Chicken Vegetable Soup with Rice

FullSizeRenderThere’s something extra comforting about chicken soup, and it’s more than just because it’s warm and savory on a cold winter day. If you make your own broth, the boiling of the chicken carcass makes it chock-full of helpful minerals, and the combination of vegetables and chicken stock give this soup anti-inflammatory properties that really DO help you get over a cold or flu. I’ve read countless articles about it. But I’ve also experienced it.

My mom taught me how to make this simple recipe, and I’ve been making it for years. Last year, when we were hosting a student from Japan, I saw it’s healing properties first hand. Poor Hana came down with strep throat while 5,000 miles from home. I felt so bad for the poor girl! We got her a shot of penicillin, and I made her a batch of chicken soup. The soup started her on the mend, and the penicillin finished the job.

A few months ago, my son Justin brought his girlfriend over when she was super sick with a cold and fever. I went into Mom-mode, and had Ashley popping Advil and sucking on cough drops while I stirred up some chicken soup. She spent the day getting hydrated and sipping soup. Again, the healing powers of chicken soup did the trick! (And that girlfriend is now his fiancée—more magical mystery powers of the soup? It may have played a part…)

This week, my friend Marylee came down with a nasty virus. I brought her a couple jars of chicken soup, and the next day she was on the mend. She told me I should post the recipe for “sick soup” and I told her I was sure I’d already posted a basic thing like chicken soup. But surprisingly, I hadn’t! So here it is. Incidentally, it’s also delicious when you’re NOT sick! 

Serves 6-8

For broth
1 rotisserie chicken
5-6 carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks
Center leafy pieces of celery bunch
1 yellow onion, peeled and cut into quarters
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2-3 bay leaves

For soup
6-8 cups home made chicken broth
3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
2-3 stalks celery, washed and diced
1 cup diced cooked chicken
¼ to 1/3 cup white rice, uncooked
1 teaspoon salt
Dash smoked Spanish paprika

Remove chicken from one whole cooked rotisserie chicken, reserving skin and bones. Set meat aside. Put chicken carcass and skin in Dutch oven with carrots, heart of celery, onion, salt, celery seed, pepper, and bay leaves. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to low and let simmer for 60 minutes. Strain broth off, and discard all vegetables and chicken bone and skin.

Put 6-8 cups of chicken broth in large sauce pan or small Dutch oven. Add carrot, celery, chicken, rice, salt, and paprika. Bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Taste and add salt or other spices as necessary. Serve to your sick foreign-exchange student, friend, or your son’s future bride.

Sausage Mushroom Egg Bake

unnamedGood egg bake” is often an oxymoron, but this recipe with sausage, mushrooms and roasted red peppers isn’t the usual tasteless mush served at potlucks across the Heartland. I found this recipe called “Patsy’s Egg Casserole” on the Midwest Living website when I was looking for brunch recipes to serve at my son Mitchell’s high school graduation open house a few years ago (a tradition unique to Minnesota, I hear). My mother, sister Susan, and a couple friends all made a pan or two of this and the bacon/asparagus variation, and every single dish was delicious! It’s truly a fool-proof recipethere were no differences in outcome between cooks. You could even say this is Judy easy! (For my sister Judy who doesn’t love cooking like I do…)

My trick to keep it from slipping into soggy, is to use french bread loaves instead of a sliced loaf of white bread. French bread is stiffer, and the fact that it has more crust helps too. The other reason I love this recipe, is that there’s no butter in it. Not that I have anything against butter—it’s often a staple ingredient in my recipes!—but I’ve had so many egg bakes that were positively swimming in melted butter, and that’s just diary overkill. 

Just made this recipe for a birthday brunch for my daughter-in-law Jessica, and we all remembered how much we liked it, so I thought it was about time to post this breakfast, brunch, or brinner winner. My husband loves it so much, that the first words out of his mouth this morning were, “Is there anymore of that egg bake left?” Good morning to you too, sweetheart.

