massaged kale and flank steak salad with blueberries and pistachios

7:19:00 PM

We returned a couple weeks ago from a trip to Dauphin Island, Alabama, which was a really beautiful place that is sadly lacking in a good food scene.  (We did spend one day and two nights in New Orleans where we had some tasty food, though!) The vacation was lovely, but after days of eating southern fried food and drinking too much rum, we wanted to get back to some healthy food.

This salad is refreshing and super filling.  You really have to massage the hell out of the kale - if you can do it an hour in advance and let it sit for a bit, even better. Bob liked the salad best as leftovers for lunch the next day, as the kale got softer overnight and really absorbed the flavor of the dressing. 

I think any good in-season fruit would be delicious on this as a sub for the blueberries - grapes, cherries, citrus. Pistachios are my favorite nut, but they tend to be expensive, so you can omit or substitute freely. 

Hemp hearts are sort of a trendy fad right now, but I like them a lot. They add sort of  a nutty flavor and aren’t as expensive as a lot of seeds. Sesame seeds would work too.

Massaged Kale and Flank Steak Salad with Blueberries and Pistachios 
makes 4 servings

3 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tbsp maple syrup or honey (optional)
good sprinkle of salt and pepper, to taste
a couple of fresh basil leaves
a couple mint leaves
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

6-8 cups kale, thinly sliced or shredded
1 cup green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces
½ cup fresh blueberries
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
4 tbsp hemp hearts (optional)
½ cup pistachios
2 avocados, sliced thinly
1 lb flank steak, room temperature
salt and pepper

Make the dressing: In a food processor or blender, combine all the ingredients except the oil and mix until well-blended. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the ½ cup of olive oil until dressing is slightly thickened. 

Place kale in a large bowl, then pour about ½ the dressing over the kale. Massage for a couple minutes to help soften the leaves. Add in the green beans and blueberries and toss. 

Cook the steak: Sprinkle steak on both sides with salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet (I use cast iron) over  medium until quite hot, then add the steak. If your skillet isn’t large enough, you can cut the piece of steak in half and cook them separately. Let brown on the bottom, about 5 minutes, then flip and cook 5 minutes on the other side. For medium-rare, cook to about 140 degrees. Remove from heat, tent loosely with foil and let sit at least five minutes. When done resting, place on cutting board and slice very thinly across the grain. 

Plate the salad while steak rests: Place kale mixture on a plate, top with sliced avocado and tomatoes. Top with sliced steak and sprinkle with the hemp hearts and pistachios. Drizzle with a little extra dressing, then serve. 

our whole30 experience

8:34:00 PM

We're back!

Bob and I successfully completed the Whole30 (and then promptly went on vacation for a week and indulged too much, but we're back to healthy eating now) and I wanted to write a bit about it since it was an interesting experience.

What is it?
It’s a big fad diet right now where, for 30 days, you completely eliminate all grains, all dairy, all legumes/peanuts (snap peas are okay), all added sugar, all corn and corn products, all soy products, carrageenan, all sweeteners of all kinds (Splenda, Stevia, etc.), artificial colors, and alcohol. The idea is to sort of “reset” your tastes and cravings and to focus on only whole foods. You can have meat, seafood, all fruits, all vegetables, potatoes, eggs, nuts and seeds (except peanuts), most oils, animal fats, coffee and tea. The idea is to stop sugar cravings and focus on whole foods only, and it also serves as a sort of elimination diet if you think you have a food sensitivity. If you slip up at any point, intentionally or unintentionally, you are supposed to start all over again. 

Why did you do it?
Mostly curiosity. Neither of us has any real food sensitivities, but obviously if we eat crappy food, we feel crappy. I sort of wanted a strict set of rules for a while to sort of get “on track” because we’d do pretty well and then get off-track on weekends. I wanted to end the debate in my head of “I’m exhausted, should we get takeout tonight?” or “should I go buy wine?” or “Will it kill me if I eat a cookie off the back counter at work?” I used to debate in my head for ages and this just made it really easy to make good choices for a month and it was kind of fun to test my willpower. It was pretty easy to say "Nope, can't have that" and move on, rather than debate it in my head. 

I think the concept of Paleo is stupid (believing that what "cavemen" ate was the healthiest way to eat, and also ignoring that modern-day Paleo is about as similar to what "cavemen" ate as a Pop Tart is) but I do like the concept of whole foods, lots of fruits and vegetables, and no processed garbage. So, we gave it a try.

Was it hard?
Yes and no. I think this is the reaction a lot of people have after completing a Whole30. Contrary to a lot of the recipes I post on this blog, we’ve always eaten fairly healthy stuff at home. In addition to the cheese-laden pastas and tarts I’ve been known to post here, a lot of the more “boring” stuff we make doesn’t make it on here - like fish with lemon and vegetables, or a steak salad, or basic vegetable and tofu stir fry that’s nothing special. We really never have had junk food in the house at all except crackers and popcorn kernels we get from the farmer’s market and air-pop.  As much as we both love food and the awesome restaurants in Madison, we really don’t eat out much, only for special occasions. Never fast food, except once in a while during traveling. I’m big on vegetables and have always eaten fruit as snacks. So a lot of things were similar and I was able to easily substitute a few things. Neither of us was eating a lot of packaged or overly processed foods. 

Mostly, it would depend on the day. Some days I breezed through, staying full and feeling good with zero problems or cravings. Other days I craved pizza like crazy, which is weird because it’s not like I’ve never gone 30 days without pizza before. 

Bob says it wasn’t too hard for him either, but it was “annoying.” On a couple separate occasions we were supposed to go out to dinner (once when his mom visited and once for my dad’s birthday) and on both occasions we ended up cooking at home for everyone because it was just easier than trying to find ANYTHING compliant. Going out to eat was hard. He also missed our “special treats” (dark chocolate or caramels from the co-op) and bourbon.

Was it expensive?
YES. I thought maybe buying more meat would sort of even out with buying no grains, beans, soy, dairy, and the plethora of other things we weren’t allowed to eat. It didn’t. Meat is EXPENSIVE, especially grass-fed and ethically raised. We’ve always tried to  buy meat like that, but eating it every day is expensive. We had a few vegetarian meals, but when you can’t have beans or soy or dairy, the only real sources of protein we could have besides meat/fish were nuts. You’re not supposed to eat a ton of nuts/seeds on the Whole30, but I was buying a LOT of nuts and nut butter, especially at the very beginning. Having to buy compliant fish sauce and coconut aminos was a pain, too (though I am thrilled I have fish sauce that doesn’t have a bunch of junk in it, and I will probably keep buying it.) 

