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Grill Pan

Sometimes all you need for a great dinner are a few simple things – and one of those things in my book, is a grill pan!

I also had some great, fresh ingredients to work with – and that always helps. I had a chicken breast, a yellow pepper, a vidalia onion and fresh tomatoes.

The chicken had been cut into strips marinating in balsamic vinegar and spices for a few hours. I sliced up the onion and pepper. I heated my grill pan up. Once it was hot, I sprayed it with coconut oil spray (just like last night!) and added the chicken.

I let the chicken cook for about two minutes and then flipped it. Once it was cooked through, I put it on a platter:

While the pan was still hot, I added the onions and peppers.

I added some of Trader Joe’s 21 Season Salute (I really love this stuff when you just want to add some flavor and it can kind of be whatever you want – it went far with these vegetables!) After the veggies had been cooking for several minutes (every so often I’m shaking the pan up, stirring up the vegetables so they are cooking relatively evenly on each side) I added a splash of reduced sodium soy sauce. A little soy sauce also goes SO FAR in adding just a little seasoning.

As all of this was going on, I was washing and chopping cherry tomatoes, putting them into a bowl and adding balsamic vinegar and freshly ground pepper. That was how simple our tomato salad was.

I cut up a few pieces of a small French baguette and put them into our toaster oven. I also put the remaining couscous on our dinner plates (because why waste it – for the record I normally do not serve TWO carbs with a meal)

I added the chicken back into the pan with the vegetables just to heat the protein back up. All of this came together in about twenty minutes! It was delicious and so flavorful.

A dinner like this definitely made me like chicken again – what a relief. I love that you can make such a simple dinner with just a few fresh ingredients and a great kitchen tool like a grill pan. If you don’t have one, I highly recommend getting one. You will enjoy it!

Grilled Salmon Dinner

When I got home tonight I had no idea what I was going to do for dinner. Thankfully I came home to a salmon fillet, fresh tomatoes and I knew I had the makings for a great dinner!

I got out my grill pan and started prepping. I sprayed my grill pan with coconut oil spray and let the pan heat up. I seasoned the salmon with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. As the pan was heating up I also washed, patted dry and chopped up my fresh parsley.

Once the grill pan was hot, I put the salmon in, skin side down. I let it cook like that for a good five minutes (maybe a minute longer!) I tested the fillet with my spatula to make sure the skin was not sticking to the pan. Thankfully I was in the clear – I just love coconut oil spray, it does wonders. Of course it helps that my grill pan is non-stick.

I flipped the salmon and cooked it for five minutes flesh side down. Once I put it back on the skin side, I was so happy to see the nice grill marks I had on the salmon!

While the salmon was cooking I boiled my water for my couscous. I chopped up my colorful tomatoes, put them in a bowl seasoned them with freshly ground pepper and a small pinch of kosher salt and a splash of balsamic vinegar. This is so simple and the best seasoning!! All of these fixings made for such an amazing summer time dinner. The last touch was zesting the half of a lemon I had and squeezing the juice out into a small bowl. I mixed the lemon zest and juice together – the perfect topping for our salmon.

I topped the salmon with the lemon mixture. I put fresh parsley on everything on my plate. I just love fresh parsley!

Here is the finished product – I highly recommend it. It was such a quick meal and it was so fresh and delicious!

Happy cooking, everyone!

Rosemary Brick Chicken

A week ago I had an overwhelming craving to make something I had never tried before – brick chicken. One of my favorite restaurants used to have a lavender brick chicken on their menu and I loved it. It was full of flavor, the chicken always had an amazingly crisp skin and the whole meal was just wonderful.

I had always wanted to try brick chicken and recently I have been so sick of eating plain old chicken breast. Ugh. For a while I felt like I couldn’t take another bite of chicken for a couple of weeks.

After work I swung by Home Depot to pick up a couple of new bricks! I figured if you’re going to cook with bricks – it’s definitely worth it to pick up a new one. (I bought two for 55 cents a piece! It is about the cheapest cooking equipment I have ever bought in my life.

I also popped into the market to pick up some chicken thighs on the bone (with skin

of course). When I got home with my bricks and chicken I got to work. I wrapped my new bricks in aluminum foil:

I took the chicken out, salted it and placed it on a plate. I pushed rosemary sprigs into the chicken skin (side note: I have a rosemary plant growing now – so I’m saving a lot of money on rosemary!)

I put the chicken back in the refrigerator for twenty minutes. After twenty minutes was up, I started to heat some olive oil in my pan. I took the chicken thighs out, dried them with a paper towel (chicken won’t crips up if you put it in your pan wet – and no one wants to eat non-crispy chicken.)

