Balsamic Chicken with Sauteed Vegetables and Lentils.

Can we talk about lentils? Why don’t we eat more lentils in this life we lead? I realize I’m speaking for you, readers, when really I should just speak for myself…maybe you eat a lot of lentils already, or maybe you’re allergic to lentils and I’m being insensitive to your needs. Sorry. But everyone else, why aren’t lentils a bigger part of our lives?! They are cheap, good for you, SO easy to make, and incredibly versatile. They can be the star of a dish, the sidekick, or the background canvas for another ingredient’s greatness. And let me repeat how cheap they are. Most stores in my neighborhood sell a pound bag of lentils for less than a dollar, and since they do plump when you cook ’em, you end up with a LOT of lentils for very little money. They are also a great high-protein substitute for rice if that’s your thang, and since you prepare them basically the same way you prepare rice, it’s not hard to learn to make lentils. Also they taste great. Are you convinced? Good. Make this. IMG_1270 INGREDIENTS

for chicken:
3 small chicken breasts
fav all-purpose spice rub (there are 2 kinds of people: those who know that Back-of-the-Yards rub from the Spice House is the best seasoning ever, and those who haven’t tried it yet)
salt and pepper
balsamic vinegar
butter

for lentils:
1/2 lb lentils
1 cup chicken stock
3 cups water
pinch of parsley
pinch of rosemary
pinch of thyme

for veggies:
1/4 onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups spinach leaves, chopped
salt and pepper
lemon juice (optional)

DIRECTIONS

IMG_1281 I believe marinades are an art, not a science. With that in mind, have a bowl or plastic bag handy and rub the chicken breasts with some spice rub and salt and pepper. Put the chicken in the bowl or bag and pour in a few teaspoons of balsamic vinegar. Let this concoction marinate in the fridge for at least 20 minutes, or as long as overnight.

The lentils take a little while, so get them going next. Sort through and pick out any stones or weird looking ones, and rinse the remaining beauties. In a small pot, combine lentils, chicken stock, water, parsley, rosemary, and thyme. Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer and cover. Cook until tender, and drain any remaining liquid. Set the lentils aside.

When you’re almost ready to cook the chicken, preheat the oven to 350 F.

To cook the chicken, heat a skillet or other stove-to-oven-safe pan over medium high heat. Add some butter to the pan and let it melt, and then add the chicken breasts. I like to move each one around a little bit in the butter so that I know they’ve all had their turn in the good stuff. Make sure the chicken breasts are not touching or crowded too closely (we don’t want them to steam or braise).

When one side of the chicken has browned nicely, flip the chicken over and get some color on the second side. Once you’ve got some good color on both sides, turn off the heat and finish cooking the chicken all the way through in the oven. It’s done when the center is white, not pink, and the juices run clear. Remove from the pan and set chicken aside.

But don’t do anything to that wonderful pan! It has awesome flavor in it from the chicken. So put the pan back on the stove and turn the heat to medium low. It should still be a pretty hot pan, so add the onions, carrots, and garlic, and stir around to pick up the beautiful browned bits of flavor. Cook until softened and add the spinach, cooking just until wilted. Squeeze over a bit of lemon juice if you like.

Then add the lentils into the pan and stir to create a beautiful mottled mosaic of colorful veggies. Taste for salt and pepper, and then top with your chicken breasts for a gorgeous, rustic meal!

IMG_1284 This lasted me a few days of lunches at work, and man was it good. Lentils are just awesome. IMG_1236

Chicken, White Bean, and Brussels Sprouts Salad.

Here’s a quick and simple dinner recipe that I love to make on weeknights (you can tell from the poor lighting in my photos that I really do make this on work nights!). Shredded Brussels sprouts salads are so popular right now, but for me, they’re only really special when they check a few specific boxes: the dressing needs to have a creaminess factor, supplied by a bit of mayo here. The tart-sweet balance has to be just right – so I’ve paired apple cider vinegar with honey. And though I hate to say it, the protein must come from something other than bacon (as is so often the case with Brussels sprouts salads). This is a dinner salad, not a side salad, so the beans and chicken are essential and so so good. Here’s how you know this is an awesome dish: I always make twice as much as I’ll need, so that I can bring the leftovers to work for lunch the next day. But once or twice I have eaten the whole thing and had to think of something else to bring for lunch. What can I say…it’s healthy and tastes fantastic!

