Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Buffalo Chicken Salad

As I mentioned yesterday, my sister Jessi has a real knack for making salads.  I look forward to going to her house for girls night because I know she'll show me some new combination of salad ingredients that just go together perfectly that I would have never thought to put together myself. 

This is one of those salads.  The buffalo chicken makes it feel/taste decadent but by just using two strips and loading the rest full of healthy veggies, it is really not that bad for you.

Start with the best part of the salad.  The fried chicken pieces.  If you've never had Tyson's Frozen Buffalo Tenders you are really missing out.  These things are so good.  If you have a little time before a football game I highly recommend putting these bad boys in the oven and serving them with a bowl of blue cheese dressing and some celery.   But for our salad's purpose, we are just going to microwave two of them.  They still get plenty crisp and I am usually too hungry after work to wait for the oven.

To a bowl of Romaine Lettuce, add 1/4 of an avocado - chopped into bite size pieces.  I cut the avocado in 1/2 and then cut out 1/2 of the side without the pit in it.  To store the rest, I put it back together, wrap it in plastic and put it in the fridge.  Keeping the pit in the avocado should keep it from getting brown for the next day or two. 

Next I quarter about 7 - 10 grape tomatoes depending on the size.

On top of this I add some of this delicious broccoli slaw from Trader Joes.  If you don't have a Trader Joes near you, please take a minute to mourn in silence.  Once that is done, you can replace this with some chopped up celery.  I make this substitution whenever I am out of the brocolli slaw or have just plain forgotten to get it.  You basically just want something crunchy and cool in the salad - and celery and buffalo chicken go hand in hand in my book. 

In fact, I'm going to go ahead and add the celery in here too.  I'm wild like that.

Next I add a little bit of chopped cilantro.  I never even considered adding cilantro into a salad before - to me, it was reserved for pico de gallo.  But I watched my Aunt Nancy - the only person better then Jessi at making salads - do it once and I've been converted ever since.  The cilantro just makes the whole thing taste so fresh and adds this wonderful depth of flavor to the salad. 

Top this all off with 2 tablespoons of your favorite ranch dressing.  Mine is this Naturally Fresh Light Ranch.  It is sold in the refrigerated produce section in most grocery stores and is oddly made by the same folks who own Hooters.  (Thank you Undercover Boss for teaching me something.)

Finally the piece-de-resistance.  add in the bite size chunks of heated Tyson's Frozen Buffalo Tenders.

Give it a quick toss and enjoy.  The warmth of the buffalo strips and the coolness of the ranch combined with the crispness of the slaw/celery and the smoothness of the avocado.  To Die For. 

You might think that this bowl is preparing two servings, but you'd be wrong.  This one is all mine.

Shopping List for Buffalo Chicken Salad (makes 1 serving)
  • 2 Tyson's Buffalo Chicken Strips
  • 3 Cups Romaine Lettuce
  • 1/4 Avocado
  • 7 - 10 Grape Tomatoes
  • 1/2 Cup Broccoli Slaw - roughly chopped
  • 2 Celery Stalks
  • 1/2 Cup Cilantro
  • 2 Tablespoons Ranch Dressing

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Jessi's Steakhouse Salad

My sister Jessi is one of the best salad makers I know, second only to my aunt Nancy - who as a vegetarian, has 3 decades more experience then she does.  When I told Jessi about Salad Week, I obviously had to have her make one for me.

Places like Chop't or Mix'd or Sweetgreen give me a bit of agida at the expectation of making my own salad.  I always panic and either select just lettuce, tomatoes and dressing or put together a cacophony of flavors in an attempt to be exotic and end up with an inedible bowl of veggies and cheeses and toppings.  I seriously cannot fathom putting together the ingredients she does, but somehow she always makes it work. And this delectable steak salad is no difference:

Start by grilling up a nice lean flank steak marinated in soy sauce, red wine vinegar and some minced garlic.

While I sat back and enjoyed a nice glass of Pinot Grigio, Jessi got to work chopping the veggies. First the red peppers,

Followed by a few baby bella mushrooms.  (I'm adverse to fungi but for Jessi I allowed it.  And then I promptly picked them out and put them in her bowl when she wasn't looking)

Red Onion - Thiiiiiiinly sliced

Next chop up some candied walnuts

Finally, halve a few grape tomatoes,

Add to all that, some crumbled Gorgonzola Cheese

While the steak rests, it is time to mix up the dressing.  Jessi combines some dijon mustard, balsamic vinegar and minced garlic.

She mixes all that with the cutest teeniest whisk I've ever seen.  She loves anything in miniature so I shouldn't have been so surprised that she had a mini whisk to go with her mini dressing prep bowl.

She streamed in some lovely extra virgin olive oil to bring the vinaigrette together.

Finally it was time to assemble the salad.  In a large salad bowl filled with mixed field greens (Jessi suggests filling your individual bowls with lettuce first to get the portions just right) add the veggies and sprinkle a generous portion of salt and fresh cracked black pepper.  This will really flavor the individual vegetables before adding the dressing.

