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Recipe: Simple bean salad

This year, as part of a plan to save more money, I’m pushing myself to bring lunch to work at least 4 days per week. For me, it saves a TON of cash (I work in an area where eating lunch out will cost you anywhere from $10-$20 per day, unfortunately), but the other benefit is that there’s a huge opportunity to eat healthfully more often too.

The only difficulty is coming up with dishes that can last a few days, because the reality is, I can’t cook every night and guarantee leftovers for myself. It can also be tough because dishes that hold especially well — namely, pastas and casseroles — tend to be refined carb heavy, which is something I’m trying to get away from. Soups are great, but I can only deal with so many weeks of soup before I’m ready for something else.

This week, I decided to make a simple bean salad, dressed with lemon and olive oil, which will hold at least until Wednesday. My plan is to bring a side serving of it each day, and then have it accompany a small sandwich or whatever leftovers I end up scrounging together from the previous night’s dinner (this would be great with some roasted chicken, or even atop a green salad). It’s colorful, flavorful, and filled with items that I specifically selected so that they wouldn’t be mushy by day 2 (I’m looking at you, cucumber).

You could easily take this idea and substitute whatever beans and herbs you have on hand. And if you’re eating it straight away, feel free to add in items like cucumber, tomato, even a little bit of feta cheese.

Get the (very easy!) recipe, after the jump. Continue reading

‘Green’ Chicken with Summer Corn Salad

I don’t know what it is, but so far this summer, I really feel like I have not been taking advantage of the amazing produce available this time of year. Seriously, that baked ratatouille I made recently has kind of been the highlight. I’m lucky enough to work somewhere that has a farmers market right outside my office door each week, so I really, REALLY have no excuse not to be enjoying as many fruits and veggies as possible!

Last Friday night, Joe and I decided to stay in and make something summery at home to remedy the situation. I opted to roast some bone-in chicken breasts, smothered in garlic, lemon zest and LOTS of basil. While they were in the oven, I tossed together a simple salad of fresh corn, tomatoes, chopped kale, avocado and even more basil, dressed with a zippy lemon and dijon vinaigrette. Despite the fact that it was 55 and misting outside, it was totally summer on a plate.

Green Chicken (aka Roasted Chicken with Lemon, Basil and Garlic)

Serves 2, easily

This chicken is so named because before you stick it in the oven, the herbs should cover it so fully that it looks, well, green. Once this starts cooking, your kitchen will smell amazing. Fair warning.

  • 2 cups loosely packed basil (about two loose handfuls), cleaned and finely chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 bone-in split chicken breasts, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels. 

Preheat your oven to 425°.

In a small bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the meat and stir to combine. The mixture should be pretty thick with herbs. If it’s not, chop some more basil and throw it in.

In a baking dish, place the chicken skin side up. Gently loosen the chicken skin from the breast, then using a small spoon, stuff/spread some of the herb mixture underneath the skin. Using your fingers, move the herbs around under the skin until it’s coating most of the meat. Repeat with the other chicken breast, then pour and spread the rest of the herb mixture all over the top of the chicken. Go wash your hands. Transfer the baking dish to the oven and roast for 25-30 minutes (this could take a bit longer if the chicken breasts are large). Half way through the cooking process, use a large spoon to baste the chicken with some of the juices accumulating in the pan. Roast the meat until a thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the breast reads 160°. Remove from the oven, baste with the juices again, and let rest for five to ten minutes. Serve.

Summer Corn Salad

Serves 2-3 easily (probably more if you’re doing a light serving of this salad!)

For the dressing:

  • 1 small shallot, skin removed and minced
  • Juice of 2 small lemons
  • 1 tbsp dijon 
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • — kosher salt and freshly pepper to season

For the vegetables:

  • 2 cobs of corn, husked, de-silked and kernels cut from the cob with a knife
  • 1/2 pint sun gold (orange) cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 small heirloom tomatoes, diced
  • small handful of kale, chopped (any variety of kale will work — lacinto or curly)
  • 1 avocado, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 6-7 basil leaves (whatever’s left of the bunch), cut into a chiffonade or chopped

In a small bowl, combine all the dressing ingredients and gently whisk together until emulsified. In a medium bowl, combine all the vegetables, then pour in as much of the dressing as you’d like. Toss everything together and allow to sit while the chicken finishes cooking. Serve together.

