Easy chicken salad

When I was in Kansas, my mom made a yummy smoked chicken salad, and it made me realize that I had never made chicken salad myself. This is what I came up with, and I think it came out pretty well.

Chicken salad

2 large boneless skinless chicken breasts, or equivalent (a little over 1 pound)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
salt and pepper
1/2 cup light mayo
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1 cup red seedless grapes, cut in half
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the chicken breasts on a nonstick baking sheet and sprinkle on the herbs, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Bake until the chicken juices run clear, about 45 minutes.

Let the chicken cool, and then slice it into 1/2-inch chunks.

Add the rest of the ingredients and stir until it’s all combined. That’s it!

I love chicken salad on a croissant, but it’s also great in a pita pocket, lettuce wrap, or just plain.

Brown rice casserole

I’ve had the Greens cookbook for a while, but hadn’t made anything out of it until I picked out this very unassuming recipe for a brown rice casserole. I was looking for something that would be both hearty and healthy. And I appreciated that it was also meatless.

Some of the recipes in the book are pretty labor intensive (ie make one recipe from this page, add another recipe from this page, etc.), but this one was quite simple. It’s also very adaptable to whatever veggies you have in your fridge. I opted to use zucchini and sweet potatoes, along with a few cherry tomatoes and herbs from our mini garden. I nixed the mushrooms because I don’t like them.

I also used homemade chicken stock instead of vegetable stock, mostly because I hate to see it sitting unused in the freezer. And I was excited to finally add nutritional yeast to a recipe. It’s only a little in this one, but I had never used it before.

I was a little worried that the ingredient list was so simple (including plain tofu cubes), that it would turn out bland. But this casserole is really something special. Both Mike and I loved it, and I plan to make it again, possibly with butternut squash or something more fall-like.

Brown rice casserole
adapted from the Greens cookbook

3 cups cooked brown rice (1 cup uncooked)
half block of firm tofu, cubed
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced (use organic if possible)
handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup veggie or chicken stock
6 ounces grated cheddar cheese
A sprinkling of fresh herbs (I used basil and thyme)
More salt and pepper to taste

Get a few things going at once: preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Start boiling water for your rice, and cook it according to package directions. Drain the tofu and squeeze out the water before you cut it into cubes.

Heat the olive oil and butter over medium and saute the onions for about five minutes. Add the garlic, nutritional yeast, cumin, and salt. This part smells amazing.

Add the rest of the veggies and 1/2 cup of the stock, cover the pan, and cook the veggies about 10 minutes or until they start to soften. If you want, you can hold off on the tomatoes until the last few minutes. This part really helps the veggies soak up more flavor.

When the veggies are cooked, add the rice and cheese, and then season with salt and pepper. Mix in the tofu cubes.

Spray or butter a 9×13 baking dish and spoon in the casserole. Even though it seems a little strange, add in the rest of the stock. It will soak into the casserole as it bakes. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15 minutes. When it’s done, sprinkle on the fresh herbs.

It might not be the most beautiful of dishes, but it will surprise you.

Vegan chocolate cupcakes with cocoa ganache

After this tumultuous week of eating, I decided I wanted a baked good that would satisfy my sweet tooth without sending me into a sugar coma. I wanted to use the oat flour I bought a while back — while it’s not labeled gluten-free, it’s whole grain and would at least reduce the load on my gluten-heavy diet.

I googled around to find a vegan chocolate cake recipe that sounded like it would make a good cupcake, and then adjusted it a bit and came up with this:

Vegan chocolate cupcakes
makes 10 cupcakes

1 1/2 cups oat flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup agave nectar
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
1 cup water

Cocoa ganache frosting

1/2 cup cocoa powder (use raw cacao powder for an ultra-rich frosting)
1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup agave nectar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt

Preheat your oven to 350. Mix up the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another. Slowly mix the wet ingredients into the dry until combined. The batter will be very thin. Fill your paper cups more carefully than I did!

Bake for 45 minutes. While the cupcakes are baking, mix up the ingredients for the frosting. Though the ganache is pretty soft, you want to leave it at room temperature until the cupcakes are cool and ready to frost. It becomes so thick it’s unspreadable when refrigerated.

The cupcakes are definitely more crumbly than a typical cupcake, but I thought they came out pretty well overall. Certainly the closest you’ll come to a healthy cupcake!

