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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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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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creamy tomato soup

I never get tired of fresh, in-season tomatoes, and finding things to do with them.  Raw, broiled, cooked into sauce, yum.  One of my favorite tomato dishes of all time is a nice, creamy, tomato bisque.  It’s hard to resisting it if it is the daily special at a restaurant.  But I can also be cautious, because bad tomato soup is possible, and it’s…well, it’s bad.  It turns you off of tomato soup for the foreseeable future.  Best to avoid bad soups.  This soup is not a bad soup – obviously, I suppose, otherwise it wouldn’t be making an appearance here.  It is, however, a simple soup.  About 45 minutes, start to finish, and you’ll get a velvety smooth soup that you can drink, or dip your grilled cheese sandwich in.

Creamy Tomato Soup (6 servings)

You can use anything for the fat that starts this soup.  I used the drippings from pancetta, but you can also use bacon fat, butter, or olive oil.

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 c. fat of your choice
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • 1 c. chicken broth
  • 1/4 – 1/2 c. heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat your chosen fat in a large pot – tall if you plan to use an immersion blender as I did – over medium heat.  Add onion and garlic and cook for two minutes, or until fragrant.  Add tomatoes and cook until they have lost their shape, about ten minutes.
  2. Add chicken broth and cook a further 15 minutes to let the flavors develop.  Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender until smooth, or in a blender.
  3. Strain through a fine mesh sieve or chinois into a pot.  Stir in heavy cream, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

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strawberry-lemonade short ribs

When I was a kid, before my younger brother was born, I remember going to a Chinese restaurant in my hometown.  I actually live within walking distance of this restaurant now, but to my great sadness, it has since closed.  I loved it as an adult because it had cheap lunch specials that were filling and delicious.  I loved it as a kid because of the won-ton soup and the appetizer platter.  I don’t remember everything on the platter, but I remember the crab rangoon, and I remember the skewers of beef that were set on a sizzling iron grate up on top.  Moist, chewy, and very beefy tasting.

I wasn’t expecting these short ribs to taste just like that beef, but it was a very pleasant surprise.  Actually, I decided to make this dish because I had never before seen Korean-cut short ribs at our market, and I really wanted to use them.  New cuts of meat always excite me.  I learned that traditionally, Korean-style short ribs are marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, Asian pear, onion, and a carbonated sweet beverage such as 7-Up.  Apparently I had forgotten to get the pear and soda when I returned to the market, but scrounging around in my kitchen noticed I had an overripe peach and some strawberry lemonade leftover from a party.  Figuring I would be losing an essentially traditional nuance but that a fruit and a sweet drink would more or less do the trick, I did the swap and was very pleased with the results.

Strawberry-Lemonade Short Ribs (2 servings)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lb. korean-style short ribs
  • 1 ripe peach
  • 1 small onion
  • 1/3 c. soy sauce
  • 1 c. strawberry lemonade, or sweet liquid of your choice – traditionally, 7-Up is used
  • 1 tbsp. chili garlic paste
  • 2 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 2 tsp. fresh grated ginger or 1/2 tsp. powdered ginger

Directions:

  • Place short ribs in a glass baking dish.  Grate the onion and the peach over the top, and then add the remaining ingredients.  Give the mixture a little stir on top of the ribs to make sure the ingredients are fairly evenly distributed.  Cover with plastic wrap and marinate overnight – flip short ribs once if you remember.
  • Preheat your grill to high heat.  Remove each short rib from the marinade, allowing excess to drip off, and then set on the grill.  Cook 3-4 minutes on each side.

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salted caramel ice cream

I love caramel.  Let’s just get that out of the way there.  I have said before I’ve found browned butter to be overrated (in taste anyway, the smell is heavenly), but caramelize up some sugar, and I am all about it.  I’ve found that caramel and butterscotch sauces are incredibly easy to make, and more delicious fresh at home out of the pan than you could ever buy in a store.  So… what’s the difference between caramel and butterscotch, many people wonder.  Well, the answer is sort of complicated.

Typically, I have heard that caramel is made with white sugar, and butterscotch with brown sugar.  Thus, the difference is primarily that the brown color in caramel is achieved from the caramelization of the sugar molecules, where the brown color in butterscotch comes from the molasses content of the brown sugar.  Caramel is used to describe both the brown syrup from plain white sugar caramelized, as well as this syrup mixed with butter and cream to form a softer confection.  Butterscotch can refer to either a syrupy mixture of brown sugar, butter, and cream, or also a hard candy that resembles toffee.  Toffee, incidentally, is really just an alternative spelling of taffy, which are two very different sweets in America.  Confused yet?

