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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!

Roasted Chili-Garlic Chickpeas

My baby has entered the period of development I refer to as the crash-helmet phase. This is the period of time where I’m inclined to swaddle my children in bubble wrap and coat everything else in cotton balls. Would that be so weird? He’s learned how to stand now, but his balance is poor and he forgets that he needs to hold on for support. He often gets so excited by his new skill that he throws his hands wildly outward in a grand gesture of success, which usually results in propelling his little body backwards. Oh, and he climbs. Things which were never meant to be climbed. Like his older brothers or the dog. That rarely ends well.

His sweet little head is already peppered with pale yellow bruises. Seriously, do you think people would laugh if I wrapped him in bubble wrap? He’s just too stinkin’ cute to be bruised. What if I just turned down the heat and dressed him all day in his puffy winter coat? It won’t be long before he’s chasing his brothers around the house. Everything always seems to happen so fast from this point.

Good thing I’ve gotten back to my running lately, since I’m going to need strong legs to keep up with all of the active little men in my life. You may assume that running is part of my New Year’s weight loss plan, but it’s actually quite the opposite. I don’t run to lose weight (though I certainly hope it will help). Running makes me feel capable and confident. I yearn to be leaner and swifter, so I can glide through my runs with more grace than the current charging-rhino thing I’ve got going on. I’ve got my eye on running the Disney half-marathon someday. Becoming a better runner is one of the driving forces behind my desire to lose the weight. Lose weight, run better…double win!

If you’ve been following this blog over the past month, you know that I’ve been following the South Beach diet in order to shed some of the extra weight I’ve been carrying around since having my third little love. I’ve been at it for a month now, with only a few little ‘cheats’ and I’ve already lost 12 pounds. The diet basically comes down to eliminating refined carbs and focusing on lean proteins, fresh produce, and whole grains. It’s clean eating, which is an idea I can stand behind! Eliminating refined, sugary foods keeps your blood sugar levels stable, which in turn drastically cuts down on the insatiable cravings for naughty things. That works for me.

But though my hunger and cravings are kept at bay on this diet, I still have that afternoon urge to snack like I haven’t eaten in years. It’s more of a comfort mechanism than a hunger thing, usually corresponding with the time of the day when all three boys are tired, cranky, and stir-crazy…the ‘magic hour’ which falls sometime between lunch and dinner and usually fools me into thinking I’m ravenous. So, I need to keep my house free of my most tempting snacks (I’m talkin’ about you, Cheez-its) and well-stocked with more nutritious, but equally satisfying options, like these roasted chickpeas. I can pop a hundred of these little babies and still feel good about the way I’m satisfying my snackiness with loads of nutritious protein and fiber! The hardest part is trying not to eat the whole batch!

Roasted Chili-Garlic Chickpeas

Ingredients

  • 2 (15.5-ounce) cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1.5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drain the cans of chickpeas, then rinse and pat dry with a paper towel. Arrange the chickpeas in a single layer on a baking sheet. Drizzle with the olive oil and seasonings, then shake the pan to evenly coat all chickpeas. Place the baking sheet on the middle oven rack and bake for 25-40 minutes, until as crispy as desired. (25 minutes should produce a crisp exterior with a more tender center. 40 minutes will produce a crunchier result.)

Enjoy warm or at room temperature. Makes a great addition to salads too!

Leftover roasted chickpeas sprinkled over mixed green salad with broiled salmon

Diet Day: 31   Weight Loss: 12   Motivation: Rejuvenated! Hit a plateau, but the scale seems to be moving again!

Shrimp Cocktail Bruschetta and a Dinner Party Plan

About a month ago, two of my favorite people in the whole world ran off to a funky little motel in the Catskills and secretly eloped. (This place looks seriously cool! You can check out some of the wedding photos on the Roxbury facebook page.

I was ecstatic when I heard the news. And then, almost instantly, my mind went into dinner party mode. If there were ever a perfect reason to throw a dinner party, this was it.

Don’t you just love the idea of a dinner party?? Good food, plentiful drinks, amazing company… I love every bit of it; planning the menu and decor, preparing the meal, presenting each course, coming up with a few special touches… It’s something that I wish we could do more frequently.

But with three little kids (including a teething four-month-old, who’s fully convinced that sleep is for suckers), it’s hard enough to get a simple macaroni and cheese dinner on the table on any given day of the week. The thought of preparing an elegant, five-course plated dinner for ten is a bit overwhelming even to consider. It can be done though. It just requires a little careful planning.

A carefully crafted menu is the most essential component of any successful dinner party (aside from your guest list, that is). For our feast, I wanted to use fresh, seasonal foods which would bridge the transition from summer to fall. In order to spread the preparation throughout the week and keep things as simple as possible during the party, I wanted to serve dishes which could be easily reheated without any loss of quality. And then the big thing… I wanted to be able to sit down to enjoy each course with my guests. I mean, who wants to spend the whole time in the kitchen while your guests are laughing at the table (and threatening to eat the cupcakes prematurely)??  My goal was to create a menu where each course could be effortlessly completed and served within ten minutes of the previous course.