Corn and tomato salad

Strangely, it’s actually been feeling like summer around here. Though it’s been in the low 60s for months, the forecast calls for 80+ degree days over our Fourth of July weekend, and that to me calls for picnic foods.

I’ve been making a black bean/corn/avocado/tomato salad for a long time, but I was thinking I wanted something a little different. This idea from Chez Pim seemed perfect, so I played around with measurements a bit and came up with this.

Corn and tomato salad

3 cups cooked sweet corn (grilled, boiled, or even microwaved works)
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Basil or other fresh herbs to taste (I chopped up a few sprigs of thyme and a few basil leaves)

Combine the corn and tomatoes in a bowl. Whisk up the rest of the ingredients in a separate bowl. I ended up using about half of the vinaigrette and saving the rest for salads, but you can use as much as you want.

Serve with baked beans, deviled eggs, and a Nathan’s hot dog. Swing in hammock. Sip lemonade.

I am also excited to report that I spotted our first tomatoes yesterday!

The question now is whether or not they’ll have trouble ripening (that’s what I hear can be a problem). But with our forecast I think they’ll have plenty of heat and sun.

This little guy has taken up residence in the tomato.

I also finally gave up on my old basil plant, which conked completely, and got a new one, which seems to be thriving. Can’t have summer without basil.

Kale chips

I have bought kale chips before, but never actually made them myself until now. We had some at a pre-wedding party in Colorado, and they were so good I was motivated to try them out.

I used a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, but really you don’t much of a recipe for these. You just toss torn pieces of kale with salt and olive oil and bake them at 300 for 20 minutes or so.

If you want a different flavor you can spice them up with curry powder, garlic powder, black pepper, or whatever sounds good to you. They come out airy, crisp, and a lot tastier than you would expect. If you’re having a hard time getting dark greens into your diet, this is the perfect way to do it. Juicing is also great.

Next time I will make sure to dry the leaves more thoroughly before I bake them, and I will divide the leaves up into two pans so it’s not as crowded. Some of my leaves didn’t get as crispy as I would have liked.

I used the curly variety of kale, and I like that one best for this preparation. So go forth, and bake kale!

Flapjacks!

No, not the pancake kind. The British, oaty, chewy bar kind that Mike and I first sampled when we were in Spain.

I’ve been wanting to make them since I got back, but didn’t get around to it until now.

Actually, the problem was that I couldn’t find a key ingredient, golden syrup. I kept looking for it in grocery stores, but no luck. Then one Sunday at the Berkeley Bowl I realized that (of course) they had a British foods section, and there it was.

Golden syrup is a lot like corn syrup, but really thick and gooey.

So once I had that I cobbled together some different recipes I found online and came up with this one. Next time I make them I’ll use a little smaller pan for thicker bars (maybe 8-inch square), and put down some parchment paper so that I can remove them easily. I had a heck of a time getting them out of the pan.

You can also add just about any kind of dried fruit or nuts to change up the taste, or try substituting honey or agave nectar. Though these are definitely buttery and sweet, they are more like a granola bar than anything, and they are great fuel for site-seeing, shopping, or workout days.

Cranberry flapjacks

1/2 cup butter (or sub margarine for vegan flapjacks)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons golden syrup
2 3/4 cups rolled oats
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup dried cranberries
2 tablespoons ground flax seeds

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Heat up a saucepan to low heat, then add the butter, brown sugar, and syrup. Stir until all the butter is melted.

Next add the oats, cranberries, coconut, and ground flax seeds and stir to combine. Stir quickly so that the syrup doesn’t harden. (Reminds me of making Rice Krispie Treats!).

Press the mixture into a greased or parchment papered 8-inch square oven-safe dish. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Resist the urge to mess with these until they are cooled. They will just fall apart. If you wait too long, though, they will be really hard to cut. So when they’re just cool, loosen the edges, flip over the pan to remove the whole thing, and then cut the block into 9 squares.

I personally love just about anything oaty or granola-like, so I’m crazy for these. I am going to work on some other adaptations!

Chocolate-cranberry energy mix

I’ve never really liked trail mix as a snack, mostly I think because I don’t like raisins and I’m kind of picky about nuts. But the amazing array of trail mixes at the Berkeley Bowl inspired me to make my own mix, and here it is.

