steamed veggies of your choice. Whatever is lingering in the fridge, really. I'm not picky, just tired. And kinda scattered. [wink wink]

Happy Rice
adapted from Autumn from the Heart of the Home by Susan Branch

1 recipe Life-Changing Baked Rice
1/2 c. sliced almonds, toasted
1/3 c. dried cranberries
1 scallion, sliced
1 tsp. minced fresh thyme or summer savory
1 tsp. fresh orange zest
1/4 c. butter, melted
salt and pepper to taste

Cook rice according to directions. Stir together all ingredients until rice is well coated in butter, and other mix-ins are evenly distributed. Serve warm.

Want to make it with brown rice? Just swap out this recipe for the above-indicated white rice -- just know that it will take a lot longer to cook up, and therefore does not qualify for a quick meal idea, though it is equally as easy.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Faux-fredo Sauce

Spring can be such a strange season. It's getting nicer out and we see the start of delicious spring produce, but the chill in the air still makes me crave comfort foods. So it's a great time to lighten things up.

This is a fantastic lighter version of everyone's favorite creamy pasta sauce. My favorite way to serve it is with butternut squash ravioli and bright green peas. But it's good any way you enjoy alfredo sauce. Which is why I call it "fauxfredo". It's super simple, and uses ingredients I almost always have on hand, which always means a win.

Make a double batch and freeze some for later -- that will make it extra easy the next time you want it. And there will be a next time, I can pretty much guarantee it.

What are you waiting for? Go make it!
As I say to my son, "Hurry scurry"!!!

adapted from Our Best Bites

2 c. milk
2 oz. light cream cheese
2 Tbsp. flour
generous pinch salt
1 Tbsp. butter
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 c. finely grated parmesan cheese
cracked black pepper to taste

Blend together milk, cream cheese, flour, and salt (using a conventional blender, food processor, or immersion blender). Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium high heat. Add garlic, and saute until golden -- just a minute or two. Add milk mixture, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Continue to simmer until thickened. Remove from heat, and add parmesan and pepper. Serve as desired.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Banana Nut & Oat Muffins

Let's clear this up, shall we? How, exactly, am I supposed to pronounce the word "pecan". PEE-can? Puh-CAHN? PEE-cahn? I find myself in the puh-CAHN camp, but I'm always uncomfortable saying that word in front of others. (#firstworldproblems)

And don't get me started on "apricot"...

Well, however you pronounce it, pecans make a truly excellent addition to these banana muffins. And there are oats, just for good measure. I keep dreaming that I swap the pecans out for chocolate chips, but then I can't make myself do it. Everything just blends together so perfectly. Even hubby, who doesn't like nuts in baked goods, concedes that these are excellent, nuts and all.

I am a BIG fan.

They are my current breakfast obsession, accompanied by a big glass of chocolate almond milk. Mm mm mm mm MM! Breakfast of champions.

Banana Nut & Oat Muffins
adapted from In Sock Monkey Slippers

2 1/4 c. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3 large, very ripe bananas, well mashed
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. butter, melted (browned is even better, if you want to go there) and slightly cooled
2 eggs, at room temp.
1/2 c. buttermilk, at room temp.
2 tsp. vanilla
1/2 c. old fashioned oats
1/2 c. chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 400º.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, mash bananas, then add sugars, butter, and eggs, one at a time. Whisk in vanilla and buttermilk.
Pour banana mixture into flour mixture and gently fold until only a few streaks of flour remain. Add oats and pecans, reserving a couple Tbsp. of each to garnish tops of muffins if desired. Gently fold until just incorporated.
Using a standard-size (3 oz. or 1/4 c.) ice cream scoop, divide among lined and lightly greased muffin tins. Sprinkle on reserved oats and nuts. Place in oven on center rack, and reduce heat to 375º.
Bake for 16 - 20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out cleanly.
Remove from pans immediately and let cool. (Or eat them as soon as they won't burn you. Your call, really.)
Makes about 16.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Savory BBQ Meatballs

You know how on job applications they ask you where you see yourself in 5 years? I never knew how to answer that question. Because I'm not a good liar. They want you to say something ambitious. I've never been ambitious, and that's fine.

I remember long days at a job I hated. It comes back to me like a bad dream. Hours on the phone with argumentative people, wearing uncomfortable clothes, surreptitiously passing the hours in whatever way possible -- online shopping, bloghopping, Facebook, crossword puzzles. I do miss my coworkers (well... most of them), and being in the loop with all the viral videos, that was fun.

But the truth is, that I'm doing my dream job right now.
You can't tell a prospective employer that in five years you want nothing more than to be a Mom, home in your yoga pants playing trains with a toddler.

