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Baked Coconut-Crusted Chicken Tenders with Fruit Salsa

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I’ve come to an important realization about the difference between boys and girls. Girls create. Boys destroy.

As a little girl, I remember spending endless hours with my younger sisters drawing, painting, planning, assembling, and constructing. We took pride in neatness and paid special attention towards maintaining an unbroken, neatly sharpened set of crayons. My sons, on the other hand are destroyers. They disassemble. They tear to shreds. They eat the shreds. Seriously. In their world, crayons are disposable objects, with a new set required for every coloring session.

The only thing my little men ‘create’ is chaos. When my sisters and I dug holes in the yard, it was in the process of gathering ‘ingredients’ for mud pies. When my boys dig up the yard, the holes are their end game. They are the very definition of entropy. If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, Mars must be a very messy place. Of that I am certain.

I thrive under conditions of order and organization. I donate sets of drinking glasses when one breaks, rendering the set odd-numbered and incomplete. I cringe at mismatching dinner plates. My coffee mugs are neatly lined in the cupboard with all of the handles facing the same way. When someone else unloads my dishwasher for me, I thank them for the favor and then fix the handles on the coffee mugs. I can’t help it. I have a problem. My boys are determined to fix me.

But what my little men lack in the organization department, they more than make up for in other ways. They are sweet, smart, snuggly, and they are all fairly open to trying new foods. For a mom who loves cooking new things, this is a blessing. But, like most children, there are times when they want nothing to do with something new, no matter how delicious it may be. And when the boys team up in their unwillingness, there’s almost no way to win. This was recently the case on the night I made these delicious coconut-crusted chicken tenders, served with a sweet strawberry and mandarin orange salsa.

My oldest son, at the wise old age of five, proclaimed that he preferred ‘regular’ breaded chicken tenders as he stood there watching me prepare the meal. He decided he didn’t like my new chicken tenders before ever taking his first bite and nothing was going to change that. Once the meal was cooked, he reluctantly agreed to try the chicken. He crinkled his nose and took one carefully small bite. He chewed the bite with his face contorted into a dramatic look of utter repulsion, purposefully chewing and swallowing the bite without it ever touching his tongue. His younger brother watched as his big bro gave us such a notable display of disgust for the chicken he never actually tasted. Taking all of his cues from his big bro, he refused to even taste his chicken, loudly, repeatedly, and confidently stating, It’s ‘b’isgusting! Gross. He wouldn’t even eat the strawberries and oranges, which on any other day he would have loved, since they were somehow contaminated by the ‘b’isgusting chicken.

I assure you, this chicken is actually quite ‘b’elicious. It may even become one of your family’s new favorite meals, assuming your kids don’t team up in turning their noses up at it. Best yet, it’s baked in the oven, rather than fried in oil, making it a healthier meal choice for you and your family. The sweet fruit salsa can be made with whatever fruits you have on hand, though soft tropical fruits will work best. A pinch of cayenne pepper, added to the chicken and the salsa give the dish a nice little kick. Add more or less cayenne, depending on you and your family’s preferences.

Baked Coconut-Crusted Chicken Tenders

Ingredients

  • 2 cups shredded, sweetened coconut
  • 1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 pounds chicken tenders (or chicken breast cut into strips)

Directions

Combine the coconut, panko bread crumbs, salt and cayenne pepper until well blended. In a separate bowl, lightly beat the eggs. Dip each chicken tender into the eggs, then press in the coconut mixture until well coated. Arrange the tenders in a single layer on a baking sheet. (Lightly rub the baking sheet with a bit of olive or vegetable oil to help prevent sticking.) Bake on the middle over rack for about 15-20 minutes, until cooked through and lightly golden.

For the fruit salsa: Chop assorted fruit into small pieces. (I used strawberries and mandarin oranges. Mango, kiwi, and other citrus fruit would be fantastic!) Combine with a bit of honey and a squirt of lime juice. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper for a little spicy heat. Chopped jalapeño pepper or green onions would be another tasty addition! Refrigerate until using.

Check out this little cutie, already an expert in cupcake destruction!