Serves 6-8

1 pound uncooked Italian sausage or ground pork
2 cups (8 ounces) fresh cremini or button mushrooms, rinsed and sliced
1 (8 ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped
8 cups cubed French bread
2-3 cups shredded cheddar cheese
8 eggs
3 cups milk
1½ teaspoons dry mustard
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Lightly coat a 9″x13″ baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside. In a large skillet, cook sausage and mushrooms on high until sausage is no longer pink. Drain off fat and extra moisture. Stir red peppers into mix and set aside. Place half of the bread cubes in prepared baking dish. Top with half of the sausage mixture, and half of the cheese. Repeat with remaining bread, sausage mixture, and cheese.

In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs with whisk attachment. Slowly pour in milk and whisk again. Sprinkle dry mustard, salt, and cayenne over eggs and milk, and beat one last time to combine. Carefully pour egg mixture over the layered bread mixture in dish. Gently press down the bread using the back of a large serving spoon to get it to absorb some of the egg and milk. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours or up to 24. (NOTE: The beauty of this recipe is that you can make it ahead! I love to make this the night before serving. Quick and easy party the next day…)

Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Bake uncovered for 50-60 minutes, or until skewer inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

BACON AND ASPARAGUS EGG BAKE VARIATION

Prepare as above, except replace sausage with 8 strips of crisp-cooked bacon. Cool bacon, and crumble or chop. Replace mushrooms with one bundle of fresh asparagus. Cut asparagus into bit-sized pieces (snapping off tough ends), and drop into salted boiling water for 1-2 minutes. Drain asparagus, then toss in bowl with bacon and chopped roasted red peppers. Use 2-3 cups shredded Swiss cheese instead of cheddar cheese.

Creamy Potato, Parsnip and Leek Soup

FullSizeRenderBacon, potatoes, and leeks blend together in creamy goodness in this simple soup recipe that goes together in about 30 minutes. Published in a Real Simple article praising potatoes in the November 2016 issue, it grabbed my attention because of the addition of leeks, which have a milder and sweeter flavor than onions, and I love an excuse to use them. Every time I cook with leeks, I remember the verses from the Old Testament where the Israelites complain about missing leeks and garlic as they wandered in the desert (Numbers 11:5). They missed them so much, that they sort of forgot they were enslaved to the Egyptians when they were cooking with those leeks and garlic. That’s the power of good ingredients—they make you forget the misery of every day life, even when that misery includes making bricks for the pyramids without any straw.

So my mind wanders a bit when I cook! What can I say? I’ve made this soup twice already since first trying the recipe, as the first batch was gobbled up in a hurry. I adjusted all the vegetable amounts and added more seasoning to the Real Simple version. And they had garnished their recipe with bacon bits and scallions, and I found the scallions to be overpowering in this mild soup. Chopped chives would be a better garnish. I think even the Israelites would approve of that tweak to this dish.

Makes 8 servings

6-8 slices bacon, cut in half
3 russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 pound parsnips (about 5 medium or 3 large)
2 leeks thinly sliced, including some of tender green portions
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried dill
4 cups chicken broth (32-ounce box)
1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
¼ cup chopped chives, optional, for garnish

In large Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon to plate with paper towels to drain and cool. Add potatoes, parsnips, and leeks to the pot. Cook, stirring now and then, for 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add garlic and cook a few minutes more. Sprinkle in salt and dill and stir. Add in broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Working in batches, process 2 cups of soup at a time until smooth. Return all the blended soup to the pot and stir in cream while element is on low. Top individual bowls with crumbled bacon bits, and chopped chives, if desired.

Chicken Tikka Masala

FullSizeRenderFans of Indian food will love this smokey chicken dish, layered with rich spices in a creamy tomato sauce. My son Justin had been hinting that I try a curry dish sometime, but then he got bold and Facebooked me this recipe for Turkey Tikka Masala from The New York Times. It’s a dish that uses leftover Thanksgiving turkey, so I thought I’d give it a whirl. When I realized I didn’t have enough leftover turkey to do the dish, I opted to use fresh boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I had my husband Rich grill them on his Big Green Egg to get that Tandoor-tender treatment. This dish was utterly amazing, and that’s an understatement.