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INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 tbsp mayo
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp parsley
pinch of cayenne pepper (or a squeeze of hot sauce)
1/4 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp honey
salt and pepper to taste
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
3 cups shredded Brussels sprouts
1/2 cup canned white beans, drained and rinsed (I used great northern beans)
2-3 tbsp chopped roasted almonds

DIRECTIONS

In a small bowl, stir together mayo, olive oil, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, parsley, mustard, vinegar, honey, salt, and pepper.

In a larger bowl, toss Brussels sprouts, beans, chicken, and almonds with dressing. C’est tout!

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Loaded Chili.

Garnishes. Goodies. Fixins’. At least half the reason I love chili is the toppings you get to put on it. Oh, my, the toppings. This recipe is about making an amazing chili that will eventually become an Ode to Toppings, and I want you to use them all: avocado, cheese, cilantro, tomato—whatever your heart desires. And you know what? You are a great cook and a wonderful person, and you deserve a beautiful meal. So thank yourself for making this by plating it up like a work of art and garnishing the heck out of it. Heidi at 101 Cookbooks is the master at this. Here are some of her most gorgeously garnished soups: Split Pea, Broccoli Cheddar, Yellow Split Pea, and Posole in broth. Let life imitate art and load up this chili!

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INGREDIENTS

for the chili:
olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb ground meat (I used pork)
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
2 cups stock (I used beef stock)
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
1 16oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 16 oz can corn, drained and rinsed

all the fixins’:
avocado, sliced
fresh cilantro, chopped
cheese, shredded
fresh tomato, chopped
onion or green onion, thinly sliced or minced
squeeze of lime

Just the Recipe link: Loaded Chili

DIRECTIONS

Heat oil in a pan and add onion and red pepper. Cook about 8 minutes, until softened.

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Add the garlic and the cayenne pepper, oregano, coriander, cumin, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Stir and cook 1-2 minutes, until fragrant and yummy-smelling.

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Add the ground pork and use your spoon to break it up. Cook until browned, stirring occasionally.

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Once the meat is browned, pour in the canned tomatoes and the stock. Toss in a bay leaf for good measure. Bring to a boil and then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes.

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After 45 minutes have gone by, add the cilantro, corn, and beans, and simmer for another 15 minutes.

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Taste for seasoning and your chili is good to go! Now dress it up. And make it look beautiful, for heaven’s sake! You’re worth it.

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Scarborough Fair Roast Chicken.

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme
Remember me to the one who lives there
She once was a true love of mine.

If you love this song as I do, it’s likely because you know the beautiful version sung by Simon and Garfunkel. And if you love it as I do, you might also use it as a guide to seasoning chicken (more on that later). Knowing it was much older than a 60s hit, I decided to comb the web a bit to learn about the history of the song. There’s a pretty interesting Wikipedia article on this old ballad that gives a bit of background; the playfulness of the lyrics is what interests me most. Part of the song is from the point of view of a young man who instructs his love to do impossible tasks for him, and then it switches to her point of view. She gives him equally impossible tasks—and their relationship depends on the completion of these tasks. It’s sweet and a little goofy, despite the utterly mournful vibe of the S&G hit.

But when you really pay attention to the words of “Scarborough Fair,” it doesn’t make sense, at least to me, why the four herbs (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme) are mentioned in every single verse. They don’t have anything to do with the rest of the song! For me, this lovely herbal repetition has dictated the way I season chicken dishes for as long as I’ve been cooking (so it’s no surprise that parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme feature in my whole roast chicken as well). But since I’m sure the point wasn’t to help people flavor meat, I did some Googling to see if there was an explanation. I found a few theories, my favorite of which says that these four herbs, when used together, ward off the evil eye. So look away, all you devils out there—this chicken is protected by musical magic! Taste the magic, people.

I have one serving suggestion that I will repeat at the end of the recipe, because it really is a good idea: make sure to have a crusty baguette on hand, because you’re going to want to sop up those heavenly juices.

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INGREDIENTS

1 whole chicken, rinsed and patted dry
olive oil (regular, not extra virgin)
1 tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 tbsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste

Just the Recipe link: Scarborough Fair Roast Chicken

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Put your chicken in a pan, legs- and breasts-side down, and drizzle with olive oil. Combine the parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper, and sprinkle half over the chicken. Then flip the chicken so that the legs and breasts are facing up, and repeat the olive-oil-drizzling and the spice-sprinkling. You could massage the spices into the chicken a bit if you like; I didn’t feel like it today. It’s the cook’s prerogative.

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Pop it in the oven for about an hour and 15 minutes, depending on the size of your bird. It’s done when the juices run clear and the meat has lost its inner pinkness.

