Meal Prep: Shredded Chicken with Tomato, Carrot, Pepper, and Onion Salad  

21 Mar

I think lunch gets overlooked because most of us are busy in the middle of the day. All the more reason that a filling, healthy lunch is so important. You need that mid-day boost to keep your energy up. Preparing my meals in advance is one of the ways I keep myself spending money on buying something quick in the middle of the day. Sunday nights, I make enough food for four lunches, giving me one less task to attend to during the week when I’d rather be focused on other things.

This is another place where the pressure cooker comes in handy. You can have this all done in under an hour using two pots and one bowl. Easy, right?

Pressure Cooker Shredded Chicken

  • 3 ½ – 4 lbs. chicken breasts, cut into strips
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 carrots, cut into quarters or a handful of baby carrots
  • 3 stalks celery, cut into quarters
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups unsalted chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  • A few stems of fresh parsley
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • Dried oregano

Tomato, Carrot, Pepper, and Onion Salad

  • 16 oz. carrots, diced
  • 16 oz. red, yellow, or orange bell pepper, diced
  • 8 oz. grape tomatoes, halved
  • 8 oz. red onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. dried basil
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 4 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1 tbsp. kosher salt
  • Several grinds of black pepper
  • ½ cup white wine vinegar
  • 6 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. honey

Brown Rice

  • 2 cups brown rice
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt

First, get the rice started. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil, add the rice, cover the pot, and reduce to a simmer. Simmer the rice, covered, for 25-35 minutes until all of the water is absorbed. Fluff the rice with a fork and then move to a lidded container for storage in the refrigerator.

While the rice is cooking, prepare the chicken. Place the onion, carrot, celery, parsley, and garlic in the pressure cooker.

Season the chicken on both sides with salt, pepper, and oregano.

Add the chicken stock/broth and seal the pressure cooker.

Cook on high pressure for 20 minutes and then release the pressure naturally or using a quick release function.

Remove the chicken to a container, shred using a couple of forks, and then season with more salt if needed. Move to a lidded container and store in the refrigerator. Strain the broth from the pot and save it in another container in the refrigerator.

For the salad, combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and then divide among four containers. Whisk together the white wine vinegar, mustard, and honey. Divide the dressing evenly among the containers of salad, seal, and then shake each container to distribute the dressing.

Usually I take 5-7 oz. of chicken, reheat it gently with some of the leftover chicken broth and eat that over about a cup of the reheated rice with the salad on the side. It’s a really filling, but not heavy meal with lots of different textures. The savory chicken over well-seasoned rice is warm and comforting, and the salad gets better as the week goes on because the dressing really soaks into the veggies.

Taking a little bit of time to prep at the beginning of the week makes my lunches easy, inexpensive, healthy, and delicious; the best of all worlds! I hope this helps you out too.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Happy 35th: My Best Buddy’s Birthday Cake

17 Mar

Super-husband turns 35 this week, so we had friends over for a night of virtual reality gaming and delicious food.

The centerpiece of the evening was the guest of honor’s request, a yellow butter cake with vanilla buttercream. I’m not sure how I’ve never shared this yellow cake recipe on here, because it’s one I make often for birthdays because it’s so, so good. Soft, fluffy, sweet, and everything a celebration cake should be. Here’s how to bake it!

Yellow Butter Cake

  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 3 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 12 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 cup whole or reduced-fat milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of two 9 in. round cake pans with parchment paper, and then grease and flour the pans.

Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and set aside

In the bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3-5 minutes.

Add the eggs in two batches, beating well between additions and scraping down the bowl as needed.

With the mixer on low, add 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by half of the milk, then 1/3 of the flour mixture, the other half of the milk, and finally the last 1/3 of the flour mixture, mixing well between additions and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. In this instance, it was 500 grams of batter per pan.

Bake the cakes for about 25 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes, and then invert onto a wire rack. Re-invert the cakes to prevent cracking and cool completely.

The recipe for the vanilla buttercream can be found here in the Ribbon Cake recipe.

To frost, place one cake on a plate and frost the top with a thin layer of the buttercream (about ¾ cup).

