Causing a flurry with Chimichurri!

As promised, gardening has become a part of our daily routine.

At about 5:30/6:00 am just about every morning, Matt slips on his sandals to go out and assess how our garden is faring. From his perspective: the romaine is thriving, cucumbers are starting to show progress, tomatoes and peppers are sprouting up taller and taller, and the herbs are growing like weeds!

In fact, in recent weeks Matt pruned some of the wilder herbs in our garden and brought his bounty into work at the end of the school year to give it away. We even had to give away some of our basil plants just to keep up with being able to utilize them in our cooking. It seems we may have created an herb monster.

But never fear, as Matt & I have made more conscious efforts to look up recipes where we could utilize the abundance and indulge in healthy eats. Our first culprit: parsley.

Now most of us know parsley as that herb that garnishes a semi-fancy dinner plate we receive at the diner. And if you have ever tried it (like I have), you know that it has a little bit of a bitter flavor on its own. I never understood why such a bitter herb was placed as garnish on a plate. Was it supposed to be a palette cleanser after the meal? Was it supposed to be something to just pretty up a plate? (Seriously, you don’t need fancy garnishes–they better be there to serve a purpose.)

For years I questioned what parsley as the main stair was good for. (I would later find out that during the Roman Empire parsley was not considered a garnish but more of a breath freshener….I still don’t quite understand how a bitter herb freshens breath. Not like they have parsley-flavored toothpaste selling like crazy!) And when we had an overabundance of it in our garden, Matt took to trusty old YouTube to find good uses for our generous supply.

Entering as our first contender: Chimichurri Sauce.

Yes, chimichurri has variations, mainly where you can add cilantro and/or oregano. But for all intents and purposes, Matt & I utilized our parsley with some garlic, red pepper flake (VERY little, I might add), apple cider vinegar, lemon zest, and olive oil to provide some liquid to the mixture. We also got to utilize our Cuisinart Food Processor, which I consider one of the best brands in all things food processor. (If you’re looking, check out their selection here: Cuisinart – Food Processors.)

While chimichurri can be used on an abundance of meats and vegetables for some brightness and flavor, this sauce shines on steak (even leaner ones like sirloin). Cover your favorite cut of meat with some of this flavorful mixture, add in some mini roasted potatoes and holy yum….you have one incredible meal!

As you fire up your grills this summer, get bold and try some bright flavors to change up those tried and true warm-weather dishes.

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V

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Chimichurri

1/2 cup parsley (aka a generous handful)

1-2 cloves finely chopped garlic

2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Lemon Zest (one lemon)

Pinch of crushed red pepper

Olive Oil 

Salt & Pepper

1) Add all ingredients except olive oil, salt & pepper into food processor or blender. Pulse until well incorporated and transfer to small bowl.

2) Add in olive oil to wet mixture, then salt & pepper to taste.

Makes 2-4 Servings

 

 

 

It’s a little bit butternutty….

While I did it for the sake of Max’s little tummy at the time, adjusting to a dairy and soy-free life wasn’t easy.

With the constant need to read ingredients the process of eating became more of a challenge, more like an Olympic sport! Every item placed in the cart at the grocery store was scanned for any mention of dairy and/or soy. (I recommend the ShopWell app….saved me many times over at the grocery store and you can adjust it for just about any type of dietary restrictions.) I had to advise every waitress when I went out to eat of my dietary restrictions, sometimes even reading over a menu several times before I walked into the restaurant.

I lived with the feeling that it must have been frustrating for the cooks in the kitchen to have to adjust my meal, just because I didn’t want my son to cry in pain from any dairy or soy in my food that would get transferred to his breast milk. This frustrated me to the point that I really didn’t want to eat out at all until Max was cleared or we stopped breastfeeding. (After about nine months, I was able to finally go back to normal when Max started eating solid foods and showed no reactions as I reintroduced dairy and soy into my diet.)

