winner, winner chicken dinner!

A few months ago I was lucky enough to take a bucket list trip to visit one of my best friends in Peru. I've been wanting to see Machu Picchu for a long time and the fact that Meg moved to Cusco made it the perfect, stars aligned moment to bite the bullet and buy the ticket! 

The colors and flavors of Peru took my breath away. I wasn't really familiar with the cuisine until I did a little research. Depending on where you're at in the country, they're known for different things. Cuy - Guinea pig, alpaca, ceviche, potatoes (over 3,000 varieties), and quinoa to name a few. We were lucky enough to have the chef at our hostel create a feast of peruvian dishes for us to try. I guess that's the perk of being best friends with the owner's girlfriend :)

We feasted on lomo saltado, aji de gaina, potato dishes of all sorts, Mazamorra morada - a purple corn pudding that tastes like Christmas, ceviche, peruvian fried rice, and 3 other amazing dishes that I didn't catch the name of. We feasted like kings. My favorite was the lomo saltado - a simple steak dish with peppers and onions served with french fries AND rice. Everything in Peru seemed to be served with two forms of starches. 

One thing I really enjoyed were all the different ways they used and prepared quinoa. For our first meal in Cusco, Meg took us to one of her friends restaurants. Almost immediately upon sitting down they brought us some little nuggets of chicken crusted in quinoa. Um, GENIUS! I immediately proclaimed to Meg that this would be making an appearance on the blog, and here it is!

I love the idea of using this seed (although I think of it as a grain) to create a healthier, protein + fiber packed chicken finger. I baked mine but if you're feeling naughty, frying would make them spectacular. That's how they were served to us in Peru and I have to say, I preferred the crunch frying gives it. And lets be real, how naughty could it be when you're using such healthy things?! 

quinoa chicken fingers
yields 4 servings

4 chicken breasts or 8 - 10 chicken tenders
2 eggs beaten
2 c. cooked quinoa (I used red but you can use any type)
1 c. panko bread crumbs
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
salt + pepper to taste
drizzle of olive oil

In a shallow bowl, beat eggs and set aside. In another shallow bowl, combine: quinoa, bread crumbs, onion powder, garlic powder, salt + pepper.

Pat your chicken dry with some paper towels and then dunk them in the egg mixture. Pick one piece up at a time, allow the excess egg to drip off and then dump it in the quinoa breading mixture. Pat hard so that you get as much of the coating to stick to the chicken breast. Place on a baking sheet (TIP: I like to put my wire cookie cooling racks on top of the baking sheet so that they bake up extra crispy). Repeat until all chicken pieces are coated. Depending on how much mixture sticks to the chicken you may need to add more breading. This isn't science, just dump some more of the breading ingredients and continue dipping. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and place in oven. 

Bake at 350ยบ for about 20 - 25 minutes depending on thickness (15 - 18 if using chicken tenders). Serve with your favorite dipping sauces.

improv style:
you can make this gluten free by using all quinoa or using GF bread crumbs. i served this with a roasted red bell pepper sauce but you could add all sorts of fun seasonings/flavors to the chicken tenders before baking. consider using this spice mix or your favorite curry spices lightly dusted on the tenders before dipping into the breading. also, marinading the chicken in some buttermilk or dairy with spices would be a great idea. give the meat some flavor while tenderizing it!

you could even serve these as little chicken nuggets by chopping up the chicken tenders into bite sized pieces. this is how we had them as an appetizer in Cusco. next time i make these i'm totally doing bite sized pieces. 

i used red quinoa but you could use brown quinoa or even experiment with other grains/nuts. additionally, i used panko bread crumbs but experiment with your favorite or whatever you have on hand. i liked a 2:1 ratio but maybe you'd like more or less bread crumbs in the mixture? if you like your tenders extra crispy, i recommend frying them in a little bit of oil instead of baking. watching your cholesterol? you can whip up egg whites instead of using whole eggs.

these can also be frozen before baking and kept in an air tight bag/container for a few months. so make a double batch and freeze half so you can have tons of chicken on hand for later!