One Skillet Mediterranean Chicken

I appreciate virtually all genre of foods, but one of my absolute favorites is Mediterranean. The textures, bright flavors and use of healthful ingredients (greens! citrus! herbs! olive oil!) make it easy to love. Last week, I woke up one morning with a big  craving for Mediterranean, and set out to make something to sate my appetite that evening. The catch? I’m going to Cabo this week. I needed it to be bikini friendly!

Now, lest you read the rest of this recipe and think “bikini friendly?!”, I should note that for me, that meant limited carbs and only healthy fats. I don’t mind being stuffed to the gills if it’s with mostly vegetables! But, my splurges in this recipe included the use of dark chicken meat (which, to be honest, I normally use anyway because I think it has so much more flavor and is easier to cook), as well as a little bit of feta cheese. But otherwise, I think I did pretty well!

Starting with a quick marinade of lemon juice, honey and herbs, I cooked the chicken legs to golden brown deliciousness. While they finished in the oven, I whipped together a side “Greek” salad with tomatoes, cucumber, shallot and feta cheese. I loved that this dinner packed so much flavor and nutrition, but since everything was cooked in one skillet, it was also a cinch to clean up!

Mediterranean Chicken with Honey, Lemon and Oregano, Quick-braised Chard and Greek Salad

Easily serves 2 hungry people; Difficulty Level: Intermediate-Beginner

For the Chicken:

  • 3 Meyer lemons (see note at bottom)
  • 5 sprigs oregano, leaves stripped, minced
  • 1 tbsp honey (more to taste, see note at bottom)
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 for cooking
  • –kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to season
  • Two whole skin on, bone in chicken legs, split between leg and thigh (you can also buy separately if whole legs are not available), cleaned and pat dry with paper towels

For the Salad:

  • 4 extra small vine cluster tomatoes (look for ones a slightly bigger than golf balls — I used the Campari variety), cut into eighths
  • 5″ piece of organic cucumber, washed well, sliced however you prefer (I did quarter rounds. Note: you can peel the cucumber if you like, but I personally like the rind, as long as it’s from an organic cuc)
  • 1 medium shallot, outer paper peeled and roughly chopped 
  • 2 sprigs oregano, leaves stripped and minced
  • 0.2 oz feta
  • Juice of half a lemon (use the leftover lemon half from the marinade, above)
  • extra virgin olive oil to taste (I used about 3 tbsp)
  • –kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to season

For the Chard:

  • 1 whole bunch white Swiss Chard, cleaned, tough white stems removed and leafy greens chopped into large pieces

For the chicken:

Preheat your oven to 375°. Zest two of the lemons and place the zest in a small bowl. Cut all three lemons in half and juice 5 of the halves (2.5 lemons total) into the bowl, taking care to not let any seeds fall in. Reserve the last half of lemon for the Greek salad. Add in the minced oregano, the honey, 3 tbsp of the extra virgin olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Stir until the honey and lemon juice are well emulsified into the oil.

Place the chicken pieces in a shallow baking dish. Pour the marinade over the chicken. If you have time, you can let this sit for 20-30 minutes, otherwise, let it sit for five (I was in a hurry and did the quick marinade, and it turned out great). In a medium oven-safe skillet, heat the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium high heat until very hot, but not smoking. Add in the chicken pieces skin side down with tongs (do not pour in the marinade yet) and allow to brown on the first side, about 2 minutes. Try not to move the meat around, so it will turn brown without tearing. The honey will cause things to brown more quickly, so keep an eye on it.

When the meat has browned on the first side, quickly turn all the pieces over with tongs and pour in the marinade from the baking dish. Quickly stir with the tongs to release any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. If you are using a pan that has a wider diameter and the amount of liquid looks low, add in a few tablespoons of water. You want the total amount of liquid to be about 1/4″ deep, maybe a tiny bit more. Immediately move the entire pan to the oven. Cook for 15-20 minutes, uncovered, or until the chicken is just cooked through, depending on the size of your pieces and your oven. The juices/sauce will have reduced down.

Remove the chicken from the oven, and transfer the pieces onto a heat proof plate. Using oven mitts (careful!), pick up the skillet and pour about 2/3 of the leftover juices over the chicken on the plate. Tent with foil until ready to serve.

For the salad:

While the chicken is cooking (or marinating, you can do this step during either break), combine all the ingredients for the Greek salad, toss, and refrigerate until ready to serve. Having this extra time will allow the ingredients to meld a bit.

