52. Jen’s Parmesan Meatballs

In my search for meatball recipes (Linda from Scribbles and Grits got me thinking meatballs with a sweet-and-sour recipe she gave me, as did my friend N when she came up with the idea of a meatball-themed dinner party), I came across the blog Carlsbad Cravings.

It is a beautiful blog and has so much wonderful food, including the meatball recipe I eventually decided to try, Parmesan Meatballs. I was also making curry that day, so these were a separate, stand-alone dish, eaten with flatbread on the side.

Following her directions was very easy, and I was stunned by how well the skillet works for this – I tend to leave cast-iron cooking to Husband, worried that I’ll ruin it somehow, but the meatballs crisped up perfectly on the stovetop and browned fully in the oven. The spicing was perfect and the amount of cheese was substantial without detracting from the rest of the meatball. This is a serious contender for my next meatball-themed dinner party, which looks like it will be soon! It will also be my first meatball-themed dinner party so wish me luck on that venture.

Enough dawdling for me. Back to work. 🙂

Crispy Hash Browns

When I make hash browns, they tend to be sorta soggy and fall apart, so I looked at a lot of online suggestions for avoiding this problem, and I came to this strategy:

  • I grate the potatoes onto a big paper towel.
  • I squeeze them out, trying to get as much water out of them as I can.
  • I put them on a big plate that is microwave-safe, and microwave them for 2 minutes while heating oil on the stove.
  • I fry them without moving them until I can peel up the edge and see that they are getting brown. I try to keep a wide, thin layer and if possible, flip them all together.
  • Once both sides are getting crispy, I try to scatter them so that more of the middles get a crispy edge on them. This part is my own choice though, so you totally don’t have to!
  • On Whole30, you can serve them with onions, tomato, avocado, etc. and of course some bacon if you are into that.

Hashbrowns bring me back to my favorite meal, and make me feel pretty normal in the midst of a very clean-eating month!

51. J’s Hot Chicken Casserole

Lately, I’ve been interspersing a lot of blog-found recipes with the last few RSVP-card recipes, but this one has been on my mind since I got it. I was worried that Husband would not eat it, for his dislike of mayonnaise in general and chicken salad in particular, but when he glanced at the recipes I had left a few days ago, I decided to go with it.

This recipe is so classic midwestern, and it was the recipe given to me by my Husband’s grandmother J. She is perhaps the person I’m closest to in his family, because when we were dating he spent about 8 months living with her, so all my visits to him also involved visiting her. We would occasionally go out just him and I, but the majority of our time during those visits were spent with J, baking cookies or watching silly television or lighting a fire in the back porch chiminea and staying up late. She’s one of the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met, and when she moved away, I really missed her a lot. We still see her a few times a year, but I am amused by how much I would be happy just hanging out at her house most weekends. Recently, she gave me some hand-me-downs from her years as a teacher, and it is a nice feeling to put on her professional clothes and feel reminded of her presence. I get compliments on them all the time – so grandmother-in-law hand-me-downs must be pretty stylish!

I was skeptical because this recipe didn’t have any chicken in it, and now that I’ve made it I would definitely add some shredded chicken breast to it, but I wanted to try it exactly the way that J made it (for once!) and it was still pretty delicious. The water chestnuts make it a really interesting texture, crunchy without being super crispy, and the mayo and cheese really meld well together to me (even Husband didn’t mind the background taste of mayo). We’ve been using it as a side dish for a few days now because it made quite a big dish, and just like the hand-me-downs, it reminds me of J and makes me want to go visit her all the time. I hope to see her again soon.

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50. T’s Chicken Salad

Things don’t always go the way I expect them to. This morning, I expected yet another day of sunny skies and instead, a soggy day rolled in. When we were 17 and  T and I played on rival sides of an ultimate frisbee game, I expected she wouldn’t even want to talk to me because I’d been such an obnoxious guard. When T and I became each other’s long-distance friends for the next 10 years, I couldn’t have predicted that either.

