Thursday, June 28, 2012

Basil Chicken Salad

While the mantra of this blog is “Simple. Healthy. Sassy.”  lately I’ve been feeling my life is more “Unnecessarily Complex. Lazy. Thass-y.” Nope, that’s not a spelling error. I said thass-y. An old friend coined the term to describe when your ass and your thighs just become one. I start to get that feeling when I haven’t run in a while and I singlehandedly consume a pitcher of beer at softball. 

So what am I going to do about this ‘sitch? Here’s the plan of action:

Unnecessarily Complex – Coming to you from Day One of a much-needed vacation. No working, no Blackberry, cooking and eating with people I love and lots of time in the fresh air (well, okay, slightly smoky Colorado air). This may entail a less-than-regular blogging schedule as well.

Lazy – Lucky for me, vacation also includes a beyond-energetic, 4 year-old nephew to keep me going and undoubtedly hoards of 6-packed outdoorsy types to spur my motivation.

Thass-y – Prepare my basil chicken salad and fool myself into thinking I’m eating summer junk food, when it’s really quite good for me.

Nonfat Greek yogurt with a spike of lemon and basil make this flavorful enough to even forget about that mayonnaise-y stuff you used to love. Also a great way to use leftovers from Chicken Under a Brick

Home-y dishes, like this one, remind me that even something with just a few ingredients and 5 minutes of prep time can be wonderful. Simple can be so good and leaves me wishing for something simpler beyond the plate. And until I invent the Thass-Master (can’t take credit for that term either), I’ll go with the chicken salad and a run.

Basil Chicken Salad
3 cups cooked chicken, shredded (grilled or roasted chicken preferred)
1 cup plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
1 cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped red onion
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
Juice of one lemon

Combine ingredients and serve on whole grain toast or with whole grain pita chips.  Note: I really like basil, so I tend to use quite a bit. Start with just a bit and flavor to YOUR taste. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Salade Nicoise

First of all, thanks to all of my family and friends for giving my little 'ole blog a read and for sharing such kind words. I had a lot of people ask me if I'm attempting some sort of "Julie/Julia-esque" about face. The short answer is... I really have no idea, but I did think that was a charming book and movie (how you NOT going to like Meryl?)

In dedication to such comments (and compliments), I though I would make something tres francais. I've been to Nice actually, but don't recall if I had a Salade Nicoise there. Let's just say I did and let's pretend that 17-year-old-disgruntled-teenage-Carey remembered every detail of said originating Nicoise. 

Here's what I know today...Salade Nicoise is crisp and refreshing; and unlike so many salads, it's actually filling. The tuna and hardboiled eggs pack the protein needed to keep you full. 

My take on a Nicoise is not quite traditional. I've seasoned my tuna in a bit of smoked Spanish paprika and subbed-out Boston Bib for pepper-y arugula. Thought I'd take a pass on the potatoes this time too. This salad typically includes anchovies, but I forgot to buy them (smart, right?). Those stinky fishes would make this even yummier...fear not!

Not much cooking to be done with this recipe. Tuna grills on medium direct heat for just 3 minutes on each side. Briefly blanche the green beans in simmering water and plunge into an ice bath. This will maintain the crunch and glorious green color. And don't forget to hardboil your eggs.

While the salad may not be traditionally French, there's no mistaking that this vinaigrette is just like the goodie you'll find in cafes all over that lovely place. Mustard and red wine vinegar provide tangy bite.

If you're feeling really fancy (or trying to impress people on your new blog), pre-toss some of your ingredients in dressing. This actually makes everything a bit easier to eat, ensuring every bite is evenly dressed in deliciousness.

Finish with your vinaigrette and dig in to this filling delight.

Salade Nicoise
2 tuna steaks, about 1in thick
4 cups arugula
1lb green beans, cooked and cooled in ice bath
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 hardboiled eggs
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
A few kalamata olives

For Tuna Marinade
1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

For Vinaigrette
1/2 tablespoon finely minced red onion (or shallot, if you have it)
1/2 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

Combine marinade ingredients and pour over raw tuna. Allow tuna to marinade for 15-30 minutes. Grill tuna over medium direct heat for about 3 minutes per side, or until firm. 

Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients. Reserve 1 tablespoon and toss with green beans and tomatoes (separately). 

Arrange salad components on a bed of arugula and dress to taste. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Chicken Under a Brick

So the time has come to actually tell people that I have a blog and what do I make? Big dilemma in the Morgan household. "Something beautiful, but not pretentious. It has to be healthy, but not too "granola"...don't want to scare all of these lovely midwesterners with my greens and whole grain lovin'. Will they actually believe me that I can cook? Will anyone read and/or care?"   

Then I realize, I need to spend less time thinking about what other people will think and just make something TASTY. So where to I end up? Friggin' chicken. My best effort to impress people apparently involves the most basic of meats and fancy tools like bricks from my patio and aluminum foil. 

Bring it culinary blog world!

Face the whole chicken with bold bravery. Breasts up and find a backbone (heard that one before, right?). Sharp knife from front to back and remove the backbone. From there, put some muscle into it and split the chicken. Raise your hands and knife in primal victory!

Time to make some flavor paste. Rosemary from my back stair garden, Herbes de Provence, grainy mustard and garlic. Mix together with lemon juice and olive oil. Don't get too crazy though, should be a paste, not a liquid-y marinade.

Make peace with the chicken you've severed by giving it a nice rub. You're friendly like that.

Let the paste and chicken hang out in the fridge for a few hours. Add a bit more olive oil and prepare for chicken to meet brick.

Here's where you get really crafty... find two bricks and wrap in foil. Or in my case, steal two bricks from the crumbling fire pit thing in your shared back patio.

Preheat your grill until screamin' hot. Seriously, you want a good sear on these babies. Put the chickens breast side down and then place a heavy skillet on top and with your brick in the pan. Snazzy right?

It may look a bit ghetto, but this serves a real and important purpose. Your pan and brick when get hot on the grill, thus cooking your chicken from both sides. This cuts your cooking time and keeps the chicken juicy. And it makes your neighbors think you're weird.

After 40ish minutes on indirect high heat, you'll have this glorious bird. Crispy edges, moist insides.

Let the chicks rest and pull off the bone. Enjoy solo or on top of salad. We had with Blue Cheese Arugula Potato Salad.

So this is what I've got...friggin' chicken. I could say something really thoughtful like, this is my personality on the plate or simplicity is the essence of all things good. But in all honesty, this tastes really great. That's all I've got... friggin' great chicken.

Chicken Under a Brick
Whole chicken (about 4lbs), split
2 tablespoons rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon Herbes de Provence
2 tablespoons good mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Combine paste ingredients and rub down both sides of chicken. Allow to marinate for several hours (or overnight). Remove chicken from fridge about 20 minutes before beginning grilling. Place chicken breast-side down on VERY hot grill. Place heavy skillet on top of chicken and put foil-wrapped brick in pan.

Cook chicken over indirect high heat for about 40 minutes, or until juice run clear. Do not turn chicken during cooking. Allow chicken to rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

Blue Cheese Arugula Potato Salad

This is not your mother's potato salad. Tangy blue cheese and spicy arugula punctuate this extra-special BBQ favorite. And certainly no mayonnaise can be found. 

The husband and I are particular fans of stinky cheese, but take a pass on this one if you don't love the strong flavor. More for us!

The players prepare. Any small potato will work here, I just love the colorful arrangement of the purple, red and white 'taters. Something about a purple potato is so very Dr. Seuss-ian, right? 

Nature's deepest hues and variety. 

A full spectrum of deepest blue from the cheese, all the way up to the fuchsia of a red onion. Cheese and onions await the arrival of warm potatoes. Dressing will ensue.

Soft, smokey potatoes with the fresh crispness of the arugula and red onion -- all with a creamy coating of blue cheese.

Blue Cheese Arugula Potato Salad
1 lb small potatoes
1/2 cup blue cheese
2 cups arugula
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Slice potatoes to even sizes and stick in a pot. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Cook the potatoes until just fork tender (no need to get mushy here). In a large bowl, crumble about a half cup of blue cheese. Thinly slice half of a red onion and add 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar.

