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Thanksgiving Takes Two, Three, and Four

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

I’ve got a bird to throw in the oven and a parade to watch. Just wanted to pop in to share these previously posted ideas for your Thanksgiving leftovers.

I’ll be starting my holiday cookie baking soon with a few new recipes to share (including a chewy chocolate orange cookie, laced with grand marnier and bits of candied orange peel), but I’ll also be posting a few of my old favorite cookie recipes over on The Gourmand Mom facebook page during the next few weeks. If you don’t already follow The Gourmand Mom on facebook, click on over using the link on the right side of the page. See you there!

Bursting with thankfulness,

~Amy

Thanksgiving Leftover Variation #1 – Turkey Soup

Don’t let that turkey carcass go to waste! There’s so much flavor waiting to be extracted from those bones. Get the broth started right after dinner. Simply throw the whole turkey carcass into a large pot, cover with water, and simmer (partly covered) for 3-4 hours. Don’t worry if there’s still some meat or turkey skin hanging on the turkey! Just throw the whole thing in the pot and let it start working while you sit down to enjoy some pumpkin pie. Once it’s simmered, strain the broth and refrigerate overnight. The next day, you can finish making the soup. Click here for my step-by-step guide to making a basic chicken soup. You can follow the same process for turkey soup.

Thanksgiving Leftover Variation #2 – Open-faced Thanksgiving Sandwich

In my opinion, this is the best way to use leftovers on the day after Thanksgiving, when you’ve still got a bit of everything in the fridge. Simply reheat some leftover turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. Spread some cranberry sauce on a lightly toasted slice of thick, doughy bread. Then, top the cranberry sauce with the hot turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes. Drizzle hot gravy over the entire thing and enjoy. This is a knife and fork kind of sandwich; simple, hearty, and satisfying.

Click here for more details on making an open-faced turkey sandwich any time of year.

Thanksgiving Leftover Variation #3 – Roast Turkey, Brie, and Homemade Apple Butter Melts

This is my new personal favorite. Such a perfect combination of flavors. I happen to love apple butter; always have and probably always will. You can find it in most grocery stores, usually near the  jams and jellies. Look for one which doesn’t contain a lot of unnecessary added sugar or corn syrup. Apple butter really doesn’t need anything other than apples and a bit of apple cider or apple juice. Apple butter is a cinch to make at home. So, if you can’t find any at your store, follow my simple recipe to make your own. And, if apple butter just isn’t your thing, substitute some leftover cranberry sauce on these sandwiches. It will pair beautifully with the brie.

For the sandwiches, thinly slice brie and spread it onto a sturdy piece of bread. I prefer to use ciabatta or pain de campagne, but any doughy, crusty bread should work. Spread apple butter (or cranberry sauce) onto another piece of bread. Place a few slices of roasted turkey breast between the bread slices. Loosely wrap the sandwich in foil and bake for about 20-25 minutes in a 350 degrees oven, until the cheese has melted, the bread feels slightly toasted, and the turkey is warm.

Homemade Apple Butter

Ingredients

  • 5-6 apples, peeled, cores removed, and coarse chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups apple cider
  • Cinnamon stick (optional)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Simmer the apple pieces in the apple cider for about 20 minutes. If desired, add a cinnamon stick to simmer with the mixture. Then, puree the apples until smooth. Pour the puree into an oven-safe covered pan and place in the oven for about 5 hours. The apple butter will darken to a rich brown as it cooks.

Thanksgiving Leftover Variation #4 – Turkey Salad Sandwiches

Turkey salad is a simple and delicious way to breathe new life into the remainder of your turkey leftovers. I love it on a lightly toasted bagel with a slice of swiss cheese. To make a basic turkey salad, simply chop or tear your leftover turkey into small pieces. Add some finely diced onion and celery. Combine with just enough mayonnaise and mustard to bind the salad. Season with salt and pepper, as desired. Stir in some dried cranberries for an extra tasty touch!

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Chicken Cordon Bleu Panini

boy, n.
1. noise with dirt on it
 

Daylight savings time has done a number on my noisy boys’ sleep schedules. They’ve always been early risers, but now we’re talking about 4:30 in the morning early. And they don’t wake slowly. They wake with the force of a jack-in-the-box that someone has been cranking all night long. It’s startling…even when you know it’s coming.

And they’re loud; so incredibly loud. I can’t even begin to put words to the kinds of noises which come from their little bodies. As they come barging into our room making all manners of inexplicable noises, I bury my head under my pillow and wonder why little boys don’t come with volume controls.

But even as I’m hoarsely grumbling ‘go away’, I’m reminded to be thankful for all of that predawn noise; that noise which means we have three healthy, active little boys to be making it. In a month of thanks giving, I am thankful for that.

