Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Foodiness

Archive for the tag “side”

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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31-recipe challenge Day 22 (the final day!): Beef Pho and Chocolate chip cookie Bailey’s milkshake

This is it, the LAST day of my 31-recipe challenge! It officially took me 22 days to cook 31 30 recipes. And I’m exhausted. Later this week I’ll put together a recap post that looks over everything I made last month and what I took away from it, much like I did at the halfway point.

And, to go out with a bang (well, a shake), I FINALLY nailed a dessert!

It seems as long as a stove isn’t involved, I can make a dessert. (Ironic, really, since I can cook but can’t really bake…Cookies! I can make cookies.)

But I want to go out on a high note, so I’m going to save the shake for last and start with my last-night-of-the-challenge dinner: Beef Pho from Zen Can Cook. The broth was easy enough to make, if not pricey–star anise, cinnamon sticks and fennel seeds don’t come cheap, and I couldn’t even find a black cardamom pod–but they impart a really exotic, interesting flavor. It did make my place smell preeetty weird the first night, though.

beef pho

The only slightly “off” thing about this dish was the beef itself–I used a top round to make the broth, and despite the fact that it literally sat in liquid all night, it was pretty dry when I took it out and sliced it up. It came back to life a bit once the slices were re-added to the heated broth, but it wasn’t the tender, juicy meat I was expecting. It was actually the low point of the dish.

Otherwise, though, the pho was quite tasty–lots of fresh herbs, peppers and rice noodles in the warm, beefy broth. Much like the soba, this was a total comfort food. I wish I had this around when I was sick.

I had to make a couple of slight substitutions based on what was available. I couldn’t find any Thai basil, so I subbed in regular basil even though there’s a flavor difference. It was better than nothing. I also used a regular green long hot (seeds scraped out) in place of a Thai bird chili, which my local grocery store also didn’t sell.

Nonetheless, the flavor was still bright and vibrant, and I highly recommend this. It seems so much more complicated than it really is. Once the broth’s made, it’s really just cooking the noodles and slicing up some veggies, herbs and beef. Done and done. My only recommendation? I used only one cut of meat in my broth, because it was available and exactly the amount I needed. I would recommend mixing it up, and next time, I’d use oxtail. I almost went with it this time but opted not to. I think it would add even more depth and meatiness to the broth.

But now, for what we’ve all been waiting for…dessert!

Let’s just put this out there: Chocolate chip cookie Bailey’s milkshakes. You can screw this up nine ways to Sunday, and it would still taste fantastic. Because you can’t go wrong with chocolate chip cookies, Bailey’s and coffee ice cream.

milkshake

And, it’s a cinch! Add ice cream, Bailey’s, cookies and ice to a blender, blend, drink. If you actually do screw that up nine ways to Sunday, I might worry.

But in all seriousness, this tastes as fantastic (and fantastically bad for you!) as it sounds. (It was hard to even get a decent picture…Kevin was way too excited and impatient to drink this to wait for a photo.)

Now, I could’ve gone ahead and really pulled out all the stops and baked my own cookies to put in the milkshake (and that had been my original plan), but time became an issue, so I bought a few chewy, yummy cookies from the Wegman’s bakery department. And, frankly, they were probably more delicious than whatever I would have baked. So win-win.

And there you have it. Thirty recipes in 22 days, all capped off with the ultimate of nightcaps. It was a whirlwind month, and now, because I’m me, I’m jumping into another whirlwind month, but this time because of rehearsals. (What can I say? I thrive when I’m busy.)

Hopefully in a couple of weeks I’ll regain the strength to lift a pot or light a stove. Until then, I’m reveling in the beauty that is takeout (sushi!) and leftovers.

31-recipe challenge Day 18: Soup Round-up

As I’ve mentioned before, I had my wisdom teeth out on Friday, and so, in anticipation of that, I spent a lot of last week prepping most of the soups on the recipe list. I could also rename this post, “Why an immersion blender is my best friend.”

First, I made this vegan herbed carrot soup from 10th Kitchen. This soup is fantastic. It’s light, it’s fresh and it’s so, so healthy. It’s helpful to have around when you can’t chew any real fruits or vegetables–it gets me my veggies! I’ve been eating the soup hot, but I’m sure it would be really refreshing cold, as well, like a carrot gazpacho.

