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Category Archives: Salads

Spicy Corn and Lentils

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So…I did it. I started Irish step dancing classes last Wednesday. This is very unlike me. I’m typically so self-conscious that I avoid doing anything which requires me to put my lack of skills on display. Heck, I even shy away from displays of things I’m good at. And dance?? Well, of any imaginable area of skill, I am the farthest from skilled in dance. I trip over my own feet while walking on a near-daily basis and my pinky toes are constantly throbbing from cornering too early and catching them on the edges of furniture and walls. I am a coordination mess. And yet, I’ve just signed myself up to display my unadulterated klutziness in front of fellow dance students and our skillful instructor. What in the world has come over me?? I’m becoming bold in my old age. 

But here’s the thing… For many years, I have watched Irish step dancers with an emotional mixture of admiration, awe, and regret. I stare at their coordinated feet, wishing I could go back in time to when I was about four years old and beg my parents to sign me up for lessons. I want to dance like those dancers with the very same heart-aching passion I felt just before I signed up for the culinary program at French Culinary Institute. That culinary program turned out to be one of the most soul-satisfying experiences of my entire life. It settled my urge. It took away my longing and replaced it with skills and knowledge to use and enjoy for the rest of my life.

And so, on a whim, I started this process of searching for an Irish dance school which offered classes for adult beginners. My first few inquiries came up dry. But then I got a hopeful response; an instructor who was considering starting an adult beginner class. It took a while before it became official. I was even a little relieved when I didn’t instantly hear back, since part of me would have been content to stay huddled in my turtle shell. And then I got the email. She was starting a class. Two of my lovely friends agreed to join me.

We fumbled our way through our first class. Our instructor gracefully modeled a few ‘simple’ steps and then we hurled ourselves across the room, tripping over our feet and each other. But we smiled and laughed the entire time. At one point, our instructor turned on the music as we skipped our way across the room, and with a smile plastered across my face, all I could think was We’re doing it! We’re Irish step dancing. I’m not sure anyone would have classified our movements at that point as ‘Irish step dancing’, but our instructor was generous in her praise of our clumsy maneuvers. I woke up delightfully sore the next morning. I spent the next week practicing my sweet new moves, much to the delight of my three boys who make a very eager, if not amused, audience. Last night was our second class. We fell over each other  and laughed to near tears as we put our new moves together into a dance. I already feel that satisfying calming feeling that culinary school gave me.

Another benefit to this grand adventure is that it’s reinvigorated my motivation for regaining my pre-three-babies-in four-years figure. I’ve watched myself practice my dance moves on video. It’s not pretty. I long to be lean, controlled, and lighter on my feet, rather than the bouncing, clobbering elephant I’m currently channeling. I’m refocused and ready. Summer weather certainly adds to the motivation too!

Recently, I ran across a slideshow of twenty weight loss super-foods. Foods were selected for their abilities to increase metabolism, satisfy hunger, build muscle, and decrease fat. Several of the foods were practically begging to be married together in a sort of miracle weight-loss dish. Inspired by this list of weight loss super-foods, I came up with these spicy lentils and corn served with grilled cedar-plank wild salmon. Now, I have no research to prove that this harmonious marriage of flavors will actually result in a thinner waistline, but at the very least, they will make your mouth and belly quite happy.

This tasty dish combines lentils, corn, olive oil, sardines, chipotle chile peppers, and wild salmon. Don’t be afraid of the sardines. There are just enough in this recipe to add a savory umami (the fifth taste) flavor that really complements the spicy chipotle and sweet corn. Their fine texture practically melts into the dish, adding a subtle layer of savory goodness. Be bold, give ’em a chance. And click on over to SELF’s slideshow for more info on each of these super-food’s super-slimming powers!

Do you have something you always wished you’d done? Why not give it a try? There’s no time like today!

