Honey-Lemon Grilled Chicken

So here it is.
Many of you email me or send messages asking for healthy, gluten-free, dairy free, easy meals.  Well, my lovelies, it doesn’t get much better than this.


Much like the oh so popular grilled pork chops, this recipe requires minimal ingredients and minimal effort with a big return.  The lemon is bright but not overly tangy and the honey adds more flavor than you would expect!  And you know how much I love to cook with honey.  It is just.  so.  good.  In a future post I will show you one of my favorite ways to serve this dish, but for now, you get it straight up.  Grill it, slice it, serve it.  Spring veggies are the perfect thing to share the plate with this chicken so make sure that you have lots of fresh greens, peas, asparagus, or beets piled on the side.  Aaahh.  The smell of a grill, the snap of fresh vegetables-delicious!

Can I take this time to chat with you a little about your zesting though?  I feel as if we know each other well enough to discuss this.  In regards to your preferred zesting apparatus, I hope you are all using a Microplane, or something similar.  You can buy them anywhere nowadays and they all run about fifteen bucks.  Not too shabby for a tool that does so much!  Of course I use mine mainly for zesting citrus which means it is pretty much always dirty.  But it can turn a block of parmesan cheese into wonderfully fluffy gratings that stir into pasta much easier than the grainy store bought stuff.  Back to the whole zesting dealy-o, make sure that you always zest with the grater OVER THE VESSEL YOU ARE MIXING IN, as opposed to zesting onto a counter, plate, or cutting board!  Believe it or not, you get way more flavor this way.  When you scrape your citrus over the blade, it cuts the rind into teeny tiny little ribbons, spraying the oils-which have a TON of flavor-as you go.  That beautiful essence of lemon, orange, or whatever, should be in your recipe, not making your counters sticky.

Ding!  Zest lecture complete.

Now go grill something!

One Year Ago: Lemon Quick Bread
Two Years Ago: Black & White Angel Food Cake

Honey-Lemon Grilled Chicken
White meat is more versatile but boneless, skinless chicken thighs are equally awesome in this recipe.  Don’t skimp on the black pepper; it adds a subtle heat that is part of what makes this chicken so addictive.  Replacing the lemon with orange is just as stellar.

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 c honey, preferably local
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2-3/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 c extra-virgin olive or grapeseed oil

Combine all ingredients in a large resealable plastic bag or large bowl.  Squish and turn to mix and coat the chicken.  Let marinade for at least 4 hours, or up to 8, turning occasionally if you can.  Grill chicken over medium, direct heat, letting the extra marinade drain off before placing it in the grill.  Grill about 4 to 5 minutes per side, or until chicken is just done, but not dry.  Cover and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.  Enjoy!!

IMG_9739 Greetings!

Sorry I have been MIA for a week!  I have been cooking and baking up a storm but it has been mostly new recipes and experiments.  We were out of the state for several days and I literally didn’t even have time to sleep, let alone get any blogging done.  Our two boys share a birthday and we had the opportunity to celebrate it with our families in Minnesota! Aren’t they cute?
IMG_9561 While it is nice to unplug sometimes, I uh…well…I missed you.  I blog because I love it, and when life keeps me from my computer, I spend most of my time away writing recipes and posts to all of you in my head. Not like, love notes or anything.  Food notes.  Sheesh!   This is one of those recipes!

To be fair, I feel like I should mention that this is SO not what I had planned on sharing today.  I actually have another stellar scone recipe to pass along and my new go-to chocolate cupcake recipe.  But until I get them finalized and dress them up fancy and take their picture, you get quesadillas!  Healthy and flavorful, you can think of them as the ‘good’ food before the chocolatey ‘bad’!

This recipe has been years in the making.  I keep messing with it, changing it, forgetting what I did last time and starting over.  But eventually, I paid attention and became consistent.  Aren’t you proud of me? 🙂 Sometimes some of the ingredients don’t make it in due to lack of proper grocery shopping (ahem), but in general, this is how I throw them together.  They are so chock full of good things-heavy on the veggies and beans-that they are more than enough to satisfy for dinner!
IMG_9681 One Year Ago: Lime Sherbet Punch & Cream Cheese Banana Bread
Two Years Ago: Honey Carrots, Non-Traditional Shepherd’s Pie & One Bowl Chocolate Cake

Loaded Black Bean Quesadillas
Feel free to omit the chicken and make an entirely vegetarian dish!  Check out the note below for a freezer tip!

2 T olive oil
1 onion, diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced
6-8 oz portabella or shitake mushrooms, diced small
2 huge handfuls fresh baby spinach
salt and pepper
1 1/2 tsp cumin
2 cans black beans, rinsed and drained
2 c cooked, shredded chicken
1/4 c salsa, plus additional for serving
2 c shredded cheese
8 whole wheat tortillas

salsa, sour cream, and diced avocado for serving

In a small bowl, mix together the chicken and the 1/4 c salsa.  Set aside.

Drizzle the oil into a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add the onion, garlic, mushrooms, and a bit of salt and pepper, and sauté until mushrooms are brown and the onions are translucent and caramelized, about 6 minutes or so.  Add the cumin and heat together for an additional minute or two.  Taste for seasoning.  Add the spinach and stir and heat for another minute or two, until the spinach is wilted, but not mushy.  Remove from heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, mash the rinsed and drained black beans with a potato masher (my personal weapon of choice) or a fork, until most of them are broken, but it is still chunky.  We don’t want it smooth like baby food here people!  Stir in the mushroom and spinach mixture.  Taste for seasoning.  Go ahead and add a little cayenne here if you like it spicy!

