Three-Pea Chicken Salad

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For the third (or fourth, or fifth…) time, I’d like to attempt restarting this blog. I took a long hiatus from cooking most anything interesting, partly because of my repeated attempts to fast (more and less successful over the past year) and partly because of my increasingly busy schedule. Still, cooking remains a big passion of mine, bigger than almost anything else. So now, when I can, I’d like to go back to posting some things I made long ago, as well as whatever I make when I can manage something interesting.

The other night, it was this salad. See, neither my husband nor I are big salad eaters. I don’t mind it when it’s well composed, but I can almost never manage to make one at home that measures up to the ones you can get at a restaurant. My husband’s issue is that he just really hates lettuce, because it doesn’t taste like anything and he sees it as a foil for salad dressing, which he doesn’t much like either. So the few salads I’ve made at home have been those with little to no lettuce, and those seem to be well-received. This particular night, I really wanted something with plenty of fresh, crunchy vegetables and a little chicken for texture and protein.

It takes a little longer than usual to make if you do chop and shred everything as indicated, but if you’re feeling lazy I imagine you can just use all of the vegetables whole or in larger pieces.

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Three-Pea Chicken Salad

(serves 2-3 as a main course; 3-4 as an appetizer; the amount of dressing is enough to dress the salad very heavily. I suggest tossing the salad with a few spoonfuls at a time until you reach the amount of dressing you prefer.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. string peas
  • 1 c. sugar snap peas
  • 1/2 c. green peas
  • 1 red bell pepper, minced
  • 1 lb. chicken thighs
  • 3/4 c. Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 c. mayonnaise
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lemon (optional)
  • 1 clove of garlic, grated
  • 1/2 tsp. dried tarragon (or 1 tbsp. fresh minced)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Place chicken thighs in a small pot and cover them with water. Sprinkle in some salt, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Take the pot off the heat and let the chicken thighs cook in the hot water 10-15 minutes, or until cooked through. When cooked, take out of the water and let cool.
  2. Heat a separate pot of water to boiling, and salt it. Add string peas, snap peas, and green peas, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until vegetables have turned bright green. Meanwhile, prepare a bowl of ice water. When vegetables are done, drain and add to bowl of ice water to rapidly cool them.
  3. Drain the vegetables. Pick out the string peas and snap peas and shred them with a knife. Add shredded peas, green peas, and red bell pepper to a bowl. When chicken is cool, shred it as well and add it to the bowl.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients: yogurt, mayonnaise, lemon zest (and juice, if using), garlic, salt, and pepper. Toss with vegetables and chicken.

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day 4

My major realization from Day 4 is that the things I picked to eliminate from my diet are things that make it extremely difficult to eat any food not strictly prepared at home. Now, this theoretically shouldn’t be a problem since I am home a lot of the time and can cook all my own meals. But things happen. Some days I’m out when I need to be eating dinner, or like a lot of people there are some days I just can’t face the thought of standing over a stove.

Then I was reminded that if I was really interested in determining the potential effects of gluten on my body, it would probably be best to eliminate it separately from sugar, etc. Maybe it’s an excuse, I don’t know. But the fact is that if I manage to be sugar-free, gluten-free, and vegan on any given day, I’ll be lucky. I don’t know if it’s just a lack of willpower and I should try to be stronger, or if it’s not a really big deal. The main point of keeping them out of my diet, after all, is to decrease the amount that I reach for those foods on a daily basis. Unfortunately, it’s leading to more reaching for potato chips and french fries. Oops.

Really, I think all I can do is just get up each morning and try to do better.