Thursday nights are crazy nights for our noisy little family. For the few hours preceding the boys’ bedtime, it’s a revolving door of activity. The boys have ninja training (karate class) right about the time we’d normally be eating dinner, so we eat early. My husband gets home from work shortly after we return, then runs off to rock and roll training (band practice) just after the boys get to bed. At that point, I curl up onto the couch for my extremely informal sommelier training (glass of red).

So, everyone eats dinner in a rush and at a different time on Thursdays, making it essential that Thursday night dinners are simple and easy to reheat. This satisfying chicken cordon bleu panini fits the bill perfectly! Breaded chicken breasts are sliced and combined with salty prosciutto and a creamy gruyere sauce, then pressed together, wrapped in foil, and heated until it’s hot and melty. Every part of this sandwich can be made ahead of time (even the night before). Best yet, it can be wrapped in individual portions, which are ready to pop in the oven whenever your future ninja, rockstar, or sommelier gets hungry!

Today’s Focus on Technique – Bechamel Sauce

A bechamel sauce is one of the five French ‘mother sauces’, which means that it is a base sauce from which many variations can be made. Bechamel sauce is a simple white sauce made with a combination of roux (butter and flour) and milk. It’s typically seasoned with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Bechamel sauces can be made thinner or thicker by varying the amount of roux used in the sauce. A basic bechamel can be seasoned in a multitude of ways and used in lasagna, as the base of a cheese (mornay) sauce for macaroni and cheese, or as the start of a creamy soup.

The process of making a bechamel is simple. Combine equal parts butter and flour in a pan over medium heat, whisking constantly for a minute or two to remove some of that raw flour taste. Gradually add milk to the roux, whisking constantly. (Ideally, the milk should be warm or hot when it’s added to the roux, though I’ll admit that I rarely warm the milk and have never had a problem.) Whisk until well combined. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for a few minutes, whisking constantly, until the milk is thickened. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

*1 tablespoon each of butter and flour to 1 cup of milk will produce a thin bechamel which makes a good base for a cheese sauce. Use 2-3 tablespoons each of butter and flour to 1 cup of milk for a thicker sauce.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Panini

Ingredients

  • 1 loaf of wide, flat crusty bread (such as ciabatta)
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
  • Olive or vegetable oil
  • 3-4 ounces prosciutto (or ham)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup gruyere (or other swiss-style cheese), shredded
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pinch of nutmeg

Directions

For the chicken: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Dip the chicken breasts in the beaten eggs, then press into the bread crumbs, until well coated. Heat a thin layer of oil in a fry pan over medium/medium-high heat. Cook the chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Transfer the chicken to a baking sheet. Place in the oven, until cooked through. (Chicken is fully cooked at 165 degrees. Cooking time will vary based on thickness of the chicken breasts and how well they’re cooked during the browning step. Mine took about 13 minutes in the oven.) *The chicken can be made ahead and refrigerated.

For the sauce: Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic. Cook for a few seconds, being careful not to burn. Add the flour. Whisk to combine. Cook for a minute. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook for a minute or two, until thickened. Reduce the heat. Add the cheese and whisk until melted. Season with a pinch of nutmeg and salt and pepper, to taste. *The sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated. It will thicken as it cools.

To assemble the sandwiches: Slice the loaf of bread in half. Spread a layer of sauce onto each half. Arrange the prosciutto in a thin layer on the bottom half. Slice the breaded chicken breasts into thin pieces. Arrange them on top of the prosciutto. Cover with the top half. Tightly wrap the sandwich in foil, pressing down to flatten the sandwich. If desired, you can pre-cut the sandwich and wrap in individual servings. Bake in a 375 degrees oven for about 20 minutes until hot and melty. *The entire sandwich can be made ahead of time. If cooking from cold, allow for extra cooking time.

Southwest Chicken Salad and a Chicken Salad Round-Up

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My oldest son is about to turn five. He is named William, after his great grandfather on my husband’s side. His middle name is James, after my father and other loved members of my family. William James. It’s a good name. But he was almost named Jack Bauer.

I’m not even joking. I’d been in labor for 25 hours by the time my first son was born. I hadn’t eaten. I hadn’t slept. Then, sometime during the last few hours, 24 came on the hospital tv. My husband and I were really into 24 at that point in time. We watched, using Jack Bauer’s escapades to distract us from our own 24+ hour adventure. Desperate for a quick finish to a long labor, we agreed that should our son be born before the end of the show, we would name him Jack Bauer. We would have done it. But he was born a few hours after 24 ended and we named him William James.