Toffee is generally defined as a confection made of boiling caramelized sugar with butter (and sometimes brown sugar).  Though in America we usually only consider toffee as being brittle, in the UK toffees can be hard or soft, the latter being what we would call caramels.  However, there is also a form of confectionary in the UK called cinder toffee, sometimes referred to as honeycomb here in the US, which is an aerated very crispy toffee made by combining caramelized sugar and butter with baking soda (and sometimes vinegar), which creates bubbles that are then preserved in the cooling mixture.  It’s found here in imported candy bars Violet Crumble or Crunchie, and is also referred to as hokey-pokey sometimes.

I guess the essential lesson to come away with here is that language is variable, but you will not find one type of caramelized or sugar-butter-cream thing that I will not eat and enjoy.  I tried salted caramel ice cream once before at a fancy ice cream shop, but found that it had a bitter, almost burnt taste to it.  Thinking to eliminate this by making it myself, I will say that despite being very careful not to burn it, it does have a slightly bitter edge to it that was not unpleasant.

Now, I consider myself a huge ice cream fiend.  More than once I have demolished a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, though I am also very fond of a Texan gelato I recently discovered at the market – the Caramel Cookie Crunch was divine, and the Double Dark Chocolate tasted like frozen creamy truffle, and at $6 a pint, both were more than worth it.  That said, I found one scoop of this ice cream to be perfectly satisfying, and any more than that was honestly overkill.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream (makes about 1 qt.)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 c. vanilla sugar
  • 1/2 c. room-temperature unsalted butter, cut into eight pieces
  • 2 scant tsp. large-grained gray sea salt
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2 c. whole milk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Directions:

  1. Place sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and cook about 5 minutes without stirring, allowing the sugar granules on the bottom of the saucepan to begin melting.  Stir occasionally until all of the sugar has melted.
  2. Turn the heat down to low and add the butter and salt, stirring until the butter has melted.  Mine seized at this point and hardened into huge chunks, possibly because I added the butter in one big, cold lump.  This is why I suggest the butter be cut into chunks and used more or less at room temperature.
  3. Add cream and stir until any hardened caramel has melted.
  4. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth.  Very slowly, pour a few tablespoons of the caramel mixture onto the egg yolks, whisking constantly to temper them.  Then, add the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan along with half of the milk.  Rinse the bowl.
  5. Heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened and coats the back of a spoon.  Pour through a mesh strainer into the bowl.  Add the remaining milk and vanilla extract.  If you’d like to cool the mixture off quicker, place the bowl into an ice bath and whisk constantly.  Otherwise, place plastic wrap over the bowl, pressing onto the surface of the mixture and refrigerate several hours until chilled.  Process in ice cream machine, and freeze until hard.

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simple tomato sandwich

Sometimes simplicity really is best.  I am a firm believer in meals with only a few ingredients, as long as it’s not a compilation of processed foods masquerading as something more complicated.  High-quality linguine in a sauce of butter, onion, garlic, and fresh-cracked pepper is one example, and this sandwich is another: just one slice of delicious bread, high-quality mayonnaise (in this case, homemade), fresh tomato, salt, and pepper.  Sure, you can pretty this up any number of ways, such as with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, a base of fresh basil leaves, or thick, crisp fried bacon.  But the beauty of this sandwich is that you don’t have to.

The only thing that really complicates this sandwich is the homemade mayonnaise, and I will echo legions of food writers in that it is absolutely worth it (though I have made the sandwich before with jarred mayonnaise, and it’s pretty tasty that way, too!).  It’s softer, creamier, and has at once a stronger and more delicate flavor.  I made mine using the whisk attachment on my hand mixer, and a squeeze bottle to slowly drip, then stream, the vegetable oil into the egg yolk for an easy emulsion.  I know this is a process that daunts many home cooks, but I urge that it is totally, completely doable.  Today was the first time I made it, and in about 15-20 minutes, I had a batch all ready to go.

Simple Tomato Sandwich (makes 1 sandwich)

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium slice bread – I used my favorite rosemary bread from a local bakery, but any will do, although I’ll say plain white sandwich bread may be a little delicate to hold up to the tomato
  • 3 slices from a small, ripe tomato
  • 2 tbsp. mayonnaise – I used this recipe as written
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Lightly toast your bread slice, and let cool to room temperature, so the mayonnaise won’t melt on the bread.
  2. Spread with the mayonnaise, and top with the tomato slices.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. That’s it!

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