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Tropical Chicken Salad

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Thankfully, the temperatures have finally started to rise around here, allowing us some much-awaited walks and outdoor playtime. After living in two urban areas, where most of our needs could be met within a few minutes walk, I can’t even begin to express the value I place on our proximity to a well-stocked, walking-distance grocery store in our current suburban neighborhood. Had I never become accustomed to walkable grocery access, it might not matter so much. But to me, our ability to walk to our grocery store is worth more than any other feature of our home.

Once walk-friendly weather arrives, daily trips to the grocery store become part of our routine. I plan our meals in the morning. Then, the kids and I walk down to the store to gather the ingredients. It’s practically like living in Provence, making daily trips to the outdoor market for freshly picked produce, meats, and fine cheese! Well…maybe not quite like Provence, but we’ll take what we can get!

So, on a recent bright, sunny, morning, the boys and I set out for our grocery walk. My four-year -old had suggested chicken salad for dinner. The addition of tropical fruit flavors was my contribution to the dish. Not only do the sweet fruits add a delicious accent to our salad, but tropical fruits, such as the pineapple, mango, and kiwi I selected, contain an enzyme which has been shown to help prepare a woman’s body for labor. And at this point, barely a week from my due date, I’ll gladly give nature a helping hand.

I hadn’t initially planned for this meal to become a family cooking activity. The boys were happily playing in the living room when I began cooking. But, as soon as my little men caught the sight and smell of the fruits, they were at my side like glue, begging bits of mango and pineapple. Moments later, they were asking to help with “the steps”. So, after a quick trip to the sink to wash their hands, my little chefs joined me in the kitchen.

This recipe is ideal for young chefs of any age. Older chefs can prepare the entire dish independently, from start to finish, especially if you start with precooked chicken. Younger chefs will need more support, but with child-safe cutting tools, there are plenty of ways for them to get involved. Chopping fruits, measuring ingredients, and mixing are ideal activities for little chefs. It’s also a great opportunity to taste new fruit flavors, which may be less familiar than the more common apples, bananas, and berries many kids are accustomed to.

Tropical Chicken Salad

Ingredients

  •  2 1/2 cups cooked chicken, chopped or shredded*
  • 2 green onions, sliced
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup salted cashews, coarse chopped
  • 1 kiwi, diced
  • 1/2 cup mango, diced (Click here for my photo guide on How to Dice a Mango)
  • 1/2 cup pineapple, diced (Click here for my photo guide on How to Chop a Pineapple)
  • Salt and cayenne pepper, to taste
*You can use pre-cooked chicken, packaged or pulled from a rotisserie chicken. Alternately, you can cook boneless, skinless chicken breasts by placing them in a pot of water, bringing to a boil, and simmering for approximately 10-15 minutes, until cooked through.

Directions

Combine the chicken, green onions, mayonnaise, mustard, and cashews in a large container. Stir until well blended. Gently fold in the fruit. Season with salt and cayenne pepper, as desired. Refrigerate until serving.

Serve on doughy bread with avocado, if desired.

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Happy Pi Day!

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Any fellow math geeks out there?

Happy Pi Day! That’s right…it’s March 14, a day to recognize that special number, 3.14! And what better way could there be to honor this significant number than with a nice slice of homemade pie??

So, pull out those circular pie pans, take your pick from one of the links below, and let’s celebrate Pi!

Chocolate Pecan Pie

Pumpkin Coconut Pie

Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie

Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake Pie

Chocolate Eggnog Pudding Pie

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cream Pie

Grasshopper Pie

Not only is today Pi Day; it’s also Kids Cook Monday! Now, my little guys are not quite ready to tackle the mathematical concepts of radius, pi, circumference, and area. But, we can take a few baby steps in that direction by identifying circles in the kitchen and doing a bit of hands on measuring with our circular pies.

Looking to get older kids involved in the kitchen? Take this opportunity for a bit of tasty math practice. Measure the diameter of those pies, determine the radius, and then put that pi to work while calculating the circumference and area of your pie! Then, as a reward for all of that challenging math work, treat yourselves to a well-deserved slice of pie!

Wishing you all a very tasty Pi Day!

P.S. The Gourmand Mom is now on Facebook! Check it out!