Smear 1/4 of the black bean mixture onto a tortilla, making sure to spread it evenly out to the edges.  Top with some of the chicken and then sprinkle with cheese.  Top with a second tortilla, and toast until crispy on the outside and melty on the inside.  We like to use our panini maker, but a toaster oven, or dry, nonstick skillet is great too!  Repeat with remaining ingredients and tortillas.  Serve with more salsa, sour cream. and avocado!

NOTE: We usually can only eat two, full quesadillas in our family, but the there is the perfect amount of black bean mixture to make four.  So usually, I use up all the chicken on only two of them, and I make the  other two quesadillas vegetarian with just beans and cheese.  Smoosh them together a bit, but don’t toast them!  Put them on a sheet pan in the freezer and when they are solid, carefully place them in a gallon freezer bag and freeze for later.  Then you can defrost a bit and toast as normal!

Peanut Noodles

Peanut NoodlesWhen it comes right down to it, the fact that this dish has a no-cook sauce and that I can make it entirely in the blender…well…that is really what drew me to it originally.  After I made it once, it was the flavor that drew me in.  The second time I made it, I started adding vegetables.  The next few times it barely made it to the table due to the extensive snitching that may or may not have been done by the chef.  Kitchen rights, you know.

As it turns out, I am a bit amazed at the fact that I have only added to the original recipe.  The flavor is so spot on, I have no improvements or detractions.  Only the addition of vegetables and chicken to make it more of a well rounded meal.  That said, this is very easy to make entirely vegetarian or to load it up with lean meat.  The sauce can be thrown together in a matter of minutes and the entire she-bang can be made ahead of time to make an easy weeknight meal you can just pull right from the fridge and eat.  Not bad for dinner out of a blender.
Peanut Noodles Peanut NoodlesOne Year Ago: Chicken Tetrazzini
Two Years Ago: Crock-Pot Chocolate Mess

Peanut Noodles
Recipe adapted from Tyler Florence

As I mentioned above, these noodles are entirely customizable.  Originally, they were meant to be eaten cold, but our family loves them warm.  Do what we do and enjoy them fresh and then fight over the chilled leftovers the next day.

12 oz linguini, regular or whole wheat
3 T sesame oil
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 cloves garlic
juice of 1 lime, about 1 1/2 T
1 tsp red chili paste
2 T brown sugar
3 T rice vinegar
3 T soy sauce, preferably low sodium
1/2 c creamy peanut butter
6-8 T hot water
Optional add ins:
1 1/2 c shredded, cooked chicken
2 carrots, peeled and grated
2 c fresh spinach, packed
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 green onions, chopped
1 T sesame seeds
red pepper flakes to taste

Cook the pasta according to package directions.  Drain and toss with sesame oil.  Set aside.  In a blender, combine all the sauce ingredients except the water.  Fear not!  This is not a spicy sauce!  Hence, the optional red pepper flakes.  The red chile paste is all for flavor so don’t be tempted to skip it!    Add the hot water, a tablespoon at a time, until the sauce is the consistency of heavy cream.  Err on the side of thin if you are uncertain.  Pour every bit of the sauce over the noodles and scrape the blender clean!  The pasta will absorb the sauce so you want every drop!  Toss in any add-ins you want (I recommend them all) and enjoy warm, or chill and eat cold.

Lemon & Garlic Shrimp Linguini

Lemon & Shrimp Pasta If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I only post recipes that I make regularly; recipes that have made an appearance on my table several times and will continue to do so long after these words are archived.  I have actually been making this dish for years and haven’t ever posted it here because…well…I guess I wanted to keep a little mystery.  I liked having something in my back pocket that my friends had never seen before, even if my family has been eating it once a month.  I didn’t want to share it with anyone and instead, just revel in its simplicity and goodness all by myself.

Well, ok.  Not by myself.  Technically this recipe is Ina Garten’s and technically it is posted on the food network website and is included in her cookbook, Barefoot Contessa: Family Style.  Not exactly a secret.  As it happens, there are so many versions of this dish, all with just subtle variations from each other.   Generally, I just stick with this one.  I cook it from memory, sometimes adding crushed red pepper flakes for a little kick, sometimes not.  The point is, this is a classic.  A simple, fast, easy, fantastically tasty dish that you will make over and over.  It will become a staple, a go-to, a regular.  And regardless of wether or not you get the recipe from me, a cookbook, or from another website, I hope you enjoy it.  Maybe it will even add a little mystery to your life.
IMG_8265 Lemon & Shrimp PastaOne Year Ago: Buttermilk Brownies & Strawberry Avocado Salad

Lemon & Garlic Shrimp Linguini
Adapted from Ina Garten

3/4 lb linguini
1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
3 T butter
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
zest of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 c chopped fresh parsley

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile, over medium heat, melt the butter and olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the garlic, and let it heat till fragrant, but not burnt, about 30 seconds.  Add the shrimp and sauté, tossing gently, for 2 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and add the lemon zest and juice.  Heat together, lowering the heat if necessary so as not to overcook the shrimp.  Add the pasta and the parsley, toss everything together, taste for seasoning, and serve immediately.

How To: Roast Garlic

Roasted Garlic Roasted garlic!  Finally!