Basically, the Whole30 is a strict version of Paleo (except we get potatoes!) and food manufacturers know that they can stick a Paleo label on pretty much anything and jack up the price (like Paleo bacon.) It’s annoying, and another reason to hate fad diets,  but I participated in it, so there’s that. Blame me for the rising prices of food that doesn’t have a bunch of crap in it! 

Did we cheat?
It was hard for us to find a “good time” to do a Whole30, but I was really curious about it and wanted to do it before our vacation because I really was feeling like my healthful New Year’s Resolutions were going down the drain. We had an event planned smack in the middle of this on March 4th, which was  a beer tasting event called Madison on Tap. I’d bought the tickets months ago as part of Bob’s Christmas gift, so we agreed before we started that he would cheat on this day (only at the event) to have some delicious beer. I agreed to be DD since it was his gift. So on this day, and this day ONLY, Bob “cheated” with beer. But he was awesome with food. There was a ton of food at this event, and if I were him I would’ve eaten a ton of it. But he decided nothing looked good enough to cheat further with, so we came home and had a compliant dinner. I thought that was pretty awesome of him, because I would’ve eaten food, especially with beer in me.

As for me, I did cheat, but only accidentally. I got a cold during week 3. It sucked. I hated it because I couldn’t work out and I was so exhausted. So I took DayQuil (has sweeteners and artificial colors - so unnecessary, why do they do that?) I do not really count this as cheating, because seriously, who enjoys drinking DayQuil? I did, however, avoid all the cough drops/ColdEeze. The other time I cheated was when we went out to eat after my nephew’s baptism and I ordered a chopped chicken salad without bacon or cheese, but forgot to request the dressing on the side (since it was a blue cheese dressing I figured they’d omit it too since I said no cheese.) I’m sure the dressing had sugar of some kind in it though I picked around the cheese. This was near the end of the Whole30 so I didn’t worry much about it. I wasn’t going to send it back and waste an entire salad.  We weren’t doing this to discover any “food sensitivites” so we didn’t care too much. Other than these occasions, though, we stuck to it 100%.

Did it take a lot of time?
I’ve always spent a lot of time in the kitchen. So, yes, it does take time, but actual meal prep/cooking was about the same as always. Some things took longer - making cauliflower rice, for example, instead of regular rice. I am really sick of cauliflower rice! 

What did take time was trying to find recipes I actually thought we’d both enjoy that were compliant, and finding substitutions for meals that we already like. But this is stuff I’ve never minded doing, because I spend a lot of time looking for recipes of all kinds.

What was the best thing we ate? 
We both agree the best thing was probably these crispy potatoes. Potatoes were a godsend on this diet and we ate them a couple times a week - really satisfied the starchy components we wanted. I love eggs for breakfast on the weekends but hate them without some kind of toast or carb, so potatoes were common with breakfast. These were by far the best roasted potatoes we’ve ever had, and they were so crispy. I made them for my parents when they came over and served with steak, salad, and brussels sprouts. The potatoes were the best part. 

I also made these steak fajitas with some substitutions (chipotle powder instead of chipotles in adobo, omit liquid smoke, use coconut aminos instead of soy sauce, and serve in lettuce wraps.) I’ve made these before but they were just as tasty with these substitutions. 

I also re-made one of my absolute favorite soups (Thai Coconut Curry Chicken Noodle Soup) with lots of substitutions, the main one being using spiralized sweet potatoes instead of ramen noodles, and it was really good. 

We also became fans of kombucha, which is allowed as long is no sugar is added after the fermentation process. We both missed Friday night beer and wine, so this was a great substitute. It was a special once a week treat and I drank mine out of a wine glass. I’d had kombucha before, but I really started liking it on this diet.

The worst thing we ate?
I tried to cook almond-crusted chicken by simply coating pieces of chicken in egg and then crushed nuts and baking. This did not work. I’ve made almond-crusted chicken successfully before, but usually the nuts are accompanied by panko or some other kind of breadcrumb which helps. I also couldn’t dredge the chicken in flour first and was not about to go out and buy a special coconut or almond flour (because they’re so expensive.)  I burned the chicken and the topping was gloopy.  

Mayonnaise was a HUGE challenge. I could not, for the life of me, find a good oil to make mayo with. I’ve usually made it with canola oil at home, but canola oil is frowned upon in the Whole30 (not eliminated, but discouraged.) I tried light-tasting olive oil, which was bad, and then avocado oil, which just tasted off to me. I can’t describe the flavor except maybe like.. machine-equipment? Like a factory. I also bought the stupid Primal Kitchen mayo (made with avocado oil) and had the same experience with the machine taste. The most successful attempt was with grapeseed oil, but that’s also a discouraged oil, so it was all sort of lose-lose. I never succeeded at good homemade mayo.

Would we do it again?
I would do it again, but maybe a shorter period (21 days?) It’s not a long-term thing for me. But I truly don’t think a lot of the exclusions are necessary - things like quinoa, peas, peanuts, beans, chickpeas, and unsweetened yogurt are all healthy and it seems stupid to cut them out if you don’t have a sensitivity. But everyone has a different concept of what “healthy” means. I did NOT like eating the heavy quantity of meat, chicken, and fish - I really missed other forms of protein. Cooking with meat can also be a pain (all the handwashing! All the changing of cutting boards! Thermometers! Worrying about ruining an expensive steak!) and more time-consuming.

Bob said he would do it again. I think he liked eating a lot of meat whereas I’m a bit more wary of it. 

What did we miss the most?
I really missed popcorn and, oddly, soy sauce. I was REALLY excited to use soy sauce again. Also, wine. The main thing though was I just missed cooking my favorite things because so much was eliminated. I felt like we were limited to such specific items and so I wasn’t eating a big enough variety of food. 

Bob missed cheese, dark chocolate, and bourbon the most.

What was easy to give up? 
VERY surprisingly for me, I got over the “no grains” thing AND the “no dairy” thing without a ton of trouble (but I say this while also acknowledging that the thing I craved the absolute MOST was pizza.) I didn’t miss alcohol as much as I thought I would.

I didn't miss sugar or sweetener basically at all. I like sweets, but usually all we keep in the house is dark chocolate. I *did* miss being able to use some stuff that's higher in sugar like my favorite Asian-style sauces (hoisin sauce, oyster sauce) because I love stir fry, but I was able to create a couple decent stir-fries without any sugar. 