The Kids Cook Monday – Chocolate Coconut King Cake

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I’ve always felt a strong pull towards the city of New Orleans, as if in some long-forgotten past life, it were my home. The most likely explanation for this feeling comes from reading way too many Anne Rice novels during an impressionable period of my youth. I dreamed of the vampire Lestat in the way which girls today dream of  the infamous Edward. I so clearly imagined myself in Rice’s stories, that I began to believe I had a history with New Orleans. Whatever the case may be, the city calls to me. I’ve yet to visit New Orleans, but it’s high on my list.

In another time and place, I would have surely planned my New Orleans trip to correspond with the uproarious celebrations of Mardi Gras. But at this point in my life, as I sit here expecting my third child, I’d almost certainly plan my trip for any time of year except Mardi Gras. I’m just not sure there’s enough wild youth left in me to handle Mardi Gras. These days, I’d be much more inclined to find a dimly lit bar and sit back with a few drinks, listening to live jazz until the wee hours of the morn.

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is traditionally celebrated on the day before Ash Wednesday; a sort of last hurrah before buckling down for Lenten preparations. Tomorrow, as I’m comfortably nestled on my couch, watching American Idol and eating Easter candy, the city of New Orleans will be buzzing with the grand excitement of Mardi Gras; parades, beads, music and wild partying.  It’s a time to celebrate, indulge, and let the good times roll!

If you were composing a list of foods associated with Mardi Gras, King Cake would surely top the list. King cakes have a long history as part of the Mardi Gras tradition in New Orleans. They are typically made from a ring of lightly-sweetened bread, similar to a brioche, which is then drizzled with a sweet glaze and decorated in the customary Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold. Part of the king cake tradition involves placing a small plastic baby, said to represent the baby Jesus, into the cake. Other items, such as dried beans or nuts are often used as a substitute for the baby. The party guest to find the ‘baby’ is deemed the king.

Holidays make fantastic opportunities for getting kids involved in the kitchen. As with all cooking activities, young children develop early-learning skills in multiple areas. But when the cooking activity relates to a special holiday, it also becomes an opportunity to create a memorable experience which helps kids to connect with their newly learned knowledge of customs and traditions. Experiences like these create memories and help to develop curious lifelong learners.

As part of our Kids Cook Mondays series, my little helpers joined me in making a traditional king cake with a twist. We started with a basic king cake recipe, courtesy of Emeril Lagasse, the culinary king of New Orleans. Then, as Emeril would say, we kicked it up a notch, with a double filling of coconut cream cheese and chocolate. The kids helped to measure, mix, stir, and knead. As we worked, we talked about Mardi Gras and its relevance to Lent and our upcoming Easter preparations. We chatted about the history of king cakes and the tradition of the plastic baby in the cake. Then, once the cake was complete, we eagerly plunged our forks into the sweet slices of cake, curious to discover who would become our king for the day.

Chocolate Coconut King Cake
Adapted from Emeril’s King Cake


Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 1/2 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 packets dry active yeast
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon peel
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup warm milk (105-115 degrees)
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled

For the Fillings:

  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/8 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/3 cup shredded coconut

For the Icing:

  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Water (a few spoonfuls)
  • Colored sugars (green, purple, and gold)

Directions

Combine warm water, sugar and yeast. Stir until dissolved. Set aside for about 10 minutes. It will begin to bubble up, indicating that the yeast has been activated.

In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt, nutmeg, and lemon peel. Gradually stir in the egg yolks, milk, and melted butter. Stir in the yeast mixture until well-blended. If the dough becomes too thick to stir, knead the ingredients together with your hands. If the dough is too sticky to handle, add additional flour until it becomes more manageable.

Coat a large bowl with a bit of vegetable oil or melted butter. Place the dough into the prepared bowl and turn once or twice so that the top of the dough is lightly coated with oil. Cover with a towel and let the dough sit for about 1 1/2 hours.

Prepare the coconut filling by stirring together the softened cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and coconut. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Once the dough has rested and risen for 1 1/2 hours, split the dough in half. Roll each half into a log, about 30 inches long. Flatten each log into a long rectangle. Sprinkle the chocolate chips along the center of one of the rectangles. Spread the coconut mixture along the center of the other rectangle. Fold the rectangles in half along the long sides and pinch closed. Form into rounded logs. Twist the two logs together. Then, arrange the twisted logs into a circle and place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Cover with a towel and allow to rest for 45 minutes. Then, bake for 30 minutes.