This isn't so much a recipe but a trick that is so obvious I feel silly I didn't think of it a long time ago. Ice cubes made out of coffee! You no longer have to deal with the painful last sips of a watery iced coffee. It's so simple I'm not leaving you with a recipe but I do have TONS of improv suggestions!

improv style:
consider making the ice cubes out of your favorite coffee additives (think creamer, almond milk, flavored milk, soy, boozy laced ice - baileys anyone?!). i like my coffee black which is why i just freeze extra coffee when i have it but the combinations are endless! 

why use the ice in just iced coffee? i've been blending them up with peanut butter + chocolate green smoothies. consider serving your adult beverages with iced coffee ice… hello fancy/delicious/awesome white russian!

not a coffee drinker? this principle applies to your favorite iced beverages. i mostly drink tea… why not freeze up some iced tea to keep your beverage from diluting?! or, if you're making iced tea, freeze some lemonade or fruit puree so as it melts, your beverage takes on new flavors! the possibilities are endless. 

this is a fun idea for every day but an even more impressive idea for your next party. what's your favorite improv combo of "fancy ice"?!


berry salvage

I've been on a bit of a fruit kick the past few weeks. I've gotten a TON in our CSA and I couldn't be happier. The thing is, I've had a pretty insane 2 weeks of traveling and work and that left me with a pint of  "I need to do something with these strawberries now or they're getting tossed". Since they were a little past their prime in regards to eating them plain, I decided to go back to a dessert my mom made me a few years ago.

It might sound a little weird or gross, but trust me, this dessert is to die for! Plus it has fruit so it's healthy, right? You start by making a pretty typical caramel but then you hit it with some aged balsamic at the end for an awesome acidic kick that transforms the dish. A couple minutes of that caramel cooking with fresh sweet strawberries makes for a sensational sauce. For those more adventurous in the kitchen, I know you're vibing with me right now. Top that sauce off with some chilled, lightly sweetened lemony mascarpone cheese and you've got yourself a lighter summer dessert that will impress your ______ (friends, family, man, whoever). The best part? I think a few basil leaves sprinkled on top makes it even more amazing. It's got that whole fresh, caramely sweet thing going on and I like it. Best part? It comes together in 15 minutes start to finish! 

strawberry balsamic caramel + lemon mascarpone
yields 4 servings

for the sauce:
½ c. packed brown sugar
2 TBSP butter
2 TBSP aged balsamic vinegar
pinch of salt
1 pint of strawberries cut in half or slices (however you prefer)

for the cream:
8 oz mascarpone cheese chilled
juice of ½ a lemon (about 1 TBSP)
zest of a lemon
2 TBSP powdered sugar (to taste)

to garnish:
basil leaves or some lemon zest

in a medium sized bowl, combine cheese, lemon juice + zest, and powdered sugar. stir or whisk until incorporated. place in refrigerator and let it chill while you make your caramel sauce. 

in a large pan place sugar and butter over medium heat. when the mixture melts and starts to bubble, keep a close eye on it. you'll want to make sure to cook it until the sugar dissolves but you have to be careful not to burn it. this will take about 7-8 minutes. once the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is caramelized, pour in your vinegar. it will bubble and go crazy, don't worry, it's supposed to. stir until combined and calmed down and then add in your strawberries and cook for 1 more minute. this will let the strawberry juice combine with the sauce and warm them up a bit. 

place a scoop of the mascarpone mixture in a bowl and drizzle your balsamic strawberry caramel over the cheese. top with basil leaves (if desired). 

improv style:
this can be done with regular granulated sugar if you don't have brown sugar. cooking method is the same but it might take a little longer to melt. you might also have to add some extra liquid to thin it out depending on how thick you like your caramel.