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

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

Honey Garlic Chicken Drumsticks

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The Hunger Games premiere isn’t the only exciting thing happening for me this weekend. My local Target is opening is brand new fresh foods section and I’m beyond thrilled! I love, love, love our local Wegmans grocery store, but that place is a mad house on the weekends. Come Saturday or Sunday and the place becomes the arena for a different, but equally brutal, type of hunger games. I’ve got little interest in playing that game. So, if at all possible, I avoid my Wegmans on the weekends. To be able to pick up a few fresh items at my local Target will be a huge perk during those times when I just want to grab a head of lettuce, or some fresh bananas, or a pack of chicken, without engaging in near mortal combat at my grocery store.

Speaking of chicken (and Target), I was recently contacted by a company whose chicken products are now being sold in many Targets with fresh food sections. The recognition I received in Parents Magazine has brought more attention to this blog. And with that attention has come more offers to partner in various ways with assorted groups looking to promote their food or parenting related products. To be honest, I haven’t been quite sure how to respond to most of the inquiries. I’m just apprehensive about turning this place into a platform for assorted products. That’s not what this place is about for me. It’s about cooking delicious food for my family and sharing it all with you, my virtual friends.

But, as I mentioned, I got this email from a mid-west based chicken company called Gold’n Plump. They wanted to send me a shipment of chicken. At first, I laughed…because no one has ever offered to send me a chicken shipment before. And then I told my husband that someone wanted me to taste their chicken. And he laughed too. I thought a lot about the chicken. And then I did a bit of research too. You see, I didn’t want to get involved in sampling any sort of product unless it met a few conditions.

First, it needed to be relevant for me, my family, and this blog. And well, chicken most definitely fits that condition. Chicken is widely enjoyed by many people, including our family. Many of the recipes on this blog feature chicken. And it’s one of the more affordable meat options for people watching their wallets, making it a great meal choice for many families.

Second, it needed to be a product I could proudly stand behind. I think of it this way… When we started looking into birthday party venues for our son’s upcoming 5th birthday, someone suggested doing a party at McDonald’s. Now, don’t get me wrong, everyone in my family enjoys the occasional shamrock shake or happy meal…sometimes even a super-sized Big Mac meal. But, it’s not like I’m patting myself on my back for our wise nutrition choices when we pull through that drive-thru. That being said, it’s not really a choice I want to stamp my name on for our son’s birthday party.

Same goes for what I put on this blog. My family and I don’t make the best food choices 100% of the time and I’d be lying if I said we avoided all processed foods. (I can’t even have Cheez-its in the house because I have no self-control around them.) But we do the best we can and make smart choices more often than not. And when it comes to what I choose to share with you on this blog, I want it to be the things I can pat myself on the back for. (I give a processed-food pass to Cheez-its. I will happily sample some Cheez-its if anyone wants to send me some.)

So, I did some checking on Gold’n Plump. I wanted to make sure that their chickens were raised humanely and that their end-product was free from preservatives or any other unnecessary, unnatural ingredients. I liked what I learned about Gold’n Plump chicken. Their chickens are raised cage-free on family farms in the mid-west. The end result is all-natural chicken, free of preservatives…just fresh, healthy chicken. It’s chicken I can feel proud to serve my family.

I tell you all of this so that you understand that I didn’t take the opportunity to sample this chicken lightly. And it’s with confidence that I write about it here. Gold’n Plump sent me a cooler with a big pack of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, two packages of ground chicken, and a package of drumsticks. I rarely buy chicken drumsticks, so those instantly caught my eye. I immediately reworked my dinner plan for the evening to make some honey-garlic drumsticks with a side of roasted brussels sprouts. And the chicken drumsticks were really good…so moist and delicious!

I used the chicken breasts over the weekend to make a big batch of my Chicken, Bacon, Ranch Chicken Salad, which my husband has been nudging me about since he finished the last bite of our first batch. The breasts were well-trimmed, fresh, and delicious. I haven’t had a chance to use the ground chicken yet, but I’ve got my sights set on some Buffalo Chicken Meatballs (with the 90/10 ground chicken) and maybe a chicken chili with the extra lean (95/5) ground chicken.

I was quite pleased with the chicken I sampled. I’m picky about the meats I purchase, but I will feel confident picking up Gold’n Plump chicken if I see it at my Target’s new fresh foods section. Even better, Gold’n Plump currently has a coupon available. And isn’t it always a nice treat to save some money on some good, healthy food for your family? If your Target carries fresh foods, keep an eye out for Gold’n Plump (and don’t forget your coupon)!