Food Diary, 9/6/12

  • 6pm, 3 oz. potato chips – 375 cal
  • 11pm, 2 slices veggie pizza – 420 cal
  • 11pm, 5 jalapeno poppers – 385 cal
  • 1pm, 4 dates – 95 cal
  • Total ~ 1275 cal

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day 3

Yesterday was definitely not a success on many levels. I ended up eating a little bit of something I shouldn’t have on all three counts: macaroni + cheese, definitely a not-vegan, wheat pasta, with some sugar in the mix. Yikes. That’s what happens when I’m not prepared and am making a snack for someone else, I guess. Was the addition of broccoli a redeeming factor? I think yes. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Other than that, I did definitely feel a little bit spacey and woozy. Possibly that’s because I went on a bike ride when I hadn’t eaten anything all day long, but it wasn’t a very long bike ride after all – only about 4 miles one way, and 3 miles when I came back a few hours later. But then it was crazy – after I ate the mac and cheese I felt hugely energized. I ate again – something better for me – a couple of hours later and then ended up walking 4 miles and staying up until 6AM. So I’m not totally sure what the effects of food on me were versus just having interesting conversations or whatnot, because it’s certainly not the only time I’ve eaten that late.

Food Diary, 9/5/12

  • 6pm, Bolthouse 100% green smoothie – 90 cal
  • 10:30pm, Pirate’s Booty – 65 cal
  • 10:30pm, organic mac + cheese w/broccoli – 200 cal
  • 12am, potato salad (recipe below) – 460 cal
  • 3am, PBJ oat crackers – 470 cal
  • Total ~1285 cal

 

Warm Tuna + Potato Salad

This salad is sort of a way simplified version of a French Niçoise-style salad, but you could jazz it up any number of ways – such as adding capers, olives, or other vegetables or garnishes. Or, you could reserve the tuna oil and whip up a vinaigrette, pouring it over all of the salad components – and you could chill it! Basically, endless variations. But for a quick, easy meal, here’s how I did it – serves 2.

Ingredients:

  • 6 small red potatoes, diced
  • 1 c. frozen green beans
  • 6-8 oz. jar of tuna packed in oil

Directions:

  1. Cook potatoes in salted water until nearly done – about 8-15 minutes depending on the size of your potato pieces. Add the green beans about a minute or two before you take the potatoes off the heat. Drain potatoes and green beans.
  2. In the same pan, add the tuna and oil, breaking up the tuna a bit with the back of a fork if necessary. Heat over medium heat and add in potatoes and green beans when the oil is hot. Cook another 5 minutes, or until potatoes are completely cooked. Salt to taste.

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day 2

Yesterday was better on the vegan front, if not quite successful. I was able to fast until about 7:30pm, and I might have made it a bit longer except that we were nearby a place we wanted to eat and knew we could get good food that would (technically) fit into the diet. That’s the interesting thing about a vegan, wheat-free diet. It doesn’t leave a lot of options, but one of those is french fries :) So we went up to Burger Bar in Union Square here in SF and split an order of regular fries and one of sweet potato fries. Of course, we gave in and ordered the aioli so technically it was a vegetarian meal.

Then a couple of hours later I tried out the peanut butter and 100% fruit jam on brown rice cakes, and yeah… rice cakes are not any better than I had remembered them. Sort of like chewing on styrofoam, but on the other hand it successfully conveyed PBJ to my mouth, so I’ll keep them around just for that. I was still hungry after that, so I snacked a little until I went to bed. I think they key is definitely more hydration, because that keeps me less hungry – and I need to remember my vitamins! That and choosing vegetable-heavy dishes, because they’re better for me and are far less caloric if done right. That didn’t happen today because I was out of the house, but in the future that’s the way I’m trying to eat more. French fries and PBJ might technically be on my list of foods, but it definitely isn’t in the spirit of this new diet to eat that way.

Food Diary, 9/5/12

  • 7:30pm, fries + aioli – 480 cal
  • 10pm, PBJ rice cakes – 460 cal
  • 11pm, manchego + 2 dates – 330 cal
  • Total ~ 1270 cal

Recipe: Lime Corn

This corn oddly tasted quite a bit like lemon bars – you could almost eat it for dessert if you wanted to.