But aside from that I will admit: I had missed dairy on occasion. There were moments I wished I could have a big slice of cheesecake, a plate of buttery Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, or a big bowl of fettuccine alfredo. Sure, there were alternatives like the Daiya products to give me the feeling that I was eating cheese or ranch dressing. (By the way, their pizzas and macaroni & cheese were pretty decent for not having any gluten, dairy, or soy in them.)

More than anything though, I really missed a good pasta in a cream sauce. Fortunately, I was able to locate this gem of a recipe courtesy of Cookie + Kate, which used pureed butternut squash in vegetable broth to replicate that decadence one craves when you order anything in a cream sauce. (And another added bonus aside from being healthy for all you non-meat eaters: it’s Vegan!)

You can check out the recipe on the Cookie + Kate website here: Creamy Vegan Butternut Squash Linguine with Fried Sage. And if you’re not that big into linguine, I recommend using fettuccine as evidenced by the featured photo. It was a delicious substitution and I mean, who doesn’t love fettuccine in a cream sauce?

While I am not a vegan or vegetarian by any means, this dish at the very least satisfied my palette. With my diet back to normal, I would more than likely add some heavy cream and possibly some Parmesan to give it that extra kick of salt. Yet I learned that if you need to be healthy, healthy can be delicious.

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V

Spicy Tips: Back with a fun Iced Tea Tip!

It certainly has been a while since I have found time to sit down and write out new recipes. Being a parent has that ability to deplete any time you had hoped you would have to share your thoughts with others. (Just looking at the amount of drafts I have yet to finish is enough to give me palpitations….I need to do better.)

But never fear, I am back with a fun tip for those looking for ways to quickly make one of my favorite warm weather drinks: Iced Tea!

Now I have done the sometimes laborious process of making tea with hot tea bags, followed by whisking in honey to the warmed mixture to incorporate and a whole lemon or two to make one delicious drink! Yet sometimes, time is of the essence and if you’re short on time but still want to make that summertime nectar without using a pre-made mix, I’ve got a great solution!

So one of my favorite shortcuts to making an easy iced tea is all thanks to Lipton® and their fabulous Cold Brew Bags. (They’re in just about any supermarket and you can click here for some info: Lipton Cold Brew Bags). One bag per 4 cups of water (you will probably use 2 bags per pitcher, unless you want to add a flavor) and it only takes about 5 minutes of brewing time before it’s done. If plain tea isn’t enough and you want to add a flavor to it, you can always brew a few cups of hot water and add your flavored tea there, then mix the two together.

And if you’re like me, you want to add some flavor like lemon or honey/sugar to that mix. For a nice little hit of lemon flavor, I have to admit that my name is Jenn and I am an addict of the Arnold Palmer. For those of who you don’t know what that is, it is half iced tea and half lemonade mixed together. But for this purpose, I would recommend using maybe 1-2 cans of Minute Maid® Lemonade to one pitcher. (Not the frozen kind, but a can from a 12-pack. You can also get a carton or container of lemonade of any brand you like and adjust the amount of lemonade you put in to your liking.) Not quite the half and half of an Arnold Palmer, but leaves the iced tea with a nice sweetened lemon flavor that I know most of us love.

More importantly, it is a way to add sugar to your drink without the sweetness being too much. The lemonade blends nicely and if you still find that the lemonade makes it a little sweet for you, always remember the best part about iced tea are those ice cubes that clink around in the glass when you go to take a sip!

And as always, enjoy!

– Jenny V

 

It’s All About Adjustment….

2017 was certainly a whirlwind of events for me, but I am back and ready to share new recipes!

Of course, those recipes may need to be slightly adjusted now. You see once our son Maxwell was born and I had taken to nursing our son rather than formula feeding, Matt & I ran into some potential dietary issues. As I could eat anything I wanted, Max’s digestive system had not yet developed and he started to exhibit signs of discomfort. One night of screaming baby and a pediatrician’s office visit later the culprit was simple: Mommy’s eating habits were taking its toll on the little guy. The only solution available was to start eliminating foods from my diet and see how it would affect Max in the long run. First to be eliminated were dairy and soy.

