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Strawberry Basil Chicken Salad & the Best Method for Cooking Chicken Breasts

Every summer my Mom would make a big bowl of her chicken salad to keep in the fridge. It was the perfect lunch for busy little kids swimming out by the pool all day. She made this traditional summer dish with chicken breasts, celery, red grapes cut in half and rotini pasta. As we got older it became the perfect lunch to keep in the fridge for busy teenagers and summer schedules of sports, days at the beach and sleepovers. I pretty much grew up with the stuff!

As I got older I started parting ways with the white pasta but man did I love those chilled grapes!

Now I’m meal planning for my own family during a Southern California summer and it seems only right that I make chicken salad for our lunches! Every time this summer that I’ve set out to make the classic grape chicken salad, I always end up getting creative, using different fruits and veggies and veering away from the traditional recipe. Last time it was fresh cherries and corn this time it’s strawberry and basil! One of these days I’ll have to go back to my roots!

For this recipe I tried using a different method for cooking my chicken breast and it’s now my new favorite! Sometimes I’ll boil the chicken breasts, especially if I didn’t plan ahead and defrost them but that usually means missing out on flavor. Most of the time I’ll sauté them but I almost always wind up over cooking the chicken and it ends up dry and chewy. Gross.

This time I slow cooked the chicken at a low temperature and it ended up being the juiciest boneless, skinless chicken breast that I’ve ever had! It was so easy – you just flip it once and walk away!

BEST WAY TO COOK CHICKEN:

  • Season your chicken breast and sprinkle both sides with a good dusting of flour while your sauté pan, coated with a little oil, heats up on medium-high.
  • When the pan is hot, throw down your chicken, let it sit for only one minute and then flip.
  • After another minute you immediately turn the heat down to low, throw a cover on your pan and let it sit for 10 minutes.
  • No peeking! After your 10-minute timer goes off you remove the pan from the heat and let it sit for 10 more minutes.
  • NOW you can remove the lid – your chicken is perfectly done!

Sure, it takes longer but the good news is that this method frees you up to do all sorts of other kitchen prep like chopping veggies, unloading the dishwasher, setting the table, whatever you need to do. I thought for sure that I would under cook the chicken and I’d need to put it back on the burner for a couple more minutes but I was surprised to cut into this juicy, flavorful, “pink-less” chicken breast for my salad!


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The strawberries are delicious this time of year in California so I chopped up a few of those, quartered some persian cucumbers and thinly chopped some fresh basil off of the new plant that Eric’s Mom surprised me with last week!


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I also added a handful of chopped arugula to balance the sweetness of the strawberries and basil with a little fresh spice.

 
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Next, I threw in the juice of half a lemon, sea salt, black pepper, a little celery seed (optional) and a little all-natural mayo.

 
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Chicken salad is at it’s best when it’s cold so I like to let it sit in the freezer for a little bit while I clean up and toast my bread.

I love this flavorful and colorful spin-off of the traditional chicken salad recipe! It’s a convenient way to keep some healthy protein options on-hand for a quick lunch!

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Friday Pizza Movie Night

When I was younger my best friend and I used to babysit three wild children while their parents, our mentors & friends of the family, went out for “date night”. This family had a weekly tradition on Fridays called “Pizza Movie Night”. It was simple just like it sounds, the Mom would start with a whole wheat crust that was lightly sweetened with honey and simply topped with a squeeze bottle of pizza sauce and shredded cheddar cheese.

The pizza was simple but there was something so cozy about cuddling up on the couch with three little ones and a movie. Knowing it was a “family tradition” you felt like you were part of something, creating memories that would be passed down through the years.

I decided, after several Pizza Movie Nights that when I had my own family I’d start the Friday night tradition to create our own memories.

Working for Starbucks I hardly ever have a Friday thats really a Friday. I’m usually up early Saturday morning working an unpredictable day, just dreaming of sleeping in on Sunday morning. This weekly tradition is a little excuse to still celebrate on Friday and I’ve been figuring out healthy alternatives for pizza along the way.


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I still haven’t attempted making pizza dough with the Vitamix and this bad baker still needs to get a rolling pin so in the meantime I decided that the Artisan Whole Grain pizza dough by Pillsbury was the safest bet.

On this pizza I drizzled EVOO, herbes de Provence (of course), shredded pecorino, crumbed bacon, red onion, thinly sliced apples, spinach and french feta.

The secret is a blazing hot 500+ degrees oven. The pizza baked perfectly in under 6 minutes!

My new trend in the kitchen with pizza is to top it with fresh arugula after it comes out of the oven. The arugula just slightly wilts over the heat of the pizza and it adds this sweet peppery flavor and fresh texture.