Bob says he missed noodles and bread.

How much weight did we lose? 
Bob lost about 5 pounds, I lost about 8. I want to be really clear though that part of this was clearly water weight and  that I don’t think you need to do this type of extreme diet to lose weight. I think the real reason I lost weight was because of the following: no alcohol (wine has a lot of calories and the choices I make while drinking it - yikes!); not eating out basically ever, and cutting out my after-work snack of popcorn. Also, cutting out unnecessary condiments - like cheese and sour cream on fajitas. And grocery store samples, and little treats at the co-op, etc. - a lot of little changes that add up. 

I will say though, I was a little surprised at how much I lost because I did feel like a lot of the days I was eating a LOT of calories. There were days I would be really hungry and would eat a lot of nuts and olives and other high-fat foods. We ate a lot of avocados (that isn't anything new!) But I think this was probably balanced out with the elimination of grains and dairy with our meals, so it's hard to say what actually contributed to weight loss. I think there is just so much we still don't know about the way that our bodies process certain foods! 

What were the physical benefits/drawbacks?
Bob says he was less bloated with fewer “stomach issues” (basically discomfort he’d get after eating lots of dairy or fried food.) His energy level was pretty good, but sleep was the same, skin was the same, mood same. He didn’t notice any benefits to exercise endurance. 

I also felt less bloated and with fairly good energy. Sleep was mostly good, which I attribute to zero alcohol, mostly.  My mood was good. Exercise endurance was oddly tricky. At the beginning, I felt like working out was harder. For maybe the first… week and a half? This diet is not low-carb (you can have fruit and potatoes and all the vegetables you want) but I just didn’t seem to have the energy I needed. This could be to a whole number of factors, though. The Whole30 has a plan set up for workouts and what to eat before and after, but I didn’t really follow that part accurately because I exercise at work, twice a day, so I don’t have access to all the food I normally would, nor am I allowed to eat at my desk before or after my breaks when I exercise, so that was hard. Lack of skin improvement was disappointing - I have eczema on one of my hands and I was really hoping this would help, but it actually got a lot worse. I did read that someone else found that his eczema was made worse with meat, so maybe that’s a trigger, or, more likely, it’s more environmental (actual skin irritants) than my diet.

What habits will we stick to?
We liked the idea of avoiding added sugar. I’ve always read labels carefully and have tried to be good about stuff like that, but it can be difficult, especially if you live in an area without health food stores. We are lucky in Madison to have many stores to choose from.  

We also decided that we didn’t really need cheese or sour cream on food or other unnecessary toppings on a lot of things, like our fajitas. We live in Wisconsin so cheese is, of course, going to stay in our lives, but we are opting for only use cheese when it is really essential to the integrity of a dish, and we’re limiting how often we are allowed to use it. 

We also decided to cut out all junk food and crackers completely at home, though I insisted on having my air-popped popcorn. 

We are allowing ourselves whole wheat pasta or brown rice but only once a week. We are re-introducing ancient grains (farro, quinoa, buckwheat) and I’m loving that. We’re also going to have beans and peas again, and corn. 

We are limiting alcohol to two days a month as opposed to the probably 4-6 days we used to. We’re also cutting out little snacks we used to get at the co-op (mainly these delicious little dark chocolate sea salt caramels… mmm) and all sweets, though we never really ate a lot of those anyway. 

So, basically, going back to what we were mainly doing before, but just making it a bit healthier and more strict. None of these rules are unbreakable; this is just how we want to eat at home most of the time. We’re going to avoid white flour and most processed grains. I'm also more open to using my stupid spiralizer (I've had it for years and made a lot of "zoodles" when I first got it but it mostly collected dust) because I found I really do like sweet potato noodles, plus it's fun to spiralize beets and carrots, too (makes for really pretty food.) I'm also open to using cauliflower rice again even though I was sick of it - it made a nice base for stir-fries. 

Did it change our lives?
This is a claim the Whole30 website makes. No, it didn't. Maybe it would if you were eating nothing but processed junk food - it requires a lot of dedication and a lot of kitchen time and knowing how to cook, and if that's not something you're used to, it will probably definitely change your life. If I had done this a few years ago before I really started cooking and eating a ton of vegetables and focus on whole foods, it would probably change my life. 

I don't think it really changed our tastebuds. Fruit did taste slightly sweeter, I suppose, but you can bet I still wanted pepperoni pizza. 

Do we recommend it?
Sure, but it's not the only way, and please don't spend money on stuff like this. People get so rich off the desperation of people who want to lose weight or get healthier, and it's so unnecessary. A lot of this diet is common sense, and I think it makes even more sense to follow the rules most dietitians agree upon: Eat whole foods. Eat your veggies. Eat fruit.  Eat whole grains. Don't eat a lot of processed foods. Cook from scratch. Eat high quality meats if you choose to eat meat. Limit added sugar and artificial sweeteners.  

But if you feel like you need a little bit of control and you're like me who spends way too much time thinking about whether or not I can have a cookie or if I should have wine and you're tired of the debate in your head - go ahead. And if you want to figure out how to cook whole foods and vegetables, this is a good way to learn, because it forces you! It also will get you into the habit of reading labels if you don't already do that, because you must must must. You'll quickly learn to despise the entire food industry for all the crap they put in food. 

This may be helpful as an elimination diet if you believe you have a food sensitivity (but you likely don't, and if you're in distress, you should really consult your doctor first who can help you with a shorter, actual elimination diet.) 

Any questions? 
Ask away! I’m obviously long-winded on this topic. 


moo shu chicken with homemade mandarin pancakes

9:35:00 PM

I’ve been a little AWOL lately, mostly because I honestly haven’t cooked much blog-worthy goodies lately! Bob and I are 3 weeks into a Whole30. Reader’s digest version for those not in the know: focus on whole foods for 30 days, with a zero-tolerance policy for all grains, all dairy, all legumes, all soy, all added sugar/sweetener of ANY kind, all alcohol, and all carrageenan/MSG/sulfites. 

Personally, I despise fad diets with every element of my being, but I got sucked into this nonsense somehow despite my brain telling me “this is dumb.”  (I think I’ve uttered the phrase “this dumb diet” to Bob about 1,012 times since we started this three weeks ago.) That being said, I’ve been cooking the same amount as always (read: every night) but although we’ve made some decent food, nothing has really been “wow! Can’t wait to write about this!” I’ll write a separate blog post about our experience when it’s done, but in short, it’s going fine. There are positives and negatives about it.  Again, I just haven’t cooked anything that I felt like writing about. Everything’s been fine, but nothing has been worth posting about. 

