Grilled Chicken and Quinoa Salad

I found out years ago that I’m allergic to wheat and corn (among many other things). I was younger then and didn’t really care about my health very much, and so long as I didn’t notice side effects it didn’t seem to be a big deal to me. Then I hit 30, and my body started to react aversely to lots of foods I knew I wasn’t supposed to be eating. Gotta love getting older!

I’ve spent the last few years trying to nail down exactly how certain foods affect me and avoid ones that don’t make me feel well or leave me feeling sluggish. Both wheat and corn keep popping up on my radar as things that my body simply does not like. Thankfully I don’t eat a lot of bread as is, but darn it if I don’t crave it all the time now! Corn, however, is in so many foods and is hard to avoid, especially when you’re a huge Tex-Mex fan like I am.

In America, being allergic to corn is like a death sentence because everything seems to contain corn. I picked up some gluten-free pasta the other day and was so excited that I could once again enjoy pasta without feeling icky the next day. Much to my dismay, I still woke up feeling icky and decided to read the label. I know, I should have done that from the get go, but I was in a hurry that night at the grocery store and starving from a long bike ride around the lake. Great – it contained corn flour and rice flour. Does everything really have to contain corn? I’m pretty sure Whole Foods has pasta made out of other various grains, so I know not all hope is lost. Thankfully I don’t eat a lot of pasta as is, but sometimes I crave a big ol’ bowl of it, ya’ know?!

Moving on… I decided to see if I could find any new quinoa recipes since – *ahem* – the UN has declared 2013 as the Year of Quinoa. Did you hear the trumpets blaring? Yah, me neither. All jokes aside, people around the world are toting quinoa as an alternative for those who wish to eat healthier, especially people with certain dietary needs. That’s when I ran across this recipe on Epicurious’ website. The combination of flavors and the fact that it looked so fresh really had my interest piqued, so I tried it and this is what I made:

Grilled Chicken and Quinoa Salad

Here are some changes I made from the original recipe:

1. I substituted red quinoa for the couscous (see note below in Cook’s Notes).

2. I didn’t spend crazy money on fancy greens and instead purchased baby spring mix, my go-to salad greens of choice.

3. I grilled the chicken instead of sautéing it in a pan. I just have a cheapy cast iron grill pan that was a gift years ago and it’s awesome. You can spend 4x more at high-end kitchen stores, but for the 1-2x a month that I use this pan it works awesome and has held its own going on 4 years now. Also, the chicken breasts I found were easily 6 ounces each, so 1/2 chicken breast was ample for each serving.

4. I cut my peppers a little bit bigger because, let’s be honest, I don’t have time to make things all fancy. Besides, I like some crunch in my quinoa! Also, the original recipe called for a very small amount of bell peppers, but I just chopped up half of each bell pepper. Don’t be shy with your veggies! :-)

For any vegetarians out there: I ate leftovers the next day and simply tossed a large handful of greens in the salad dressing and piled the leftover quinoa salad on top, garnished with a few mango slices and it was awesome! I didn’t miss the protein at all, and quinoa is a good filler since greens don’t really have that effect. ;-) Quinoa has a good amount of protein in it, plus you could easily throw on some beans or tofu.

Grilled Chicken and Quinoa Salad
Adapted from Epicurious.com

1/2 cup quinoa (any color works, but I liked red)
1 cup water
1/2 cup green bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 cup red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/4 cup red onion, finely chopped
4-6 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice (depending on taste)
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (5-6 ounces each)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup Japanese rice vinegar
2 Tablespoons whole-grain mustard
2 Tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
Mixed greens of your choice
1/2 mango, peeled and thinly sliced

1. Rinse quinoa (if the brand you purchased isn’t already rinsed) and place in a small saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook until grains are translucent and the germ has spiraled out from each grain, approximately 15-20 minutes.

2. While quinoa is cooking, heat grill pan (or sauté pan), coat with a little olive oil and cook chicken. I sliced my chicken before cooking it because it results in a much quicker cooking time (although it does lose some of the moisture), but feel free to cook the whole breast and slice post-cooking.

3. While chicken is cooking, combine the bell peppers, onion, lemon juice and 2 Tablespoons olive oil in a small bowl. Set aside.

4. In another small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, rice vinegar, mustard (don’t use French’s yellow mustard!), honey and soy sauce. Set aside.

5. Once quinoa has finished cooking, add the bell pepper mixture to the saucepan and toss to coat (see note below in Cook’s Notes). Season with salt/pepper, if desired.

6. Place greens in a medium bowl, add a few Tablespoons of the vinaigrette, season with salt/pepper and toss to evenly coat (see note below in Cook’s Notes).

7. Arrange greens on plates, put a large spoonful of quinoa across from it, top with the chicken and garnish with the mango. Enjoy!


