Monday, July 30, 2012

Garlic Hummus Balsamic Vinaigrette

Whenever I buy a bottle of salad dressing at the grocery store, I always find myself letting it sit away in my fridge for months. I think it's because I get bored really easily...

Regardless, I've been trying to find ways to make my lunches more exciting. Too often do I have a soggy sandwich or lackluster salad awaiting me come noon. When this happens, I find myself craving a pizza or chicken finger feast by 2 p.m. This is NOT productive.

I know I need to find more ways to keep my palette and taste buds happy in ways that will stop my afternoon snacktime (or second lunch...)

Along with more creative lunch options in general, I decided my homemade salads needed a serious facelift. Then I remembered this salad dressing shaker my aunt got me upon my graduation from college. It is AWESOME! It's so easy to use and even has some recipes all along the side of it.

This dressing was one of my own and it packed such a great salad punch, I just had to share! If you don't have a salad dressing shaker, feel free to whisk everything together in a bowl.

Here's what you need for my Garlic Hummus Balsamic Vinaigrette:

2 tablespoons roasted garlic hummus (or a plain hummus with a small dash of minced garlic)
1 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup or more extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon dried basil
Salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Here's what you do:

Add the hummus and lemon juice to your salad dressing shaker. Whisk with a fork to begin breaking up the hummus.
Add the remaining ingredients, cover, and shake vigorously until all ingredients are incorporated.

Serve over salad, quinoa, or chicken!

It's that easy to give your salad a homemade touch. I really enjoyed using the hummus here because, while this dressing is light, the hummus adds a touch of creaminess and leaves you feeling fuller for longer (thank you protein!).

Do you prefer a homemade vinaigrette to a bottled, carb-loaded dressing? What's your favorite salad dressing?!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Lemon Poppyseed Muffins

Let's talk muffins: the sinful, breakfast cousins of cupcakes. Delicious, filling, and an all around diet killer.

Lemon Blueberry Poppyseed Muffins a la Joy
I find it incredibly hard to say no to a good muffin. The muffin craving is one that simply cannot be satisfied with anything else.

So how about we all agree that this weekend we are going to whip up a batch of delicious homemade muffins, enjoy them thoroughly, and fulfill our muffin quota for the month of July. You're up for it?! Excellent!

I stumbled upon these muffins from Joy the Baker that was a happy marriage of blueberry, lemon poppyseed, and coffee crumb muffins. They were AMAZING. I encourage you to make these and share with anyone whose good side you're looking to stay on.

Given my abundance of poppyseeds, I decided to take the above muffin inspiration and dial it down (per the BFs request) to a traditional lemon poppyseed muffin. The results were fresh, fluffy, delicious Lemon Poppyseed Muffins. I encourage you to give these a try for your weekend of muffin-y bliss. A real crowd pleaser!

Here's what you need (for 12 muffins):

The flavor agents
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon fresh squeeze lemon juice (do NOT use the bottled stuff)
1/3 cup whole milk
zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons poppyseeds

Here's what you do:

In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt your butter until slightly browned and aromatic. It will bubble and crackle. Stir occasionally to prevent any from crusting on the bottom of the pan. Once all the butter is melted, immediately transfer to a small bowl to allow it to cool.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk the milk, egg, egg yolk, and almond extract (side note: I am currently obsessed with almond extract. I've been replacing everything "vanilla extract" with the almond variety. It's just so good! But feel free to use vanilla if you have that on hand.). Getting an egg separated is NOT as hard as it looks. It takes a slightly light hand, but just be sure to get a good first crack that is slightly off-center. Having one side of shell smaller than another will help drain the whites out faster. When the butter has cooled a bit, whisk that into the egg mixture.

In one step, add the wet ingredients to the dry. Using a rubber spatula, blend well.
Gently fold in the poppyseeds and lemon zest.

Scoop an even amount of the batter into a muffin tin lined with paper liners. I'd recommend using a small ice cream scoop or a 1/4 measuring cup. This ensures the muffins cook evenly!

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes. They are done when the tops are a golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes.

Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container for a max of 3 days. I'd recommend giving them a zap in the microwave for about 10 seconds on day 3.

So, here's the deal. Super easy. Super delicious. Super sinful. BUT--don't you feel a little bit better, given that these babies are homemade, with love? I thought so.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Crispy Chicken and Roasted Asparagus with a Balsamic Reduction

I’m not positive about many things in life, but there are 3 things I’m absolutely sure of.
  1. Without Parmesan Cheese, my life would be very different; and not in a good way.
  2. In cooking, a “reduction” is usually a very, VERY good thing.
  3. If something is fried, it is generally better than it’s un-fried counterpart.
I usually always have breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, oil, and eggs. This means that on any given night I am usually in a good position to fry up something delicious.

In our freezer chilling away were these cute, little chicken breast tenderloins. Lovely, bite-sized cuts of chicken breasts begging to be thrown into breadcrumbs and hot oil. To their wish I obliged. I also went a little overboard and decided it was time to try my hand at a balsamic reduction. My roasted asparagus was very happy with this as well.