Spicy Corn and Lentils (with Wild Salmon)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup lentils
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup sweet corn kernels (frozen or fresh), cooked
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/8 cup boneless sardines, shredded
  • 1/8 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 1 chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in adobo), chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • Salt (about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon)

For the Salmon:

  • 4 wild salmon fillets
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Chile Powder
  • Parsley

Directions

Cook lentils in water with a pinch of salt, according to package directions. (Cooking time will vary depending on the color/type of lentils. I used green lentils which simmered for 30-35 minutes. Other lentils may require more or less time. Cook until tender, but not mushy.) Toss the cooked corn kernels with the lentils.

In a small pan, heat the olive oil over medium/medium-low heat. Add the sardines, onion, and chipotle. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onions are tender. Add the parsley. Toss the mixture with the lentils and corn. Taste and season with salt, as desired.

For the salmon: Rub the fillets with olive oil. Season with salt, chile powder, and parsley. Grill on a soaked cedar plank* over indirect heat or broil until cooked.

*Look for cedar planks near the grilling supplies at your local grocery store or Target. Soak the planks in water for at least an hour before using. Place the salmon on the planks. Preheat your grill at medium heat. Ideally, arrange the planks on your grill so they are not directly over the heat. Grill with the cover closed until cooked through.

Makes 4 Servings

Grilled Chicken, Strawberry and Spinach Salad in an Orange Poppy Seed Vinaigrette

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Later this morning, I’ll be chatting with the morning host of Charlotte’s Lite 102.9. (Any Charlotte readers out there??) Lite 102.9 has recently begun featuring my blog on their website, which I think is super cool. And they have the great idea to put together a series of short audio clips about cooking, family, and this blog to air for their online streaming content listeners. I think that’s even cooler. I’m just hoping I don’t get stage fright…or phone fright, I suppose.

My husband says that I ought to practice my non-regional dialect and annunciation ala Will Ferrell Anchorman style. Unique New York. Unique New York. You know you need unique New York. The Human Torch was denied a bank loan. My husband believes that my accent may be a bit too Long Guyland-y for southern listeners. Of course, he’s just poking fun at me, but we do have some definite differences in agreement over how certain words should be pronounced.

In our 16 years together, some of our biggest arguments have revolved around how to pronounce the names Erin or Aaron and Carrie or Kerry. We’ve nearly come to blows over the proper way to say crayon (It’s definitely not ‘cran’). And don’t even get me started on orange. I can acknowledge that there’s an ‘or’ in the beginning of the word, so it could be pronounced like oar-inj, but that’s just not how I say it. And well…I’m just going to go eat my R-enges now.

However you say it, sweet oranges make me think of summer. And it doesn’t get much more summery than this light spinach salad, topped with a tender grilled chicken breast, sweet mandarin oranges and fresh strawberries, dressed in a vibrant orange and poppy seed vinaigrette. It’s bright, fresh, and perfect if you’re watching your waistline for summer!

Grilled Chicken, Strawberry, and Spinach Salad in an Orange Poppy Vinaigrette

Ingredients

  • Juice and zest from 1 navel orange (about 1/3 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • Crushed red pepper, to taste
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 grilled chicken breasts (seasoned with salt and pepper), sliced
  • 8 cups fresh baby spinach leaves (approximately)
  • 8-10 strawberries, sliced
  • 1 cup mandarin orange segments
  • 1 red onion, very thinly sliced

Directions

To prepare the vinaigrette: Combine the orange juice, zest, vinegar, olive oil, honey and poppy seeds until well blended. Season with salt and crushed red pepper, to taste.

To assemble the salad: Toss the spinach leaves in some of the dressing. (Do not overdress.) Arrange a pile of the dressed spinach leaves on each plate. Top with the grilled chicken, red onions, strawberries, and oranges. Drizzle a little extra dressing over the chicken.

Makes 4 meal-sized salads

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

Spinach, Bacon, and Egg Pasta Salad

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So…big news here. You are now reading a food blog written by a real, bonafide tooth fairy. That’s right, folks. I earned my wings. And boy are they sparkly!

