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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Caprese-stuffed Chicken with Basil Oil and Balsamic Glaze.

After three days of work travel this week, I was exhausted when I got home Friday afternoon. I was so tired, in retrospect I feel like the only appropriate word to describe my state is the fantastic Irish expression “knackered.” I was knackered! I wanted to grab my yoga pants, put some 30 Rock on, and fall asleep.

….And then I thought of this recipe, and believe it or not, I got a second wind. The punchy and comforting flavors of caprese go so well with baked chicken, and I was thrilled to get to use two favorite ingredients that I don’t have on hand every day: fresh basil and balsamic glaze. And the finished product was definitely deserving of such delicacies. Apologies for the photos here – when I started cooking, the light was lovely. But the night went on, as it tends to do, and by the time everything was ready to eat, it was too dark for a decent photo. I will most definitely make these again and again, so I’ll just have to snap a picture next time. Make these, and make them soon.

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INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup cheese (I used a combo of fresh mozzarella and cheddar)
1/4 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 tbsp fresh basil, julienned, divided
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tomato, seeded and diced
salt and pepper
5 – 6 halved chicken breasts (about 1 lb in total, sliced through the center, so they are long and wide, but thin)
olive oil
balsamic glaze (a.k.a. reduced balsamic vinegar – you could use regular balsamic here, too)
also need: toothpicks or kitchen twine

Just the Recipe link: Caprese-stuffed Chicken with Basil Oil and Balsamic Glaze

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 325 F.

First, put 1 tbsp basil in a ramekin or small bowl with 1 tsp olive oil, and stir. Set aside to marinate a little bit.

In another bowl, combine cheese, balsamic vinegar, 1/2 tsp extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp basil, garlic, and tomato.

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Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Top each one with a spoonful of the caprese stuffing and roll the sides over, to seal it in. Secure with two toothpicks. Repeat with the rest of the chicken breasts.

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Heat an oven-safe, stovetop-safe pan, like a cast iron skillet, over medium heat with a bit of olive oil. Add the chicken and brown on all sides. Don’t worry about cooking the chicken, since it’s going in the oven – just give it some color.

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Then move the chicken to the oven and cook until the middle is no longer pink and the juice run clear. I didn’t time it, sorry. Maybe 15-20 minutes? I swear I’ll time it next time, folks! Just keep an eye on it.

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When the chicken is cooked through, plate it with a good drizzle of balsamic glaze and a scoop of the basil olive oil. Aww, yeah.

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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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Wonton Soup, Dismantled.

I LOVE this soup! I haven’t been feeling well lately, and I think the reason I finally wrote up this recipe is because I’ve had such a serious wonton soup craving. It’s delish – so warming and comforting. And as much as I really do enjoy putting a pot of soup on the stove and tending to it for 3 or 4 hours – it’s such a labor of love! – there is certainly to something to be said for a great fast soup as well. This is one of those. In about 30 minutes you’ll have a beautiful and easy wonton soup, with deconstructed wontons, of course. I replace long cooking time with layer-by-layer flavor-building: first the seasoned chicken cooks, then the ginger, garlic, and peppers, then the cabbage and stock, then the edamame and noodles, and finally the crowning glory that makes this soup so special: the soy sauce. Mmm. I wish I had a bowl of leftovers right now!

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INGREDIENTS

olive oil
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 small chicken breasts, cut into small pieces (think little bitty bite-sized)
3/4 tsp powdered ginger, or 1 small knob fresh ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 bell pepper (I used orange), diced
3 cups chopped cabbage
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
5 cups water
1 cup shelled edamame
1 1/2 cups egg noodles
2 tbsp soy sauce
salt and pepper to taste
chopped onion and fresh cilantro, for garnish

Just the Recipe link: Wonton Soup, Dismantled

DIRECTIONS

In a soup pot, heat a drizzle of olive oil and the sesame oil over medium high, careful not to let it smoke (sesame oil becomes bitter if you let it burn). Add the chicken and some salt and pepper and stir, cooking until you can’t see any more pink. Then add the ginger, garlic, and bell pepper, and cook until softened and fragrant, about 3 minutes.

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Add the cabbage and stir, cooking about 3 more minutes to soften.

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Pour in the chicken stock and water and simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

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Add the edamame and noodles and cook until the noodles are done. Remove from heat and stir in the soy sauce, then taste and add salt and pepper accordingly.

Garnish with chopped onion or green onion and cilantro, and more soy sauce if you like. Quick wonton soup in about half an hour!

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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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