Once the oil was hot, I gently placed the chicken thighs in the pan – skin side down. I put the bricks on top of the chicken to flatten them out. After ten minutes I checked the chicken, to make sure the pieces was browning and prayed that they weren’t sticking to the pan. It was definitely a little touch and go – but that is why you have to practice making brick chicken (so you can get a technique down to not let your chicken stick to the bottom of your pan). It was coming together nicely – after fifteen minutes I flipped the chicken thighs:

I cooked everything for about ten more minutes. After the chicken thighs were done cooking, I took them out of the pan, transferred all of the liquid to a sauce pan and started making my au jus. I heated the liquid up (which is olive oil and chicken juices) added half a cup of white wine, and the juice of a lemon. I added salt and pepper. I continued to heat the au jus to reduce it just a bit, stirring it frequently. After about five minutes I was happy with the consistency – I poured it into a small bowl and served it on the side of the chicken.

I made a quick salad of greens and fresh vegetables to go with the chicken. If I had thought of it I would have cooked up some polenta to go with this dinner too – next time! The final product was really wonderful – but I think next time I might do chicken breast instead of thighs. I can’t wait to make this again!

If you are getting sick of eating plain old chicken breast at dinner, too – take my word for it. Give this method of cooking a try. It really develops flavor and having the au jus on the side is just the best treat ever! Well worth it and it is pretty simple to make.

A perfect week night dinner!

What’s For Dinner!?

Hi there blog readers – sorry it has been a while. Don’t worry – the Cookbook Project will continue soon. But for right now things are a little hard. Bare with me!

Tonight I got home from being with Grandma a little after 7 o’clock. I was tired – but I decided I needed to dedicate a little bit of time to figuring out what Mom and I could eat for dinner the next couple of days.

I had a beautiful bunch of basil that I picked up at the local farmers market on Saturday. This whole bunch of basil was only $3! I thought it was the best bargain of the day.

The one thing on my cooking agenda for the weekend was to make pesto with this great basil. So on Sunday night I got to work. I toasted two tablespoons of pine nuts, I washed my basil, I smashed four cloves of garlic and the pesto was underway in no time.

Before coming home, I stopped by Whole Foods to pick up two chicken sausages and a bunch of kale – I had an idea in my head of what to do along with the pesto.

A new dinner came together in my head – orecchiette with chicken sausage, grape tomatoes, kale and pesto.

While I started the pesto, I put a pot on the stove to boil my pasta water, I cut my grape tomatoes, I rinsed and cut the kale.

The lemon juice that I put into the pesto really helped it turn a bright green. It did not taste complete until the lemon juice was processed into the rest of the mix.

I heated some olive oil in the pan, cut open the sausage casings. Once the oil was hot, I added the chicken sausage and started to break up the meat and browned it. Once the sausage was cooked (mostly) through, I added the tomatoes, kale and a little of the pasta water (a couple of tablespoons) to give the mixture a little liquid. I loved how bright the kale was as it cooked!

I actually did not add any seasoning to this dish as it was cooking away – because I had salted the pasta water, the pesto had salt in it and the sausage was hot and spicy! Once everything had cooked down (a few minutes) I added the pasta into the mix. Then I put two tablespoons of the pesto into the pan.

I was definitely keeping this meal on hand for quick, go to dinner this week. But I figured I had to have a couple of bites to make sure it had good flavors. I grabbed one of our small bowls (can you even tell this is a small bowl by the photo!?) and added a little bit of everything into it. I topped it with some pesto and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

The recipe was a success – the only thing I would have done was add more kale (i’ll cook more up tomorrow) and I would have added more than the one cup of grape tomatoes – but that was all I had on hand. The flavors worked really well together! It was definitely hard not to have a cup of this stuff! I can’t wait to have this for dinner tomorrow.

And with that, I’m signing off to organize and get myself ready for a long week ahead.

As I was running out the door this morning (at 5:55 AM in case you were wondering) I was thinking about the Cookbook Project. I grabbed one of my favorite cookbooks, hoping I could find a good recipe to make tonight. One of my favorite cookbooks is Jacques Pépin’s Fast Food My Way. If you don’t have it – check it out, you might love it as much as I do!

During lunch I looked through the book to find a good recipe to make for tonight. I had originally thought Supreme of chicken with balsamic vinegar and shallot sauce… But for most of the day it was a bone chilling 48 degrees. (Yes, seriously. I was wearing my Patagonia vest all day in the office and at home. The second I got home the first thing I did was change into my fleece pants. FLEECE PANTS on June 2!!)