Thursday night, we put the boys down to bed like usual. My husband handles the two older boys while I tend to the baby. Once everyone was tucked in, my husband headed out for band practice. I poured myself a glass of wine and settled onto the couch to watch the American Idol results show. The baby whimpered for a few minutes, as is his routine, then drifted off the sleep. The two older boys, who share a room, were up to mischief.

Some nights, the boys chat quietly before peacefully falling asleep. Some nights, antics involving a lot of mysterious banging and shouting ensue, before they crash into dreamland. Thursday was one of those nights. I’d already been in their room more than once to put the kibosh on the chaos (which was messing with my plan to relax on the couch with wine and Ryan Seacrest for the evening). So, when I heard the screaming again, I was not happy. I marched up the stairs and threw open the door, wearing my meanest Mommy face, to find the two boys excitedly jumping around, which left me feeling even less pleased.

But then, my first born…my sweet, little almost-five-year-old, says, “Today was the day!” as he held out his hand holding his first lost tooth. How had I not noticed the gaping hole in his mouth? The first tooth to come in was the first to come out. I remember when that tooth came in. When did he become such a kid??

Then

We hugged. We jumped around. We cheered. I told him how very proud I was of him and instructed him to stop growing up so fast. We took some photos and washed his mouth with salt water before climbing back into bed, with his tooth tucked securely under his pillow (in a little baggie to make it easier for the tooth fairy to find). I instructed the kids to go to sleep so that the tooth fairy could make her visit, then turned out the lights, leaving the boys snuggled in their beds, whispering about the tooth fairy. The last thing I heard, as I walked from their room, was my big kid telling his younger brother, “She’s very tiny.”

Now

I went downstairs and put on my wings. I placed three gold dollar coins into a baggie with a sprinkle of glitter for good fairy measure. There’s magic in this sort of stuff. And just before putting myself to bed, I snuck into my big kid’s room and swapped the tooth baggie for the baggie of gold coins and glitter. He’s been walking around with his goofy grin and baggie of treasure ever since.

Tonight, I’ll swap my fairy wings for bunny ears and a cotton tail. In the morning the boys will awake to a basket of candy and an egg hunt. We’ll be coloring eggs today. For the next few days, we’ll enjoy the colored hard-boiled eggs in deviled egg salad and this delicious pasta salad; another tasty option for using up all of those cooked eggs. I ate a ridiculous amount of this pasta salad this week. Seriously, I barely shared. A classic combination of spinach, bacon, and boiled eggs gets tossed together with al dente pasta and a sweet honey balsamic dressing…delicious!

Happy Easter folks!

Spinach, Bacon, and Egg Pasta Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 pound small pasta
  • 1 red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, finely diced
  • 8 slices bacon, chopped
  • 6 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups baby spinach leaves, chiffonade*

For the dressing

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
*Click HERE for my chiffonade how-to photo guide.

Directions

Cook the pasta al dente, according to package directions. Strain and rinse with cold water. Set aside.

To prepare the dressing, whisk (or shake) together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, mustard, crushed red pepper, and garlic powder until well blended.

Combine the pasta, dressing, red bell pepper, bacon, and spinach in a large container. Toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if desired.

Refrigerate until serving. Serve cold.

Deviled Egg Salad

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I have an easy time getting behind the whole Santa Claus thing. The spirit of good ol’ St. Nick practically courses through my veins. As a tradition, it makes sense to me. I can make the connections between Santa Claus and the true meaning of Christmas. And I’m all about sharing the tradition of Santa with my children for as long as they choose to believe.

I have a much harder time getting behind the idea of a giant man-bunny, like the ones sitting at the mall waiting to take pictures with sweet children dressed in their Easter best. I admit, I just don’t really get it. I just don’t understand the connection between the Easter bunny and Jesus rising from the dead. I can’t connect the dots.

Santa makes sense to me. (Even the tooth-fairy makes sense.) A candy-giving, egg-hiding rabbit does not.

