Day 33: Blackened Chicken Salad with Blue Cheese Vinaigrette

1559846_801498683205551_8340243734175821480_n (1)On the night before my daughter was to start high school, she asked that I make this recipe for “Blackened Chicken Salad with Blue Cheese Vinaigrette” for dinner. I’m not sure what about it sounded so appealing to her, but it it looked straight-forward enough, so I thought we’d give it a try.

I’d never actually “blackened” anything from scratch before, so I didn’t know what exactly went into the mixture of spices. But now I know: paprika, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano, dried thyme, and ground red pepper—a lot of ground red pepper. I used chicken strips instead of whole chicken breasts (they were on sale), which made it a little easier when it came time to plate the food.

The best part of this—chicken aside—was most definitely the dressing. It was the perfect combination of olive oil, white wine vinegar, shallots, dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and a little crumbled blue cheese. Just thinking about it now makes my mouth water. The recipe said to drizzle the dressing over the greens and chicken once it was plated, but because it appeared to be a little thick, I decided to mix the greens and the dressing so that it was evenly coated. Great decision!

Verdict? My daughter loved this salad so much, she asked me to pack it in her lunch for the first day of school. It was so good that now I wish I had all of the ingredients in my home so I could make it for lunch today!

You have to make this one!

Day 31: Halibut with Bacony Corn Sauté

10646926_800859936602759_2316195897237497161_nThis being the last day of the month, it was also the last day I had to make something from the limited uncooked August recipes. So, when I chose “Halibut with Bacony Corn Sauté,” it was mainly because I thought it would appeal to the guests I was having over for dinner. Of course, halibut was impossible to find, so I opted for salmon instead—always a people-pleaser—and the rest of the recipe I followed to a T. But, because it was the last recipe I chose out of the month of recipes, I didn’t honestly think it was going to be that great. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was incredible. Just thinking of it now makes me want to cook it again.  (The photo doesn’t do it justice!)

I’m sure you’re wondering what made this one so special. First, the simplicity in the way the fish was cooked—it only required a sprinkling of salt and pepper, then the fish cooked (flesh-side down) on med-high heat in a oiled skillet. I don’t know about you, but I almost always cook salmon in the broiler or on the grill, never on the stove top. The funny thing was, everyone was asking me what seasoning I used because the fish tasted so good. Who know, salt and pepper was all it needed.

The other thing that was unbelievably delicious was the corn sauté. It was so simple, the most difficult part being cutting the corn from the cob (not my favorite job!), and cooking the bacon (for me, turkey bacon), and stirring in some butter and green onions. Seriously, I’d make this side dish any day, it was that good.

The verdict? Everyone who was over for dinner that night ooh’d and aah’d throughout dinner. Yep, a winner.

Day 29: Spaghetti with Sausage and Parsley Pesto

10624976_799632716725481_5374749313417865243_nEach day, when I would look through the recipes in the August section of Cooking Light, this was not one of the recipes I would think about making. That is until I got down to the end of the month, and I was looking for something quick, easy, and with minimal ingredients—”Spaghetti with Sausage and Parsley Pesto” was the perfect fit.

The unusual thing about this recipe was that instead of using basil for the pesto, it called for parsley. At first I thought it was to make it a healthier option, but then I realized that the healthiness came from substituting the reserved cooking liquid from the pasta in place of oil in a typical pesto. The final product was light a fresh, and it went well with the spicy sausage. I should say, as I mentioned before, I don’t eat pork so I substituted spicy turkey italian sausage for the pork sausage—it was a perfect switch.

Overall, this dish hit the spot for a bunch of hungry people, and I liked the idea of using a low-cal pesto option, but flavor-wise, it wasn’t that remarkable. I don’t think this is one for the memory book.

