Chicken Roulade

The truth is, I’ve been wanting to tell you about this chicken roulade recipe for over a week now—ever since last Tuesday, when I pulled chicken out of the fridge and wondered what to make for dinner. I’d gone through all the usual options in my mind, things I’ve had before, things I’ve made, but nothing sounded like it would be worth the high price tag of the Amish, antibiotic-free poultry I’ve been buying, nothing until this beautiful, impressive chicken roulade.

sauteeing nuts and cranberries

Chicken roulade, if you’ve never heard of it, is essentially rolled chicken: the meat gets pounded and flattened into a large surface area; topped with cheese and a filling made of greens, onions, dried fruit, and nuts; rolled tightly; tied up with string; browned and baked. When it’s finished, you slice the bundled breasts into slices stuffed with flavor and color, and it’s the kind of thing that makes you go wow.

chicken roulade filling

This version comes from the lovely Angela of Spinach Tiger: she’d posted it as an idea for a spring picnic back in April; I’m posting it as a weeknight dinner in December. That’s what’s great about this dish: it’s versatile. Not only is it timely year-round, but it’s also adaptable to the ingredients you like and/or have on hand, whether type of greens, nuts, dried fruit, or cheese.

browning chicken bundles

As for why it’s taken me more than a week to post here, all I can say is I’m sorry. I could say I’ve been busy, but then so are you, and you’re reading this. I could say it’s the holidays, but truthfully my family’s Christmas is pretty low-key. So the best explanation I can give you is the same one I’m always giving, it seems: I didn’t know what to say.

chicken roulade unsliced

I keep wanting to tell you about how things are going around here, I mean beyond chicken roulade for dinner, but the words just don’t come. Do you ever feel like that? Like you’re full of stories but speechless? Sometimes you just have to wait it out. But sometimes, in blogging at least, when you’ve already posted the series of photos to Flickr and already typed up the adapted recipe and then still have nothing else beyond that, you just admit it.

chicken roulade sliced

So it’s like this: If we were on the phone today, you and me, or sitting across a table, or pounding some chicken breasts together while we worked on dinner, this is what I’d tell you: right now, even as we do this, there are a lot of things I’m trying not to think about, things like worry and doubt that I feel like I fight more often lately. And I’d say there are other things, things like these, which I’m repeating to myself over and over again. I’d say I’m, as always, overwhelmed by good gifts, don’t misunderstand, but hey, how about you talk for a while? And you could do me the favor of telling me about your day and what you’re doing for Christmas and how much you’ve whittled down on your shopping list. We could also make roasted carrots—baked for about an hour with coconut oil and drizzles of maple syrup—and maybe a salad loaded with vegetables.

chicken roulade and roasted carrots

And then, when we were done, I’d say, let’s eat.

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Chicken Waldorf Salad Wraps

chicken waldorf salad wraps

These wraps, which I’ve had for lunch for the last three days, illustrate one of the best parts of working from home. Because, are you ready? When you call your kitchen table your office, this is what happens: you pull open your Google Reader on a casual Tuesday afternoon, see a recipe you’d like to try and, instead of just bookmarking it for later, you walk to the kitchen right that moment, pull out ingredients and, in minutes, see exactly what it tastes like.

chicken waldorf salad

Like I said though, that’s just one of the best parts of working from home, and since a couple of you have been wanting an update on the self-employment situation anyway, it’s probably time I told you about some of the other benefits.

First of all: It’s been almost five months, can you believe that? Five months since I set my alarm for the same time every morning. Five months since I said, Oh, I can’t; I have to work. Five months of setting my own schedule and working fewer hours (and, admittedly, also making less money). People ask me all the time how it’s been going, and I’m sorry to say my standard answer is awful—something about how things are up and down, how I’m still learning what I’m doing, that I’ll reevaluate after six months. I’ve got to work on that because, really, the truth is: it’s been good.

chicken waldorf salad wraps

I went through my financial records last week, determining my average monthly income and budgeting time for upcoming projects, and you know what? It’s been really, really good. I’m not rich, I’m not all sunshine and roses all the time, but every one of my needs has been provided, I’ve gotten several new clients when I lost one, I have the free time like I’ve always wanted. So while I know myself and therefore realize things may seem very glass-half-empty come tomorrow morning, right now, this moment, I am thankful—thankful to sip homemade chai tea lattes at my computer, to run errands in daylight, to have time to work out or clean or, no kidding, take naps in the afternoon. I am thankful to not be making a lot but to always be making enough. And I want to remember this feeling.

holding a wrap

In a recent post at A Sweet Spoonful, Meg wrote about remembering forward to next November, imagining what you’d like to change about your life as if it will really happen. And ironically, it got me thinking about last November, when I never would have guessed I’d leave my job or, launch into something risky or, work for myself like I’d always wished I could. I’m so glad these changes came, for as long or as short as they end up lasting, and I’m so glad to find myself where I am right now—working in blue jeans while I eat homemade chicken salad wraps, counting my blessings.

