Chickpea Salad

I’m not on a vegetarian kick, I swear. If you read Monday’s post, you’ll recall this tasty pita. It’s soooo good. This salad, it’s also soooo good. I love salad, I really do. But slimy gross lettuce with mealy, cardboardy tomatoes (yes, cardboardy, I said it) makes me kind of want to gag. No one wants to open up their little lunch container to look at that. Blerg.

This salad isn’t like that. All the ingredients are sturdy, easy-to-transport, tasty items that you’ll love for lunch. My only caution on this one, it has some rather pungent ingredients, so if you have co-workers you like, you might want to bring your toothbrush for after lunch. But you should keep one in your desk anyway, you never know. For those of you who work alone, tear it up, no toothbrush needed.

Chickpea Salad 

Recipe courtesy of Rachel Ray

Ingredients

There’s no cooking here friends, just dumping ingredients into a bowl. You can totally do this. You can even buy pre-chopped ingredients if you need to.

Rinse your beans. You should ALWAYS rinse canned beans. It helps decrease the sodium by like 50% or something, maybe more. Plus, that bean juice can be kind of gross. Get it off.

Add the onion, red pepper, and celery. Use the leafy green parts of the celery if you have them. They’re good for you.

Add the rosemary and crushed red pepper flakes. It’s not going to be hot, just has a little kick. But if you’re sending this with your kiddo for lunch, you can omit it if you like. Just make sure to adjust the black pepper accordingly.

I use a garlic press to smash my garlic. You can chop it, mash it with a fork, whatever. Just get it into small bits and then grind it with a little salt. Mash it up into a paste and blend it with the oil and red wine vinegar. Pour this over the mixture.

Use a spatula to mix well. Make sure everything gets coated with the red wine vinegar mixture. At this point Mr. Bundt came into the kitchen and said it smelled good and could he have it for breakfast. Um, no. And here’s why. This is one of those salads that needs to sit in the fridge, at least for a few hours. Let it meld. It’s worth the wait, I promise.

It’s soooo good! The creamy chickpeas with the crunchy vegetables is a great combination. A little feta on top might be nice too. Don’t mix it into the whole salad though, crumble a few pieces over your serving before you eat it.

If you love this kind of salad, check out this great quinoa salad here.

What kind of salad do you like? Do you take it for lunch at work or eat it at home?

Working Lunch: Quinoa Salad

A good meeting is one that starts on time and ends at least 30 minutes before you think it will. A great meeting is that plus good food. When I host a meeting, I can’t promise that it will end early, but I can assure you there will be good food. It’s been hot here, I think I may have mentioned that a time or ten. So I wanted a light lunch but I also needed something I could make ahead and serve up without a lot of work.

I also needed to serve up a gluten-free option. Since no one in my house has any dietary sensitivities, I’ll admit I don’t think much about these kinds of things. We eat pretty healthy most of the time, but I had been looking for some new options with quinoa anyway and this was a great opportunity to try something new. I should caution you though, normally I wouldn’t serve a new, untested recipe as such a major part of a meal. Since I was making the salad ahead, I felt like I had enough time to whip out something else if this didn’t work.

My menu:

  • Parmesan Crusted Chicken Cutlets – pounded and reserved for last minute frying
  • Quinoa Salad – made ahead
  • Lemon Almond Tart – made ahead

I had some chicken breasts in the freezer, so I pounded them flat and used a standard recipe for Parmesan Crusted Chicken Cutlets. I started these about 20 minutes before I expected my colleagues. In that time I could fry up three cutlets, tent them with foil, and clean up the pan before anyone arrived. I make chicken cutlets all the time so I won’t bore you with the details. You can check out one of my favorite recipes for Crispy Parmesan Chicken from Cook’s Country.

I had some quinoa in the pantry waiting on me to do something with it. And this gluten-free meal was the perfect opportunity. So I trolled the interwebs for a few minutes before deciding on this Quinoa Salad recipe from the Food Network. It was light, cold, and had lots of things in it that I like to eat. It sounded like, with the chicken, it would be a full meal. Plus, it made a lot! Leftovers were a bonus! I made the salad the day before, but didn’t add the tomatoes (I used grape tomatoes, the only decent thing you can get before June) and the avocados until I was ready to serve.