Cook’s Notes

1. Is there a difference between regular, red and black quinoa? The main difference is the flavor. Red and black have a more distinct flavor, but to me it’s not overwhelming. Also, red and black have a bit more of a crunchy mouth-feel which is really nice in a recipe like this one. If you only have regular or are only able to find regular, you’ll be just fine. I happened to find red, plus I think the color looks nice.

2. The original recipe calls for the quinoa/couscous salad to be cold, but I kind of enjoyed it warm. If you prefer it cold, I would cook the quinoa the night before, toss it with the pepper mixture and refrigerate overnight. When I ate my leftovers the following day, I didn’t even reheat it and it tasted great straight from the fridge and piled on top of the greens.

3. The vinaigrette yields far too much dressing for 4 people. You could easily cut the vinaigrette ingredients in half and it would probably be the perfect amount. I really like the flavor of the dressing, though, so I kept the leftover in my fridge and have used it on salads all week. The nutritional content reflects only half the vinaigrette ingredients since I highly doubt people will use all that dressing for 4 people!

Nutritional Information:
Calories: 309; Fat: 12g; Saturated Fat: 1.2g; Cholesterol: 54mg; Sodium: 288mg; Carbs: 28g; Dietary Fiber: 2.8g; Sugars 14g; Protein: 22g

*Please note the nutritional information is only an estimate.*

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Yogurt and Strawberry Popsicles

I’ve been on a huge popsicle kick lately. It’s not difficult to get on that type of a kick when you suffer through Texas summers of 100+ degree temps. There has to be some sort of reprieve from the heat, and popsicles serve just that need. Being on this health kick lately and having an insatiable sweet tooth has proven a challenge for me. Therefore, I’m also attempting to find alternatives that’ll satisfy my sweet tooth sans high amounts of sugar and calories.

As part of my recent amazon.com cookbook splurge, I picked up Fany Gerson’s book Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas. One of the recipes that immediately caught my attention was for Paletas de Yogurt con Moras (“Yogurt Ice Pops with Berries”). Essentially, it’s greek yogurt, berries and a little additional flavoring. I’d picked up a large 2 pound container of strawberries, so I figured I’d try it with strawberries. Her recipe uses blackberries, but she does say you can substitute any other berry. You can also puree the fruit if you want more of a marbled popsicle… which I did. Doesn’t it look pretty? :)

Yogurt and Strawberry Popsicles

I made the recipe exactly as is just to test it out. However, while mixing everything together I found myself thinking of healthier alternatives for various ingredients (sugar, mainly). I decided to replace the sugar with agave which is pretty sweet, so you can’t just replace equal parts. For every 1 cup of granulated sugar, reduce that amount to 2/3 cup of agave. If liquid is used in a recipe, you should reduce the amount by 1/4 – 1/3 cup. Since this recipe called for 1/2 cup sugar, that meant the agave should be reduced to 1/3 cup.

I ended up making 3 batches of these popsicles – the original and 2 of my modifications. I hate saying this (only because it’s the “unhealthier” option), but the original was definitely the best. The texture was smoother, plus it had a nice lemon flavor. I want you to have the option of making either, as my modified recipe is definitely tasty and does not contain granulated sugar. I will list mine first and then the original.

Here are all the yummy ingredients from the first trial:

Yogurt and Strawberry Popsicles

The only special equipment you’ll need for this recipe is popsicle molds and possibly popsicle sticks (depending on the molds you have). I purchased two different kinds and will provide brief reviews on them both in the Cook’s Notes. If you’re going to puree the berries, you’ll just need a blender, food processor or the like to blend them. Otherwise, it’s a very easy and quick recipe! The bonus?

They’re low in calories!!

This is from the 2nd batch when I swirled them together:

Yogurt and Strawberry Popsicles

Yogurt and Strawberry Popsicles

Yields: 6 large (Tovolo) or 10 small (Norpro)

2 cups plain unsweetened Greek yogurt
2 Tablespoons honey
2 Tablespoons agave
1 1/2 cups quartered strawberries

1. In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, honey and agave; set aside.

2. Puree the strawberries and set aside.

3. Alternate the yogurt mixture and the strawberries in your popsicle molds. If desired, use a skewer to swirl the two mixtures together.

4. Put lid(s) on molds and place in freezer. If using the Norpro molds, set your timer for 45 minutes and place the popsicle sticks in at that point. They stick pretty well with the yogurt mixture, but with regular popsicles the sticks will go straight to the bottom unless you let it freeze up slightly. Freeze at least 4 hours or overnight.

5. Run molds under warm water until the popsicle releases from the mold. Enjoy!

__________________________________________________________

Recipe adapted from Paletas: Authentic Recipes for Mexican Ice Pops, Shaved Ice & Aguas Frescas

1 lemon
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups plain unsweetened Greek yogurt
2 Tablespoons honey
2 cups fresh berries (or about 1 1/2 cups pureed berries)

1. Using a vegetable peeler, peel the lemon rind in strips. Reserve the lemon for another use.

2. Combine the water, sugar and lemon peel in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, lower the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain the syrup through a fine-mesh sieve and refrigerate until cool.