Ingredients:

  • 4 ears corn
  • 2 tbsp. butter (or olive oil)
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced

Directions:

  1. Preheat butter or oil in saute pan over medium heat. Cut kernels off corn cobs and add to the pan. Salt and pepper to taste and cook until kernels are crisp-tender, about 20-25 minutes.
  2. Add lime zest and juice and mix to combine thoroughly.

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a new direction (for now)

New Staples: protein (peanut butter), no-sugar-added sweet food (100% fruit jam, applesauce, dates), the only two wheat-free, sugar-free peanut-butter-carrier-devices at the store (whole-grain oat crackers, brown rice cakes)

As of yesterday, I’ve begun a strict new eating regimen. I hope it will, in some way, “reset” my body’s inner workings and redirect them toward a more healthy direction. The plain truth is that reducing my consumption level of unhealthy foods doesn’t really work for me, because if they’re always around and I’m in the habit of eating them, I tend to eat them too often. A lot of different things are tied into the way I eat – at least potentially: my complexion, activity level, weight, energy level, and the shape of my body. So I’m giving it thirty days. I’m not really attempting to change any specific attribute of those I listed above so much as to see what a restricted diet does for me.

In addition, I am attempting to do a modified ADF (alternate-day fast). Modified in the sense that I plan on doing the 20/4 model (fast 20 hours, eat 4 hours). Some days I may achieve a complete 24-hour fast, and other days I might have to eat in the afternoon. It’s something I’m doing because I naturally do it occasionally and I think it will keep my overall caloric level in check.

So, the diet itself. I’m completely eliminating (as much as possible without going overboard – this isn’t a medically necessary diet, after all):

  • added sugar
  • red meat
  • poultry
  • wheat/gluten

And I’m attempting to eat vegan most of the time, with some exceptions for plain yogurt, cheese, and oily fish. Although this is not a calorie-counting diet, I plan to track my calories each day to be sure I’m staying on track (and to try and monitor my nutrition level).

A typical day might look like this: fast until early evening with unsweetened teas and water with 100% fruit smoothie if needed, small protein-rich snack around 6-8pm, late dinner primarily comprised of legumes and vegetables.

Food Diary, 9/4/12

  • 4 cups tea + 4 cups water
  • 8pm, tuna packed in garlic oil – 540 cal
  • 12am, corn + manchego cheese – 350 cal
  • 12am, split pea soup – 220 cal
  • 2am, 4 dates – 100 cal
  • Total ~1200 cal

That’s a pretty high calorie count for what was supposed to be a fast day, but I’m allowing myself to ease into it a little bit. On the other hand, compared to how many calories I’m probably used to eating in a day (I don’t really count or care usually), it was surprisingly easy to stay so low.

I’ll be trying to post each day with my progress, my feelings, my calorie counts – all to keep me on track more than because anyone else will find it interesting (they probably won’t). But in the meantime I’ll be starting up my cookie baking again, meaning lots of sweet posts and pictures, and I’ve got a backlog of old posts (mostly pictureless) to share.

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blackberry sauced duck

Duck is probably one of the most common meats that I have eaten very little of in my lifetime.  Actually, until very recently in adulthood, I could only really remember one meal where I had eaten duck, at a Chinese restaurant when I was fairly young.  I remember it being fatty and savory and, to use a word that has been much overused in the culinary world as of late, unctuous.  For a long time, I regarded duck as a primarily Asian ingredient, out of the reach of ordinary American home chefs, since I never saw duck in supermarkets.

Seemingly out of nowhere, duck fat has somewhat become the fat du jour, alongside bacon in its ubiquitous revival.  I found it particularly interesting because in 1975, Julia Child wrote that “duck fat is not considered culinarily desirable.”  Having had duck fat fries, I would have agreed that it didn’t add any particularly special quality to the already notoriously delicious fried potato.  Still, I consider frying dinner’s potatoes in tonight’s rendered duck fat unwasteful, and indeed I found that the potatoes had taken on some transcendental quality that I could not quite identify.  I wouldn’t say that I would go out of my way to use duck fat if I didn’t enjoy duck, but I definitely wouldn’t throw away the more than half-cup of duck fat I rendered off two breasts either.