Baked Honey Garlic Chicken Drumsticks

Ingredients

  • 6-8 chicken drumsticks
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Directions

To prepare the sauce: Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add the soy sauce, honey, parsley, and crushed red pepper. Stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, as desired. Set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the chicken drumsticks in a single layer in a baking dish. Pour the honey garlic sauce over the drumsticks. Roll the drumsticks in the sauce to coat all sides. Bake for about 40-45 minutes, until the chicken has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

Gold’n Plump provided me with the chicken to sample. All opinions expressed in this post are fully my own.

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!

Asian Chicken Salad in Sweet Red Pepper

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My boys are bringing back the ghostbusters for a new generation. It all started with a t-shirt my sister found for my three-year-old’s birthday. A t-shirt which she gifted along with the Ghostbusters I and II dvd set. Which, after watching with my overprotective mommy eyes,  I decided was a bit too spooky for my young boys who are still sorting out the difference between real and pretend. So, my sis went back to the store to grab the complete collection of The Real Ghostbusters, with its confusing title, since The Real Ghostbusters is actually the animated series…not very real, but whatever. I decided to allow the kids to watch the cartoon. That was all it took to convince them that they had to be ghostbusters for halloween.

Soon after halloween, the ‘edited for tv’ version of the movie aired. We caved and watched it as a family. And it firmly sealed the boys’ obsession, as they watched with wide eyes. This would have been a Christmas full of ghostbusters toys and gear, if only the rest of the kid and toy-making world were as obsessed with the ghostbusters as my little men now are. It’ll happen though. They’ve already got all their little friends at school asking about the ghostbusters.

But, even without a toy box full of ghostbusters goodies, talk of the ghostbusters reigns supreme in our home…talk of who’s going to be Egon and who’s Peter Venkman when they put on their costumes, whose proton pack packs more power, and who is going to really be a real ghostbuster when they grow up. Oh, and if you’re wondering where all the monsters have gone, according to my three-year-old, they’re in the containment unit. Of course.

Most recently, my four-year-old asked to call the ghostbusters on the phone. So, I sent a quick message to my sister (the one who started this whole obsession) explaining that her phone was about to ring and that when it does, she should answer the phone as the ghostbusters. I then handed the phone to my son and made the call. It was all giggles on my end the moment my sister answered the phone, with a perfect Janine Melnitz accent, Ghostbusters…whadda ya want? He knew it was his aunt on the phone, but he played along.

I love my little ghostbusters.

As I mentioned, I started the South Beach diet a few days ago, which means I’ve temporarily bid adieu to some of my favorite starches and sweet treats. I miss them. But for me, cutting them out for a few weeks is the best way for me to break some of my bad habits and get me started on the road to successful, lasting weight loss. The first couple weeks on South Beach are also really effective in teaching me to appreciate the beauty of other flavors I often pass up for things like chocolate and buttered bagels. Like sweet red peppers. My goodness, you would have thought I was eating candy with the way I oohing over a crisp, super sweet, red pepper yesterday. Then I made this chicken salad for dinner, which is absolutely bursting in delicious flavors and textures. And I stuffed it into a crisp red pepper. I barely even missed the doughy bread I would have normally eaten this chicken salad on. Nothing makes weight loss easier than enjoying truly delicious and nutrition-packed food!

Asian Chicken Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 1 pound (approximately) chicken, cooked and torn into small pieces*
  • 2/3 cup dry-roasted cashews, coarse chopped
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 3/4 cup bean sprouts, divided
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1-2 teaspoons sambal oelek (crushed red chile paste)**

*I poached a few chicken tenderloins, but chicken breast or even leftover roast chicken would work just as well.

**Can substitute ground cayenne pepper, to taste

Directions

Combine the chicken, cashews, green onions, and 1/2 cup of the bean sprouts in a bowl. Rinse the red peppers. Cut the tops off of each pepper, then cut each pepper in half. Set the pepper halves aside for serving. Finely dice any of the red pepper remaining around the stem and add it to the chicken mixture. In a small bowl, stir together the mayo, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and sambal oelek. Pour the dressing over the chicken mixture and stir to combine. (You may not need all of the dressing. Add gradually.) Serve the chicken salad in the pepper halves over a bed of lettuce.

