Ultimate Party Salad

There is a salad that I make for almost every single party, potluck, barbecue, whatever it is that I attend. It’s a sure-fire win for every occasion, it keeps well in the heat (i.e. summer barbecue) and it meets all three of my recipe criteria: easy, healthy, delicious.

So many people have asked me for this recipe over the years (some people more than once, you know who you are), and I thought I’d put it on the blog so I could just point them there from now on. And get in a little shameless self promotion in the process. Ahem.

Finding the recipe was kismet, truthfully. I had just purchased a basil plant from Trader Joe’s for my patio garden, and Real Simple magazine (go subscribe right now, it is amazing) did a spread on cooking with fresh basil. So, I tried it out, and both Huz and I were like THIS IS THE MOST AMAZING THING I HAVE EVER EATEN. I make it for a party and everyone is all, “WHO MADE THIS? RECIPE. NOW.”

Here is the recipe, as taken from Real Simple:

Chicken Salad with Apple and Basil

  • 4 6-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice (2-3 limes)
  • 1 tablespoon white wine or rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 4 scallions, white and light green part, thinly sliced
  • 2 Granny Smith apples, diced (peeled if desired)
  • 1/3 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  1. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Pound it to an even thinness.
  2. Place the chicken in a large saucepan and add water to cover by ½ inch. Add 3 teaspoons salt and ½ teaspoon pepper and bring to a gentle simmer.
  3. Cook until no trace of pink remains, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl of ice water for 5 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the lime juice, vinegar, and sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the scallions and apples and toss.
  5. Drain, pat dry, and dice the chicken. Add it to the apple mixture with the peanuts, mint, basil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper.
  6. Toss and divide among individual plates.

Some notes:

This recipe calls for poached chicken breasts. To that I say: NOT IN MY KITCHEN. I mean, if that’s what you have on hand, then by all means. But, I have found that a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store deli or the slow cooker chicken recipe outlined below (cooked in the AM, dismantled in the PM) are far superior. Just shred the meat by hand and add when you would have added the chicken breasts.

Follow directions exactly re: onions and apples. The vinegar and lime juice will help keep the chopped apple from getting brown.

I make this salad (for the adults) when I have snack duty at preschool, and there is a little gal there with a peanut allergy, so I omit the peanuts on those occasions. It still tastes awesome (but the peanuts add a wonderful flavor, so add them if you can!).

I have used both kinds of vinegar, both are great.

I’m sure other apples could stand in here, if that’s what you have on hand. But, the Granny Smiths are absolutely the bomb. The tartness of the apple is a major component, so just make sure it’s a really tart apple.

The salad tastes even better when it sits for a while, so make it ahead of time if you can, and let it sit in the fridge for 8 hours or so.

Just promise me that if we are attending the same party, you won’t bring this salad. Because chances are I’m bringing it too.

The fan-freaking-tastic slow cooker chicken recipe (from this cookbook):

Mexican-Style Lime and Cilantro Whole Chicken

One 3 to 4 pound broiler/fryer chicken

3/4 to 1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

juice of 1 small or 1/2 large lime

1/2 cup fresh cilantro sprigs

2 cloves garlic

1. Wash and dry the chicken thoroughly. Season inside and out with salt and pepper. Place in slow cooker, breast side up. Squeeze the lime juice over the chicken, and put the rinds, cilantro and garlic into the cavity. Cook on LOW 6 to 7 hours.

2. Transfer the chicken to a platter. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin and remove/shred the meat. If not using the meat immediately, refrigerate.

Note: I’m petrified of handling raw chicken and eggs, ever since the salmonella. If you’re like me, it helps to have all the other ingredients prepped and at your fingertips so you don’t have to get your germy hands all over the kitchen. Hint: I put the salt and pepper in a little dish.

Happy eating!

The No-Nuke Family

Some of you probably remember when my husband convinced me that we didn’t need a microwave. I very reluctantly agreed to give the microwave-less life a chance. It’s not as tough as you might think. I did miss it at first, but I was forced to improvise. I asked on Twitter what people used their microwaves for the most, and here are my non-nuking strategies:

1. Heating/Reheating This is easily the number one thing people use their microwaves for. Reheating leftovers. And this was a really, really big one for me too. But, I have found there isn’t a single thing you can’t reheat in the oven, in a skillet or in a sauce pan. To avoid dry-out: on the stove top, add just a smidge of water or milk and in the oven, cover with foil. Also paramount to this method is keeping an eye on the food. Don’t get distracted with other chores, it’s way to easy for things to start sticking to the pan or burning. For just heating up foods, say, from a can, I just plop it into a sauce pan. We eat a lot of canned food, too. I mean, we don’t have a microwave, but we’re not crazy.