Carrot soup

This soup is the first installment of “Why an immersion blender is my best friend.” I actually forgot I even had an immersion blender until I moved, and in the process of packing up the kitchen came across a really old one that I assumed was broken. But we plugged the thing in and, I’ll be damned, it worked! That was a great day. Now I’ve checked one thing off my ever-growing list of kitchen gadgets. Plus, it saves me the inevitable burns from pouring hot soup contents into a blender and back again.

I also cooked up a batch of ginger-chicken soup from Bon Appétit. The recipe called for six quarts of water to three pounds of chicken, which all the commenters said was WAY too much. I halved the recipe to begin with, so I was only using about a pound and a half of chicken (once I removed the breast that cooked in the initial stock to use in my chicken pot pie), so I cut the water down to eight cups to result in a richer tasting broth. I also then added in some extra chicken stock I had left in the fridge at the end.

Chicken soup

With the extra concentration of the chicken flavor, the ginger was kind of lost; I probably should have added more ginger to counterbalance the extra stock. Nonetheless, in the end it made a good chicken soup, even if it tasted standard and not ginger-y. But I made a pretty decent broth (round one.)

Round two of cooking chicken stock from scratch was the base for alanabread’s creamy leek and garlic soup. This soup. Oh, what can I say about this soup? This soup is so good that I was licking the spoon as it cooked. Like cake batter. It was, however, very, VERY thick when I only used half the chicken stock I made. (The recipe was supposed to yield double the stock needed for the soup.) I ended up adding all the stock to get the right soup-like consistency. After only half the stock, it was more like a thin mashed potato puree than a soup. (A delicious potato puree, though. I’m totally considering remaking this one, but doctored into mashed potatoes rather than soup. That would be one killer side dish.)

Leek and garlic soup

What makes this soup so OMG is the two bulbs of roasted garlic. Roasted garlic is sweet and aromatic, not spicy and pungent like in its raw form. And it smells amazing. I now highly recommend adding it to everything. Especially anything potato-based.

There’s just the tiniest amount of dairy in this soup, too; most of the creaminess comes from potato, with just 100 ml of light cream added at the end. And it’s heavenly. I think I found my new favorite soup. Also, see installment two of “Why an immersion blender is my best friend.”

With options like this, my post-surgery soft diet is way less boring than run-of-the-mill canned soups and applesauce (and much healthier.) It’s making the whole recovery process much smoother. (No pun intended!)

31-recipe challenge Day 17: Red cabbage, onion and walnut tart

I want to preface this post by saying I mean absolutely no disrespect to Mimi from Manger, who’s cabbage, onion and walnut tart I cooked recently. And while it was undoubtedly one of the prettiest things I’ve ever cooked (it’s purple!), it was, well, unsatisfying. That being said, I don’t eat cooked cabbage, like, ever. I’m the person who orders pizza on St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t even like the way it smells. So I should have known that cooking a dish almost entirely composed of the stuff wouldn’t fare too well. Maybe it’s a French thing. I must just not be sophisticated enough to understand.

Cabbage, onion, walnut tart

Kevin ate a whole slice; I made it through a bite and called it a day–luckily we had already had a leftover pot pie. Possibly more balsamic would have made it better; Kevin suggested a balsamic reduction over the whole thing rather than just two tablespoons. I agree that that may have improved it and kind of covered up the cabbage taste.

All that being said, it’s not a bad recipe for cabbage-lovers. It’s just not a great recipe for non-cabbage fans. It’s one of the only two things I’ve made this month that I’ve ended up throwing out almost in its entirety. (See the pumpkin pie bread pudding) But while that was just poorly made (the squash didn’t cook enough, for one), this came out just fine (it was clearly cooked enough and correctly), I just wasn’t a fan. But Mimi’s recipe was good and very quick and easy, so it’s a great vegetarian weekday entrée or side dish.

Cabbage, onion, walnut tart slice

I served it with crème fraîche and parsley, like she suggested, which definitely complements it well. (What? Just cause I didn’t like it doesn’t mean I can’t tell what flavors do and don’t meld.)

*Side note: Mimi, if you’re reading, HOW did you get it to set up so well? As soon as I sliced this, the veggies fell out everywhere, but yours is so lovely and tidy. What’s your secret?

