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 Brownies

It’s the holidays! There is one thing I splurge on… EGGNOG. I happen to have 2 half-gallons in my fridge at this very moment, right next to the eggnog coffee creamer. Aside from the eggnog splurge, there’s always the other treats with the holidays. Now that I’m not living with Mom and Dad anymore, the threat of the bounty of Christmas cookies is long gone. That doesn’t mean I don’t still want to eat something sweet and decadent. I like making these brownies because they are not only rich and chocolaty, but they are a cinch to make in your food processor.

½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
15 large medjool dates, pits removed
1 medium ripe banana
1 Tbs vanilla extract
1 Tbs honey
¼ cup dried cranberries

1. Except for the dried cranberries, combine all ingredients in your food processor until mixed thoroughly.
2. Stir in your cranberries.
3. Press into a greased baking dish and pop in the freezer until set (about 1 hour). Cut into squares and enjoy!

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!

Zucchini ‘Fries’

Zucchini is a great vegetable that is readily available and especially cheap when it’s in season in the summer. Oddly enough I get into a rut when it comes to using it. I love grilling it in long strips and throwing the leftovers in an antipasta salad the next day, cubing it for kabobs, or sautéing it with a little oil and garlic. But that’s where my mental block begins!

There is a place that I absolutely love here in Orlando called Graffiti Junktion. Aside from their amazing burgers, they make the best zucchini fries served up with a dish of spicy remoulade similar to the dressing you’d get with a blooming onion. I have eaten an entire bacon cheddar burger and split an order of zucchini fries a few occasions. It could possibly be the best hangover helper I’ve ever encountered. However, sometimes your body tells you that you need to forego the beef patty the size of your face and all of the deep-fried goodness. This recipe by no means replaces the Junktion’s zucchini fries, but it does make for a nice substitute you can make at home and feel good about.

3 medium-sized zucchini cut into sticks about the size of your finger
Salt
2 large eggs
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
½ cup Parmesan cheese (I like the shredded kind, personally)
1 Tbs dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano

1. Toss your zucchini sticks in a liberal amount of salt. Leave them in a colander over the sink for at least an hour. This will release excess water in the zucchini, so they come out more firm than mushy. Watch the magic happen!

2. After the zucchini have done their thing, rinse them well to remove the salt, then thoroughly pat them dry with paper towels.

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3. Preheat your oven to 425 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

4. Beat your eggs in a bowl large enough to dip your zucchini sticks in to coat them.

5. Mix the bread crumbs, parmesan, and herbs in a separate dish large enough to dredge the battered zucchini in. My favorite method is to put this into a large Tupperware container (the kind I’d use for a salad), then add no more than 2 or 3 sticks at a time. Hold the container over the sink and gently knock the sides with your hand to coat.

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6. Place the sticks on your baking sheet with just enough room so that they don’t touch. Bake for 12-15 minutes before flipping and baking for another 12-15 minutes, or until they are golden all around.

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Serve them up with your favorite dipping sauce!

Dinner: Palak Paneer with Tofu

OK, so this isn’t really palak paneer in its most traditional sense. I happen to have a great Indian food crock pot book called The Indian Slow Cooker by Anupy Singla, so that is a great modern convenience. Secondly, I’m not making the homemade cheese (the paneer). Instead I’m throwing in cubes of firm tofu to give me my needed protein for a balanced meal.

One of the reasons I love this dish is that it’s very different from what I’m usually cooking. I’m no vegetarian, but it is nice (and cheaper) to make some meat-free options throughout the week and it also gets me a healthy portion of veggies into my diet. Ingredients such as spinach, turmeric, tomatoes, garlic and ginger have all been linked with good health. There is also no added fat!

But my favorite part about this recipe is that it makes a large batch that you can portion out and freeze for those days when you need to bring your lunch to work or have just enough time to heat something up for dinner. Tuesday nights I only have about an hour to eat and grab my skate bag between work and practice. These kinds of recipes keep me on time for practice and fueled for 2 hours of skating.