Coat potatoes lightly in olive oil and grill for a few minutes over medium heat. It's not a necessary step, but it adds color and another layer of flavor. Add the warm potatoes to the blue cheese and onion mixture. Mix in two cups of fresh arugula and serve immediately.

If making ahead, don't toss with arugula until just before serving.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

BBQ Spiced Pork Tenderloin

I'm a sucker for grilled pork tenderloin. Lean and chewy, it will take on whatever delicious flavor you give it. This versatile kitchen wonder also makes some of the best leftovers you'll find. One half hour of grilling will yield you sandwich and salad fixings (and okay, nibblings from the fridge) for a week. This one's great for a crowd, especially if you're on a budget.

For this preparation, a marinade imparts sweet and tart undertones, while a BBQ spice rub starts each bite with a spicy, smokey punch.

With leaner cuts, like tenderloin, the meat itself won't be as flavorful -- not as much fat to entice your taste buds -- but marinating can make a world of difference. 

These friends provide sweet, tart, tangy flavors. The oil and the sugar from the honey will ensure lovely caramelization and crunch too. 

Combine marinade ingredients and pour over your pork in sturdy plastic bag.

Let these guys hang out in the fridge for awhile. At least four hours. Overnight is better. Turn over and moosh around if you get the chance.

After a good long soak in the marinade, the pork will be ready for a solid seasoning. Here I've used a spice mix we picked up on our last trip to Kansas City (home of the world's BEST BBQ and some of our dearest friends). Based on my best guess, it's a combination of chili powder, black peper, cumin, garlic and smoked paprika.

After a rub-down with spice, let your tenderloins come up to room temperature for 20ish minutes. You never want to put fridge-cold meat on the grill.

Start your meat on direct heat to build color and those lovely grill marks. Once you've achieved a bit of char, move over to medium indirect heat. This whole process will take about 30 minutes, or until your tenderloin is barely pink in the middle (internal temp should be 155).

LET THE MEAT REST! It's had a hard day. Don't lose all of the tasty juice on your cutting board. And take moment to look at how friggin' gorgeous rubs will make your meat. Also, think about all the inappropriate "meat" and "rub" jokes you can make with the husband.

This time we served with grilled corn and sauteed green beans. For more veggies and extra flavor, I topped with my homemade pico de gallo.

BBQ Spiced Pork Tenderloin
2 pork tenderloins, about 1lb each
3-4 tablespoons of your favorite BBQ spice (look out for ones that have sugar or salt in the first few ingredients...they're up to no good)

For the marinade
1/3 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon minced garlic

Whisk together marinade ingredients and pour over tenderloins in a study plastic bag. Allow meat to marinate for at least four hours. Remove tenderloins from bag and get ride of marinade. Rub down meat with spice mix. Allow meat to come up to room temperature -- about 20 minutes. Grill over direct medium heat until char is achieved, then move to indirect heat. Grill meat for about 30 minutes, or until the center is barely pink and 155 degrees. Allow meat to stand for at least five minutes, before thinly slicing.

Serve with alone or with pico de gallo. Also excellent topping for salads.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Simple Secrets: Pico de Gallo

There are some easy kitchen tricks that can truly punch up even the simplest of dishes. These little secrets also make you look really fancy when people come over. Shhh... I certainly won't tell it only took 5 minutes.

Pico de gallo is the perfect example. Fresh, minimalist ingredients and oh so versatile. Does it go on grilled meats? What about in an omelette? Can I put it on salad? How about mindlessly consuming with the best tortilla chips that ever existed? You're in luck sister...Pico does it all! A wonder condiment indeed!! But wait... all of this comes for just a few calories. 

A note on store-bought salsa... it's really not that good. Once you've tasted the fresh stuff, there's no turning back. Promise. 

Five simple ingredients make this shine. Tomatoes, jalapeno, red onion, lime juice and cilantro. Add a bit of S&P to bring it all together. 

Thanks to the husband for his manhandling of the limes.

If you're making for a big group or party... roughly chop everything and then pulse shortly in your food processor. Will certainly be a different texture, but delicious nonetheless.