For the chard:

Okay, so your cooked chicken should be resting on the plate and now you have the skillet with a bit of the marinade leftover. Using an oven mitt (’cause remember, the pan is hot since you just took it from the oven!), place the skillet with the chicken juices and reduced marinade onto the stove over medium heat. It should begin simmering quickly, since the pan is already so hot from being in the oven. Add the chopped chard into the skillet, turning with the tongs until it is wilted and cooked through, about 5 minutes. You shouldn’t need to season this very much since the juices in the pan already had seasoning.

To plate, mound a bit of the greens up, place one or two of the chicken pieces on top, and garnish with the salad on the side. Pour as much of the reserved chicken juices over the meat as you’d like.

NOTES: If you can’t find Meyer lemons, use regular lemons instead. You might want to taste the marinade and see if you want to add in more honey, as Meyer lemons tend to be sweeter than regular lemons. You can also try this recipe with chicken breasts if you don’t want to use dark meat, just be SURE not to overcook them, because the moist heat in the oven will quickly make the meat tough if you don’t watch it. Finally, if you have any leftovers and store this in the fridge, don’t forget to pour any reserved sauce over the chicken. It’ll continue to marinate overnight and be extra delicious when you heat it up tomorrow (I did this and trust me, it’s good stuff).

Easy weeknight salmon

Confession time: I used to really hate cooking fish. I’d often come home with some beautiful filet, pan fry it with a bit of olive oil and maybe butter, only to dig in and find I’d seriously misjudged the doneness before taking it out of the pan. Nothing worse! It’s kind of embarrassing to admit that my fish cookery skills were so bad, since I’m pretty sure there was an entire course on that during culinary school.

But after a bit of trial and error, I’ve discovered the easiest, no-fuss way to cook really delicious fish is to roast it. Virtually any fish can be easily cooked in the oven, whether it’s a light, flaky red snapper, a heftier, richer salmon, or even a whole fish like branzino. You can throw it in with nothing more than some slices of lemon, some thyme, and a drizzle of olive oil, or go all out and create a sauce to bake it in (like Ina’s mustard roasted fish I made a ways back).

Last week, I picked up a couple salmon filets, and with a few simple ingredients, was able to create a bright, zippy little marinade/coating/sauce in about five minutes. In another 10, dinner was done. I can’t argue with that!

Weeknight Salmon with Lemon and Chive Sauce

  • 1 whole bunch of chives, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice (about the juice of half a lemon)
  • — kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4-6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (depending on how big your filets are — the final ‘sauce’ should be thin enough to easily mix, but thick enough to spread and not run everywhere.)
  • 2 6-8oz filets of wild salmon. Ask your fish monger to give you similar size pieces, that are cut from the center of the fish, so that one end of your filet does not taper too much into a thin little piece that will overcook! I look for pieces that are less skinny and rectangular and more square(ish).

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

Mix all of the ingredients (except for the salmon, natch) in a small bowl until well combined. Spread on the flesh side of your filets (the skin should be face down in the baking pan), and bake until the fish is cooked through but still tender and flaky, around 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness of the filet. The sauce that has oozed over the sides will be bubbly and smell really good. I served our fish with a garnish of parsley and lacinto kale sauteed in olive oil and garlic!

A little note about purchasing salmon. I personally choose to only buy wild salmon. I saw a news segment on farmed salmon a few years back and it kind of grossed me out. From what I’ve read, the quality of the omega-3s you get from wild salmon (and almost all wild cold-water fish) is better than that of farmed fish. And, wild salmon doesn’t always have to cost more. Look for sockeye or coho varieties, which do not refer to any quality difference, but are an entirely different variety of salmon that I think taste great and are usually much less expensive than king salmon!

Recipe: Warm Farro Salad with Mixed Greens

recipe for warm farro salad

Two weekends ago when I was in LA, we closed out the weekend with a lovely brunch at Square One. Located on the eastern edge of Hollywood (and in the shadow of a very spooky looking Scientology building…no, really), the menu is filled with cure-alls to late night rabble rousing: brioche French toast, eggs benedict, omelets made with chorizo and cheese, and strips of bacon so thick they cost $2 per piece.

Having just spent the weekend doing a lot of good eating and drinking though, I decided to do what I knew my body would appreciate in the long run. I ordered a big salad. On the special menu that day was a warm farro salad, made with arugula, grilled corn, sugar snap peas, avocado, feta cheese and a lemony vinaigrette. Mmm.

