Lilacs, Spring Salads, and Grilling!

This past Saturday we celebrated spring’s sunny and warm weather with a 15-mile bike ride to explore some neighborhoods around Seattle (our first bike ride since moving here nearly 8 months ago!) I gripped my handlebars until my hands ached as we tore down sloping hills and I lost my breath crawling up the steep climbs that made for breath-taking views when you turned around. The Seattle winter may be pretty depressing with all of the rain and darkness, but the spring certainly makes up for it.

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After dragging our aching bodies through the rest of the afternoon, we had our friends, Zack and Kelly, over for a casual Saturday night dinner. They brought us lilacs picked fresh from their backyard and a jug of fermented apple juice cider that they’d been brewing in their house.The smell of the lilacs reminded me of the lilac bush we had in our backyard growing up and the posed pictures my sisters and I would take, each of us leaning in to smell the lilacs while smiling blissfully.

With the coming of summer and the spring hues beckoning us to spend more time outdoors, I find the need for easy, delicious, and no cook (or minimal cooking) meals: salads that can wait for us in the fridge when we’re ready to come inside from a long day in the sun and food that doesn’t weigh us down more than the heat already may. I’m trying to amass a salad recipe collection that I can turn to in times of spring and summer need, but I still have a long way to go. Some of my favorites:

Summer Pasta Salad with Roasted Veggies (what we had with Zack and Kelly) – this recipe works great with summer vegetables, though ideally you would grill the veggies to save turning on the oven.

Chickpea and Couscous Salad (I make it with regular couscous or make it with quinoa!) – extra cumin, extra chickpeas!

Marrakesh Carrot Salad (my new favorite) – texture and flavor heaven; the perfect combination of sweet (from the dates), salty (feta), crunchy (pistachios), and soft.

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With warmer weather also comes the season for grilling! I have never been a grill master, but that is partly due to my lack of practice, having rarely used a grill. Since living in apartments we have not had our own outdoor space, which makes it tough to own a grill. Thanks to the shared rooftop deck at our current place (and shared grills), I have taken advantage of the warm weather and have grilled twice with great success!

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I started out by pounding my chicken breasts, both to tenderize and to ensure they were all an even thickness. If you have a thick center and thinner outsides, you’re going to burn or dry the outer parts before the inside is cooked. Afterward I marinated them for about an hour in a simple lemon, rosemary, and olive oil marinade. Marinading adds both flavor and tenderness to chicken breasts.

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After a short time in the marinade, I gathered my tools and fired up the grill. The results – juicy, flavorful, and something to be proud of.

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Lemon-Rosemary Grilled Chicken

juice and zest of one lemon

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1/2 cup olive oil

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

2.5 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts

Mix the ingredients for your marinade and set aside. Meanwhile using a meat mallet and a non-slip cutting board, pound each chicken breast under a sheet of plastic wrap until an even thickness. Be careful not to pound it so much that it rips apart.

Place chicken in a 9×13 glass dish and pour the marinade over tipping the pan or using a spoon to make sure it spreads over every piece. Cover and refrigerate for one hour.

Remove the chicken from the fridge and begin heating your grill to medium (about 350 degrees). Once the grill is beginning to heat up, oil your grill with a brush or a paper towel dipped in oil (use tongs to apply the paper towel). Carefully lay each piece of chicken on the grill and close the lid. Cook for five minutes. Flip the chicken and cook another 3-5 minutes, until at least 165 degrees in the middle. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes before slicing to allow the juices to redistribute in the meat.

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Slice and serve hot or cold atop your favorite bed of greens or another side salad. Happy grilling!

Post 99 – Warm Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Bacon

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I like solving problems. Like too many lentils problems. Or extra fresh rosemary from a previous recipe problems. Or what do you make for dinner that sounds delicious and enticing problems. These are the kinds of problems one is willing to face when one cooks for a living. I do love to cook, believe me, but it’s also nice to take a break from it sometimes. Then when I do come back to it, I can have the energy for creativity. I admittedly don’t get a lot of breaks from cooking between my main job, my side job, and my home job (plus I just started a cooking club at school once a week so there you go), so when I get a good solid 16-24 hour period off that’s good enough for me. That and the smell of a neighbor’s bacon cooking as I walked to the train yesterday was enough to inspire last night’s warm lentil salad.

Caviar or lentils?

Caviar or lentils?

I get a certain satisfaction from using things up (have I mentioned this before?) and so when making my grocery list I often try and plan around what ingredients we have in our fridge or cabinets that have been taking up space for too long. When something is nearing the end of its life, it’s time to use it up! When a non-perishable has been getting pushed to the back of the cabinet, it’s time to use it up! So with (some of) the remaining fresh rosemary from my sweet potato salad (which I will also be making again) and the lentils and the last of the red wine vinegar (satisfactory sigh) I made this lentil salad.

So let’s get started. This is not a hands-off recipe, but you can make a big batch of it and then eat the leftovers for a few days. Start by cooking your lentils while you roast some peppers and garlic (garlic not pictured).

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Fry up some bacon (and save the fat!)

New grill press on the bacon - Bobby Flay!  (this post is not sponsored by Bobby Flay)

New grill press on the bacon – Bobby Flay! (this post is not sponsored by Bobby Flay)

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The finished roasted red peppers:

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Break out the colors to brighten up your winter. Fresh rosemary green (why is that not a common color)! Golden roasted garlic! Ruby red peppers! (And some stray bacon bits)

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Add some goat cheese for a little tang and voila! This could almost be a Christmas salad with those colors!

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Warm Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese and Bacon

inspired by Causing A Stir

1.5 cups small lentils, rinsed

1 medium carrot, diced (optional)

1 bay leaf

1/2 tsp. salt

6-8 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled

2 oz. soft goat cheese

1 red bell pepper

3 T. chopped fresh rosemary

2 T. red wine vinegar

3-4 T. olive oil, plus additional for roasted the pepper and garlic

3-4 cloves of roasted garlic (see recipe for preparation)

Combine the lentils, carrot, bay leaf, salt, and 5 cups of water in a medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Turn down to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes or until lentils are tender while still holding their shape.

Meanwhile prepare your garlic and red pepper. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a rimmed sheet pan with parchment. Wash your pepper, cut in half, and remove the seeds. Place flat side down on your sheet pan and rub lightly with olive oil. Take a head of garlic and place in a small square of foil big enough to wrap around it. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, wrap in the foil and place on the sheet with the pepper. Roast the red pepper and garlic at 425 for 30-45 minutes until the pepper begins to blacken and the garlic feels soft when lightly squeezed or when the garlic is pierced easily with a knife.

While those are roasted cook, cool, and crumble your bacon.

When the lentils have finished cooking, remove the bay leaf and carefully drain the excess water in a fine colander, shaking off as much water as you can. Remove the lentils to a large bowl as you prepare the other ingredients. Add the red wine vinegar, 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil (to your taste), fresh rosemary, and crumbled bacon.

When the red pepper and garlic have finished cooking, let cool until you can handle them comfortably – 10 minutes or so. Carefully peel the skin from the red pepper (as much as possible) and dice the pepper. Cut off the bottom of the garlic head and remove a few cloves. Holding a clove at the more pointy end, carefully squeeze the roasted garlic from its skin. Mash and add that and the diced red pepper to the lentil mixture. Drop the goat cheese onto the lentil salad in small dollops. Carefully fold in the goat cheese into the salad, taste to adjust the seasonings and serve. Add more salt, pepper, vinegar, or oil as desired. Serve and enjoy!

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