In Fear of Mustard | The best Balsamic Vinaigrette, ever

Last week, I finally got around to making this delicious Avocado Chicken Caprese Salad I found over at Joyful Healthy Eats. It was beautiful!

20150703_172150I took a few liberties; I cooked my chicken in a cast iron skillet instead of firing up my grill and I completely forgot to add the fresh basil. The biggest difference between my salad and the original was the dressing. I love a balsamic vinaigrette as much as the next girl, but the emulsifiying agent is usually mustard, and I’m allergic. Oh, sure, I could have used just oil and vinegar mixed together, but I really wanted that smooth, almost creamy, sweetly tangy dressing to balance the rich cheese and avocados and the bright tomatoes. A little internet research and I developed my own simple recipe. It’s so easy that I hesitate to even classify it as a recipe, but whatever.

EveryGirl’s Mustard-Free Balsamic Vinaigrette

1 clove of garlic
1 Tbsp of honey (or to taste)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup olive oil (I used extra virgin, but whatevs)
salt and pepper

Into a jar with a tight fitting lid, grate the garlic with a microplane. Add the other ingredients. Secure the lid and shake vigorously for about 2 minutes. Serve immediately or refrigerate until use.

20150703_172118The honey emulsifies the vinegar and oil and the result is divine. Be sure to shake it even after it seems combined, to really allow the honey to pull the dressing together. While it may separate a tiny bit after sitting, a quick shake of the jar and you’re good to go. Feel free to adjust the flavoring to you liking!

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day 5: Cooking for 1 (or 2)

When I was in college, I used to invite my friends over for Spaghetti Night. For a bunch of college kids, home cooked meals are the Holy Grail. I’d make a huge pot of my famous sauce and a couple pounds of noodles and we’d all eat and laugh and have a grand time. The largest group I ever had was 19 people and it was awesome.

While I love to cook for a huge crowd, these days it’s more likely that I’m just making food for one or two people. Sure, I could still make a huge pot of spaghetti and eat leftovers for days (and I often do) but even that gets old.

Enter: Eggs Monterey. This (absurdly) easy dish is a ready in a snap, basically fool-proof, and easily serves 1, or double it to serve 2. I make this pretty regularly. The slightly spicy salsa paired with decadent egg makes a surprising, but delicious combo.

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Preheat oven to 400°F. Spray a shallow 1 cup baking dish with non-stick spray (I use Pyrex and Pam). Fill with 1/2 c Salsa and bake for 15 minutes until hot. With a spoon, make 2 wells in the hot salsa and gently crack an egg into each well. Bake for 5 minutes, top with shredded cheese, and bake an additional 5 minutes.

The whites are cooked through, but the yolks are still a bit runny and deliciously rich. Serve with crusty bread or just on their own. Yum!

A word of caution: This recipe easily doubles, just use a larger container. However, if you attempt more than two servings (4 eggs) at a time, use separate vessels, as the heat distribution gets a bit wonky.

Bon Appetit!

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Let them eat chicken…

Okay okay…I’ve talked about my chicken salad before, but I have this problem wherein I make chicken salad, with the intention of taking a photo and showing all of you lovely people, and then something terrible happens.

I eat it.

Every last bite.

No photo.  No bueno.

Chicken salad is one of those crazy personal things that everyone either things they make the best version of, or that their mother/mother-in-law/grandmother/aunt/church hostess/mailman makes the best version of and I’m here to say that’s all fine and good, but I’d put my chicken salad up against anyone else’s any day of the week and I wouldn’t sweat even a little.

It’s a pretty simple recipe, actually.  I start with chopped broccoli (broccoli slaw mix works well too) cauliflower, carrots, or whatever sturdy veggies I have in my fridge and add shredded cheese, chopped cooked bacon, mayonnaise, and little ranch dressing.  Mix it up let it hang out in the fridge while you roast your boneless, skin-less chicken parts of choice.  While the chicken is still warm, chop it into bite-sized pieces (but not super small) and fold it into the mixture.  Serve immediately as a sandwich, on crackers, or in a cup (no joke). Simple, yes?

