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.

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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.

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!

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 Zucchini Bread

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I suck at baking. Like really, really suck at baking. I never can seem to get things right. I blame it on the fact that baking is all about being precise. It’s a chemical reaction, and I think I got a C+ at best in chemistry. The best part of being a business major in college was that I could get away with geology as my required science class. The only thing I took away from my professor was his love of ‘A Land Remembered’ by Patrick D. Smith, which is now one of my favorite books. What can I say, I’m a sucker for Florida history.

Luckily paleo baking seems to be something I’m far better at. It’s still not the ‘pinch of this, dash of that’ freedom that cooking gives me, but it seems less hard for me to totally screw things up. I also enjoy paleo baking because it means I can eat baked goods without all of the extra sugar and processed carbs. I’m one of those people who needs to watch my carbs and processed junk I put into my body because it seems to enjoy settling on my stomach. I by no means am trying to ‘eat like a caveman’, and I do still put some lower-fat cream cheese on my paleo zucchini bread because that’s the way God (and my mom) intended zucchini bread to be eaten. As far as my lower-carb-higher-protein lifestyle goes, this just seems to fit right in.

In the two times I’ve made this recipe, I’ve found that using thawed zucchini that you’ve nearly crushed with your bare hands works the best. This is particularly helpful when it’s near the end of summer, and your fridge is overflowing with all of the zucchini that you bought on sale because it was in season and you got tired of grilling, sautéing, and making baked zucchini fries (recipe here). Just run it through the food processor’s grater (or shred by hand with a box grater), bag it up in portions, and toss it in the freezer (next to your stockpile of bananas that you also bought in bulk) till you’re ready to make a bounty of zucchini bread, which to me is a fall treat with summer’s leftovers. Let it thaw, then squeeze as much liquid as you can out to make sure your bread doesn’t come out too wet.

1 ½ c almond flour
1 cup zucchini, shredded and drained of excess water
3 eggs
1 banana, mashed
1 ½ tsp baking soda
3 Tbs honey
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 Tbs coconut oil, melted

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

2. Combine the almond flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon together in a bowl.

3. In another bowl, add your eggs, honey, banana, and coconut oil and whisk together thoroughly.

4. Add your squeezed zucchini to the wet mixture. Seriously… Squeeze the shit out of it.

5. Fold in the dry ingredients until everything is smooth.

6. Grease a loaf pan and pour the batter in. Bake for 25-30 minutes.

7. Allow the bread to cool before removing from the pan. Enjoy!

Coconut Curry Butternut Squash Soup

Man, being sick sucks. When you’re not running for the nearest roll of toilet paper to wipe your face of snot, you’re gasping for breath because you’re too congested. Sleeping on your side means waking up with one functioning nostril. Everything hurts. The only thing that feels good is your fluffiest sheets and your ass nestled among every last pillow you have on your bed.

Luckily for me, I’m not sick. But my boyfriend is. And yes, I do have a picture of him swallowed in a cocoon of feather duvet and pillows. It’s pretty flippin’ cute. I’ve never seen a boy appreciate 700-thread-count sheets that much, and I’ll save him the emasculation of posting it on here.

Just check my Instagram, in case he ever pisses me off. MWAHAHA.

We finally had our first cold front of the season. It only took till the last week of October for cold-ish air to come barreling through Orlando. My favorite part of living on the third floor of my apartment is being able to leave the windows open for all of the crisp Fall air to come in. And yes, I do consider 67 degrees to fall under the definition of ‘crisp’. We’ve left the windows open all night as well, when it actually dips down to the mid-50’s. It’s quite the treat.

So naturally the third wheel to this sick-boyfriend-cool-weather combination is soup. But not just any soup. For the next 2 months, we’re all obsessed with eating anything orange or belonging to the squash family. Pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin bagels with pumpkin cream cheese, and of course everyone’s favorite the Pumpkin Spice latte. Butternut squash soup is among this great and glorious category. I’ve tried my hand several times at creating that lovely, velvety smooth traditional butternut squash soup. You know the one that has just the right amount of sweetness, cinnamon, maybe nutmeg, and some other spices that I can’t seem to figure out and it always leaves me thinking I’m better off just buying it at Crisper’s or Panera Bread or some other place that gets soups right.

Not this time.

I perused Pinterest like I do for some inspiration and I came across a recipe for a Thai take on this classic. When I told the boyfriend, I saw the joy rise in his eyes. Apparently he has a thing for squash soups as well. Here’s my take on this recipe.

Do this!

2 Tbs coconut oil
1 sweet onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs fresh ginger, minced
3 Tbs red curry paste
4 cups of your favorite broth (meat or veggie)
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2” cubes
1 14 oz can of unsweetened coconut milk
Salt & Pepper
Lime for squeezing

1. Warm your coconut oil in a deep pot (the kind you’d cook your pasta in) over medium heat.

2. Add your onions, garlic, and a pinch of salt and coat in the oil. Let this cook about 5 minutes, until the onion are translucent.

3. Add your curry paste and ginger and stir to coat your onions. Isn’t that color lovely??

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4. Drop in your chunks of squash, then add about 3 cups of your broth. Everything should be almost submerged. Bring this to medium-high heat and cover. Let it do its thing for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice. When done, take it off the heat.

5. Carefully add the contents thus far into a food processor or even a blender. Since the soup is scalding hot, keep the food chute (that place you stick your food in when you’re shredding it) or the hole in the lid of your blender uncovered. If not, the heat will build up and shit will hit the ceiling in the most literal of senses. If you’re worried about being splashed, gently hold a paper towel over the opening. Hit the pulse button a few time to get it started, then let it blend away until you see no lump of squash or pieces of onion floating around.

6. Pour your soup back into your pot and turn the heat back on to medium.

7. Add your can of coconut milk and stir thoroughly. Depending on thick your soup is (most likely depending on how much squash you used) you’ll need to add your last cup of broth. If you’re out of broth, you can thin the soup with some water. No biggie. Heat this through on medium heat.

8. Taste test! Do you need some salt and pepper? More than likely you will! Depending on what broth you use (low-sodium, who-cares-about-sodium) you may need to add some or not at all. Always season soups at the very end.

9. Serve up with wedges of lime to squeeze. The lime brightens up the soup and really highlights the coconut and ginger.

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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.