I have been meaning to blog about this for forEVER!  If you have never done it before, you are in for a tremendous treat! Not only is it ridiculously easy, but once you eat it and cook with it, you will wonder how you ever got along without it. I will post some recipes using roasted garlic in the future, but for now, here is your step by step instructions.  Lets get started!
Roasted Garlic Roasted Garlic

2-3 heads (or bulbs) of garlic
olive oil
salt and pepper

In the above picture you can see three heads, or bulbs of garlic.  Just to be clear, the individual pieces are called cloves.  If you are going to roast garlic, I recommend doing at least 2 heads so that you have enough to use in a recipe, but you can do as many or as few as you want!  Generally, you should avoid any heads that have green shoots growing from them as this some times makes the garlic kind of bitter.  Look for bulbs that are nice and tight with no blemishes.
Roasted Garlic First, cut the head of garlic in half, crosswise-not stem to stem, exposing the individual cloves.
Roasted Garlic Depending on the size of your bulb, this may take some muscle.  It will also smell great.  Mmm.  Fresh garlic…Remove any extra paper skin from the outside, leaving just enough to hold the cloves together.
Roasted Garlic Place the garlic halves on a small piece of aluminum foil.  Aren’t they pretty?  I love garlic.
Roasted Garlic Drizzle with olive oil.
Roasted Garlic Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Roasted Garlic If you want to be like me, fold the foil into a nice little packet, leaving room for air to circulate.  If you are less particular, just gather up the foil and wrap it up.  Its all good.
Roasted Garlic Roasted Garlic Isn’t it cute?  Now throw that puppy in a 350 degree oven for about a half hour.  You want the garlic soft and buttery.
This is where you can mess with the process a bit.  Sometimes I put it in the toaster oven.  If I am already using my oven for something, I will throw garlic in to save time.  If the oven is set lower, I roast the garlic a little longer and vice versa.  As long as the oven isn’t set really hot, because then the garlic might burn.  And burned garlic is NOT yummy.
Roasted Garlic Behold!  The sweet goodness of roasted garlic!  Your house will smell so good, do not open your windows unless you want the neighbors to come running.  At this point, I suggest popping out a clove and just eating one straight up.  No sharp garlic taste, just unbelievable sweetness and amazing flavor.  So now what do you do?
Roasted Garlic Grab one half and gently squeeze the whole thing into a small bowl.  The cloves will pop right out.  You may have to turn it and squeeze again to get all of them out, but the skins generally stay put.  You can leave them like this, or…
Roasted Garlic…mash with a fork.  Either way you can eat it just like this.
Roasted GarlicSmear it on a piece of bread, a sandwich or mix it into a bazillion different things.

Uses for roasted garlic (including but not limited to):

* turn it into a dip

* stir it into mashed potatoes

* mash and smear on a pizza, or leave the cloves whole and sprinkle them on

* stir the cloves into cooked brown rice with salt and pepper and plenty of freshly chopped parsley

* add it to an alfredo sauce and toss with the pasta of your choice

* add it to your favorite mac & cheese recipe

* toss it with steamed green beans

* mix it into scrambled eggs

* top a salad with it

* stir it into your favorite potato salad

* puree it into hummus

* marinade freshly chopped tomatoes with roasted garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a splash of red wine vinegar then top crostini with it

Leave your favorite ideas in the comments below and enjoy!

Creamy Tomato Soup

IMG_7761 So.  If you are a regular reader of Brittany’s Pantry, you know that I am not the biggest fan of soup.  My husband and kids?  Yes.  Me?  No.  Unless it is ice cream, I would rather eat meals that require a fork.  However, if you know that about me, you also know that even though I don’t like to eat it, I love to make it.  All the vegetable chopping and stirring and seasoning; I love it.

Until just a year or two ago, the only tomato soup I had ever had was out of a can.  No offense to Campbells, but no thank you!  So then I started making this roasted tomato soup based on a Tyler Florence recipe, and it was actually quite good.  Unfortunately, in case you hadn’t noticed, its winter.  Winter means not great tomatoes (with the exception of cherry and grape) and there is a severe lack of good basil.

So, I started experimenting with canned tomatoes.  I figured if I could create a basic tomato soup recipe, I could just switch up what I served it with based on mood.  Panini, cheese sandwiches, crusty bread, croutons, and even a gooey scoop of mac and cheese.  Because everyone needs a good soup recipe now and then, right?
Creamy Tomato Soup Creamy Tomato Soup
I generally use crushed tomatoes instead of tomato sauce.  They give great texture to whatever you use them in.  This recipe is the perfect example.

1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried basil
2-28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
3-14 oz cans good quality chicken broth
1/2 c heavy cream, optional

In a large, heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven, sweat the onion and carrots in the olive oil over medium low to medium heat. Season with salt and pepper.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally until the carrots start to soften and the onions are nearly translucent.  Add the oregano, basil, and chicken broth and cook another 15 minutes, or until the carrots are very soft.  Add the crushed tomatoes, and simmer the soup for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth.  Alternatively, puree the soup in batches in a food processor or blender.  BE CAREFUL!! It is hot!!!  Return to the pot and add as little or as much cream as you like.  Taste for seasoning.