Sure enough, the salad was satisfying — maybe not so much as a big, cheesy omelet, but I certainly felt great afterwards. Whole grain, greens and a little dose of cheese make anyone feel like they can take on the world.

Joe and I are always looking for new ways to make a regular old salad interesting (and of course, actually leave us full), so I was inspired to re-create my own version of the Square One salad back here in San Francisco. I inadvertently left the corn out, but with the addition of cherry tomatoes, it was the perfect meal this last Saturday night, one of the warmest nights we’ve had all year.

Warm Farro Salad with Mixed Greens

  • scant 1/4 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil (may need more or less depending on preferences)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup semi-pearled farro (look for varieties that cook in around 20 minutes)
  • 2 big handfuls sugar snap peas, washed
  • 1 1/2 cups whole cherry tomatoes, any variety, washed, stemmed and halved
  • 1 large avocado, diced
  • 4 big handfuls of mixed greens or arugula (a little less than you would serve for two people)
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • Zest and juice of one lemon
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed basil, washed and roughly chopped
  • — sea or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 oz feta cheese (I like the kind that is soaking in brine versus the pre-crumbled variety)

In a medium sized pot, bring several cups of water to a boil. Add in 1 tbsp of the olive oil, a few dashes of sea salt, a sprinkling of freshly ground pepper, and the bay leaf. Pour in the farro and cook for 20 minutes, or as the package directs.

While the farro cooks, chop the snap peas into 1/2 – 3/4-inch pieces. Add to a large mixing bowl. Add in the tomatoes, avocado pieces, and the greens.

In a small mixing bowl, combine the mustard, lemon zest, lemon juice, the red wine vinegar, and the chopped basil, and whisk until combined. Season well with salt and pepper, then pour in the remaining olive oil — more or less depending on your preference for vinaigrette (I tend to like mine with a little tang and punch). Let this sit for at least a few minutes, so that the flavors can marry and the basil can breakdown a little bit.

Drain the farro very well. Pour as much of the vinaigrette as you’d like over the salad, and gently toss. Divide the salad by half and pile it onto two plates or in shallow bowls (be sure to divide up all the garnishes equally!), then top each serving with half of the warm farro. Crumble a bit of the feta cheese on top, and serve.

Recipe: Chicken with tomatoes and artichokes

chicken with artichokes tomato and goat cheese recipe

Summer in San Francisco has lasted all of three days so far, and for the most part, I think the good citizens of the City by the Bay have given up hope on any warm weather until next spring. Fall wardrobes are appearing, and discussions concerning new boots and coats are cropping up all over my workplace. And then, there’s that unmistakable crisp edge in the air that hints of autumn’s approach.

But I’m still holding out. It’s not hard to do when summer produce still abounds at the market. In fact, when I get home from work and can put together a simple meal featuring summer tomatoes and lots of fragrant, freshly torn basil, it’s easy to pretend that it’s 80 degrees outside.

This little recipe is wonderful for a weeknight, since chicken thighs cook quickly and pack so much flavor. A bit of  garlic, some artichokes, and a helping of goat cheese, and it’s not so hard to believe that it’s summer somewhere.

Quick-braised chicken thighs with artichokes, cherry tomatoes and goat cheese

  • 4 cloves of garlic, smashed and skins removed
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • –kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 small yellow onion, julienne
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/2 pint (basket) of cherry tomatoes, washed and stems removed
  • 1 can artichoke hearts packed in water, drained, rinsed and cut into halves
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • –handful of basil leaves, roughly torn
  • –1 oz goat cheese (about 2 tbsp worth)

In a large skillet, heat the garlic cloves and olive oil together over medium high heat until the oil is very fragrant. Season the chicken well with salt and pepper, then brown in the oil on each side; it should take a few minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a plate and set aside.

In the same pan (and without removing any of that delicious garlic oil or chicken drippings!), saute the yellow onion and the tomato paste. Stir together to melt the paste. When the onion is tender and the pan is developing fond on the bottom, add in the cherry tomatoes, the artichoke hearts, and the chicken stock. Gently stir this together with tongs, using one of the artichoke halves to scrape the bottom of the pan to remove the golden bits. Season the entire mixture with salt and pepper.

Lay the chicken back into the pan, reduce heat to medium/medium low, cover (I used aluminum foil) and allow to gently simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the lid, then sprinkle half of the basil over the mixture. Cover again and let cook for another minute or two.