Now for those of you who aren’t aware, trying to go dairy and soy free felt damn near impossible at first. Why? Because if you read the labels on several of your favorite foods, you will find either one or both of those ingredients in it. Bread, bagels, frozen waffles, Onion Soup Mix, Gravy Master, Chicken & Beef Broth, most Asian cooking, Coffeemate flavored creamer, etc.–I had felt as though I was being put in food prison yet again. The first time for gestational diabetes in my third trimester, which is another story.

But I was determined to breastfeed and so I took to the task of restructuring my diet. Matt & I discussed more fresh food options for our meals. I incorporated more protein into my diet and cut out dairy in cooking. I read the labels on the current items in our pantry to understand what I could still incorporate into my diet. (Happy to report that pasta is still a possibility for me!) When I went food shopping I ventured into the specialty food aisles for myself. And while Stop & Shop has a limited selection of specialty foods, I was still able to pull together enough items to create my own menu.

Yet I missed baking….and unfortunately a lot of my recipes called for items such as milk or butter in the ingredients. I didn’t even bake my annual New York Cheesecake for Christmas Eve because I wouldn’t have been able to eat it. Fortunately though, Max’s condition began to improve and he didn’t look as pained as he used to. If me giving up dairy and soy meant that he would be happy, then I would do that for him.

As an alternative, I started to really take a look at my baking recipes and find ways to substitute ingredients for the troublemakers. Now for those who remember one of my specialties is Banana Chocolate Chip muffins. You can find my recipe for that here: A muffin a day makes a happy husband! Of course that has milk and chocolate chips (with milk in them) so I substituted the regular milk for rice milk (you can also use almond milk if you’d prefer) and instead of Nestle Chocolate Chips, I found the Enjoy Life products have created an Allergy-Friendly chocolate. With those two substitutions I made my muffin batter, poured it equally into the 12 baking tins, and prayed that they would come out just as good as my original recipe….and they did!

So my advice is this: when you can substitute to make it more allergy-friendly, DO IT! I promise it was difficult to tell the difference in these muffins versus a regular batch.

And as always….enjoy!

– Jenny V

Francaise: Not just a chicken dish

While I am a healthy mix of nationalities (and according to my recent genealogy research a few I didn’t know about), I was practically raised by my dad’s side: mainly composed of English, German, and Italian family members. I can credit my family for being a key factor in my appreciation of food and cooking. And especially with Italian food, I have developed a rather particular palette. Because while I’m sure a good portion of the Italians I know would pick a tomato-based dish as their favorite, mine has always been and always will be Chicken Francaise. (Fortunately, the version of Francaise we made for this post does have tomato in it.)

In fact, I love Chicken Francaise so much that during my freshman year in college when the cafeteria had failed spectacularly in their attempt to make it (they added raisins and made it sweet….NEVER add raisins or make it sweet, it’s gross), I went home that weekend and asked my dad for an emergency dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants. I still shudder thinking of those raisins….I stress that they should NEVER be added to a savory, lemony dish…:::shudders:::…but I digress.

About three years ago, approximately April of 2013, Matt and I opted for takeout from our favorite local Italian joint. I remember the date because Matt encouraged me to order anything and everything from the menu for reasons unbeknownst to me. It was after the fact that he admitted that that was the day him and his mom were in a jewelry store picking out my engagement ring. That day in particular, I had a craving for Shrimp Francaise. I had tried the chicken, I had even tried a flounder version from one of our favorite seafood restaurants. But shrimp? Never.

Fast forward to a few years later, Matt and I decided to try making Shrimp Francaise to add some new dishes to our repertoire. The end result was a delicious lemony and buttery seafood dream, with some fresh sauteed spinach and cherry tomatoes that were bursting with flavor! Seriously, cooked cherry tomatoes–look into it and do it. And as for spinach, buy it fresh in bulk and you will yield many meals: a nice salad, a sandwich topping, and of course, cooked in Shrimp Francaise.