Day 26: Grilled Sirloin Steak with Mango Chile Salad

I have mixed feelings about this recipe. It’s not that the recipe was actually bad, but something happened while making it that has left me with bad memories of the meal. This is what happened:

10590586_798255986863154_6346795701751336325_n (1)In trying to use ingredients for “Grilled Sirloin Steak with Mango Chile Salad” that I had on-hand, I decided to use the little yellow pepper my mom had given us from her friend’s garden in place the jalepeno pepper the recipe called for. I very excitedly diced up the mango, squeezed the lime juice, chopped the peanuts, and thinly sliced the pepper so that the topping would be ready the moment the steak came off the grill. I then did what anyone cooking something is supposed to do—I tasted it to make sure nothing was missing. Unfortunately, within a second of it hitting my tongue, the heat of the pepper exploded in my mouth—I couldn’t spit it out fast enough! It took another ten minutes for my hearing to return and for my tastebuds to return to normal. But this wasn’t the actual trauma.

Fortunately, I still had some mango along with the other ingredients, so I decided to make another batch minus the pepper. I’m not sure if this was supposed to be delicious with the jalapeno, or if the recipe was just really plain, but it was just so-so. I did, however, follow Cooking Light’s suggestion to make Coconut-Ginger Rice on the side—which was amazing, and I would definitely make it again.

Ok, on with the rest of my story.

So, later that night, I started to feel like my hands were swollen, as if I’d eaten to much sodium—even though I hadn’t. I took off my rings, and felt a bit better. Then, later on when I went to bed, I noticed that my left hand felt not only swollen, but a bit hot. I was so tired, however, that I just ignored it and went to sleep. But not for long, the heat coming off my hand actually woke me up in the middle of the night! It suddenly occurred to me—the pepper must have been causing it—so I Googled it. What do you know—apparently you should never cut a hot pepper (especially one as hot as the unknown pepper from my mom’s friend’s garden) without actually wearing gloves. Yes, GLOVES! Are you kidding me? Yes, the chemical compound in peppers, known as Capsaicin is actually used in the making of pepper spray. I then began to frantically look for ways to remove it from my skin, as soap has absolutely no effect on it. I tried rubbing alcohol which may have actually caused more damage by bringing the oil of the skin and then spreading it over my entire hand—it actually turned completely red, and the burning was intolerable. I then squeezed lemon juice all over it. Repeatedly. For the next hour. The pain finally then began to subside.

So, from now on, this recipe will always remind me of the horrible nature of hot peppers, and my new found fear of touching them gloveless. Make at your own risk!

Day 25: Tomato Ravioli

I’m sorry for taking so long to share this recipe—unless of course I ran into you sometime in the last week, because I’m pretty certain I told no fewer than 7 people how to make this recipe—it was that good. The name “Tomato Ravioli” somehow made me overlook the recipe for almost the whole month—even though a photo of it is on the actual cover of Cooking Light 2014. So, one night when I knew I was going to be really busy, I decided to give it a try.

10629829_797788816909871_2525989984222498193_nAs with many of the recipes I have made over the course of the last month, I made a couple of substitutions. The first came in the choice of tomato—I used grape tomatoes rather than cherry. I didn’t weigh out the amount to be an exact pound, and decided to go with a pint and a half to approximate the amount needed. I cut about half of those in half as the recipe required, however I forgot to drizzle them with olive oil before I put the baking sheet in the oven. I was actually pressed for time while making this, as I had a two-hour window between dropping off and picking up my son from football, and about 40 minutes of that time had already been used up going to Trader Joe’s to pick up the fresh ravioli (I used goat cheese and sun-dried tomato ravioli, rather than plain)—along with a few other things not part of this recipe.

Anyway, back to the recipe.