So, in short…fine recipe, not my taste, so didn’t care for it. But it sure looks nice! (Again, I’m a sucker for anything purple, especially food.)

31-recipe challenge Day 14: The day I ate a beet and roasted beef

I did two things I’d never thought I’d do on Saturday: I made a roast and I ate a beet.

OK, so maybe that first one wasn’t so out there, but it wasn’t something I foresaw for the near future. There’s something about pulling a big roast of meat out of the oven that makes me feel like I should be wearing heels and pearls with a lace apron and a beehive. Instead I’m pretty sure I was wearing Converse. But the roast was still good.

I pulled out all the stops for a super-fancy (ish) dinner that night, complete with Cesar-crusted roast beef and a blood orange, beet and fennel salad, both courtesy of Bon Appétit.

20130222-002507.jpg

Although I ate beets, I’m still not going to be running out to buy them again anytime soon. I discovered I like golden beets more than red beets, but they still have that distinctly “beet” flavor that turns me off. It’s kind of weird, my distaste for beets, seeing as I have a MAJOR sweet tooth and beets are nature’s candy. But I just don’t care for them. I actually ended up tossing the last of the red beet that was leftover after I finished the rest of my salad. The best part was the blood orange, which is just so sweet and citrusy and flavorful.

The only “modification” that I made to this salad, though, was that I halved it. (This doesn’t really even count anymore) and I, in a very uncharacteristic move, forgot the cilantro. Ugh. That probably would’ve made it better, because cilantro makes everything better.

And for those wondering, no, this is NOT the recipe which prompted my disdain for the mandolin. That was the next day…

Now here’s the part where I make a big confession: I didn’t make a roast beef tenderloin, like the recipe says. I made a rib roast. Yes, I know those are VASTLY different. Here’s the (quick) story:

Beef tenderloin (aka chateaubriand) is, apparently, super expensive. (I really should’ve done more research before I dove into this challenge.) I’m talking $50 for a two-pound cut expensive.

Now, I’ve said this once and I’ll say it again: I don’t make that much money! I’m not exactly in a financial position to spend $50 on one roast. So, after some iPhone research and a discussi0n with the butcher, I went with a much more reasonable rib roast instead. It was much fattier, and a different shape, but it was good in the end. Would the tenderloin have been better? Duh, that’s where filet mignon comes from, but I’m not exactly capable of shelling out for four filets.

Another, far more minor tweak, is that I made this gluten-free. Instead of using fresh bread crumbs, I used gluten-free cornflake crumbs so everyone could eat it. I also (surprise, surprise) halved the recipe, because I don’t have eight people to feed. As it is we have about half a roast left over.

20130222-002820.jpg

Because of the change in the meat, I had to play around with the cooking time a bit, and just keep watch–and temperature. This taught me the unfortunate lesson that my oven does not cook things evenly. When the roast finally seemed to come to temperature, I took it out of the oven and let it rest a while, but when we finally cut into it, one end was red, nearly rare, while the other was almost all brown, a solid medium at least. Lesson learned: always, ALWAYS rotate things in this oven. (For the record, I was shooting for a nice medium-rare.)

We sliced up the whole thing and seared off the pieces that were on the undercooked side to finish them up.

Now, I’m not a big roast/steak eater, but I must say, this was a pretty lovely piece of meat. It was juicy and still quite tender, considering I used a lesser cut of meat. It got the stamp of approval from the two carnivores, so that’s always good!

I felt like such a big girl, and a classy one at that, pulling off not one, but TWO Bon Appétit recipes and making such a sophisticated meal! Don’t expect it to last.

31-Recipe Challenge: Day 4–Butternut Squash and Kale Salad

I kept it simple on Monday. Coming off my marathon-cooking weekend and a late night thanks to the Super Bowl, I hadn’t done any extra shopping and was feeling pretty low-key. Luckily, I had planned ahead on my last shopping trip and picked up extra kale, butternut squash and almonds for the week ahead. All I needed was some cheese and I had everything on hand to recreate Northern Spy’s Kale Salad (recipe courtesy of Food52).