Here’s what I came up with…

Sunrise Champagne Cocktail

***

Shrimp Cocktail Bruschetta on Toasted Baguette

***

Heirloom Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart in a Pine Nut Crust with Balsamic Reduction

***

Seared Scallops over Sweet Potato Bisque with Applewood-Smoked Bacon

***

Braised Beef Short Ribs in a Fig and Red Wine Reduction

with

Creamy Brie Mashed Potatoes

Roasted Asparagus

***

Pumpkin and Nutella Wedding Cupcakes with Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

Aside from the anti-sleep demonstration, which my four-month-old staged throughout the entire party, the dinner went off without a hitch. Preparation between the courses was a cinch and everyone enjoyed the meal.

Interested in hosting your own simple and elegant dinner party? Here are a few little tips:

Start with a signature drink; something fun, unique, and fitting for the event. We were celebrating a wedding and what wedding celebration is complete without champagne?? My Sunrise Champagne Cocktail is a simple twist on a classic Bellini. Fill champagne glasses a little more than halfway with champagne. Top with passionfruit juice. Finally, drop about 1/2 teaspoon of grenadine into the glass. The grenadine will fall to the bottom and disperse, creating a beautiful layered color effect…an effect which happened to match the layered colors of the bride’s wedding dress. Coincidence? I think not.

As guests arrive and mingle, have some little hors d’oeuvres available. Keep ’em light though. You don’t want your guests to overfill their bellies before dinner. And, you don’t want to be busy in the kitchen fussing over snacks as your guests are arriving, so keep it easy. The shrimp cocktail bruschetta I served during our party is an ideal option. It takes the concept of a tomato bruschetta on toasted baguette and combines it with chunks of fresh shrimp and the flavors of cocktail sauce. Simply arrange on a platter and set out for your guests to enjoy. You’ll be free to greet your guests and enjoy a cocktail as you focus on preparing the first plated dinner course.

For the first plated course, serve something cool or at room temperature. It will make it easier to get things started. I served the heirloom tomato and goat cheese tart I recently shared with you. You can prepare and freeze the crust a week or more ahead of time. It takes only a few minutes to finish the tart on the day of your party. Pop it in the oven just as your guests begin arriving. It will make your house smell delicious and will be ready in perfect time for the first course. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature with a drizzle of balsamic reduction.

Serve a soup as part of your second course. They’re easily reheated and offer a ton of options depending on the season. I served my seared scallops over sweet potato bisque with applewood smoked bacon. The bisque can be completely prepared a few days ahead of time. Refrigerate the bacon pieces and freeze the bisque to keep it fresh. During the party, you’ll only need to quickly sear the scallops and reheat the bisque and bacon before serving. Within 5 or 6 minutes, the second course will be ready to serve.

The main course should typically be the heaviest item on the menu. Try to plan something which gives you flexible timing. I served braised beef short ribs in a fig and red wine reduction. This dish is an ideal main course, since it actually does best when prepared a day ahead of time and can be reheated and held until you’re ready to serve. Preparing a day before allows the sauce to chill, making it easier to remove the excess fat which will rise to the surface. You can then adjust the seasoning of your sauce and slowly reheat the short ribs, keeping them hot and ready in the oven until it’s time to serve.

To keep things easy during the party, do whatever little preparations you can ahead of time. On the side of the short ribs, I serve creamy brie mashed potatoes, which can be fully prepared a day ahead of time, and roasted asparagus, which take only a few minutes in the oven. Get your asparagus ready for roasting by washing, cutting, and arranging on a baking sheet earlier in the day. Before roasting, toss in a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper. Then simply pop them into the oven.

For dessert, serve something which can be made ahead of time and requires little or no preparation during the party. I served pumpkin-nutella cupcakes with cream cheese frosting. They made a beautiful centerpiece on the table and were ready to eat when the time came. This meant that I could sit back and relax once the short ribs were served…Well, I would have been able to sit back and relax if the aforementioned anti-sleep demonstration weren’t still underway. Alas, what can you do?? He’s lucky he’s so stinkin’ cute!

Recipes for the short ribs, creamy brie mashed potatoes, and cupcakes will be coming up soon! For now, let me whet your appetite with this simple and delicious shrimp cocktail bruschetta!

Shrimp Cocktail Bruschetta

Ingredients

  • 6-8 plum tomatoes, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • 2 cups shrimp, deveined, cooked, and chopped
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 3 teaspoons prepared horseradish
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Tabasco, to taste
  • 1 French Baguette, sliced
  • Olive Oil

Directions

Combine tomatoes, shrimp, green onions, horseradish, lemon juice, worcestershire sauce, salt, and tabasco. Adjust seasoning as desired. Refrigerate until serving. Brush the slices of baguette with olive oil. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a 375 degrees oven until lightly toasted. Serve shrimp bruschetta topping with toasted baguette slices.

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