Showing posts with label salad dressing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label salad dressing. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Restaurant Wars 2013 - Panera

Restaurant Wars 2013 continues today with Panera!  The Boyfriend and I actually live within walking distance to the town Panera, which means we eat there at least once a week.  Usually in the winter, we eat there almost exclusively.  Mostly because it gets cold here in the winter and it's the closest restaurant to our apartment.  Seriously, it's better to walk there than it is to get in a cold car and drive anywhere else.


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Asian Chicken Salad

Hello everyone!  I'm back from vacation and recovered, I think.  I know, it sounds strange to be "recovered from vacation" but it's totally the truth.  Whenever Boyfriend and I come back from vacation, I feel like I need another few days off just to recuperate!  The reason is - we aren't you traditional vacation-type people.


Most people look forwards to vacation because it involves an umbrella drink (or five), a beach umbrella and some new paperbacks.  I could handle doing that too, for about two hours.  Then I want to get up and DO SOMETHING!  I either have restless leg disorder (is that still a thing??) or Adult ADHD, because I don't want to just sit around on vacation and relax.  Ask anyone, I'm not really the relaxing type.

Our trip to Morocco was anything but relaxing.  In ten days we managed to jam in all of the following...  A day in Oukaimeden rock climbing, two days in Zagora riding camels, a three-day trip to the beach for surfing lessons.  We toured the medinas of Marrakech and Casablanca and traveled on the highways, rails and tramlines of Morocco.  We ate tagines and couscous by the pound and enjoyed liters of mint tea.


Thankfully we had a direct flight home from Casablanca, I don't think I could have mustered up the energy to get on another plane after seven and a half hours sitting in coach.  Once we got home, all I wanted to eat was a big salad.  And I've been making lots of them since I managed the necessary energy to head to the grocery store!

Maybe our next vacation will be a quiet, relaxing, beach vacation...  More likely I'll plan something like that and BF will find a volcano to hike up and coral reefs to scuba dive through.


Be on the lookout over the next two weeks for Moroccan dishes and photos from our vacation!  I picked up a few tips from the locals and a beautiful Moroccan cookbook of my own.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Restaurant Wars 2013 - Olive Garden

The biggest problem with going to Olive Garden? Getting a table. It seems no matter what day of the week you go, you will be waiting for a table unless you arrive at three o'clock for dinner. Yet for some reason, people are willing to wait over an hour for soup, salad and bread sticks. Well wait no more, make it all at home.

In order to test out the OG, boyfriend and I ventured out to dinner on a very specific night. February 13th. This year February 13th was both the day before Valentine's day and Ash Wednesday. When we arrived at 7:30, we were escorted right to a waiting booth. That's a first in my book.

The person who really likes OG in my house is BF. He calls it classic Italian comfort food. What you would want your bowl of carbonara to look and taste like. The dishes are all simple, straightforward and require no fancy words to describe. It's not the food your Italian grandmother would prepare, unless she was cooking for two dozen. 

To keep with that classic OG menu, BF and I both got simple dishes. BF went with a chicken Parmesan and I decided on a chicken and shrimp carbonara. Both meals came with the traditional OG soup/salad and bread sticks, and I ordered a cherry Italian soda to round out my meal.

First, do not order the cherry Italian soda unless you have a real love of children's cough syrup. It was dead on in flavor and probably had twice the amount of sugar. I took a sip and ordered a water as replacement.

Next, the general rule with the bread sticks is a follows - eat them before they get cold or prepare to sword fight with them. Once these little gems cool off, they take on a other worldly strength. I had ideas on how to avoid this issue at home.


Our meals were just as expected. BF dove into his chicken Parmesan whole heartily, until he realized he ate too many bread sticks and couldn't eat anymore. My carbonara came out looking creamy and delicious, and incredibly oily. I found out the next day as I had my leftovers just how much oil was in my dish. I love carbonara and this was good, it's just not something I could eat on a regular basis.

The plan for home. Recreate the OG experience from bread sticks to salad to main course. Lighten the fat load and try to maintain the flavors. 


Olive Garden salad at home is pretty easy.  The salad itself is just lettuce, pepperoncini, black olives, red onions and croutons.  Black olives are gross, so I omitted those.  It's pretty true to when I go to the restaurant.  The dressing has quite a few copycat recipes online that I based my final recipe on and apparently those are very similar to the actual OG recipe (I couldn't believe that they actually use mayonnaise in their recipe).  Where I took a big left turn is with my carbonara recipe.

Want easy and delicious bread sticks?  You need two ingredients.  Pizza dough and garlic salt.  I used a pre-made pizza dough from the grocery store and cut in into eight pieces.  I rolled each piece into a bread stick-like shape and spritzed them with cooking spray.  After a light sprinkle with garlic salt and eighteen minutes in the oven, we had bread sticks that didn't harden up in two minutes.  A little denser than the OG variety, but BF and I both liked the pizza dough sticks better.


The OG carbonara dish I received was covered in cheese and dripping in oil.  I made a simple and classic carbonara with grilled chicken.  BF was a little sad that my version wasn't under a layer of cheese, but it was something I could actually have before going to the gym.  After our dinner at the OG, we went home and melted into the couch.

Next time you want some Olive Garden and don't want to wait for a table, just pick up a few ingredients and make it at home!  Or you could sit in the bar area, they serve the full menu at the bar and the wait is usually much shorter!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Restaurant Wars - Chipotle

I first stepped foot into a Chipotle restaurant over ten years ago in the city of Madison, Wisconsin. I was a first year grad student and had enough of my friend Bhavesh tell me how many burritos he'd eaten that week. I had to try it out for myself. There was only one problem, I'd never had a burrito quite like this before.

