Monthly Archives: July 2012

Spicy Chicken Meatballs & Raw Kale Salad

It never ceases to amaze me how the brain can juggle two seemingly opposing emotions at once. A huge part of me is so excited about the fact that in six short days my sweetheart and I’ll be cohabitating in our cozy new apartment in Lincoln Park.

And yet another part of me is deeply sentimental about wrapping up this chapter of my life as a single 20-something living alone in her Lakeview apartment. As cheesy as it sounds I feel like I’ve become myself in this apartment over the past two years. Living alone has been the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. The experiences and lessons I’ve gained about taking care of my own health and happiness are priceless. And I know it’s these experiences and lessons that have brought me to a place where I’m ready and wanting to share a home with my guy.

I’m sorry if they look like boobs. Perhaps not the classiest goodbye I was looking for from my kitchen.

When I think about the many ways in which this apartment has helped shape me they always lead back to my tiny kitchen. I believe our passions help define who we are. Read no further than a post or two on this blog and you’ll see my passions are simple: writing, cooking, and yoga. While writing and yoga have been by my side for years cooking is a relative newcomer to my internal matrix. Yet the way it has transformed my life in the past two years is really remarkable.

When I consider the different thoughts that occupy my mind space on a day-to-day basis, food was barely a speck on my radar just a few dozen months ago. It was a means of survival, pleasure, and connection, but I only thought about food when I was around it. Now, I think about cooking nearly on a moment-to-moment basis. And if our thoughts help shape who we are, too, then the number of brain cells now devoted to food means I’ve changed as a person as well.

Yet food and cooking have changed me on a much deeper level than that: It’s how I care for others. It’s a language that allows me say things words cannot. This is above all the most transformational piece to come out of the hours I’ve spent in my apartment’s galley kitchen. Most of the time I’m propelled into that space not only in search of the simple joy cooking brings me or the peace I feel when lost in the flow, but also because it’s an opportunity to speak from my heart. For this, I’m humbled and grateful.

The final meal to come out of my kitchen and onto the blog is a simple one, yet perfectly represents my journey in so many ways. The chicken meatballs are packed with protein while the raw kale salad is brimming with countless nutrients. Just as I use food to care for others I use it to nourish and show myself love, too. What better way to do just that than with this hearty, healthy dinner during such a hectic time in my life? (Did I mention I’m simultaneously moving and editing a book manuscript— both happening/due on the same day?) The meatballs are also my very first 100 percent original recipe. Only weeks ago I was lamenting how I wasn’t ready to remove the recipe-less training wheels, but it finally and successfully happened.

I’ve also discovered that as my cooking skills have expanded so have my tastes. The meatball recipe involves an ingredient you’d never have seen me use two years ago: hot sauce. Thanks to a guy who puts the stuff on nearly every food imaginable I’ve learned to appreciate the unique kick. I found a way to work it into this recipe as a nod to my newfound tolerance for heat and the fact that I’ll be seeing a lot more of it in my near future.

The kale salad is a nod to a food I love and eat so often, but in a preparation I’ve never tried before. When the warm summer weather keeps you away from your oven try this method: simply massage the dressing (yes I said massage the dressing) into the leaves and allow it to sit for 15 minutes or longer so the kale becomes tender enough to eat. Top with avocado chunks because avocado makes everything better.

Thank you so much for reading my blog. It means so much to me and gives me even more purpose for chasing my passion in the kitchen. I always come out of it with much more than dinner. It may be a week or two before I’m able to post again. We’re taking a short vacation the day after we move, but as soon as I dig out my knives and a pot or two I’ll be cooking again in my new (non-galley, gas-stove) kitchen. Except this time, happily, it’ll be for two.

Spicy Chicken Meatballs
Makes about 15 meatballs

.75 lb ground chicken breast
2 green onions, white and light green parts, chopped
¼ cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp hot sauce (such as Sriracha) plus extra for topping
1 egg

Preheat oven to 450. In a large bowl, combine ground chicken, green onions, breadcrumbs, and hot sauce. In a separate small bowl beat egg and add to chicken mixture. Use your hand to combine all ingredients.