We’ve often wondered why all these Indian dishes that taste so similar have vastly different names, so I did a little research. Apparently, the names differ depending on the region, so a “rogan josh” can taste the same as a “marsala” as they use the same ingredients. “Tikka” refers to chicken cooked in the Tandoor (a cylindrical clay oven), and “marsala” is a sauce made with tomatoes and onions OR a mixture of spices, depending on your source of information. 

And what exactly is garam masala, other than a spice required in Indian recipes that you don’t have on hand? It’s a mix of peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, mace, cardamom, bay leaves, and cumin—and is sometimes referred to as a “curry.” An Indian curry stew is usually a blend of coriander, cumin, and turmeric, and sometimes chili peppers. There’s no curry powder actually in curries. Curry is a word invented for the British or by the British to describe the delicious stews they “discovered” during their colonization of India.

But enough with the history lesson! Back to the food! I did a few things differently than the original recipe—like I didn’t puree the sauce, and I used half and half, instead of heavy cream. My other adjustments to process and ingredients are reflected below.

Serves 6

For Meat Marinade

2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
4 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon sea salt
6 cloves garlic, finely grated
4 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt
1¾ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

For Marsala Sauce

4 tablespoons ghee, divided
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon cardamom
1-2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon garam masala
1½ teaspoons sea salt
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced or finely grated
1 serrano pepper, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
2 cups half and half
¾ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1 small lemon (optional)

3 cups cooked basmati or jasmine rice

To make the marinade: Combine the garam masala, coriander, cumin, paprika, turmeric, salt, garlic, ginger, and yogurt in a bowl and stir. Add chicken thighs and toss to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 4 hours or overnight.

To make the masala: Add 3 tablespoons of the ghee to a Dutch oven set on medium-high heat. Add onion, cardamom, bay leaf (or leaves), paprika, pepper flakes, garam masala and salt. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden and tender, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Make space among onions in center of pot, and add the remaining 1 tablespoon ghee. When ghee has melted, add ginger, garlic, and serrano pepper, and sizzle for about 10 seconds. Stir into the onions. Stir in tomato paste, then add tomatoes and juice from the can, crushing tomatoes with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until the liquid is almost gone, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Add cream and chopped cilantro to the pot. Taste and add salt if needed. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens, about 40 minutes. *

While sauce is cooking, grill chicken until done, and no pink remains in center. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Stir into masala sauce, and serve over cooked rice. (If adding lemon juice, stir in just before serving. I forgot the lemon, and did not think it needed it!)

*NOTE: The original recipe called for pureeing the sauce in a blender at this point, before adding the chicken in. I thought that was an unnecessary step, but might try that next time I make this so the sauce is creamier. And there will be a next time for this tasty dish!

Smoky Chipotle Corn Chowder

FullSizeRenderSince it’s soup season, you’ll want to tag this smoky potato and corn chowder for a quick, light meal. Aside from the chipotle chili peppers, most of the ingredients may be kitchen staples for you, as they were for me. My friend Terri shared this with me a couple years ago, and I just got around to trying it for the first time. As I’ve gotten a lot of my soup recipes from restaurants (when I wrote for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and was requesting recipes for readers), they tend to yield mammoth portions, and you gotta be committed to eating said soup for an eternity! This one is a smaller scale recipe, perfect for about 6 tasty bowls.

My only recipe suggestion would be to add more cheese, so I upped the amount to ½ cup below. And you would think the peppers in this would give it quite a burn, but even my mild-mannered palette was not offended by the heat. It was barely noticeable, in fact! I am curious to see if the heat cranks up a notch as the soup sits in the frig—sometimes that happens with chili peppers. I’ll be sure to let you know.

Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons butter
1 bunch scallions (green onions), sliced
4 cups chopped red potatoes, with skin on
2 cups chicken broth
4 cups frozen corn (16 ounces) *
2 tablespoons dried cilantro (or use ¼ cup fresh, but then add with milk and cheese towards end of process)
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
½-1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chopped chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
2 cups milk
½ cup shredded sharp white cheddar (or Monterey Jack cheese)
1/3 cup diced cooked ham **

Garnishes:
Fresh chopped cilantro
Chopped scallions

Melt butter in Dutch oven or large pot over medium-high heat. Sauté scallions for 1-2 minutes, then add potatoes and cook for additional 5 minutes, or until green onions and potatoes begin to brown. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, then add corn, cilantro, smoked paprika, salt, and chipotle peppers. Stir well, and cook for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Add the milk and cheese, and turn off heat. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes.

Puree about 2 cups of the soup in a blender, and return to the pot. Heat to medium-low, and stir in ham. Serve with chopped fresh cilantro and green onions as garnishes, if desired.

*NOTE: I used a bag of frozen roasted corn from Trader Joe’s, and I would highly recommend it! I’ve seen the same thing at Cub foods, too, so look for the pre-roasted corn at your grocery store.

** Skip the ham for a vegetarian option. It really didn’t enhance the soup that much, so I don’t think it’s a completely necessary ingredient.

Indian Spiced Beef Wraps with Cilantro Mint Sauce

FullSizeRender 2This meat dish has so much flavor it could convert a vegetarian. I’m not a big fan of beef, but I absolutely LOVE all the crazy spices—cilantro, ginger, cumin, coriander, fennel, turmeric, and even cinnamon—packed into this recipe. The contrast between the spiced meat and the chilled cilantro mint yogurt sauce is perfect. Add the fresh cucumber slices and sweet cherry tomatoes, and it’s a dish to die for. In fact, I once thought a guest of ours actually WAS dying (or had broken a tooth) when I served this meal. My son Justin had brought home a pack of starving college guys, and I thought they’d appreciate some quality meat, served up in a format they probably weren’t getting in the school cafeteria. His friend Brady starting moaning after his first bite, and I looked up in alarm. “Are you OK?” Brady sheepishly smiled and said, “I’m fine! It’s just sooooo GOOD.” The others laughed, but concurred.

The original recipe directions said to mix meat, herbs, and spices together and shape into meatballs or sausages, skewer them, and grill them. I tried that the first time I made this, and it was a ton of work, and then the meat didn’t stretch as far as I would have liked. So now I just mix it all together and brown the meat in a pan, and it works great. Now to give credit where credit is due. I got this recipe from the Lunds & Byerly’s Real Food magazine some time in 2010, I’m guessing. I don’t have the exact date recorded with my magazine clipping, but I remember about when Justin would drop in with that particular crew. Good times had by all. 

Makes 6-8 servings

For Spiced Meat:
1½-2 pounds quality lean ground beef (or lamb—if you like lamb…)
¼ cup plain yogurt
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup finely chopped scallions (aka: green onion, Tom)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
½ teaspoon ground fennel
½ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

For Cilantro Mint Sauce:
½ cup plain yogurt
3/4 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves
¼ cup chopped fresh mint
2 scallions, cut into 2-inch pieces
½-inch piece of peeled fresh ginger, quartered
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic, quartered
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt

Serving suggestion:
Flour tortillas*, or corn tortillas (for gluten-free option)
1 cucumber, sliced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1 yellow onion, sliced (optional—sometimes we want these, sometimes we don’t!)
Crumbled feta cheese

To make meat: Combine beef, yogurt, cornstarch, and all the herbs and spices in large frying pan. Cook until no pink remains in meat. Keep on low heat until serving.

To make sauce: Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and pulse until smooth. Can chill until serving.