So, around here, our discussions of Easter have focused mainly on the true reason for the holiday. We’re low-key on the rabbit stuff. Sure, we’ll color eggs, the Easter bunny will hide them, and there will be an Easter basket waiting in the morning. (There will even be animal crackers hiding under the green cellophane grass, just like there always were in my Easter basket.) But our celebration on Sunday will be more of a religious one.

Regardless of your feelings on fuzzy rabbits, if your family celebrates Easter, the odds are that you will be left with dozens of colored hard-boiled eggs come Sunday morn. Please heed the USDA’s advice and do not leave hard-boiled eggs unrefrigerated for more than two hours…the last thing anyone needs on Easter is food poisoning. Either sneak around in the early morn to hide those eggs or hide plastic eggs and leave those pretty colored eggs in the fridge.

And if you’re looking for an easy, delicious use of those purdy eggs, give this tasty deviled egg salad recipe a try. It’s a classic egg salad, with the addition of dijon mustard and pickle relish for a deviled egg flare. (Be careful though..if you’re not watching, your spouse might steal the last of it for his lunch. For real…it happened to me.)

Deviled Egg Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 dozen hard-boiled eggs
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons sweet relish
  • 1 tablespoon parsley
  • 1 /2 teaspoon paprika
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Peel the eggs, cut in half, and remove the yolks. Place the yolks in a medium sized bowl. Chop the egg whites and place in a separate bowl. Use a fork to smash the egg yolks, then combine with mayonnaise, mustard, relish, parsley, and paprika until smooth. Stir in the chopped egg whites. Taste and season with salt and pepper, as desired.

Chicken, Apple, and Peanut Salad

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I’m an emotional eater. It is hands-down my biggest dietary downfall. I know how to lose weight. I know exactly what I need to do. And when things are good, I  can stay focused on my goals and get the job done.

But then there are times when it feels like my head is spinning. Somebody’s digging through the fireplace ashes, somebody else is constructing an elaborate obstacle course of danger and destruction in the living room,  and somebody else is throwing a tantrum because he wanted to wear his Ghostbusters t-shirt for the third day in a row. (My sister says I should just let the kids do what they want so they will be happy. She might be right.) The dishes are piled up. There’s a mound of dirty clothes lying on the kitchen floor, begging to be added to the laundry that is also piling up. The dog’s hair is rolling in tumbleweeds across the living room. And the million tiny Lego pieces, which I just finished picking up so the baby won’t eat them, are scattered all over the living room floor. Again. I don’t even know when it happened. My heart is racing and I’m barking commands like a well-practiced drill sergeant.

Put some clothes on. We don’t cook in the nude (giving new meaning to the term ‘Naked Chef’).

Stop trying to eat the stroller while I’m pushing it.

Books are for reading. Not eating.

The bathroom is not a play place. 

Somehow, the very same things which are my life’s greatest blessings are also the source of my greatest stresses. I often find it difficult to embrace this time in my life when somebody is always crying or whining or complaining or needing something. Whoever said you should live in the moment and be ever present in your life, clearly didn’t have a screaming baby in his arms or small whirling dervishes tearing the world apart around their feet. I don’t want to live in those moments. I just want to get through them. I’m sure they will all seem more magical in retrospect.

My life is beautiful. It’s joyous. It’s filled with amazing blessings. But it overwhelms me sometimes. And when I feel like I’m spinning in everyone else’s needs, with my heart pounding from my inability to keep up, I console myself with food. I can’t take a break or go for a run when the stress builds to explosive levels. Deep breathing doesn’t usually work. A spontaneous dance party sometimes does. But when it doesn’t, I eat. And eat and eat. Until I’m stuffed and refueled enough to pull myself together enough to clean the yogurt off the wall and wash that Ghostbusters t-shirt for the fifth time this week.

Of course, the emotional eating usually just makes me feel worse in the long run. I’m conscious of that fact even as I’m shoveling the food into my mouth, but it doesn’t really matter in the moment. All this goes to say that my head’s been spinning extra fast and extra often lately (these things always seem to come and go in waves) and my progress towards a healthier me has suffered. I was open about my goals and successes when I set about my New Year’s resolutions, so it’s only fair that you know I’m struggling to stay the course right now. I’m remorseful, but not defeated. I have every intention of pulling myself together with some good, healthy, satisfying meals, like this super tasty, protein-rich salad.