My ‘Go To’ Sloppy Joe

My Go-To Sloppy Joe Recipe {Brittany's Pantry}One of the reasons I started blogging was because people would regularly ask me to pass along the recipes that I make all the time; recipes that were my ‘go to’ recipes because they were simple, straight-forward, and tasted good.  Well, BEHOLD!  This recipe is just that.  Classic and great using regular ingredients instead of a package of seasoning mix that has only God knows what in it.  It goes together just as fast as the convenience kind but has a ton more flavor and is much better for you.  Well, all right.  Fine.  It isn’t as fast as opening up a can of Manwich and dumping it on your meat, but almost.

You may think that the addition of a grain in this recipe is weird, but to me it is totally normal.  My Mom used to add a can of chicken gumbo soup to her sloppy joes, just to give them a bit more substance and to stretch the recipe a bit.  She used the chicken gumbo, I assume, because it had peppers and rice in it-two things that go well in sloppy joe mix.  I got in the habit of adding whatever leftover carb I had in the fridge and just stuck with it.  We always have peppers in the fridge (my kids LOVE them) so it was natural to include them in my recipe too.  Both add a hit of nutrition to an otherwise plain meal.  The other ingredients come from just trying to copy the flavors of a barbecue sauce because I didn’t want to actually add barbecue sauce.  The result?  A sweet and tangy staple that I make over and over.  The fact that it isn’t to shabby for your bod helps too!  Especially now, at the start of a new year.  Feel free whip this up and lick your fingers guilt-free!My Go-To Sloppy Joe Recipe {Brittany's Pantry} One Year Ago: Peppermint Meringue Cookies W/Mini Chocolate Chips
Two Years Ago: Shrimp Quesadillas, Alfredo, Filet Au Poivre, Honey Waffles, Hot Wings

Sloppy Joes
You could easily sub out the ground beef for ground turkey to make this even leaner.  Leftovers freeze beautifully.  I usually serve these on whole wheat buns, but they were out this particular day!

1 lb ground beef, 85 or 90% lean
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 sweet bell pepper, diced
3/4 c cooked brown rice or quinoa (barley would be nice too)
1 T mustard
1-2 T molasses (I use 2 but I like it a bit sweeter)
1 T worcestershire sauce
1 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper
1 (14 oz) can crushed tomatoes
whole wheat buns

In a large frying pan or cast iron skillet, brown the beef in a tiny bit of olive oil over medium heat.  Break it up into small pieces as you go.  When it is about halfway done, add the onion, garlic, and diced pepper.  Once all the meat is cooked through and no longer pink, and the veggies are getting soft, add the rest of the ingredients, through salt and pepper.  Let cook gently over medium low heat, stirring often, until the flavors have all come together, about 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, and bring up to temp stirring often, letting it all cook together for another 5 minutes.  Taste for seasoning.  Serve on whole wheat buns.

Open Faced Tuna Melt

Tuna MeltHi all!

Just a quick post to clue you in to one of my most favorite comfort foods.  Gaze upon the Open Faced Tuna Melt.

Now, for any of you reading this who happen to be my siblings, I realize you may think of this dish as unremarkable.  We did, after all, eat these with some regularity while growing up.  But sometimes it takes distance and time to really appreciate those things in your life that are surprisingly special.  I have always loved making these and my husband and kids love them just as much as I did.  I swear it is the cheese.  Somehow, things become extraordinary when you melt cheese on food, transforming a plain old tuna sandwich into a lunch worthy of a blue plate special at your neighborhood diner.  The addition of avocado to the already hearty healthy fish, whole grain bread, and fresh garden tomatoes make this a good for you lunch that takes very little time and still manages to somehow feel indulgent and fun.  Make no mistake.  The flavor will make you-or your siblings:)-feel special.

One Year Ago: Hot Apple Cider
Two Years Ago: Apple Crisp, Remoulade Sauce

Open Faced Tuna Melt
This serves three, but obviously you can adjust it to make as many as you need!

2 cans tuna packed in water, drained
1/4 c canola mayo, or to taste
black pepper
Mix the above three ingredients together in a small bowl, adding more mayo if you like it really creamy.  The pepper is important.  It makes such a huge difference so add as much as you like!  So now, build your melt!
Whole Grain Bread
Tuna Mixture
Sliced Avocado
Sliced Tomatoes
Sliced Cheddar, Colby, or Co-Jack
Place your melts in a toaster oven on broil, or broil on a sheet pan in the oven JUST UNTIL THE CHEESE MELTS!  Enjoy!

Tangy Chicken Salad w/ Avocado

Tangy Avocado Chicken SaladChicken salad and I have a funny kind of relationship.  I have mentioned before that our family never made it when I was a kid but I make it all the time now.  I rarely, if ever order it when at a restaurant because…well…it always tastes terrible.  You know what I mean?  Tasteless and dry, lacking in any flavor at all, and with chicken shredded nearly to the consistency of baby food.  Blegh.

Now, I am quite partial to my other chicken salad recipe and I make it quite a lot.  But this summer, I found myself craving something with a bit more kick.  A bit more tang.  And since I know of very few things that aren’t improved with some avocado, that ended up in the bowl too.  I almost added hard boiled egg, but exercised some restraint.  It was really good in there, but didn’t make it to the final recipe.

What did end up in the final recipe, as you see below, is quite simple.  A little sour cream to cut the richness of the mayo, mustard for fantastic flavor, and the avocado for a dose of healthy fats and a creaminess that cannot be matched.  We love this so much it is not uncommon for us to burn through a whole batch in a day.  Or a sitting!  Add some fruit and some pita chips and you have got yourself a cafe worthy lunch!
Tangy Avocado Chicken SaladTwo Years Ago: Tator-Tot Hotdish

Tangy Chicken Salad W/Avocado
Our favorite way to eat this is wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla with fresh spinach, or scooped with crackers.  But throw it in a butter croissant and you have something really special.  I recommend adding lots of fresh ground black pepper!

