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

IMG_9172

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

 

 

 

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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: The Perfect Chicken Noodle Soup

Spoiler Alert: Be prepared for the onslaught of chicken dishes!

When the fall season hits, I can’t think of anything better than busting out the Crock Pot and making dishes that assault your sense of smell when you return from work that day. Also, the house just feels warmer and more inviting that way. Trust me, there’s nothing better than after a long day of being on the phone with an insurance company to argue a client’s claim, to walk in and smell the love that your dish has been making while you were away. It’s a calming force.

So before I wax poetic on slow cooking, let’s get back to the topic. Namely, Chicken Noodle Soup. I know we all have a recipe that we follow. We all have our own tricks and tips that personalize how we create this cold-weather classic. And so I want to share a few of my own, as there are a few helpful suggestions to guarantee positive results.

 
1) Make sure to flavor your broth!

When you’re sick, Chicken Noodle is simply the best soup (in my opinion) that can bring you out of that non-hunger phase and nourish your soul. It has the protein from the chicken, the vitamins from the vegetables, the noodles to help fill you up, and most importantly: that nice salty broth to break through your temporarily altered taste buds. So while I love adding a healthy dose of poultry seasoning, don’t forget salt and pepper! There’s nothing worse than all those delicious elements in a bland broth. And taste as you go….I cannot stress that enough.

 

2) If you can, make your own stock.

You can always buy chicken broth if you’re in a pinch, but I love making my own stock. When Matt & I purchase a whole chicken, we first roast it and eat the breast for dinner that night. Then, strip the meat off the chicken down to the bones, as the meat will be perfect for soup when you process and chop it. And in the Crock Pot, put that carcass in with enough water to cover the top of the bones, then lid on low and slow for 8-9 hours (and sometimes longer).

Once the carcass starts to fall apart in the stock, that’s a good sign. When done, remove the bones and my final move is to place a paper towel in the strainer and ladle in broth through that into a container. The stock will retain some fat, but this helps keep bone fragments out of your broth. Use a wooden spoon to push around the liquid to get it to strain. You may replace the paper towels a few times as eventually the fat will pool enough to where nothing gets through, but that’s okay. This is a messy (but rewarding) process. You get a clearer broth this way.

 

3) Saute your veggies before you put them in and make sure they’re fresh!

I keep my veggies standard: celery, onion, carrot. You can add fun ingredients like leeks or fennel, but I love the classics when it comes to chicken soup. Now, you can always just throw the veggies in raw and allow the slow cooking to do its magic, but I love getting a little bit of color on those veggies. You won’t necessarily get a bite of onion as it melts into the broth, but you will taste a hint of it. The carrots will practically melt in your mouth, as will the celery. You want to let them cook the longest in your broth.

So for the best result, a little bit of oil in a pan, saute for less than 5 minutes, and add the veggies first to the broth.

 

4) For best results, make the noodles separately (and keep them that way).

This is more a rule because Matt does not like soggy noodles. And it’s a good one! The noodles are always the final ingredient to add to the soup, because once they’re done the soup is done. And then once in the fridge, the noodles keep expanding the longer they sit. And instead of soup, you get this noodle dish with soup elements and minimal broth. So instead, I tried a new trick: I cooked the noodles alone, strained them, then placed them first in the bowl and ladled the soup over the top.

When I had to clean up and put the rest in the fridge, I made a decision to keep the noodles in a separate container. You get more control over the amount of noodles you want in your bowl, and the broth remains intact when you heat it up.

 

5) Low and slow is the best way to go!

I have forgotten the most important tip of all: the slow cooker is the best way to make Chicken Soup. Flavors are best when they have a chance to meet and meld for a while. You don’t want to rush this step and if you have the time, take it. The depth of flavor you can achieve from that low and slow technique is second to none.

 

And as always….enjoy!

– Jenny V

Spicy Tips: Chocolate Up Those Muffins!

So as I posted in an earlier post, Matt has this deep love affair when I make Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins. It’s quite ridiculous, actually. If I make a dozen, they’re sure to be gone within 24-48 hours with no exceptions. Mind you, this is 12 muffins. TWELVE. I would be lucky if I get at least one to try and even then Matt jokes that I only left him less than a dozen.