3. Whisk together the yogurt, honey and chilled simple syrup.

4. Proceed the same as above in steps 3-5.


Cook’s Notes

Tovolo Popsicle Molds – These were the first molds I bought, and in many ways they are my favorite. They come in lime green or yellow.

PROS:
a. Individual molds, so it’s easier to remove each popsicle individually and enjoy one popsicle at a time.
b. They are a larger size which is good for adults, but not as good for smaller kids.
c. The plastic holders catch any drips while you enjoy your popsicle.
d. Super easy removal – a quick run under warm water and they slide out like butt-ah.

CONS:
a. Large size (not good for kids).
b. Plastic sticks/tops are reusable which means less waste, but there’s something about multiple people eating off the plastic stick that kinda grosses me out. I think it’s because I have childhood memories of our Tupperware popsicle molds and they were all gross and chewed up. :-)

Norpro Ice Pop Maker – I ended up buying these for my 2nd and 3rd trial run because I kinda liked the look of them better and they produced more popsicles. Plus, they use regular wooden popsicle sticks. Don’t get suckered into buying the combo mold + 100 sticks deal on amazon. Just add the sticks separately as an add-on for much cheaper.

PROS:
a. Smaller size, which is good if you have kids.
b. The molds use wooden popsicle sticks which is more sanitary. :-)
c. The design of the popsicle mold produces a more “traditional” popsicle.

CONS:
a. The plastic molds are held in place by a metal lid/frame and are not easily removable. Some people have apparently removed them, but I’d rather not try. Therefore, it makes them a lot harder to remove since you have to get water in between all the spaces to warm up the interior molds.
b. The plastic lid on top is a little hard to remove. You kinda have to wiggle the lid back and forth to slide it off. It’s not a major negative, just kinda annoying.

Nutritional Information:
Tovolo (original) Calories: 136; Fat: <.2g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 27mg; Carbs: 29g; Dietary Fiber: 1.3g; Sugars 27g; Protein: 6.2g
Tovolo (amended) Calories: 100; Fat: .1g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 36mg; Carbs: 17g; Dietary Fiber: .8g; Sugars 16g; Protein: 8g
Norpro (original) Calories: 82; Fat: .1g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 16mg; Carbs: 17.3g; Dietary Fiber: 2.4g; Sugars 16.2g; Protein: 3.7g
Norpro (amended) Calories: 60; Fat: 0g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 0mg; Sodium: 21mg; Carbs: 10g; Dietary Fiber: .5g; Sugars 9.5g; Protein: 4.8g

*Please note the nutritional information is only an estimate.*

Orange Spice Iced Coffee

Starbucks has a new beverage this summer – the Orange Spice Iced Coffee – which I’m completely addicted to. At $3-something a pop, though, it’s hard for me to justify what is essentially coffee grounds, water and flavoring. I get it, though. Going to coffee shops can be more of a social thing, and in that instance I’ll happily chalk up the money. For every day consumption, though, I’d prefer to just make something at home and save myself the money. I am so my father’s daughter. ;-)

So I decided to experiment a bit to see if I could nail down something comparable. While mine’s not perfect and I might likely discover new/better ways of improving it along the way, for now this is a decent replica and it satisfies my need for a cold beverage to get me going in the morning.

Orange Spice Iced Coffee

The first thing to note is the amount of coffee grounds I used for brewing. I’m pretty sure Starbucks (or any other major coffee brand) has a specific coffee that is to be used for cold brew. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m too lazy to have multiple bags of coffee in my cupboard. I’m far from a coffee snob, so I highly doubt I’d be able to taste the difference between cold-brew coffee beans and regular coffee beans. Who knows, though. So for this experiment I just grabbed what was in my cupboard which just so happened to be Starbucks Breakfast Blend. It’s a bit milder, so I was sure to brew a strong pot of coffee.

I filled my pot up with water to the 4-cup line. Since coffee pots are not designed to make “true” 8-oz. cups of coffee, this is actually only about 20 oz. of water. After brewing, it yields a bit over 2-8 oz. cups of coffee and so you might have a tad extra to pour on top. In order to make my coffee stronger, I used 4 heaping scoopfuls of coffee grounds for the 4 “cups” of coffee. My scoop is a standard 1/2 oz. coffee scoop. After brewing, cool the coffee to room temp and then place in the fridge until it’s chilled.

Coffee Grounds

The next step is to make the spiced syrup. I initially made a simple syrup out of sugar, water, cinnamon, allspice and whole cloves (see recipe below in Cook’s Notes). It was really tasty, but I’m really trying to cut out refined sugar (which hasn’t been a success due to all this baking I’ve been doing!). I decided to just make a quick syrup out of agave, cinnamon, allspice, orange oil and orange zest. You could easily double or triple this recipe and keep the leftovers in your fridge to be used when needed. My recipe yields just enough for 2 glasses according to my taste, so you’ll want to experiment with the sweetness. You might find that you want more or less syrup and so you’ll need to adjust the syrup recipe accordingly.