The warmth of the chicken does something incredible to the salad and makes it really Really REALLY good.

A couple hints:

Don’t add too much mayonnaise.  You want chicken salad, not soup.  Start with a tablespoon or two and add more later, if needed.

Make sure your bacon is really crispy.  Nothing sucks more that mushy bacon.  Ick.

Chop your veggies nice and small.  They act as texture, not crudités.

A note:  if you are one of my American readers, please Please PLEASE vote today.  You have a responsibility and a gift, so use it.

Happy Tuesday!

No Soup For You!

I hate soup.

This is a mostly true story.

I don’t hate all soups, but I don’t like many of them.  Something about things that are cooked together for that long and they all start to taste the same and…icky.  It makes me shiver a little just thinking about it.

That being said, today I made soup.  AND IT WAS AWESOME.

One soup that I do really enjoy is baked potato soup.  You can find it at most restaurants (though the best I ever had was at O’Charley’s) and it’s always super decadent and rich and you can feel your thighs expanding as you eat it.  So there is that.

I got to thinking, I cut my mashed potatoes with cauliflower to main them healthier, so why wouldn’t the same principle work for potato soup?

Turns out, it does.

This recipe isn’t my own, but was adapted from this one from Gina at skinnytaste.com.  I left out the bacon, and added broccoli to the available condiments, used 2% milk instead of 1% (because it’s what I happened to have) and made a double recipe.  I’m glad I did too, because this soup was definitely a crowd-pleaser.  Even the manliest man in the group couldn’t tell that there was a whole head of cauliflower in the dish and I only used about 4 smallish potatoes for a huge pot of soup!

The best thing about this soup is that you can make it in under an hour.  Seriously.  It’s thick and creamy and rich and healthy, and I’m all over this.  Yum!!!

Hope you’re having a lovely weekend!

The most wonderful time of the year…

I like Christmas, I really do.  But for me, the most wonderful time of the year is Fall.  Hands down.

With the air getting crisper and the leaves getting crisper it seems only obvious that my food should get crisper too.

…Right?  Whatever.

I love roasting vegetables.  They get deliciously crispy on the outside and stay soft on the inside. They taste and smell exactly like Fall should and I love them.  I love them!!

And they couldn’t be easier.  Cut your veg into bite-sized pieces, toss in salt, pepper and olive oil on a sheet pan and throw in the oven at 400-425 degrees for about a half hour, turning once, until crispy and cooked through.  This works for almost any produce, but I like it best with dense, seasonal root vegetables like potatoes, squash and parsnips (the albino cousin of the carrot).  You can also roast fruit and berries, but not for quite as long.  Easy, killer.

The result?

Delicious Fall-ness! It makes a great side to almost any dish and bring warm heartiness to your table.  Love!

Happy Tuesday!

A clever pun about a fish…

 

Hello, lovelies!!!

It’s Friday, usually a day of joy and excitement, but this one has been more of a day of stress and an ever-increasing list.  Boo. However, I do want to tell you about a wonderful fish dinner I made earlier in the week.  For those just joining us, you can read about my effort to take back dinner here.  I used tilapia, because I like it, and because (as I found out recently) you can buy individual frozen tilapia fillets in the freezer section of your grocery store.  Sweet!  For frozen tilapia, leave it frozen until you’re ready to use it, and then run it under cold water for a few minutes to thaw.  It doesn’t have to thaw completely; little fillets are pretty thin and cook up quickly.

Tilapia With Couscous and Peas

Start with a quick marinade.  In a plastic bag place your tilapia fillets (I used 4) and add: 2 cloves crushed garlic, salt and pepper, a little olive oil, and lemon juice, and let it sit for about 10 minutes.  Then saute it in butter about 3 minutes on each side until the fish is firm and flakes easily.  Easy, no?