Spray a 9×13 glass baking dish with cooking spray (you can also use a baking sheet). Taking one heaping Tbsp of chicken mixture at a time, shape into meatballs and place into baking dish. Cook for 15 minutes. When done cooking, top each meatball with one squeeze of hot sauce. Serve hot or room temperature.

Raw Red Kale Salad

1 bunch red kale (or any kind), ribs removed & leaves cut into bite-sized pieces
Juice of one lemon
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp walnut oil (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1 avocado, cut into chunks

Prepare kale and use a lettuce spinner to remove any remaining water. The drier the leaves the better the dressing will adhere to them. Place kale in a large bowl.

Combine remaining ingredients in a separate small bowl and whisk until combined. Pour dressing onto kale. Use your hands to massage the dressing into the leaves. Allow kale to sit for 15-20 minutes so dressing can soften the leaves.

Add avocado before serving.

Mediterranean Orzo Salad

There’s a part of me that wants to jump up and down because I finally created my own recipe! But there’s another part of me that reminds myself that for countless years before I learned (or was even interested in) how to cook all I made were salads. (Don’t worry, I ate other stuff, too.) So if there’s one thing I really know how to make it’s a salad. (I did, however, create my very own non-salad recipe this week that I’m over-the-moon pumped about and plan to recreate and photograph very soon. I had no clue it would be a success when I made it, but if you like spicy foods get excited!)

This whole-wheat orzo salad is the third and final recipe from our Mediterranean picnic. And I must say it was pretty darn tasty. I packed it with lots of fresh veggies: red and yellow bell peppers, cucumber, red onion, arugula, olives, and artichoke hearts as well as fresh basil and mint, which also appeared in the Chickpea Salad. On a whim, I tossed some sliced salami in there and it’s no surprise that it totally stole the show. Kind of like how bacon does in everything. I may or may not have fished out individual salami pieces from the leftovers while standing with the refrigerator door open. True story.

When it comes to the dressing, I have to apologize because my measurements are estimates. I can’t believe I’m becoming one of those people who doesn’t measure! Those people drive me crazy! I’ll try to keep the habit to a minimum around here. Just taste as you go (I dipped pieces of arugula into the dressing to taste it) and tweak however you see fit.

Mediterranean Orzo Salad
Serves: A lot (about 8-10 servings)

For the salad:
12 oz whole wheat orzo pasta
1 Persian/hothouse cucumber, seeded and diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 can artichoke hearts, rinsed and sliced thinly
1 can pitted green olives, rinsed and sliced thinly
12 oz package salami, each piece thinly sliced (I stacked and sliced several at a time)
1/2 bag of arugula
About 6 fresh mint leaves, chopped
About 4-6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste (use plenty of freshly ground black pepper)

For the dressing:
2 Tbsp jarred minced garlic
2 Tbsp dijon mustard
Juice of 2 lemons
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
Salt & pepper to taste

Cook orzo according to package directions. Drain.

Combine orzo in a large bowl with the rest of the salad ingredients. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil and stir to keep pasta from sticking to other ingredients.

Combine dressing ingredients in a bowl and whisk until combined. Add all of it to salad. Toss to combine. If you need more dressing, add additional fresh lemon juice and olive oil and toss to coat.

Butterscotch Brownies

Butter. Brown sugar. Coconut.

These are the reasons I’m skipping over the second main course I made for our picnic (for now) and heading straight for dessert. I just can’t wait another day to share these butterscotch brownies with you. In fact, I’ve mentioned them on the blog more than once before –  here and here – but never posted the recipe. Today I’m finally living up to my promise. You can thank me later : )

There just aren’t enough adjectives in the English language to appropriately describe how I feel about these brownies. But take a closer look and you can see for yourself how they nail that combination of slight crispness on the outside–just enough to sink your teeth into–and utter chewy heaven on the inside. They’re enough to give even the world’s greatest chocolate lovers pause. And you know that perfect balance of salty and sweet? Nailed it.

While I realize they didn’t exactly fit with my Mediterranean picnic theme, they make an ideal picnic dessert: Easy to make, non-melting, and easy to transport. So, clearly, I made an exception.

Thank. Goodness.

Butterscotch Brownies

2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup sweetened coconut

Preheat oven to 250. Grease and flour a 9 x 13 pan.

Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together in a bowl. Slowly add to the mixture in two to three additions. Stir in coconut. Pour into pan. Bake 20-25 minutes. This is key: Cut brownies while still warm. Allow them to cool completely in the pan before removing.

Source: My Mom

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad

In psychology, there’s a mental state known as flow. You’ve probably experienced it before. Flow occurs when you’re completely immersed in the moment, your mind and body are engaged on the same task, and you lose all sense of time. As a yogi, you’d think this would be a familiar state for me, but that’s not always the case. In yoga, I’m often so focused on my alignment and movements–making minor adjustments as I transition from one pose to the next–that it’s difficult to let myself go completely. But recently, I’ve been able to find my flow with increasing regularity while cooking in the kitchen. This dish is a perfect example.

This weekend Robert and I joined friends for picnics at Ravinia (an outdoor concert venue just outside of Chicago), both Friday and Saturday night. I decided to make one big picnic to last throughout the weekend. Not to get all Martha Stewart on you here (trust me, I’m the furthest thing from Ms. Stewart), but I like to choose a theme for my picnics to help me narrow down my food choices and ensure they’ll go together. (Otherwise who knows what will happen!) While talking to my mom last week, she reminded me that last year I made a French-themed picnic and then Robert and I went to France earlier this year. “So choose where you want to go next,” she joked. Done: The Mediterranean. Greece, Spain, Italy–I’m not picky. From there, the pieces fell into place and I spent one night late last week simultaneously putting together several items for the picnic including this chickpea salad (more recipes to come this week).

The thing is, I don’t remember making it. (And no, I wasn’t drinking : ) ) I know it sounds bizarre, but that’s how I know I was in the flow. Juggling different recipes at the same time and allowing myself to focus fully on what I was doing meant the experience imprinted in my mind more as a feeling of fluidity than a distinct memory. The cool thing about flow is the more skilled you become at performing a certain task (such as playing an instrument or running) the easier it becomes to find your flow. I still have so much to learn when it comes to cooking, but it’s really neat to notice how in just two years I’ve gone from being clunky and awkward in the kitchen to perhaps a little graceful at times. Sure, there are still plenty of spilled things, the occasional (small) fire, and full-out flops. But when the stars align and I put all of my attention on what I’m doing, the success of the experience can be even more fulfilling than the final product. (Although this recipe did not disappoint.)

Although I may not remember chopping the mint or slicing the scallions, I definitely remember eating this light, yet satisfying salad at our picnics. I’d also suggest making it as a great summertime lunch–especially with the fresh parsley, mint and basil–or served alongside some lemony grilled fish.

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad

8-10 scallions, white and green parts, sliced thinly
1 pound grape or cherry tomatoes, diced
1 hothouse or Persian cucumber, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 can (12 to 16 oz) of chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Juice of 4 lemons
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper
Feta cheese

Combine the scallions, tomatoes, cucumber, chickpeas, parsley, mint, and basil in a large bowl and toss.

Whisk together the lemon juice, garlic, and olive oil in a bowl. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste and sprinkle with feta. Serve with pita chips.

Source: Barefoot Contessa How Easy is That? 

Vegan Protein Bowl with Tahini-Lemon Dressing

Remember the post where I admitted sometimes I don’t feel like cooking? Well, the truth is the week I wrote that post I didn’t feel like doing anything. I didn’t even go to yoga for eight. days. straight. For whatever reason (primarily the 700-degree weather) I could barely muster the energy to do much else besides a daily bed-desk-couch routine. I was spent. The good news is I’ve been on this planet, as me, for long enough to know the feeling would eventually pass. So I allowed myself to give into the fatigue and didn’t ask any more of myself than I knew I could offer. And, sure enough, in time the sluggishness wore off and I started to feel like Paige again.

This helps explain why, in the past week, all I’ve wanted to do is cook. My mind is racing with recipes and I’ve been to Whole Foods so many times in the last five days I should’ve earned some frequent flier miles or at least a free bunch of garlic scrapes by now*. What have I been making? Since Friday I made these chicken drumsticks. I created a healthy pumpkin soup recipe for a Fall publication and tested it (more on that when I’m able to post it). I cold-brewed iced coffee. I made a giant fruit salad. And I made this bowl of goodness.