Quinoa Salad

Recipe adapted from Food Network

  • 12 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 English cucumber
  • 1 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 container of grape tomatoes
  • 1 bunch Italian parsley leaves, chopped
  • 2 bunches mint leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 avocado, peeled, seeded and diced, for garnish

Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the quinoa, stir once, and return to a boil. Cook uncovered, over medium heat for 12 minutes. Strain and rinse well with cold water, shaking the sieve well to remove all moisture.

When dry, transfer the quinoa to a large bowl. Add the cucumbers, onion, parsley, mint, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and pepper and toss well. Top with avocado and halved grape tomatoes, and serve. Garnish with parsley or mint.

This isn’t really cooking. It’s assembling. Anyone can do it. And quinoa is cute and hairy, so give it a whirl!

Then stick it in the fridge overnight. It lets the flavors absorb and makes it nice and cold.

Plate it up on a nice platter, spreading the tomato halves and avocado slices over the top. I stuck a bunch of mint on top for garnish. Pretty AND tasty!

It is such a good salad! And my colleagues loved the lunch. Check out the dessert portion of the meal on Wednesday!

Have you tried quinoa? Do you have a favorite recipe? I think I’ll try it for breakfast next!

Spring Birthday Party

Crocuses

It’s spring here! Guess how I can tell? These crocuses were actually a little late to the party, my daffodils had already bloomed before these guys got started. But they’re pretty sweet!

I can also tell you that spring is coming because we’re in full swing with the birthday season here. My Mom and Grandma have birthdays about two weeks apart, so we gathered to celebrate both. I thought I’d share them with you!

The menu was: Chicken Caesar Sandwiches, Kale and White Bean Soup, Green Salad, and Revelatory Caramel Cake.

I also made some PB&J and turkey sandwiches for little ones who might not care of the regular sandwiches. Do you dig my green St. Pattie’s Day nails?

Several years ago I bought the biggest table that would fit in my dining room. I don’t really believe in a table for the kids that’s separate from the adults. How are the supposed to learn to act like humans if they never eat with them? So I got a big bench where lots of little butts can schooch in together.

And this is how I set up my table. I believe in cloth napkins and centerpieces, though we usually have so much food that a centerpiece is kicked to the side. A centerpiece doesn’t need to be an expensive, fussy deal from a florist. My forsythia were already starting to bloom, so a few days before the party I brought some in so they would have time to acclimate to the warmth of the house and open up.

Several years ago I also invested in some rather inexpensive white plates (with matching bowls and salad/dessert plates) and silverware. Enough for 10-12 place settings. We don’t use them everyday, but when we have a special occasion I like to use them. The white is nice because you can add any color plate, placemat, tablecloth, whatever, and it coordinates. These special meals are my gift to my family and I want them to look as beautiful as a wonderfully wrapped present (which I don’t do).

Chicken Caesar Sandwiches

I served these Chicken Caesar Sandwiches for a luncheon a few days prior and am totally addicted to them. My family loved them too! What a great sandwich!

Chicken Caesar Sandwich

Recipe courtesy Barefoot Contessa

  • 2 split (1 whole) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on (I also use a whole rotisserie chicken in a pinch)
  • Good olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
  • 1 large garlic clove, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste (don’t be tempted to omit this, stop being a chicken and give it a try, it doesn’t taste fishy, I swear!)
  • 1 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup good mayonnaise
  • 1 large ciabatta bread
  • 2 ounces baby arugula, washed and spun dry
  • 12 sun-dried tomatoes, in oil
  • 2 to 3 ounces Parmesan, shaved

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

(Skip this step if using a rotisserie chicken). Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan skin side up. Rub the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until cooked through. Cool slightly, discard the skin and bones, and slice the meat thickly. Set aside.

Meanwhile, place the pancetta on another sheet pan in a single layer. Roast for 10 to 15 minutes, until crisp. Set aside to drain on paper towels.