Spiced Syrup

Once your coffee is cold, you simply fill a 16 oz. tumbler up with ice, fill with 8 oz. of cold, brewed coffee, add the syrup to taste and a couple orange segments (mostly for aesthetics) and voila – you have orange spice iced coffee! I made a batch yesterday and had some leftovers in the fridge for today. I decided to throw in a splash of almond milk and it was really tasty.

One final note, you might start noticing that I enjoy using citrus oil to enhance recipes. For this recipe I used Boyajian Pure Orange Oil, and note that I did not use a lot! A little goes a LONG way with this stuff, so be careful when pouring. Sur La Table (there’s that name again!) sells a 3-pack assortment of flavored oils that’s pretty handy. I will warn you that since a little goes a long way, don’t be surprised if the oil expires before you can use it all. :-( Just be sure to check the packaging to ensure your oil doesn’t expire 3 months from the purchase date or essentially you’re just throwing money in the trash. I love, love these oils, though. I first discovered them when I was working in the bakeshop at The Mansion and I hope they never stop making this stuff. Their peppermint oil is AWESOME, too!

Orange Oil

Orange Spice Iced Coffee
Yields: 2-16 oz. glasses

4 heaping scoops ground coffee
4 “cups” water (read above for required amount)
4 orange slices
2 Tablespoons spiced syrup (recipe below)

Spiced Syrup:
2 Tablespoons agave
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
A pinch allspice (I literally used 1/16 tsp if you really need a measurement)
1/8 teaspoon orange oil
1/8 teaspoon orange zest

1. Brew the coffee, cool to room temp and place in fridge until chilled.

2. In a small bowl, stir together agave, cinnamon, allspice, orange oil and orange zest.

3. Fill glass with ice, top with 8 oz. cold, brewed coffee, flavor with spiced syrup and garnish with 2 orange slices. Enjoy!


Cook’s Notes

1. If you want to make a regular simple syrup, combine 1/4 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon allspice, 3-4 whole cloves, 1/4 teaspoon orange oil and 1/4 teaspoon orange zest in a small pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Strain mixture to remove cloves; use as needed. (This makes more syrup, but in my opinion it doesn’t sweeten as much as the agave syrup. You’ll likely need more than just 1 Tablespoon per glass.)

2. Starbucks advertises their 16 oz. drink as having 90 calories. Each serving of my recipe (when added with ice equals 16 oz.) is 64 calories. If you eat your orange slices, it’s closer to 80 calories. Juuust throwin’ that out there. ;-)

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

I recently went on a cookbook shopping spree and purchased 4 cookbooks that I’d had in my wishlist for years, one of which was Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Thomas Keller, he’s the mastermind behind the infamous Napa, California restaurant, The French Laundry. If I’m ever in Napa again and have a lot of extra money to spend, I’ll definitely be dining there. Let’s just say he’s won countless awards for a reason.

Bouchon Bakery is filled with mouth-watering pictures of all kinds of French pastries, from cookies to scones and cakes to doughnuts. I quickly pulled out my Post-it flags and began tagging every other page. I panicked slightly and thought to myself, “When am I going to find the time to make all of this?” After I’d browsed the book from front to back, I started back at the beginning and browsed once more to see what jumped out at me. The result was their recipe for Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins. There wasn’t even an accompanying picture to go along with the recipe, but my tastebuds immediately knew this is what they wanted to taste. I also had a lot of leftover lemons in my fridge from making that salmon dish last weekend… but I digress. ;-) I love anything lemon. It doesn’t matter if it’s summer or winter, I just can’t get enough of it. It’s one of my favorite flavors to have in baked goods, right behind chocolate and peanut butter. :)

I whipped up these muffins on Wednesday night and baked them Thursday during lunch. While it might seem odd to make them one night and bake the next, the book actually recommends storing the batter at least overnight before baking them. They even explain on page 77 why resting batters is so important (it allows the flour to absorb the liquid). The added bonus is that the batter thickens slightly which makes it much easier to scoop. My kitchen was filled with the wonderful smell of lemon and butter. Oh my goodness… it was heaven. It took everything in me not to gobble up 3 muffins!! I immediately took the leftovers with me back to work where my [spoiled] co-workers were able to taste them, and while they were still warm no less! My one co-worker proclaimed these as the BEST lemon poppy seed muffins she’d ever tasted, and I must say I completely agree with her. The crumb is tender, it’s extremely moist and it has the perfect zing of lemon flavor. *bliss*

This recipe calls for cake flour which I feel is a must. Do not substitute all-purpose flour, if at all possible. Cake flour produces a much more tender crumb which I can now attest is essential in this recipe. It also calls for kosher salt, and don’t be afraid of that. Once again, it serves its purpose. The recipe also calls for fresh lemon juice and zest, and I cannot stress enough how important both those ingredients are. Please, please, please do not use ReaLemon in this recipe. If you do it will make me cry, and we don’t want that, do we? Finally, the recipe calls for vanilla paste which is a thick syrup made out of scraped vanilla beans. You can buy vanilla paste at Sur La Table or any other gourmet kitchen store. It’s pricey, but a little goes a long way and it’s so worth the flavor! I didn’t have any on hand for this recipe, so I just substituted my fancy vanilla extract.

