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.

Brownie Bites

FullSizeRender-1My neighbor Diane sent me this recipe for brownie fake-outs after she heard I was doing the Whole30 cleanse, knowing that giving up chocolate for a month might be a bit of a challenge. (That’s the understatement of the year…) Looking at the short ingredient list, you wouldn’t think you could possibly get a chocolate fix out of these morsels, but they do taste surprisingly rich and fudge-like. I found I needed a ½ cup more dates than the author of the recipe on detoxinista.com used in order to get the ingredients to stick together. I also felt more salt was needed for flavor, so doubled the amount.

The oil from the walnuts makes these pretty slippery when you are shaping them, so I rolled half of mine in toasted coconut to see if that absorbed some of the oil, and made them look like truffles. Then I tested the recipe on my book club babes, and they liked the fudge bites both with, and without the coconut. These were best served within 24 hours, as they started drying out and getting crumbly after a day in the frig. If I make these again, I’m thinking it might be a good idea to wrap each one in plastic wrap to keep them moist. I’m also thinking I really, really, REALLY want an honest-to-goodness brownie made with flour and butter and sugar. But this is a nutritious alternative, one loaded with omega-3 fats from the walnuts. If you want something loaded with the other stuff, keep on lookin’. It ain’t here.

Makes 1 dozen

1½ cups raw walnut halves
1½ cups soft, pitted dates
¼ cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon water
½ cup shredded, unsweetened coconut, toasted *

I food processor fitted with “S” blade, grind walnuts into a fine meal. Add dates, cocoa, vanilla, and salt, and process until ingredients stick together and start to form a dough. Shape tablespoons of dough into balls, and place in parchment-lined container. Cover and place in frig to set. Once firm, wrap each brownie bite in plastic wrap. Return to frig to keep until serving or grabbing for lunches or snacks.

*NOTE: Toasting coconut brings out the natural sugars, and enhances flavor. Preheat oven to 375°. Place shredded coconut on baking sheet and toast for 5 minutes, then stir and toast for additional 5 minutes, or until coconut is golden brown. Cool before rolling brownie bites in toasted coconut.

Greens, Grapes, and Tuna Lunch Salad

IMG_1615OK co-worker Tom, it’s time to stop drooling over my lunch, and make your OWN salad! The base of this recipe is a fresh take on canned tuna, and was from the Whole30 cookbook. But I’ve embellished it to make a salad that I really love for lunch. It all started when we had inadvertently stock-piled on canned white Albacore tuna, and there were cans and cans of it crowding the cupboards. (Anyone else do that? Think, “Oh, I think we need THAT,” as you spot it at the grocery store, when in fact you’re positively swimming in that item already?) This recipe has been a great way to use up the plethora of tuna. You can just as easily use canned chicken—so grab whatever floats your boat! I like to make 4 of these salads at a time, and then refrigerate the ones I’m not taking for lunch. They keep quite well, and it’s a great time-saver for the morning rush.

Makes 4 salads

Whole30 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.

For tuna (or chicken) salad:
15 ounces (or 3 – 5.1 ounce cans) of white Albacore tuna or all white meat canned chicken, drained and flaked
½ cup Whole30 mayonnaise or Hellman’s real mayonnaise
Quarter of yellow onion, minced
1 tablespoon dill weed
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Combine all ingredients in bowl, breaking apart meat with fork. Set aside until rest of salad is assembled.

For base of salad, layer on 4 plates or in 4 plastic containers:
1 head romaine lettuce, leaves rinsed and dried, then jullienned
2 fistfuls of spinach leaves, julienned
3 scallions, sliced thin
2-3 stalks celery, sliced
3 slices of jicama (½-inch thick), cut into ½-inch cubes (optional) *
2 cups green grapes, sliced in half

Top greens and grapes with prepared tuna (or chicken) salad. Serve on plates, or cover container and refrigerate.

IMG_1614*NOTE: Jicama is also called a Mexican potato, and it is a deliciously crunchy addition to any salad. You peel off the tough outer skin with a paring knife, and then slice into sticks or cubes. Sticks can be dipped in dressing along with carrots and cukes. Cubes can top just about any salad. The high water content and slight sweetness make it a very refreshing veggie to nibble.

Curry Cauliflower Rice

IMG_1613Don’t be fooled by the name—no rice was actually harmed in the making of this dish. The Whole30 book has a basic cauliflower rice recipe side dish that’s quite good. But with only onions and carrots for extra flavor, I wanted more. So I created this hybrid of the Whole30 recipe and the Cranberry Pecan Curry Rice previously posted, a recipe I’ve heard that you really, really liked. Cauliflower is being used as a stand-in for a variety of ingredients lately, and it often still tastes like…well, cauliflower. Because it is. But this one really does taste like rice or couscous! I’ve served it to several guests lately, and they’ve all said, “This is cauliflower? Really? It’s so good! Have you blogged it yet?” 

