Friday, April 29, 2011

Sweet Potato Hummus Chicken Salad

Do you like chicken but hate mayo? Do you also happen to like sweet potatoes and hummus? This recipe is for you.

I love chicken salad (and tuna salad!), but the mayo flavor can really turn me off. Last year I started making tuna/chicken salad with hummus in place of the mayo. Understandably, it makes for a thicker salad than the mayo version, but it's so yummy. Plus the hummus is wayyy better for you than mayo.

The other night, I had some chicken breast tenderloins I needed to cook as well as a leftover baked sweet potato... thus the Sweet Potato Hummus Chicken Salad was born. First, I brined the chicken in a salt water bath for about 20 minutes to keep it moist and then pan fried it.

Meanwhile, I chopped up half of a red bell pepper and two stalks of celery. I finished them in the food processor to make them extra fine.

Once the tenderloins had cooled, I cut/shredded them into this pile o' chicken. Now, as for the hummus and sweet potato steps, it turns out I forgot to document either. But basically, I mixed a half cup of plain hummus with half of a peeled, baked sweet potato, mashing the potato with a fork as I mixed. I mixed in the shredded chicken, pepper, and celery, along with some spices and lemon juice, and it was ready to go.

Delicious on potato bread with some fresh spinach. And even better grilled on the panini press!

Sweet Potato Hummus Chicken Salad

Makes 4 servings

1 - 1.5 cups diced chicken breast, cooked
1/2 red bell pepper
2 stalks celery (or veggies of your choice!)
1/2 cup hummus
1/2 cup mashed sweet potato (baking it in the microwave for about 5 minutes is my cooking method of choice)
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Dill, paprika, salt, and pepper to taste

Mix everything together! Yes, it's that easy.

I started by mashing the sweet potato and hummus together, then adding the lemon juice, mustard, and seasonings. Then I dumped in the chicken and veggies and added a few more spices until it was just right.

This is a perfect recipe to make over the weekend and then take for lunch during the week. And it's probably the highest fiber & nutrient and lowest fat chicken salad on earth (and highest yumminess).
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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lollipop Cookies

Cookie pops!

Not really much to say here, as I used my standard shortbread recipe from Ina Garten (doubling the salt and cutting the baking time in half) and didn't take any photos as I went along. Ina's recipe made 19 of these large (4 inch) cookies.

I baked the cookies with the sticks underneath them, which fuses them.

To decorate them as lollipops, I made royal icing and first iced each cookie with a solid bright color (pink or yellow). While the icing was wet, I covered them in matching sanding sugar to make them look glittery.

After the icing was completely dry, I iced a spiral onto each cookie with the same color as their base coat. While this icing was wet, I dumped rainbow nonpareils on to completely cover the spiral and then shook off the excess. (Hint: it takes a ton of excess sprinkles, so I collected them on wax paper and reused them.)

And to finish off, I wrapped each cookie in a plastic baggie and tied it up with a ribbon! I brought these in to an office meeting for a fun afternoon snack, but they'd make great party favors as well.
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My Easter Basket

I don't generally do that much for Easter, but thankfully my parents still send me a basket every year from the Easter Bunny. Actually, our family grew up with the Easter Iguanodon, so his name is on the return address label. Don't ask.

Here's this year's haul:

Glitter glue! For the child and crafter in all of us. Those are two of my most prominent personality traits, so this is perfect for me. They'll definitely come in handy for homemade greeting cards.

And who doesn't need heart-shaped post-it notes? No one. I really love novelty post-its... I'm not sure anyone actually knows this about me, including my parents, but they hit the nail on the head with this one.

And the token Easter stuffed animal... The pteranodon! I shall call him Pterry.

And finally, to the normal part of an Easter basket... chocolate. Dark chocolate Lindt truffles to be exact. It may take me a while to get through these, seeing as I made 80 dark chocolate truffles a few days ago (see yesterday's post). Wine not included.

Thank you Mom & Dad! Did anyone else get anything as good as a stuffed pteranodon?
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Monday, April 25, 2011

Bittersweet Truffles

My favorite food: dark chocolate. In bite size form. Covered with my favorite food decoration: sprinkles.

I made truffles over Christmas but was frustrated after dipping them in a melted chocolate coating and then trying to roll them in sprinkles/nuts/etc. Contrary to what many recipes might tell you, this doesn't work. You just get a gooey chocolately mess of sprinkles.

So this time I skipped the melted chocolate coating and went straight to sprinkles with very colorful results!

Making the ganache couldn't be easier. I heated 1/2 cup of heavy cream and 9 Tbs of butter (yes, nine! But it makes a ton of truffles) in a saucepan until it just started to boil. Then I poured the hot cream mixture over a bowl of bittersweet (60% cacao) chocolate chips and stirred until melted.