Asian-Style Chicken Salad

Sometimes I still think it would’ve been sort of awesome to have named him Jack Bauer. I mean… people don’t get much cooler than Jack Bauer. They say that Jack Bauer sleeps with a night light because the dark is afraid of him. And he once won a game of Connect 4 in 3 moves. When he was a kid, Jack Bauer made his mother finish his vegetables. And the word on the street is that Superman wears Jack Bauer pajamas.

Chicken Bacon Ranch Chicken Salad

And the name would have been appropriate for our little guy. I mean, our oldest son really is a little Jack Bauer.  Nothing phases him. The kid could fall off the roof and he would just stand up, brush the dirt from his pants, and run off making an offhanded comment about how inconvenient that fall was. And he thrives on being busy. Down time is not a part of my son’s vocabulary. As his mother, this is very exhausting. By 8:00 am on any given day, he’s asked me at least 15 times what we’re going to do next. I’m in a constant scramble to keep my little Jack Bauer sufficiently busy.

Autumn Harvest Chicken Salad

Last week, the boys were on their spring break from school, which meant that I needed to work overtime at keeping everyone occupied. Part of my plan for the week included a trip to the zoo. I had it all figured out. I picked the nicest day of the week to go. We’d arrive when the zoo opened and spend a leisurely morning enjoying the sunny day as we gazed at lions, tigers, and bears. (And monkeys. I love the monkeys.) I packed a few snacks, some juice boxes, and my camera. Then, off we went.

Our adventure started as planned. But it took on a very Jack Bauer-esque pace. As excited as the boys were to be at the zoo, my oldest barely glanced at any animal before asking what was next. When can we see the tiger? When will we see the penguins? Where is the wolf? All the while asking about the snack, which he somehow spied me packing. Whoa, Nelly! Slow down and enjoy the elephant standing in front of you. Or the snow leopard, who in twenty-five visits to this zoo, I have never once seen. The snow leopard, with his piercing blue eyes, who is currently nose to nose with you, save for the pane of glass between.

But we booked it through that zoo, barely stopping to glance at each animal. Somehow, I managed to put the snack off to the half-way mark…the snack which he gobbled up too fast to taste, in order to get to the juice boxes that he spotted with his laser vision. The kid misses nothing.

Curried Chicken Salad

Or does he miss everything? I mean, I spent the entire zoo trip telling him to slow down. Relax. Just enjoy the flamingos for a minute. Let’s not rush things. And then I had a revelation, about this whole idea of living in the moment. I admit, I don’t fully buy into the concept of living in the moment. I get it, in theory. But I’m a planner. To me the idea of living in the moment feels a bit reckless. I mean, what about preparing for the future?? If I wanted to live today like it was my last, I certainly wouldn’t be sitting on this couch writing a blog post. I’d be in Disneyworld eating at least eight of those chocolate-dipped Mickey Mouse rice krispy treats. Or swimming with sea turtles in Barbados, with a glass of rum punch waiting on the beach. Or on a lounge chair in the middle of a winery in Napa, with dinner reservations scheduled at French Laundry. But we’ve got kids’ college savings to think about, and retirement accounts that need feeding, and a home that needs tending. Sometimes we need to make choices today based on our hopes and dreams for tomorrow. Those things are important too. If only it were so easy to just live for right now…

Waldorf Chicken Salad

But I recognize that striving to live in the moment does not mean to live recklessly, ignore responsibilities, or neglect planning for future goals. Rather, it’s a reminder to savor each day, be with the ones you love, and make each moment count. It’s the thing my oldest made me consider at the zoo. Slow down. Stop rushing. Stop thinking about the penguins when the flamingos are standing right in front of you. 

As a parent, it’s easy to want to rush through some things. I’m in a rush for the baby to walk, because my arms get tired carrying him. But I know that someday I’ll miss the security of being able to keep him safely within my arms.  I’m in a rush for the kids to do their own laundry, though someday, when they’re grown and off at college, I’ll longs for the days of folding their tiny t-shirts and briefs. I’m in a rush for the baby to sleep through the night, yet I know I’ll panic the first time he does. I’m in a rush for my living room not to be covered in small cars and trains, but I know they will only be replaced by lacrosse sticks and smelly gym bags. I need to slow down. Enjoy the evidence of small children dripping all over my house. Enjoy the snuggles. Pause to savor the giggles and try to find satisfaction in working through tantrums and tears. Enjoy the flamingos for all their beauty and imperfection. Worry about the penguins when we get there.