2. Thawing It’s so much easier to plan a dinner at the last minute when you have the option to quick-thaw meat, soup, bread, veggies, whatever it is. Thawing is really pretty simple though, even quick-thawing. For meat, I place it in a bath of cold to lukewarm water (hot will encourage bacteria to grow), then swap out the water a few times as it cools. Meat will thaw in less than 2 hours this way. I know the safest way to do this is to thaw overnight in the fridge. This is for really desperate times, and good quality meat. Typically I get it pretty well thawed, then throw it back in the fridge until cooking time. The water bath method will work for soups, stews, broths, etc. For bread, I wrap it in foil and put it in the oven on a low temp for 10 minutes or so. For veggies, I either steam them, or use a skillet/sauce pan. This usually takes less than 5 minutes. Sure, not as quick as a microwave, but quicker than the leave-it-out method. I used to thaw Bowie’s baby food in the microwave, and I’m still using veggie purees sometimes. I just use a double boiler method, and it works perfectly. Just put boiling water in a large container, put your frozen puree in a smaller container, and dip it in the boiling water for a few minutes. BAM. Works perfectly for melting butter too.

3. Heating/Reheating Coffee and Tea I’m not a coffee drinker, so I don’t have any GREAT solutions for you. But, I know some people will add a little bit of boiling water to a cup of coffee to heat it up. A little watered down, but it’s warm at least. I do the same for tea. And I used to love making my tea in the microwave, because I had it down to a science and it came out ready-to-drink. With the boiling water method, you just have to be patient.

4. Microwave Bacon I am a big fan of microwave bacon. Less greasy, more crispy, OH YEAH. But, we’ve made some pretty amazing bacon in the oven. This is another one where you kind of have to keep an eye on it, but it’s totally worth it. And if you sprinkle some brown sugar on top before cooking it? HEAVENLY.

5. Drying a Cell Phone Not one of the answers I had expected to get, but a legitimate response, certainly. We too have been in the wet cell phone situation. But, what worked for us? A bowl of rice. Seriously. Take out the battery as soon as you can after the spill, bury the phone and the battery in a bowl of rice for 24 hours or so, and it should come out working fine. (Notice I said should. SHOULD. I’m not a cell phone technician.)

What else do you use your microwave for? Do you have any other recommendations for families that don’t have one?

Appetite

Right now, food and I are total frenemies.

I alternate between being completely famished and omg I will toss my cookies if I go near any food substance, and not much else in between.

When I’m hungry, I eat up all the good stuff I have stashed in the cupboards. When the hormones have me wretching, I can’t bear going to the store to get more food. Then I’m starving again, and I have to figure out what the heck to eat. Lather, rinse, repeat, for the past 2 weeks.

My morning sickness with Bowie was, though I didn’t know it back then, a COMPLETE WALK IN THE PARK. I felt queasy when I woke up, so I kept saltines next to the bed. I ate 2 or three of them, waited a few minutes, and went about my day. I was a little queasy until lunch time, but the mere thought of lunch didn’t make me want to throw up my saltines.

This time around, I am queasy when I wake up. Then my stomach decides that a small, bland breakfast would be ok. Then I’m queasy through lunch. In the afternoon, I’m so hungry I fear my stomach will eat itself. Then I’m queasy through dinner, but starving just in time to make the attempt to fall asleep. And “queasy” this time around is a lot more than my “queasy” of days past.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me that means I’m having a girl. I guess the tale is that morning sickness isn’t that bad with boys, but with girls, you better hold on tight to that toilet, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

So, we’ll see if that is true. In the meantime, I sure hope this goes away during the second trimester like all the books promise.

One thing that is still like last time, when I am actually really, really hungry, this is ALL I WANT, NOM NOM.

5 Shorts

1. Yesterday I went to Target and thought while I was there I would try to find a new swim suit for Hawaii. My old one is weathered and…too small. So, it was in order anyway. The scant selection was terrifying, but I managed to find a plain black suit in a nice (flattering? maybe.) cut. That’s probably the first time in my life I thought I looked halfway ok in a swim suit, even counting my stick-skinny years.