And here’s a budget-saving tip. My local grocery store (Cub Foods) prices their cauliflower heads at $4, which makes for a kinda pricey dish. But Trader Joe’s sells cauliflower heads for $2.49, or you can get a bag of fresh riced (meaning minced) cauliflower for the exact same price! (Both are in the fresh produce aisle.) So if you don’t have a food processor to rice your own, it doesn’t cost you more to have them do the work for you. I’ve made this recipe with processing a whole head, and using the Trader Joe’s riced cauliflower, and there’s zero difference in taste. So go ahead and save yourself a step in prep!

Serves 6

1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets, OR 1 bag of riced cauliflower
3 tablespoons ghee
1 yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and grated
2-3 stalks celery, chopped small
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon curry
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans)
½ cup craisins*
½ cup chicken broth

If using whole head of cauliflower, pulse half of florets in food processor until rice-like consistency. Do not over-pulse, or you will have cauliflower mush. Remove from bowl of processor and process other half of florets. Save riced cauliflower for later.

In a large frying pan, melt ghee over medium heat. Add onion, and cook and stir until translucent. Add carrots and celery, stirring to combine, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add curry, salt, pepper, and chopped nuts, and stir until nuts are coated with spices. Toast for 1-2 minutes. Add riced cauliflower and craisins and stir until all ingredients are coated with curry. Add chicken broth, and cover pan. Cook for 8-10 minutes, or until cauliflower is a rice-like consistency.

*NOTE: Whole30 only allows dried cranberries that have been sweetened in apple juice, not sugar. I wasn’t able to find dried cranberries sweetened in juice, so I just used the Ocean Spray ones I had on hand. I say, if you’re doing Whole30, go ahead and use them! I won’t tell if you won’t. Or use raisins instead, which aren’t sweetened and are Whole30 approved.

Spicy Chicken and Butternut Squash Stew

FullSizeRenderSoup and stew don’t usually scream “summer,” but the combo of spice and light coconut flavor in this dish will make it a year-round fave. After a week of chomping and chewing salads for Whole30, I wanted something hot and creamy. When I ran across a hard-copy of this recipe (while trying to rid my counters of piles of papers before hosting a party), I was more than a little excited to see that it is Whole30 compliant. A friend had given me this recipe several years ago, and I’d not yet tried it. Truthfully, I think I’d avoided it because it used coconut milk, and not dairy, and that sounded weird for soup. It’s from an issue of Cooking Light (January 2001), and the recipe called for light coconut milk, but Whole30 calls for full-fat coconut milk, so that’s what I used. It also called for pumpkin, but I used butternut squash since it’s not pumpkin season. I added a Granny Smith apple and chicken broth (in lieu of plain water) for flavor, and chipotle powder for smokiness. While it had heat, I didn’t think it was too hot, yet it was spicy enough for my husband to not douse with cayenne pepper, as is his usual habit.

The recipe was intended as a stew to be served on top of rice, and this would be delicious over jasmine or basmati rice. It would serve 8-10 if topping rice. But rice isn’t in the Whole30 plan, so I served it without and it was plenty filling.

Serves 6-8

1½ pounds boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
Dash salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 medium yellow onions, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
½-1 fresh jalapeño, minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1-2 teaspoons salt
½ coarse ground black pepper
Dash to ¼ teaspoon chipotle powder
4 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups cubed fresh butternut squash (or acorn squash, or pumpkin)
1 cup chicken broth
1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Serving suggestion:
2 cups cooked Jasmine or Basmati rice

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a Dutch oven. Add chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sauté for 5-8 minutes, or until lightly browned. Remove chicken from pan and set aside.

Heat remaining tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat and add onion. Sauté until onions are translucent, then add red bell pepper, apple, ginger, and jalapeño and cook 2-3 minutes, or until veggies are tender-crisp. Add curry, salt, pepper, chipotle powder, and minced fresh garlic. Heat and stir for a minute or two to toast spices. Stir in squash, chicken broth, and coconut milk (and coconut cream that has settled to top of can!). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until squash is tender. Return cooked chicken to pot with fresh cilantro, and let simmer for 3-5 minutes. Serve as is, or ladle over cooked rice.