I did adjust the recipe a little because their measurements were kinda wonky. For instance, the recipe calls for 6.8 ounces of butter. Not 6.5 and not 7, but 6.8. I made the recipe with 7 ounces and it turned out just fine. It also calls for 1/2 cup plus 3 Tablespoons of eggs. I know French cooking is exact, but that’s just kinda silly. The only thing I can think is their recipes were created large-scale and were meant to be produced in large numbers for a bakery, not a home kitchen. Often kitchen recipes are hard to cut down because we weigh things or we know exactly how much liquid is needed. Eggs can obviously vary tremendously in size, so it could just be that they know they need exactly 1/2 cup plus 3 Tablespoons of egg to produce the best product. Regardless, I just used 3 large eggs and it worked perfectly.

On a final note, I did add a glaze to this recipe. The recipe in the book does not call for a glaze and I dunno… I just felt it needed one. I kinda dislike the haphazard squiggling of icings on pastries unless it’s supposed to look haphazard (i.e. danish). However, in this case I wanted there to be a nice solid layer of glaze, and so I’m suggesting you dip the whole muffin top in the glaze. If you prefer a squiggle on top, though, squiggle away. :) You can also add a little fresh lemon zest to the icing if you prefer, but it’s plenty lemony and doesn’t really need it. Ok, enough talking. Just make the darn muffins already.

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins
Adapted from Bouchon Bakery

Yields: 10 regular-sized muffins or 6 large muffins

Muffin:
1 1/4 cups cake flour
1/2 + 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup + 3 Tablespoons granulated sugar
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
7 ounces butter, melted and warm
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons poppy seeds

Glaze:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1. Sift flour and baking powder. Add salt, whisk and set aside.

2. Combine the sugar, eggs and vanilla in a deep medium bowl and mix with an immersion blender (see note below in Cook’s Notes). Add the dry ingredients in 2 additions, mixing until just combined.

3. With the blender running, pour in the melted butter in a steady stream and mix until the batter is smooth (approx. 1-2 minutes). Add the lemon juice and blend again.

4. Fold in the lemon zest and poppy seeds. Wrap the bowl in plastic wrap and store batter in refrigerator overnight, or for up to 36 hours.

5. The next day, preheat oven to 375 degrees F (218 degrees C). Line muffin tins with muffin papers and lightly spray with nonstick spray.

6. Scoop the batter into the cups, filling 3/8 inch from the top.* Place in oven and lower temperature to 325 degrees F (163 degrees C). Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until muffins are golden brown around the edges and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Place on a wire rack to cool.

7. Whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice for the glaze. While the muffins are still slightly warm, dip each muffin top into the glaze and then place on a cooling rack to cool completely. Per the book, muffins are best the day they are made, but they can be stored in a single layer, wrapped tightly and kept for up to 3 days. Good luck making them last 3 days, though!


Cook’s Notes

1. Immersion blenders are a really great tool. They can be used to mix drinks, soups/sauces or puree various food items. They can get awfully expensive, but for the home use you’ll only ever need the low-end ones. Sur La Table has a great one for just $34.95 and it comes in a variety of colors.

2. I use a #12 scoop for my muffins. The number indicates how many scoops it takes to make a quart, so that’s why small scoops have considerably higher numbers. It’ll probably come as no shock at all that I bought my muffin scoop at Sur La Table. It’s the #12/3.75 oz. scoop. Seriously, I should be getting some sort of kick-back from Sur La Table. ;-)

3. Since I seem to be a fan of using fresh juice and your hands might be tired of squeezing lemons, I highly suggest you get yourself one of these citrus juicers. While the green one is technically for limes and the yellow one is technically for lemons, I bought the green one because green is my favorite color. While it is a bit tricky to juice large lemons, it still works and it works perfectly on limes and small lemons.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I have been on the hunt for the “perfect” chocolate chip cookie recipe for.. well.. as long as I can recall. I cannot tell you how many recipes I’ve tried, none of which ever 100% satisfied me. Pretty much every cookie tastes great right out of the oven, but the true test of a cookie recipe is how the cookie tastes the following day or even 2 days later. That’s where most recipes fall short. The good ol’ Toll House recipe is a prime example. Those cookies are near perfection the day you bake them, but the following day they’re rock hard. I’ve tried underbaking them, I’ve added a packet of vanilla pudding mix (which is actually a decent fix) and I’ve experimented with different fats instead of using just butter, per the recipe on the bag. Ultimately, the recipe just doesn’t cut it in my opinion (sorry, Toll House).