So when, this week, months after the wedding, an email from T revealed a recipe for chicken salad, I had to give it a shot. I’ll start out by saying: I don’t like chicken salad. I always find it cloying and full of flavors that don’t mesh. Granted, I’ve never made it myself, and I’m sure that making it myself would allow for a lower input of mayonnaise, which would make me far happier with it, but it’s exactly the possible serendipity, the chance that it could be delicious, that made me give it a chance. With T, you really never know.

T’s recipe reads more like a poem than a recipe, but I promise it’s worth at least considering her style before you return to your old standard, because let me say, I ate myself silly on this stuff, smeared on cracked pepper crackers while looking out at the rain. It’s worth your trouble. This is the same T who once made biscuits for me purely from feel, with no measuring, so I encourage you to unleash your “inner T” when it comes to measurements, and try to feel the right chicken salad out.

Roast (or let the crockpot do the work) a couple of bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts with your favorite marinade and whatever chicken-lovin’ herbs you have in the garden. I used rosemary, parsley, oregano.  Let it cool down, and take the meat off the bone, handshredded is best to make sure you don’t have any bones or other skin or fat that you wouldn’t want to eat.  Add a stalk of celery, chopped (I like more, but good to start with just one and keep adding); half of a red delicious or some other sweet crunchy apple chopped; more poppy seeds and black pepper than you would think you need; toasted pecans chopped; and a slice or two of red onion chopped very fine.  Stir in enough Duke’s mayonnaise with some pan drippings, if you dare, to hold it together.  This is Mom’s voice: “”If you like chicken salad, It will make you do the happy dance.”  Duke’s mayo is a must.  Freshly ground pepper is best.  Let it sit in the fridge overnight so the flavors marinade.  
Serve with anything: make a sandwich on wheat with spinach, croissant if you are feeling fancy, any crackers you like, celery stalks, the rest of the apple, romaine lettuce leaf and roll it up.  Yum.  Make a little bit at a time and make it often.  Pairs great with fresh tomatoes out of the garden cut up with pepper on them.
The main counsel I completely ignored was letting it marinade overnight, but there is some left, so tomorrow I’ll get that glorious aspect. Whatever happens, it will probably be different from your expectations, and it might be worth reveling in that for a little while.

Essential Prep for Whole30 Life

I’ve now survived my 3rd weekend of Whole30, which means I feel like I know what I need to make a successful week. It does require work, but I’ve been really satisfied with my habits.

1st, I chop snack veggies – my favorites are bell peppers, celery, and cucumbers, all of which are watery and crunchy and not intense in flavor, but which can sit on my desk and be my absent-minded eating. They are also easy to add to a meal later in the week if I don’t feel like cooking a veggie.

2nd, I crockpot some chicken breasts with a little olive oil and some light seasonings. This usually goes overnight for me, but if you have the awareness to do it in the morning for the evening, that’s even better. They pull apart like a dream, and with 7 or 8 minutes in a frying pan you can make one meal worth of crispy chicken to be added to a salad or a soup or anything! We’ve been eating off about 10 breasts I cooked last week, and it’s so satisfying and quick.

3rd, and I don’t do this every time, but chopping some sweet potatoes and grating regular potatoes for hash browns can be really nice. Starchy veggies make a nice counterpoint to the two salads a day that we tend to eat.

Last, arrange for breakfast. Egg bakes are great, but keeping fruit and sweet potatoes around for when you don’t feel like eggs is not a bad idea. I know they recommend 3 even meals, but I just cannot desire food at 6 in the morning when I’m getting ready, so keeping small alternatives to a full meal has been essential for me.

This is much less than most Whole30 folks meal prep, but January is a pretty quiet month for us, so we really have time to make two trips to the grocery store each week, and the grocery store is between the gym and home for us, so in the end, we go and buy what we need if we need it. I’d also recommend frozen veggies and fruits if you can’t hit the grocery store often, because I’ve been having to hustle to use all the veggies we buy before they are old!