To serve wraps: Briefly heat tortilla on hot griddle, then top with warm spiced meat, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta, and chilled yogurt sauce. Fold in half and eat like a taco. Get ready to be amazed at the flavor explosion in your mouth.

*NOTE: I love to take this recipe up even ONE MORE NOTCH by making my own tortillas. I sometimes do these a day ahead and store in frig with parchment paper between them, and then reheat on the griddle right before serving. Just like the spiced meat, they are truly moan-worthy.

BLT Salad

FullSizeRender-1My mother has been blessing us with buckets of tomatoes from her garden, and the red orbs are threatening to take over the kitchen—so I’m kinda on a BLT roll. My husband was grilling brats one evening, and I wanted a side salad that we hadn’t had a gazillion times already. So I came up with this BLT combo and taste-tested it on our guests Andy and Nancy, and their daughter Emily, and they all thought it was da bomb. Thankfully, there was a little leftover so I could have it for lunch again the next day, ’cause I thought it was delish, too. I think the trick to infusing the greens with the “BLT” flavor, was sautéing the leeks in a little bacon fat. They really held onto the nuance of the bacon (if bacon has a “nuance,” that is…it’s sort of the bully of meats as far as taste.)

I considered a vinaigrette dressing for this salad, but since BLT’s are all about the mayo, thought I better stick with a creamy mayonnaise-based dressing. It was a good decision! It really enhanced the other ingredients, without over-powering. My only concern was that it was a little thicker than I would have liked, so it may need more vinegar to thin it down. I’ve given a range here, but I used just 1 tablespoon. More might make it too tart—try it and let me know!

Serves 6-8

For dressing
¼ cup Hellmann’s real mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh basil pesto
1-2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

For salad
1 leek, sliced thin to all but toughest green part*
1-2 tablespoons bacon fat
1 head Romaine lettuce, julienned
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ of a cucumber, sliced and quartered
2 ripe avocados, cubed
2 large tomatoes, diced, or 2 cups cherry tomatoes quartered
6-8 slices of bacon, fried crisp, drained on paper towels, and crumbled

To make dressing: Whisk together mayonnaise, pesto, and 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar. Add more vinegar if needed to thin. Set aside.

To make salad: Saute leeks in bacon fat over medium heat, until leeks begin to caramelize (turn light brown on edges). On large serving platter, layer lettuce, parsley, cooked leeks, cucumber, and avocados. Drizzle with dressing, then top with tomatoes, and crumbled bacon.

*NOTE: It’s best to chop leeks, then soak in a bowl of cold water, in order to let the sand and dirt settle to bottom of the bowl. Then scoop out the leeks and let them thoroughly drain in a colander before frying in the bacon fat. Leeks tend to hold on to a lot of dirt and sand between their layers as they grow. It’s rare to purchase a leek that has been thoroughly rinsed enough to cook it without soaking first.

Super BLT with Pesto Aioli

FullSizeRender‘Tis tomato time, and if you’ve got them coming out of your ears like we do, this twist on the classic BLT sandwich will help you use up your ‘maters. The pesto aioli gives it extra zip, and adds another layer of flavor to the fresh tomato, smoky bacon, and crisp lettuce. So I used up my stash of tomatoes AND my fresh basil pesto that I just made again—a win-win. I also added sliced turkey, and white cheddar cheese to these sandwiches, because I feel like a sandwich with just bacon for meat isn’t really a sandwich. (My husband would disagree—he fried up half a pound of bacon for his two sandwiches the night we made these. When I questioned his quantity, he called me a Bacon Nazi. Ouch. First time I’ve heard those two words together in a sentence…how about you?)

I thought that this might be too simple of a “recipe” to post, but I actually get the most response from all of you when I post stuff I think is too easy to bother sharing (aka: “Judy easy,” in the scale used previously). I used pumpernickel bread for the sandwiches pictured here, but I also like Trader Joe’s 100% rye bread, which I’ve been told is gluten-free. Either of those options gives you more flavor in your bread than straight up white bread. Another bonus! 