I’ve admittedly never been an expert at making cookies. I’m not sure what it is. I went to culinary school, but for some reason cookies have never been my forte. An ex-boyfriend of mine even told me once that everything I bake is amazing… except my cookies. I won’t name names, but he knows who he is. ;-) And it’s okay. I didn’t take offense because deep down I knew I was awful at making cookies! Honestly, I think I overthink things too much and that results in my downfall. I try to make recipes more complex or utilize skills I learned in school, but honestly it’s often best when you just keep things simple. (Doesn’t that apply to a lot of things in life?)

With that being said, I stumbled across this recipe on Averie’s blog and really wanted to try it. Her pictures had me instantly drooling, and the addition of cornstarch was intriguing. I honestly can’t say I’ve made a cookie with cornstarch before, so I was excited to try something new. The results are awesome. This cookie is super easy to make, and they’re crisp on the outside and chewy in the middle. While they didn’t stay crisp on days 2 and 3, I’m happy to report that they were still SOFT! No more hard cookies!

I plan on experimenting a bit with this base and adding in different types of chocolate, nuts and who knows what else. This time around I used 1 cup Ghirardelli semi-sweet chips and 1 cup Ghirardelli 60% bittersweet chips. I’ll definitely keep you all posted on my future experimentations. ;-)

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chocolate chips folded into the batter

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Cookie dough scooped and ready to be refrigerated

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Final product – perfect with a cold glass of milk or almond milk!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Averie Cooks

Yield: 2 dozen medium-sized cookies

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup shortening*
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or chunks)
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (or chunks)

1. Using a mixer, beat the butter and shortening on low speed until smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the sugars and beat on medium-high speed until creamed and well combined, about 3 minutes. Scrape the bowl and add the egg and vanilla.

2. Combine the flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl. Add all at once to the butter/egg mixture and mix on low speed until just combined, about 1 minute. Add the chocolate chips and mix on low for 1 more minute, or fold in by hand.

3. Using a #50/.6 oz. scoop, scoop out heaping mounds of dough and place on a large plate or tray. If you don’t have a scoop, a heaping Tablespoon of dough will work. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, up to 5 days.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (176 degrees C) and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat.*

5. Place cookies 2 inches apart on the cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes*, or until very lightly golden brown around the edges. Be careful not to overbake! It might seem that they’re underbaked, but I promise they’ll be perfect! Cool completely on a wire rack and then store in an airtight container.


Cook’s Notes

1. Averie’s recipe called for 3/4 cup butter, but I decided to replace 1/4 cup of the butter with shortening because I personally feel a mix of the two fats yields a better cookie. Please feel free to use all butter, though, as I know the result will be great!

2. If you aren’t familiar with Silpats, then you need to familiarize yourself away! You can find them at Sur La Table or any high-end kitchen store. Don’t be scared by the price because, if taken care of, they’ll last you many years! I’m an avid baker and I’ve had mine for 5+ years.

(Some tips: Wash Silpats with warm water and mild soap. Do not let them soak in harsh chemicals or bleach. Do not use a knife on them. Do not fold them. When you are done cleaning them, dry with a towel or allow to air dry. Store flat or roll loosely. If you heed my advice, I promise you they’ll be your best friend!)

3. My cookies took closer to 11-12 minutes. Averie was pretty specific that 10 minutes was the absolute max, but I’m telling you… mine would have been completely raw if I pulled them at 10 mins! So I advise you to set your timer for 4 minutes, and then rotate the pan and set it for another 4 minutes. At that point you can check it every minute or so until they’re lightly brown around the edges. I always feel that my next batch cooks more quickly, so be careful to check each subsequent batch so that it doesn’t overbake.

Also, I ever so slightly flattened my cookies. I didn’t do it with the first batch and I wasn’t completely happy with the results. Don’t go flattening them like you would a peanut butter cookie – just very lightly flatten. Feel free to experiment just as I did, though. You might prefer them as is or you might prefer them a tad more flat.

Pan Seared Salmon with Citrus Salsa Verde

I subscribe to Food Network’s email distribution list, so when this recipe (courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis) appeared in my email recently I knew I had to try it! I really love salmon, and I’m constantly looking for new ways to eat it. I’m also trying to drop some lbs, and this recipe seemed to fit the bill of healthy, flavorful, fresh and summery. I did make some minor changes to her recipe, which I’ll make notations of in my cook’s notes.

One thing that is required of this recipe is segmenting oranges. I learned how to do this in culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Charleston, SC, which merged with the Norfolk, VA campus and is now located in Charlotte, NC (nice plug, right?!), but it quickly dawned on me that a lot of people might not know how to do this. Sure, you could visit YouTube for an instructional video, but I’d still like to provide my pics and instructions, which literally mimic every word in the video. ;-)

The first thing to note is that this recipe calls for orange and lemon zest, so before you start the process of segmenting the oranges be sure to zest your oranges first! I used a zester similar to this one (which then requires the strips of zest to be finely chopped), but you can also use a Microplane Zester. I love my Microplane Zester. It’s probably in my top 10 favorite kitchen tools (Can you say “future blog post?”), but sometimes I’m just not in the mood to deal with properly cleaning it. It’s a bit of a hassle honestly. So once you’ve zested your oranges, you can now start the segmenting process.