Kale and squash salad 1

I sent my wonderful and adoring boyfriend out for some cheese to complete this meal, and although he could not find the Cabot Clothbound cheddar that Kristen of Food52 so vehemently praised, he did come back with some Kerry Gold two-year aged Irish “distinctively sharp” cheddar. And I wasn’t complaining. That’s some knock-your-socks-off good cheese. If it’s possible for a cheddar to taste like a Parmesan, this does. Kevin, you hit this one out of the park. Good work.

This recipe calls for oven-roasted butternut squash, and, unlike Sunday’s undercooked squash disaster, this time it roasted up nice and sweet and soft. Mix into chopped kale and almonds, add the cheddar and shaved pecorino, dress with lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper and dig in. It’s crunchy-chewy, salty-sweet, oily-acidic. It’s perfect. This was one of the best kale salads I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some good kale salads. I get why Northern Spy keeps it on their menu. Serve with anything, or on its own. We ate it with leftovers from the weekend.

And although the squash takes about 30-40 minutes to roast, this is otherwise a super-speedy lunch or dinner, and simple. Chopping and roasting the squash is the brunt of the prep work.

This one’s a clear winner in my book, and a nice break after a day of heavy eats. Also goes to show sometimes simple is best. Thank goodness I needed to leave to walk the dog, or poor Kevin may not have gotten any of this salad. I couldn’t stop eating it. I wasn’t even hungry anymore and I still found myself digging in.

Seriously, I’m still thinking about this salad. And drooling. Over SALAD. Yeah, that happened.

Kale and squash salad 2

31-Recipe Challenge: Day 3–Super Bowl Sunday!

If you remember my Super Bowl post from last year, you know I like to throw a Super Bowl party. This year was no different, except Kevin hosted and I had even better recipes to work with.

The Super Bowl menu? Beer and bacon butter beans, four-cheese macaroni and cheese and pumpkin pie bread pudding. Plus, Kevin made chicken fajitas and pigs in blankets.

Yes, this was a far departure from Day 2’s vegetarian recipes.

On to the recipes! First let’s start with the one I know you’re all looking at–Beer and Bacon Butter Beans. Let me repeat that one. Beer. And Bacon. Can you think of a better football food? I used this recipe from Crepes of Wrath and pretty much didn’t change a damn thing.

Despite the beer and bacon (or should I say, THANKS TO the beer and bacon), this is actually a very complex and sophisticated side dish, especially thanks to the whole sprig of rosemary that goes in. But seriously, just in case you had any doubt that beans slow-cooked in beer and bacon fat would be delicious, these were drool-worthy. I’ve never appreciated a plate of beans so much. And puff-pastry wrapped pigs in a blanket were a much better franks-and-beans accompaniment than plain old hot dogs.

Beer and bacon butter beans

As much of a bacon lover as I am (and I’m a huge bacon lover), I rarely cook it. Sunday I cooked it. A lot of it. 8 thick-cut strips, to be exact. And I chopped it first. I never want to do that again. Trying to cut through thick, chewy, raw bacon fat can make you never want to eat bacon again. (OK, that’s not true. But it doesn’t make you want to prep it again.)

But once that starts cooking, it’s a whole different story. The salty, smoky, bacon-y smell fills the kitchen, and all is right with the world.

Then, you strain out the bacon and cook the beans IN THE BACON FAT. Add chicken stock, lemon juice, honey, a whole bottle of malty amber ale (I used Sam Adams Boston Ale), spices and a sprig of rosemary, and pop that bad boy in the oven for a solid two hours. Then top with crispy bacon. 1) your house will smell amazing and 2) what comes out at the end of those two hours is well worth the wait.

I can’t believe I’m waxing poetic about baked canellini beans, but these beans were off-the-wall good. Granted, cook anything in bacon fat and beer and it will probably be off-the-wall good.

I’ll put it to you another way: my friend J, who still doesn’t even consider beans a viable food group, said these were good. That’s, like, Kevin loving the sweet potato tacos huge! (This has been a pretty good weekend!) Heck, the fact that he even willingly ATE the beans was a good enough compliment for me.

UPDATE: In hindsight, I realize I skipped the very last step of the recipe, which is to stir in a tablespoon of unsalted butter once the beans come out of the oven. Oh well, I didn’t miss it.

