Friday, June 27, 2014

Mom's Chicken Salad

Chicken salad might be one of the most delicious things on the planet.  I mean, what's not to love? Seriously. And, it keeps really well for a few days, so it's perfect for making a lot of over the weekend and then taking to work all week.  Because you're super healthy and frugal and you totally do that.  Yep.

There are approximately as many ways to make chicken salad as there are weird, creepy people on the orange line.  Some people put pickles or relish in theirs; I do not, that stuff is nasty.  You can do a mayo based dressing, an avocado based dressing, copy the kind from Chick-Fil-A, or make it exotic.  Seriously, SO MANY OPTIONS.

The kind that I make is fairly basic.  I got the recipe from my mom (hi mom) and she got it from the Silver Palate Cookbook (I think, the copy I have is just written on a card).  It's a little different, because it includes green grapes, dill, and pecans.  Since I can't ever manage to leave well enough along, I subbed the pecans for walnuts and the sour cream in the dressing for Greek yogurt.  And I halved the recipe, because I didn't want to eat it for the rest of my life, just a week.  I'm SUCH a rebel.

Mom's Chicken Salad:

For the Salad
2 Large Chicken Breasts, Poached (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 Cups Green Grapes, Sliced in Half (about 1/2 pound)
1/2 Cup Dill, Chopped
1/2 Cup Celery, Chopped
1 Cup Walnuts (or whatever kind of nuts you like)

For the Dressing:
1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
1/2 Cup Greek Yogurt or Sour Cream
Salt and Pepper
Potentially a few drops of milk to thin it out

Pre-heat the oven to 350.  Place your chicken into a casserole dish and cover with water or part water, part chicken broth.  Cook for 30-40 minutes, uncovered, until the chicken is cooked through.  A bit of the water will evaporate (science FTW), so check it, and if it looks like the tops are getting dry, flip them.

While that's happening, make the dressing.  Just mix the yogurt/sour cream with the mayo, add salt and pepper to taste.  I thought the consistency was fine as it was, but if you think it's too thick, thin it out with a little bit of milk.  I would actually make less dressing next time, because I thought it was a bit too much, but you should feel free to do whatever you want.

Then, cut up the grapes, dill, celery, and walnuts.

After the chicken is cooked (I just cut into it and see, but I hear people use meat thermometers for such things), take it out of the liquid and let it cool.  When it's cool, either chop it or shred it into bite sized pieces. I actually put it in a bowl and continue to let it cool after I cut it up, because I want to make sure it's definitely not hot anymore when I mix it with the other stuff.

Once the chicken is ready, just add everything to a bowl, top with the dressing, stir, and eat.  It definitely tastes a little better on day two, because the flavors have had a chance to really meld together.

I always tend to think that chicken salad is a pain to make, and it really isn't.  You could make it even easier by using leftover chicken, instead of preparing new, or a rotisserie from the grocery store.  I just can't have a rotisserie in my house, because Milton uses it as an excuse to try and teach himself how to open the fridge without the benefit of thumbs.  Silly pup.

I did a few lettuce wraps with this, but it's also good on toast.  Or just plain, with some sliced tomatoes on the side.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Clean out the Fridge Lasagna

I have a small problem when I go to the grocery store.  See, what happens is I walk in and think "OMG I need to buy food for my Duggar sized family.  Yes, I will get a 4 pound box of spinach, I will eat all of that before it goes bad in 4 days, because I'm a health nut and there are multiple other people in my home".  Funnily enough, this is not actually what happens.  I know, I know, it's really shocking.  So, about once a month (sometimes more or less depending on my current level of grocery shopping fervor), I try to make things that incorporate all the things in my fridge.  Usually, it's boring and/or weird (like this veggie casserole mess I made last summer), but sometimes I shock myself and I make something delightful, like this lasagna.

There are many lovely things about this lasagna.  First and foremost, lasagna in any form is freaking delicious. I love to try new kinds of this magical dish, so if you have recipes, please send them my way.  I mean, how could you not like bubbly, melty cheese with a rich and comforting sauce, all encased in layers of delicious, delicious carbs?  Seriously, I just finished my lunch (guess what, it was lasagna) and I'm hungry again writing about it.

The second best thing about lasagna, is that it's nearly impossible to make it taste bad, therefore, you can use up whatever it is you have when you make it.  I had some bell peppers, celery, carrots, ground turkey, and spinach.  Now all those things are snuggled up in my fridge, positively contributing to the goodness and beauty that is lasagna.

Ok, now that I've waxed poetic about this stuff, I will give you a recipe.  Sorry, I just really freaking love lasagna.

Clean Out the Fridge Lasagna:

For the Sauce:
2-3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 Bell Peppers
3 Stalks Celery
3 Carrots, Peeled
2 Small Onions (or one regular sized one)
4 Cloves of Garlic
2 28 Oz Cans Crushed Tomatoes
1 Lb Ground Turkey
2 Bay Leaves
Salt, Pepper, and Italian Seasoning
Red Wine

For the Ricotta:
1 15 Oz Container Ricotta (I used whole milk because I think the low fat kind is gross, but it doesn't make much difference)
5-6 Cups Spinach
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper

The Rest:
Lasagna Noodles (I get the no boil, because I'm lazy)
Shredded Mozzarella

I decided to try a new technique and food processor the veggies first.  I think it was a good decision; the sauce came out as a cross between my regular marinara and turkey bolognase.  This whole process is fairly time consuming, but it's good, so it's worth it.  Also, this makes a TON of sauce, I used some for this lasagna and I think I could make another 2 with the leftovers.  So, it's sitting in the freezer now, waiting for inspiration.