SO, I’m going a month or two back in time here to the days when we were eating added sugar and flour to share this delicious moo shu chicken recipe.

I think I’ve spoken extensively about my love for super greasy, super salty, Americanized Chinese food. This is my version of comfort food. Whenever Bob is out of town for a business trip or hunting season, this is my bizarre splurge - he’s not quite as big on Chinese takeout as me. Ordering takeout is neither cheap nor healthy. The healthiness of this homemade version can be debated - hoisin and oyster sauces can have a lot of sugar (read labels!) and white flour is pretty much universally accepted to be not so great for you. But, I’m guessing this version uses a lot less oil, and at least I know what’s going into it. 

The North American version of moo shu is quite vastly different from its traditional northern Chinese version, but it’s such a staple in American-Chinese restaurants. Originally, it includes cucumbers and wood ear mushrooms, and omits cabbage, which is predominant in the American version. 

RECIPE NOTES: This is a versatile recipe - feel free to use any kind of protein you like, such as pork or tofu. I like using chicken thighs because they won’t dry out the same way chicken breasts might, but feel free to substitute chicken breasts. If you don’t want to make your own pancakes, no need! You can use flour tortillas (not as thin or delicious, but fine), or use lettuce wraps (we’ve done that before because really, again, these pancakes do not resemble health food in any way) or serve over rice or cauliflower rice. I will admit that the pancakes are a bit time-consuming because you have to cook them only two at a time, but they are really, super easy. Note: Mine look weirder than yours will if you make this recipe, because I ran out of all-purpose flour and had to substitute some of it with a white whole wheat flour which was much grittier, so mine are a little darker. Lastly, check labels on some of this stuff. Some brands of hoisin sauce have a really unnecessarily large amount of sugar. Some have less. 

moo shu chicken with homemade mandarin pancakes
serves four generously

for pancakes (makes 12)
1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup boiling water
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil

for chicken/marinade
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced into thin strips
3 cloves garlic, grated or minced
1 tsp grated ginger
4 tbsp hoisin sauce
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1-2 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
red pepper flakes, to taste

for the moo shu
2 tbsp sesame oil
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups shredded cabbage
2 medium carrots, peeled and grated
8 oz cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
salt and pepper

for serving
sliced scallions, for serving
hoisin or plum sauce, for serving
sesame seeds, for serving (optional)

For pancakes: Combine the flour and boiling water, then stir well with a wooden spoon until mixed. Dump it onto a lightly floured surface and knead the dough, adding a little bit more flour if necessary, until the dough is smooth. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let sit for 30-60 minutes. 

Roll the dough into about a 12-inch log on a lightly floured surface, then cut into 12 roughly equal  pieces with a sharp knife or a bench scraper. Roll the pieces into a small ball, then flatten slightly into about a 2-inch circle. Brush all of the circles with sesame oil on the top. Then “pair up” the pancakes by placing two of them together, oiled sides facing each other, so you’ll have six “sandwiches.” 

Roll out each “sandwich” into roughly a 6-inch circle. They don’t have to be perfect. 

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Once hot, place one of the pancake sandwiches into the skillet. Let cook for one minute, then flip and cook on the other side. You don’t want them to brown a lot, just a couple light brown spots. Remove from pan, peel the two pancakes apart, and cover with foil to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining pancakes.

For the moo shu: Combine all marinade ingredients in a bowl and whisk well. Add the sliced chicken and let sit for about 15 minutes. 

While chicken is marinating, heat a tablespoon of sesame oil over medium heat in a large skillet, then pour in the beaten eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Let set on one side, then gently flip and cook the other side so you end up with an omelet. Slide onto a cutting board and slice omelet into thin strips, then set aside. 

Wipe out skillet, then heat and add in another tablespoon of sesame oil. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade with tongs and add to the hot oil. Reserve the marinade. 

Stir-fry the chicken until it’s cooked through, about 5 minutes. Pour chicken and any juices into a bowl and set aside. It’s okay if a bit of the marinade stays in the pan (it will help flavor the vegetables.)

Heat the same pan up again and add the cabbage, sliced carrots, mushrooms, and most of the scallions (save some for garnish.) Saute for a few minutes or until cabbage is softened slightly and the vegetables are to your preferred doneness. Then add the reserved marinade and chicken back in to the vegetables and bring to a simmer (important! kill those chicken germs from the marinade!) Stir in the cooked eggs (I mixed in some and then topped with some as a garnish) and cook until everything is heated through. 

Serve topped with green onions and with pancakes, extra hoisin sauce, and sesame seeds, if desired.


sweet potato and leek tacos

8:47:00 PM

I use an app for my recipes that allows you to rate them on a 1-5 scale (no half stars allowed!) We have to save the 5-star rating, therefore, for stuff that’s really, really phenomenal. I rely on Bob for these ratings, because he is an excellent critic. There’s a great chicken enchilada recipe that made the cut, an unreal barbecue chicken grilled cheese with gorgonzola fondue… and now, these tacos.

Yes, a vegetarian taco got a 5-star rating from Bob, and he also confirmed what I already knew - that these are the best tacos I’ve ever made. And seriously though, we eat a lot of tacos. And sometimes they have bacon. And these are still the best. 

Granted, there is cheese. A lot of cheese. 

So I’ll set the scene: crispy, delicious sweet potatoes roasted in butter combine with leeks that have not only been baked - again, in butter - but also poached in wine with herbs and garlic and thennnn seared in a hot pan - yes, in butter - and then oh man, it’s all served over a hot tortilla covered in oaxaca cheese that’s been browned in a skillet, then topped with even more cheese (the salty feta variety) and some crunchy almond slivers and scallions andddd we’ve got some homemade almond-tomatillo salsa…

basically this is an A+ recipe. It was published in the LA Times and is an adaptation of a recipe from a food cart in LA called Guerrilla Tacos. I have never been to California, but if the photos and descriptions of this cart’s tacos are anything to go by, I think I might eat at this place every day.

No, this is not a typical taco recipe that will take you twenty minutes. It’ll cost you an hour, at least, but you will be rewarded with a taco with amazing depth of flavor and perfect contrasting textures.