 

As luck would have it one day, I had super ripe bananas sitting in the fridge. The cold tends to help keep the bananas in their ripe stasis. And while I would normally just make plain banana chocolate chip muffins, I decided to try out a little chocolate experiment. Now, I make these brownie cookies that are downright sinful (but absolutely delicious). To that recipe, I usually add cocoa powder to give the batter this great chocolaty consistency.

 

Since Matt already loves that my muffins have chocolate, why not use some cocoa powder and make them double chocolate banana muffins? When using cocoa powder, the easy way to incorporate it into a mix without drying out the muffin is to adjust the amount of flour. For example, my recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups flour. If i put in 1/4 cup cocoa powder (which I did), then you only use 1 1/4 cups flour. It’s really that simple.

 

The result ended in Matt mentioning how the cocoa powder took a little bit of the banana flavor away, but made it almost like a muffin/cupcake hybrid. I think my next cooking endeavor might be to add a cream cheese frosting to this. Or if I’m daring, possibly Rum Chata frosting could be an interesting twist.

 

For my original post about muffins so you can try out this recipe, click here: A muffin a day makes a happy husband!

 

And for those who didn’t get the chance to see my “chocolatized” (yes I made that word up) muffins:

 Enjoy!


– Jenny V

Spicy Tips: Do It Yourself Taco Seasoning

If there is one dish that Matt loves to make (way more than I do), it would be tacos. So for the first time on my blog, here is a shared recipe from our cooking adventures that Matt has used for many years.

Normally it’s a dish that comes about when we are down to frozen meat or leftover chicken breast. Because it’s quick, easy, and utilizes ingredients we always tend to have on hand. On taco night, Matt also tends to eat about 7-10 tacos in one sitting…not even exaggerating.

When taco night arrives, Matt has crunchy tortilla shells on the ready, a fresh bottle of taco sauce in the fridge, and diced onion. And of course, if we don’t have shredded cheese, it’s not officially taco night. (For me, give me some soft tortillas, diced tomatoes, and sour cream and I am set! Maybe even some avocado if it’s in season.)

But the one thing you will find absent from our pantry? Pre-made taco seasoning. Because while yes, it may be easy to obtain pre-mixed seasoning in the store, you can absolutely make it yourself! The spices are fairly simple: cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, cayenne pepper (just a smidge), and a dash of paprika. You can also add a little salt and black pepper if you like, but there are so many other things going on with the dish, a little bit goes a long way.

This recipe is a rough guestimate of how much we use in the overall dish, but you can adjust to your liking. Naturally, measuring out spices in our home is not a common occurrence, instead opting for my Great-Grandmother’s method of adding until satisfied. More important though, even if eye-balling it, for the amount of cumin you add, put about half the amount of chili powder in it. You can always add more, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

But I promise you this: you will find this so easy that purchasing pre-mixed will be a thing of the past. It’s cheaper to keep those ingredients in your home and do it yourself. (Also, those spices can also go into other delicious dishes!)

There’s a satisfaction when you do it yourself. The reward is a dish you created more from scratch than anything else. Not every dish can be like that, but incorporating it anywhere you can? Healthy and delicious.

Enjoy!

– Jenny V


 

Jenn & Matt’s “Taco Night” Seasoning

2 tablespoons cumin 

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

A dash (or two) of paprika

Directions:

1) Combine all ingredients and use on 1 – 1  1/2 pounds cooked ground beef, shredded chicken, or any meat you prefer.

A “Creamy Italian” twist on a summer standard

When summer hits, Matt and I are notorious for the cold salads, as you could tell with my last post about potato salad.

But our main summer salad? Macaroni salad.

We never make it the same way twice, always just grabbing for whatever is on hand in the fridge to try and utilize our food in different ways. Sometimes it’s as simple as onion and celery, other times I toss in some pepper with the onion and maybe some artichoke, and sometimes I pull out some of our frozen veggies and toss a little broccoli and peas in.

This week I felt compelled to make an Italian-style salad with pepperoni, genoa salami, red pepper, and fresh mozzarella. Now normally I would add Italian dressing to the mix, but if you’re like me, this salad is always subject to all the ingredients (minus the pasta) dropping to the bottom of the bowl. And the more you mix, the more it goes.