Tropical Chicken Salad

I’m acutely aware that this blog seems like The Chicken Salad Blog lately. Things have been busy around here and I’m scrambling (in between savoring each moment). As I’ve mentioned before, chicken salad is my go-to easy dinner. Pretty certain that there’s a direct correlation between how full our calendar is and how often we eat chicken salad. Between birthday party planning, spring break, doctor’s appointments, play set building, holidays, and the normal business of a tending to a family with three young kids, it’s been a chicken salad month.
Our most recent chicken salad was this tasty southwest style chicken salad; tender chunks of chicken in a spicy dressing, tossed with sweet corn kernels, black beans, and red bell pepper. Serve it over a bed of greens, wrapped in a tortilla, or stuffed in a pita pocket. And if the southwest inspired flavors of this chicken salad don’t inspire you, check out a few of my previously posted chicken salad recipes. Love ‘em all! Fast, easy, and delicious…leaving more time for savoring the things that really matter.

Southwest Chicken Salad

Southwest Chicken Salad

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons diced chiles (or diced jalapeño pepper)
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (for mild/medium spice)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 pound chicken breast, cooked and chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 3/4 cup corn kernels
  • 3/4 cup black beans (from a can, drained and rinsed)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Combine the mayonnaise, mustard, diced chiles, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and garlic. Pour the dressing over the chicken, red bell pepper, corn, and black beans. Toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and additional cayenne pepper, as desired.

Links to previously posted Gourmand Mom chicken salad recipes:

Waldorf Chicken Salad

Tropical Chicken Salad

Chicken Bacon Ranch Chicken Salad

Curried Chicken Salad

Asian-style Chicken Salad

Autumn Harvest Chicken Salad

Chicken Bacon Ranch Salad

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In college, that first spring-like day always meant one thing…skipping classes in order to sit outside and drink too many beers with friends. They may as well have just canceled classes the first time the temps went into the 50′s, because I’m pretty sure that everyone played hooky that day. (Youngens, don’t be like me. Be good and go to all of your classes like you ought to.)  Even still, those first unseasonably warm days, on the cusp between winter and spring, always trigger my craving for beer.

Now, it’s very rare that I drink anything besides water or coffee before the kids go to bed. The occasional exception is when we take the family for dinner at the Spaghetti Warehouse, where I will order myself a nice glass of chilled Lambrusco, to go along with my warm sourdough bread and eggplant parm. So, the kids rarely see me drink and when they do, it’s usually a glass of wine.

But, this past Sunday afternoon, when the temps were dancing around 60, I decided to grab myself a rare daytime beer. The boys rode their bikes in the driveway while the baby and I sat on the lawn playing with bubbles. He watched as I blew wand after wand full of bubbles, mesmerized as they floated off into the sunny blue sky and puzzled by his inability to grab the bubbles which nestled in the grass around us, still slightly damp from the recently melted snow. And as we enjoyed the beautiful day, I sipped my springy day beer. It was a blissfully peaceful moment.

And then my four-year-old wandered over and the following conversation took place:

What?!? You drink beer, Mommy??

Yes, sometimes.

I didn’t know that girls drank beer. I thought only men drank beer.

Nope…ladies can drink beer too.

I thought girls only drank wine.

Nope, buddy…girls can drink beer too, if they want. And men can drink wine as well.

He wandered off, clearly perplexed by this new information he’d acquired…as if his understanding of the world were temporarily shattered and he was left to put the pieces back together in a new order. As parents, I think we sometimes spend so much time questioning how we communicate (or purposefully don’t communicate) gender roles to our children…all the while they’re busy forming their own creative ideas about such things. You just can’t win. It’s a wild world we live in…boys can wear pink, girls can play with trucks, and ladies drink beer! At the very least, this lady does!

The weather has been unseasonably perfect this week; warm enough to open the windows for a bit of fresh air and sunny enough to spend the afternoons playing outside. We had such a mild winter this year, all things considered, and now it seems we’re poised to slip right into spring. Ahh… We’re spending as much time outside as possible, just in case this beautiful weather doesn’t last. Which means easy no-fuss dinners, preferably the sort which leaves leftovers for the next day, like this Chicken, Bacon, Ranch Salad. It’s yet another twist on chicken salad, accented with delicious chunks of bacon and a homemade ranch-style dressing. Simple, fresh, and perfect for springy days.

I dare say, it would go quite nicely with a cold beer.

Chicken Bacon Ranch Salad
Ingredients
  • 3 cups chicken, cooked and chopped
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 6-8 slices bacon, cooked until crisp and chopped
  • Shredded cheddar cheese and additional chopped chives, for garnish (optional)

Directions

Combine mayonnaise, sour cream, chives, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, pepper, ground mustard, and lemon juice, until smooth. Mix in the chicken, bacon, and onion. Adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Serve over mixed greens or on your favorite bread. If desired, garnish with a bit of shredded cheddar and chopped chives.