Every single component of this taco is important. I was close to leaving out the almonds and the feta (thinking the oaxaca cheese was enough), but don’t. Don’t skip a single thing. 

There are only a couple tiny changes I made to the original recipe. The salsa calls for an ounce of arbol chiles. The recipe didn’t specify fresh or dried, but I assume fresh given the quantity. I bought dried ones, since it’s all I could find, bit into one cautiously to test the spice level, and then spent a while with my head under the faucet trying to soothe the burn. So, ONE tiny little chile was enough for me for this salsa. Bob probably would’ve preferred two as he’s a spice fiend, so if you are also, use two. This makes a lot of salsa - you could probably halve the recipe for the salsa if you want. My tomatillos were pretty big, so I cut them into quarters. 

The recipe also calls for cooking leeks in wine. It called for an entire bottle of wine and that made me very sad - discarding an entire bottle of wine after poaching the leeks. So I used about half a bottle - two cups worth or so - in a smaller saucepan and added just enough water to cover the leeks. This worked perfectly - still had a very definite wine flavor without having to use an entire bottle, plus enough left over for dinner.

If you can’t find oaxacan cheese, fresh mozzarella would be an okay substitute, but use oaxacan if you can find it - it’s a bit drier and works better for this.

sweet potato and leek tacos
makes 4 servings

for the almond-tomatillo salsa - makes about 2 cups, you will have leftovers!
1 red bell pepper
1 tablespoon oil
1-2 dried arbol chiles 
3 tablespoon slivered almonds
1 pound small tomatillos, peeled and rinsed (if tomatillos are large, cut them in half or quarters)
2 plum tomatoes, quartered
1 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoon red wine vinegar

for the tacos
1½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into about ½ inch pieces
2 large leeks
3 cloves garlic, unpeeled
3 tablespoon butter, melted
salt and pepper 
2 cups dry white wine
5–6 sprigs fresh thyme
5–6 sprigs fresh parsley
8 corn tortillas
8 ounces Oaxacan cheese, sliced into ¼ inch rounds
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup slivered almonds, toasted in a dry pan until lightly browned
1 cup thinly sliced scallions, green parts only

Make the salsa first: 

If you have a gas stove, hold the bell pepper with tongs and roast on all sides over a flame until skin is blackened and blistered. If you don’t, pre-heat your broiler. Line a cooking sheet with aluminum foil. Cut the sides off the pepper so you have four pieces, then place them on the foil, skin-side up, and broil until skin is blackened and blistered. 

Place pepper in a plastic bag and let steam until pepper is cool enough to handle and peel the skin off the roasted pepper.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a large pot over medium-high, then add the arbol chile and the almonds and toast until fragrant. Add the tomatillos, tomatoes, water, and 3/4th tsp of salt, and cook for about 10-15 minutes, until tomatillos are tender.

Transfer the mixture to the blender or food processor, along with the bell pepper, then puree until smooth. Add the vinegar. Add salt and pepper as needed. Keep salsa in fridge until ready to use.

Onto the tacos:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Prepare the leeks by removing the tough green parts, leaving only the light green and white parts. Cut them in half lengthwise so you end up with four roughly equal pieces and each piece has some root attached - this will help keep the leeks together during the various steps of cooking them. Rinse them well to remove grit, then gently pat dry.

On a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment, place the cut up sweet potatoes, the leeks, and the whole cloves of garlic. Pour 3 tbsp of melted butter over the vegetables, toss well, then season with salt and pepper. 

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until sweet potatoes are roasted and browned and the leeks and garlic are softened. 

In a large pot or pan, bring the white wine, 2 cups water, thyme and parsley to a boil and cook until it loses the raw alcohol smell, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer, then add the cooked leeks and garlic and cook for about 30 minutes, until leeks are tender. Discard garlic and herbs.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Pull the leeks from the wine, pat them dry and add to the butter to cook briefly on both sides, about 3 minutes total.

Cut the root ends from the leeks and cut the remaining leeks into 2-inch lengths.

For each taco, heat a corn tortilla in a large skillet (cast iron works great for this) over medium-high heat with a little butter so it gets toasty. Next to the tortilla in the skillet, place a round or two of the Oaxacan cheese, and let get melty and browned on the bottom. When tortilla and cheese are warm, place the tortilla on top of the cheese, then flip the whole thing over with a spatula and slide onto a plate so that the cheese side is  facing up. Top the taco with a few strips of leek, some sweet potatoes, a couple tablespoons of salsa, crumbled feta cheese, the toasted almonds, and green onions. 

Repeat using the remaining ingredients.


one-pot sausage and chicken jambalaya

8:41:00 PM

Bob loves Creole food. I’m a little more wary of it, as I’m not huge on heat or tomato sauces, but we both love this jambalaya. It’s so quick and easy and tasty and really all gets cooked in the same pot which is really nice.

I’m a big believer in spending a lot of time in the kitchen. I’m a believer that time spent generally leads to a better outcome. It’s just generally been my experience. Of course, I’ve made stuff I’ve loved that doesn’t take too long, but my best dishes seem to take a while and that’s fine with me.

But sometimes you get bored. Or you’re tired, or cranky (I’m generally all three all the time) and you just really don’t want to spend a ton of time cooking dinner. I’m not saying that this meal will be done in ten minutes, but having everything be cooked in the same pot (therefore cutting down on dishes time) is really nice for cranky days.

I think you’re generally supposed to use long-grain rice for jambalaya, but as you can tell from my photos, I … did not. I used sushi rice. Totally by accident, because I thought the brown bag in our cupboard was filled with rice, but it was actually farro. Which, though I’m sure would be good in here, wasn’t what I was aiming for. Sushi rice was the only rice we had available, and it actually worked out really nicely. I imagine brown rice would work too, but cooking time would be longer unless you get that par-cooked stuff.

I served this with cornbread which was downright brilliant. Such a good combination. I used this recipe which is a pretty basic cornbread and was very tasty -  use your favorite. This was the first time I've ever made cornbread in my life (I know) so I was happy with it. 