To prepare the icing, combine the powdered sugar and vanilla with just enough water to form a pourable glaze. Drizzle the glaze over the warm cake. Sprinkle with colored sugars.

Prior to serving, insert a nut or dried bean into the bottom of the cake. The guest to find the nut in their piece of cake is deemed king!

King of the Mardi Gras!

The Kids Cook Monday – White Garlic Shrimp Pizza

Don’t get me wrong…I love a traditional slice of saucy, cheesy pizza as much as the next person (preferably dipped in a bit of bleu cheese dressing). But there’s something about a slice of white garlic pizza which makes my taste buds do a little happy dance. And last week, my happy-dancing taste buds decided that a homemade white garlic pizza, with a generous topping of tiny shrimp, was exactly what we needed.
Truth be told, I made this pizza twice last week. I had initially planned to post the recipe on Friday, but my first take on the pizza was less than ideal. It was garlicky and delicious, but the proportions of sauce and cheese to the dough were off kilter. On top of being too heavily sauced, the ricotta layer cooked up into a bit of a mess. I figured that all it needed was a little reduction on the toppings and a touch of egg white to bind the ricotta. I was about to post the recipe with my theorized improvements, but made a last minute decision to run another test. There were no complaints in our household about having this pizza twice in the same week! The second run-through was a definite winner!
As part of our Kids Cook Monday series, I invited my little helpers into the kitchen. Pizza making is ripe with opportunities for young children to get involved. Stretching dough, spreading sauces, arranging toppings, and scattering cheese are ideal tasks for little hands. Kids benefit in a number of ways while cooking. They develop math skills while measuring, fine motor skills while spreading and arranging pizza toppings, health and safety skills while washing up before cooking, and language skills while following directions. But, in my opinion, there’s no bigger reward than the proud smiles on their little faces as our family sits down to enjoy the meal they had a hand in creating.
White Garlic Shrimp Pizza
Ingredients
  • 1 large pizza shell or pizza dough, prepared or homemade*
  • 2 cups salad shrimp, cooked
  • 1 cup Mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

For the Ricotta Layer

  • 3/4 cup Ricotta cheese
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

For the Garlic Sauce

  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 Tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons flour
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup Asiago or Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • Ground black pepper

*Click here to see my post on making homemade pizza dough.

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. If using pizza dough, stretch the dough into a large round and arrange on a pizza stone or large baking sheet, lightly greased with olive oil.

Prepare the ricotta by combining the ricotta, egg white, garlic, parsley, and salt.

Prepare the garlic sauce. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the minced garlic to the butter. Cook for about two minutes. Add the flour to the mixture and stir. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Gradually whisk in the milk until smooth. Bring to a simmer and continue cooking for 4-5 minutes, until the milk begins to thicken. Turn down the heat. Add the cheese, salt, and pepper. Stir to combine.

To assemble the pizza, spread a thin, even layer of the ricotta mixture over the pizza dough. Then, spread a thin, even layer of the garlic sauce over the ricotta. Scatter the salad shrimp over the sauce. Sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese and parsley. Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Kids Cook Monday – Brought to you by the letter P!

Today’s recipe is brought to you by the letter P. This meal started out with a general plan for Pasta in a Parmesan cream sauce with Prosciutto. Inspired by the natural alliteration in this simple dinner idea, I figured we may as well make it Penne Pasta and throw in a few Portabella mushrooms and Peas for good measure. Dinner by the letter P.

This easy weeknight meal comes together in a Pinch! But, it’s not without opportunities for getting kids involved. Young children may not be ready to participate with the stovetop cooking involved in making this dish, but they make fantastic prep chefs, measuring level cups of cheese and peas, pouring the cream, and taste-testing the mushrooms and prosciutto.

And while the sauce simmered on the stove, the kids set to work artfully decorating large cutouts of the letter P, while giggling their ways through chanting Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers… Even when the meal preparation is simple, there are easy ways to get everyone involved and build authentic, memorable learning experiences into the process!

Penne Pasta in Parmesan Cream Sauce with Prosciutto, Portabellas, and Peas

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Penne Pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • 1 1/2 cups Light Cream
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
  • 1 1/2 cups Baby Portabella Mushrooms (Cremini mushrooms), sliced
  • 1/2 cup Prosciutto, chopped
  • 1 cup Frozen Peas, defrosted
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions

Prepare pasta according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, prepare the sauce. Combine cream and 1/2 of the parmesan cheese in a saucepan. Add the mushrooms. Simmer for about 5 minutes, until the cream has thickened and the mushrooms are tender. Add the remaining cheese, prosciutto, and peas. Simmer for another 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, as desired. Toss the cooked pasta in the sauce and serve immediately.