Pico de Gallo
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 a red onion, finely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
Juice of one lime

Combine all of your chopped ingredients. If you prepare the day ahead, you'll get an extra sauce-y salsa.

Chickpea Quinoa Salad

I know it's hot and all, but I can only eat lettuce so many days in a row. I was craving something with some heartiness and bite. I needed carbs for heaven's sake! 

I stumbled upon Giada de Laurentis' Orzo Salad recipe years ago and have been tweaking and modifying it ever since. This is a great example of how you can really pump up the nutrition in a recipe with some simple adjustments. I started with whole grain quinoa, instead of white flour pasta. And you guessed, doubled the tomatoes. In the end, I also only went with about half the suggested dressing. 

Doesn't this look like the freshest bunch of summer friends? The mint was purchased, but the basil was some how kept alive on my back porch. Yay for not killing plants!

I usually whip up a big batch of quinoa every few weeks and keep it in the freezer in small batches. Thaw overnight or just pop in your microwave. This works with most whole grains. 

The vinaigrette is simple and straightforward, with a touch of sweetness from honey. 

Get the party started by combining all of your ingredients. Bonus points if you can let this marinate for a hour or so.

We enjoyed solo this time, but this is excellent with grilled chicken or turkey sausage. Lovely dish to bring to a BBQ too!

Chickpea Quinoa Salad
For Salad
2 cups cooked quinoa
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
3 cups grape tomatoes, halved
1 finely chopped red onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

For Vinaigrette
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Juice of one lemon
2 teaspoons honey

Combine salad ingredients in large bowl. Whisk vinaigrette ingredients together. Toss salad with vinaigrette. Allow salad to marinate for a hour or more. If you're making a day ahead, reserve the fresh basil and mint until just before serving.

Friday, June 15, 2012


The bounty of summer called me with cool, crisp voice. Plus it was 95 degrees in my third-floor walk-up. All this meal requires is the freshest of ingredients, a food processor and a day in the fridge. 

The tomatoes improve each week at the market. Glossy and fragrant, with taut skin. I can't get enough of them. 

Peel your cucumber, halve lengthwise and remove the seeds with a spoon. Tomato seeds are inoffensive enough in the gazpacho, but the cucumbers have a nasty way of making it in between your teeth.

Such a simple prep. You simply give your veg a rough chop. Remove the crust from a stale hunk of bread and chop up too.

When it comes to processing, I like to do a first round without the tomatoes. This will ensure that your "dry" ingredients are sliced and diced before adding the liquid-y surge of tomato.

Then all will be smoothed and relaxed, with beautiful specks of purple and green. Pointillist soup. Perhaps Seurat was my subversive Sous?

This soup could be enjoyed right away, but like so many things in life, all good things come to those who wait. Let your flavors marry overnight in the fridge. Wedded bliss indeed, especially with fresh basil atop.

4 tomatoes
1 red pepper
1 jalapeno
1/2 a large red onion
1 cucumber
2-3 slices day-old bread
Juice of one lime
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Roughly chop vegetables and bread. Place pepper, jalapeno, onion, bread, cucumber and lime juice in food processor and pulse to chop. Add tomatoes (and juices) and blend until smooth. Refrigerate overnight. Serve cold with a garnish of basil and drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


See the ingredients below. We can all guess where this is headed. 

If I had to choose a last meal, perfect caprese would be my final ecstasy. Perfectly ripe beefsteak tomatoes and the best, tangy mozzarella there is to offer. We're not quite to perfect tomato season yet, but I can't wait any longer. Let's enjoy a first for the season. 

Now things are just getting gratuitous. The toothsome cheese longingly absorbs the balsamic in preparation for it's union with ripe, juicy tomato. Basil pleasantly catches them in the act. Cover your eyes kids!

Slice the tomatoes and cheese evenly to ensure each bite.

Triple XXX food porn.

If you're looking to make a meal of things, invite delicious salami and crusty bread to the party. Bonus points if you rub down your warm bread with garlic clove.

2-3 ripe tomatoes
1 ball fresh mozzarella, top-quality
Basil, chiffonade
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar

Slice tomato and mozzarella. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to your taste. Sprinkle with S&P and basil.