As for the sauce, in a stroke of impulse, I slaved for hours over a hot stove making it.  In other words, I opened a jar of jam and microwaved it for 15 seconds to melt it somewhat.  Yes, it was that easy, and it doesn’t have to be blackberry.  We have many jams in the fridge and I also considered lingonberry, marmalade, and apricot – cherry and raspberry might also be good choices.  Or, I dunno, salted caramel sauce?

blackberry sauced duck (2-4 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 2 duck breasts
  • 1/4 c. blackberry jam
  • 1-2 russet potatoes

Directions:

  1. Score the fat on the duck breasts in a cross-hatch pattern.  Sprinkle generously with salt on both sides.  Place fat-side down in a cold pan, and turn the heat up to medium-low.  The fat will render out over about 15 minutes or so, and in my case, the fat came about halfway up the duck breasts.
  2. When the skin is brown and crispy, flip the breasts and let them cook another few minutes.  This particular poultry you can eat all the way up to rare, I understand, and for me (my breasts were butterflied) it took only about 3-5 minutes to get to well-done.  So, a thermometer might be your best friend if you’re looking for a specific degree of doneness.
  3. Remove the breasts and set aside.  Pour out all but 2 tbsp. of duck fat.  Dice the potatoes in 1/2″ cubes and add to the skillet with a pinch of salt.  Cook about 20 minutes, or until cooked through.  If you find that your potatoes are sticking too much, and you don’t mind sacrificing the super-crispy skin, you can add a few tablespoons of water to the pan once or twice to allow steam to help the cooking process.
  4. Place jam in a small ramekin and microwave until melted.  Slice duck breasts and pour sauce over.  Serve with potatoes.

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ham, potato, and leek soup

We really like ham around our house.  Unfortunately, with only two full-time occupants, buying even a small ham can result in a lot leftover.  I bought this natural-looking (read: not round) chunk of ham specifically to fry up and serve with cream biscuits on Christmas morning.  Naturally that left us with a fairly sizable piece left and, while I’m not opposed to continuing to slice-and-fry, I was hoping for something a bit more imaginative.

With two bags of russet potatoes intended for latkes that never got made (because I am too lazy, apparently) and four leeks languishing in the fridge, I thought a thick, creamy soup would be perfectly appropriate for a cold winter night.

This soup recipe is incredibly easy, and it comes together in just about a half hour, with most of that time being inactive prep.  My one tip would be to go extra-easy on the salt, since ham tends to be fairly salty and it can overpower the delicate flavors of leek and potato if you’re not careful.

ham, potato, and leek soup (3-6 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 4 leeks
  • 2 russet potatoes
  • 1 qt. low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3/4 lb. ham, diced
  • 1/4 – 1/2 c. cream, optional

Directions:

  1. Melt butter in a soup pot over medium heat.  Slice the roots and dark green tops off leeks.  Slice lengthwise, then cross-wise, giving you half-moon pieces about 1/2″ thick.  Place leeks in a bowl, then run cold water over them until they are floating.  Swish them around with your fingertips, separating the leek pieces so that the water can wash away any bits of dirt or sand.
  2. When the butter has melted, lift leeks out of the bowl with a spider, give it a quick shake to get rid of most of the water, and add leeks to the soup pot.  Cook about 5 minutes or so, until getting soft.
  3. Rinse the potatoes and peel, if desired.  Chop into roughly 1/2″ pieces and add to the pot, along with the chicken broth.
  4. Turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil.  Turn down to medium-high and simmer 15-25 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked through.
  5. Turn off the heat.  With a hand blender, blend until the soup is perfectly smooth, or still has some lumps of potato – to your preferred texture.  Add ham and as much cream as you like.  Heat through.

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