Finally add in the cheese and dressing and toss together.

Cut the meat very thinly on a bias.  If you - like Jessi - recently received an electric knife for your wedding, this would be the perfect time to use it.

After serving up the two portions, she fanned out a few slices of steak onto each and sprinkled the top with those amazing French's Fried Onion bits.  Oh yeah, you know what I'm talking about.  Those wonderful, crispy little bites of heaven that usually hibernate until Thanksgiving when it comes time to make the green bean casserol.

Steak-ey, Cheese-ey, Crisp-ey, a hint of sweetness from the candied walnuts and saltiness from the fried onions.  I give it an enthusiastic two thumbs up.

Huh... it appears that my wine glass must have a hole in it.  Oh well, its time to dig in. 

Shopping List for Jessi's Steakhouse Salad (Makes 2 Entree Size Servings)
  • 6 Cups of Mixed Field Greens
  • 1/2 a Red Bell Pepper
  • 3 Baby Bell Mushrooms
  • 1/4 Red Onion
  • 1/2 Cup Chopped Candied Walnuts
  • 8 - 10 Grape Tomatoes
  • 1/4 Cup Crumbled Gorgonzola Cheese
  • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • 6 oz Flank Steak
  • 1/8 cup French's Fried Onions
Dijon Vinaigrette Dressing
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
  • 1/8 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
  • 2 Teaspoons Minced Garlic
  • 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Monday, August 29, 2011

Strawberry Fields Forever

This time last year, Hubby and I went to Disney World for a long weekend.  We learned a lot of things on that trip: Never ever go to Florida in late August; Never get involved in a land war in Asia; Never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line;  And finally, strawberry balsamic on a simple green salad is a gift from the gods. 

When we got home I went on a hard target search for strawberry balsamic.  Oddly enough, we had recently purchased roughly $95 in assorted flavored balsamic vinegars and olive oils while on our honeymoon. ("it was an impulse buy, the guy spoke with an accent and said it suited us") but sadly, we had skipped the strawberry.  We were so naive!

I finally found some at this little specialty store in Frederick and did a little happy dance.  No seriously, ask my friend Jen, she was there and very embarrassed by my happy dance.  When I got home that night, I was so excited to re-make the salad we'd had at Disney World, but I couldn't remember some of the details.  I knew it was made with field greens and I knew there were onions in it.  I vaguely recalled some cheese but wasn't sure which, and I knew there was something salty and crunchy but Hubby and I couldn't agree on what it was.  So I just started experimenting.  And I'm happy to say, I came up with this delicious salad.  It isn't exactly the same, but it is sublime in its own right.  I whole heartedly suggest you go out and get yourself some strawberry balsamic today and make this salad:

Start with a nice big bowl of Field Greens.  I used to hate this variety of lettuce, but I've recently started appreciating the different flavor notes it provides.  I do usually pick out the Frisee though since that texture kind of freaks me out. 

Next slice up some Red Onions.  I use about a third of an onion sliced very thinly.  Sprinkle these over the lettuce.

For the cheese, I finally settled on Goat Cheese.  I love the creamy, tanginess which is a little more subtle then Feta.  I actually think the in the original Disney salad, the cheese was a nice slice of hard Parmesan.  But when I was experimenting I had the goat cheese in my fridge so I went with that and I decided it was a winner.

Also in my cupboard that day were some Pistachios.  I don't know what possessed me to add them, but I even went so far as shelling a few dozen that night, and I'm not sorry I did.  They bring a lovely salty crunch to this sweet, soft salad.  I have since discovered that Trader Joes sells a little bag of already shelled pistachios, and it'll last a while so I go ahead and splurge on it. 

Finally drizzle on the Strawberry Balsamic - I typically cover the mouth of the bottle with my thumb and do a nice wide spiral twice around the bowl.  You don't want too much because this stuff is powerful. 

I also add a drizzle of olive oil along with a pinch of salt and pepper. 

Toss it all together and enjoy this sweet, delicious, summery salad with a side of that grilled chicken we made a few weeks ago (well... a new batch, not the same batch from a few weeks ago.... )

So sweet, so tangy, so salty, so good!

Shopping List for Strawberry Balsamic Salad (Makes 2 small servings or 1 large serving)

  • 2 Cups Field Green
  • 1/3 Red Onion - sliced very thin
  • 1/2 Cup Goat Cheese - crumbled
  • 1/2 Cup Salted Pistachio Nutmeats (did you know that is what the inner nut is called? According to the bag it is)
  • Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Cracked Pepper

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Thanks, its Versase

I've been on a bit of a baking bender lately.  So much so that I overheard my mixer this morning sing shouting "I'm so excited, I'm so excited, I'm soo.... Scared" ala Jessie Spano when she got addicted to *gasp* caffeine pills after like 2 days of taking them. 