Place the garlic and parsley in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade and process until minced. Add the anchovy paste, mustard, lemon juice, and mayonnaise and process again to make a smooth dressing. (Refrigerate the Caesar dressing if not using it immediately.)

Slice the ciabatta in half horizontally and separate the top from the bottom. Toast the bread in the oven, cut side up, for 5 to 7 minutes; cool slightly. Spread the cut sides of each piece with the Caesar dressing. Place half the arugula on the bottom piece of bread and then layer in order: the sun-dried tomatoes, shaved Parmesan, crispy pancetta, and sliced chicken. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and finish with another layer of arugula. Place the top slice of ciabatta on top and cut in thirds crosswise. Serve at room temperature.

A simple green salad, just dressed mixed greens and a few shavings of Parmesan cheese is a great accompaniment for a flavorful sandwich like the one above. You don’t want the flavors in the sandwich and the salad to compete. Mark Bittman has a lot of great vinaigrettes you can mix up quickly. WAY better than that fat-laden stuff out of a bottle!

Since I served the soup hot, and don’t like to be pointing the camera at my hungry family while they’re trying to eat, there aren’t any soup photos. But here’s the recipe. It’s a great soup. I make a big batch and use it for lunches or a quick dinner.

Kale and White Bean Soup

Recipe courtesy of Real Simple

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, celery, onion, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, 4 to 6 minutes.

Add the beans, pasta, kale, rosemary, 8 cups water, and Parmesan rind (if using). Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the pasta and kale are tender, 4 to 5 minutes.

Remove the Parmesan rind. Stir in the lemon juice and sprinkle with the shaved Parmesan before serving.

Revelatory Caramel Cake
No birthday would be complete without cake! I had a hard time committing to a cake. I wanted one that everyone would like (thereby eliminating coconut) but I also wanted something different than what I normally do (thereby eliminating chocolate). So I decided on a Caramel Cake and it was a great choice. It was soooo good! I had been hanging onto this recipe since it appeared in Food & Wine, September 2010.

Revelatory Caramel Cake

Recipe courtesy of Food & Wine 

from The Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook

Cake

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, softened
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
Icing
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter three 8-inch cake pans; line the bottoms with parchment paper. Butter the parchment and flour the pans, tapping out the excess.

In a bowl, mix 1/4 cup of the milk with the egg whites and vanilla extract. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, mix the flour with the sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and the remaining 3/4 cup of milk. Beat at low speed until blended, then beat at medium speed until smooth, 1 minute. Beat in the egg white mixture in 3 batches.

In another bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the cream until soft peaks form. Stir one-third of the whipped cream into the batter, then fold in the rest. Divide the batter between the pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean. Let the cakes cool on a rack for 10 minutes. Unmold the cakes and peel off the parchment. Invert the cakes and let cool completely.

In a saucepan, stir 2 1/2 cups of the sugar with the corn syrup and milk. Cook over moderate heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Keep warm.

Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a deep, heavy saucepan. Cook the sugar over moderate heat, swirling occasionally, until an amber caramel forms. Carefully pour the warm milk mixture over the caramel. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the caramel dissolves. Stop stirring and cook until the caramel registers 235° on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat. Stir in the butter, vanilla and 1/4 cup of the heavy cream. Strain the caramel into the bowl of a standing mixer. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Beat the caramel at medium speed, gradually adding the remaining 1/4 cup of cream, until creamy, about 15 minutes. Let icing cool at least another 15 minutes, longer if your work area is warm.

Set 1 cake layer on a plate. Pour enough icing over the layer to cover the top. Top with a second cake layer and cover it with icing. Add the final cake layer and pour the rest of the icing over the top of the cake, letting it run down the sides. Working quickly, use an offset spatula to spread the icing gently around the cake. Let the cake stand for 2 hours to set the icing before serving.

Tip: This cake is even better the day after it’s made.

Once lunch was over the cousins got to play. This is my niece and my daughter.

We checked out a little more nature in our yard.

And acted silly! See the nice shiner my niece gave herself? It’s hard to be little!

How does your family celebrate big days? Is it a small group of a few or a big extended family? If you could have any birthday cake in the world, what would it be?