In Western New York we grew up eating Mighty taco. There were few other options when it came to quick tacos. Their menu consisted of soft and hard tacos, filled with beef, cheese, sour cream and "Mighty sauce." Whatever that was.


During my college years, at UB in WNY, a burrito place opened up boasting burritos the size of your head. Being of the female persuasion, that didn't really appeal to me. My guy friends were happy to go there and eat six pounds of runny beans, poorly cooked meat and scorched cheese but I begged off and stayed home those nights.


With grad school came a broadening of my palate and the introduction of healthy burrito options. Bhavesh dragged us all to Chipotle, where he really did eat five burritos a week, and introduced us to what would become a weekly treat. Sometimes twice weekly when we had late exams and only time for one meal.


Chipotle has really spread across the country since my first visit back in 2003. Even Amherst, NY now boasts a location and they're always the last to get anything good! I have gone from solely eating soft tacos, to only getting the spiciest fajita burrito. After the advent of the online calorie counter my order swiftly switched to the chicken salad and these days I'll go back and forth between a salad and a bowl. I'm sure your own ordering process has changed through the years too.


I was more than happy to have Chipotle as the first restaurant on my war list. bf and I go there a few times a month and my coworkers regularly visit for lunch. I could definitely go for a burrito bowl or salad without the long drive! I decided to try and recreate my two go-to dishes for this challenge. Here's the verdict.


First, it took forever to prepare everything that I needed to make these two dishes. I made three salsas, salad dressing, chicken marinade. I prepped and chopped lettuce, tomatoes, untold numbers of jalapeƱo pepper and squeezed more limes than I can count. I actually ran out of limes and had to go back to the store for more. I really could have used a staff to help me prep everything. I planned on making this meal for dinner Monday, so I spent two hours on sunday afternoon doing all the prep work.


Next, dinner came together really quickly Monday night, though I nearly drove us out of our apartment. The marinade for the chicken smelled wonderful, but when the chicken came in contact with the grill pan - it was like I set off a pepper bomb. BF and I were both coughing because of the spiciness in air. Maybe grill your chicken outside, or you'll this the police have sent the seat team to your house.


Lastly, adobo seasoning is not the same as adobo sauce. I looked everywhere for a jar of adobo seasoning. I knew it existed because my grocery list app had it programmed into its memory. However, after six different grocery stores I had to give up. Maybe I need to locate a well stocked Hispanic grocery in my area? I wound up buying a jar or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce and fishing out he sauce I needed.


You can totally cheat on the prep work and buy your favorite mild salsa or salsa verde. I even shredded my own cheese mixture, which you could skip and buy a pre-shredded Mexican-style cheese blend. For the Chipotle flavor though, you can't skip marinating your chicken, making your own fresh corn salsa, tossing your rice with lime juice and blending up a batch of their salad dressing. At least make the salad dressing, after a bit of tweaking of some other recipes I found - it's almost like being there.

One year ago: Chocolate-Peppermint Marshmallows
Two years ago: Homemade Butterfinger Bars

Chipotle recipes - These have all been adapted from so many different "Copy-cat" recipes online. I changed them all a little to try and get as close as possible to the real thing. Be sure to go out and get yourself a bottle of green Tabasco sauce too, because it isn't complete without a dash of heat!

Salsa verde

4 tomatillos, husks removed
1 small white onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic
2 Cubanelle peppers
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
Juice from 1/2 lime

Turn on your oven broiler.  Place tomatillos, onion quarters, garlic cloves and peppers 4-5 inches below the broiler.  Broil for 5 minutes, turn the vegetable over and broil for another 5 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.

Peel the charred skin from the peppers, chop in half and remove the seeds.  Combine all of the ingredients except the salt in a food processor or blender.  Pulse to combine, leave the salsa a little chunky.  Give the salsa a taste, season with salt if you desire.  Transfer to an air-tight jar and keep in the fridge.


Mild tomato salsa

4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/4 red onion, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice from 1/2 lime

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss to combine.  Transfer to an air-tight jar and store in the fridge.
Cheese blend

8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese
8 ounces Mild white cheddar cheese
Place cheese blocks in the freezer for 10-20 minutes.  This will make it easier to shred.  Shred and combine both cheeses.  So simple!

Chipotle brown rice

1 cup brown rice
2 cups water
Juice from 1 lime
Juice for 1/2 lime
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Pour 1 cup brown rice into 2 cups water.  Bring to a boil then lower heat to low.  Let simmer for 40 minutes.  Once the rice is tender and the water is absorbed, add citrus juice and cilantro.  Toss to combine.
Fresh Corn salsa

2 cups corn kernals (fresh or frozen)
1 jalapeno pepper, diced small
1/4 red onion, chopped
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Juice from 1/2 lime

Combine all ingredients and transfer to an air-tight container.  Store in the fridge for 1-2 hours before serving.

Chipotle Chicken marinade

1 ounce dried ancho chilies
3 ounces chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons cumin powder
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
6 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 red onion, quartered
1/4 cup oil (canola/vegetable/olive)
4 chicken breasts

Add boiling water to dried ancho chilies and let hydrate for 2 hours or up to overnight.

Combine all ingredients in food processor or blender and transfer to a large bowl.  Poke chicken breasts with a fork and pierce all over.  Add chicken to the marinade and toss to coat.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge overnight.

When ready to cook.  Remove chicken from the marinade and shake off excess bits of pepper.  Grill in a well-ventilated area!

Honey-Chipotle salad dressing


1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon adobo sauce
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Combine first six ingredients in a blender.  Pulse to combine.  With blender running, slowly stream in olive oil.  Serve over any salad for a tangy and sweet take on your usual salad.
Yum, delicious.

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