This salad came to me in a half-conscious dream, in the middle of the night last week. The baby was in bed with me, sleeping poorly (all four of his top front teeth have come through in the past two weeks). The two of us were in and out of sleep for hours that night. And every time I was stirred, this salad was on my mind. Chicken. Apples. Peanut Vinaigrette. I spent a lot of drowsy time that evening trying to decide whether that flavor combination made sense. I decided it did. We tested it last night. It’s a winner. (The bacon wasn’t in my dream, but it was in my fridge and was screaming to join this salad. A very welcome addition, indeed.)

I know I’m not the only emotional eater out there. What strategies do you use for getting through those stressful moments without overindulging in food?

Chicken, Apple, and Peanut Salad

Ingredients

  • 8 cups lettuce or mixed greens, chopped
  • 6 slices bacon, cooked and chopped
  • 2 apples, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup peanuts, chopped
  • 2-3 chicken breasts, cooked and sliced*

For the peanut vinaigrette:

  • 1/6 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/6 cup olive oil
  • 1/6 cup peanut butter
  • 1/6 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon red curry powder
*I seasoned my chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then baked in a 350 degrees oven for about 30 minutes. Cooking time will vary depending on the size and thickness of your chicken breasts.

Directions

To prepare the vinaigrette, combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until well blended.

To assemble the salad, arrange about 2 cups of lettuce on each plate. Top with the sliced apples, bacon, and chicken breast. Sprinkle with chopped peanuts. Drizzle with the peanut vinaigrette.

Makes about 4 salads

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!

Spinach, Bacon, and Mushroom Salad in a Warm Bacon Shallot Vinaigrette

I haven’t talked a lot about my diet recently, but rest assured, I am still on the path of success. As of this morning, I have lost 16 pounds, give or take a pound depending on the day. I am continuing to follow the guidelines of the South Beach diet, but not without some leeway for splurging. In fact, I spent most of Valentine’s week living on a diet of chocolate, wine, and cheddar goldfish, which in an odd twist of fate, resulted in a quick 2-pound weight loss. I think sometimes we just need to mix things up and splurge a little to remind our bodies that there is indeed no famine and there is no reason to hold onto that excess weight. Somehow it’s never really as simple as calories in vs. calories out, is it?

Clearly I’m not following any hard and fast ‘rules’ as get myself in shape, but what I like about the overall South Beach diet approach is that by mostly avoiding refined carbs, I rarely feel the perpetual, intense hunger and cravings that I often feel when I’m not limiting refined carbs. I can eat a two-egg omelet in the morning and feel satisfied for hours or I can eat a bowl of rice flake cereal, be starving 30 minutes later and then spend the rest of the morning playing the hunger games (not those hunger games, silly). I chose the omelet. It just makes the weight loss process so much easier and a lot less painful. In fact, once you get the hang of it, the South Beach ‘diet’ doesn’t really feel like a diet at all. It just feels like healthy eating.

I don’t believe that refined carbs are evil, nor do I blame their excess as the root of weight gain or applaud their absence as the grand solution to weight loss. But what I do know is that refined carbs cause a rapid blood sugar spike and subsequent crash, which gives you that starving feeling soon after eating, which then causes you to eat more, which causes you to gain weight. It’s a vicious cycle of cravings. And even if you can manage to resist those cravings, you’re still left with that uncomfortable hunger which makes trying to lose weight so darn frustrating. So, for me, reducing my refined carb intake just makes the whole weight loss thing a lot easier.