For the couscous: I made a whole box of couscous so that I could use it for a salad later in the week.  Follow the box instructions, which usually amounts to putting the couscous in a bowl and adding boiling water.  Then cover and let sit for 5-10 minutes, followed by a fluff with a fork.  Kind of like rice, but different.  To pair with the fish, add a couple of tablespoons fresh chopped parsley and 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes with a little salt and pepper.  It makes a really nice side dish, filling, but not too heavy.

I used frozen peas and just cooked them according to the package directions.  All in all this meal takes about 20 minutes to prepare, and that includes the marinade.  Soooooo easy and delicious!  I always feel like I need to add more seafood into my diet, and this is a fantastic way to do it.

I’m spending the weekend cleaning and organizing my life.  It’s amazing how behind you get on housework when you start working away from home. Anyone have tips on the best way to get all of my crazy under control?

I hope you have a lovely weekend and stay tuned for a post about a couscous salad that will change your life.

 

The Case of the Missing Inspiration or, How I’m Kicking the Habit.

I am in a rut.  A food rut.

I can cook.  Really, I’m quite good at it, but somehow I find myself making the same seven or eight dinners all the time.  And honestly, how many times can a person make the world’s easiest from-scratch spaghetti sauce before it stops being impressive?  That’s what I make.  Spaghetti.  Crock pot meat.  Tacos.  And tacos? Not really even that much cooking.  It’s mostly chopping and putting things into bowls.  Woohoo.

It’s really very frustrating, but what can I do?  You make what you know and if you work all the time and are really good at making excuses, you find ways to never try anything new.  So there you go.

So I’ve decided to kick the habit of boring dinners.  Here’s what I’m going to do: a couple days every week until the end of September, I’m going to try a new recipe.  The winners will be added to the rotation, and the duds will be recycled, and who knows?!  I might get a dozen new recipes out of it.

I started last night with my first new meal

Apricot Glazed Pork Chops, Brown Rice Pilaf, and Steamed Broccoli.

Nothing special about the broccoli, just steamed and finished with a little salt and butter.

The Brown Rice Pilaf was probably the most complicated, and only because it took a little advanced planning.  You see, brown rice takes about 50 minutes to fully cook, and if you’re starting dinner when you get home at 6:30, it can take forever to get it on the table, at which point you’ll cave and order Chinese.  The pilaf also called for toasted walnuts, and the toasting process, which not lengthy, is also a step you can do ahead of time.

Knowing this, on Sunday afternoon, when I was baking for work, I went ahead and made the rice (1 cup dry), and toasted the walnuts in the oven at 400 degrees for about 6 minutes until they were golden and fragrant.  I toasted a cup of walnuts, half for the pilaf on Monday, and the other half for lunch later in the week.  If you plan your meals, you really can cut down on prep.

For dinner, reheat the rice and add 1/2 cups chopped toasted walnuts, 1 Tbs. chopped fresh dill, 1 Tbs butter, and a handful of dried cranberries (raisins would work too). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the Pork Chops: Heat a skillet on medium-high heat.  Add a splash of olive oil and your pork chops, cooking 6-8 minutes on each side, until done.  Remove the pork from the pan and add 1 Tbs aged (minimum 7 years aged!!!!!!) balsamic vinegar and 1 cup apricot preserves to the drippings. You want a glaze, but if it get’s too syrupy, add some water to thin it out a little.  Cook for a minute to combine and then add the pork chops back into the pan.  Turn them once and cook 1-2 minutes until coated.

Ah-maz-ing.  The rice is nutty and filling, the pork chops are sweet and savory and the broccoli adds delicious texture.  Dried cranberries and dill, who’dathunkit?

This meal was delicious and healthful and definitely makes it into my dinner rotation!

Happy Tuesday!!!!

PS. Observant readers will notice a new button the sidebar.  I recently read an article that said that technically, you’re supposed to gain permission from the original source before you pin anything to Pinterest.  I didn’t know that, but as a blanket statement, you are free to pin anything of mine, without asking.  Of course, I’d love for you to leave me a comment telling me you did!!!!

You Know What? Fine!