49. Crockpot Pork Chops with Rhubarb, Peppers, and Onion

A while back, when I asked for crockpot recipes, I got the wonderful suggestion from The Wiser Shopper (click here for the recipe!) to make Pork chops with apples and onions based on a Martha Stewart recipe. The idea sounds like one of my favorite combinations of sweet and savory, so I filed it away as a great option but didn’t remember it until this week.

This week, in particular, I had a lot of leftover rhubarb from the farmer’s market, so I thought I’d adapt the recipe by subbing a little bit of apple sauce and a lot of chopped rhubarb in the recipe. I threw all the other ingredients into the slow cooker for the whole day, and by evening, there was… well, the same brownish stuff that comes out of a lot of slow cooker recipes, but man oh man! When we sat down to eat, it was some kind of delicious.

The pork was moist and the sauce was tart and savory and multi-layered. I fried some homefries to go with it, which turned out to be the perfect contrast to the softness of the meat and veggies, and overall, I was really pleased. I added one other thing, which was a spicy barbeque sauce, a generous glopping on top of the ingredients at the beginning of the process. The spice was essential, because I think the whole thing would have turned out overly sweet otherwise.

Thanks Wise Shopper for sharing your recipe – it made a regular old Monday night extra special and delicious.

48. J’s Brie-Basil Pasta

J and I went to an academic summer camp when we were both 17; I think it was the first time I felt surrounded by so many intelligent and interesting people in the same small place. J and I remained friends over the years, seeing each other when we happened to be in the same city. He came to my wedding and gave me a recipe card RSVP that only said “let’s talk about this one in person…” – eventually, he sent me the following recipe, but cautioned me to wait through the winter months before I attempted it, because fresh tomatoes and fresh basil were key to the meal.

1. 4 large ripe tomatoes cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2. I pound Brie, rind removed, broken into irregular smallish pieces

3. 1 cup fresh basil leaves rinsed, patted dry and cut into strips

4. 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced

5. 1 cup best quality olive oil

6. 1/2 teaspoon salt

7. 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

8. 1 1/2 pound linguine 9or other pasta)

9. Fresh grated parmigiana-Reggiano

At least 2 hours before serving combine 1-7 in large serving bowl. I usually cover and let sit at room temperature to blend flavors. Also, I put the Brie in the freezer for about 10 minutes before trying to remove the rind. Putting in the freezer helps make it firmer and easier to remove. Otherwise you tend to lose a lot of the Brie as the rind does not come off very well.

Boil the linguine. When done, toss with the tomato mixture. Add grated cheese as desired.

I chose to make this recipe on a day when Husband and I were going to an outdoor festival and I knew we’d be hungry and ready for something savory and fresh when we got home – it helped us resist the funnel cake and fried chicken at the festival, which can’t hurt, right? After a truly spectacular breezy Sunday afternoon, we returned to the bowl of spicings and cheese and tomatoes: I’d frozen the brie for too long, so instead of breaking it into pieces I’d shaved the rind off with a knife and grated the whole thing into the bowl. We made fettuccine and the whole house filled with the pungent Brie scent and the snap of garlic. We twirled the pasta noodles and our lips got coated in cheesy sauce. I used all the fresh basil we had in our garden, which was good timing because the little bucket we’ve been growing herbs in is now swamped with water from recent rains. Hopefully it will dry out and grow back, because this might be my favorite dish yet. I didn’t get quite as much brie as he suggested (I did 8 ounces, plus a spare ounce of goat cheese I had lying around, for one pound of pasta) but I bet it would have been delightful if I had.

What is the quintessential dish of summer for you? I cannot imagine a flavor more summery than basil and tomato, cheese and garlic all rolled together and eaten with the window open and the twilight breeze blowing through the house.