I guess I could talk about the bias that kind of thinking creates in the workplace, but I'll leave that to more impassioned feminists. Mostly I just feel lucky that I'm living the dream. My dream.

What does all this have to do with Savory BBQ Meatballs?
Honestly, not much. But they are so yummy!
They are a perfect meal for those nights when you completely forgot about dinner. Make rice, and while it cooks, throw all the ingredients in the pot for the sauce, add frozen meatballs (these ones, if you ask me). Heat them through, microwave some peas, and you're done. They would also be tasty over buttered noodles.

Happy Monday to you, whatever your job may be. (I hope it's your dream job, too!)

Savory BBQ Meatballs
from my friend, Coral

1 c. ketchup
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
1/4 c. molasses
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. butter
10-12 frozen meatballs (the previously cooked ones)

In a medium saucepan, combine ketchup, brown sugar, white vinegar, mollasses, and water. Stir to combine. Add butter and meatballs and heat over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, and simmering until meatballs are heated through. Serve over rice or buttered noodles with peas.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Meatballs

Everyone and their mother has a killer meatball recipe, am I right?
Everyone and their mother has a killer meatball recipe from their Italian grandmother.
I don't have one of those. (The Italian grandma, I mean.)

I'm half Canadian, half English/Scottish mutt and I married a Swede. Between us there is no Italian grand-parentage to be found.
Luckily for us, though, other people have been kind enough to share the wealth.

When I found this meatball recipe, I had a hunch it would be amazing, and I was right! It is my go-to recipe for homemade meatballs. I like to make a big batch, bake them up, and freeze them for later. You cannot beat homemade meatballs at your beck and call any time you need them.

I also like meatballs because they can be used sparingly and still have an impact -- keeping us away from eating a ton of meat, and stretching our grocery dollars.

Can I just sell you on how simple these are? Apart from the portion of the proceedings wherein my hands freeze because the meat I just pulled out of the refrigerator is so dang cold, they come together in a moment's time. And after that you just scoop, roll (I use my #40 scoop), and bake. Done!

So, Kittencal, whoever you are, and wherever you got your recipe, thanks for sharing it! Love, Me.

Melt-In-Your-Mouth Meatballs

1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 egg
1/3 c. breadcrumbs
1/3 c. milk
1-2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 c. grated parmesan
1 tsp. cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 Tbsp. dried parsley

In a large bowl, whisk together egg, milk, breadcrumbs, parmesan, and seasonings. Add beefs and combine gently (I use my hands) until just thoroughly mixed (overmixing will make them tough). Form into walnut-sized balls and bake at 350º for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked through in the center.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Asian Cabbage Salad

This salad was one of the few things I looked forward to eating while I was expecting my son. I was ill from start to finish, with gallbladder problems thrown into the mix, resulting in a strictly low fat diet (which I don't miss at all, for the record). I went through a lot of low-fat recipes before finding a couple of go-to options, of which this salad was by far my favorite.

It's probably the only thing I ate a lot of during that period that I still crave.

This salad is just so perfect if you're looking for something healthy, yet flavorful. Chock full of veggies, very little oil -- 2 Tbsp. canola and 1 tsp. sesame oil in the entire recipe -- and so, so delicious. I love the interplay of different crunchy and crispy textures.

This hastily-snapped photo just doesn't do it justice! It makes a terrific side for grilled or Teriyaki chicken. Or dice up the chicken and throw it in the salad itself for an entree salad. Or serve it up with some irresistible pot stickers. But what am I saying? You don't need anything extra to make this a main dish. Pile it high on your plate and feel good about it! I know I do.

The same principle does not, however, apply to the pot stickers, though.
I should try to remember that.

Asian Cabbage Salad
from Our Best Bites

for salad
1, 14 oz. bag coleslaw mix
1 rib celery, sliced
1/2 of a medium-sized cucumber, sliced
handful sugar snap peas
1/2 of a red pepper, sliced
1/4 of a small red onion, thinly sliced

for dressing
2 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1/4 c. seasoned rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. soy sauce
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. sesame oil

for garnish
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
1/3 c. sliced almonds, toasted
1 1/2 c. grilled (teriyaki) chicken (optional)

Gently toss together all ingredients for salad in a large bowl. Set aside.
In a pint-sized mason jar with lid, shake together all ingredients for dressing until well combined.
Toss salad with dressing until evenly coated. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. and up to several hours. (My husband likes this salad even better the next day, so you could probably make it up well in advance.)
When ready to serve, toss in sesame seeds and almonds. Top with chicken, if desired.