Fun plays on classic dishes are always a great way to spice up your culinary technique in the kitchen. This one is definitely a keeper.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn & Matt’s Shrimp Francaise 

1/2 lb. shrimp, cleaned & fully peeled

2 eggs, whisked

1 lemon, juiced

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 lemon, sliced thin 

1 container cherry tomatoes

1-2 healthy handfuls fresh spinach

1/2 cup white cooking wine

1 cup chicken broth

1 – 1/2 cups flour

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon butter

1-2 tablespoons paprika

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Salt, to taste

 

Directions:

1) In a small bowl, mix in eggs and tablespoon of lemon juice. In a small pan, mix flour, paprika, and black pepper. Dredge each shrimp through flour mixture, then egg mixture. Place shrimp in pan over medium high heat with a little oil in pan. Brown on each side and let it cook almost all the way through, then remove from pan.

2) Into pan, add tablespoon of flour and butter to create a roux, then add white wine, chicken broth, squeezed lemon juice, and tomatoes. Before the tomatoes begin to burst, add the spinach and shrimp. Place lemon slices over top.

3) Cook until spinach begins to wilt and  tomatoes burst. Remove from heat, season with salt if desired, and serve over pasta.

 

 

 

Going “Swiss” on a classic….

If there’s one thing Matt knows about me, it’s that I have a love for certain foods.

Pickles, Fried Chicken, Sushi, Mashed Potatoes, Cauliflower, a nice rare Steak, Fresh Berries, and most importantly…..Macaroni & Cheese.

I know, not all my options are exactly healthy, per se, but I love my comfort foods just the same. There’s a decadence in them that I only indulge in when I am in need. (i.e., womanly issues, long day at work, etc.) I’m not one to reach for mountains of chocolate. I’m more the one to reach for a nice heaping bowl of mashed potatoes or homemade mac….and sometimes the occasional delivery of sushi.

But Macaroni & Cheese can occasionally get boring, so playing with the flavor combinations are quite fun when you get the chance.

For Valentine’s Day, Matt and I are not big on going out and spending an exorbitant amount of money on a meal we can make at home. No. In fact, we prefer to cook that decadent meal in the comfort of our home.

I had been toying around with the idea of a Bacon & Swiss Mac & Cheese for a while now. While I’m not a fan of cold Swiss (like my husband with a roast beef sandwich), melting it has yielded some tasty meals, namely Chicken Cordon Bleu. So why not to Macaroni & Cheese as well?

Adding the shredded Swiss to the roux and milk mixture proved to be a delicious change: the bite of Swiss was tempered with grated Parmesan cheese and the saltiness of the bacon. The combination provided decadent flavors to a rather inexpensive meal. (And Swiss is a nice alternative to Gruyere, which can run you about $30/lb….indulge only when it will make or break the dish!)

Sometimes our favorites need a little bit of a facelift….and the result can be quite delicious!

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


 

baconswissmaccheese

Jenn’s Bacon Swiss Macaroni & Cheese

1 box elbow macaroni

1 package shredded Swiss cheese

1/4 – 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 1/2 – 3 cups milk

2 Tablespoons butter

1 – 2 Tablespoons flour

1/2 package bacon, cooked until crispy and chopped into bits

1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

1/8 block Velveeta, cubed

Salt

Pepper

Directions:

1) Prepare pasta to “al dente”. Drain well and place in large glass baking dish. Sprinkle almost all bacon over the pasta and save a little bit for topping, probably around 1-2 Tablespoons.

2) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. In saucepan on medium heat, combine butter and flour to create a roux, then gradually add in milk. When milk starts to thicken, add in Swiss , Parmesan, and Velveeta, stirring until cheese has melted. Add in salt and pepper to taste. Once at desired flavor, remove from heat. (**Save a little bit of Swiss and Parmesan for topping**)

3) Pour sauce mixture over macaroni & bacon, mixing thoroughly until sauce coats all pasta. Sprinkle remaining cheese, bacon, and bread crumbs over the top, then bake in oven for 30-40 minutes. Remove and serve.

Breaking out of the shell: Panko Edition

If there’s one item Matt and I have become almost addicted to when we’re food shopping….it’s frozen shrimp. Our supermarket charges this criminally inexpensive price every now and then, and we snatch it up and cram the delectable treat of the ocean into our overly-packed freezer! (Well, now it’s super packed…thank our wedding cake for that…if only we had more room!)

The best thing about frozen shrimp is you can do practically anything with it, especially if it’s raw and frozen. Of course, you’ll need to defrost and (in our usual prep work) peel the shrimp, but it’s super easy to work with (and so damn tasty.) And you can cook it so many different ways….if you need to know how, I recommend you watch Forrest Gump. (Little joke, sorry.)

Tonight’s recipe was actually one we attempted about a week ago, with “so-so” results: fried shrimp. (aka: it’s delicious, but how can we make it even better?) After our first attempt, it was determined that while regular bread crumbs are nice, panko would give us the desired crunchy texture that fried shrimp needs. (And as a bonus, I even made homemade cocktail sauce, courtesy of Food Network….which I will gladly share with you! Or if you want, their recipe is here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/quick-cocktail-sauce-recipe.html) I’m a little sad there are no leftovers for work tomorrow, but it was a delicious idea. (One I hope to repeat again soon.)

Now, if you don’t have a deep fryer like Matt and I do, you can always fry shrimp in a regular frying or saute pan. Just be sure to put a healthy amount of oil in the pan and allow it to warm up on medium-high heat. Give that oil time to warm, otherwise, you won’t get a good crunch. (And make sure your room is well ventilated….last thing you need is the smoke alarm going off, something Matt and I are very used to hearing when we cook with high temperatures. Towel at the ready to fan away! Haha.)

Another great idea is breaking the shrimp up into small pieces, applying the same breading and making a variation of “popcorn shrimp”. Or maybe you want different seasonings? Again, don’t be afraid to add your own flair to this dish! The world is your oyster….or should I say, shrimp?

Haha, enjoy!

~ Jenny V


pankoshrimp

Panko-Fried Shrimp with Homemade Cocktail Sauce

For the shrimp:

1 1/2 pounds of raw peeled shrimp

1/2 cup flour

1 tablespoon Old Bay Seasoning

1 egg

1 cup panko bread crumbs

For the cocktail sauce: (Again, thank you Food Network!)

1/2 cup ketchup

2 tablespoons horseradish

Worcestershire sauce

1/2 to 1 lemon

Tabasco sauce

1) Pre-heat deep fryer to 350 degrees. In a plastic container with lid, put in shrimp and season with Old Bay, thoroughly coating the shrimp. Add flour, close lid, and give a good shake until shrimp are all lightly coated in flour.

2) Dredge shrimp in egg mixture, then place in another plastic container (with lid) in panko. Once all shrimp are in, close lid and give a good shake, coating each shrimp thoroughly. Place in deep fryer basket. (Now my trick is once I have the shrimp in the basket, holding the basket over a garbage can or a sink, dump residual bread crumbs on shrimp and give basket a good shake. This way, any shrimp needing extra breading gets some and you’re not making too much of a mess.)

3) Place basket in deep fryer and close lid. Cook for about 2-4 minutes. When shrimp looking dark golden brown, they’re done. (Shrimp take practically no time to cook, so watch them carefully.) Remove and place on a plate with a paper towel to cool.

4) In a small bowl, combine ketchup, horseradish, a dash of Worcestershire, lemon, a dash of Tabasco (and if you’re feeling adventurous, a few shakes of Old Bay Seasoning). Mix thoroughly and serve with shrimp.