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Chicken Fingers

chicken fingers

Supersize Me was on TV the other night. Despite the fact that it was created six years ago, I’d never seen the documentary until this year, a few months ago when I streamed it to my computer during my one-month free trial with Netflix. This past Sunday night, I caught the couple minutes where the main character weighs in after a few days of eating a McDonald’s-only diet, something he tried and documented for a full month, gaining weight and hurting his health just as you’d expect. I also caught the scene where he orders chicken nuggets, and the movie does a quick aside, complete with a cartoon illustration, of how chicken nuggets are made.

It’s not pretty.

chicken fingers

A while ago (was it last year?), I also watched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (I’m guessing a lot of you did, too?), and saw him explain to children where chicken nuggets come from. And of course I’ve seen this image (click at your own risk and don’t say I didn’t warn you) floating around the Internet and people’s Facebook profiles. I know where commercial chicken fingers or tenders come from; you probably do, too.

But like with everything else we already know is bad for us, chicken fingers have one small thing going for them, and sometimes that’s all it takes to win us over: they taste good. So what are you supposed to do?

Enter homemade, boneless, skinless, marinated, covered-with-homemade-breadcrumbs and then baked chicken tenders.

homemade chicken fingers

I have to say, I love remaking something with good ingredients, taking a fast-food idea and redeeming it with whole foods, whether it’s a chicken panko recipe or french fries. It’s like recovering a chair you got from a garage sale, not that I’ve ever done that, or like renovating a living room, not that I’ve ever done that either. I imagine those things to be all that this is: encouraging, exciting, empowering.

Not only is this homemade version of chicken fingers better for you—not to mention you know which part of the chicken it comes from—but it’s also delicious: crispy and flavorful, perfect for dipping in honey just like we used to. I made mine with a side of roasted sweet potato circles (just wash the sweet potatoes, slice them into rounds or half circles, bake with coconut oil for about an hour). Whether you care about the health benefits or not, these are chicken fingers you can feel good about eating—and while eating, and I think that’s pretty great.

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Gruyère Quiche with Caramelized Red Pepper, Red Onion and Greens

I bought a new purse last week, for the first time since 2006, all because I asked a stranger in a bathroom where she got hers, and she said Target. I enjoy mushrooms now, after 27 years of hating them, because reading this blog post made me want to. I like reading Bon Appetit because I like reading how this girl writes. I’ve taken a photo almost every day this year because I’ve watched other people do it and been motivated.

In cooking as in life, inspiration to try new things can come from almost anywhere. It can be a conversation with a stranger, an article you notice, something quick you look at, maybe sometimes something you read on a blog like this one. For me, with this quiche, it was even simpler: a solid white pan.

ingredients for quiche

The white dish I’m referencing is not mine, but it’s my brother’s, one he set on the counter the other day, and every time I’ve walked into the kitchen and seen it, I’ve thought, Quiche! That pan needs a quiche! So although making homemade pie crusts is not high on my life’s to-do list, I saw no way around it: a store-bought crust could make a quiche, but a store-bought crust could not use that pan. I knew what I had to do.

quiche crust

Turns out the process couldn’t have been simpler. Tuesday night, I mixed flour and salt, cut in butter, added water, and formed the dough into a ball, wrapping it in plastic and sticking it in the fridge. I think it took 15 minutes. Wednesday, I pulled out the dough, rolled it out on parchment (with the confidence that only making perfect homemade apple strudel could have given me) and pressed it into the quiche pan, cutting the edges off the sides.

finished quiche

Choosing the type of quiche was even easier. I looked at what I already had in the kitchen—a red pepper, a red onion, gruyere, some random greens—and found a recipe that made the most of those things. Inspiration by necessity! It begins with caramelizing the vegetables, a step that fills your kitchen with the most incredible aroma of browning peppers and onions mixed with coconut oil. Then you saute the greens, mix all those things with eggs, milk, and cheese, and bam: a golden, flaky quiche with the colors of Christmastime.

sliced quiche

The only change I’d make next time is extra salt—the original recipe said to add to taste, but you add the salt to the cooking peppers and onions, so it’s hard to judge at that point, so now I’d just say to be generous—because when I pulled this out of the oven, it was not only delicious but utterly beautiful, the kind of beautiful that makes you want to take a picture when you don’t have a food blog or have someone over for brunch although it’s not Saturday morning or, you know, make a quiche even without this pretty white pan to put it in.