2. On that same thought, my absolutely favorite pair of fit-me-perfectly-every-time jeans have a hole in the knee. Le sigh. Le sob. They are now hereby downgraded to my worn-in, comfy, patched-up weekend jeans. And it will probably be like, a year before I find a good pair again.

3. This was where I was going to talk about the great weather we’ve been having, but most of the country (including pretty much all of my family members) have not been so fortunate lately, with the snow and the cold and whatnot, so I will just keep my trap shut.

4. But seriously, it’s been awesome here.

5. On my never-ending quest to “sneak” good food into my son, I’m making this recipe for kale chips. He likes nori (sheets of dried, sometimes roasted, seaweed), and I figure this can’t be that much different. Here’s the recipe I will be using (I have not yet tried this out, so please don’t blame me if you try it and it sucks):

Kale Chips from an article in Real Simple magazine

Tear kale leaves into pieces. Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 300 F until crisp, about 20 to 30 minutes.

The Aformentioned Lime Vinaigrette

By popular demand. (Ok, so just my mom asked, haha). An SF Wankel household classic.

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp sesame oil

2 tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice (about 1 lime)

2 tbsp rice or white wine vinegar

a few grinds salt and pepper

Whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl. Pour over salad/pasta/pretty much whatever you want.

I adapted this recipe from making this salad so many times (which is UNBELIEVABLE, make it NOW). But, I have also put it on green salad, quinoa salad, a whole bunch of stuff, it’s very versatile. I tried making it with lemons once, and I didn’t care for it, but some might.

Beth’s Picks: Handy Kitchen Tools

A while back I started writing a post that was a list of all the kitchen tools I consider to be really important for the 5 star home chef, but that list got a bit lengthy and I didn’t know what to keep and what to cut. I like my kitchen tools. A lot. Just ask my friends, who have had to listen to me drone on about my amazing potato masher or my beloved juicer. I’ve also given short lectures on the importance of having a good steamer.

Anyway, I switched gears a bit, and I give you: a very abbreviated list of some awesome products that I tracked down on OpenSky. If you’re without these, you’re not alone, and will probably get along fine. But they sure are fun and nice to have around.

Slow Cooker

This just happens to be the one that I have (though I don’t have that “Little Dipper” deal, and I’m curious what it’s all about). I LOVE MY CROCK-POT. It is such a versatile kitchen tool, and you can make the most amazing meals and barely lift a finger. It does all the work for you, while you are going about your day. Probably my number one recommendation.

Crock-Pot 5 Quart Chrome Slow Cooker, $53

A Good Set of Whisks

They might not seem all that fancy or important, but I love my whisks. I use them for a multitude of things, including whipping up my famous lime vinaigrette. This set is particularly nice because of the silicone coating. Everything will just slide right off–so easy to clean–and they can stand up to pretty high temperatures, and won’t damage your metal cookware. Also, it’s great that they come in a variety of sizes, because sometimes you just need a tiny little whisk.

Three Piece Whisk Set, $18

A Good Set of Rubber Spatulas

Like the whisks, a set of rubber spatulas come in handy for a variety of kitchen tasks. Personally, I like to use them in place of wooden spoons when I’m frying or sauteeing, because they don’t soak up the oil. They are also the best tool there is for getting every last drop of something out of a pan or bowl. I only have two, but I should get more, I use them often and sometimes it feels like they are always in the dishwasher.

Rachel Ray 3 Piece “Spoonula” Set, $18

Prep Bowls

I have already spoken at length in a previous post about the importance of the prep bowl, so I will spare you. But they are super handy to have around, especially if you’re making something that calls for a large number of ingredients to be chopped, sliced, minced or cubed. You can have it all organized and ready to go as you cook the dish. This is a technique that I credit for completely changing how my food turns out. Really.

CaliBowl Cali Stack Nesting Bowls, $30

Handheld Citrus Juicer

This isn’t exactly the juicer that I own, but it’s very similar. And, like I said before, I’m in love. We squeeze a lot of lemons and limes in this house for a lot of stuff, from vinaigrettes to margaritas, and this tool is indispensable for us. If you came into our kitchen on any random day, chances are you’ll see it on the counter, recently used. I like it because it extracts the juice quickly and easily. You’re not grinding it on a point like the juicers that catch the juice in a dish. And you don’t need to by some fancy automatic juicer. Just slice in half, squeeze, enjoy.