For dinner, I made Four-Cheese Baked Rigatoni from How Sweet It Is. I’ve made TONS of macaroni and cheese in my day–it’s almost become a staple for me–but this one was unique. In addition to cheddar, fontina and gruyere, this mac and cheese uses 1/3 cup of mascarpone, which is super luscious and creamy and smooth. And, as she warns, does give the mac and cheese extra oiliness, though not in a bad way. I’ve had mac and cheese like this before, and the extra oil actually lent itself well to reheating. It’s super gooey and cheesy. I used fat rigatoni noodles, like the recipe originally called for, which trapped lots of extra cheese sauce inside.

3-cheese mix

Come. To. Mama.

Although, I didn’t have any panko bread crumbs on hand, so I used regular whole wheat ones, which were fine. I also subbed a pinch of dried mustard seed for the nutmeg, since one of my friends in attendance has a nutmeg allergy. (The goal is to not kill people.)

One interesting thing about this day was that a sort of theme emerged: one pot wonders that I turned into two-pot wonders. You see, both the beans and the mac and cheese were supposed to go from stove to oven in the same cooking vessel: the beans in an oven-safe pot or deep pan, the macaroni in a cast iron skillet. I do not own either of those things (sadly), so for the beans, I cooked everything in a deep pan and transferred into a covered deep casserole dish to bake. I cooked the macaroni and cheese in the same deep pan and transferred to a traditional casserole dish to bake. I really need to get my hands on a cast iron skillet, because as ooey-gooey and lovely as that mac and cheese was, I bet it would be incredible in cast iron.

Mac and cheese

Then came dessert. Let’s just say I’m really glad someone brought cookies. I was probably the least impressed with this of everyone who ate it, but then again, I am always my own worst critic. I’m also picky about my bread pudding. I made this gorgeous-looking Pumpkin Pie Bread Pudding with Bourbon Icing from Eats Well With Others. (Well, hers was gorgeous-looking.)

It wasn’t a terrible recipe, I think I just executed it wrong. Though granted, three pounds of butternut squash to one pound of bread in a bread pudding does seem a tad imbalanced. I’d probably recommend trying something closer to a one-to-one ratio.

When the finished product came out of the oven (after it baked for way longer than called for yet barely felt done), there were more chunks of hard, raw squash than soft, melty baked ones. And the inside was decidedly, well, mushy. Too mushy for my taste. Not so bad for a bread pudding, but, like I said, I’m picky. I feel like if this was perhaps baked in individual-sized ramekins rather than one large springform, it would be more up my alley–lots of crispy outside and a semi-liquid center that’s still mostly baked.

There are a few things I think contributed to my underwhelming result: For one, I’m assuming I didn’t pre-cook the squash long enough on the stove, though I feel like I let it go even longer than the recipe called for. Also, while the recipe called for a 10-inch springform, I only had a 9 1/2-inch. So although I left some filling behind,  perhaps I still overstuffed the pan, leading to the longer-than-called for baking time.

I also made a couple of *slight* tweaks to the recipe, but I doubt they were disaster inducing: again, I cut the nutmeg so as not to send anyone to the hospital, and I subbed one cup of almond milk and two cups of regular milk (1%) for the three cups of almond milk because I didn’t have enough on hand.

Nonetheless, this is definitely one I won’t be making again, even though Kevin wants me to re-attempt it with apples in place of the squash. This one brought me back down to earth a little bit–I was getting pretty confident in my baking skills after the pizza dough victory on Day 1, but this proved I’m really still not a baker. I’m gonna stay on the stove top where I belong.

However, it wasn’t all a bust. There was that bourbon icing. Oh man, that icing. I don’t even like bourbon and I couldn’t stop stealing tastes of this stuff. Which was bad, because I’m on antibiotics and not allowed to have alcohol!

Pumpkin pie bread pudding w/ bourbon icing

But if you need a dessert topping for, well, pretty much anything, throw this together! A stick of butter, 2 cups confectioner’s sugar and 2 tablespoons bourbon. Whisk and imbibe. And to get it more glaze-y and less icing-y, just pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so.

Because, dude, you want this icing on EVERYTHING. It was pretty good on the cookies, I was told. (I had eaten enough off the spoon by that point, I figured it was better if I cut myself off.)

I’m exhausted just writing this, so it’s no surprise I nearly forgot to cook on Monday. (Don’t worry, I did!)

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