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That’s all! Roast chicken is incredibly easy. Definitely not the kind of task that the young man in “Scarborough Fair” would have requested of his lover. And when you eat this, you’ll enjoy it so much more if you have a nice crusty loaf of bread to dip into the juices—sometimes I think they’re the star of the show, they’re just that good.

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Cauliflower Crust Pizza.

This recipe is a tribute to a friend who so generously acted as beauty consultant / hair colorist for me yesterday. To thank her, I made these gluten-free pizzas, which are completely delicious whether g-free is your lifestyle (hers) or not (mine). Though gluten is fine by me, I’ve found that a lot of the things I love to cook (and eat) are already gluten-free. So when I find a recipe, like this one, that is totally dreamy and healthy AND fits in with the g-free life, I love to share it. This is one of those! I came upon essentially the same ingenious recipe on 3 of my favorite blogs, and this is my version of that awesomely tasty and healthy pizza. Yum! And thanks Jeni!

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INGREDIENTS

for crust:
2 cups cauliflower stems and florets, grated
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
oregano and granulated garlic to taste
1 egg
salt and pepper
2-3 tbsp cottage cheese, to hold it together

topping ideas:
1/2 cubed chicken breast, sauteed with salt, pepper, and paprika
shredded mozzarella
grape tomatoes, quartered
green onions, chopped

Just the Recipe link: Cauliflower Crust Pizza

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 450 F.

First, put the grated cauliflower into a bowl and microwave for 7 minutes, covered with a washcloth or paper towel. When it’s cooked, mix all the crust ingredients in a bowl. Use more or less cottage cheese, depending on how dry the mixture is and how it’s holding together.

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On a greased baking pan, shape the cauliflower mixture into two flat discs, as thick or thin as you like.

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Bake them for about 15 minutes, or until the edges are browned and the top is flecked with bits of golden melted cheese. The thickness of the crusts will affect baking time, so make sure to keep an eye on them.

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Once the crusts come out of the oven, I use a spatula to loosen them from the bottom of the pan and make sure they come off in one piece, because this will be a lot harder to do once they’re topped with cheese and other wonderful things.

Before you start with the toppings, turn up your oven to broil (or to very, very hot!). The pizzas only have a few minutes left to cook, and we want to do it at a high heat.

On to the beautiful toppings. They can truly be whatever you want – we went with chicken, green onion, tomato, and cheese, and they were fantastic!

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Stick back in the oven for 3-5 minutes, until the cheese is melted and has started to turn a little golden. Sprinkle with some more green onion or some oregano and dig in!

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Spiced Chicken and Chickpea Stew.

There’s nothing like a hearty and healthy stew on a Saturday afternoon in Fall. This spiced chicken and chickpea one-pot meal was a fun little cooking adventure because I don’t often use flavor combinations like these. Especially the cinnamon. I’ve never been brave enough to try cinnamon in a savory meat dish before, but I’m glad I did! The heat of the paprika and cayenne provide an great backdrop for the smokey exotic cumin and cinnamon. This is a filling dish that keeps well in the fridge—the bright spice flavors get even deeper if they’ve had a chance to marry a bit. Kidney beans or great northern beans would work just as well as chickpeas, and if you wanted to make this dish vegetarian or vegan, just cut out the chicken and add an extra can or two of beans. It’s all about protein and spice!

INGREDIENTS

3 chicken breasts (substitute with another can or two of beans for a vegetarian/vegan version)
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3-5 carrots, sliced into coins
3 bay leaves
1 1/2 tsp hot paprika
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp ketchup
14 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp dried parsley
lemon juice

DIRECTIONS

Season each chicken breast with salt and pepper. Heat oil over medium in a skillet or other large pan. Brown the chicken on each side, then set aside.

In the same pan, add another drizzle of oil if needed and stir in the onion and carrot. Sprinkle with a bit of salt, to keep the onion from browning. When the onion and carrot are softened, add the bay leaves, paprika, garlic powder, turmeric, cayenne pepper, cumin, and cinnamon. Turn the heat up a bit and cook the spices until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Then add the ketchup, and put the chicken breasts back into the skillet. Add the tomatoes, and then fill the empty tomato can with water and pour into the pot. Stir and bring to a boil. Turn down to a high simmer and cook for 10 minutes.

Stir in the chickpeas and sprinkle over the parsley. Cover and simmer for about half an hour.

Remove the bay leaves, sprinkle with lemon juice and more parsley, and serve with couscous.