Because of the wintery weather, I opted to go for Jacques’s Instant Vegetable Soup. I just love this soup. I always change up the vegetables, but today I stuck with the recipe.

I used zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, onion, baby kale, and scallions in the soup today. I shredded the first four ingredients and roughly chopped the kale, and cut the scallions into thin pieces. I used five cups of water and one cup of chicken broth. As I was preparing the vegetables, I heated up the liquid on the stove. Soon enough everything was coming together. I added a little less than a teaspoon of salt, and a good amount of freshly ground pepper. I also grated up one clove of garlic and added it to the soup.

I added the onion and carrot to the broth first, since these vegetables can always cook a little longer. Next I added the kale (kale is a hearty vegetable that can stand up well to the heat). Then the mushrooms and finally the zucchini and scallions.

I tasted the soup as things were cooking along. I was immediately a little nervous. there didn’t seem to be much flavor developing. I was a little confused – and I was definitely hoping that this soup was not going to turn into a complete disaster.

On another burner I was boiling water so that I could cook a small pasta to add to the soup. In the soup pot I stirred in two tablespoons of instant grits. (I could have used three like the recipe called for – but I figured since I was adding pasta, I could do with a little less.)

I am not quite sure what happened to the soup. But somehow – it all came together and when I put the finishing touches on it, I could not get enough!! I went back for another small helping of the soup. Is it the Gruyere cheese that pulls everything together? Is it just that the flavors needed to come together for a few more minutes?! Whatever it was – it certainly worked.

I was so thrilled to be eating this soup on such a cold night. It really hit the spot.

There are many things I love about this recipe. You can make it with many different types of vegetables – basically you can use anything that you have on hand. The preparation of the vegetables is so easy and quick – who doesn’t love getting their grater out after a long day!? I had fun grating the vegetables – and even rough chopping my kale. I did all of these steps while I was waiting for the stock to come to a boil. Another wonderful thing about this recipe is that it comes together so quickly once you have everything on the stove. It is also such a cost effective recipe. The most expensive thing I bought for the recipe was the Gruyere cheese which was $7.50 – the rest of the ingredients came to maybe 6 dollars. Not bad for such a delicious meal – and I will be able to use a lot of the left over ingredients in other meals this week. One note – if you garnish this soup with parsley, it brings it to a whole other level. I highly recommend it! I served this soup with a glass of red wine and a chunk of hearty sour dough bread. A perfect meal, if you ask me.

That wraps up the second official installment of The Cookbook Project. Happy cooking, everyone!

Blondies

I had a lot to do on Saturday. But for some reason I thought it would be the perfect time to do some baking. Sure, it was almost ninety degrees outside. Sure I was running around the city like a crazy person trying to get so many things done before a late afternoon cookout. But why not tackle a Bon Appétit recipe that basically called for TWO mixers in the same recipe!? Why. Not.

I was going to be at a cookout with someone who is allergic to chocolate and I was asked to bring a dessert. I immediately thought about making blondies. I found a great starter recipe from Bon Appétit – click here to find their original recipe. I hope you like butter! Try to not be afraid of the recipe. It sounds hardcore – and it is. But – trust me – it is really worth it.

The two mixer thing was intense – I’m not going to lie. The brown butter sauce is totally worth this crazy effort. My kitchen was really warm while all of this was happening. Worth. It.

I made a few changes to the recipe. Most people that were going to be at the cookout were not fans of nuts in baked goods (I’m ok with that!) so I opted to leave the pecans out. I added peanut butter chips and toasted coconut flakes in one pan of the blondies. In another pan of the blondies I kept the first two ingredients and added a half cup of dark chocolate chips. These blondies were serious.

My sister and I decided that we just had to try one of the ewwy gooey blondies before we took them to the cookout. I mean it wouldn’t be right to share them with others if we didn’t know if they were any good – would it? We split one. I could not believe how amazing, rich, decadent and heavenly they were. My sister agreed.

We had to leave the kitchen so we did not eat more. We left the blondies to cool in peace. Eventually they were ready to be packed up and taken to the cookout.

They were a big hit!

Go ahead. Take an hour to make these beauties. You’ll be a really big hit at your next cookout – or wherever you bring them!

The Cookbook Project officially began late on a Friday night. Normally I find it quite hard to come home on a Friday and cook dinner. So, when I stopped at Whole Foods I ordered a large iced coffee to ensure I would not fall asleep while cutting parsley. The iced coffee with 2% milk was perfect: refreshing and gave me enough energy to get through the rest of the evening.