But not this time. I was determined to incorporate Italian flavors from the dressing and create a cohesive dish. And it hit me: Creamy Italian Dressing! When I make a mayo-based macaroni salad the ingredients never fall to the bottom. Instead, the mayo acts as a cohesive and creates the perfect blend ratio of pasta to its edible accoutrements.

And I must say, it was a success! To add a little more zip, you can always whisk in a little bit of the regular Italian dressing. Trust me, the Creamy Italian will still do its thing. More importantly, before you serve, always make sure to add just a little dollop more of the Creamy Italian Dressing. When sitting in the fridge, the pasta has a tendency to sop up a lot of the liquid, so that little dollop rejuvenates the dish a little bit.

As always, enjoy!

– Jenny V


 

 

Jenn’s Creamy Italian Macaroni Salad

1 box rotini pasta, cooked and drained

1/4 – 1/2 cup pepperoni, diced

1/4 – 1/2 cup genoa salami, diced

1/2 container fresh mozzarella, quartered

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1/4 cup vidalia onion, diced

1/2 cup Creamy Italian Dressing

1/4 cup Italian Dressing

Italian Seasoning

 

Directions:

1) In a large bowl, add pasta, pepperoni, salami, mozzarella, red pepper, and onion. Mix.

2) In a 2-cup measuring cup, add Creamy Italian and Italian dressing. Whisk together until smooth.

3) Add dressing over pasta and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle Italian Seasoning over mixture, just a few taps, and mix.

4) Cover and refrigerate minimum 4 hours to overnight before serving.

Giving potato salad a face-lift

When I think about making potato salad, it tends to make me break out in a sweat. Because while the finished product looks easy enough, just the notion that the potato needs to be perfectly cooked enough where a fork can go through it, but not crumble….is daunting. But Matt had faith in me this week as he played a double on Monday and left a request for potato salad on my plate. And I was not about to let him down in the slightest.

To make potato salad, red potatoes are truly the best one. They’re durable and you can pretty much leave the skin on them when you cut them into bite-sized pieces. Just make sure each potato is washed thoroughly and that any eyes or bad spots are removed. And especially since we needed to move the last of our red potatoes, it was a win-win.

Place your bite-sized pieces into a pot of cold water on high heat and let it come up to a boil. To check if they’re cooked through, try to locate the largest piece and stick a fork in it. If the fork goes through with ease, then they’re done. And if you’re nervous like me, after you check the potato, turn off the heat and let the potatoes sit in the hot water for a minute or two. Trust me, they’re still cooking when you do this.

Since our fridge was a little more barren of the essentials to make potato salad, I learned to get creative. This is quite typical in our home when making a multi-layered type salad. (Seriously, watch me make a garden salad or macaroni salad and you’ll understand.) I kinda think of it like a “hodge podge” dish, so to speak.

Because instead of yellow onions, I used the remainder of green onions that we had from our last shopping trip. Celery was replaced by fennel stalks. And for a little pop of color, some diced red bell pepper.

The only thing I think it’s missing? Hard-boiled egg. I may need to attempt this version sooner rather than later.

If you’re willing to get over your fears, it’s amazing what you can accomplish in the kitchen. Matt believes I don’t give myself enough credit. And with this potato salad recipe, I’m sort of inclined to believe him.

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


 

  

Jenn’s “Hodge Podge” Potato Salad

6-7 medium red potatoes, cubed

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise

1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar

1 tablespoon yellow mustard

1 tablespoon honey dijon mustard

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 tablespoon pepper

2 fennel stalks, diced (you want about a cup)

1/2 diced red bell pepper

1/4 – 1/2 cup green onion, chopped

Paprika, if desired

 

Directions:

1) Place cubed potatoes in 3-quart pan in cold water. Cover and heat to boiling. Allow potatoes to continue cooking in boiling water until larger pieces of potato are soft enough to let a fork go through. Turn off heat and allow to sit in water another 1-2 minutes before draining thoroughly and placing in large bowl.

2) Mix mayonnaise, vinegar, mustards, salt, and pepper in a large measuring cup or bowl. Whisk until smooth.

3) Add fennel, green onion, and pepper to potato mixture. Add dressing and stir thoroughly to cover. Add sprinkle of paprika and continue mixing. Cover and refrigerate for 4 hours to overnight before serving.