Tonight’s dinner was unplanned but it came together just beautifully. I knew I had to share it with you.

Crispy Chicken Tenders and Baked Asparagus with a Balsamic Reduction. Doesn’t it sound like it’s straight off some fancy restaurant menu?! Well, the taste lived up to those expectations. And I'm pretty confident any home cook can whip this meal together. Try it for your next date night or dinner party!

Here’s what you need:

For the Chicken
1 pound of chicken breast tenderloins
1 egg, beaten
1 cup panko breadcrumbs (Panko breadcrumbs are an airy Japanese breadcrumb. They crisp up even better than the traditional Iitalian-seasoned breadcrumbs and are actually lighter)
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
Garlic powder, fresh cracked black pepper, and salt
Vegetable oil

For the Balsamic Reduction
1 cup balsamic vinegar (store brand is fine here!)
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce

Side Dishes
1 cup quinoa, cooked according to the package
1 pound asparagus, trimmed

Here's what you do:

Get your quinoa cooking in a pot with chicken broth and a little bit of salt.
Pat your chicken tenderloins dry with a clean paper towel.
On a piece of wax paper, mix the breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, and seasoning.
Toss your chicken into the beaten egg and then evenly coat each piece in the breadcrumb mixture. Press down lightly to ensure a good amount of the coating sticks to the chicken.

Fill a heavy-bottomed frying pan with enough vegetable oil that it will cover about 1/2 of each chicken tender. Warm it up over medium heat.
When the oil starts to move a little on the surface and is slightly smoking, add 2 to 3 chicken tenders. You know the oil is hot enough if there are tiny bubbles around the edges of the chicken.

Cook each tender for 5 minutes on each side until beautifully golden brown.

Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate to strain the excess oil. This is so critical because if you do not strain the oil out, you will be left with a soggy chicken.

While the chicken cooks and strains, arrange your asparagus in a single layer on a baking sheet. Toss in extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper and salt. Bake in a 375 degree oven until tender.

Just before the quinoa has absorbed all the broth, add the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Cover and remove from heat, allowing the quinoa to become aromatic with lemony goodness. Fluff with a fork before serving.
Now -- to the balsamic reduction!
In a small saucepan, add the balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, and soy sauce. Stir well to combine. Heat over medium heat until just boiling. Continue to stir and reduce the heat to low. Let the balsamic simmer for 10 to 15 minutes (or longer), stirring occasionally to avoid sticking. The reduction will become thick and syrupy. It will also release some of that strong vinegar smell and become a bit sweeter.

Prepare your plate in the following layers:

Bed of roasted asparagus.
Blanket with a generous helping of lemon scented quinoa.
Lay two crispy chicken tenders on top.
Drizzle everything with the balsamic reduction.
Cut, dip, eat, enjoy.

Is your mouth watering yet?

Friday, July 20, 2012

Parmesan Crusted Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad

Sometimes, when it is sweltering hot out and the sun beats down on your house all day, your kitchen is the LAST place you want to spend time in.

Here in Boston, it has been REALLY hot.

It's hard slaving over the stove and the oven when the temperature of one's kitchen is already so high that it makes the Heat Miser uncomfortable.

But what does this mean? Just because temperatures are in the triple digits, we must resort to take-out and the occasional scoop of ice cream for dinner? (Don't scoff. I KNOW you have had ice cream for dinner in the past. Sometimes, we are that desperate.)

I say nay. I say, that when the temperatures are climbing and we want to minimize are time in the kitchen, we need to get creative with all the wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables summertime brings to the grocery stores. That's right: I'm talking about entree-sized salads.

Now, I'm realistic. I know that not everyone can feel satiated after having a salad, especially as an entire meal. This is where that creativity and a little bit of compromise comes into play. We should not ruin a perfectly good blend of chopped vegetables, nuts, and cheeses by dousing a salad with croutons and creamy ranch dressing.

Enter stage right: Parmesan Crusted Broccoli and Cauliflower.

I was inspired by Food Network's darling and amazing cook, Giada DeLaurentiis. She took an egg, dipped in florets of broccoli and cauliflower, tossed them in a good parmesan cheese, fried them, and arranged them atop a bed of spinach. I think my mouth was watering during the show.

With a few additions and revisions, last night's meal was light and refreshing yet filling and satisfying. It had amazing flavor and the great crunch of the broccoli and cauliflower balanced beautifully against a lemon vinagarette. Time over the stove is a mere 10 minutes, maximum. This is the ultimate home-cooked heat wave-beating meal.