Serves 4

Diet Day: 3   Weight Loss: ?   Motivation: Going strong!

Mini Chicken Parm Hors d’oeuvres

Last week, in the rush of finalizing Christmas arrangements, I lost my baby’s stroller. My angel-faced three-year-old was in the midst of a full-fledged tantrum at the time. We’d actually needed to make a very rapid exit from Panera due to the aforementioned tantrum. My head was spinning to the sound of his screams. I drove off without the stroller. I’m lucky I didn’t forget one of the kids in the parking lot!

I didn’t realize my mistake until two days later when I went to retrieve the stroller from the back of my car. After a bit of confusion, I remembered the last time I’d seen it and figured what I must have done. In the hopes of getting the stroller back, I returned to the store to inquire if anyone had turned in a stroller. The cashier proceeded to pull out and paw through the store’s 12×18″ lost and found box. Ummm…I don’t think you’re going to find a stroller in that little box. Once the cashier was satisfied that the stroller was not in fact hiding under the mittens in the lost and found box, she called over the store manager who reported that it had been seen in the parking lot, but no one had turned it in.

Buh-bye stroller.

But my three-year-old, the cause of the commotion which led to the stroller’s loss, was still certain he was on Santa’s nice list. He was also certain that Santa would be delivering the very item he desired; a samurai castle play set. So certain, in fact, that in the days leading up to Christmas, he began practicing his reaction for discovering the samurai castle. And when he came bursting into our room before dawn on Christmas morning, anxious to run downstairs to check under the tree, he exclaimed “I’m gonna go downstairs and I’m gonna say WHAT??? A samurai castle?? For ME???”

Lucky for him, Santa must have decided he was nice enough to land on the nice list.

We had a lovely Christmas weekend all around, beginning with Christmas Eve. For many years now, it’s become our tradition to eat chicken parmesan on Christmas Eve. I made it for my husband’s family one Christmas Eve, many moons ago, and the tradition just stuck. But this year, we planned to have lunch at Dinosaur BBQ on Christmas Eve. We all agreed that a big BBQ lunch and heavy chicken parm dinner would be way too much indulgence for one day. So, we decided we’d have a few little hors d’oeuvre type snacks for our dinner instead. Hors d’oeuvre dinner happens to be my family’s longtime Christmas Eve tradition. But, not to sacrifice our annual chicken parm, I came up with these little baby parm hors d’oeuvres. It sort of feels like this melding of our family’s traditions was always meant to be.

For those of you planning New Year’s Eve menus, these mini chicken parms would make a delicious addition! We also enjoyed Cranberry Chipotle Meatballs and Mini Crabcakes with Chipotle Remoulade. And for a few other hors d’oeuvres ideas, click HERE.

Mini Chicken Parms

Ingredients

  • 1 pound chicken tenders or thinly sliced chicken breast
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups seasoned bread crumbs
  • Olive oil
  • 1 French baguette, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • Fresh parsley, torn or chopped
  • 1 cup thick, smooth, full-flavored tomato sauce (I used a smooth pizza sauce.)
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the chicken tenders into small pieces (about 1″ square). Dip the chicken into the beaten eggs. Then dip each piece into the bread crumbs. Press the crumbs onto all sides of the chicken. Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a pan over medium heat. When good and hot, place a few of the breaded chicken pieces into the oil. Cook for about two minutes on each side, until golden brown and cooked through. Place the cooked chicken onto paper towels to remove the excess oil. Repeat, in small batches until all chicken has been cooked.

In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, parmesan and a bit of fresh parsley. Arrange the baguette slices on a baking sheet. Spread some of the cheese mixture onto each slice of baguette. Place a cooked piece of breaded chicken on top of the cheese. Drizzle each piece of chicken with tomato sauce. (Don’t overdo it on the sauce.) Sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top of each.

Bake for about 10 minutes, until hot and melty.

**The chicken can be cooked ahead of time and refrigerated until assembling the hors d’oeuvres. If you prepare and chill the chicken ahead of time, it will take about 5 minutes longer in the oven to reheat during the final baking.

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.

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