Curried Chicken Salad with Apricots and Cashews

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My husband and I have a tendency to get sucked into tv shows, especially when we jump on the bandwagon a little late and have the benefit of being able to marathon our way through previous seasons.

Long ago, in our young, child-free lives, we found ourselves sucked into The Sopranos. This was way back in the day when people rented movies from places like Blockbuster. Netflix was still in its infancy, Redbox didn’t exist at all, and cable on-demand options were limited. But, there was good ol’ Blockbuster…reliable as long as you managed to snag the video you wanted, before someone else did. My husband and I picked up The Sopranos a few seasons into its run. And we got hooked. We’d stay up way too late, drinking way too much beer, and then find ourselves walking to Blockbuster at 11:30pm (or running if we were minutes before closing) to get the next disc…for just one more episode. It was a rough adjustment once we’d caught up and had to wait week to week for new episodes and months or even years between seasons. But, that excitement of getting caught up in a show is so much fun.

Most recently, Battleship Galactica did it again for us…this time on Netflix streaming, which saved us those midnight runs to the video store. The show hooked us in the same way as The Sopranos, maybe even more so. We never would have predicted that a sci-fi show (not our typical genre) would have had us watching the clock until the time we could put the kiddies to bed so we could fire up another episode. One more, just one more…and then we’ll go to bed, for serious. It was a sad day when we watched that last episode, knowing the show had long since ended its run. I still miss you, Commander Adama.

And now it’s happened again. After hearing about it left and right, we decided to check out Downton Abbey, a relatively new PBS series which follows the lives of an aristocratic family and their house servants. And it’s got us firmly in its elegant grasp. I love this show. We’re a few episodes into the first season and I’m completely entangled in its bizarrely formal world. Suddenly, I find myself making lengthy to-do lists:

  • Acquire an English accent.
  • Hire a lady’s maid. (Google lady’s maid responsibilities.)
  • Begin introducing myself as Lady Amy of Syracuse.
  • Install service bells in all rooms of the house.
  • Use the word “indeed” more often.
  • Begin wearing evening gowns for dinner each evening. (Check amazon.com for vintage evening gowns.)
  • Take more naps and drink more tea.
  • Spend more time trying to figure out who my sons will marry.
  • Purchase a collection of cufflinks for my husband.
  • Build a room to sit in while I wait for the cooks to finish making my daily feast.
  • Hire cooks.

Clearly, I’m going to be very busy. It’s no wonder those ladies need to take so many naps. In the mean time, I’m going to continue wearing my sweatpants, responding to Mommy (or maybe Lady Mommy), and cooking my own meals.

I am crazy about chicken salad. It’s always such an easy, satisfying meal (especially on those nights when you wish you were just sitting around waiting for someone to cook your dinner). When I don’t know what to make for dinner, I make chicken salad. There are so many possible ways to make it and I love them all…just as long as they’re not too mayonnaisey. But mix the chicken with different spices, fruits, nuts, or veggies and it’s hard to go wrong. One of my recent favorites is this curried chicken salad with bits of dried apricots and crunchy cashews. Serve it over a bed of mixed greens or on your favorite bread. Stuffed inside a slightly warmed pita round would be heavenly, indeed.

Curried Chicken Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 large chicken breasts, cooked and chopped or torn into small pieces
  • 1/3 cup dried apricots, chopped
  • 1/3 cup cashews, chopped
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/4 cup celery, finely diced
  • 1/8 cup onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste

Directions

Combine mayonnaise, mustard, and curry powder. Stir in the chicken, apricots, cashews, celery, onion. Season with salt and cayenne pepper, as desired.

Serves about 4

In other news, this little man has started taking his first, wobbly steps. I think I’m going to have my hands full for a while. Might be just the time to make a big batch of this easy, delicious chicken salad!

Steak and White Cheddar Panini with Garlicky Potatoes Au Gratin

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Happy New Year, my friends!!

Like millions of other people, I’m resolving to lose weight and live healthier in this new year. I know…such a predictable resolution! But, I’ve got at least 20 (ok, probably more like 30) pounds of extra weight still hanging around since giving birth to our third little love almost eight months ago. I’ve been making all sorts of excuses (some quite valid and some more of a stretch) for why I haven’t lost the weight yet. I was hoping it would just go away, but it’s become clear to me that it’s time to stop dragging my feet and to get proactive.

When it comes to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, my approach has always been one of balance. Eat mostly nutritious and unprocessed foods, enjoy a few indulgences, balance the indulgences with exercise. It’s an approach which has always worked well for me and makes good sense as a long-term plan. But, at this particular point in time, I feel that I need something with a few more ‘rules’ to get me jump-started on the right path.

