Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

Archive for the tag “celery”

Healthy, mayo-less chicken salad

So, remember that whirlwind month I mentioned jumping into the last time I stopped by? Well, it was even MORE of a whirlwind than I could have anticipated. Not only was I rehearsing nearly seven days a week for a production of Spamalot (which went great, by the way!), I was also apartment-hunting, which in and of itself could be a full-time job. The good news? Kevin and I found an apartment (part of a house, really) and we’ve been renting since the first of the month, and we’ve been officially(ish) moved in for a week! (I say “ish” because we’re still missing some basics like a microwave, dishes and a kitchen table. All in due time.)

We did manage to buy a beautiful set of nonstick, oven-safe Cuisinart pots and pans, though. I love them. (I may or may not have hugged the box in Bed, Bath and Beyond. Or not.) My grandmother also gifted me her old Cuisinart food processor. It’s older than I am but in nearly perfect condition, and that means that I FINALLY have a food processor! Homemade hummus, I’m looking at you! And my first kitchen purchase? A slow-cooker. Yup. Finally. Ah, all the glorious things I can make in there…

Yet somehow, amidst all the madness, I managed to finally perfect something I’ve been contemplating for ages–a delicious, but healthy, mayonnaise-free chicken salad.

chx salad 1

Wait…did you just say mayo-less chicken salad? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Well, no. And it’s just as delicious as the mayo-y kind!

My substitute? A combo of creamy, thick Greek yogurt and guacamole. Yup. I didn’t want to use all yogurt for fear of the chicken salad tasting too tangy and yogurt-y. I didn’t want to use all guac, either, for fear of it being too thin and the flavor too overpowering. But together, they create magic.

Now, I took a lot of shortcuts here, but you can obviously start from scratch. I used Wholly Guacamole’s Salsa Guac, but of course you can make your own guacamole to start. I also used a store-bought roasted chicken and frozen pre-grilled chicken strips, but of course you can use any fresh or leftover chicken you have on hand.

I chopped up apples and celery into my chicken salad and added a heaping handful of broccoli slaw, as well. But play with it! I used what I had on hand, but other great additions are: raisins, Craisins or any dried berry; chopped almonds, walnuts or pecans; chopped pickles; chopped cucumber, carrots, broccoli or any crunch veggie; avocado; grapes…really, the additions are endless–go to town!

Making the chicken salad is as simple as could be, and this is, quite literally, a totally guilt-free chicken salad. None of that gloppy mayo mess you’re used to.

Mix chopped chicken with one part Greek yogurt and one part guacamole, add whatever your heart desires, mix and serve alone, on lettuce, or on 100% whole-grain bread topped with mustard, lettuce, pickles, tomato, cheese…whatever you like. Enjoy! (And have seconds…harm here!)

Chicken salad sandwich 3

Mayo-less Chicken Salad (serves 1-2)

1-2 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
1-2 tbsp prepared guacamole (Wholly Guacamole’s a great ready-made brand, or make your own)
1-2 c chopped chicken, skinless and boneless (leftover, freshly grilled, boiled, baked, roasted, etc.)
Optional add-ins: veggies, fruit, nuts, etc.
Salt, black pepper, dill to taste

1. Mix yogurt and guacamole together in a bowl to form a dressing. Add chicken and spices, stir to coat (there should be more dressing than necessary.) Taste, and add more herbs and spices if needed.

2. Add in any desired accompaniments (chopped nuts, veggies, apples, grapes, etc.) and stir to coat in the dressing and incorporate into the chicken. Taste and season again, if necessary.

3. Serve alone or atop a salad, or pile onto 100% whole-grain bread with mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, etc. (Or eat it plain!)

Chicken salad sandwich 2

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Avocado-Black bean salsa

It’s August, which means there’s still a month or so of summer left (almost two, technically) and still plenty of grilling and barbecue opportunities. Also, it means we’re coming into the hottest days of the year, and hot, heavy food just doesn’t always sound so appealing. Sometimes, in the East Coast heat, I just want a cool and refreshing snack or light meal that will leave me satisfied but not weighed down. And that, folks, is how I got my avocado-black bean salsa.

I made this stuff on a whim one night after I bought ripe Haas avocados and some canned black beans. Served with some super-addictive Trader Joe’s plantain chips, I couldn’t put this stuff down! I ate it for dinner, a late-night snack AND lunch the next day!

It’s the perfect summer snack and an awesome side dish to bring to your next barbecue–a fun and nutritious way to mix it up from regular salsa or mayo-laden picnic salads.