i love the italian flavors here but if you're not a fan of herbs with dessert, you can totally leave out the basil. lemon and mascarpone play so nicely with this mixture but if you're trying to be budget conscious, mascarpone can be substituted for vanilla ice cream. this is actually really good over ice cream and takes even less time since you don't have to make the cheese mixture. just put your lemon zest and juice in with the caramel sauce and you'll get the same flavors. if you want to do the whole cheese thing, you could try substituting for a combo of goat and cream cheese or just plain goat. ricotta would be interesting too (i'm not a huge fan of the texture but if you are, i think it would play nicely here).

strawberries really shine and hold their shape well but i'm sure this would be great with blackberries, blueberries, probably even raspberries. use what you have on hand! don't have aged balsamic? that's ok, you can totally use regular balsamic vinegar -or- you can cook your balsamic down until it's a thick syrup and you'll achieve a similar flavor/consistency. i personally think aged is a lot less harsh and has a more round and sweet flavor than non-aged which is why i use it. again, it's all about what you like so just go with that! nothing complicated, just a few simple ingredients that come together to make something magical!


southern belle

Remember last week when I told you I was successful at making myself like watermelon?! Here's the story behind that other dish I alluded to...

I'm in NY visiting my future in-laws. Matt and I took a day to see some of our friends who live in the city and that included brunch with one of my favorite foodie friends. A few years ago when we lived in SF, she took me to an amazing place for brunch. In fact, that same place inspired one of my first posts, pumpkin bread french toast with bourbon caramel sauce. The pictures don't do it justice, that dish is AMAZING! But back to brunch with Helena at Brenda's French Soul food… Hels ordered a watermelon sweet tea and I completely dismissed it because, well, I'm not a big fan of the fruit. When that watermelon showed up at my door, the timing couldn't have been more perfect. I had just made plans to meet Helena for brunch which lead me to thinking about the last time we brunched together. I knew I had to try making my own watermelon sweet tea.

Turns out, I shouldn't have snubbed the beverage. It plays nicely with strong black tea. Agave gives it a nice sweetness in addition to the fruit. Straining it in a fine mesh sieve gets rid of that sweet mush I'm not very fond of. But now that I'm thinking about it… I bet if you didn't strain it and added in some ice or even frozen watermelon cubes into the blender, that this would make one fine slushy. I'm trying that next! 

I totally should have frozen some watermelon cubes and used them instead of ice cubes for this drink, too. Think about it… iced tea that stays cold and doesn't get watered down?! That's ideal for summertime sipping! I highly recommend doing that if you have the time. How fun would that be for your 4th of July party?! Very festive if you ask me! And an easy last minute addition to any party since it's 3 steps!

Happy 4th of July everyone!

watermelon sweet tea
yields 4 - small glasses

2 c. cubed seedless watermelon
2 c. brewed iced tea
4 T. agave nectar (to add a little sweetness, it is sweet tea after all)

In a blender, combine ingredients and puree until combined. Pour mixture through a fine mesh sieve. Pour over ice, sip, enjoy!

improv style:
you like pulp in your oj? skip the sieve step - the texture will be similar. you could make this into a slushy as mentioned above by freezing your watermelon first. not a fan of watermelon? i don't blame you. cantaloupe would be delicious combined with a black or white tea. that's another thing you can improv. sweet tea is traditionally black tea but why not use green or white?! get creative with it! i'm not an overly sweet lover so i kept the sugar level down. add as much as you want (i'm sure true southerners are thinking i'm crazy for suggesting this is "sweet tea"). speaking of sweeteners… agave was my choice but honey, simple syrup (1 c. sugar + 1 c. water heated up until dissolved), artificial sweetener, super fine sugar… they all work. whatever you have on hand you can use. didn't get enough watermelon flavor out of this? add some more. like i said, i'm slowly starting to appreciate the fruit, don't push me! :) 

feeling like day drinking?! add in some vodka or light rum and you're on your way to summertime sippin! enjoy!