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.
As the spring warms and the trees outside start blooming and the sunshine hours grow long, my body longs for summery, light meals. And this little salad became an instant favorite, both for its light tart summery taste and the ease of making it.
To make it you’ll need:
Organic Baby Arugula
1 organic chicken breast
1 organic lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil (preferably extra virgin, cold pressed, and organic)
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh ground pepper, to taste
Grated organic pecorino, romano, or parmesan cheese, to taste
First, wash (if needed) and put the desired amount of arugula in a sealable container (but don’t pack it in tightly…it’ll need room) and leave the top open.
Next, zest the lemon and keep the zest and the lemon.
Then, take a small sealable container and put the olive oil, lemon zest, salt, and a little pepper inside. Squeeze the juice from the lemon (all of it) into the container and remove any rogue seeds that fall in.
Now, seal the container and shake it up till the dressing is well mixed. Dip an arugula leaf inside and taste, then add more pepper, salt, oil, or lemon as needed for your tastes.
Cut the chicken breast into cubes and sautee on the stovetop with some of the lemon dressing until the chicken is cooked and lightly browning.
Drip some of the dressing (to your taste) into the container with the arugula. Seal the container and shake to coat the arugula with dressing. Keep in mind that with lemon dressings, a little goes a long way.
Place the arugula in bowls, shred some cheese over the top, and then add chicken cubes.
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.
One night when I was living in Switzerland, one of my Hungarian friends—a lovely 20-something international relations major named Lilla who was studying remotely while working in the Alps—was kind enough to come over to my apartment and make us a big pot of real Hungarian goulash. Just like mama used to make, she said.
When I started this blog, I went over my favorite and most memorable meals from the past couple years and Lilla’s goulash was one of them. So I asked her if she’d share the recipe and I thought I’d pass it along to you.
She says that this recipe (which is conveniently already in English) is very, very close to hers, but we should add 1 – 1.5 deciliters (about half a cup – just under or just over is fine) of red wine.
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.
This is the first time I’ve ever attempted to make homemade cinnamon rolls.
I am, really, more of a cook than a baker, an artist rather than a scientist. And my sweet tooth runs more toward good, warm chocolate chip cookies.
But then I met a guy whose first food confession to me was that he’s in love with cinnamon rolls. So it was time to make an attempt.
I chose to follow Pioneer Woman’s basic cinnamon roll recipe (in part because it incorporates maple flavoring—another favorite of the guy I was trying to impress), but I’ve since adapted it quite a bit, so I’m going to post my own version below.
The following recipe easily satisfied five of us and I made the dough a few hours before finishing off the rolls and frosting. Total baking time, including all the time the dough needs to sit between steps, is about three hours.
1/2 quart whole milk
1/2 cup olive oil
1 1/2 cup brown sugar
1 package dry yeast (.25)
4 cups flour (plus 1/2 cup reserved and some extra for flouring your surface and rolling pin)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder (overflowing)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (exact)
1/2 tablespoon salt (overflowing)
1 1/2 cups melted butter
2 – 3 tablespoons cinnamon (I used Vietnamese cinnamon)
2 1/2 – 3 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons maple flavoring
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 melted butter
1/4 cup brewed coffee (I used instant coffee of the Starbucks variety)
1/8 teaspoon salt
To start the rolls:
1. Heat milk, oil, and 1/2 cup of sugar in a saucepan on medium heat until it’s just below boiling, then remove from heat, let it cool for a couple minutes, and sprinkle the dry yeast on top of the liquid. Let it sit for about a minute.
2. Add four cups of flour and stir until combined. Cover the bowl with a towel and let it sit for an hour at room temperature.
3. Once that hour has passed, add baking powder and soda, salt, and that final 1/2 cup of flour. Mix.
4. Once it’s well mixed, let the dough sit in the fridge for an hour or two.
5. Set the oven to 375 (F) and flour one of your kitchen surfaces and a rolling pin. (Pro tip: if you have a large enough cutting board or a built-in cutting board in your kitchen, this would be a good place to do this so that you can roll and cut in the same spot.)
6. Roll the dough out on the floured surface into a rectangular shape. Try to get the dough pretty thin.
7. Pour about a cup of melted butter over the dough and spread it across the entire surface. Cover with cinnamon and 1 cup of brown sugar and try to spread it relatively evenly.
You can add more butter or sugar if you feel like you need it.
8. Once the surface is covered, use your hands to roll the dough toward you, keeping it as tight as you can (gaps are problematic).
9. On a cutting board, take your now-rolled cinnamon roll log and cut the rolls into relatively equal (and thick) portions. Turn them upward and place in a circular baking pan (or, if you don’t have one, a cookie sheet works).
10. Drizzle or drench the rolls with the remaining melted butter and let them sit on the counter (covered in a towel) for about 20 minutes before tossing them in the oven.
11. Take off the towel and bake for 15 – 20 minutes. The rolls should be browning a little and you can cut into the middle of one if you’re not sure if the dough has cooked through.
12. While they’re in the oven, focus on the frosting: whisk powdered sugar, milk, butter, coffee, and salt.
13. Once they’re looking good and combined, add the maple flavoring and whisk again. Then taste and add more butter, maple, sugar, etc. as needed.
14. Once the rolls are done, take them out of the oven and drench them in the icing, letting it run down the sides and soak into every nook and cranny.
15. Cool and enjoy.
The dough doesn’t keep well, so I recommend making it the same day. The completed rolls do keep well and I ate the last of the second batch about a week after I made it.
Finally, a kitchen tip for the traveler: one of the downsides to constantly being on the road is that every kitchen I cook in is equipped differently. Sometimes I have an epic blender, sometimes none at all. Sometimes I have a cheese grater, sometimes not. And in this case, I was doing without circular baking pans and without a rolling pin. To replace the rolling pin, I used a wine bottle, which works just as well (but do keep a good grip…you don’t want that thing falling off the counter). And instead of the circular pans I just used a cookie sheet (and made a bit of a mess with the frosting as a result…but it worked).