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Tarragon Chicken Salad (With a Cayenne Kick) – And Four Tasty Variations

January 21, 2014

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Somehow I made it to my mid-20’s without ever assembling a chicken salad. But our (now regular) Sunday lunches, an increasingly busy schedule that has forced me to think ahead about our meals, and my growing boredom with my go-to chicken recipes sent me on a quest to find a delicious and easy chicken salad recipe.

Much as I love cozy winter cooking, I’m also ready for something fresh, crunchy, and light – something to remind me that spring may actually come someday.

When I was little, Mom would make a yummy tarragon-chicken salad for luncheons and baby showers, so I knew that tarragon needed to be a key ingredient in my recipe. Last week, when I set out on my quest to find a good recipe, I quickly realized that a lot of chicken salads (Martha Stewart, Pioneer Woman, Simply Recipes) were all quite similar, with only slight variations. Apparently chicken salad is not an exact science. So enjoy this recipe, but be brave. Play around with it and make it your own!

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Tarragon Chicken Salad (with a Cayenne Kick)

2 lbs chicken breasts

2 onions

3 tbl. pepper

1 tbl. salt

1/2 cup fresh tarragon, loosely packed or 1/4 cup dried tarragon flakes

6 stalks of celery

3/4 cup of sliced or chopped almonds

1/2 cup dried cherries

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 sour cream

1 tbl. lemon juice

1 tsp cayenne pepper

Preheat the oven to 375. Slice the onions. then layer them on the bottom of a 9 x 13″ baking pan. Blend the pepper and salt together into a small bowl. Butterfly and or cut the chicken pieces to ensure that the pieces are similar and bake evenly. Pat the chicken breasts dry and rub the pepper/salt mixture into each breast until the breasts are covered generously. Place the chicken breasts on top of the onion layer. Spread the tarragon evenly on top of the chicken. Bake for 30 minutes or until chicken is slightly over-done.

While the chicken bakes, chop the celery into fine small pieces. In a large measuring glass, mix the mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper.  In a bowl, blend the celery, almonds, and cherries into the creamy mixture until the ingredients are well-mixed. 

When the chicken is done, allow it to cool completely. Chop all of the ingredients of the pan (onions and chicken) into fine pieces (about 1/4 inch square). Blend the chopped chicken and onions into the creamy mixture in the bowl. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight before serving. 

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4 Tasty Variations to Try

#1 – Replace the cherries with tart, crisp chopped apples. I did this on the second try and can attest that the apples were equally delicious.

#2 – Replace the sour cream with Greek yogurt for a healthier option.

#3 – Instead of almonds, use chopped pecans or walnuts.

#4 – Replace the tarragon with rosemary for a deeper flavor.

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Easy Perfect French Toast

January 6, 2014

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Remember last week when we brought back Sunday lunch? Well, one of the great bonuses to Sunday lunch is that you can serve fancy sugary breakfast foods and no one complains. At our last Sunday Lunch gathering, we ate a lot of salad and fruit, half of a lemon meringue pie, and some scrumptious French toast.

French toast is one of those breakfasts that is a bit deceptive . . . it looks easy when you watch an expert whip it up. But when I first made it a few years ago it turned out soggy and gooey instead of cinnamon-y, crisp, and golden-brown and I began to wonder if I was missing some kind of insider information.

It turns out that I was indeed. A few years and a lot of batches have taught me the tricks of the trade. But I’ll save you the time and provide you with a quick, classic recipe that will carry you safely past any amateur mistakes.

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Fabulous French Toast

A loaf (or half a loaf) of very dense, heavy bread. None of the sandwich bread stuff.

2 tbls butter

1 1/2 cup of milk

1 egg

A sprinkle of cinnamon

A dash of vanilla (1/4 tsp)

REAL old-fashioned maple syrup, like this

Powdered sugar

Thinly sliced strawberries

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Slice the bread into thick slices, about 3/4 inch each. Select a large frying pan or panini pan. Turn the stove on to a medium-low flame and allow the butter to melt and spread over the pan while you whisk the egg, milk, cinnamon, and vanilla together in a bowl. When the pan is warm and the pan surface is thoroughly buttered, douse a piece of sliced bread into the milk-and-egg mixture and place it on the pan. Repeat until the pan surface is covered in bread slices. Turn the flame up to a strong medium.

Sear each side of each bread slice until the bread is a deep golden brown. Arrange on plates and sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. Top with sliced strawberries.

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For expert tips on your next Sunday Lunch of French Toast, check out the following:

7 Most Common French Toast Mistakes from Bon Appetit

4 Tips from Mountain Mama

And a multitude of varieties from Food52.

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How To Host A Simple Sunday Lunch.

January 3, 2014

   

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Remember that part on the 2014 bucket list about starting a new tradition? One of my goals this year is to start a few. Sunday Lunch is our first foray into Household-Tradition-Setting.

Sunday Lunch is a sacred tradition in the South, where I went to college. When I was in school, after church services, we would pile into cars and head to the house of some kind couple who had taken pity on the poor cafeteria-fed home-starved college students in the congregation and generously opened their doors. If pity and open doors were short that Sunday, we would head to McAlister’s Deli for soup and absurd quantities of sweet tea.