So, I’ve started a new job.  Not just now, a couple weeks ago.  One of the perks of having this job is that I have coworkers.  These are generally lovely people and they have this great tradition of eating lunch together every day at noon.  For someone who has been working by herself for 2 years and never had lunch with anyone, this is kind of a big deal.

At lunch, we talk about all kinds of things, and one day last week we were talking about cake.  I mentioned that I had made this super amazing chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting.

And I have.

And it’s soooooooo good.

However, this was not the first thing that I told them I’d made before, and one of the girls exclaimed, “You say you can make all kinds of things, but I’ve never seen them!”

So I made the cake this weekend, and brought it in today.

It was awesome.

Happy Monday!

Adventures in Chicken

I know that I’ve talked a few times about my Magic Pot (AKA Deep Covered Baker) from The Pampered Chef.  I’ve talked about how it makes chicken in the microwave, and I’ve regaled you with its amazing prowess.   This post really isn’t about the Magic Pot, but it starts with some chicken breasts that I cooked in the microwave in 8 minutes.

EIGHT.  MINUTES.

Anyway.  If you don’t have a Magic Pot (though I recommend that you get one) you can always just roast your chicken in the oven.  Salt, pepper, a little olive oil and the seasoning of your choice (I like thyme, garlic, and onion – dried and/or granulated)  and you’re good to go.  Then slice it up into 1/4-1/2 inch slices and you’re ready for the most amazing sandwich of your life.

Here’s how mine went

For the Cherry Tomato Relish, I chopped a handful of cherry tomatoes and drizzled them with a little olive oil, salt, pepper and parsley.  The spicy mayo combines regular mayo with garlic, onion, cayenne pepper, curry powder and parsley.

It was a revelation.  I made this for dinner one night, and then had leftovers, so I made it for lunch the next three days.  Once the chicken is cooked, the rest is just assembly.  So good!

Keeping my keyboard company…

I also made a killer chicken salad with my 8 minute chicken, but that’s a story for another time.

Happy Lunching!

Stir. And then? Panic.

I am a baker, both by experience and by personality (if you know a lot of bakers, you understand what I mean).   So when I decided to try out a homemade caramel recipe I found on Pinterest (by the way…can we just talk about Pinterest for a minute? Ah-may-zing!  If you’re still waiting for an invite, let me know.  I’d be happy to invite you!) I thought it would be no big deal.  After all, candy is just like baking, right?

Right?!

Wrong.

I used this tutorial from AmberLee of GiversLog (www.giverslog.com).  And I mean, I used it EXACTLY AS WRITTEN.  I don’t mess with candy.  Respect.

After testing your candy thermometer, you start by melting some butter on low, then adding brown sugar.  Now if the sugar crystallizes on the side of the pan, the whole thing is ruined and you’ll cry, so you are armed with a damp pastry brush in one hand and a spoon in the other, stirring, whilst keeping watch for the crystals.

Constant vigilance.

This next part happens in kind of a blur….

The sugar starts to melt and your stirring, and your stirring and you add corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk, and you’re stirring and stirring and the recipe says frequently, but you’re not sure how frequent so you decide to stir constantly and then you’re watching the thermometer because you know that if it gets too hot it will crack when it cools and you’re watching and stirring and little bits of things start coming up off the bottom of the pan and you think it is burning but then the whole thing changes color and you’re stirring and watching the temperature and trying to remember when you last felt happy and it has been like half an hour and your stirring and watching and OMG we’re almost there and you’re stirring and watching and praying and then remembering to open your eyes and then all of a sudden you hit the right temperature and you stir in the vanilla and pour it into the parchment covered pan and step back and you’re done.

Whew.

Then comes the waiting.  You have to wait for the caramel to cool down before you know if it’s right or wrong.

A couple hours later, you check it and

OMGITSPERFECT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Truly and seriously, it is amazing.  Sticky, buttery, soft and wonderful, it’s great for Fall but was just a good in June.  I cut mine into 3″x3″ ish squares and wrapped them in parchment paper.  I found that kitchen shears were the best tool for cutting.

Happy Tuesday!