First, you’ll want to cut the ends of your orange off. This not only provides for a flat surface on which to cut, but it also reveals the edge of the pith where you’ll need to cut. Slice along the edge of the pith all the way from top to bottom. Be sure to cut close enough so you don’t lose too much of the fruit.

Segmenting an Orange
Segmenting an Orange

 

Once you’ve done that, you end up with this! Isn’t it pretty?
Segmenting an Orange

Working carefully, slice along the membrane to remove each segment. Do this over a bowl so it will catch the juices. At the end, give the orange a good squeeze to extract the rest of the juices (watch out for seeds!).
Segmenting an Orange

To that same bowl, add in the rest of your salsa verde ingredients and then you’ll have this:

Citrus Salsa Verde

I decided to pan sear my salmon because I just love the crust you get when you sear it. I might try grilling it in my cast iron grill pan next time, but the pan searing was a total success for the first try. I also used the agave per her instructions when I cooked the salmon on Friday night, but when I made it again Saturday night (I bought a pound of salmon!) I decided to forego the agave and just stick with simple salt and pepper. While I liked the flavor of the agave, it got a little too charred before I felt the fish had time to develop a nice sear. Either way, both results were equally good!

Here are the results from Friday (please excuse the iPhone photo!):

Salmon w/ Citrus Salsa Verde

Here are the results from Saturday with no agave (again, please excuse the iPhone photo!):

Salmon w/ Citrus Salsa Verde

On a side note and for those of you who may be interested in knowing, the salad from Friday was a really simple combination of mixed greens, red cherub tomatoes, yellow sunburst tomatoes, nectarine (or peach), bell pepper, feta, balsamic vinegar and EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil). My best friend, Meghan, who was dining with me raved about how food at other people’s houses always tastes better, which I completely agree with! Thanks for the compliment, too! ;-)

This has been my “go to” salad all summer long. I’ll sometimes throw in spinach or arugula, and I’ll mix it up with different berries, such as raspberry, blueberries or strawberries. I’ll often use goat cheese instead of feta, and sometimes I’ll shred carrots and add that in as well. Plus, if I’m making it into a main dish I’ll toss in grilled chicken. You get the idea – it’s pretty versatile! Saturday night my eyes were much bigger than my stomach, so I ended up with at least half of that cooked salmon leftover. So on Sunday I simply broke it into pieces and tossed it into my salad for a very tasty (and healthy) dinner!

Pan Seared Salmon with Citrus Salsa Verde
Adapted from Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe on foodnetwork.com

Serves: 4

Salsa:
2 large oranges
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil*
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 scallions, finely sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained and coarsely chopped*
2 tablespoons orange zest
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes*
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Salmon:
4 (4-ounce) center cut salmon fillets*
2 tablespoons amber agave nectar*
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine orange segments and reserved orange juice, olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, scallions, mint, capers, orange zest, lemon zest and red pepper flakes in a bowl. Toss lightly and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.

2. Get pan real nice and hot over high heat. Add a Tablespoon of EVOO and place the salmon flesh side down (skin side up) in the pan. Be sure to face the pan away from you in order to avoid oil from splattering on you. Shake the pan for a few seconds and cook for about 30 seconds. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Flip salmon over so the skin side is down and cook for another 2-5 minutes, depending on your desired doneness. I like my salmon medium, so it took about 4 minutes on the first side and another 3 on the other. I also had nice, thick filets. :-) Transfer salmon to a plate and allow to rest for a few minutes. Garnish with salsa verde.


Cook’s Notes

1. Giada’s recipe called for 4 Tablespoons (1/4 cup) olive oil in the salsa verde, but I’m trying to cut down on calories and EVOO is pretty high in calories. I didn’t think it needed that extra Tablespoon at all.

2. I personally dislike capers, but I decided to be true to the recipe and keep them in. I’ll leave them out next time, but that’s just my preference.

3. If you watch the accompanying video on foodnetwork.com, Giada adds “a pinch” of red pepper flakes, despite the recipe saying a teaspoon (which is far from a pinch!). I personally liked it a little spicy, and I definitely didn’t think it was too spicy for those who don’t like spicy foods. It was kind of an aftertaste and didn’t overpower the dish at all.

4. Giada’s recipe states to have the skin removed from the salmon since you’re grilling, but if you pan sear I think it’s best to keep the skin on. It makes it nice and crispy, plus it helps to keep the fish together. You can easily peel it off after cooking if you have picky eaters, but the salmon flaked away perfectly from the skin and wasn’t a bother at all.