You’ll need:

A slow cooker

2 lbs fresh spinach, washed

2 large onions, chopped

3 medium tomatoes, quartered

4 inches of ginger, peeled and chopped

20 (yes, 20!) cloves of garlic, peeled

5-10 Thai chiles depending on how spicy you want it

4 Tbs ground cumin

1 Tbs red chili powder

1 Tbs garam masala

2 tsp turmeric

1 Tbs salt

  1. Throw everything into the slow cooker, except for the salt. The spinach will give off a lot of liquid, so even though you might not be able to fit the lid on everything will end up cooking down.
  2. Cook on High for 3 hours, stirring occasionally to push down the spinach leaves.
    Cooking palak paneer in a slow cooker.

    Cooking palak paneer in a slow cooker.

     

  3. Transfer the cooked-down veggies into a food processor or blender. If using one of these, do use a tea towel to cover the hole in the lid. Never blend hot stuff in your blender with the lid sealed… Unless you enjoy cleaning. If you have an immersion blender, feel free to use that Fancy Pants. Puree until you have a nice, smooth consistency. Pour back into the slow cooker.
  4. Add the salt and continue cooking the puree on Low for another 2 hours.
  5. Add your cubes of tofu when you’re ready to serve. This is best served over a bowl of basmati rice or quinoa, millet, or other grain.
    To store, I like to pour single servings into bags, top with tofu, and store in the freezer for a quick dinner later.

    To store, I like to pour single servings into bags, top with tofu, and store in the freezer for a quick dinner later.

     

Breakfast: Egg Cups

Breakfast is unfortunately is the most overlooked meal of the day. The problem for me is 1. I L-O-V-E breakfast foods and 2. I’m like everyone else and I have no time to make myself something worthy of being considered breakfast. I’m sorry, but a bowl of sugary cold cereal at 7am just hits my stomach like a rock, and swinging into the DD on my way to the office most always makes me late.

Through my experimentation with different ways of eating, I’ve noticed that a high-protein breakfast not only keeps me going through lunchtime, but it’s pretty effective at helping me keep my weight in check. Also as a skater, my body needs all the protein it can get. While looking through some clean eating sites, I came across something called an ‘egg cup’. Basically they are mini egg quiches but without the crust, and by far the best thing that I’ve incorporated into my morning routine since the snooze button.  Do these Sunday while you’re making dinner, and you’ll be ready to go in the morning!

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You’ll need:

A muffin tin

8 eggs (whole, or any combo of white and yolks)

Shredded cheese (optional)

1 leak

2 strips of cooked bacon

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cut the rough top of the leak off and discard, about 1” from the end. Thinly slice the leak all the way to the bottom. Rinse under warm water thoroughly to remove any sand (leaks are notoriously sandy).
  3. Sautee the leaks in a pan in your favorite fat or cooking spray of choice on medium heat until they are soft.
  4. Mince the bacon and add to the leaks.
  5. Spoon the leak and bacon mixture into the muffin tin.

Resist the urge to season the ingredients! Adding salt to eggs while they are cooking can make them tough, and the bacon you are using may have enough sodium already. Do feel free to use herbs, like rosemary, or pepper.

  1. Crack your eggs into a bowl and whisk together.
  2. Pour enough egg into the muffin tins to reach about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way up the side. They will puff up!
  3. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until they have risen and look firm on top.
  4. Remove and sprinkle a pinch or two of shredded cheese on top. The heat from the eggs will melt it while they rest.
  5. While they are still warm (but not hot), gently lift the egg cups out with a fork and place into a container.

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To reheat in the morning, pop them into the microwave for 30-50 seconds and you have a delicious way to power up in the morning!

There are a million ways you can tweak this recipe. It lends itself as a way to use up any leftovers you might have, like the veggies that you didn’t finish at dinner mixed with some extra sausage you made for breakfast over the weekend. Try any combination of grilled or sautéed vegetables, but make sure that your ingredients do not contain much water. If you’re using spinach, be sure it’s relatively dry before you add it to your muffin pan- spinach and mushrooms hold a lot of water, which will compromise the texture of your eggs. I’m a fan of zucchini, asparagus, and onions. Play around with different cheese to top your egg cups with. I think hard or semi-soft cheeses would work best. Sharp cheddar and parmesan are my two favorites, especially because they add a lot of flavor without having to use much.