Serves 2-3

For pesto aioli
¼ cup Hellmann’s real mayonnaise (or make your own, recipe below!)
1 tablespoon fresh basil pesto

For sandwiches
Deli turkey, sliced thin
White cheddar cheese, sliced
Romaine lettuce leaves, rinsed and dried
Bacon strips, cooked (2 per sandwich, unless you’re Rich)
Sliced fresh tomatoes
Pumpernickel or rye bread, toasted

Slather toasted bread with generous amount of pesto aioli, then layer on turkey, cheese, lettuce, bacon, and tomatoes. Prepare to be amazed.

*NOTE: Aioli has come to be the name given to any flavored mayonnaise. Traditionally, it’s been an emulsified oil combined with fresh garlic. At least that’s the Spanish version. The French version of aioli has an egg added into the emulsifying process, which makes it more similar to mayonnaise than the Spanish recipe. Use the word “aioli” when you want to impress your dinner guests with your mad kitchen prowess.

To make your own mayonnaise (recipe courtesy of Whole30):
1¼ cups olive oil (not extra virgin), divided
1 egg
½ teaspoon dried mustard
½ teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon

In food processor or blender, combine ¼ cup olive oil, egg, dried mustard, and salt. Blend until combined. Very, very slowly, drizzle in the remaining 1 cup of olive oil with motor running, and process until oil is emulsified (thickened to mayo consistency). Add juice of lemon and pulse until combined. Refrigerate for up to one week, but no longer.

Wild Rice, Chicken, and Grape Salad

IMG_1710Cold wild rice? Ya sure, you betcha. We Minnesotans typically like our wild rice simmered in a soup, but this salad recipe will get you out of your comfort zone. I recently went searching through my previous blogs, sure that I’d posted this recipe long ago. It’s such a favorite with family and friends, that I thought I’d shared it already. Not so. I created this recipe several years ago based on a salad I’d had at a deli somewhere, probably Byerly’s. The combination of chewy wild rice and sweet grapes is perfect in the savory, creamy dressing, once the whole concoction has been chilled. Bring it for lunch, serve it for supper, or share it with others at a potluck picnic.

If you really want to punch up the flavor, make your own mayo, using the simple recipe for Whole30 mayonnaise below. You’ll need to make it at least 3 hours before you start on the rest of the salad, so it has sufficient time to chill. If you don’t, it’ll turn back into olive oil once the mayo hits the warm rice. And how did I gain that bit of culinary wisdom? Personal experience gained through wild rice salad lost. It wasn’t pretty, people.

Serves 6

2 cups wild rice, rinsed and drained
1 cube chicken bouillon
½-1 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise (or make your own with recipe below)
1 tablespoon Penzy’s Northwoods seasoning OR 1 teaspoon sweet paprika, and a dash each salt, pepper, thyme, cracked or powdered rosemary, and garlic powder
1-2 cups green grapes, sliced
4 stalks celery, diced
4-5 scallions, sliced
6 chicken tenderloins, grilled and chopped into bit-sized cubes
½ cup pecan halves, toasted (optional)
4-6 leaves of Romaine lettuce (optional serving suggestion)

In small Dutch oven or large sauce pan, combine the wild rice, 8 cups water, and the bouillon cube. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, and cook for 45 minutes (or until some of the grains have popped), covered. Drain off any remaining water and put rice in colander. Rinse with cold water to shock, so that rice stops cooking. Let drain and cool for 15-30 minutes.

In large bowl, combine mayo and seasonings, stirring until incorporated. Add in cooled rice, grapes, celery, scallions, and cooked chicken. Toss to coat all ingredients with dressing. If using nuts, stir in right before serving. Optional: serve salad on bed of Romaine lettuce.

To make your own mayonnaise:
1¼ cups olive oil (not extra virgin), divided
1 egg
½ teaspoon dried mustard
½ teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon

In food processor or blender, combine ¼ cup olive oil, egg, dried mustard, and salt. Blend until combined. Very, very slowly, drizzle in the remaining 1 cup of olive oil with motor running, and process until oil is emulsified (thickened to mayo consistency). Add juice of lemon and pulse until combined. Refrigerate for up to one week, but no longer.