 

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.

For the love….

In honor of Valentine’s Day (which is now over and will be replaced with half-price off candy day), I would love to talk about little bit about that amorous holiday….and food, starting with a quote from a chef that Matt and I love watching.

It was Jacques Pepin who said it best:

I would advise people to cook for the right reason: for love.

Pepin truly grasped that cooking was more than just about the necessity to feed ourselves. There’s a passion to be discovered, the way certain ingredients meld with other ingredients, the mathematical equation of a great meal, and most important: being able to share that with someone special. (Even if that special person is yourself.)

Matt and I share many great meals, even with our friends and family. I know not everyone appreciates that we are prone to taking pictures of our food, but it’s my style, it’s who I am. I take pictures of our creations (sometimes the creations of others that look just as amazing), and love the feedback! What’s even funnier is that Matt knows I love to do this and is the one to encourage the picture-taking before I forget to, especially when he has taken that first bite and I’m still making mine look perfect. (Sorry, force of habit to add that little dash of parsley, basil, parmesan, etc. to give it that “pop” factor.)

And the meals are not always perfect, but in the end we can always pull something fun together. I absolutely adore the way he pushes for simple meals with few ingredients and I want to add just one more thing that absolutely complements the dish. Sometimes I get my way and sometimes not so much. (With great passion in the kitchen, it can lead to an argument or two on who is leading this meal prep.)

But the love is there….and it’s especially in the leftovers.

Because when I get to bring last night’s meal to work and eat that for lunch, I’m still tasting the love behind it all. Whether it be as simple as grilled chicken with a salad or a more complicated Zuppa di Pesce, I know that my husband wanted to make sure that I had the most delicious lunch for the next day. (In fact, he even asks me to call him at lunch just to tell him how much I enjoyed my meal…and as a nice reminder that later on that day we are going to get to make another great meal.)

I have been filling my time with that love, so I have plenty of new dishes and stories to share with you readers.

So stay tuned and as always….enjoy!

And to all of you….I hope you had a wonderful Valentine’s Day, whether it be with your spouse, just you, with friends, and anything in between. While I encourage you to share love all year round, a holiday dedicated to love can’t be that bad either.

~ Jenny V

The greatest honey love of all….

A while ago I had posted about curry powder, which leads me right back to the recipe that required it first: honey chicken.

A few well-known facts about my honey chicken recipe:

It’s super easy to make. (I mean it. If you can master that curry powder recipe, then this will be a breeze, especially since the curry powder is a key ingredient in this dish. And if you need a refresher on the curry powder, then just click here.)

You need to be attentive to this dish. (Once you see the picture, you’ll understand why. You want that golden color with just a hint of browning when you bake it, so a lot of love and care goes into this meal. But again, it is easy so no worries. And when I mean easy, I mean super easy.)

My husband goes crazy for this dish every time I make it. (It’s one of the few leftovers he’ll eat over and over again….and if you know Matt, he’s not a big leftovers kind of person.)

And the sauce that is created while baking? Yummy is an understatement. It’s gooey and buttery and sweet with a hint of salt. Trust me on this, if made right the outside looks sticky and sweet, but that salty savory bite is worth it. Also, the yummy factor applies when you add a side of mashed potatoes or possibly egg noodles too. (You need a carb or starchy side because honey chicken is a great “stick to your bones” type of dish.)

I love the way sweet ingredients can lend themselves to savory dishes….be adventurous and give them a try!

And yes, enjoy!

~Jenny V


  

   
Jenn’s Honey Chicken

1 package of chicken thighs, bone-in, fat slightly trimmed (if you’d prefer)

1 stick unsalted butter, melted

1/2 cup honey

1 teaspoon curry powder (refer to my Curry Powder recipe)

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup yellow mustard

Directions:

1) Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

2) In large baking dish, place chicken thighs, skin side up.

3) In large measuring cup or small bowl, combine remaining ingredients and whisk until mixed, then pour mixture over chicken evenly. Make sure to coat each piece.

4) Bake for 75-90 minutes, basting thighs in mixture every 15 minutes. When skin looks golden and starts to take on a deep brown color on most of the pieces, remove and serve.