Seriously, make this salsa and you’ll never want to stop! It will become a staple for your summer, for sure!

One thing I’d like to note: I always look for no salt added canned beans–they’re much more convenient than dried beans, but canned beans are notorious for their sodium content. Rienzi sells all sorts of no salt added beans, which I love, so my pantry’s stocked with black beans, cannellini (white) beans and chickpeas. I still rinse the beans, though, to get off any extra salt and to improve the texture (they’re still canned in liquid, so they are a little slimy otherwise.) By rinsing them, it also allows me to almost completely control the amount of salt that goes into my food.

Avocado-black bean salsa

2 small or 1 large avocado, pitted and diced
1-15.5 ounce can of no salt added black beans, rinsed (I buy Rienzi brand) or soaked and cooked black beans
1 tomato, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 scallion, white and light green parts only, diced
Juice of half a lime
Salt and pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste

Mix the first five ingredients together, being careful not to overly mash the avocado. Mix in lime juice, and season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.  Serve with veggies, tortilla chips, plantain chips or use as a topping for, well, anything you want! (This would go great over salad greens, steak, grilled chicken, burgers, you name it!)

This is so fast and so easy, and it brings a bounty of veggies and a healthy dose of protein and fiber to the party!

Happy August!

I suck. Seriously. But I’ll try making it up with a hummus salad.

I suck.  I mean, I really, really, suck.  It’s been almost two weeks and I haven’t written, haven’t cooked, haven’t gone out to a great new restaurant. Rather, I’ve been taking way too long to adapt to a new (albeit, temporary) schedule, since I’ve decided to try my hand at theater again while still working and writing. It’s clearly not going so well. Most of my weekdays involve getting to work by 8, home between 5 and 5:30, then at rehearsal by 7. That leaves me a very small window to eat, change and run whatever necessary errands I have.

There has certainly been one change for the good. For the past 10 months, I’ve been a waitress. When I went back to work, I became a part-time waitress. But even that once-a-week shift typically took up my entire Saturday. Well, I’m no longer a waitress, so, thankfully, my metaphorical plate is a little less full now.

Why is this good news? (Besides the obvious salvaging of my sanity?) Because now I will have at least part, if not all, of my Saturdays free to cook, eat and blog! Because clearly, that needs to be a priority again.

Now that I have a bit more time on my hands, I can devote some more weekly prep time, so hopefully my meals don’t end up being Lean Cuisines, convenience store sandwiches and coffee shop breakfasts. (Seriously, health aside, it’s not good on the wallet. And I’m out a job here.)

All that being said, I’ll make it up to, at least a little bit, right here and now, with a banked “recipe” (if you can even call it that) that I’ve been putting off posting.

It’s such a quick lunch or dinner, a super-healthy salad with an unconventional dressing you’ve probably never thought of: hummus.

Say what?

No, really. This salad was actually inspired by a favorite sandwich of mine. Anyone who’s read this blog or follows me on Twitter or Facebook has heard me mention the Twisted Tree Cafe, a vegetarian/vegan eatery two doors down from my office. This place makes even a meat-eater like me want to go veg. And they have this sandwich that I am just a sucker for called, simply, the hummus sandwich.

It’s pretty much just what it sounds like. Roasted red pepper hummus topped with tons of fresh veggies–spring mix greens, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, onion and avocado all on their homemade bread. Let me tell you, that bread really makes it. That stuff is just the best.

The first time I had this sandwich it totally changed my way of thinking–I had never thought to use hummus as the base of a sandwich before. I’ve used it as a condiment and spread plenty of times, but to actually make it the star of the sandwich? Preposterous! Or so I thought. Crazy in theory, perhaps, but genius in execution.

So, to wrap up a long story, I was craving some of this hummus-y goodness at home one day, but I knew my silly store-bought bread wouldn’t live up, so I wasn’t really feeling a sandwich. But I figured I could get all the key components of this in a salad, and I just went grocery shopping, so I had tons of fresh veggies lying around.

My salad’s not identical to the sandwich, and your salad won’t be identical to mine–I used what I had, and it was delicious.

(On closer inspection of their menu, I see they also offer hummus over their big garden salad. See? Not so crazy after all!)

Hummus Salad

Romaine lettuce leaves, torn or chopped
Bibb lettuce leaves, torn or chopped
Cubed tomato, seeds scooped out
Chopped avocado
Chopped fresh green beans
Chopped celery
Arugula
Chopped flat-leaf parsley
Roasted red pepper hummus (if you make this yourself, awesome! If not, like me, use a store-bought one. I promise I won’t tell.)