Greek Salad

FullSizeRender-1Leery of trying a Greek salad without feta and creamy dressing? I was too, until I tried this recipe from the Whole30 book, and enhanced it a bit to make it more to my liking. (Added spinach, avocado, jicama, cilantro, and used cherry tomatoes instead of whole tomatoes…Also layered instead of tossing.) The fresh ingredients and lemony dressing made for a tasty whole meal salad when topped with grilled, chopped chicken breasts. I made four salads—two to eat right away, and two for lunches the next day, but if you’re making it as a side salad, it should serve 6. We loved it, even without our beloved feta crowning the greens.

Serves 4-6

For dressing:
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Juice of ½ a lemon
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

For salad:
1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
½ of a 6-ounce bag of ready-to-eat fresh spinach, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
3-4 thick slices of jicama, diced
½ of container of cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
½ of red onion, minced
1 avocado, chopped
1 (12-ounce) jar of Kalamata olives, drained and halved
½ cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

Top with:
Grilled chicken breasts, chopped (optional)

Combine all dressing ingredients in a small bowl or jar and whisk or shake. Set aside.

Layer individual serving plates or large platter with lettuce and spinach. Add the remaining ingredients one at a time, starting with cucumber, and ending with cilantro. Drizzle with dressing. Add cooked chicken, if desired. Serve.

NOTE: This salad was great second day, not something you can usually say about a pre-dressed salad. I think that layering ingredients and drizzling dressing on top instead of tossing helped things stay fresh. It also helps avoid the dreaded gravity salad situation—when all the delightful heavy ingredients (like cukes and avocados) sink to the bottom, leaving only greens on top. Store in airtight container if making for next day.

Sausage, Apple, and Acorn Squash Casserole with Egg

IMG_1507Are you a serial cereal eater? Is it hard to imagine starting your day without your oatmeal or O’s? I didn’t think I could have energy for the day without my morning oatmeal, and that was the scary part of going Whole30 for me. But then I was paging through the Whole30 book and found this gem under “Fancypants Meals,” intended for part of a holiday dinner. It had a list of ingredients I love: portabella mushrooms, apple, acorn squash, and pepitas (pumpkin seeds), so I made it for supper one night to go with our grilled meat and roasted veggies. The next morning, I pulled out the leftovers for breakfast, heated a small plate of it in the microwave, and topped it with an over-easy egg. It’s become my new favorite breakfast! How did I exist on gruel all these years, like some middle-class, middle-aged Oliver Twist?

Serves 4-6

For sausage:
1 tablespoon ghee (or other Whole30 approved cooking fat)
½ of 1 yellow or white onion, minced
1 pound ground pork
½ teaspoon dried sage
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder

For casserole:
1 tablespoon ghee (or other Whole30 approved cooking fat)
1 acorn squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 (10-ounce) container of baby bella (crimini) mushrooms, sliced
1 apple, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon dried sage
½ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon ground rosemary
¼ cup pepitas or chopped pecans
Salt and coarse ground black pepper

For breakfast:
1-2 eggs

Preheat oven to 375°. Heat large frying pan on medium-high heat, and add ghee. Add ground pork and seasonings from sage to garlic powder, and stir and cook until pork is no longer pink. Add another tablespoon of ghee, and squash, mushrooms, and apple. Cook until fork-tender, about 5 minutes. Add the seasonings* and pepitas or nuts and transfer to a 9″x12″ glass baking or 2-quart casserole dish. Roast for 10-15 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve as side dish for dinner, or cool, then transfer to a airtight container and refrigerate.

For breakfast, ladle a generous cup of casserole onto microwave-safe plate. Heat on high for 1 minute. While casserole is heating, fry up 1-2 eggs in a teaspoon of ghee, sunny side up, or over easy. Place egg on top of sausage casserole and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

NOTE: The Whole30 recipe used poultry seasoning, which I did not have on hand, so I used sage, rosemary, and thyme. (I didn’t add parsley, as I wasn’t in the mood for a Simon & Garfunkel song. Wait for it…wait for it…got it?) The book also suggested using ground turkey or chicken as well as the pork, but I felt the pork paired best with the mushrooms in this dish. They also made their sausage into patties, and then broke them up into bits for this dish. I’ve changed that process to cook the pork, and then continue on with the rest of the recipe in the same pan.

Date, Cashew, and Coconut Bars

IMG_1550The name says it all…only three ingredients needed to make these delicious Lärabar fake-outs. Having just finished week one of the Whole30 cleanse, I was missing “treats,” meaning bars or cookies, so I went searching for something to scratch that itch. (I know you aren’t supposed to feed your “sugar dragon,” but you are allowed to do snacks for when you’re on the go. So let’s just pretend I’m on the go. A lot.)