 

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The second pizza was topped with a gourmet Italian pizza sauce from the cheese shop down the street (I cheated!).   I added some fresh Burrata from California. It’s a fresh Italian cheese made with mozzarella and cream. The outside is a shell of solid mozzarella while the inside is a mixture of mozzarella and cream, giving it a uniquely creamy texture. Burrata melts beautifully on pizza! I finished the pizza with almost the same ingredients as the one before it; spinach, bacon, feta, etc. Topped it with arugula and…bon appetit!

 

Now it seems like every Friday I’m trying new flavor combinations for Pizza Movie Night! Last week I substituted pesto as the sauce and completely covered the pizza with rows of juicy rotisserie chicken (cheated again!), freshly sliced mozzarella and roma tomatoes. After the oven I topped it with arugula of course! That was my favorite version of Pizza Movie Night, yet!

 

 

Weeknight Meal: Chicken Tenders are Not Just For Kids

 

 

 

I’ve always wanted to make my own ketchup.

I decided to make a gourmet/healthier spin off of the traditional chicken tenders and french fries to pair with my homemade ketchup.

Before you do anything you’ll want to get your ketchup cooking.

In a saucepan I mixed one can of tomato sauce, a tiny can of tomato paste, 1/4 c. equivalent of truvia, 1/4 c. apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, salt (I used smoked salt but any kind works) and pepper. I also included herbes de provence because I’m using it on everything lately.

Now the secret to this ketchup is in the onion and the cinnamon. Peel and cut a sweet yellow onion in half and place in the saucepan. When the ketchup is done cooking you’ll remove the onion. You can either discard it or create a great type of relish if you’re doing burgers, brats or something similar.

Preferably you’ll want to slow cook your ketchup for at least an hour but this recipe works with just 10 minutes of simmer-time if that’s all you have.

When you’re done cooking your ketchup you’ll immediately cool it. If you live in Minnesota and have 15″ of snow on the ground you can place a cover on the saucepan and stick it out in a snowbank (yes, I seriously did that). If not, make some room in your freezer and chill it to at least room temperature.

While your ketchup is chilling you’re going to get two bowls.

Bowl #1: Whisk together two eggs (or three egg whites)

Bowl #2: Combine about a cup of your favorite kind of flour (GF: coconut, almond, rice, etc.), salt and pepper.

To make clean up super easy I laid out some parchment paper on my counter. This helped because I had more tenders than my skillet could hold.

So it goes like this: chicken tenders get thrown into bowl #1, coated in the egg mixture, then they get tossed in bowl #2, lightly coated with the flour mixture and then they lay out on the parchment paper.

I heat just a little bit of olive oil in the bottom of my skillet and throw in about six tenders, sprinkle with herbes de provence (or your favorite seasoning), throw on the lid, cook about 4 minutes on each side. I keep cooking until my parchment paper is empty and by now my ketchup is cool.

Dinner is served!

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The ketchup was so good that we had meatloaf the next night just to have more! I think I need to make this ahead of time and keep it in a mason jar in my fridge from now on.

Delicious!

 

 

Weeknight Meal: Walnut-Crusted Salmon with Roasted Broccoli & Fennel

I’m thinking of high-protein/low-carb dinners that my husband will love after he gets home from work.

This night I decided on a walnut crusted salmon with roasted fennel and broccoli.

I used my Vitamix to crush the handful of walnuts and cayenne that I had with a cup of olive olive oil. I whisked two eggs together in another small dish and dipped the salmon in the “egg bath” before I covered them in the pan with all of the copped walnuts.

After your salmon is coated you’ll transfer it to a skillet and cook it for about 4 minutes on one side and 3 minutes on the other side.

While the salmon is cooking you’ll get your veggies ready: Fire up your oven to 450. Chop your fennel and broccoli into bite-sized pieces.

While the oven is heating you’ll toss your vegetables in a big bowl with olive oil, salt and your favorite seasonings.
I used thyme, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Most likely your salmon will finish cooking before your roasted vegetables. While you’re waiting you’ll spoon fat-free cottage cheese onto a plate and top it with fresh berries. The sweetness of the berries will perfectly compliment the citrus notes of the salmon and the sweetness of the roasted vegetables.


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Our Very First Thanksgiving & Recipes

 

 

This was my first year ever hosting Thanksgiving! I was so excited to make all of this delicious food, have all of these people fill our little home and create new memories and traditions for our family.

About a week before Thanksgiving I started researching blogs and recipes looking for great ideas that were gourmet and creative but still traditional. I wanted to have a menu planned that would be cohesive but still fun and adventurous to make.

I started cooking on Tuesday. I decided on a pecan pie (my Mom’s favorite that she’d make every year) and a pumpkin pie. Lets just say I’m not a baker. I leave that for my best friend, Tara. This Thanksgiving the Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Cheesecake was a hit and the whipped cream that I tried to make from scratch with my Vitamix (that I overheated) was not.

I did have fun making the pies though!

This is my Christmas jam. The best Christmas compilation Starbucks has put out in the longest time.