The Kids Cook Monday – Chicken and Green Beans with a Twist

Tired of coating your chicken in plain old bread crumbs?? Did you know that you can bread your chicken with just about anything that crumbles? So, leave your bread crumbs in the pantry and pull out a box of Cheez-Its instead.

I have to admit, I’ve been on a major Cheez-It binge lately. I don’t recommend this diet to any health-minded individual. Nor am I proud of the quantity of Cheez-Its I’ve consumed in the past few weeks. They’re irresistible to me. If only my local grocery store would ban me from buying them. (But thank goodness they don’t!)

But, back to the chicken. If you can crumble it, you can coat your chicken with it. Cheez-Its, crackers, potato chips, croutons, cereal…the possibilities are infinite. Like Doritos? Smash them up and coat your chicken with ’em. More of a corn chip fan? Go crazy with crushed corn chips. Another fun option? It turns out that those crunchy French-fried onion pieces, which you’ve probably seen on green bean casseroles, make a delicious chicken breading too. Have fun and liven up your chicken. It’s a great way to get the family excited about a simple baked chicken dinner. Follow the same procedure you would to coat your chicken in bread crumbs; season with salt and pepper, dip in an egg wash, coat with the crumbs, and bake.

On the side, we’re serving another dish with a twist. Bird’s Eye makes a fantastic frozen vegetable dish, called Beans with a Twist. It’s a super tasty combination of green beans, wax beans, baby carrots, and dried cranberries, in an herbed butter sauce. To Bird’s Eye’s credit, it is absolutely delicious and free from the unnecessary preservatives or sweeteners which are so commonplace in many other prepared foods. I’ve bought this dish for myself on several occasions and always enjoy it.

Recently, while rummaging through the freezer, the kids found one of my packages of these tasty veggies and requested to have it with their dinner. The possessive side of me wanted to save them for myself, but what mom is going to deny their child’s passionate request for veggies?? The kids loved the simple veggie dish. So, along with our chicken, I decided to serve our own homemade version of Beans with a Twist.

This entire recipe is full of opportunities to get kids involved in the kitchen. Children of all ages are expert food crushers. In fact, my experience has been that toddlers come preprogrammed with impressive destruction abilities. The best way to go about crushing your Cheez-Its (or other desired breading) is to place the quantity in a ziploc and let the kids go to town. Running a rolling pin over the bag or smashing with a child-safe mallet or fists are all effective methods.

Cutting the soft, steamed green beans is another excellent, kid-friendly task for tonight’s recipe. I wasn’t the only one to receive new cutlery for Christmas. The boys received a set of child-friendly, but effectively sharp, plastic knives. Made by Curious Chef (available on Amazon.com), these knives are not toys, but rather real, functional kitchen tools for little chefs. Before using, we reviewed a few basic knife safety rules, such as watching out for fingers and I modeled how to safely hold the green bean with one hand, while cutting with the other. Then, under close supervision, the boys took care of chopping the beans. My boys will be cutting julienne and brunoise vegetables in no time! A regular plastic dinnerware knife would also make an appropriate cutting tool for most young chefs.

So, join in on the Kids Cook Monday fun and get cooking as a family. And if you don’t have any pint-sized helpers of your own, borrow someone else’s kids or simply awaken your inner child. Just be careful with those plastic knives!

Breaded and Baked Chicken with a Twist

Ingredients

  • 4 Chicken Breasts
  • 3 Eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups Cheez-Its, crushed (substitute crushed potato chips, French-fried onions, chips, or other crackers, if desired)
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Dip the chicken breasts in the beaten egg mixture. Then, press the chicken into the crushed cracker crumbs to coat. Place the coated chicken in a baking dish and bake until fully cooked. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the chicken. My large chicken breasts took about 35 minutes at 375 degrees. Chicken is fully cooked when it has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees, as measured with an instant-read meat thermometer.