I had taste-testers at work and at home try these no-bake bars, giving no explanation other than that they were gluten-free. Everyone who tried them—GF, DF, or not—thought they were really good, and did NOT think they tasted like they were gluten-free. The dates provide both sweetness and glue for the other ingredients, and the nuts and coconuts give them good flavor and crunch. (Since I found this recipe multiple places online, I don’t really know who to give credit to, so pardon me for not citing my source!)

You will need a food processor to mix these, and I don’t think a blender would work as a substitute. These can be pricey ingredients, so I looked around before buying. I found the best price for pitted dates at Costco (if you get your kicks pitting dates, go ahead and do that—I’ve been cooking and chopping my butt off this week, and pitting my own dates would have put me over the edge). I got my raw cashews and unsweetened coconut at Trader Joe’s, as the price was better than Whole Foods or Cub. Next time I purchase ingredients, I’ll take note of the exact prices and figure out how much these cost per bar.

The first time I made these, I used just three ingredients, which worked great. I just made these again, and added the zest and juice of one whole lime, and it helped them stick together better, and made a moister bar. But if you aren’t in the mood for citrus, you can certainly leave that out! Word of warning: you have to keep these refrigerated. They stay chewy if kept cold, and get mushy and fall apart if left at room temp. That’s where packaged Lärabars have these beat—those are more portable.

Makes 12 bars

1 cup whole pitted dates (Medjool or Deglet Noor)
1 cup raw cashews*
1 cup unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut
Zest and juice of one whole lime (optional)

Preheat oven to 375º. Layer the raw cashews on a baking sheet, and toast in oven for 10-15 minutes, stirring once. Toast until golden brown. May sprinkle cashews with salt before toasting. Let cool.

Combine all dates, nuts, and coconut in food processor. Add lime zest and juice, if using. Pulse for a couple minutes, until the ingredients are in bits, and start to stick together. (See below.) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and transfer date mixture to pan. Push together to form a ball, then flatten into rough rectangle. Place a layer of plastic wrap on top, then continue pressing into a smoother rectangle, until about ½” thick. (See below.) Chill for 30-60 minutes. Cut into bars, and wrap each bar in plastic wrap. Store in frig to grab as needed.

*NOTE: Why toast the nuts yourself? Because most pre-roasted nuts are cooked in canola oil, and that’s not Whole30 approved. If you’re making these for a nutritious snack and not as part of Whole30 cleanse, then go ahead and purchase the roasted nuts.




Annual Review

IMG_0727Hey readers, it’s been a year since I started writing forknifespoon, and I’m curious if anyone is not seeing something they want to see posted, seeing too much of something else, or has any other (constructive) thoughts or opinions to share in order to make my blog better for you. (Other than that you want me to come make food for you in your home, Tom.) Feel free to post comments! If you’re 92.5% happy with the kinds of recipes I’ve been sharing, then let’s just say we’re all good, huh?

BTW, did anybody miss me??? I’ve had a doozy of a month, starting with an ambulance ride to ER when I woke up with back pain so bad I couldn’t move. And that’s not just a figure of speech! I really couldn’t move. I’ve been gradually healing from the disk and nerve issue that is the problem, but I had weeks where I couldn’t stand long enough to cook, or sit long enough to blog. Thus the lack of fresh posts!

And as a result of all the medical junk and crazy prescription pill popping I’ve been doing, my husband and I decided to try the Whole30 cleanse for the next 30 days. I’ll be sharing the recipes I’ve tried—and liked—and our experience as we trudge through the land of lean meats and varieties of veggies. If you’re not familiar with Whole30, it’s a plan to purge your system of all the sugars and processed foods we consume, and see if what we are ingesting might be causing internal inflammation and a host of other medical issues. So bear with me while I take a food foray into some new territory!

Here’s a funny story related to the previously mentioned ER trip, regarding the kind young men who rescued me from my home when I was in agony. Once I was finally mobile again, I called our local fire station to find out when the two guys who had helped me worked. I wanted to bring them some fresh chocolate chip cookies as a thank you. I was just going to drop the cookies with a card and run, but when I got to the station, the receptionist insisted I give the treats to them personally.

I met Jared and Matt (my new BFF’s) in the fire station hall, and sort of stammered my appreciation, and I realized as I was blubbering away that they had zero recognition of me. And why should they? I was standing upright, with hair and make-up done—not curled up in fetal position, crying from pain in my pee-soaked, ratty flannel PJ’s.

So I elaborated on what had happened, including “you had to come get me out of my bed” (a weird thing to say to two handsome young hunks…) until I finally saw the lights go on in their heads. “OH!!! Yes, I remember you. You look SO DIFFERENT!!!” one of them blurted.

Well, I certainly hope so, Jared, I certainly hope so.