To half of it I added a couple teaspoons of espresso powder and to the other half a couple teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice (nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, allspice) to taste.

Cover the ganache(s) and place them in the fridge or freezer to set. I left mine for an hour in the fridge and then another hour in the freezer to speed up the process. You want it to be pretty firm for scooping, so feel free to refrigerate it overnight.

Using a melon baller or ice cream scoop, dig out tablepoons of the ganache and place on wax paper. Don't worry too much about the shape - that comes next.

Now roll each chocolate glob into a ball. The main challenge here is finding just the right temperature so that this actually works. Too warm and they will just melt all over your hands; too cold and you won't be able to really change the shape into a smooth sphere. I found that by doing a rough roll for all of them first and then coming back to roll them again, they got to the right temperature.

Now for toppings. I knew I wanted to use cocoa powder and crushed peanuts, along with a few kinds of sprinkles. Turns out, I have more than a few sprinkle varieties.

After I took this picture I discovered two other bottles of sprinkles in the pantry. I may have a problem.

I eventually settled on 3 or 4 colors, including a mini Easter mix, which is pastel bunnies, chicks, and eggs. I ground about 1/2 cup of lightly salted peanuts in my food processor until pretty fine so that it would adhere well to the chocolate.

I love any excuse to use my little heart bowls. Turns out they were the perfect vehicle for holding sprinkles and rolling truffles around in them!

The best technique here is to roll the truffle briefly in your palms to make sure it's a little sticky, then place in a small bowl of sprinkles, cocoa, etc. Then shake the bowl gently back and forth to cover the truffle, turning it over with your fingers if necessary.

Okay, so I might have used more than 4 kinds of sprinkles. I just couldn't decide. Above are the espresso truffles and below are the spiced ones.

I brought these Saturday night to a friend's wine tasting birthday party and they were the perfect treat paired with a glass of Malbec. And since they're so dark and rich, having only one or two is pretty satisfying (I added up the caloric value, and each of these truffles only came to about 40 calories! That's based on using this recipe to make 80 truffles.)

Easy, impressive, tasty, and a great way to use 15 kind of sprinkles.

Oh, and p.s. keep these in the fridge so they don't turn into goo balls.
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Black Bean Burger

I'm not a vegetarian, but I love veggie burgers. Especially black bean ones. However, I realized yesterday that while I have made many a meat burger, I've never even attempted the veggie version. Problem solved.

And of course, I had to make a side of sweet potato fries/chips/whatever to go with the burger. I finally remembered to use the mandoline, and it cut amazingly equal size chips.

I spritzed the sweet potato chips with a little canola oil, sprinkled salt, pepper, and cumin on them, and baked them in a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, I made the burger batter (that's kind of what it's like), vaguely following this recipe from fANNEtastic food. I improvised on amounts and spices, but I think I ended up using 1 can (15 oz) beans, 1 cup spinach, 1/4 cup wheat flour, 2 tsp olive oil, a clove of garlic, and dashes here and there of salt, pepper, cumin, and paprika to taste.

All of that went into the food processor and became burger paste. Mmmmmmmmm. (p.s. This makes two patties. I had one for dinner and packed one for lunch.)

I also sauteed a handful of sliced baby portobello mushrooms to use as a yummy burger topper.

The burger batter was pretty sloppy, so I worked in a little more flour as needed. Once I got a vaguely circle-shaped portion of it on the hot pan, it took shape pretty well and got nice and crispy on the surface.

I cooked the patty for about 3 minutes on each side, then served it on a toasted potato roll with avocado and the sauteed mushrooms. Together with the crispy sweet potato chips, the black bean burger was a yummy and incredibly nutritious success! Black beans, fresh spinach and sweet potato all in one meal. Not too shabby.
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Friday, April 15, 2011

Berry Chocolate Cobbler Bars

Since we were grilling this weekend and the weather finally felt like Spring, I wanted to make a nice summery dessert. Cobbler came to mind immediately, which morphed to cobbler bars (more portable). I found a recipe for blueberry crumb bars, but blueberries aren't really my thing. Plus, it seemed like it was missing something. What else? Chocolate.

So the mixed berry dark chocolate cobbler bar was born. Cobbler crumb crust, blackberries, raspberries, and strawberries, with a layer of 72% dark chocolate to take them from simple dessert to crack.

I cannot stop eating these things. After eating a cheeseburger and a bratwurst on Saturday night, I'm pretty sure I had 5 of these bars. No joke.

I didn't even have a chance to take a photo until the pan was 3/4 gone. I may have a problem. Those berries just taste so damn good with that chocolate.