Now the Thanksgiving dinner, on the other hand, turned out absolutely delicious if I do say so! By the time we sat down to eat I was so exhausted from working and cooking all week. Making the dinner was such an event, such an experience, that I actually miss it. It was so rewarding to have a house full of people talking and laughing – that’s my favorite part. I just love Thanksgiving!

Here is the menu and the recipes that I referenced to make our first Thanksgiving dinner:

An Apple Shallot Turkey that I got a little creative with by adding freshly squeezed lemons and tangerines. We’ve had a lot of produce on-hand since we got our Vitamix so I wanted to make sure those didn’t go to waste and I thought the citrus would add a fresh touch.

I did a lot of research before cooking my fresh turkey and actually diverted from the recipe and started it two days earlier. I had my neighbor come over and help me pull out the insides (no joke), rinsed it, dried it, (squealed a lot…so gross) and literally used a whole jar of sea salt to rub it down.

What I learned is that adding all of that salt, you’d think it would make your turkey really salty but if you do it a couple of days ahead of time and leave your turkey uncovered in the fridge, you’ll find that it actually increases the “water retention” leading to a juicier, more flavorful bird.

Now, I do remember the Apple Cider gravy I made being too salty…oops. That’s something I’d do differently. After the turkey was done roasting, we plated it, let it rest and then poured the juices from the roasting pan into a saucepan. I also cheated and added about 16 oz. of Turkey Stock that was jarred for me at my favorite local cheese shop. I added a little spiced cider and apple cider vinegar, going along with the recipe, but thought it was too acidic so I tried cutting it with some salt. In retrospect I probably should’ve chosen to add a little truvia and more chicken broth…

I had decided not to stuff the turkey with anything other than fruit and root vegetables. Apparently the juices from the fruit and the sweetness from the roasted root vegetables make the turkey sweet and juicy while allowing it to cook more evenly.

Instead, I made the stuffing (my favorite part) from scratch. I decided on a recipe that added a creative twist to the traditional recipe. The fresh herbs and toasted hazelnuts made my kitchen smell amazing and it turned out really delicious but if I did it again I’d choose something other than prosciutto.

I also made the cranberry sauce from scratch (my other favorite part). I made up my own recipe using fresh cranberries, orange juice, truvia, tangerine zest and my favorite Tennessee honey whiskey.

As bad as they are for you I just couldn’t help but try out Martha Stewart’s Mom’s recipe for the mashed potatoes. I thought I could use the Vitamix to mash the potatoes but I should’ve let them cool first. Instead, the heat from the potatoes and the fast blades of the Vitamix caused the appliance to overheat and stop working completely…until it cooled off (thank God!).

At the last minute I decided to make a side dish of buttered carrots and onions. I used a little nutmeg and cayenne pepper to spice up that quick and easy side dish.

We had so much more food than what I listed (made by our amazing friends, none of which were Minnesota natives) but I just thought I would include the recipes I used for those of you that asked!

Also, if you already have “Holidays Rule” I highly recommend buying “A Very She & Him Christmas” by Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward.

Alternative Cooking: Penne Rosa

There is a Noodles & Co. right next to my store. After about nine months, I gave in and tried the Penne Rosa, highly recommended by my friends at Noodles. I’m not really a pasta person so up until then I was only ordering their Tomato Basil Bisque or their Caesar Salad, but I have to say, it was incredibly delicious!

I liked it so much that I made my own alternative version a couple days later. This one has less pasta, more veggies and more heat. All around, I’d say that’s better!


 

I sauteed a little bit of garlic and onions in a little EVOO and – get this – a splash of red wine. After the garlic starts to brown and the onions start to caramelize, I added a jar of spicy marinara sauce (easy!). You have to simmer this sauce on low or it gets a little…lava-like; bubbling and reminding you of the importance of a backsplash. I added lots of crushed red pepper to kick up the heat and then just a little bit of heavy whipping cream.

Usually greek yogurt is my go-to for adding creaminess to dishes but I wasn’t sure how the consistency would hold up with the acidity of the tomatoes. I’ll have to try it the next time I make this.

While the sauce was cooking I sauteed some shrimp in a little (very little!) bit of butter and garlic. Shrimp is my new favorite thing to incorporate into making quick dinners. It’s easy to just have a bag of frozen, peeled, tail-off, already-cooked shrimp. You saute for a couple minutes and you’re done!

I had 100% whole grain penne pasta cooking while I was making the sauce. Two handfuls of penne: 10 minutes to al dente. Drain, rinse and incorporate into the sauce. Finish by stirring in tons of chopped spinach and mushrooms. Top with (my favorite!) french feta cheese.

When my best friend’s sister, Steph and her husband, Adam, lived with my family, I learned that the secret to “fresh pasta” was to add raw veggies (like spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc.) at the very end. It really enhances the slow-cooked sauce’s flavors and is a great alternative to pasta. More veggies and less pasta is always the way to go!

The sauce was so delicious, I think next time I’ll kick out the penne and serve it just on a bed of raw spinach and mushrooms!