Due to my time constraints, I put the water on to boil at the same time the tomatoes were roasting in the oven. The tomatoes and shallots were supposed to bake for 35 minutes before adding balsamic vinegar and olive oil to the mixture, and letting them cook another 10 minutes. I actually shaved off 10 minutes from the cook time, in order to have the ravioli cook at the same time as the tomatoes were cooking with the vinegar. The timing worked out perfectly, as I was able to remove the ravioli from the water and immediately cover them with the tomato mixture. I can’t even begin to explain how delicious this recipe was—the sweet tanginess of the balsamic vinegar mixed with the smokiness of the roasted tomatoes along with the freshness of the basil made the most perfect  flavor combination. It was actually so good, my daughter has been hounding me to make it again—which I’m planning on doing tonight.

Day 23: Shrimp Tacos with Corn Salsa

1560727_796789970343089_6332524993094821689_nI loved, loved, loved this recipe. I loved it so much, that I have a confession—I ate four of them. Yep, I “doubled” the recipe, at least on my plate. And I wasn’t the only one—everyone raved about it, and everyone probably ate more than the two tacos that actually made up a serving. I think the key to the incredible flavors came from the consistent use of lime juice—it was in the corn salsa, it cooked in the shrimp, and it was added to the sour cream. Overall, the tacos were both sweet and tangy due to the lime juice and honey, as well as fresh and creamy from the grilled corn and avocado.

I’ve got no back to story for this one. There’s nothing you need to know about the recipe other than the fact that you HAVE to make it. Seriously.

Day 22: Clams with Israeli Couscous

On Friday, I drove to Cape May for the last time this summer—an exciting, but bittersweet sign that summer was drawing to a close. This weekend was also a bit more special than some others because my younger sister and my 19 month old nephew—plus my 19 year old nephew—were all there at my mom’s for the weekend. Once again, when we arrived in Cape May, we immediately began to discuss what to do about dinner—and of course, I told them that I had to cook. I read them a few options from Cooking Light 2014—and we settled on “Clams with Israeli Couscous.” But, because my mom doesn’t actually like steamed clams, I also decided to add shrimp and scallops to the recipe, kind of like a “paella” minus the sausage and the rice.

10639556_796381027050650_6032668742646483981_nOnce again, I picked a recipe that had at least one ingredient that I had never worked with before—fennel. As I headed to Acme, I thought I knew what fennel looked like (a bulbous root), but when I arrived at the store, and found the vegetable was actually “Anise,” I was thoroughly confused. My confusion only grew when I asked the person stocking the produce if they had fennel, and he stared at my blankly and said he had no idea what that was. Thankfully, I had the sudden thought to google “substitute for fennel,” as the first article I came to told me that another name for fennel was actually “anise.” So, feeling rather proud of myself, I added it to the cart and headed off to find the Israeli couscous.

Normally, I buy this couscous at Trader Joe’s, but because I was in Cape May, my options were a but limited when it came to grocery stores. That being said, because I was at the larger Acme in North Cape May, I didn’t expect that finding this couscous would be a problem. Which it was—that is until I realized that it is also called “pearl couscous.” So, if you decide to make this recipe, make a note that instead of looking for Fennel and Israeli Couscous, look for Anise and pearl couscous.

Now on to the recipe. Because it cooked quickly, I prepped all of the ingredients before I started cooking. The only time consuming part came from my decision to add shrimp to the recipe—as I then had to peel and clean a pound of large shrimp. But beyond that, the whole thing took about 20-25 minutes start to finish. My only frustration came at the end, as I followed the recipe’s timing, there still seemed to be a lot of liquid in the pan, and the couscous started to stick to the bottom. Then, the worst part was that about 5-6 of the clams out of the 24 didn’t open, and I kept wondering if I should let them cook longer even though I might be risking ruining the couscous. In the end, I threw out the clams that didn’t open and served the couscous with the bit of liquid still remaining—and everyone loved it. The flavors were delicious, and everyone from the kids to the adults wanted seconds. The verdict about the clams? Everyone agreed that the recipe would not have been as satisfying without the addition of the shrimp and scallops, as the little bit of meat in 5 clams was more like a taste than a meal.