One-Pot Sausage and Chicken Jambalaya
serves 6

1 lb link sausage of your choice (I used a chicken sausage), sliced on the diagonal
2 green bell peppers, diced
1 medium white onion, diced
4 celery ribs, sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 scallions, sliced thinly, divided
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into strips or cubes
2 cans (15 oz each) diced tomatoes (do not drain)
2 cups broth (chicken, beef, or vegetable)
1 tbsp worcestshire sauce
3 dried bay leaves
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried sage
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp creole seasoning 
1 ¼ cups long-grain rice 
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot (I use an enameled cast iron dutch oven) over medium-high heat, brown the sausage on both sides until slightly crisp. Add bell pepper, onion, celery, garlic, and most of the green onions (save some for garnish) and saute for a few minutes until they are beginning to soften. Add the chicken and worcestshire, and continue cooking until chicken is no longer pink on the outside (it will continue to cook.) Add the tomatoes with their juices, the broth, bay leaves, basil, oregano, sage, paprika, and creole seasoning. Stir well, then bring up to a boil. Once it’s boiling, add the rice, stir again, bring to a boil again, then reduce heat and cover. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed and rice and chicken are cooked through. 

Serve in bowls and sprinkle with remaining green onions.

soups and stews

carrot and ginger soup

7:37:00 PM

We are lucky to live in an area with such awesome farmer’s markets. We live within walking distance of the famous Dane County Farmer’s Market, which runs year-round, and there’s also one all summer at the park right by our place. We are pretty much guaranteed to be able to access a farmer’s market any day of the week all summer long. It’s a huge blessing (and I sort of hate that word.)

The Dane County Farmer’s Market is very selective - only producers of food are allowed to sell (that is, you can’t sell someone else’s stuff) and some producers travel hours and hours every week to sell. It’s a big deal.

The winter market is much smaller, and mostly consists of storage vegetables, as you’d expect in Wisconsin. One thing that’s delicious all year round though are the carrots. Mmm. 

This soup is so cool, you guys. It’s essentially all vegetables, and is so crisp and refreshing. I actually brought this to work cold in a mason jar and drank it like a savory smoothie - this would be so good in summer, too. As with every soup I make, it’s made better with the addition of bread and salad.

Because this soup is so dependent on the flavor of the carrots, do not skimp on the ingredients for this soup. Get the best, freshest carrots you can, preferably from a farmer’s market if you’re able. The broth is made mainly with carrot juice and water - no broth here supplement flavor. It makes for a super pure, clean tasting soup. 

Carrot juice is often found with the refrigerated juices, often in the produce department in the store. Get 100% carrot juice, nothing with additives or other fruits/vegetables. Or, if you have a juicer, make your own. I believe I bought our carrot juice at Target, Bolthouse Farms brand (not an endorsement for them, by the way - not a believer in juicing, but grateful they offer this drink!) 

Crystallized ginger is ginger that has been cooked and then coated in sugar. It’s quite potent and I don’t love it personally (lots of people seem to love it as candy) but it’s fantastic and essential to the soup. I find it next to the fresh ginger and bottled ginger in the supermarket, but you can always order it online  as well. Despite the seemingly large quantity of ginger in this recipe, it really only tastes faintly of ginger, and it melds so perfectly with the carrots. 

Carrot Ginger Soup
makes about 6 servings

2 tbsp butter (or olive oil for vegan or preference)
2 medium onions, diced
1 tbsp peeled, grated fresh ginger
¼ cup minced crystallized ginger
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar (optional)
2 lbs of carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼ inch thick rounds
4 cups water (don’t use broth, it’ll mute the flavor of carrots)
1 ½ cups 100% carrot juice
1 tbsp fresh thyme
½ tsp baking soda
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
for serving, optional: sour cream, chopped chives

Heat butter or olive oil in a large pot (that has a cover) over medium heat, then add the onions, both types of ginger, garlic, 2 tsp salt, and sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, about 5-7 minutes.

Increase heat to medium-high, then add the carrots, water, half of the carrot juice (¾ cup), thyme, baking soda. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer with a cover on for about 20-25 minutes or util carrots are really tender.

Blend the soup. Even if you have an immersion blender, the best way to blend this is in a couple batches in an actual blender.  This is a soup that should be really, really smooth, and given the tough nature of ginger, it’s really best to do this in a standard blender. Pour about half the soup into the blender, take the plastic centerpiece out of the lid, cover with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel, and blend until smooth. Pour into a large bowl, repeat with the rest of the soup, then pour it all back into the pot. Stir in vinegar and remaining 3/4 cup carrot juice. Return to simmer over medium heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with sprinkle of chives and dollop of sour cream. If you want the swirl effect, put sour cream into a plastic sandwich bag in one corner, cut a tiny bit off the corner, then squeeze on top of soup.

Serve with bread and/or salad, if desired. 

soups and stews

44-clove garlic soup

9:53:00 PM

I think I’ve mentioned multiple times that we’re not really soup people, though I think I’ve not offered a whole lot of evidence to that statement since I keep posting soups I love. Still, though. 

This soup is my hands-down, all time favorite soup. Like, ever. It is so good. I’ve made this multiple times, as both a starter to a meal and as the meal itself served with salad and bread. It’s creamy and pretty and garlicky and smooth and has just the right amount of parmesan and a quick squeeze of lemon to brighten everything up. 

44 cloves of garlic sounds like a lot. But most of this garlic is roasted and becomes mellow and sweet, and the soup is so well-balanced with the small amount of cream and parmesan. 

Use the most standard-sized garlic you can - meaning, try to use medium-sized cloves, and use common sense - if all you have left are tiny little cloves, maybe use two and count them as one. 

I got very lucky the last time I made this, as my aunt grows garlic and sent my dad tons of it. He, in turn, passed on a giant paper bag full of fresh, delicious garlic. It’s all gone now, sadly, and a large portion of it went to this dish. 

This recipe is from Smitten Kitchen, which is basically my bible of food blogs. I swear, everything I have ever made from this blog, I have made more than once, because it is phenomenal. I follow the original recipe pretty much exactly. 

Note: I'm filing this under the "vegetarian" category, but Parmesan cheese by definition must contain animal rennet. Therefore, if you're cooking for vegetarians, use a cheese labeled vegetarian-friendly or just check the ingredients for animal rennet - it's not "true" Parmesan but it works! Asiago made with vegetable or microbial rennet is a good substitute. 

Smitten Kitchen’s 44-clove garlic soup
serves 4-8 (4 as a meal, 6-8 as a starter)

26 cloves garlic, peel left on
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
2 tbsp butter
2 ¼ cups thinly sliced onions
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, plus a little bit more for garnish
18 cloves garlic, peeled
3 1/2 cups broth (vegetable or chicken)
½ cup heavy cream
2 oz (½ cup) grated parmesan cheese (or vegetarian alternative - see note)
lemon wedges, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a small glass baking dish, combine the 26 unpeeled cloves of garlic with olive oil and sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Cover the dish with foil and roast for about 40-45 minutes until garlic is very soft. Allow to cool, then peel the cloves.

