easy

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!

 

 

Kale & Apple Salad with Pancetta & Candied Pecans

I woke up really excited yesterday morning because it was the day we were going over to our cousin’s to have dinner! My cousin, Bill, loves to grill and smoke meats so I knew it was going to be a great dinner. I was told to bring a salad so all day I was dreaming up something that would go well with grilled pork.

I finally decided on a recipe I was really excited about, started making it and about an hour before dinner I found out that the pork was marinated in a citrus adobo sauce. Had I known, I would’ve picked a recipe that had more citrus complementary flavors. Still, it was a great pairing! The pork was literally the best I’ve ever had! He tenderizes the meat overnight in a citrus marinade that really breaks down the texture of the meat which means a perfectly juicy, perfectly cooked pork tenderloin.

My salad was the most advanced and adventurous recipe I’ve made. It was actually a lot easier to make than it seemed with all of the complex ingredients and directions. I found the recipe at this website that will contribute to a lot of the recipes I’ll be making on Thanksgiving day!

 

My Best Attempt at a Manly Dinner

I went over to the guy’s house last night to make them dinner. I was trying to think of something low-carb & “manly” (which I’ve learned translates into “meat”). What I came up with was super fun and easy to make! It tasted good too!

For the bacon-wrapped chicken I started off by slicing (lengthwise) two little red chili peppers. Next I chopped up a handful of Italian parsley and long thin slices of a Spanish goat cheese called Cana de Cabra. Any kind of goat cheese will work, I just had some from the cheese shop down the street that needed to make it’s way into one of my next recipes.

Now that you’ve prepped your “stuffing”, you’ll take a few boneless, skinless, chicken breasts and cut in half (lengthwise) to make them thinner cuts of chicken. Lay all of your chicken breasts on a cutting board and sprinkle with some salt, pepper, and a little bit of cayenne.

On each seasoned chicken breast you’ll add a pinch of your chopped parsley, a slice of chevre, and a slice of chili pepper.

Now you’ll roll up your chicken breast and wrap it in two slices of bacon. I normally would’ve used turkey bacon but since I was going for a “manly” entree I decided to use center cut bacon. At least that cut has 35% less fat?

Over medium-high heat brown each side of the bacon-wrapped chicken for just a few minutes. This will give you that crispy bacon texture but still allow you to slow-cook your chicken without it drying out.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to fully cook your bacon/chicken, that will come later. Once you have some nice brown coloring on your bacon, transfer your wrapped chicken to a baking dish.

Bake your chicken, covered, at 350 for about 10-minutes. I get a little nervous about undercooked poultry/pork so I think I did mine closer to 15-20 minutes.

With the temperature at 350 and a cover keeping all of the moisture in, you don’t have to worry that your chicken will burn or dry out. Unfortunately I had to use aluminum foil but maybe some day someone will give me a Le Creuset French Oven! Then I won’t have to worry about my food losing moisture during baking or my body being full of toxins from the aluminum used in the cooking process!

For the red pepper side dish, I THOUGHT that I was just going to do vegetable with similar flavors to the chicken but I was surprised by the outcome.

While the chicken was cooking I chopped up the rest of the bacon into little pieces and sauteed them with half of a chopped red onion until it caramelized in a little bit of honey, cayenne and a splash of red wine vinegar. Then I chopped up a red bell pepper and mixed it up in the pan, just heating it for about 90 seconds – I wanted to preserve as much of the freshness, color, and nutrients as possible while still incorporating it in the rest of the dish.

It ended up being much sweeter than I expected but the chicken ended up being a lot spicier than I anticipated so it was a perfect pairing!

I sprinkled a little bit of parsley and goat cheese on the vegetables, topped it with the chicken and “manly dinner” was served!

Yum!