Parenthetically, how much do you want to bet the producers of Showgirls saw that episode of Saved By the Bell and were like "yes, we can work with that kind of energy."

So in an effort to keep my mixer from becoming a strung out, manic stripper dancer with frizzy over processed hair and a penchant for jazz hands, I have decided to take a small break from baking.

But that doesn't mean I won't be posting anything. I need to undo some of the damage my taste testing has put on recently so in an effort to eat healthier, I bring you Salad Week!

Stay tuned all this week for some of my favorite salads. Which will most likely be followed up by something delicious and frosted.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Fair Food Revisited

A few months ago, I was at a local bar talking to the bartender about the dessert options they offered (for whatever reason.)  And he was waxing euphoric about the deep fried oreos (for whatever reason.) Next thing you know, I'm in a 45 minute Bubba and Forrest Gump style conversation about all the delicious treats you could deep fry and what you could use to deep fry them.  Specifically, he went into a mouth watering description about how he loves deep fried Snickers Bars and how if he's feeling really indulgent, he'll make up a yellow cake batter to dip the Snickers Bar into before deep frying.  My synapses immediately started firing.  I don't own a fry daddy (for obvious reasons, I can't be trusted with a tool that will allow me to deep fry things whenever the urge strikes me.) But I could do the next best thing, I could make a Snickers Cupcake. 

Problem: Everything I found online for Snickers Cupcakes started with a chocolate cake batter and usually involved some kind of caramel frosting.  These were too fussy for me.  I wanted yellow cake and a plain vanilla frosting.  So I decided, screw the Internet, I'd make my own!
I started with my go to yellow cake recipe but I preheated the oven to 375 instead of 350.  I really wanted these cupcakes to rise more then they usually do and I have heard that increasing the temperature a bit would do that.  Plus they'd have a little bit of frozen deliciousness inside so I needed to counteract that.

While I mixed up the batter, these little guys hung out in the freezer.

If you have a willing assistant, you can put him/her to work opening the Snickers minis while you scoop the batter.  You don't want your batter to sit around too long after it is mixed because all that baking soda and/or powder will start reacting to the buttermilk and you won't have the kind of rise you want in the oven.  If you don't have a willing assistant, try bribing him/her with the leftover Snickers minis.  If that doesn't work, I'd suggest getting them prepped before you mix the batter.  Put them back in the freezer while you mix.

Once the batter is scooped into the lined cupcake tin, and the Snickers minis have all been coated in flour, you are ready to assemble. 

Place a single mini right in the center of the cupcake batter.  Don't worry about pressing it down or covering it with batter.  It'll sink, and the batter with rise up over it no problem.  I actually pushed these guys down a little bit.  Next time I think I'll skip that, as mine still sunk to the bottom. 

Bake them at 375 for 15 - 20 minutes.  For me, 17 minutes seemed just about right. 

While those cool, work on the frosting.  I once again went with my favorite Cooked Frosting from Tasty Kitchen

I doubled it in order to cover all 36 cupcakes I was making with a pretty swirl.  The new ratios were:
  • 10 Tablespoons Flour
  • 2 Cups Milk
  • 2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Cups Butter
  • 2 Cups Granulated Sugar (NOT powdered)

Begin by mixing the flour and the milk and putting them in a pot over medium heat.

Make sure to keep stirring while it cooks, you don't want it to clump or scorch.   I actually scorched the batch I made this time.  I didn't realize it until after I had finished making the frosting.  As I was tasting the final product, both hubby and I noticed it tasted a little caramelly.  Which actually worked really nicely with the Snickers Cupcakes but was completely unintentional.  I couldn't figure out why the caramel hint was there until I was washing the pot and noticed the entire bottom was scorched.  Oops.  Happy accident.  So, if you want your frosting to taste a little bit like caramel (aka, burnt) scorch the pot a little.  But be careful, there is a very fine line between yummy slightly burnt caramel taste and overly burnt toast taste.

Anyways, as Tim Gunn says: "Carry on"

Once the mixture thickens to a nice paste consistency, take it off the heat and let it cool.
Add the vanilla while the mixture cools and stir it well.
While that is cooling, whip the butter and the sugar together with your whisk attachment of your mixer.
After 5 minutes, scrape down the sides and inside the whisk attachment and whip again for another 3-5 minutes. 
Next, add the cooled flour mixture and whip it for a minute or so.    If you've scorched the bottom of your pot (intentionally or otherwise) don't scrape all the bits from the bottom up.  Just take the parts of the mixture that will come out of the pot easily. 

You want the final consistency to look like whipped cream. 

While this was whipping, I took a few more of the frozen Snickers minis and chopped them up.

I swirled the frosting on with a large star tip and sprinkled on some of the chopped Snickers bars to give it a nice finished look.  It also doesn't hurt to let people know that this seemingly vanilla cupcake contains both chocolate and nuts. 

Hubby thought I needed to do a little branding so he created a little Snickers flag for the final product shot.

They really do satisfy you.