4 c cooked chicken, chunked or shredded
1/4 c light sour cream
1/4 c mayo
1-1 1/2 T dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
Mix all ingredients lightly together.  Add a bit more sour cream and mayo if too dry.  Taste for seasoning.  Add:
1 avocado, peeled and diced
Toss lightly together.  Enjoy!

Steak Salad

Steak SaladIt is no secret that I love the Farmer’s Market.  The small town that I live in has a very small one once a week that while tiny, fulfills most of my market needs.  Above all else, I love to support the local businesses and if I can, try and purchase something from each of them.  There are always at least two vendors there that have a decent range of fruits and vegetables and Sager Farms has kept our family in peaches every summer for years!  The variety is limited compared to the huge market we go to in Urbana, but totally worth it.  For Christmas, my sister-in-law got me this cookbook and I have been pouring over the recipes, advice, and stunning photographs.  Because of the heat and drought in this part of the country, our garden is toast.  Literally.  So I have been relying on the markets to stock up on green beans, peaches, plums, and zucchini to puree and freeze for baby food, and eventually I will freeze butternut squash, pumpkin, pears, and apples as they come in to season.  But more on that later.  Also, like most people, I have been purchasing tomatoes like crazy.  The basil in our garden is surviving so, because I love variety in my food, I like to mix things up.  This has been our menu the past week:

Sunday: Chicken Teriyaki, Garlic Brown Rice, steamed vegetables
Monday: Baja Fish Tacos-Everytime I make these, my family goes bonkers.  Seriously good.
Tuesday: Baked Pasta W/Summer Veggies and a quick salad with vinaigrette-I used a local goat cheese ricotta this time-AWESOME!
Wednesday: Sausage & Mushroom Pizza with this pizza dough that I froze months ago
Thursday: Tomato & Basil Salmon, whole wheat cous cous, Zucchini & Corn W/Basil
Friday: Burgers or Carne Asada and S’Mores if it isn’t too hot or if it doesn’t rain-GO USA!!
Saturday: Company for dinner!  Not sure of the menu but I think I am going to make Caramelized Onion Dip, Sun-Dried Tomato Dip, Grilled Yogurt Chicken, Panzanella Salad, my favorite fruit mix, White Sangria, Strawberry Lemonade and…I don’t know what else!
Sunday: I have no clue.  I will probably be cleaning out the fridge and finishing the leftover Keebler Cracker Bars I made for a recent play date.

The Summer Pasta with Veggies was our vegetarian dish for the week and we ended up having fish twice.  Never a bad thing, right?!  Yum.  Today’s recipe is so perfect for the summer and slips in to this weeks line-up because even though it centers around beef (As I wish all my meals could.  What can I say? I am a carnivore! Grrr!), the main player in the meal is veggies.  It is a nice, light meal that is adaptable, fast, doesn’t heat up the house, is good for you, and takes advantage of all that produce!  And even though you can of course use any kind of salad dressing you want, there is something really perfect about a fresh, cool, tangy ranch on warm, smokey, earthy steak.  A stellar combination to be sure.  The only thing missing from the above picture is fresh sliced mushrooms.  I had them, and then ate them all when I made a Fried Rice Scramble.  I also had planned to add cucumbers, but the kids finished them earlier that day at lunch time.  So use your imagination and add those two items to the salad and then you have the perfect steak salad.

What are YOU making with your Farmer’s Market loot?
Steak Salad Steak SaladOne Year Ago: Zucchini W/Corn & Basil, & Chocolate Chip Cherry Snack Cake
Two Years Ago: California Chopped Salad

Simple Steak Salad W/Homemade Ranch
One good steak for every two people seems to be the perfect ratio.  I like it simple and classic, but feel free to use your favorite rub or marinade on the meat.  Recipe for Homemade Ranch soon to come!

2 T-Bone or New York Strip steaks, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper
lettuce, spring mix, fresh spinach, or a combination of greens
hard boiled eggs
sliced mushrooms
sliced cucumbers
ranch dressing

Grill the steaks until medium rare and let rest while you assemble the salads.  Slice the steaks, one half for each person and top the salads.  Drizzle with ranch dressing and enjoy!

Strawberry & Avocado SaladI had this recipe in mind to share with you from the beginning of this blogs creation and for reasons I don’t quite understand, I just have never gotten around to it.  My bad.

Please don’t judge the recipe by the simple picture above.  The lettuce combo I happened to have in my fridge tasted fine, but didn’t quite photograph the way I wanted it to.  A little too…random.  Also, I was on the phone when I made this and was trying to take pictures before my last little bit of light disappeared, reposition the avocados and strawberries to be more visible (they like to stay on the bottom of the salad), and not drop the phone I had wedged in between my shoulder and my ear.  The end result was that I wished I had picked different lettuce and my camera and my phone both got covered with vinaigrette.