Amco 8-inch Two in One Citrus Juicer/Squeezer, $27

And…the stock

Made the chicken stock, just like I promised! Was the simplest thing I think I’ve ever cooked.

The recipe calls for quite a bit of chicken parts. I only had 1 pound, so I guesstimated on the ingredients, but it turned out wonderfully anyway. The timing is also very vague here; I did mine for about 10 hours.

Chicken Broth from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook

3 1/2 pounds of chicken parts and bones, or a 3 to 4 lb whole chicken cut up, trimmed of fat

1 large yellow onion, quartered

1 large carrot, cut into chunks

2 to 3 celery ribs with leaves

8 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley with stems

black pepper and salt

1. Combine everything but the salt in your slow cooker. Add cold water to cover by 2 or 3 inches. Cover and cook on HIGH for one hour.

2. Skim any foam off the surface. Turn slow cooker to LOW, cook 6 to 16 hours. If the water cooks down too much, you can add some boiling water.

3. Uncover and let cool. Set a large colander lined with cheesecloth over a large bowl. Pour the broth through to strain. Squeeze veggies to get more liquid out. Discard veggies and bones. If you have meat, reserve it for a salad, soup, etc. Taste the broth and season with salt if necessary.

4. Broth is good in the fridge for 2 or 3 days, frozen for 3 to 4 months. Bring the broth to a boil when you do use it.

Amazing Slow Cooker Chicken

So, in high school, I worked for a pet store that was in the same building as a veterinarian’s office. Sometimes they would call us over to help out in the clinic, administering meds and stuff. It was so exciting, and I had all these fantasies about becoming a veterinarian myself.

Until the day I sat down in science class with a dead frog in front of me.

Okay, once all the cutting and slicing and dicing is done for me, I can look around at an animal’s insides like none other. Intestines and hearts and kidneys and livers and blood and guts. It’s all very fascinating. But, cut open the animal? Even a dead one? No thanks. No siree. Nope.

So, as domestic as I claim to be sometimes, I’m leap years behind some because until this afternoon, I had never touched a whole raw chicken. Not even once.

But, I got this great new cookbook, and there are all these delicious sounding recipes that call for whole roasters or broilers. And finally I was like, WTF I AM GOING TO TRY THIS. AAAAAAAAAH (Imagine a pro football player after a locker room pep talk).

Directions said: Rinse with cold water and pat dry. Remove neck and giblets. I am immediately turned off by the neck. But, I remove it with a knife, and a little gagging. Then, unbeknownst to me, this chicken was sans giblets. However, I did not want to stick my hand in to retrieve them, so I did not find this out for oh, about 15 minutes. I tried to dig them out with a spoon, I tried to rinse them out with the water, and finally I got the balls to shine a flashlight inside the cavity (yes, yes I did). And after 5 minutes or so on the Interwebz, I determined that my chicken had no giblets. Okay.

After that, aside from the creepy way that the wing and leg joints still work making the chicken seem a wee bit alive when you’re rinsing it, the rest was a piece of cake. Here’s the amazing recipe that I tried for you to give a go yourself. Bear in mind (only because I cluelessly did not know) the chicken will be falling apart when all is said and done. And, ahem, it will be DELICIOUS.

Slow Cooker Lemon Chicken with Potatoes and Mushrooms

From: Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook

One 3 or 4 pound broiler or fryer whole chicken

2 cubes chicken bouillon

1/2 large lemon or 1 small lemon

1/4 tsp paprika

3 tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley

2 medium or 1 large onion, cut into wedges

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tbsp soy sauce

salt and pepper

6 to 12 small gold potatoes (Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold), unpeeled

6 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced thick

1. Rinse and dry chicken well, cut off large lumps of fat. Put one bouillon cube in the cavity. Squeeze the lemon juice into a dish and reserve. place the lemon rinds in the cavity. Place the chicken in the slow cooker, breast side up. Sprinkle with the paprika and parsley. Place onion wedges and garlic around the chicken. Pour the soy sauce and lemon juice over the chicken, then season with the salt and pepper to taste. Crumble the other bouillon cube over the chicken. Place the potatoes and mushrooms on top. Cover and cook on HIGH 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours, or LOW 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 hours, or until a thermometer reads 180 F at the thickest part of the thigh.