Chicken Pad Thai

FullSizeRenderPad Thai is one of our favorite take-out dishes, but I figured it was one of those dishes best handled by professionals, and not possible to replicate at home. Then I ran across a recipe on Big Bowl’s website, and thought it looked doable. I needed a trip down the ethnic food aisle to find the fish sauce—I never did find the ground dried shrimp (which I’ve never heard of before), so I didn’t use that. Big Bowl’s recipe was poorly written, making it a little hard to follow, so it took some studying to figure out the process and order of ingredients. They also use a full cup of peanut oil for frying and flavor, which I thought would make for a pretty greasy dish. I subbed in some sesame oil, which is a healthier option, and has a great, nutty flavor.

The Big Bowl recipe also had waaaaaay more chili powder and Sriracha sauce than I thought was necessary, so I cut the heat in half the first time I made it. My son Justin and husband liked it, but it was still too much for me because you couldn’t taste the lime and fresh herbs. So the spices you see below are in amounts that hopefully don’t overpower the dish. (If my nose is running the whole time I’m eating a dish, I figure that’s more heat than needed.)

Since rice noodles are gluten-free, I can finally get a “pasta” fix with this dish! But it doesn’t have much vegetable nutrition, with scallions and bean sprouts being the only veggies in it. I might add in some grated carrots and maybe some green peas next time I make it, just to make it more nutritious. Or maybe not! It’s pretty dang good the way it is.

Serves 4-6

1 (14-ounce) package dried rice noodles (also called sitr-fry rice noodles)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts or 8-10 boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins, julienned
2 tablespoons cornstarch
6 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
½ teaspoon ground chipotle powder
1-2 teaspoons bottled chili sauce, like Sriracha sauce
¼ cup fish sauce
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup thinly sliced scallions, using both white and green portions
¼ cup Thai or sweet basil, chopped *
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons ground dried shrimp (optional)
½ cup roasted peanuts, chopped
2 cups fresh bean sprouts (1 bag)
Lime wedges for garnish

Put rice noodles in large bowl, and pour very hot tap water over noodles to cover. Let sit for 20-30 minutes, until softened but not mushy. Drain thoroughly, rinse with cold water, and set aside.

Mix the cornstarch, salt, and another 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil together in medium bowl, and add chicken. Toss to coat meat. Put large frying pan or wok on stove and turn heat on high. Add 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil to pan. Lay chicken strips in hot oil and cook until golden brown on one side, then turn and cook on other side until no pink remains. Remove from pan. Once cooled, cut into bit-sized pieces, and set aside.

In small bowl, mix the lime juice, brown sugar, chipotle powder, paprika, chili sauce, and fish sauce together. Set aside.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons sesame oil in pan. Add the scallions and stir briefly just to coat with the oil, then add the noodles. Toss the noodles in the pan for 15 seconds or so and then add the chicken. Toss continually until the noodles soften and are coated with the oil, and the chicken and scallion are incorporated. Drizzle the egg into pan and stir to combine.

When the pan is piping hot again, drizzle in the lime juice and brown sugar mixture. After 5 seconds, pull the pan from the heat and toss vigorously to coat. Add most of the basil and cilantro leaves (saving a pinch of each for garnish), the ground dried shrimp (if using), and the peanuts; toss to combine. Add the bean sprouts and toss again. Transfer to a serving plate and serve with a couple wedges of lime on the side. Squeeze fresh lime juice on top before eating.

*NOTE: Thai basil has an anise-like flavor, which is the flavor in black licorice. I only grow sweet basil in my herb pots, so that’s what I used to make this dish. You will probably have to hit a farmer’s market if you want the Thai basil. Sweet basil is the only option in main-stream grocery stores.