Beach Picnics Part 1 – Chicken Salad Sandwiches

The last couple of weekends I’ve been lucky enough to have Tim free on Sundays. Since we sometimes work opposite schedules, it’s a real treat when we both have a day off. We had been making a routine of hitting up brunch at The Hammered Lamb over on Ivanhoe Row. It’s the only place that has been able to break me of my standard eggs benedict and mimosa meal. Now I always order a BLT and their bloody mary bar. I’m definitely one of those classless assholes that tops their bloody mary with four pieces of bacon, two skewers of blue cheese stuffed olives, a few artichoke hearts and a stick of string cheese. I tried their BLT on a whim, since I’ve had a very strict policy ever since I was a toddler that bread and vegetables like raw tomato and lettuce should never meet. Sometimes food just beckons you, I suppose.

There is also a very distinct flavor in their BLT. They use an herbed mayo that is rife with thyme. I love herbs on my eggs, and its not uncommon for me to sprinkle herbes des Provence on eggs when cooking breakfast at home. I feel like you usually find thyme in much more rich and savory dishes, like French onion soup or anything else where beef is simmered for hours. But thyme also has a wonderful flavor that works well with lighter dishes, like eggs and chicken.

The Florida summer has really had me yearning for the beach, however. I usually never go because I got in the habit of only going for 2 or 3 hours and then heading home. When I was growing up in New Smyrna Beach, that was fine. Now that I live in Orlando and it’s easily an hour before I can even put a foot in the sand, I’d rather make a day of it. Tim and I took our brunch money and invested in all the tools necessary to make us look like every other Orlando resident that I grew up annoyed by yet thankful for; my beach umbrella, cooler and chairs a reminder of my time working at Mon Delice where I’d make sub sandwiches and box pastries up for the tourists.

I had been wanting to hit up Playalinda in Titusville. To keep us on the beach, I decided I’d pack the cooler with a great picnic spread. First, I’d make big chicken salad sandwiches on wheat buns. I chopped up some cucumber slices and celery sticks to go with hummus. For dessert, I made rosemary lemon shortbread cookies. Those actually turned out to be quite the Pinterest Fail, and I’ll be sure to post all about that so you can enjoy. For good measure I grabbed the vodka and a bottle of bloody mary mix.

Chicken salad is one of those recipes that I always forget how much I like. Although it can be labor-intensive, I enjoy how few ingredients it takes. Its also pretty cheap to make because I take bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts and roast them in the oven. Not only are they half the cost of boneless, skinless chicken breasts, but they have so much more flavor and moisture when you cook them.

The labor-intensive part is standing in the kitchen pulling the meat from the bone and shredding it by hand. Not only will you be able to make sure you separate the little bones and bits of cartilage, but I think the long shreds hold the sauce nicely and give a different texture. I also have made this recipe with salmon I’ve cooked. Salmon goes wonderfully with either herb, but especially with dill. Again, you’ll want to flake the salmon apart by hand; that will keep the thick flaky texture instead of mushy like bad tuna fish salad.

There are other ingredient swaps you can use in this recipe. For the mustard, I have Dijon listed. I’m also a big fan of stone ground mustard or even deli-style mustard with chicken in particular. I like to use a combination of half mayo – half low fat Greek yogurt to lighten it up. I’ve also made this with just Greek yogurt, but we like the extra richness the mayo gives. Play around with the proportions that you like, or even try with a vegan or paleo mayonnaise. Get funky.

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2 Chicken breasts with the bone in and skin on, or about 3 cups of cooked shredded chicken
1 Cup celery, diced
½ Cup Mayo
½ Cup Greek Yogurt
¼ Cup Dijon mustard
1 Tbs. Thyme or Dill
Salt and Pepper, to taste

1. If you’re starting with uncooked chicken, bake the chicken breasts skin-side up in an open pan at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Let them cool until they are cool enough to handle with your hands.

2. Discard the chicken skin… Or snack on it like I do while I make this! Its like chicken bacon.

3. Shred the chicken using your hands.

4. Combine all ingredients except the salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.

5. Check the mixture for seasoning. Some mustards have different flavors, so get a feel for where your flavors are at before adding additional salt and pepper. I usually will add about 1 teaspoon of salt at this point.

6. Let the mixture sit in the fridge for at least an hour before making your sandwiches.

Vanilla Chia Smoothie

I’m trying to clean up my eating again. Like everyone else, I fall off the bandwagon during the holidays. I work in an industry full of food vendors. They are sending us droves of goodie baskets, as if the continual supply of food for testing throughout the year wasn’t havoc enough on my hips. Usually I wouldn’t mind, since I don’t beat myself up if I slip a cookie here and there because I know I’ve got at least 4 hours on my skates every week. However, my derby league is on holiday break like everyone else. Hopefully when I do start skating again back in January, the chocolate-covered pretzels, French truffles, Christmas cookies, and caramel popcorn won’t slow me down too much.

For me, getting back on the bandwagon is all about shortcuts. Just something to make the act of saying, “No, you don’t need to pull into T-Flats for Taco Tuesday because you have something equally delicious at home,” a little easier; like ripping off a Band Aid. My big problem this past month has been not eating a balanced breakfast. Lunch is easy for me if I don’t have time to pack it. I walk over to Panera for a fresh salad, or drive to one of many sushi places around and grab a fairly healthy meal. I’ve come to love Jimmy John’s not only for their freaky fast delivery to my office, but their Un-Wich as well. But when it comes to breakfast, I’m screwed if I don’t plan ahead. A bagel is out of the question, and though I like the hidden menu steak and egg bowl at Panera I don’t like paying more than $6 for it.

Enter chia smoothie goodness. I can whip this up in less than 5 minutes while I’m making dinner. Really no mess (especially if you heat the milk in the jar in the microwave) and after it sits in the fridge overnight, all you have to do is grab and go. I drink mine right out of the jar once I get to work and have been pairing it with eggs cups (recipe here) for a protein-packed breakfast that will help keep me going all morning.

Vanilla Chia Smoothie
1 cup of unsweetened almond milk (or soy, coconut or cow’s milk)
3 Tbs chia seeds
1 Tbs honey
1 Tsp vanilla extract

1. Heat your milk of choice either in the microwave or on the stovetop. Be careful not to scald it; stand by the stove and wait for it to warm. You want it warm so when you add your honey it will dissolve.

2. Add the honey and stir through, making sure it has dissolved into the milk.

3. Add your sweetened milk to a container with a lid (I prefer a mason jar or something from my collection of reused pasta sauce, pickles, mustard, and olive jars).

4. Add the vanilla extract and chia seeds.

5. Seal the lid and shake vigorously (over the sink!) until everything is incorporated. Let this is in the fridge for about half an hour and give it another good shake. Put it back in the fridge for at least 3 hours before shaking up and enjoying!

Punk’s Eating

Lazy dinner... Rice penne with Rao's Homemade marina sauce and, of course, beer.

Lazy dinner… Rice penne with Rao’s Homemade marinara sauce and, of course, beer.

Some times we just don’t feel like cooking. Usually I buy the typical BOGO jarred sauce from the supermarket, let it sit on the shelf, and by the time I open the jar it will go bad before I even finish it. Not the case with Rao’s. I bought it after my fellow foodie Kayla Rose justified the $6.99 (on sale) price tag. So one night after the gym I needed to make a quick and easy dinner and gave it a shot. Just smelling the sauce hitting the hot pasta was enough to do me in. There was such a freshness to the tomatoes despite it being a jarred sauces, and the flavors were so intense. I knew this was a winner when I threw away the empty container. This week it was on sale again, and I actually had to resist the urge not to buy 2!