But enough excuses!  The reason I simply must post this here is quite obvious.  It is outrageously good.  I cannot stress this enough!  It is refreshing and tangy and creamy and sweet and…*sigh* I dream about this salad when strawberries are an elusive treat during the winter.  The only reason I have them now is because after frowning in disappointment at the plethora of fruit imported from Chile that seemed to have taken over the produce department of my local supermarket (Ugh!) I came across a huge display of strawberries just in from Florida.  Not exactly local, but at least from this country.  So I gave in and bought them.  Grrr-they are so good!  And with the chicken I grilled and a huge pile of potato salad, it was like summer on a plate.

The beauty of this recipe is in its simplicity.  I keep thinking I need to add something more, but then I make it again and convince myself it is perfect the way it is.  The simple vinaigrette is tangy and the strawberries are sweet and the avocado is creamy and buttery-gaaaah!  So good!  So when you make this and fall in love with it, I apologize in advance for taking so long to get it out to you.  I’ll make it up to you by posting a super cute, super easy breakfast treat next.  Deal?  Deal.
Strawberry & Avocado SaladStrawberry & Avocado Salad W/ Honey Lime Vinaigrette
I usually serve this salad as a side to…well…just about everything.  But with plain grilled chicken sliced over top it becomes a great lunch or light supper.  With a wedge of whole grain bread on the side you have a meal that is healthy and just about perfect.

1 pint strawberries, rinsed, hulled and cut into quarters
2 avocados, cubed
1 bag of romaine lettuce (or spinach or iceberg or spring mix-whatever you like!)
1 T honey
1 T fresh lime juice
1 tsp Dijon mustard
salt and pepper
1/3 c olive oil

Whisk all the ingredients for the vinaigrette in the bottom of the bowl you are going to serve the salad in.  This saves you from having to dirty another bowl but of course, you can whisk it in whatever you want!  Just before serving add in the lettuce, fruit, and avocado.  Gently toss together and serve immediately.

Gringo Chicken Soup Sometimes, when you least expect it, a little gem of a recipe comes your way.  Something that makes your life easier (super quick to make) and tastes unbelievably good (like cheesy dip on a spoon).

A few years ago, not long after moving to Illinois, I was grocery shopping and came across one of those tasting tables.  You know the ones.  Store employees cook something with the ingredients at the store and then offer you little samples while handing over a coupon and directing you to the refrigerated case that holds the tofu sausage they are trying to convince you is a good buy.  I am wary of these situations and for good reason. They often are trying to push processed convenience food that I generally avoid.  On this day however, I rounded the corner of the produce department and was immediately assailed by something that really really smelled good.  When I realized it was soup I hesitated, not being the biggest fan, but my growling stomach wouldn’t let me pass it up.  I tried a small spoonful, and then did not pause while a drained my little sample cup.  Goodness, it was yummy.  The funny thing was, it was a promo for salsa.  My new found soup crush was called Gringo Chicken Soup and I walked away from the demo table happily clutching a neon yellow recipe card with the picture of a cowboy in the corner.

I only got about 20 feet though before an ingredient listed stopped me in my tracks.  Velveeta.  There was Velveeta in this soup (*gasp*)!  Just for the record, this ingredient is what has kept me from blogging about this to you before.  I don’t buy Velveeta, an ingredient which calls itself cheese, but is really sooooo not.  I also don’t consider this an arguable point, so don’t bother sending me messages about the value of a processed cheese which does not need to be refrigerated.  This fact totally freaked out my husband when he searched the fridge for quite sometime looking for the cheese for the soup and I pulled it from the pantry.  He was quite disturbed and woke up several times that night in a cold sweat because of it…But anyway, I won’t even make that Velveeta salsa dip stuff that is always at Super Bowl parties.  *shudder*  Uhg.  You have to draw the line somewhere people.
That said, I am going against my better judgement and posting this recipe anyway.  It is really good, super fast, and will warm you up after a day battling the sub-zero weather.  If I ever figure out how to make it just as good without Velveeta, I’ll let you know.
Gringo Chicken SoupOne Year Ago: Midnight Crunchies

Gringo Chicken Soup
Adapted from the people that make Gringo Black Bean & Corn Salsa
This soup is fantastic with cornbread.  We like it with Mini Corn Muffins or Whole Wheat Cornbread.  Crushed up tortilla chips stirred into individual bowls is yummy too.

1 jar of black bean and corn salsa, about 1 1/2 c, whatever heat you like
2 c cooked shredded chicken
2-15 oz cans chicken broth
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 c frozen corn
1 lb Velveeta, cubed

In a large saucepan stir together the salsa, chicken broth, black beans and corn.  Bring to a simmer and add the Velveeta, keeping the heat at a low simmer and stirring occasionally until the cheese is all melted.  Add the shredded chicken, heat until the whole thing come up to temp and serve.

Note: I don’t like canned vegetables, but a drained can of corn can be substituted for the frozen corn in this recipe if you so desire.  I like to swing by the grocery store and pick up a rotisserie chicken to make this soup with.  I use the dark meat in the soup and the white meat I save and make a small batch of chicken salad with it.  But that is just me…

How To: Poach Chicken

How To: Poach ChickenPoaching chicken is one of those things that I think health food experts expect people to do but few people actually do it.  I am going to be straight with you.  It ain’t pretty.  Poached chicken is one of those things that is just a means to an end.  It is an ingredient in something else you are making so the fact that it looks like a sad, pale, anemic piece of meat with no flavor (which in many cases, it is) does not help its case.