Green Beans and Carrots with a Twist

Inspired by Bird’s Eyes’ Beans with a Twist

Ingredients

  • 2 cups Green Beans and Wax Beans, steamed until tender, but crisp
  • 1 1/2 cups Baby Carrots, steamed
  • 1/3 cup Dried Cranberries
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • 2 cloves Roasted Garlic, smashed into a paste*
  • 1-2 Tablespoons Fresh Chives, chopped
  • Salt and Pepper

*Click here to see my photo guide on How to Roast Garlic.

Directions

Melt butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the roasted garlic paste and stir until well combined. Add the beans, carrots, dried cranberries, and chives. Toss to coat with the roasted garlic butter. Season with salt and pepper, as desired.

Corned Beef Reuben Quesadillas

I was under the mistaken impression that all Irish people are inherently born with a taste for corned beef. I know I certainly was. I love it straight out of a pot of simmering water with a side of boiled cabbage and potatoes, prepared as breakfast hash under eggs over-medium, or on any sky-high sandwich constructed with rye bread. But, I recently learned that my Irish grandfather had no love at all for corned beef, except under one condition; when prepared as a Reuben. I suppose a little something magical happens when corned beef is paired with a bit of tart sauerkraut, creamy Thousand Island dressing, and melty Swiss cheese.

I’m not a once-a-year St. Patrick’s Day corned beef girl. I’m more of a whenever-the-opportunity-strikes corned beef girl. Over the years, I’ve prepared it a few different ways; boiled, baked, braised and slow-cooked. I love them all equally, but you can’t beat the simplicity of a pot of simmering water and a few hours of maintenance-free cooking time; makes a perfect corned beef every time. I recently looked into brining and curing my own beef brisket, but quickly abandoned the plan when I realized that the process would take weeks to complete. You don’t tell an Irish pregnant lady that she’s got to wait three weeks to enjoy her corned beef. No, you don’t.

I also learned something new about sauerkraut. I’d always assumed that sauerkraut was cabbage mixed with some sort of vinegar, in a sort of pickled way; perhaps a white wine or apple cider vinegar. I would have bet money on it had someone asked me what sauerkraut was made of. But, when I started looking into preparing my own sauerkraut, I quickly discovered that it is nothing more than cabbage and salt; allowed to ferment for a few weeks, until it develops that distinctly sour taste. Once again, after discovering that the process would take weeks to complete, I abandoned the idea and purchased prepared sauerkraut.

For a little variation on our corned beef feast, I decided to prepare Reuben Quesadillas. This simple recipe would make a great use for leftover corned beef or works well for a fresh-out-of-the-pot brisket. As part of our ongoing The Kids Cook Mondays series, my little men joined in on the quesadilla making process. Quesadillas, much like custom pizzas, are a fantastic dinner option for young children to get involved with. It allows them the opportunity to taste-test a variety of ingredients with the flexibility of preparing their very own personalized creations.

To facilitate the quesadilla construction, I organized several bowls of quesadilla fillings including the ingredients for our Reuben Quesadillas, along with some familiar favorites, such as American cheese and mini turkey pepperoni pieces. To add a little simple fun to the kids’ quesadillas, I used a large cookie cutter to cut star-shaped pieces from the flour tortillas. As they worked, I encouraged the kids to taste each of the ingredient options, but allowed them the flexibility to build their custom quesadillas as desired.

How to Prepare a Corned Beef Brisket

Place a corned beef brisket in a large pot. Fill with enough water to cover the brisket. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 3-4 hours, until fork tender. If you wish to serve with cabbage, potatoes, and/or carrots, add the cut potatoes and carrots to the pot during the last 20-25 minutes of cooking time and the cabbage during the last 15 minutes. Remove the corned beef from the water and cut against the grain before serving.

Corned Beef Reuben Quesadillas

Ingredients

  • Flour Tortillas
  • Corned Beef, thinly sliced and pulled apart into small pieces
  • Sauerkraut*
  • Swiss Cheese, shredded
  • Thousand Island Dressing

*To remove excess liquid and prevent soggy quesadillas, place the sauerkraut in a colander set over a bowl and allow it to drain for a few hours prior to using.

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Place one flour tortilla on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with shredded swiss cheese. Scatter pieces of corned beef and sauerkraut over the cheese. Sprinkle with additional swiss cheese and top with another flour tortilla. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the filling is hot and melty and the tortilla is slightly crisp. Serve with Thousand Island dressing.

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