So, throw all the veggies into the food processor and let it go until they're the size you want.  I definitely erred on the side of more chopped, but be careful not to just pulverize it into baby food.  Unless you're going to feed it to a baby.

Heat up the olive oil in a large pot.  Add the chopped veggies and season with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.  Don't hold back with the seasonings, it makes a huge difference and since this is a massive amount of food, it's going to be fairly difficult to over-do it.

Once the veggies have softened, add in the turkey.  It's highly recommended that you defrost it first; however, I did not and it was fine.  It just takes a lot more elbow grease to break it up.

Brown the turkey, then season a bit more.  I think next time I'd brown the turkey first, because it was a little hard to see with it mixed in with the veggies, but it doesn't really matter.  You're going to cook this for a good. long while, so it's going to get cooked.

Then, add in the tomatoes, bay leaves, and wine.  I guess I used around a half a cup of wine?  I would have skipped it, but there was some open already.  Season some more and stir it all up.

Then, let it come to a simmer and simmer for 30-40 minutes.  You want for everything to have a long time to get all flavorified.  Taste occasionally and adjust seasonings as you think appropriate. 

While this is happening, steam the spinach.  This is way easy, just put about a half a cup of water into a large pan, then, when it's about to boil, add the spinach.  Throw a lid on and let it cook for 2-3 minutes.  You might want to give it a stir or two, so that the top part actually reaches the heat.  Remove from pan and let cool.

Once it's cool, stir it in with the ricotta.  Add a little bit of oil and some seasonings.  Now you're done.

Now, the actual lasagna making part.  Pre-heat the oven to 350.  In a baking dish, layer her up.  I used a small one because I only had a few lasagna noodles and didn't want to get more (remember, cleaning out, not adding in).

Put a layer of sauce on the bottom, then some noodles.  Add more sauce.

Then about half the ricotta mixture and a few handfuls of the mozz.

Noodles, sauce, ricotta, mozz.

You could keep going if you had more noodles or wanted to feed a bigger crowd, but I ran out of noodles.

Bake at 350 for about 45 min, until the cheese is bubbly and brown on top.  Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before digging in, I think it makes it hold together better.

Slice yourself a big ole piece and dig in, you've earned it!

I know this seems like a fairly involved project, and in some ways it is, but it's not overly complicated.  Just time consuming.  I did this on a Sunday afternoon and it was perfect, but I definitely would't recommend that you start this at 8pm on a Tuesday when you're already hungry, because the whole process ends up taking 2-3 hours.  That being said, it's delicious and completely worth it!

Question of the Day:

What's your favorite way to clear out the fridge? 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Lemon Pound Cake with Lime Frosting - The Leftovers Club

Man, I took a break from The Leftovers Club, a delightful group of bloggers who send each other treats (totally sign up, it's amaze), and I definitely missed getting some goodies in the mail.  I mean, who doesn't like to arrive home to discover cookies waiting?  You don't ?  You should probably seek help, because that's odd.

This month, I was paired with Sandra, who blogs over at Meadows Cooks.  She lives in NYC and makes delicious, healthy recipes, and probably does a lot of really cool New York things.  She recently made some Honey Goat Cheese Popovers that look incredible.  

I made a lemon pound cake this time.  My mom has been making it for as long as I can remember and there is a reason for that; it's really freaking good.  It's also enough food to feed a solid portion of the red army, so it's great for pot lucks or parties or whathaveyou, because there will always be enough to go around.  We've always made a lime frosting to go with it, so I did that (and sent it on the side, because frosted cakes don't ship super well), but I think that some kind of glaze would also be delicious.  The cake itself is pretty dense and sweet, so I'm not sure I'd like a super sweet frosting with it, but my sweet tooth isn't super pronounced, so do you. 

Lemon Pound Cake with Lime Frosting: 

For the Cake:
2 Sticks of Butter, Softened
1 8oz Package Cream Cheese, Softened
3 Cups Sugar
3 Cups Flour
6 Eggs 
1 1/2 Teaspoons Lemon Extract
1/2 Teaspoon Almond Extract 

For the Frosting:
5 1/2 Tablespoons Butter, Softened
3 Tablespoons Lime Juice (from actual limes, not the bottle)
3-4 Cups Powdered Sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 325.  

Mix together the butter and cream cheese.  Add in the sugar and mix well. 

Add the eggs, flour, and extracts.  I like to alternate flour and eggs, then add the extracts at the end, because I think it makes it easier for my not so powerful mixer to handle.  However, I'm not sure this really does anything to the cake one way or the other, so feel free to just dump it all in at once.  

Pour batter into a well greased bunt pan.  If you don't have a bunt pan, you can definitely use any other kind of pan you want, but remember this is a giant cake, so it will need a pretty large pan.  My bunt pan is just plain, but really cool options exist.

Bake at 325 for an hour to an hour and a half.  Mine took about an hour and a half, but start checking after an hour, as you definitely want for the insides to stay moist. 

Allow to cool completely before frosting.  I had to put mine on a very high shelf because someone has learned how to get things he's not supposed to have off the counter.  Silly Milty, bananas are for humans. 

For the frosting, just mix it all together in a bowl.  Adjust the sugar to taste.  Making frosting is super easy.

Now, go eat some cake!!!!