So, beginning today, I’ll be following the South Beach diet, slightly modified (as I am still breastfeeding our baby and the first phase of South Beach is a bit too restrictive for a nursing mom). My husband and I have done the South Beach diet in the past and there are many things I like about it. It’s often confused for being a low-carb diet, but that’s a misconception. The South Beach diet is more of a good-carb diet. It’s a diet full of lean proteins, healthy fats, fresh fruits and veggies, and whole grains. It makes me feel good to eat this way. In many ways, it’s the way most of us should be eating anyway.

South Beach is a diet with guidelines, rather than a detailed plan; guidelines that teach you to choose foods which keep you feeling fuller longer and keep your blood sugar levels more stable in order to avoid the inevitable cravings and overeating which result from rapid peaks and plummets in blood sugar levels. Feeling more satisfied naturally makes it easier to eat less and lose the excess weight. (I like that part!)

My main gripe with the South Beach diet is in its suggestion to use artificially sweetened products and other processed food substitutes, particularly during the restrictive first phase of the diet where even fresh fruit is off-limits. I get the point, but personally, I’d rather enjoy real foods more sparingly than start introducing food substitutes like sugar-free jello and artificial ‘buttery spreads’ into my diet. So, I’m going to skip the recommended sugar-free snacks and stick with a smidgen of real butter when I need it.

You may be wondering what my new ‘diet’ means for this blog. Well…nothing, really. My little space here is not about to become a diet blog or a South Beach resource. Quite simply, this will continue to be a place to share my love of cooking delicious food. You can still expect to see all sorts of simple and crave-worthy recipes…just maybe a bit more broiled fish and roasted veggies in between the macaroni and cheese and triple chocolate cake.

Well, it’s really official now…put in writing for accountability’s sake. I’m starting a diet. I will stay focused. I will lose this weight.

But before we embark on our healthier diets, I had to splurge a bit…have something completely indulgent (in addition to diligently finishing off the leftover Christmas cookies). With that, I give you garlicky potatoes au gratin and a cheesy flank steak panini sandwich, loaded with horseradish butter and sweet caramelized red onions on a doughy loaf of French bread. This meal is worth a little extra time on the treadmill!

Garlicky Potatoes Au Gratin

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds Russet Potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, finely minced or grated
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 cup gruyere cheese, shredded

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Rub 1 tablespoon of butter around the bottom and sides of a medium-sized baking dish. Rub the smashed clove of garlic in the butter. Arrange the potato slices, lying flat, in the baking dish. In a saucepan, heat the half and half, garlic, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper, until it begins to bubble. Allow it to bubble gently for a minute or so. Pour the mixture over the potatoes. Give the baking dish a little shake and press down gently on the potatoes to ensure the potatoes and sauce of evenly dispersed. Sprinkle the gruyere cheese on top.

Bake for about 55 minutes.

Steak and White Cheddar Panini

Ingredients

  • 1 pound flank steak
  • Salt and pepper
  • 5 tablespoons butter, divided
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 1/2 cups aged white cheddar, shredded
  • 1 loaf French bread (batard or baguette)
Directions
For the steak: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place the steak on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for about 20 minutes or until it reaches your desired doneness. Allow the steak to rest for a few minutes before slicing. Slice into thin strips. Set aside.
For the caramelized onions: Heat one tablespoon of butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the onions. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently, until sweet and tender. Set aside.
For the horseradish butter: Melt the butter in a small bowl. Add the horseradish. Stir. Place the bowl in the refrigerator. Every few minutes, stir the butter. Continue checking and stirring until the butter has become firm enough to be spreadable. Remove from the refrigerator.
To prepare the sandwich: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the French bread in half lengthwise. Press down on the top of the loaf to flatten the bread. Spread the horseradish butter on both halves of the bread. Arrange the steak on the bottom half of the bread. Scatter the caramelized onions on top of the steak. Generously sprinkle with the white cheddar. Place the other half of the bread on top. Tightly wrap the sandwich in foil, pressing down as you wrap.
Place the wrapped sandwich in the oven. Place a heavy, oven-safe pan (or a brick wrapped in foil) on top of the sandwich to keep it flattened as it cooks. Heat the sandwich for about 20 minutes or until all components are warmed and the cheese is melty.

P.S. Though I’m not quite brave enough to share my starting weight with you, I will gladly keep you updated on the loss! Wish me luck! Anyone else embarking on a New Year’s weight loss plan??

Day: 1 Weight Loss: 0 Motivation: High

Autumn Harvest Chicken Salad

I believe that childhood should be magical.