5. See my comments above regarding the agave nectar. I liked the flavor it gave the fish, but you’ll also probably see a bit of a color difference from Friday to Saturday. If you use the agave, just be careful not to overcook it because it does caramelize and can burn.

Nutritional Information:
Serving Size: 4-oz. fillet and accompanying salsa verde; Calories: 329; Fat: 17.7g; Saturated Fat: 2.5g; Cholesterol: 55mg; Sodium: 274mg; Carbs: 20.6g; Dietary Fiber: 2.4g; Sugars 15.1g; Protein: 22.1g

*Please note the nutritional information is only an estimate.*

Raspberry Oat Bars

I was apparently on a Smitten Kitchen kick last weekend as I made yet another recipe from her blog. This recipe actually comes from the cookbook Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. I’ve had that cookbook in my amazon wishlist for at least 3 years, and this week I decided to finally purchase it. You see, I have easily 4+ dozen cookbooks and this is after selling a dozen or so back to Half Price Books 2 months ago!

I love my cookbooks. I’m not a big collector of items (although some would beg to differ that I like to collect shoes), but cookbooks are definitely an item I like to collect. I’m just so bad about actually utilizing them! I’ll flip through the book immediately upon purchasing it, drool all over the pages and make mental notes of all the things I want to make. Sadly, the book then makes its way to my bookshelf (which is now packed to its maximum capacity), and it rarely gets looked at again. :-( This also applies to my Bon Appétit and Food & Wine magazines. *sigh*

I blame this partly on the fact that the web is jam-packed full of great recipes (a lot of which are pulled from said cookbooks/magazines), so the advent of food blogs has kind of taken some of the work out for me. I can rely on fellow food bloggers to try the recipes first, report back to me (and millions of other people) and then I can decide if I really want to try that recipe.

Regardless, I’ve decided I’m going to make it one of my personal goals to not allow this to happen and to actually use my cookbooks as frequently as possible. A shocking and new concept, I know. A lot of it stems from my 2013 resolution to de-clutter my mind and my home. I figure it’s kinda silly to have all these objects in my house if I’m not really using them. So while they look all pretty and fancy on my bookshelf (and make me look like a pro in the kitchen), they’re really just taking up room. Ok, enough about that. Let’s move on to the yummy recipe.

My local Sprouts store had berries on sale 3/$5, so I knew I needed to take advantage of that sale! I quickly snatched up some raspberries and got to work on making these:

Raspberry Breakfast Bars

Yes, I assure you, they taste as good as they look!! The base crust is similar to a Nature Valley Granola Bar, except it’s not so hard that it cuts the roof of your mouth (am I the only one with that problem?). The filling is tart and bursting with berry flavor. Overall, it’s the perfect symbiosis of sweet and sour with a touch of cinnamon (i.e. Heaven).

Now, I would never lead you all astray and so I’ll be honest with you – these bars got really soggy on me the 2nd day. :-( Not at all what I was expecting!! Upon reading through the reviews at Smitten Kitchen, it appears many others had the same issue. I’m betting even more did as well and they either didn’t care or posted their comments on day 1 when the bars were still crisp. Either way, I loved the flavor of these so much that I’m still going to post the recipe, and I promise you all before summer’s end that I will do another test batch with some tweaks to see if I can lengthen the shelf life of these wonderfully perfect bars.

Raspberry Oat Bars
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Baked: New Frontiers in Baking

Yields: 30 bars (or more/less depending on the size you cut them)

Crust and Crumb:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar*
1 1/4 cups rolled oats*
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

Raspberry Filling:
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour*
1 pound raspberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (176 degrees C). Grease a 9×13 inch pan and line with parchment paper, allowing the parchment to overhang on the sides to assist with later removal.

2. Combine the flour, brown sugar, oats, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon in a food processor. Pulse in short bursts until combined. Add the cold butter and pulse until loose crumbs form. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the mixture and set aside.

3. Put the rest of the mixture into the prepared pan and press down to form an even layer. Be sure to completely cover the pan from side to side. Bake the crust until golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool.

4. Place raspberries, sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon and flour in a bowl and toss gently to coat the berries. (Note: Immediately toss together or else the flour might form little “dough balls.”)

5. Spread the raspberry filling on top of the cooled crust and sprinkle the reserved crust mixture evenly on top of the filling. Bake for 35-45 minutes, rotating the pan every 15 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the filling starts to bubble around the edges. (Note: This took closer to 60 mins for me.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Be sure bars have cooled completely before cutting. The bars can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two days. (See note above in my intro about the shelf life.)


Cook’s Notes

1. I don’t use dark brown sugar often as it can produce a darker-colored product than I desire, but in this recipe I highly recommend using it! If you prefer light and don’t want to purchase a whole bag of dark brown sugar, you can just add a few teaspoons of molasses to get the same flavor.

2. I used quick oats for the crust/crumb, but next time I’m going to try old-fashioned to see if that helps.

3. I plan on substituting 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch for flour in the filling. Cornstarch stabilizes better and absorbs moisture better than flour.