Here's what you need:

1 head of romaine lettuce
2 cups triple washed fresh spinach
1 cucumber, chopped
2 sliced chicken breasts, chilled
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 cup broccoli florets
1 cup cauliflower florets
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons italian-seasoned bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten with a tablespoon of milk
1 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
vegetable oil

Here's what you do:

Fill a large, flat-bottom frying pan with enough vegetable oil that it hits about half-way up the pan. Heat the oil over medium heat.
Trim the broccoli and cauliflower florets into bite-sized pieces. Toss in the egg mixture.

Combine the parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs with salt and pepper. Toss in the florets until evenly coated.

When the oil starts to move slightly and releases a small amount of steam, carefully add in some of your florets. Do not overcrowd your pan or the frying will be uneven. 

Using a search and rescue spoon, gently turn each floret so that they brown on all sides; when a piece is golden brown, transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.


Continue until all florets are crispy. Cool for 5 to 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop your lettuce and spinach. Place in a large mixing bowl with the cucumber and sliced chicken. Zest your lemon over the salad and toss.
In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, apple cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and lemon juice to create a light vinaigrette.
Pour over the salad and mix until all the veggies are evenly dressed.
Place one serving on a dinner plate and top with 7 to 8 pieces of the cauliflower and broccoli. Enjoy immediately!

Now, I have to say, the parmesan broccoli and cauliflower florets are addicting in and of themselves. It's amazing I had enough left after cooking to add to our salads.

The great thing about this recipe is that the chicken adds a good protein boost, the lemon vinaigrette is refreshing on the palette, and the crispy broccoli and cauliflower keep you full all night long. It is a tried and true summer meal.

What's the most creative thing you have added to your salad? Do you make your own dressing or get help from the bottle?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Pulled Pork Tacos

The obsession I have with my Crock Pot is no secret (see slow cooker pot roast for details).

Now, I'll be honest. I don't limit my Crock Pot gushing sessions to just the internet. Oh no. In fact, anyone who will listen, I will tell them all about the great things this kitchen device can do. A couple of lucky coworkers get to hear all about my adventures with the Crock Pot. I have even, at times, left these same coworkers at happy hour to tend to a meal that had been simmering away for eight hours. WHAT ELSE WAS I SUPPOSED TO DO?!

While some hard feelings remain, I feel that there is a happy ending to this story. A few weeks ago, my friend Lidia brought me some GREAT news -- she had inherited a slow cooker from a friend. I must say, I have never been more proud. That is, until a few days later when she came to work flaunting images of pulled pork tacos she made with said slow cooker.

At this point, I knew she had a secret she wasn't telling me. I narrowed it down to one of three things:

1. She is the heir to the fortune that is Super Chef Bobby Flay's culinary empire.

2. She is Martha Stewart, trapped inside an actuary's body.

Or, most realistically,

3. She is, without a doubt, an evil genius.

First of all, let's talk tacos. Everybody LOVES tacos. They are easy, they are fun, they can feed a large crowd for a small price, they are versatile, they are delicious. What more can you ask for?

Mouth-watering goodness

Oh, of course. You could ask for pulled pork. This American barbecue delicacy is often enjoyed plopped atop a mound of homemade coleslaw or a sesame seed bun. In these forms, it is amazing. But who is to say it can't be transformed into something different?! That's my point! It CAN be made in different ways. And it IS delicious, no matter what. Try it for yourself with my Pulled Pork Tacos.

Here's what you need:

The Flavor Makers
2 to 2.5 pounds of pork (some kind of roast or butt would be best)
1/2 bottle barbecue sauce (I used Jack Daniels Honey Smokehouse, because it's amazing)
1/4 cup of water (or more, if you have more meat. You want a majority of the pork submerged in the liquid)
1 vidalia onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 packet Sazon Goya (a Spanish seasoning)
chili powder, black pepper, and salt to taste
1 head of romaine lettuce
1 cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese
6-inch soft tortillas
Fresh cilantro to taste

Here's what you do:

First, remove as much of the meat as possible from the bone. I find this easier to do ahead of time because searching through your final meal for bones is just a hassle. The chunks can be as large or small as you like.
Add the pork, barbecue sauce, water, onion, garlic, Sazon seasoning, chili powder, salt and pepper to your trusty Crock Pot or slow cooker. Stir to combine.
Cook the pork on low for 8 hours or high for 4 hours.
When the pork is finished cooking, use two forks to gently pull apart the pieces of pork. This should be a relatively easy process as the meat will be very tender at this point.

Heat up your tortillas for 30 seconds on each side in a dry frying pan.

Finally, build your tacos!

Here's a tip: Because the pulled pork is swimming in the cooking liquid, line your tortillas with lettuce to avoid them getting soggy. Also, allow the pork a second or two to drip dry before you pile it high on your tortilla shell. I did lettuce and cilantro on the bottom, pulled pork on top of that, and the cheese on top of that. Enjoy alongside brown rice and corn or beans.

You could also enjoy these with sour cream, tomatoes, onions, a cole slaw, or any taco topping of your choosing! Have you gotten fancy with your taco dinners recently? it just me, or is my tortilla REALLY happy to see me? SMILE!