Combine all the veggies together in a bowl (after rinsing and drying well, of course) and in place of salad dressing, top with a heaping tablespoon or two of hummus.

That’s it. Really. So fast, so healthy, so yummy! And the hummus offers a great burst of protein that you’ll never get from regular salad dressing. Of course, you don’t have to use roasted red pepper-flavored hummus either. You can use plain hummus, or any flavor you like. I’m thinking sundried tomato, garlic or spinach-artichoke would be fantastic too! (And yes, all of those flavors exist. I highly recommend the spinach-artichoke! Like a way healthier version of the dip! Yum!)

I hope this redeems me at least a little. Now that I have some more time on my hands (and a holiday coming up! Memorial Day!) hopefully I’ll have a slew of new things coming your way.

Sometimes life gets in the way

Whoa. I’ll be honest, I knew it had been a while since I’d posted something, I did. but I didn’t realize it had been quite this long–two and a half weeks is quite a gap.

I’d like to explain. You see, I’m coming to the end of what may be the busiest month of my life. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m involved in theater and am currently in production for a cabaret-style show going up TOMORROW NIGHT! (Yikes!) Needless to say, that has encompassed an exorbitant amount of my time lately. One of my best friends from college also got married last weekend, and so wedding preparations and travel also added to my load. The last few weeks have been meticulously organized, with every minute of my days after I leave the office planned out.

Unfortunately, this kind of overload does not leave much time for culinary explorations, or even food shopping for that manner. So, I have been largely subsiding on frozen meals, take out and the occasional vegetarian treat from the cafe down the street from my office. The quantity, overall, as well, has often been minimal.

This feels like a dirty, dark confession from a self-proclaimed foodie and food blogger, but nonetheless, it is life. Sometimes we’ve all been just too swamped to sit down and prepare a delicious healthy meal or savor a wonderfully prepared dinner from our favorite restaurant.

I’ve been trying to get better about making something out of nothing–that is, looking in the fridge and pantry and trying to assemble a meal from what’s there, but it’s been pretty scant–perhaps I just lack the creativity and inspiration to create a fantastic meal out of deli ham, greek yogurt and plums. (Seriously, though, if anyone has suggestions I’d love to hear them! Let’s get creative, folks!)

Now that the weather’s warming up (though that’s a relative statement–it’s been an unseasonably warm winter) I’m getting inspired to expand my culinary repertoire.  I don’t know the first thing about gardening, but I want to grow fresh herbs. And I want to have picnics by the water. And I really can’t wait to bust out the grill again.

But right now I’m just trying to get through opening and closing night, so if that means subsiding on pizza, Kind bars and alcohol for the rest of the weekend, so be it. We all deserve it sometimes, after all.

But this situation has inspired me–what is your biggest gastronomical “sin?” I’ve actually had a double-whammy this month (whoa baby, I’m gonna be in trouble for this one):

  • First, the wedding prep. I borrowed a gorgeous dress from my younger sister for my friend’s wedding. But my sister is skinnier and narrower than me, so the dress just fit. Therefore, I was determined to drop a couple of pounds by the wedding so I could actually have some wiggle room in the dress. (Because, come on, I wanted to EAT! Is there any doubt about that one?) So the last two weeks were focused on a high-water, low-sodium diet culminating in a week where I ate a LOT of celery, yogurt and peanut butter and drank a ton of peppermint tea. Result? The dress fit with room to spare and I admittedly (and probably expectedly) gorged myself at the wedding. (Cocktail hour was mostly great with a few misses, same with the Viennese dessert table. The actual dinner? Barely touched it, didn’t even need it.) Fun note: By the end of the night, I indirectly got the entire bridal party drinking French martinis–and I wasn’t even in the bridal party! Such a trendsetter I am.
  • The second one’s no secret–the aftermath of the wedding diet resulted in me laxing up even a little more than usual on what I eat. I tend to try to stay pretty healthy with obvious and acceptable exceptions here and there. This week wasn’t awful, but more exceptions than I usually make. Plus, living off of frozen and drive-through food isn’t the healthiest, no matter which way you slice it (and definitely the antithesis to my low-sodium kick of the past weeks.)

However, we all do it, and we all recover. When life gives you lemons, sometimes you have no choice but to make really sweet, terrible-for-you lemonade. And you know what? You enjoy it.

**So tell me–what’s your biggest gastronomic offense? Trust me, I’m in no position to judge!**

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