The upside, however, is that it is an extremely healthy way to eat chicken.  If it is done right, it can even be a tasty and convenient way as well.  It is one of those tasks that I like to do when I am doing something else so that I have it for later.  ‘Cooked chicken’ as an ingredient is extremely useful to have in your fridge during a weekday.  Am I right?  A huge array of options are open to you!  Chicken Salad, BBQ Chicken Sandwiches, Enchilada Pie, Laura’s Salad, Chicken & Barley Soup, just to name a few.  I like to take leftover cooked, shredded chicken and mix it with a big scoop of salsa.  Then I use that as my base for quesadillas and just layer on the cheese.  In the summer, toss cold poached chicken with Panzanella Salad or Margarita Pasta Salad and you have a pretty spectacular-and very healthy-supper.  Some defrosted Pesto, lots of Parmesan, and some chicken is quite wonderful when mixed with penne rigate or rigatoni.

You get the point.  Its quick and easy, its healthy, and its convenient.  There.  Now you have no excuse to cut up fried chicken from the deli on your salad with fat free dressing.

Here is how you do it:
How To: Poach ChickenOne Year Ago: Oatmeal Pancakes & Giada’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Simple Poached Chicken
Using boneless, skinless chicken breasts is the healthiest option.  For more flavor, leave the bones on but take off the skin.  Just note that it will take longer to poach with bones.

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
whole peppercorns, about 8
1/4 onion, cut into large chunks
4 stems of fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 clove garlic, squashed
water to cover

Also note that this is all subject to change.  If you only have rosemary a not thyme, use that instead.  No whole peppercorns?  Add a few shakes from the shaker.  Leftover chicken broth from another recipe?  Throw it in there.  Use what you have.

So…in a medium sauce pan…
How To: Poach Chicken…add a few inches of water and the aromatics.  Bring it all to a simmer.  This means just a few bubbles people!  Do not let this liquid boil!
How To: Poach ChickenMake sure the liquid completely covers the chicken.  Simmer (without boiling or the chicken will become tough) for about 15 minutes.
How To: Poach ChickenPull the chicken out of the broth and let it set on cutting board for a few minutes.  Do not discard the broth!  We will get to that in a minute.
How To: Poach ChickenNow you can slice it, dice it, or shred it.  If you aren’t going to use it yet, you can prep it then chill it, or just tightly wrap and refrigerate whole cooked pieces.  And the cooking liquid I had you save?
How To: Poach ChickenStrain it into a freezable container and chill overnight.  The next day you can skim off any little bit of fat that might have solidified on the top.  Freeze it and use it in soups or stews!

So there you have it!  Go forth and enjoy!

Leek & Potato Soup

Christmas is over and everyone is gearing up for the New Year.  Well, most everyone.  Our holiday here didn’t quite go as planned as both of my kids were are sick.  No Christmas Eve appetizer dinner.  No festive brunch and Christmas Day Feast.  Just macaroni and cheese and soup I had frozen.  We lounged around, used up four boxes of Kleenex, and distributed medicine to keep the fevers down.  They have been sick a full week and my husband and I are continually praying that they pull out of this soon.  In the meantime, we eat soup.
Leek & Potato SoupThis happens to be one of my husbands most favorite soups.  I just love the fact that it goes together pretty quick and makes a perfectly sized batch; not too big, not too small.  It is made with leeks, which if you have never cooked with them before have a really mild onion flavor to them.  They look like really big scallions (green onions) but are actually totally different.  This is a leek:
LeekNot very intimidating is it?!  To give you a perspective on scale, it is about 14 inches long and as big around as a stick of butter.  When they are cooked down, they become wonderfully sweet.  You can find leeks at just about any local market.  Our little hometown store even carries them here.  The only tricky thing about leeks is cleaning them so please read the note at the end of the recipe or your soup will end up extra crunchy from all the sand instead of crunchy from the bacon!  This soup is light, and warm and creamy.  Add a hunk of crusty bread and it makes a great lunch or light supper.
Leek & Potato SoupLeek & Potato Soup

I prefer to use low sodium bacon, but use what you like.  Just make sure it is nice and smokey.  This is not the recipe for maple or brown sugar bacon!

1/2 lb bacon, diced
3 large leeks, sliced and cleaned, white and pale green parts only (see Note)
2 large white potatoes, peeled and diced
1 (49 oz) can good quality chicken broth or about 6 cups
1 T fresh thyme
salt and pepper
1/2 c cream, optional

In a medium sized pot, fry the bacon until crispy.  Remove with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels and set aside.  Add the leeks to the bacon fat and saute the leeks over medium low heat until soft (3-4 minutes), but do not let them brown.  When leeks are wilted, add the potatoes, chicken broth and fresh thyme.  Bring the soup to a simmer and let it bubble very gently until the potatoes are completely cooked through.  Using an immersion blender, process the soup until smooth.  Alternatively, pour the soup (in batches if necessary) into a blender and blend until smooth, returning to the soup pot when you are done.  BE VERY CAREFUL WHEN BLENDING HOT FOODS!  DO SMALL AMOUNTS AT A TIME!  At this point, go ahead and add the cream if you want and bring the whole thing up to temp.  Taste to see of it needs salt or pepper.  You may not need to add any if your bacon was salty or peppery enough.  Sprinkle with crispy bacon and enjoy!

Note #1:  Leeks are grown in very sandy soil and that sand gets trapped between the layers.  To clean a leek, trim off the darkest green ends and the root end and discard.  Cut the leek in half lengthwise down the middle, and then crosswise into little half moons.  In a bowl filled with cold water, swoosh the leeks around in the water, breaking the layers apart as you go.  The sand will fall to the bottom of the bowl and the leeks will float.  When they are clean, grab the leeks out in handfuls, shaking off excess water and use as directed.

