Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Grilled Mediterranean Chicken and Vegetable Salad

Perfect Pairing:  Store-bought pesto

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You might think that because I have this cooking blog, and an intense love for cooking, all of my meals are exciting.  This is definitely not the case.  I eat a lot of boring meals so I can feel better about the exciting ones.  I pretty much eat the same breakfast and lunch five days a week.  I have done this for about three years.  I used to bring leftovers into work, but now I make the same shake each day for lunch.  It is really nice not having to worry about packing lunch, and it keeps the day’s calories in check.  Yes, it does get boring but it is just a habit now. 

Every once in awhile I will go out to lunch with friends for a special occasion.  Sometimes the special occasion is just needing to go out.  That is special enough for me.  We often go to Bravo! Cucina Italiana.  The food is always good, the waiters know us, and it is right across the street from our office.  I pretty much get one of two things every single time I go there.  One is a fish wrap and the other is this Mediterranean Vegetable Salad with chicken.

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Every time I had this salad at the restaurant I would think that I should try to recreate it at home.  Finally I gave it a shot and was thrilled with the results! 

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Greens are topped with roasted red peppers, grilled zucchini and asparagus, orzo, chicken, grape tomatoes, and pine nuts.  The restaurant also uses farro but I skipped that part because they didn’t have it at the store when groceries were purchased for this adventure. 

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The asparagus, zucchini, and chicken are lightly coated in olive oil, seasoned with your favorite Italian seasoning, and grilled.

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The homemade dressing is slightly sweet and has a great punch of flavor from prepared pesto.  The easiest route is to purchase some store-bought pesto.  If you are the gardening type you might just have some pesto stored in your freezer for this purpose. 

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The restaurant version has a drizzle of balsamic reduction and a sprinkle of feta on top as well.  I didn’t think it needed it, but feel free to jazz it up!

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Menu Post #1 – Huli Huli Chicken


In my year three in review post I revealed plans to start a new section on the site to featuring menu plans.  I am pretty excited about this! 

I am the official menu planner in my family for all of our get-togethers.  This is no small feat considering we once served about 400 meals in a week.  Plus, the nearest grocery store is 15 miles away.  LOTS of planning was needed. This was the menu that week.

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Since I have saved menus through the years from all kinds of gatherings I thought I would start to share them with you.  Most of the recipes will be my own, but I may point you in the direction of a different blogger or to one of my favorite publications.  I’ll provide tips on what can be done in advance, time savers, and whatever else pops into my head. 

To start off I am going to do a menu I have made multiple times.  You can see in the menu above it was on Friday during Family Week.  It is great for large groups and much of it can be done ahead of time.

Menu:  Huli Huli Chicken with Grilled Pineapple, Crunchy Asian Noodle Salad, Rosemary Dinner Rolls, and Lemon Trifle


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Huli Huli Chicken and Grilled Pineapple – This dish never gets old and it is loved by adults and children.  You can use boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs.  I like to cut the chicken breasts in half before marinating so the sauce gets over more surface area.  Make the marinade the day before and let the chicken get all tasty in there.  Make sure to reserve some of the marinade for your pineapple.  You can use fresh or make it easy on yourself and use canned rings.  Dinner prep involves grilling the chicken and pineapple. You may want to make extra chicken.  It is great leftover in sandwiches, on pizza, or as a salad topper.


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Crunchy Asian Noodle Salad – This starts off with a Suddenly Salad box mix.  Those things seem to have like two and half servings in them, right?  Well you won’t believe how it gets stretched in this recipe.  The dressing is made from the seasoning packets in the salad and the ramen noodles, some of the reserved mandarin orange juice, and some other good stuff.  My mom made this for a baby shower so she perfected how to do it all in advance.  After cooking your pasta toss it with a little olive oil to keep it from sticking and store in a plastic bag or dish.  Toast the ramen and nuts and store in an airtight container.  Chop up the green onions, cilantro, and snap peas and combine.  Mix up the dressing (all except the mandarin orange juice) in a jelly jar and refrigerate.  Then right before your meal toss the pasta, veggies, and mandarin oranges.  Add the mandarin juice to your dressing, give it a shake and pour over the salad.  Top with your crunchies and you are good to go!


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Rosemary Dinner Rolls – The key here is to remember to get your rolls defrosting early in the day.  I really prefer the longer rising method.  I have had too many flops trying to use the expedited method.  About 30 minutes before meal time melt your butter, chop your rosemary and brush on the rolls.  Then sprinkle on the salt.  Don’t skimp on the salt!  It makes the rolls.  These are so surprisingly delicious.



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Lemon Trifle – This dessert gets better after refrigerating for a bit.  Go ahead and make it the morning of your dinner and it will be perfect.  You don’t even have to think of it until people start bringing their dinner plates to the sink.