I want my children to believe in Santa Claus and feel a swell of excitement when they walk into the living room on Christmas morning. That’s a feeling that gives me eager goosebumps to remember.

I want my children to eagerly await the tooth fairy and to believe that Mommy has to power to banish monsters from their room. I want my children to believe that wishes can come true.

Because I believe there is magic all around us.

I’m not talking about magic in the Harry Potter sense or even in the pulling a rabbit out of a hat sense. But magic in each of our abilities to make unbelievable things happen for each other. Magic in surprises and unexpected treats. Magic happens because we make it happen.

So, when I showed my son how to make a wish on a wishbone, and he wished for a motorcycle, I decided I would make his wish come true. And when he comes home to find the large metal motorcycle decoration hanging on the wall above his bed, I’m going to pretend to know nothing about it. Let him believe in granted wishes and a little magic.

Someday my children will reason these things out for themselves. They’ll realize that it was Daddy who meticulously scattered cookie crumbs on the kitchen table; not Santa’s sloppy eating. They’ll know it was Mommy who purchased and hung the motorcycle on the wall; not some mysterious wish genie. They’ll discover that the tooth fairy, Easter bunny, and Santa Claus don’t exist; at least not in the physical sense.

But in return, I hope they’ll learn that the spirit of giving, generosity, and hope they represent is very real indeed. We’ll teach them to share the spirit of those myths in their lives, the way we shared it with them. We’ll teach them to spread the magic.

This chicken salad is the product of the chicken leftover from making the Italian Wedding Soup broth. It’s a fantastic way to use leftover chicken, but would be totally worth cooking a chicken from scratch just to make! Sweet, savory, crunchy…magically delicious!

And when you get to that wishbone in the chicken, don’t forget to make a wish! Who knows…someone may be waiting to make your wish come true!

Autumn Harvest Chicken Salad

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 1 apple, diced
  • 1/3 cup celery, diced
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup pecan, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper

Directions

Combine all ingredients until well blended. Serve on thick, doughy slices of sourdough bread.

Thanksgiving Burgers

Three of the Most Embarrassing Moments of My Life:

1. The time in elementary school when one of my best friends took the opportunity to announce my crush to the entire class. Amy likes Anthony, my pal announced to her fully-attentive audience, leaving me red-faced and fumbling for words. If only I could have come up with some clever retort, like So’s your face or Your mama dresses you funny! Except that we all wore matching plaid uniforms… You can bet I kept my crushes to myself after that.

2. The time in high school, when, during a class exercise involving a map of Europe, I replied “Switz” in response to a question about SwitzERLAND. Hey…it said Switz on the map and none of the other countries were abbreviated. I wanted to crawl into a hole when the teacher responded, “Switz? Do you mean Switzerland?” Ummmm, yeah. The correct answer would be Switzerland…not the mysterious land of Switz; home to Switz cheese and Switz watches!

3. The time in college, when I discovered I’d been walking down Main Street with the back of my skirt tucked into my pantyhose. Yes, that really happens…to me, apparently. I only discovered my wardrobe malfunction after trying to decode the odd looks I’d received from my employer, who’d been standing on the porch of  the local bar and restaurant I’d worked at, as I passed by with my tushie on display. For goodness sake, quit ogling and tell a modest girl she’s half dressed in the middle of town!

Oh, and did I mention that I started high school with a face covered in poison ivy? Yeah, for real.

I was never meant to be one of the cool kids anyway. If I were a food, I’ve always been more of a lima bean than a cupcake. I like unicorns, cried at the end of Battlestar Galactica, and won a bridge-building contest in my honors physics class (cause I’m cool like that). I trip over my own feet with concerning frequency and somehow manage to miss my mouth while drinking, more than I’d like to admit. I’m a clutz, a germaphobe, and a neat-freak.

It’s ok. I happen to like lima beans.

Knowing what you know now, are you sure you still want to hang out with me? Would you still like me if I told you that seeing the Christmas decorations currently on display in my local Target makes me giddy with excitement? There is no too early for Christmas stuff in my book. It’s coming and I can’t wait. And somewhere in between now and my favorite holiday, there will be Thanksgiving!

If you’re having a hard time waiting for that Thanksgiving meal, try this tasty burger on for size! The patty combines all the flavors of the turkey with the stuffing. Served on a doughy potato bun and topped with gravy and cranberry sauce, this turkey burger (with a twist) gives you a burst of Thanksgiving flavor with every bite!

Enjoy!