Add the second layer and frost the top and sides evenly.

Color the remaining buttercream with food coloring for decoration if you wish, and pipe whatever designs your heart desires.

Of course, sing happy birthday and share with friends for maximum enjoyment.

Happy Birthday Joe! You’re the best.

Ciao for now,

Neen

 

 

Easy Eats: Instant Pot / Pressure Cooker Turkey Chili

27 Feb

When I’m short on time, I often turn to my pressure cooker for quick, big batch meals. It’s an easy way to throw a few simple ingredients together and make something filling and delicious without a lot of prep or clean-up.  As an added bonus, it can turn out some really healthy meals too, and today’s recipe ticks all the boxes. (For those readers on Weight Watchers, this is a freebie zero-point recipe!)

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, this can also be modified into a regular slow-cooker recipe. Just follow the steps, and saute the ingredients in a separate pan, add the ingredients to the slow-cooker and then cook on low for 5-6 hours instead of pressure cooking. It’s not as fast, but it’s still delicious.

Pressure Cooker Turkey Chili

  • 1 lb. ground turkey breast or ground turkey
  • 1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 ½ tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. salt

Spray the pot with spray oil or add a tbsp. of olive oil. Saute the onions and ground turkey for 5-8 minutes, or until the onions begin to turn translucent.

Add the garlic and bell peppers and saute for 2-3 minutes more.

Deglaze the pot with the chicken stock, being sure to scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pot.

Add the cumin, chili powder, salt, crushed tomatoes, and beans and stir well to combine.

Seal the pressure cooker and cook on high pressure for 5 minutes. You can let the pressure release naturally or use the quick release function.

Garnish with fresh parsley or cilantro (which I wish I liked but just tastes like soap to me, alas) and serve.

Definitely a one-pot wonder for sure. This turns out a rich, hearty chili that’s even better the next day. It also freezes really well. Super comforting for the cold, blustery days we’ve been having recently. Hope you have a chance to try it soon!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Seeded Delight: Sesame Semolina Bread

6 Feb

This week, I found myself in the mood for bread with sesame seeds on it. Normally I’d go for a crusty Italian braid studded with them, but this time I thought I’d try something even more sesame-forward and put them in the bread dough itself. This loaf has a wonderful texture as the bread flour adds chewiness and structure, while the semolina flour adds softness, and finally the sesame seeds add a nutty bite to the whole thing. Definitely a treat, and really easy to make as well. All this one takes is a little bit of patience in letting it rise twice.

Sesame Semolina Bread

Dough:

  • 12 ¾ oz. bread flour
  • 5 ¾ oz. semolina flour
  • 1 ¼ oz. nonfat dry milk
  • ¼ cup instant mashed potato flakes OR potato flour
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. instant yeast
  • 1 ½ cups lukewarm water (110-115 degrees F)
  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • ½ cup toasted sesame seeds

Topping:

  • 1 egg + 1 tbsp. water
  • Toasted sesame seeds

Combine all of the ingredients for the bread dough and mix well. Knead using a bread hook attachment (4-5 minutes) or by hand (8 minutes) until you have a dough that is smooth and elastic.

Grease a bowl or container and put the dough in it, tossing to coat with oil. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm area until it has doubled in bulk, 60-90 minutes.

Grease a 3-4 qt. dutch oven and dust the bottom with semolina flour.

Punch down the dough and shape into a ball (boule), and then place that in the dutch oven. Put the lid on the dutch oven and allow the dough to rise until puffy, about 1 hour.

Near the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Brush the risen loaf with the egg white mixture and then generously sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Put the lid back on the dutch oven and bake the loaf for 25-27 minutes. Remove the lid and bake for 7-10 minutes more, until deep golden brown. The internal temperature should measure at least 190 degrees F.

Gently tip the loaf out onto a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.

