One of the best things about my winter in Arizona was that I had so many girl friends in town for coffee dates and afternoon walks and, most importantly, girls’ nights.
I hosted one big girls’ night dinner at my place and, since I was accommodating a variety of tastes, I went with something ethnic, but also classic:
Chicken Tikka Masala.
Also, homemade naan (because what Indian meal is ever complete without naan?).
For the Chicken Tikka Masala, I used this recipe, but I cut the onions down by about 25 or 30%.
For the naan, I used this recipe and cooked only enough for the meal, then reserved the rest of the dough and made and ate it throughout the next few days. I also added one last step that made a huge difference: when you’re mixing the dry ingredients, add about 1/2 a teaspoon (or more, to taste) of cumin and a small handful of chopped cilantro. It changes everything.
And just to shake things up and be a little crazy, we had chocolate chip cookies for dessert.
Photo credit (sorry, this isn’t an actual photo; we devoured it before I could get a shot in).
This year, I spent four whole months in Flagstaff, Arizona. I was there to see my best friend, to focus on getting healthy after a very difficult 2015, and to take some time to just slow down and relax.
It was all that and more, and since I was staying put for such a long time, I also did a whole lotta cooking. For the first time in awhile, I could buy big bottles of olive oil and a myriad of spices. I bought bags of flour and bottles of maple flavoring. And with a big dining room table and an even bigger kitchen, I also took the time to throw dinner parties.
The largest was made up of seven adults and three kids (ranging in age from three to nine). And the challenge (which I embraced happily) was making something the whole group could eat and enjoy.
So I decided to go with that never-fail staple: macaroni and cheese.
Of course, I can’t just do regular mac and cheese, though. So I committed to doing it two ways, both with a twist on the classic recipe.
The first recipe I used was the closest to classic mac and cheese. It’s creamy and rich and has a tiny kick. It was the favorite of the night for both kids and adults. I went a little light on the cayenne pepper and heavy on the cheddar and used whole milk instead of skim and it worked out fabulously. One caution, though: it serves way less than you think. I added 50% to the recipe (which supposedly serves four adults, so adding 50% should serve six) and it still wasn’t enough. If you’re serving four, I’d suggest doubling the recipe.
The second recipe I chose because it incorporated bacon (and who doesn’t love bacon). I made my version with regular pasta (instead of whole wheat noodles) and whole milk (instead of skim). The bacon was a nice touch, but I wasn’t a fan of the panko bread crumbs. And if I had it to do over, I would replace this with Caprese Mac & Cheese.
Finally, I finished off dinner with homemade chocolates (of the paleo variety) made with maple syrup. I placed two small chocolates at the bottom of each person’s small bowl and then topped it off with a scoop of toffee ice cream (which I did not make from scratch). The chocolates weren’t my personal favorite, but they got rave reviews from the other adults, so give them a try and see how you like them.
I’ve been traveling full-time for nearly four years now (my four year anniversary is only a couple weeks away) and the whole time I’ve been on the road, my pint-sized, trusty pooch has been by my side. She’s gone running down Mexican beaches and slept under my chair in French cafes. She’s slept through probably over a hundred train, plane, or bus rides. She’s biked across France and walked to the top of several Swiss Alps. And in all she’s been to something like 16 countries in the process.
One of the most common questions I get when I mention that I travel with my dog is this:
How do you find dog food on the road?
The simple answer? I make it.
When I first started traveling, I bought and carried dog food, but Luna has a lot of allergies, some of which are food related, and after trying everything I could think of to eliminate them, I decided the only way forward was to start making her food from scratch.
So I spoke to my vet in Switzerland and we came up with a plan. We started with a few simple ingredients and slowly began adding more things and trying other ingredients to see what she had allergic reactions to and what she didn’t.
Very quickly I discovered that she’s allergic to chicken (and eggs) and grains and that she does really well with things like fish and lean ground beef.
And so the basic recipe I follow on the road, honed over many attempts to find things she likes and is not allergic to, is this:
Luna’s Road Trip Dog Food
Ground beef or tuna (depending what is easily available and affordable in whatever country we’re in)
Veggies (carrots, red peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, and other veggies that are okay for dogs, depending on what is available where we are)
Pumpkin (when available)
It’s important to note that if I’m switching Luna from tuna to beef (or vice versa), I do so slowly, adding a little beef to the normal tuna meal and increasing beef and decreasing tuna over the course of a week or so. It’s also important to note that the reason I include pumpkin when I can is that it helps keep dogs digestively regular.
Finally, if you decide to make your dog’s food at any point, check in with your vet about portions and nutritional requirements. Luna’s diet is one I’ve worked on with my own vet, but I’m sure there are different recommendations for different dogs.
The secret to seeming like a really fancy chef (even if you don’t feel like you are) is making your own sauces and serving more than one at a time. Anything served four ways or three ways or two ways feels more impressive than a simple “here’s your chicken with pesto, enjoy.”
Which is why I chose this meal for my February date night. Each sauce and the chicken itself…all pretty simple. But when you put them together, you look like a kitchen rock star.
To make this as I did, you’ll want to start the night before (primarily to marinate the chicken, but you can also make the sauces a day ahead of time and then throw it all together quickly the next night).
Ingredients for each sauce and marinade are in the links below and you’ll also want to buy a jar of good jam (I used organic strawberry rhubarb, but most jams would probably work well here) and, of course, chicken breasts. I also served this with a simple salad, so if you want to copy my meal completely, grab some salad ingredients and start with that (mine was a spinach salad with some veggies, walnuts, cranberries, and a combo of soy sauce and oil as dressing).
Without further ado, then…chicken four ways:
First, prepare your chicken. I used this simple brown sugar and soy marinade and let the chicken sit in it overnight (in a ziplock bag) in the fridge. The next day (just before serving), I sliced the chicken into strips and sauteed it on the stovetop in its marinade with a little water added.
Since there were two of us, I only did three large chicken breasts (and it was plenty and we had two meals worth of leftovers).
Next, start on your sauces.
The first sauce is a homemade pesto (I used this recipe). It’s super simple…just grab a bunch of fresh ingredients, throw them in a food processor (or blender, which is what I did), and then put in a jar and refrigerate until the next day. I chose to do Romano cheese (mostly because it was the first thing I found in the store), but I’m sure the Parmesan version is just as good.
The second sauce is a fruity mango strawberry salsa made by following one of my all-time favorite recipes. This can also be made the night before and stored overnight in the fridge in a sealed container.
The second and third sauces both start with this whipped ricotta recipe. Start by whipping up the whipped ricotta according to the recipe, but don’t add the olive oil, lemon zest, and pepper just yet. If you are making this the day before, just store the whipped ricotta in a closed container in the fridge and finish the sauces off the next day. If you’re making it just before serving, you can finish off the sauces as described below.
Once you’re ready to serve up your supper, place strips of chicken breast (two to three, depending on size) in four places on each plate. Now, over one set of chicken breasts, spoon some of the homemade pesto. Over another, spoon the mango strawberry salsa. Over the third, spoon your whipped ricotta and now add (over that) some olive oil, lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Over the final chicken serving, spoon some more of the whipped ricotta, but instead of olive oil, lemon zest, and spices, add a spoonful of good jam (I used organic strawberry rhubarb and it was a big hit).
Finally, apologies that I don’t have photos of my actual meal. The photos didn’t come out very well, but I didn’t want to deny you the recipes just because my photographic talent was taking the night off.