Easy, healthy, sometimes indulgent recipes

Copycat P.F. Chang’s Lettuce Wraps

One of my favorite dishes are lettuce wraps at P.F. Changs.  If I could, I think I would eat them every night, but the restaurant itself is not close to my house or work.  So I set out to make my own and what really surprised me is that is a 15 to 20 minute weeknight dinner.  It is fairly light, highly customizable, low-carb and most importantly delicious!!!  It is really easy to double or triple the filling and make ahead allowing for a weeknight dinner to be ready in a pinch.

P.Ff Chang's Lettuce Wraps

I typically use Boston Lettuce because it happens to be my favorite lettuce because of its tenderness yet sufficient crunch. However, romaine or iceberg will work perfectly.

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Greek Salad

Lately my son’s unexplained love of olives has me craving Greek salads.  I just love the salty, vinegary, fresh flavors that are so dominant in this salad.  I also think it is a great way to get a wonderful meal on the table in about 15 minutes, only a few minutes if you are not doing a protein topping that requires cooking.

Greek SaladI usually use an organic 50/50 blend of lettuce (half spinach, half spring mix) then I top with my ingredients of choice.  This almost always includes the following: feta, tomatoes, olives (I use both green and kalamata), red onions and  fresh cucumber.
A couple of nights ago this was our dinner and we topped with pan grilled shrimp.  I seasoned the shrimp with salt, pepper, a touch of oregano and quickly seared them in a pan lightly coated with oil.  Once they cooked through, I topped them with a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice.  Other times, I may add chicken or for a vegetarian option about half a cup of garbanzo beans.
I usually dress this salad with my basic red wine vinaigrette dressing, but any favorite dressing will work.


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Red Wine Vinaigrette

This recipe is so much more than a dressing. It is an enhancement to a green salad, but it is also a great marinade for chicken. The acidity in the dressing really tenderizes chicken and it makes it extra flavorful.  As a creature of habit, I typically pack 5 protein packed salads on a Sunday afternoon and have them ready for lunch at work. I have to admit, this does not work out every week, but most times I attempt to do this. At the same time I make a large batch of this dressing and pack it in small containers.

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Mammaw’s Chocolate Pie

Since I have been part of my married family, I have heard about mammaw’s chocolate pie. No one has a lot of information about it, but it was according to everyone it was just perfect. In fact, to both my husband and his father, just the mention of it brings fond childhood memories. They reminisce about their summers in Kentucky and “helping’ mammaw make this pie.  Of course, we have no recipe.  What we know is that there was no electric machinery used and all the children were part of this pie making process where they had to get the lumps out of the pie, just using a fork.  This smoothing out was a long process, maybe an hour or two.  After many different family interviews, turns out this pie is a chocolate custard pie piled very high with meringue and then baked off for about 15-20 until the meringue is set and golden brown.
I tried a few different variations and I never could get to a point where I needed to remove the lumps with a fork.  Once the custard was cooked and whisked all the lumps were worked out.  So it occurred to me that mammaw was a genius.  She found a way to occupy her little children and later her grandchildren with some busy work in the kitchen that was later rewarded with a yummy chocolate pie.

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Peanut Butter Granola Bars

I love granola bars. I mean how can you go wrong with oats, nuts, fruit, coconut? What I don’t love about granola bars is the amount of sugar that is in them. So for months now, I have been playing around with different ways to make them at home. I actually lost count as to how many I have tried and they all somehow ended up in a pile of loose granola. Well, with a particular pan in mind and an amazing idea posted by Minimalist Baker, I think I finally have something worthy of sharing. My recipe is different than Minimalist Baker, it is loosely adapted from there, but their recipe utilizes a paste made out of dried dates to both sweeten and bind the ingredients together. Genius!

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Basic Pizza Dough

Great pizza always starts with great dough.  There are different ways to enjoy the crust, thick, super thin, but my favorite is a blistered exterior with a soft interior. Dough may sound intimidating because of longer rising time, but in fact it is extremely simple to make. Nothing beats homemade pizza crust.  It is amazing what incredible flavor comes out of flour, water, salt and a little olive oil.  In fact my favorite pizza was something I had years ago in a little restaurant in Rome where it was drizzled with really great olive oil, topped with lots of fresh Arugula and a touch of shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano.  It was so simple, but it tasted amazing.  There was so little on it in terms of ingredients that every ingredient was allowed to shine.

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Baked Chicken Parmesan

Chicken Parmesan is such a great dish. It is equal parts comforting and elegant.  I really love making it, but it is usually pan fried, which is delicious, but more tedious to make and generally a much heavier dish.  Whenever possible I like to take the shortcut of having the oven do the work for me.

chicken parmesanThe trouble with baking this dish  is that it always turns out soggy, it is never as crispy as the fried version.  I have tried different recipes and the one I like the best is  Ellie Krieger’s recipe found here.  Over the years I adapted Ellie’s recipe so that it turns out much crunchier. Instead of baking this dish in a glass pan, I use a pizza pan with holes.  This way, the bottom never gets soggy once it is topped with sauce.

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Kale Lemon Apple Green Juice

kale ginger green juice

I have been looking for ways to make more green juice and to replicate the same experience of juicing without actually buying a juicer. I think juicers are amazing, but I really want to avoid buying yet another appliance to sit on my counter.  My kitchen mantra is to keep things as basic as possible.  I try to have as many multi-functional devices as I can.  I own a nice blender,  it is not top of the line,  but it is middle of the road and it does the trick well for this recipe and many others.  What I like about making “juice” in a blender, you always have a choice on using the pulp and keeping the drink more like a smoothie or it can be strained for a clear juice.

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Vegan Oatmeal with Strawberries and Peanut Butter

vegan oatmeal with berries

Ahh, oatmeal.  Oatmeal with diced cooked apples is my sons favorite food to eat so an oatmeal type of a  breakfast is often cooking up in my kitchen. The nutty aroma of oats cooking up in the kitchen is incredibly comforting.  Now, I know everyone knows how to prepare oatmeal.  Nothing that I am about to write here is groundbreaking, but I wanted to share it because I just love preparing it.  It is a staple in our house.  On a cold day such as today, it is hard to pass up the warming flavors of this breakfast.  While we are not vegan, I love preparing vegan dishes because I am forced to tap into  plant-based foods to replace any traditional ingredients.  I always look for ways to enrich any dish with nutritious super-foods like chia seeds, hemp or cacao nibs.

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Egg White Omelet

It is finally Christmas Eve and guests are set to arrive soon. This is such an exciting time of the year, but with all the Holiday parties, cookie swaps it is an eating fest.  I am always in this “in between” place, looking to have something light and healthy and also ready to start making the big Holiday dishes.  I decided to start the day with this easy, vegetable egg white omelet.

Egg White Omelet
I finished my grocery shopping for the big day so in an attempt to avoid the craziness at the grocery store, I pulled out a few things that I had both in my garden and in my fridge.
My items on hand are baby spinach (one of the two things growing in my winter garden), egg whites, portobello mushrooms and feta cheese.  I could write several pages about how much I love feta cheese, but I’ll hold back on that. It may seem too crazy.  It may be too early in this blog to reveal the deep love of feta cheese.  I especially love feta cheese mixed with eggs but I think it is even better with egg whites because a little goes a long way. Egg whites which can be very bland and they get transformed by the salty, bold flavor of feta.

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