And there’s still plenty of room for indulgences within the framework of a reduced carb diet plan, like this spinach salad which is topped with a slightly runny egg and drizzled in a bacon vinaigrette. I first ran across the idea for this salad on the Christian Science Monitor website, which regularly features my blog in their food section, Stir It Up. I’ve always been a fan of spinach and bacon salads, but the egg on this one really sealed the deal for me. I just love finding eggs in surprising places, like atop a pile of fries, a burger, or a salad! Not to let any of delicious bacon-y flavor escape this dish, I incorporated the bacon drippings into my vinaigrette. I couldn’t decide whether that was a genius or revolting idea as I was doing it. I firmly settled on utterly genius with my first bite.

This salad isn’t totally ‘legal’ on South Beach, since bacon doesn’t technically count as a ‘lean’ protein. And certainly mixing the bacon drippings into the dressing is not a recommended South Beach strategy. But it’s close enough (and definitely worth the splurge). This salad packs a ton of protein and lots of good healthy nutrition which will keep you feeling nicely satisfied for hours. Just go easy on the dressing and you can feel pretty good about this meal.

Spinach, Bacon, and Mushroom Salad in a Warm Bacon Shallot Vinaigrette

(Inspired by Beyond the Peel’s Wilted Spinach Salad with Bacon and a Poached Egg)

Ingredients

For the vinaigrette:

  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup warm bacon drippings (reserved from cooking bacon)
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon shallot, finely diced
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • Pinch of salt and pepper

For the salad:

  • 8 slices bacon (use applewood smoked bacon, if available)
  • 2 cups baby bella (cremini) mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 tablespoon butter
  • 8 cups baby spinach
  • 4 eggs

Directions

Cook the bacon according to package directions. Reserve the bacon drippings for the vinaigrette. Once cool, crumble or chop the bacon into small pieces.

To prepare the vinaigrette: Whisk together the warm bacon drippings with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, shallot, mustard, salt and pepper until blended. The vinaigrette will get firm when cooled (from the bacon drippings). Microwave for a few seconds to warm and loosen the dressing.

To prepare the mushrooms: Heat the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender and slightly golden. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper.

To assemble the salads: Place about 2 cups of baby spinach on each plate. Scatter the bacon and mushrooms over the spinach. Just before serving, fry an egg to your preferred doneness (I prefer over-medium…well-cooked white, runny yolk.) Place the fried egg over the salad. Drizzle with a bit of the vinaigrette.

Makes 4 Salads

Diet Update: 16 pounds down and staying the course…only 6 pounds away from my first major goal!

Fishy Friday – Lenten Round-Up

The kids have been home from school this week for their mid-winter break, which I’m now convinced is some sort of cruel joke on parents. I mean, seriously…whose idea was it to schedule a week off from school in the middle of winter, leaving me stuck inside with three very loud, very active, and very needy children?? I’ve been jumping through hoops all week trying to keep everyone sufficiently content, which has left little time for things like thinking or writing…hence the lack of blog posts this week. Even now, as I attempt to type, the baby is grabbing at my fingers, while the other boys are playing a game which seems to center around making an unusually loud and abrasive growling sound.

This morning I took the boys to meet up with some friends at  a local bounce house, followed by lunch (which turned into second breakfast, since we vacated the bounce house sooner than planned) and ice cream at Friendly’s. It was a feeble attempt to encourage the kids to burn off some of their excess energy so that I had a small chance of a calm afternoon. Though I think the ice cream may be working against my plans. Ugh…this parenting thing is hard!

New recipes coming up next week, but for now here’s a round-up of fishy recipes, which may come in handy for any of you who are observing meat-free Fridays during lent.

Pan-seared Scallops with Pina Colada Salsa and Coconut Rice

Pan-seared Cod over Bean and Basil Puree

Creole Fish Tacos

Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Salad

Asian-style Fish Tacos

Lobster Pot Pie

Lobster BLT Sandwiches (skip the bacon)

Salmon, Cucumber, and Orzo Salad

Codfish Cakes

Shrimp Scampi Flatbread Pizza (and last year’s Lenten recipe round-up!)

Secrets of An Avon Beauty Boss

Achieving Beautiful Dreams with Avon

The Gourmand Mom

Good food, seasoned with a dash of life

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