Thanksgiving Burger

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1/2 pound bulk breakfast sausage
  • 1/3 cup celery, finely diced
  • 1/3 cup leeks, finely sliced *
  • 1/2 cup dried apples, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 6 potato buns
  • Turkey gravy, homemade or store-bought
  • Cranberry sauce (jellied or whole berry), homemade or store-bought
* Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to slice leeks.
Directions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Using your hands, combine the turkey, sausage, celery, leeks, apples, salt, poultry seasoning, and pepper until well blended. Form into six patties. Place the patties onto a lightly greased baking sheet (a little vegetable or olive oil will do the trick). Cook for about 12 minutes, until fully cooked (internal temp of 165 degrees). Place each cooked patty onto a potato bun. Top with warmed gravy and cranberry sauce.

Independence Day Menu Ideas

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It’s almost time to celebrate America’s birthday; America’s number one holiday for backyard barbecues and launching brightly colored explosives into the sky.

Many of us will spend the day with friends and family, gathered around a hot grill, enjoying good summer food and cheering to independence. Check out these ideas for making your Independence Day menu extra delicious! (Click on the titles for a link to each recipe.)

And if you’re wondering how to make that tasty American flag cake pictured above, click here for a step-by-step guide.

Grilled Ribeye and Corn on the Cob with Chipotle Butter – Including lots of tips for grilling a delicious, juicy steak!

The Mona Lisa Burger – A juicy beef patty with gorgonzola, roasted garlic aioli, olives, prosciutto, onions, and sun-dried tomatoes

Grilled Honey-Garlic Baby Lamb Chops- A simple and elegant grilled alternative to burgers!

The Hangover Burger (aka The Heart Attack on a Bun) – Beef patty with bacon, chili, and spicy cheese sauce, topped with a slightly runny fried egg. Heavenly delicious!

Greek-style Lamb Burger with Tzatziki Sauce- My husband’s most favorite dish in the whole world, hands down.

Turkey Burger with Fresh Tomato Salsa- Slightly cheesy and perfectly delicious!

Barbecue Beef Chili – Pulled barbecue beef meets spicy chili in this super-satisfying dish. Totally worth the time it takes to put together. Make a huge batch and freeze the leftovers!

Baked Potato Salad – A flavorful potato salad alternative for those with an aversion to mayonnaise (like myself)!

Mediterranean Cous Cous – Simple and flavorful side dish which can be made ahead and served chilled.

Tomato-Cucumber Salad- Fresh summer tomatoes and crisp cucumber in a tangy vinaigrette.

Barley and Bean Salad – Bursting with nutrition and bright flavors!

Grilled Fingerling Potatoes- Throw them in a foil packet and pop them on the grill. Sprinkle with a bit of gorgonzola, if desired!

Dinosaur Barbecue Macaroni Salad – The only macaroni salad I’ve ever loved!

Orzo with Salmon and Cucumber - A fresh and satisfying side dish or main course on a hot summer day!

Tomato and Mozzarella Caprese - Classic and delicious!

Fresh Ginger Lemonade- A hint of infused ginger root with freshly squeezed lemons gives this lemonade that extra something special!

Mixed Berry Mousse- Pair it with a layer of vanilla bean panna cotta for an extra special treat!

Grilled Brie, Prosciutto, and Apricot Sandwiches

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Apparently, April is National Grilled Cheese Month. How I’ve arrived so late to this party is beyond me. My invitation must surely have been lost in the mail. But, no sooner did I learn of this important food recognition than I threw on my best apron and whipped up a sandwich worthy of the celebration. You can consider me fashionably late.

You don’t need to bend my arm to get me to celebrate grilled cheese sandwiches!

My choice of cheese was easy; nothing less than a rich, melty brie would do. And I love nothing more with my brie than the savory, smokey flavor of prosciutto coupled with sweet fruit flavor. Figs, either dried or fresh, are typically my go-to fruit when it comes to brie. But, inspiration drew me towards a vibrant apricot preserves for today’s sandwich. Look for a high quality preserves with plenty of big, juicy apricot chunks for the best results!

When it comes to a quick, satisfying dinner, it’s hard to go wrong with a melty grilled cheese sandwich! So, throw on your party shoes and join in the April grilled cheese celebration!

Grilled Brie, Prosciutto, and Apricot Sandwich

Ingredients (for each sandwich)

  • 2 slices of thick, doughy bread (such as pain de campagne, French baguette, or ciabatta)
  • Generous quantity of brie cheese, sliced
  • 2-3 slices prosciutto
  • Apricot preserves
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or butter

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Compose sandwich by spreading a generous spoonful of preserves on one slice of bread. Top with prosciutto and brie. Cover with remaining slice of bread. Brush the outside of both slices of bread with olive oil. Place the sandwich on a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes, turning once halfway through, until cheese is melted and exterior is lightly browned.

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