Note #2:  There are several ways to make this recipe even healthier.  After sauteing the bacon, pour off the fat and wipe out the pan.  Use a bit of olive oil to saute the leeks in instead.  Also, omit the cream and the soup will be just and thick and creamy.  Use a low fat, low sodium chicken broth or even vegetable broth for the liquid.

These BBQ Chicken Sandwiches come together in a matter of minutes! A healthy weeknight meal! {Brittany's Pantry}I have been saving this recipe for you!

More specifically, I have been saving it for this time of year.  The time of year when shopping, card labeling, entertaining, visiting, wrapping, traveling, and cookie baking stress people out and fill up our already jam packed schedules.  At the same time, every commercial, magazine, newspaper, cocktail party, and holiday open house (yes…blogs too*see previous post) are providing the opportunity, or at least the resources, to indulge in food that is rich and sweet.  And usually contains lots of butter.

As a general rule, I am not opposed to this.  I am of the firm belief that if you want to eat half of the cookie tray your neighbor dropped off last weekend, far be it for me to judge you.  Or stop you!  Two or three glasses of egg nog?  Why not.  Half a bag of bite sized Milky Ways?  Absolutely.  However, should you do this everyday?  Not so much.  This is why I have no guilt when it comes to food.  I never-and I am not saying that this is necessarily a good thing-deprive myself of any food that I want.  Wait….umm…nope.  Never.  Thankfully, my parents raised me in a generally healthy manner and that has stuck with me.  So I crave salads and homemade wheat bread even more than I crave fettuccine alfredo.  Eighty percent of what I eat could be considered ‘healthy’, so I don’t think about the other stuff too much.

This is one of those dishes that falls into the ‘healthy’ category, but all I think about is how good it is.  Yes it is low in calories, high in fiber and protein, and can be made in thirty minutes, but it also just tastes great.  Kind of a no brainer, huh?  Now do you see why I saved it for the holiday season?  You can make this for your family or just for yourself in a half hour and it is a pleasant reprieve from the normal December fare.  And dare I say, it tastes a bit like summer.  No one you serve it to will ever know (or care) that is is good for them.  My family eats this year round and I like to work it into my weekly menu plan when I know I will be out of the house until just before it is time to eat.  It also reheats wonderfully, so you can make it ahead if you want.  I should let you know that this is not your average barbecue sauce.  It is wonderfully tangy and light, making it a welcome change from the heavy, and sometimes overpowering bottled stuff.  No extra, unpronounceable ingredients here!  And remember.  No judgement from me if you follow it up with a Christmas cookie.These BBQ Chicken Sandwiches come together in a matter of minutes! A healthy weeknight meal! {Brittany's Pantry}These BBQ Chicken Sandwiches come together in a matter of minutes! A healthy weeknight meal! {Brittany's Pantry}One Year Ago: Chewy Ginger Cookies

BBQ Chicken Sandwiches W/ Coleslaw
Recipe adapted from Ellie Krieger
This recipe uses a purchased rotisserie chicken for speed and convenience, but feel free to use an equal amount of any kind of chicken or turkey you have on hand.  Remember to purchase the ‘plain’ roasted chicken as it usually has less salt and flavoring.  Also, keep in mind that the addition of slices of bell pepper would be awesome in here.

1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 can (14 oz) crushed tomatoes, low sodium if possible
1/2 c water
1/3 c apple cider vinegar
1/3 c molasses
1/4 c tomato paste
black pepper to taste
1/2 tsp liquid smoke or smoked paprika, recommended but optional
1 whole rotisserie chicken, skin and bones discarded and meat torn into bite sized pieces or, 3-4 c cooked chicken or turkey
hamburger buns or dollar buns, preferably whole wheat

Coleslaw (recipe below)

In a bit of olive or canola oil, saute the onion and garlic over medium heat just until soft.  Add the next 7 ingredients and reduce heat to low, letting the sauce simmer and thicken, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  If you haven’t already, now is the time to remove the chicken from the bones!  Add in the meat, stirring gently, and let heat over low heat, stirring now and then, until all the flavors are developed and it is hot all the way through.  Serve on buns.

Note: It drives me crazy when a recipe calls for only part of a can of something, such as here when you don’t use the entire can of tomato paste.  So what I do is put the leftovers in a small, resealable freezer bag, squeeze out the air and then squish it kinda flat.  Toss it in your freezer!  When I just need a tablespoon or so for a recipe, I just break or whack (with my knife) off a hunk and add it to whatever I am cooking.  I just keep adding and removing it from that same bag and it never goes bad.

Quick Coleslaw
This is not the best version of coleslaw by any means.  It is however great with these sandwiches, extremely healthy, super quick, and a little addictive.  I like it on the side but my husband and kids like it piled on top of the meat in the sandwich.  You choose.

1/2 c plain, nonfat yogurt
1/4 c mayo (I use canola mayo)
1/4 c apple cider vinegar
1 generous T of honey
pinch of salt and pepper
2 tsp caraway seed, optional
1-1 pound bag of coleslaw mix (this will make your life so much easier) or 1/2 of a small green cabbage, shredded and 3 large carrots, peeled and grated

Mix all dressing ingredients together until incorporated.  Add in the vegetables and toss to coat.