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.

Veggie Breakfast Frittata

I was in one of my Kitchen MacGuyver moods one Sunday morn. I had a 1/3 of a bag of wilting spinach, half a container of little cherry tomatoes that were staring to shrivel and my last 6 eggs in the fridge. If anything will make me feel like an Iron Chef, it’s one of those situations. I’ve become very fond of making frittatas because they are so versatile. They are a great vessel for those little bits of leftovers, cooked or uncooked, that you need to use up in the fridge. You can also save leftover slices and have a tasty breakfast ready to be warmed up throughout the week in a matter of seconds. If you’re feeling particularly swanky, pair a slice with a salad for what the fancy people like to call a light lunch. Or if you’re strapped for cash (like myself), you can call it not-tuna-salad-again-because-I-get-paid-in-two-more-days lunch.

One thing I have been sneaking into my cooking lately is this crazy blend of spices called Berbere. It’s a north African blend of spices that is really robust and give a complex and distinct flavor. It has lots of cayenne pepper, turmeric, ginger, garlic, and a few other things. I picked up some at Penzy’s, but any specialty market might have it. If you can’t find it, a good pinch of cayenne pepper and turmeric might do the trick.

Side note: Remember to use a pot holder when removing your pan out of the oven and after. Maybe you all are smarter than me, but I can’t stop burning myself because I keep forgetting that the pan came out of a 375 degree oven and I just grab it as if I were making an omelet or something.

Veggie Breakfast Frittata

Veggie Breakfast Frittata

1 cup spinach
½ cup cheery tomatoes, halved
3 whole eggs
3 egg whites
1 tsp Berbere spice blend
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 Tbs olive oil

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

2. Heat your garlic and oil in an oven-safe pan over medium-high heat.

3. Just as the garlic starts to get a bit of brown, add your tomatoes and spinach. Sprinkle in the Berbere spice and toss to wilt the spinach and cook the tomatoes.

4. Whisk together your eggs and egg whites. Add them to the pan.

5. Gently stir the bottom of the pan with a spatula to move the veggies around in a uniform layer.

6. After the eggs cook for about 4 minutes on the stovetop, place the ovenproof pan in the oven to cook the eggs longer. Bake for 10 minutes, until the eggs have set.

7. Remove the pan from the oven and slide out the frittata on to a cutting board for cutting.

Paleo-ish Cookie Dough Bars

I’ve never been a person to shy away from a problem. I enjoy a little fire under my ass. As a matter of fact, I don’t enjoy using the word, “problem”; “challenge” or even “opportunity” is far more enjoyable.

I may just be saying that after having enough previous bosses tell me that.

Either way, I’m stressing. Like, the kind of stress that makes you reach for a Hershey’s bar, some preservative-rich frozen macaroni and cheese and a box of wine. Anything that will leave you in a sugary, carb-induced coma on the couch and slurring your thoughts so badly that even if there was a zombie walking through your living room you couldn’t put two and two together. That, my friends, would be a “problem”.

After all, I’m a red-blooded American woman, and nothing says that better than reaching for the sweets and the booze. But since I’m on this kick of eating well, I’ll bypass the creamy cheesy carbs and opt for something a little more wholesome. Something filled with ingredients that my body will actually know what to do with. Don’t worry; wine is still in the mix.

This recipe is actually inspired by one found on damyhealth.com, and I’ve been meaning to make it for several weeks now. OK, weeks really means months. But I’ve been pushed to my stress’ limit to where I have no other option but to make this. And since I love baked goods but can’t bake to save my life, this is totally up my alley. All you need is a food processor and something to heat the ganache with.

MAKE THIS!

Paleo-ish Cookie Dough Bars
Makes 12 squares

Crust:
1 c peanuts
1 c cashews
½ c pitted dates
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbs honey

Ganache:
1 c coconut oil
½ cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup honey

1. Place the crust ingredients into your food processor. Pulse together for a few minutes until everything comes together in a ball. Add a tablespoon or two of water f it needs a little help. This is my kind of baking!

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2. Grease a glass baking dish (I used an 8 x 12) and press the crust in an even layer.

3. Put your ganache ingredients into a small pot on the stove top and gently warm it through, until you can see that the honey has incorporated and all of the coconut oil has melted (aka there are no little white balls floating around).

4. Pour the ganache on top of the crust layer in the pan.

5. Cover with plastic wrap and stick it in the freezer for a few hours. Cut it into your 12 squares and enjoy!

*To store, seal in a container and keep in your freezer!

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!