When you’re ready to serve, plate a piece of chicken along with the sauce, then garnish with more fresh basil and a dollop of goat cheese. Quick, easy, delicious.

chicken with artichokes tomato and goat cheese recipe

MacGyver Me This: Pancetta vs. Prosciutto (Recipe included!)

It might be hard to believe, but there was a time in my life when I did not readily consume meat. I didn’t call myself a vegetarian or anything like that. In fact, looking back, my abstention from meat had less to do with me not finding it scrumptious, and everything to do with cutting up too many dead animal carcasses in culinary school, so much so that it completely grossed me out. Well, that and I hadn’t quite gotten over the slaughter videos we watched.

But if there was one thing that could bring me back to the dark, dirty, deliciously wonderful omnivorous side of the culinary world, it was pork. And more specifically, pork products.

It’s funny, when I was little, I hated all manner of pork-related product that wasn’t a chop. My mother had the audacity to try and force feed me Vienna sausages on picnics (which, I still believe, are a cruel, sick joke the food gods are playing on humanity — surely, those beige nuggets that smell suspiciously like cat food aren’t really meant to be eaten?). There was no such thing as mortadella in my world, only Oscar Meyer bologna. And the first time I read the label on the package, I nearly threw up.

Where was I going with all this? Oh right. Pancetta. And prosciutto. Delicious things. Things that I could shove in my maw daily, with reckless abandon.

In college, when I became more interested in food (or at least, more so than I already was), it took me a while to figure out the difference between pancetta and prosciutto. Both were pork, I knew, but that was about it. Maybe you’ve been curious too.

The differences are this: Pancetta is made from pork belly, like bacon. Unlike bacon, it is usually not smoked. Similar to (most) bacon, it is cured. Unlike bacon, it’s most often seen rolled up, then sliced, versus sliced into long strips. You generally purchase it raw, then cook it.

Prosciutto is made from a pig’s leg. When you think prosciutto, think ham. Prosciutto is dry cured, then eaten. It’s not really raw, per se, but you don’t have to cook the meat before eating it. Aside from craftsmanship, species, and terroir, prosciutto and jambon and jamón all kind of mean the same thing etymologically.

Pancetta often has a whole spice box worth of things rubbed into it while it’s being cured: juniper berries, black pepper, chili, fennel, even spices like clove or nutmeg. Prosciutto generally does not have these things.

Prosciutto you’ll often see served in gossamer thin slices, cold or at room temperature. It can also be fried or baked so that it crisps up, and is then used as a garnish. These days, you’ll see prosciutto added to any number of dishes, hot or cold, from salads to pizzas to burgers to pasta.

Pancetta is usually always an element of a dish, meant to deepen flavors, add richness, and — in many instances — provide a touch of luxury.

You’ll notice I’ve added lots of qualifying words to each of these statements: “almost always,” “usually,” etc. That’s because chefs are a crazy lot, and with their creativity, who knows how ingredients could be utilized!

Last weekend, I made baked trout for dinner and served it alongside some quick-braised kale with pancetta. This recipe is a great way to get some dark green vegetation into your meal — especially if you went out to eat five nights in a row, like SOME people around here.

Quick-braised kale with pancetta

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves of garlic, cut in half
  • 1/4-1/2 cup diced pancetta (I asked my deli to give me one slice of pancetta that was 1/2″ thick, and this was the perfect amount)
  • 1 bunch of kale, chopped into large pieces (you can use curly leaf or cavalo nero — whatever is available)
  • 1/2-1 cup of water
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 tsp to 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • –kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a large pot, combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, garlic and the pancetta. Heat over medium, allowing the seasonings to infuse the oil. The pancetta should begin to sizzle, render its fat, and turn golden.

Add in all of the kale. The pot may look very full at first, but trust me, this will cook down a lot. Season the leaves well with salt and pepper.

Pour in 1/2 cup of water, the lemon juice and 1 tsp of sugar. Stir to combine, being sure to fold the pancetta bits over the leaves, so they all get coated in the flavored oil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook gently until the leaves have all wilted. If you need a little more water, pour it on in.

Taste one of the leaves, and decide whether you like the balance of flavors. Kale can be bitter (and especially so since I don’t remove the inner stalks of the leaves), so the key is to balance it out with acidity (sour) and sugar (sweet). Add more lemon or sugar as needed — or even salt, if you think that’s what your taste buds will like.

Serve hot and enjoy.

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