Speaking of which, I love how in the UK and Ireland (and maybe the rest of Europe - does anyone know?), they call mixed berry-flavored things "Fruits of the Forest." It just sounds so magical.

Berry Chocolate Cobbler Bars

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup butter (room temperature)
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon "pumpkin pie spice" (or any combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and/or allspice)
3 cups berries of your choice (I used frozen "berry medley" from Trader Joe's)
1/2 cup white sugar (for fruit filling)
3 teaspoons cornstarch
3-4 ounces dark chocolate

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 inch pan.

In a large bowl, stir together 1/2 cup white sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 3 cups flour, and baking powder. Mix in salt and spices. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg. Dough will be crumbly. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan.

In another bowl, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Gently mix in berries. Sprinkle the blueberry mixture evenly over the crust.

Finely chop (or food process) dark chocolate. Sprinkle chocolate over berry layer, and top with the remaining dough.

Bake in preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely before cutting into squares. (Speed this part up in the fridge if in a rush.)

Turns out I've had other run-ins with fruits of the forest and chocolate. See this post on mini mixed-berry and Nutella tarts.
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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

DIY Greeting Cards

I've ordered handmade holiday cards on the past few years and I like them so much more than the store-bought variety. A) they just seem nicer since more work went into them and B) you can find cards that truly fit your tastes, as Etsy has so many to choose from.

But why stop there? I used to scrapbook, but it's so time consuming that I had very few completed projects. But I figured I could successfully complete a tiny little card. And I was right!

So I set off for Paper-Source for supplies. Even there, the highest-priced store I allow myself to frequent, I think the materials ran about $1 per card for everything involved. The basics were blank cards, envelopes, and pretty paper to glue on the front.

I chose a gorgeous Japanese print and a cute little "thank you" stamp for the first card. First I cut out and glued a 4"x6" piece of the printed paper to the front of the blank card. I then used the stamp and turquoise ink pad to make the "thank you" tag on white card stock.

Using some coordinating turquoise ribbon, I glued down the thank you tag to the card. Bam. Finished card. I'll probably invest in some cream colored card stock for the next time I use this paper, though, since the white clashed a little bit.

Now onto card #2: Maneki Neko birthday card. I didn't know that the lucky waving Japanese cat was called that, but I just learned all about it on Wikipedia. Did you know, for instance, that a raised left paw supposedly attracts money and a raised right paw protects it? Now you do. (I guess this card protects your birthday cash.)

I didn't splurge on a "happy birthday" stamp, so I chose a fun font and printed it on white card stock. I wasn't sure how the colors would look once printed, so I tried a few options. (And then went with blue.)

Then I remembered some super glittery pink paper I have that coordinated really well. Can't resist glitter.

Annnnd a little something-something on the inside.

Honestly, this was super easy. Like most crafts, the initial investment seemed a little steep, but I'll be able to make 30 cards or so with the supplies I bought. Assuming I stay motivated.
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Monday, April 11, 2011

Buffalo Chicken Bake

I'm trying a new feature here, guys: Leftovers Lunes. Aka Leftovers Mondays, but my roommate told me it should be alliterative. In either language, I often find myself with random leftovers from weekend culinary escapades, and Mondays are a good opportunity to get creative and use them up.

As evidenced here, I like buffalo chicken. A lot. And evidenced on the rest of this blog, I like pasta with anything. So when my friend Michael left a huge order of leftover buffalo chicken fingers in my apartment, I didn't delay in making a buffalo chicken pasta bake.

I also had leftover bell peppers and red onions from these veggie kabobs, so I threw them in the food processor to dice them.

And the star of the show, buffalo chicken fingers. These babies were really spicy on their own, but added just the right amount of kick to an entire casserole.

All chopped up. I put my pasta in to cook (I chose Ziti) and started the sauce.

I made a basic alfredo to begin, starting with a roux (flour and butter), then adding milk, salt and pepper and stirring until it thickened. Then I added about 1/3 cup of bleu cheese dressing and about 1/4 cup of cheddar/mozzarella mix. I seasoned to taste with garlic powder, paprika, and chili powder. After all of this, it got too thick, so I whisked in 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid to thin it a bit.

Finished sauce. I strained the pasta and mixed it with everything else (sauce, chicken, veggies) in a 9x13 baking dish.

And to top it off, no casserole is complete without buttered bread crumbs. And no buffalo chicken dish is complete without blue cheese crumbles and Frank's red hot. So I went ahead and added both of those, too.

It went into a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes and finished off in the broiler for 1-2 minutes, or until the bread crumbs browned.

Man this was delicious. Not exactly the healthiest meal in the world, but at least it had a few different food groups.

Any other leftover-creation ideas for chicken fingers?
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