healthy

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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California: Introductions & Delights

I can’t believe I’ve lived my whole life not in California!

It feels like I was made to live here. I’m loving the fresh fruit, the gorgeous hills, the winding roads, the SUNSHINE and the change of pace.

The other day I went to Trader Joe’s and it felt like a whole new experience! I forgot that the alcohol doesn’t have to be separate from the groceries in this state and I found produce with the stems and leaves still connected to the fruit! Freshly picked clementines, straight from the grove and sold at Trader Joe’s. I was in heaven!

I’ve been eating my fair share of cheap, fresh, tropical fruits: pineapple and papaya with lemon juice was for breakfast. With the price of the fruit out here I’ve been able to snack on blackberries and mandarins all day. I can’t wait until we go to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday, Eric’s mom has been telling me about fruits I’ve never even heard of that I should try!

The guys come back from their cross-country trip this afternoon. I can’t wait until Eric gets home! After so many months of winter and packing it’ll be so much fun to actually get some time together.

While I’ve been waiting for him to come home I’ve had people “capturing” me and taking me on fun adventures. The other day Faye and I went to the OC and had lunch at this all vegan restaurant called The Veggie Grill.

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We had the “Bali Bliss” which is a Tempeh burger with red onion, tomato, lettuce and a (all vegan, of course!) chipotle ranch sauce. I ordered the “All Hail Kale” salad which was this amazing creation we tried to reproduce last night. It was kale, red cabbage, quinoa, corn salsa, agave-roasted walnuts, with a ginger-papaya vinaigrette. The burger and the salad were the best things we ordered! The mac-n-cheese was a disaster (but what did I really expect?) and the chili was an incredibly fresh texture but not a lot of flavor.

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All in all, it was a great experience and such a joy to find easily accessible and affordable healthy food. Welcome to California!

The next day Ruby picked me up and we went to Uncle Tim’s for a little Thai date with the girls and an IKEA run. It was so good to catch up a little, get out of the house and start doing “normal” things. I’m still adjusting to the fact that I live here now because every other time I see these people I’m visiting. That’s a pretty good lightbulb-moment feeling: I live here now.

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I, thankfully, was able to grab a few things at IKEA to style up my new digs. There’s still a lot of unpacking (and then more packing) that needs to be done but it feels nice to have some clean white light coming in through open windows and a freshly made bed. Waking up to birds chirping outside my windows has been another one of my favorite things. What a delight! (I feel like a visitor to a foreign country) 

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This does look like a foreign Target though. It’s like I’m taking pictures of Starbucks in different countries or something. The last Target I left was a freezing walk from the car to the store through salty parking lots with downtown’s skyscrapers in the background. What a difference!  Now I’m seeing palm trees, hills, snow covered mountains (this time of year) and blue skies.

I’m thankful to the Lord for all these little blessings sewn throughout my day. This is exactly what I needed.

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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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!

 

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!

 

Kale Salad

There’s this cute little gourmet cheese shop just a mile from my house. They have the best selection of cheese in the twin cities, artisan sandwiches, gourmet entrees of the day for dinner to-go and an extensive selection of healthy salads and sides in their deli. It feels like you walked right into a New York deli.

I’m mostly there to check out the two different gluten free soups that they offer daily. The chef is brilliant and comes up with some of the best soups that I’ve ever tasted: Watermelon Gazpacho, Coconut Corn, Chicken & Dill Mazo, just to name a few.

They also have this Kale & Feta salad that I can’t get enough of. It inspired me to create my own salad with a seasonal twist.

First I took a giant bunch of kale, stripped all the leaves from the stalk, tore them into bite size pieces, and covered them with water in a big pot. I boiled the kale for no more than three minutes – just enough to tenderize the leaves.

 

 

 

If you’re making this recipe a day before you’ll actually eat it, you don’t need to boil the leaves because the apple cider vinegar you add will tenderize them naturally. Making it this way is actually the best way to retain all of the nutrition of the kale that you would otherwise lose in the boiling process.

Drain, rinse the kale in cold water and throw in a large bowl. Toss the kale in a mixture of (best if it’s the organic with the “mother”) apple cider vinegar, EVOO, cayenne, and freshly ground pepper and sea salt. Then I mixed in some crumbled french feta from the cheese shop and the arils of a pomegranate.

It was so delicious, cheap and easy. It’s my new favorite way to eat kale!

 


[Paired with a Caesar wrap for dinner. Lots of greens that night!]

Alternative Cooking – Basic Recipe Format for Simmered Chicken

I think I made White Chicken Chili almost every week since we’ve been home from Hawaii. It’s such an easy meal to make, it’s cheap, fast, healthy and easy to leave on the stove until Eric comes home from work.

But this can’t go on forever.

 Instead, I tried to be resourceful with what I had in the kitchen and ended up with a new cheap, fast and healthy recipe!

I started off with sauteing a little garlic in a little EVOO and a 1:1 ratio of chicken broth and almond milk heating up in the bottom of a skillet. I added sliced chicken breasts and slowly simmered. Then I added a little freshly ground pepper, sea salt, cayenne, and a spoonful of flour to thicken the broth/milk mixture into a sauce.

The great thing about this dish is that you can incorporate any kind of vegetable you might have on-hand. I added a bag of frozen broccoli florets, covered and left to slowly simmer.

I’m rekindling my love and appreciation for lentils as a cheap and easy carb alternative. Red lentils are especially easy to cook like you would cook pasta; big pot of boiling water, ten minutes, strain, the end. Easy.

This dish is just a basic format to the start of any kind of simmering chicken and veggies. You could kick up the heat with (my go-to ingredient) Sriracha, turn it into a curry by substituting the almond milk for coconut milk and adding curry powder, or you could get a little more gourmet and saute onions with the garlic and finish the dish with some freshly chopped thyme.

The key to “inventing” recipes is to get a hold of a basic format for the execution and then to get creative with the different flavors and elements you’ll be incorporating. It’s like alternative cooking – take a traditional recipe, choose alternative healthy ingredients and then a complementary flavor profile. 


 

 

 

 

 

Moving Day: Healthy Taco Dip

I don’t know what the deal is but I’ve been craving nachos lately. Really FRESH nachos.

You know, the kind with crisp shredded lettuce, cool sour cream, spicy jalapenos, sweet tomatoes and loaded with sliced black olives. I think the cheese and veggies are my favorite part of any “Tex-Mex” dish.

Today is Moving Day! We’re blending everything inside the house (which includes LOTS of fashionable menswear/shoes!) since Eric will stay here for the next couple of weeks before the wedding while I stay with one of my best friends in suburbia.

It’s going to be a sweet month! I’m trying to just cherish these moments of tearing down, building up, incorporating, compromising, etc.

Today I created a healthy taco dip that the guys could snack on in between trips…(even though they left on their second trip three hours ago?) and I have beef slow cooking in the crock pot for “Machos” later tonight.

 

 

 

In a blender (yes, a blender) combine 8 oz. of greek yogurt, 8 oz. of low-fat cream cheese, a packet of spicy taco seasoning, a can of rotel and 8 oz. of refried beans. Blend on high for a little bit – just enough time to make sure all of the ingredients are evenly mixed together. If you blend too long it will heat up the ingredients and cause the texture to be thinner than you want.

Pour your dip from you blender into a glass baking dish. Top with a handful of shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, sliced olives, jalapenos, chopped cilantro and roma tomatoes. 

I lined the edges of the dish with Fritos Scoops and then put it in the fridge to set.

The “Machos” and organizing all of these books (by COLOR!…until he changes it) is what I have to look forward to tonight.

 

Happy Moving Day!