Melt the 2 tbsp butter in a large pot over medium-high, then add the onions and thyme leaves. Cook for 5-10 minutes or until the onions are softened. Then add in the roasted garlic, plus the raw garlic, then cook for a few more minutes. 

Add the broth, then cover the pot and let simmer over medium-low heat until the raw garlic is very soft, about 20 minutes. 

Blend the soup, either using an immersion blender or a regular blender (you’ll need to work in batches, and remember to remove the plastic piece in the lid of the blender and cover the hole with a paper towel to allow steam to escape.) If using a regular blender, return the soup to the pot, then stir in the heavy cream and taste. Add more salt and pepper as needed.

Divide the parmesan evenly between four to six bowls (depending on how many you’re serving), then top with the soup. Squeeze some lemon over the soup and add some thyme leaves for garnish.

homemade roasted garlic butter

7:58:00 PM

I find it kind of amazing when I figure out how easy it is to do something in the kitchen that I would never think to do. One was to make my own mayonnaise, which turned out to be really easy and yummy, and the thing I tried last weekend for the first time was making my own butter.

When Googling around for information on how to do this, it seemed like everyone but me learned how to make butter in elementary school, where students would pass around a jar of cream that kids would take turn shaking until the butter separated. Yeah, this never happened in my school, but I wish it had. 

Bob loves buying Kerrygold butter, because it’s amazing, but it also gets expensive. I had to buy some heavy cream for a soup recipe and was only going to use a little bit, so decided to try out this method. I swear, food processors are a godsend.

This would be so good to make into any sort of compound butter. Mix in herbs, or blue cheese, or caramelized onions, or spices, or really anything you can think of. I went with roasted garlic here, because I happened to be roasting a bunch for said soup (recipe coming soon!) and it seemed natural to throw some in. I’ve since made this again and added nothing but salt, and it’s also delicious. 

I made this using basic grocery store cream and it was great. I bet it would be even better with really fresh cream. I recommend getting something that is 100% heavy cream - some brands have other additives and I don't know if they'd work quite as well for this. 

homemade roasted garlic butter
makes about 1 cup butter

2 cups heavy cream
¼ tsp salt
4-5 large cloves garlic, separated but left with peel on (I’d roast a whole head of garlic if I were you, but that’s just me)
1 tsp olive oil

Roast the garlic: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay the garlic cloves on a large square of aluminum foil, and toss with the olive oil. Fold the foil (or twist it up over the garlic) to create a packet. Place packet in oven and let roast for 40-50 minutes, until garlic is very soft. Let cool, then peel garlic cloves and set aside.

Make the butter: Add the cream to a food processor or blender and turn it on. Then wait!

This is a process that will take several minutes. It will turn into whipped cream, then really thick whipped cream, and might stay at that stage for a while. What you want to see is the milk separating from the remains - the butter. You will probably need to scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl or blender a few times.  

You’ll get probably half a cup of buttermilk from this process - once you see about that much milk, the butter is ready. Pour off the milk. (You can keep and use this, but keep in mind that it’s not cultured buttermilk. Most recipes call for cultured buttermilk, which is thicker, so this may not work as a substitute in recipes, particularly baking recipes where precision is more important.) Gather up the butter and squeeze it into a ball.

Fill a bowl with water and ice, then drop the butter in to help it firm up a little. 

You'll want to rinse the butter and squeeze out as much buttermilk as you can, as this helps reduce spoiling. People have different methods of rinsing the butter. I like to use a combination of the “rinse under running water” method and the “ice water in a bowl” method. I rinse it under running water, squeeze, rinse some more. If the butter starts getting soft, return it to the ice water and squeeze under the water. You want to get as much buttermilk out of the butter as you can, so you’ll want to squeeze and rinse for a few minutes.

Once butter feels firm and, well, butter-like, it’s ready. Place it into a bowl, then stir in salt (add more or less to taste) and then mash in the roasted garlic, stirring well to distribute. I recommend starting with about 3 cloves of garlic, stirring it up, then tasting to see if it’s to your liking - then add more if needed. 

Store in the fridge either in a covered container or you can roll it up in either plastic wrap or parchment paper into a log. (The second time I made this, I rolled it up in plastic wrap using a sushi mat, and it made for a very nicely shaped log!)


butternut squash and swiss chard tart

2:20:00 PM

Back to the wintery-ish food, yeah? 

Healthy-ish comfort food is the best. I know a lot of people are in need of a lot of comfort right now. (And action, action, action, but comfort is needed, too.)

This tart is perfect for brunch or dinner, delicious cold or warm, and the crust is made with 100% whole wheat flour and heart-healthy olive oil. Gruyere melts beautifully and combines with roasted butternut squash, swiss chard, and sautéed onions to make a delicious vegetable-based filling. 

I imagine this crust would work for a variety of fillings - someday, I’m going to try a bunch of caramelized onions and maybe some gouda.

The recipe calls for a 9 inch round pan. You can certainly make it in an 8 inch pan, but your crust will be a bit thicker. I prefer a thinner crust for this tart, because the olive oil has a fairly strong flavor, and it makes for a better crust-to-filling ratio. But it will be great either way.

This is a Cooking Light recipe that I tweaked slightly for a bit more flavor. I’ve made it a handful of times now and it’s one of my favorite things to do when we get swiss chard in our CSA. 

Ingredient notes:

*Whole wheat pastry flour has less protein in it than all-purpose flour, and significantly less protein than bread flour. It’s worth seeking out for this recipe.

*This calls for toasted pine nuts. Heat a small dry skillet over medium-high heat, add nuts, and stir frequently to prevent burning. Once they become golden and fragrant, remove from the pan and chop. You’ll use half of them in the crust and half in the filling.

*Use a good olive oil if you can. The crust will taste noticeably like the oil you use, so you don’t want a bad one.

*This calls for about 3 cups of cubed butternut squash. Peel the squash, halve it, remove the seeds with a spoon, and cut the squash into about ½-¾ inch cubes. If your butternut squash produces more than 3 cups (likely, unless you have a very small squash) I would recommend roasting all of it and just reserving some to eat later - it’s delicious! Otherwise, you can cube and freeze remaining squash for a future meal.