Yesterday, I felt like I constantly bounced between my computer and my kitchen making this salad. Whenever I’d have a little gap of time between doing phone interviews for stories I’m writing I’d steam, chop, or blend something. At least this week, the kitchen has truly been my happy place. I’ve also been going to yoga every day.

To keep me feeling happy and energized, I’ve got this fabulous salad of health sitting in my fridge. When attempting to describe it, I think the best place to start is with the ingredients. I realize it’s a long list, to be sure, but it makes a lot of salad and I plan on eating it for lunch for all of eternity. Or at least until Thursday. So here it goes. Ready? OK!

  • Lentils
  • Wheatberries
  • Steamed lacinato kale
  • Chopped red onion
  • Chopped green onion
  • Chopped red pepper
  • Chopped cucumber
  • Shaved carrot
  • Diced grape tomatoes
  • Fresh parsley

Whew! I love how the salad has the perfect balance between cooked (lentils, wheatberries, and kale) and uncooked (red onion through parsley) ingredients. And, one of the wonderful things about the tahini dressing is it’s creamy enough to meld all of the salad’s flavors together while being light enough to stay summer friendly. I suggest adding all of the dressing to the salad when you make it even if you’ll be eating the leftovers throughout the week. The ingredients are firm enough that they won’t wilt under the dressing and the salad actually tastes even better the longer everything has been hanging out together. As for the salad being vegan? That was just an accident. Toss some shredded chicken or cheese in there and call it whatever you want : )

Vegan Protein Bowl

1 cup uncooked green lentils
1 cup uncooked hard (sometimes called “winter”) wheatberries
1 bunch lacinato kale, ribs removed, leaves cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 to 3/4 red onion, chopped
3 green onions, chopped (white parts only)
1 red pepper, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and grated
8-10 grape tomatoes, diced
3/4 cup bunch fresh parsley, minced
1 lemon
Salt & pepper

NOTE: The wheatberries and lentils don’t need to be soaked before cooking. 

To cook wheatberries: Bring 3 cups of water to boil in a saucepan. Add 1 cup uncooked wheatberries and cook, uncovered, over low heat for about 45 minutes until soft. Drain.

To cook lentils: Bring 4 cups of water to boil in a saucepan. Add 1 cup uncooked lentils. Simmer with lid tilted for about 20 minutes until done (for the salad you still want them to be a little firm and not completely soft). Drain.

To steam kale: In a wide pan, bring 1 inch water to boil. Add kale, cover, and cook until kale wilts about 3-5 minutes. Drain.

For the salad: Combine wheatberries, lentils, kale, red onion, green onion, red pepper, carrot, tomatoes, and parsley in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Add zest of about 1/2 of a lemon.

Tahini-Lemon Dressing
(Makes just under 1 cup)

1/4 cup Tainhi
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Juice of 2 lemons
1 Tbsp Bragg’s amino acids (optional)
4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
3 Tbsp water

Combine ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Add additional water or lemon juice to thin dressing to desired consistency.

Pour dressing onto salad and use tongs to combine evenly. Taste and add more salt, pepper, parsley, or lemon zest as desired.

Source: Adapted from Oh She Glows

*I’ve never actually purchased or cooked with garlic scrapes before.

Barefoot Contessa Lemon Bars

If we’re friends on Facebook or you follow me on Instagram (@pngpics) you may remember this picture I posted of lemons on the Fourth of July with the caption, “What became of all of those lemons?  The answer…coming soon.”

But the answer never came. I absentmindedly got caught up in the day baking, surviving the 100-degree plus heat, enjoying a wonderful BBQ with friends, watching fireworks, and trying to figure out whether it was Wednesday or Sunday. As a result, I totally forgot to snap a picture of the answer: These delicious lemon bars.