(The cookbook insists that the flavor is superior if you are able to cook it on HIGH for less time, but I cooked it on LOW and it was pretty freaking amazing.)

2. Discard lemon rinds and portion the mushrooms, potatoes, onions and chicken in shallow bowls or on plates. Discard skin and bones, reserving for another use if desired.

Okay, now I am the domestic goddess I once claimed. (Except, um, I still have not made my own stock. Stay tuned.)

Grilled Cheese for the Kiddos

Since embarking on this hiding-the-veggies-in-his-food regimen, I have found that so many of these mom chefs are getting the nutrition in either by frying up the food with hidden veggies in oil or hiding the veggies in a dessert full of sugar. Both of which I was trying to avoid. I mean, once in a while is fine, of course, but not three meals a day or anything.

One recipe stuck out to me as a pretty good course of action, and I make it for Bowie nearly every day for either lunch or dinner: grilled cheese with veggie puree. It’s got several healthy elements, and kids tend to scarf it down, plus it’s super easy to make. And it’s even tasty for adults, because the veggie adds such a nice, creamy texture and a richer flavor to it. AMAZING with a bowl of tomato soup.

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Sweet Potato or Butternut Squash

(Adapted from a recipe from Deceptively Delicious)

Makes 1 sandwich

1/4 cup shredded cheddar

1/4 cup butternut squash or carrot puree*

butter or spread of your choice

two slices bread (use whole wheat for another health boost)

1. Mix the cheese and the puree together in a small dish.

2. Butter both slices of bread on one side.

3. Heat a non-stick skillet on medium low.

4. Place one slice of bread in the skillet. Place the cheese and puree mixture on top of this slice. Then place the other slice on top. Allow it to brown, then flip and allow that side to brown (a couple of minutes on each side). Transfer to a plate and allow to cool.

*To make carrot puree, peel carrots and cut into 3 inch chunks. Steam for 10 to 12 minutes. Puree in a blender or food processor, adding water if necessary. Carrots are a great source of beta carotene and fiber.

To make sweet potato puree, cut whole sweet potatoes into quarters (leave peel on). Steam for 40 to 45 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork. Alternately, leave them whole and roast them at 400 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes. Scoop the flesh from the peel and puree in a blender or food processor, adding water if necessary. Sweet potatoes are a great source of fiber, beta carotene and antioxidants.

Purees can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days, or can be frozen and stored for several months. I freeze the puree in ice cube trays so I can easily pull out small amounts at a time (great technique if making your own baby food too!).

You could use other veggie purees if you have them, but for this recipe, the carrot and the butternut squash have a creamy and mild enough flavor to blend right in.


Beth’s Picks: The CaliBowl Cali Stack Nesting Bowls

In my quest to teach myself how to cook, I noticed something about a lot of the chefs and cooks that I watched work their magic: they were prepared. Many chefs refer to it as “mise en place”, a French phrase basically meaning “everything in place”. It just means that you should have all of your necessary ingredients ready at hand, measured and prepared (peeled, chopped, sliced, minced, etc.).

When I began doing this, my cooking was taken to the next level. Having everything at the ready like that makes it nearly impossible for you to screw up a dish. No more burning something because the next ingredient wasn’t ready. No more realizing halfway through cooking that you are out of a key ingredient.

So, with the holidays coming up, and all the cooking that goes along with that, I want to propose that you get your hands on a good set of prep bowls, which are fantasically handy when it comes to getting your mise en place on. A great set that I have found on OpenSky is the Cali Stack set from CaliBowl. They’re cute, they’re affordable and they’re made well.

These bowls are made of durable plastic, partially recycled materials, and are BPA free. They are also conveniently microwave and dishwasher safe, and they are nesting bowls (fitting inside one another) for easy storage in anyone’s kitchen. The bowls hold 1 cup, 1 1/2 cups, 3 cups and 5 cups.

I’ve got the Retro Aqua Blue pictured here (my personal favorite), but there are a few colors to choose from in my shop (including the Lime Green which is currently available for an amazing sale price).


Buy Now

And the super news is, OpenSky has generously offered me another coupon code for the next ten people to make a purchase from my OpenSky shop! Save 25% off your purchase of anything from my OpenSky shop with the code VERYBLOG30PCT (enter at checkout). Expires October 31.

Happy cooking, and happy shopping!