*Though I haven’t tried it, I suspect this would be good with other hardy greens, like spinach or kale. 

butternut squash and swiss chard tart 
serves 4-6 

for the crust
6 oz of whole-wheat pastry flour (about 1.5 cups)
3 tbsp pine nuts, toasted, chopped, and divided
¼ tsp kosher salt (use slightly more if using table salt)
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ cup good-quality extra-virgin olive oil*
3 tbsp ice water
cooking spray

for the filling
3 cups cubed, peeled butternut squash 
5 tsp olive oil, divided
1 tsp fresh sage, chopped (or ½ tsp dried)
1 tsp fresh rosemary (or ½ tsp dried)
½ tsp fresh thyme (or ¼ tsp dried)
1 cup chopped onion
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
about 5 cups of sliced swiss chard (about 1 head)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp kosher salt (use more if using table salt)
¼ tsp ground black pepper
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3-4 oz gruyere cheese, grated and divided

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Make the crust: In a food processor, combine the pastry flour, half of the pine nuts (1.5 tbsp), ¼ tsp kosher salt, ¼ tsp pepper, and baking powder in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Mix together the ice water and olive oil in a bowl, then, with processor on, slowly pour it through the food processor chute and process until the dough is crumbly. Spray a 9-inch pie pan with cooking spray, then pour the dough into the pan. Press the dough into the pan as evenly as possible - it likely won’t go all the way up the sides - that’s fine! 

Combine the cubed butternut squash with 2 tsp of oil, the fresh herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme), salt, and pepper. Spread out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or aluminum foil sprayed with cooking spray. 

Place both the pie crust and the baking sheet of squash into the oven. Cook for about 23 minutes, stirring the squash once, then check. Crust should be lightly browned when ready. The squash should be soft and browned when ready.

While squash and crust are baking, start on the rest of the filling. In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil, then add the onion and garlic. Saute 5-10 minutes until onion is soft, but not browned. Add the swiss chard, the balsamic vinegar, ½ tsp salt, and ¼ tsp pepper. Cook until the swiss chard is wilted. 

Let cool slightly.

In a large bowl, combine the swiss chard mixture with the two eggs and half of the shredded gruyere cheese. Gently stir in the roasted squash and the remaining pine nuts. 

Pour mixture into the pie crust , top with the last of the gruyere, and place back in the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until filling is set. 


chicken and avocado summer rolls with peanut sauce

8:28:00 PM

All right. It’s January 19th, which means it’s been winter for thirty years, and I needed to eat something last week that was fresh and cool and summery and set aside the sweet potatoes, winter squashes, frost-sweetened spinach, and beets. I believe in eating seasonally, but I also believe that living in Wisconsin means that winter vegetable options are extremely limited, and we’ve got to branch out a little bit and reach for something that reminds us of summer. I want to hop on a bike and ride to a park and have a damn picnic with these summer rolls. 

I’ve made these delicious little guys quite a few times, and they’re just simply awesome. They are so fresh, and the chicken is ridiculously flavorful. The peanut sauce is a must (or really any peanut sauce you like, but they really want to be dipped, I promise.) Hoisin sauce is readily available in most supermarkets in the Asian aisle. I recommend looking at nutrition labels on hoisin sauce, especially if you’re watching sugar. The brand I use has about 3 grams of sugar per tablespoon, but there are some that have up to 15, so if that’s something that bothers you, search for a brand that works for you.

We eat these as a full meal but they’d be a great appetizer or even a good thing to bring to a potluck. It’s also fun to make with another person, because although it’s a really easy process, it can be a bit time consuming.

This recipe is from Half Baked Harvest and I tweaked it so little. It’s a great recipe. I haven’t tried, though I would guess you can make these vegan by using tofu - perhaps marinating it in the same marinade and baking the tofu, or even baking or frying the tofu and then tossing briefly with the marinade. 

The avocados are fantastic in these as well, adding a delicious creaminess.

Note: Honestly, I’ve never successfully made these where I get an exact equal amount of each ingredient on each spring roll. Just do what looks nice, using a couple pieces of each ingredient to make roughly equal rolls. Have fun with it. Sometimes we make a couple veggie-only rolls if we’ve been overzealous with the chicken. Usually, I get 10-12 rolls with this recipe. Don’t worry too much about making them perfect - they’re fun to make and more fun to eat.

chicken and avocado summer rolls with peanut sauce
makes about 10-12 rolls
adapted from Half Baked Harvest

for the chicken marinade
½ - ¾ lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into very thin strips 
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp lime juice
1/2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 large clove garlic, grated

4-5 oz dried vermicelli noodles, cooked according to package directions and rinsed under cool water (about 1.5 cups cooked)
2 small avocados, sliced thinly
1 large carrot, either julienned or peeled with a potato peeler into thin strips
1 large red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips
4-5 green onions, cut into about 3-inch lengths
a few leaves of iceberg or romaine lettuce
about 10-12 large leaves of basil
about 10-12 spring roll wrappers (found in the Asian section of most supermarkets)

for the dipping sauce
¼ cup hoisin sauce
2-3 tablespoons peanut butter, creamy or chunky works
2 tbsp sweet thai chili sauce (or about 1 tsp chili garlic sauce, which is what I used)
1 tsp sesame oil
a dash or two of crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
water for thinning if necessary
chopped peanuts for topping (optional)

Start by marinating the chicken. Combine all the marinade ingredients, then add the thinly sliced chicken. Let sit for about 10-15 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. 

When chicken is done marinating, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. You want the chicken to cook very quickly. Add the chicken and marinade and stir-fry, constantly, until chicken is cooked through, and immediately remove from the heat and pour into a bowl; set aside.

Arrange the rest of your prepared vegetables into piles or bowls so that they’re easy to work with. 

Prepare a large bowl with warm water, and, working with one spring roll wrapper at a time,  soak a wrapper in the water for about 10 seconds. Remove and place on a flat surface. About one to two inches above the bottom of the wrapper, layer on your ingredients - basil leaves, some torn lettuce, the vermicelli noodles, chicken slices, avocado, carrots, bell pepper, and green onion. Wrap the bottom of the wrapper up over the filling, then fold in each side, and then roll tightly to the top. 

Repeat with remaining rolls.

To make the sauce, combine all the ingredients except water and peanuts and stir well. Add a little bit of water if you want to thin the sauce out a bit. Serve with the chopped peanuts on top, if desired. 

Serve the rolls with the sauce and enjoy! 

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