Then, on Sunday (actual Sunday, not middle-of-the-week Sunday) my friend Stefanie (who hosted the awesome, Pin-worthy BBQ that I brought these to) sent me the sweetest e-mail with the photo above of the lemon bars because she saw I forgot to take a picture. That’s a great friend, folks. Not only that, but it’s now officially the best photo that has ever appeared on this blog. Thank you so much, Stef. That was so incredibly thoughtful : )

I’m still not sure what drove me to make these lemon bars (except, of course, the abundance of lemons leftover from these lemon sugar cookies). I’m not even sure I’ve ever had more than a bite of a lemon bar in my life. My Grammy used to make them for my Dad whenever my family would visit my grandparents in Ocean City, Maryland, but I always skipped the lemon bars and went straight for the frozen chocolate chip cookies. But when lying in bed the morning of the 4th, pondering the fate of my stockpile of lemons, this was the answer that came to mind. A quick Google search on my iPad landed me on a Barefoot Contessa recipe. Since Ina can do no wrong it was pretty much a done deal. I just had to get out of bed.

Since my lemon bar eating history is extremely limited, I’m far from the lemon bar expert. Still, I think I know what makes this recipe work: The ratio of crust to custard. It’s just shy of 50:50, which means the light, buttery crust balances out the denser, sour-sweet filling in every single bite. When I took the crust out of the oven at 15 minutes, just as the recipe suggests, I contemplated putting it in for another five because there was one barely noticeable area that had started to brown. But something held me back and I’m so grateful whatever it was (divine Grammy intervention?) did. The crust remained so light it practically melted on the tongue followed quickly by the bright, smooth filling.

If you’re looking for a crowd-pleasing dessert this recipe is a surefire winner. And, speaking from experience, remember to take some leftover bars home with you so they’ll be there when you wish you had a bite the next day : )

Find the Barefoot Contessa Lemon Bar recipe here.

Thanks again, Stefanie, for hosting an incredible BBQ and for making this post possible!

Grilled Citrus-Soy Chicken Drumsticks

Have you tasted dark meat chicken lately? I’m ashamed to confess I’m one of those people who usually avoids dark meat because it’s higher in saturated fat than white. But after last night’s dinner I realize just how much I’ve been cheating my taste buds. Not only that, but dark meat contains a handful of nutrients in much larger quantities than are found in the breast including several B vitamins, zinc, and heart-healthy taurine. (I learned this recently for a magazine story I’m writing, which inspired me to pick up drumsticks at Whole Foods in the first place.) What this means: Just like everything else you put on your plate, variety and moderation are key when it comes to the poultry you choose. Good thing because tossing some drumsticks, thighs, and wings into the mix can really break up chicken-breast monotony and, let’s face it, taste so much better, too. They actually taste like chicken!

In general, I’m not a fan of store-bought marinades. If you look at the ingredient label they often contain things you don’t need such as artificial coloring, MSG, heaps of sugar and salt, and odd ingredients like xanthan gum (I still have no idea what that is). Of course when you make your own, which only takes a few minutes, you know exactly what goes in there and thus what you’re putting into your body. (Clearly I’m on my nutritional soapbox today. We’ll just go with it for now, okay? I’ll make some homemade ice cream or butterscotch brownies after yoga later and gracefully step back down. It’s all about balance, right?) Anyhoo, I like to experiment with different homemade marinades and what I’ve found is that it’s pretty difficult to mess them up (even for me). If you combine flavors you know you enjoy there’s a very good chance you’ll be happy with the result.

This marinade is no exception. Originally, I planned to follow a recipe for one from Cooking Lightbut I soon found myself adjusting quantities, skipping certain ingredients (basil oil…wtf?) and adding others (Sriracha!) The result was a citrus-y, soy, and ever-so-slightly spicy flavor that had me tearing through the skin cavewoman-style. Served alongside grilled asparagus and corn on the cob it was pretty much my idea of summer on a plate.

Grilled Citrus-Soy Chicken Drumsticks

8 oz 100% orange juice
Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 Tbsp)
1 1/2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp bottled chopped garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1/4 tsp hot chili oil
2 Tbsp Sriracha (add more for additional heat)
Salt & pepper
8 chicken drumsticks

Add marinade ingredients (orange juice through salt & pepper) in a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Pour into zip-top bag. Add drumsticks. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to 12. Turn bag occasionally to coat chicken evenly.

Heat a grill to medium and lightly coat grates with cooking spray. Grill chicken for 30 minutes or until done, turning about every five minutes to prevent burning. Remove from heat and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes before serving.