This bread has a crisp exterior and a beautifully soft crumb. The flavor is lightly nutty from the sesame seeds and is pretty much perfect for toast or grilled cheese. Looking forward to enjoying this over the next few days, and I hope you do too!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Petite Sweets: Mini Jam Tarts

3 Feb

My dad made a whole lot of jam and marmalade to hand out at Christmas this past year, and even though I wasn’t home, I got a package in the mail FULL of delicious treats. While the spreads are perfect on warm toast, I did make a blackberry version of this jam tart to bring on a visit home. But I also thought a petite pastry would be a perfect way to use just a little bit of the strawberry jam and orange marmalade.

Mini Jam Tarts

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 4 oz. (8 tbsp.) unsalted butter, cold
  • 2 tbsp. milk
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup preserves, jelly, or marmalade

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor.

Add the butter and pulse until a coarse meal forms.

Add the milk and vanilla extract and process until a soft dough forms.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball.

Place one ball of dough in each well of an ungreased mini muffin tin.

Using your fingers or something with a rounded edge (I used the end of a rolling pin), press down on the dough ball to create a well in the center. The edges of the dough should reach the top of the cup.

Place about a tsp. of jam in the center of each tart.

Bake for 30-33 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the jam is bubbling.

Allow the tarts to cool for 30 minutes in the pan before removing to cool completely.

The crust is like thick shortbread, buttery and rich—perfect against the sweetness of the jam filling. Any flavor will work, so try preserves or jellies that float your boat. Mix and match for a special dessert platter. Since you need so little jam, these are a great way to use up those near-empty jars.

You can also fill these with buttercream or melted chocolate. Just bake the tarts without any filling in them, re-press the center divot when they come out of the oven, cool completely, and then fill. The fillings from this thumbprint recipe would all be excellent choices.

I hope you enjoy these easy to make bite-size treats soon!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Keeping Cozy: Oatmeal Brown Bread

31 Jan

Most of the country is in the midst of a massive cold front right now. Parts of the US are seeing temperatures reaching -30 degrees F (-50 to -60 with wind chill!) and it is brutal. It’s less insane here in Arlington, but still in the teens. Cold enough certainly that I’m thinking comforting, warming foods like pasta and stew. When I turned to bake my weekly bread, I decided to go with something a little heartier too.

Brown bread seemed like just the ticket. I opted for a traditional baked loaf, rather than the steamed Boston-style brown bread. I also decided to include whole wheat flour and oats to make it extra filling and nutritious. The result was a slightly sweet, moist, and rich loaf that’s equally suitable for sandwiches or eaten plain alongside a bowl of hot soup.

Oatmeal Brown Bread

  • 1 ½ cups boiling water
  • ½ cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. instant yeast
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp. molasses
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ – 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1-2 tbsp. melted butter

Combine the boiling water, rolled oats, unsalted butter, and kosher salt in a small bowl and allow the mixture to cool to between 110-115 degrees F.

In a large bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, 1 ½ cups of whole wheat flour, instant yeast, brown sugar, and molasses and mix until well combined.

Add the cooled oatmeal mixture and mix well. Add enough of the remaining ½ cup of whole wheat flour to form a soft dough that is slightly tacky.

Knead the dough for 6-8 minutes until smooth and elastic. It will still be slightly tacky.

Grease a large bowl and place the dough in it, turning once to coat with oil. Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise until doubled, about one hour.

Punch down the dough and pat it out to a 5in. by 6-8 in. rectangle.  Starting from the short end, roll up the dough, pinching seams along the way to increase surface tension. Pinch the final seam shut and gently rock the loaf to even it out.

Place the loaf, seam side down, in a greased loaf pan and cover lightly with greased plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled again, about 30-45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and bake the bread for 30-35 minutes, or until golden brown. The internal temperature should measure at least 195 degrees F.

Remove the bread from the pans and brush the top with melted butter. Cool completely before slicing.

This loaf is moist, rich, and full of flavor. It was surprisingly soft and light despite the large proportion of whole wheat flour. I kept warm in the kitchen while it baked and enjoyed the wonderful scent filling up the house. I bet it will make amazing toast, too! Hope you are finding ways to take the chill off. Definitely try this one out. There’s nothing more heartwarming than baking your own bread.

Ciao for now,

Neen