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thin, chewy pizza crust

thin and chewy pizza crust

You remember what it was like when you were a kid and you hated to go to bed? You could have just had the best day in your life—a birthday party, playing with friends, swimming, riding bikes, building pretend houses, eating fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, whatever—but when the sun went down, you knew what was coming. No matter how great the last few hours had been, no matter how much joy you’d been offered—and especially no matter what anyone else had told you about thankfulness—there was only one thing on your mind when your mom said to put your pajamas on, and it was a disheartening thing indeed: all this fun had to end.

That’s a little how I feel this morning.

adding mushrooms to pizza

It’s funny to think about, really. I mean, we all look at a child throwing a tantrum before bed and see precisely what he doesn’t, the very factors that would take his fear away: Morning will come, we want to say to him. There’s more fun to be had. And besides, you have to rest; you need it. We know he doesn’t see these things yet, that to him, today feels like eternity, Right Now feels like all that matters. And we know too that he’s greedy, the way we all are, the way I am about many things. Give me a good, long weekend like this last one, for example, filled with pure enjoyment every step of the way, and come Monday morning, Right Now is all I see. It’s not gratitude I’m filled with; though some gratitude is there. What I most fight and what I most feel is the same thing a child deals with who keeps hopping out of bed: wishing I had more.

I also get greedy about food—certain types more than others. Like when I bake a fresh batch of cookies, it doesn’t matter if I’m full, it doesn’t matter if it’s 11 PM; I eat at least four. Really. Or garden vegetables: offer me something from your garden, anytime, and I will take it, gladly, arms wide open, whether or not I know what to do with it, whether or not my fridge is full.

neapolitan-style pizza

But mostly, there is pizza. Is it terrible to admit, in this world of gourmet recipes and expensive ingredients, that it’s still my favorite meal? I won’t eat just any kind anymore, but I’ll eat the kind I like every day of the week. I promise if you give me a slice from Spacca Napoli, I’ll want more. That’s just how me and pizza work.

In my opinion, the key to the right pizza is the crust: it should be thin and chewy, slightly charred around the edges, with dough so translucent you almost see through it and moist enough to fold in half like they do in New York. Toppings are flexible. There’s the classic: tomatoes with basil and mozzarella, also known as Margherita. Or you can go cutting edge with potatoes! or arugula! or a white bean pesto like I had at this restaurant Friday night. Yesterday, after making our crust with white spelt flour (why? results identical to all-purpose but better for you) and in a free-form shape (why? because why not!), we topped it with diced green peppers, thin wisps of onion and sauteed mushrooms, with large rounds of mozzarella throughout.

The idea came from a post at The Kitchen Sink Recipes, which I’d read last April (!) and not forgotten about, and Kristin draws her crust from The Fresh Loaf, where the instructions are so thorough, I really have to point you over there directly.

slices of homemade pizza

We set the oven to 500F, then 525F, then eventually to 540F (who knew my oven went that high?) for our second pizza. Don’t be afraid to do the same: high temperatures are key to getting that blistered, still chewy crust. Other keys I picked up from Kristin: paint the sauce on very thinly, use parchment paper beneath the pizza for an easy lift out, keep your eye on it after five minutes (our first one took 10 minutes at 500 degrees) to watch for golden cheese and browned bread.

I’d also add that vegetables work beautifully as toppings in this style of pizza because the high temperature essentially roasts them, right on the crust, and you know how much I love roasted vegetables.

And anyway, this Monday, while I work on remembering the things that children can’t (I am thankful for the weekend I had, other good weekends will come, today is also a gift and I probably need it just as much as children need sleep), I will do it with at least one reminder of what we just had: a few more slices of this pizza.

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Curried Coconut Chicken & Peanut Butter Noodles

Listen, it’s not like I never do adventurous things. I mean, you know: I ride roller coasters. I cut 11 inches off my hair. I launch out into self-employment. And hello, there was that mountain in Maine I won’t let anyone forget about. Remember?!

But when it comes to my kitchen and new types of cuisine, even I will admit that I stick pretty close to the basics: American, Italian, sometimes Greek, but pretty rarely anything outside that. And if it weren’t for my friend Stacey, who came over Tuesday night to, at her suggestion, try making Thai food, that would all be exactly the same.

peanut butter noodles

Our plan of attack was simple: pick two recipes, adapt the ingredients to be fully natural, follow the instructions and cook.

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(My Kind of) Curried Chicken Salad

chicken salad sandwich

Chicken salad is the #1 thing I don’t order at restaurants.

And I think this makes perfect sense.

I mean, first of all, who wants chicken salad when you can get a tomato mozzarella panini or a sandwich with basil pesto or heck, a juicy burger made from locally sourced meat?

But second, and even more importantly, chicken salad is what you call a risky food. Trust me: bad chicken salad is bad. Like, rip-your-mouth-out bad. B-A-D bad. Three years ago, the last time I ordered it in a restaurant that I remember, I was up the whole night afterward, sick. Violently sick. And the next day, when I called the manager of said dining establishment to let him know, he didn’t believe me.

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