One year ago on Perfecting the Pairing: Spicy Mexican Chicken Lime Soup

Two years ago on Perfecting the Pairing: Turkey Enchiladas


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Apple Cider Sangria

Perfect Pairing:  Frozen cranberries

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Two weekends ago I went to the Food Network in Concert Festival at Ravinia.  My parents bought the tickets last May at a charity event, and I had been looking forward to it for months.  During the day there were 50+ chefs and wineries serving, and at night Phillip Phillips and John Mayer played a concert.  Win win.

I’ve been to other food festivals, so I had a pretty good idea what to expect.  This event was by far the best one I’ve ever attended.  Ravinia was an ideal venue because you never felt cramped (except for the 15 minutes of rain when everyone crowded under the tent) and you were always wondering what was around the next corner, like an Airstream speakeasy serving Don Julio Lavendar Palomas and Spicy Margaritas!

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There were a few celebrity sightings including Fabio Viviani and a handful of Food Network celebrities.  Ina Garten was not there, unfortunately.  That would have been a highlight!

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The food was incredible.  I think my favorite bite was a corn and coconut chilled chowder from Graham Elliot and a seared scallop from…. well I can’t remember where that was from.  It was amazing.  The vendors did not skimp on portion sizes or quality ingredients.  Another favorite was a healthy slice of foie gras with candied bacon and hazelnuts.  Ridiculous.

We lucked out with the weather.  It was warm,  but they predicted a 60-80% chance of showers.  We came prepared with a tarp.

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I think we had about 10 raindrops hit us and and then the rest of the day and night was ideal. 

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I am loving Fall in the Midwest this year.  We have had some beautiful summer-like days.  Over the weekend I visited my parents at the lake and enjoyed 80+ degree days.  On a whim I decided to make a fall-ish cocktail, even though it was not quite nippy outside.  This Apple Cider Sangria is a WINNER.

Chilled white wine is mixed with apple cider, brandy, fruit and cinnamon sticks. 

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The cinnamon sticks and brandy add a spicy warmth that sets this drink apart from typical sangria. 

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I threw in some frozen cranberries.  Not only do they act as little ice cubes, they also add great color.  I actually like chomping down on the cranberries, but that might not be for everyone.  You can also squeeze a few into your glass.

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Apple Cider Sangria is going to be a new fall staple!




Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Un-Recipe Files – Strawberry and Prosciutto Grilled Bread

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This is such a simple and delicious appetizer.  It received rave reviews every time I made it. 

Cut a loaf of French bread in half lengthwise.  In a small bowl mix olive oil and a good dose of salt and pepper.  Brush the seasoned oil on the cut sides of the bread and grill until lightly charred and toasty. 


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This cutting down the center thing was a revelation.  In the past when I grilled bread (like for this whipped ricotta appetizer) I cut individual pieces of bread, brushed with olive oil, and then grilled each one.  Then one time my cousin’s husband was helping me in the kitchen and did it in two large pieces.  Duh.  Why didn’t I think of that??


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After the bread is perfectly grilled slice into pieces, top with strawberry jam or preserves, and then top each piece with some prosciutto.  Of course, if you can get your hands on some homemade strawberry jam that is the best.  I’m spoiled.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Mint and Spinach Pesto Chicken Pasta

 Perfect Pairing:  The best Pandora station for cooking, dining, and chilling 

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One of my favorite summer shows is So You Think You Can Dance.  I don’t think I have missed an episode in 11 seasons.  Granted, I probably fast forward through 50% of it (the judges), but I don’t miss a dance.  I even watch my favorites a few times before it is deleted from my DVR.  I used to find a lot of new music on the show, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in recent years for some reason.  There are only a couple songs on repeat on my phone from this season, Like Real People Do by Hozier and Valerie by Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse

Valerie is not a new song, but I had a renewed love for it when I heard it on the show.  It put me in the mood for Amy Winehouse so I tried out her Pandora station.  I was obsessed.  It is a great mix of Amy, Adele, Ray Charles, Norah Jones, Temptations, Ben E. King and many others.  It is just the ticket for cooking, eating, and just hanging out with friends because it is upbeat but not exhausting.  It is my new go-to.


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Want to try out that new station while cooking?  Make Mint and Spinach Pesto Chicken Pasta!  You won’t be sorry.  It is super fresh and a nice change from standard pesto.  It is also a great dish to make if you have a thriving mint plant.


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The pesto is a mix of fresh mint and spinach (you could also use a mix of spinach and arugula), fresh parmesan, and pine nuts.  The pesto is tossed with pasta and sweet peas and then topped with grilled chicken.  Simple and delicious.




Monday, September 8, 2014

Coconut Cream Pie

Perfect Pairing:  Chilled bowl and beater

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Let me just start by saying this is not your standard coconut cream pie made with a box of pudding.  No no no, this is a very special version. 

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It is so special that people were eating it straight out of the pie plate.