Fast-forward a few years. I moved to D.C. and starting attending a church that only met in the evenings and promptly forgot about Sunday lunches, those glamorous, relaxed affairs that were now only a vague memory. And then suddenly, things changed again. Mark and I found ourselves once again at a morning service. Home by 12:30, we would bask in the luxury of a long Sunday afternoon with no place to be. And suddenly one day it occurred to me. “Sunday Lunch! We can bring it back!”

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And so we squeezed 8 people around our dining room table one Sunday and ate eggs and sausage and mimosas and cupcakes. It’s now officially my favorite way to have people over. It is low-stress because I don’t have time to fret or plan before people show up at our house immediately after church. It is less frantic than dinner because it is the middle of the day and nobody is actually dying of hunger.

It is relaxed because it’s Sunday afternoon and nobody has anywhere else to be. It gives me lots of room to be creative since there aren’t a lot of rules about what one can and can’t eat for a weekend lunch (carrot cake cupcakes, anyone?). Our Sunday lunch have been fun and cozy and full of ridiculous stories and lots of laughter. And now it’s a thing. Sunday Lunch is back.

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Here’s some tips for hosting your own glamorous, relaxed Sunday lunch.

1.The goal of this endeavor is low stress. Relax. Nobody expects your house to be perfect on a weekend. They all know you were at church before lunch, not slaving in the kitchen. Your guests don’t expect a Baked Alaska or some complex homemade pastry. (True story: last weekend I fed my lunch guests half of a leftover lemon meringue pie. It was utterly consumed and nobody complained.)

2. Serve breakfast foods. Sausage, eggs, rolls . . these can be cooked and re-warmed quickly while you’re chatting and distracted. The cooking of eggs and sausage can also be easily delegated.

3. Share the love. Be willing to ask friends to contribute. Your guests will be happy to participate by bringing the fruit or the juice and your life will be easier.

4. Simplicity is the key to success. It’s lunch, not a 7-day feast. Don’t try to create 10 complicated courses. A simple salad, generous fruit, some yummy bread, some version of eggs, and cookies for dessert will set you up for success.

5. Make whatever you can ahead of time. I normally make the dessert on Saturday afternoon or evening. I also try to prepare the salad before we head out the door to church. If you are especially ambitious, cinnamon rolls or coffee-cake can easily be made Saturday evening and re-heated at lunch-time.

6. Delegate. As guests arrive, ask one to scramble the eggs (everyone is better at scrambling eggs than me anyway). Ask someone to set the table and someone else to toss the salad. Everyone will have fun assembling the meal together in the kitchen.

7. If you are limited on space or unless you have a lot of extra help, limit your numbers. Our table size limits us to between 2 and 6 guests in addition to Mark and me. Ask a few friends or two other couples over at a time. The small number of guests will make the atmosphere cozy. The beauty of Sunday Lunch is in the simplicity and ease. If a lot of guests stress you out, don’t feel guilty about limiting your numbers. It’s far better to host 2 people every weekend than to try to host 15 people one week while totally overwhelming yourself out of ever hosting Sunday lunch again.

8. Enjoy the process. At Sunday Lunch, half of the joy is in setting up and cooking together. Enjoy simply being together and don’t worry about rushing . . . . the afternoon is before you!

Be bold. Bring your own Sunday Lunch back. You won’t regret it.

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Here is a list of a few recipes to get you started as you plan your first Sunday lunch:

Craving some more inspiration for new family traditions? Sally Clarkson’s The Life-Giving Home and Dinner: A Love Story are both full of ideas for home traditions.

Curious about how simplicity and celebration can be part of your home? Send me an email! There are few things I love talking about more. 

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Everyday Balsamic and Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette

September 16, 2013

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Mark and I eat a lot of salads. Chicken salads, pasta salads, kale salads, salads with nuts . . . the list goes on and on. Yes, I try to eat a lot of vegetables just because it’s good for you but I also am continually amazed at the multitude of lovely dishes that can be created from fresh vegetables! Salads can really be as diverse as the world’s array of produce.

We get a crop share each week and so I frequently have some new unusual vegetable to try out. Although I like to try making new dressings and vinaigrettes also, I (probably too often) fall back onto my trusty Balsamic-and-Dijon-Mustard vinaigrette. It adds the perfect touch of tangy freshness to any salad. I even use it on pasta salads. It also takes about 3.5 minutes to make, which is a nice perk when you are trying to prepare a healthy fresh meal on a busy weekday.

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Balsamaic and Dijon Mustard Vinaigrette

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tbl. balsamic vinegar

l tbl. Dijon Mustard

1/4 tsp of sugar

Combine ingredients in a working glass or small measuring cup and whisk briskly. Refrigerate until use. Add to a green salad immediately before serving. Add to a pasta salad 30 minutes before serving and allow ingredients to marinate. This recipe provides a light dressing for a salad for 4 people. If more is needed, simply double it. This vinaigrette can be prepared several days ahead of time. Simply re-whisk before use.

 

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