The first recipe I decided to cook for this project was Shrimp & Grits out of The Skinnytaste Cookbook. I love grits. For as long as I can remember, my dad made grits on a regular basis. I can’t understand people who don’t like grits – or at least won’t try grits. If I had a choice between ice cream and grits, I would choose grits.

I thought this recipe was a good place for this project to start given my Southern Culinary Heritage (SCH!)

I started by making the grits. I added chicken broth, water, and low fat milk – brought it to a boil and then stirred in the grits which I had measured out:

I added half a teaspoon of kosher salt. Red pepper flakes. Freshly ground pepper.

I bought these grits from the bulk food section of Whole Foods. The recipe called for quick cooking grits but specifically said “not instant”. The WF grits just said “yellow corn grits” and did not specify if they were regular cooking grits, quick cooking grits, slow cooking grits or instant grits. I am pretty sure that they were not instant grits. But they came together a lot faster than I had planned on.

As the grits cooked, I tasted them. I was blown away by how flavorful they were. I instantly fell in love with these grits. I definitely burned my mouth at one point because I could not let them cool before tasting again. Finally after they had been on the stove for at least twenty minutes, I stirred in some sharp cheddar cheese and called it a day with the grits.

Next I moved on to shelling and deveining the shrimp. I bought wild caught gulf shrimp. These suckers were a pretty good size! About 16 – 20 per pound. I bought 15 so we could each have 5 with dinner. Have you ever wondered about shelling and deveining shrimp? It’s pretty easy – so don’t let it intimidate you.

Shelling & Deveining Shrimp:

  1. rinse shrimp in cold water (I usually do this in batches)
  2. take off the little legs (they are pretty cute)
  3. Using your thumbs, break off the shell from where you’ve already started by taking the legs off.
  4. Use a small knife, cut a very shallow slit on the top of the shrimp going the length of it. Using your small knife, catch the vein (which is the digestive track of the shrimp) and pull it up. Sometimes it breaks, just go back and get the rest of it. If you can’t find the vein on the back of the shrimp, turn it over and look on the other side – sometimes the vein can be there, too. (Tricky suckers!)
  5. You can keep the shells to boil them and make a seafood stock. But definitely throw away the digestive track. No one wants that.

A side note about shelling shrimp – it’s not actually necessary. When I was in Japan I was (at first) really surprised to see my Japanese friends eating entire shrimp as we were at dinner! It sounded kind of good as they were eating them whole – and really crunchy. I opted to peel my shrimp, but I later read that taking the shell off of shrimp was not necessary and just a preference. Maybe one day I will eat a shrimp with the shell on – I’ll let you know!

The shrimp cooks really quickly, and you never want to over cook your shrimp – it will turn rubbery. The recipe recommended to cook the shrimp one minute per side. I wasn’t sure if my shrimp were cooked all the way through after a minute on each side, so I let them go for maybe thirty seconds longer? Then I took them off the heat, and put them on a plate.

After the shrimp I cooked up two pieces of bacon. I was going to cut the bacon into little pieces, but I decided to keep the bacon whole while cooking it (thinking it would cook more evenly and that there would be less difficulty in trying to flip twenty or so little pieces of bacon?) After I cooked the bacon, I took it off the skillet, trimmed the little fat pieces and then cut it into smaller one inch pieces. (The original recipe called for ham, which I didn’t have – and bacon worked really well!)

After that I followed the rest of the recipe and the end result was really wonderful. I garnished with parsley and freshly ground pepper.

I cannot even tell you what a huge hit this dish was in my house! My mom loved it and really appreciated a home cooked meal after the long days in the hospital. As good as hospital food can be – it doesn’t hold a torch to shrimp and grits – that is for sure. We didn’t eat dinner until after 9 o’clock on Friday night – but it sure was good.

One of the great things about this recipe is how quickly the meal can be ready. The grits come together in about twenty minutes. If you have already peeled and deveined shrimp, the rest of the recipe is really fast! You could definitely have this on the table in less than thirty minutes – that’s a great week night dinner for sure! It is easy and delicious – and I was really pleased that there was not a whole lot of clean up, that is especially wonderful when you’re in the kitchen after 10:30 pm on a Friday cleaning up your kitchen.

If you love shrimp and if you think you might like grits, go ahead and make this recipe. It is a classic Southern dish and it is a crowd pleaser!

The first installment of the Cookbook Project is complete and I can’t wait to figure out what I am making next. Stay tuned and until then, happy cooking!

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