(Also, you don’t have to eat this while on a trail of any sort.)

Chocolate-cranberry energy mix

1 cup mixed nuts (so you get a few of things like hazelnuts and Brazil nuts)
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup almonds
1/2 cup pecans
1/2 cup cashews

Place in a plastic zipper bag and shake until everything is evenly mixed.

I’ve been having some in one of my mini latte bowls in the afternoons, and it always tides me over until dinner.

Cashew cream cheesecake

Between my farmers market experience and Joy blogging about cashew-oat milk, I decided to try my hand at making cashew cream.

At first I wasn’t sure what to make with it. Should I make a dip? Or just nut milk? But in the end I decided it would be fun to try a cheesecake.

I used this recipe. I was out of dates, so my crust was basically just a mix of almonds, pecans, and a little agave nectar. But if I had to do it over I think I would just use my recipe for fruit/nut bars instead. It’s so tasty, why mess with it?

So to make this version of non-dairy cheese, you start by soaking cashews overnight in water.

By morning they kind of plump up, just like when you soak dried beans.

Drain the cashews and put them in the food processor with lemon juice, agave and a little vanilla. I was thinking next time it might be nice to put in a little vanilla bean. Or you could blend in strawberries or blueberries for a fruity cheesecake or cacao powder for chocolate.

I think I could have gotten a creamier consistency here if I had a Vitamix, but I tried blending this in our regular blender and it basically just laughed at me. The food processor did a pretty good job.

Then you just assemble the cheesecake. Press the crust into the bottom of a glass dish.

Then spread the cashew cream on top. Put it in the freezer for a couple of hours to harden before serving.

I don’t think this resembles real cheesecake at all in taste, but it’s incredible close in texture. And since it’s basically all protein (you decide how sweet it should be), it makes a great energizing snack that you don’t have to feel guilty about.

Overall, thumbs up.

South Indian black eyed peas

The other day I was flipping through our many public access channels and came across a show about healthy South Indian cooking. I scrambled to write down some recipes, but only got parts of them, so I attempted to recreate this one at home.

I had to reach into the depths of my spice shelf to find some of the ingredients, and I was surprised to find that we actually had them (probably not the freshest, but they worked in a pinch).

I had also never cooked with black eyed peas before, if you can believe it. I guest most beans are pretty much the same, and you could probably substitute whatever beans you had on hand for this.

I thought this turned out really great, and I will definitely make it again. The tomato-y sauce, turned orange by a pinch of turmeric, reminded me of so many Indian dishes I’ve had in restaurants. We poured this over slices of day-old bread, which soaked up the sauce perfectly, but I’m sure it would be great over rice or naan.

South Indian black eyed peas

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cans black eyed peas, drained
1/2 large onion sliced
1 medium tomato sliced into chunks
1/4 fresh mango sliced into chunks
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 whole hot chiles
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon black (or yellow) mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Salt to taste
1 cup tomato sauce

Start by heating a deep skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. When it’s hot drop in the chiles, mustard seeds and fenugreek. Pretty soon the seeds will start popping like popcorn so watch out!

Next drop in the onions and saute until they’re translucent.

Now you can add your tomato and mango chunks and let them soften and cook down a little.

Turn down the heat to medium and drop in the rest of the spices, the garlic, and the tomato sauce.

Stir all that together, then dump in the black eyed peas.

Cover the pan, and let it simmer over medium heat for 10-15 minutes. Remove the chiles before serving.

Quinoa burgers

These are the best veggie burgers I’ve ever made.

Normally I have a lot of problems with burgers that are too dry, fall apart, or just generally don’t resemble a burger in the traditional sense. But the secret here – binding your burgers with hummus – is genius!

Plus, this recipe is vegan and gluten-free, so it’s a home run.

Quinoa burgers
adapted slightly from savvyvegetarian.com

1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa (I used my mix of red and white quinoa)
1/2 cup hummus
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
1 tablespoon wheat-free tamari
4 tablespoons brown rice flour
1/2 teaspoon each of dried basil, coriander, paprika and garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon thyme
Pinch of salt and pepper

Mix everything in a big bowl. Divide into four patties. Heat a little olive oil and brown for about 5 minutes on each side.