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This is the kind of pie that got people talking, they were telling friends and family about it.  Ok, so maybe it was my mom telling my cousin…. But still, people were talking.

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The pre-baked crust (you should use my favorite tried and true press, no-mess crust) is filled with a homemade pastry cream then topped with freshly whipped cream and toasted coconut.  Here is a tip from my mom, chill your mixing bowl and beaters before making the whipped cream.  It will help increase the volume of the whipped cream, and it will whip faster.  Another tip?  Don’t over mix whipped cream…. It will turn to butter. 

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We found that this pie was even better the day after you make it.  I would suggest keeping it in the refrigerator for a day before serving it. 

One year ago on Perfecting the Pairing:  7-Up Biscuits

Two years ago on Perfecting the Pairing:  Zucchini Banana Chocolate Chip Walnut Bread
 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Year Three in Review


Put it in the books!  Year three of Perfecting the Pairing is complete.  It was a great year filled with (in no particular order) newly created recipes, old family favorites, meeting an amazing guy that changed my life, becoming a Zumba instructor, fun trips to Disney World, Mexico and Paris, and a zillion other things in between. 

Even though I have been cooking more than ever (it is pretty fun cooking for the man!), not everything has made it to the blog, but that is ok.    There is always next year!  

My goal for year four is to add a new section to the site about menu planning.  I received an email from a reader who asked if I would ever think about sharing menus.  I don’t know why I had not thought of that sooner!  Fortunately, I have saved a LOT of emails through the years with menus for family get-togethers, holidays, girls’ nights, date night, parties, etc.  I’m excited about this new section and I hope it is helpful!  Of course, I will continue to share my favorite new recipes, pairings, tips, and life in general.  

Thank you to ALL of my readers.  I appreciate absolutely every single view this little site gets.  Thank you, thank you!

Let’s get to the good stuff!


Top ten most viewed posts from year three


Traditional Potato Salad – This recipe has been in my family for years.  No fancy additions, just the best potato salad ever.  So happy that it made it to the #1 spot!  It deserves it.


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Huli Huli Chicken – Has to be my favorite chicken recipe.  It is perfect for a crowd and all of the work can be done in advance. 


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7-Up Biscuits – Who knew 7-Up would make fluffy biscuits?


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Spring Roll Salad – Super light, fresh, and delicious.  Try it with grilled chicken or shrimp!


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Sweet Sesame Green Beans – I kind of forgot about these…. I need to make them again!

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French Onion Soup – I didn't realize this could be so easy to make at home.

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Southwestern Chicken Slow Cooker Soup – Ridiculously simple.  Don’t forget the toppings!  Why do Fritos have to be so good?


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Sweet and Tangy Bean Dip – Another great make-ahead dish for a crowd.  It gets better each day.


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Pecan Pie Bars – If you like Pecan Pie, you will lovvvvveee these.


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Grandma Rosie’s Applesauce – Warning:  you will never want store bought applesauce again.

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While I agree with the top posts, I have to put my own two cents in for my favorites each month!

September 2013

Pesto Turkey Burgers with Goat Cheese – Just a few ingredients make these turkey burgers extra awesome.


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October 2013

Pumpkin Crisp – Kind of like apple crisp, but with pumpkin!  An awesome fall dessert I will definitely be making again.


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November 2013

Sausage and Dried Cherry Stuffing – It would simply NOT be Thanksgiving without this stuffing.  So. So. Good.


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December 2013

Kale Salad with Spiced Sweet Potatoes, Crispy Kale and Sweet Sesame Dressing – Inspired by a restaurant salad.  Use this dressing on everything!


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January 2014

Kale, Butternut Squash, and Bacon Breakfast Burritos with Spicy Chipotle Sauce – It may sound like an odd combo, but it wins at life.


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February 2014

Lemon Cream Pasta – Don’t overlook this amazing pasta dish! 


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March 2014

Oatmeal Shortbread Cookies – Easy and delicious cookies.  Change the shape and color based on the holiday!  We always have these at Christmas with red and green sugar.


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April 2014

Tuna Noodle Casserole – An updated version of the classic.  Almost makes me excited for cold weather…. Almost.


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May 2014

Grilled Chili Lime Sweet Potatoes – I love grilling my side dishes.


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June 2014

Key Lime Pie with Pretzel Studded Crust and Coconut Whipped Cream – I feel like this recipe did not get the attention it deserved!  I mean, come on, just look at the title!  It is easier than you would think to make and is just righteously good.


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July 2014

Avocado and Strawberry Toast with Feta and Honey – I have lost track of how many times I have made this.  This strange combination will never get old.


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August 2014

Grilled Pizza with Asparagus, Caramelized Onions, Hummus and Brie – Again, a strange combination but it WORKS.  Oh buddy, it works. 


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There you have it!  Year three in a nutshell!  That was fun, let’s do it again.  Xoxo







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