Lemongrass Chicken with Fresh Veggies, Mint, and Basil

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You know what feels so great? Being able to fully recreate something you’ve had at a restaurant. You know what also feels so great? Knowing that you have late night in the fridge waiting for you when you’re out at a bar. While the latter is irrelevant to this post, I can’t help but think back to this one time when my second year of college, my roommate Kate and I made nachos for dinner and saved ourselves a perfect late night portion for after we went out. It may have made that month of my life that much better.

Or, for those of you recently out of college, how awesome was it to come home on break and have your favorite snacks awaiting your arrival at home? I’d often come home to the Costco melon-sized muffins and boxes of Ghiradelli brownie mix just ready for my friend Cessie and I to dig into. I can imagine, well, actually I know this because my parents have been very upfront with me about it, that when you’re a parent you’re trying to keep your kids around as long as possible when they come home from college. My mom would always have the snacks at our house, hoping that it would secure our house as the preferred location for friends reunions. In fact, it was and is still fairly successful, and I think I may have taken on this activity as I try to make my house welcoming.

I’ve got a two word recommendation for you: candy. bowl.

There’s an art to the candy bowl and it goes along with the motive behind this dish. There’s a move to get people to come over (the main dish) and then there’s the move to get them to stay (the candy). In this case, I’d say I was cooking with close enough friends where I didn’t really need the candy bowl but it’s seriously so funny to me to see people who visit for the first time light up at the candy bowl. Especially when I have candy in there that I wouldn’t have expected some people to like.

Have nothing to talk about to a friend of a friend who is visiting your party? “um so, can I offer you a reeses egg?”

Trying to console a friend and can’t find the next thing to say? “Ugh, I know, boys right? Let’s discuss over dark chocolate caramel-filled Ghiradelli squares”

It’s all about engaging whomever is around. With this lemongrass chicken dish, I wanted to get my friends involved in what is one of my FAVORITE dishes as of late. At most Vietnamese places, people are always about the pho. I’m really not a huge soup person, so I always go for the lemongrass pork or chicken if they have it. I love the fact that you get this really moist, flavorful cut of meat with a scoop of rice and a mound of raw veggies and fresh herbs. The combination of the fresh herbs with the hot chicken is to die for.

A few months ago, my friend Julia and I frequented a pho place post-karaoke with two of our other friends and I had a very delicious version of this dish. Since then, I’ve been thinking about recreating it and finally got to it about a month ago.

I say I wanted to get everyone engaged because it’s a dish that involves a lot of chopping but little precision. For a group dinner, you want everyone to feel included and like they have “a job.” I’ve found this to be very important with a group of close girls as it makes it so much easier to continue the endless gabbing when there aren’t stressful time constraints or intense skills required to make the dish!!!

One person can cook the meat (or two who can switch off) while the others can chop and make rice. At the end, we ended up just making a big platter of some cooked veggies, some raw veggies, herbs, and the delicioso chicken. I took this recipe from one meant for pork and adjusted it for chicken thighs.

I am VERY confident you can make this and serve to your favorite gals and guys. It’s a great way to experiment with other cuisines and learn about new veggies/herbs. I’ve never cooked with lemongrass before and found it easy to figure out! (considering I looked up a video on youtube for how to cut it :))

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Lemongrass chicken with fresh veggies, herbs, and rice

adapted slightly from this Userealbutter recipe, serves 4 or 5 comfortably (you will NOT have leftovers :))

1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 1/2 tbsps light brown sugar
1 tbsp garlic, chopped
1 tbsp shallots, chopped
3 tbsps lemongrass, chopped
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp dark soy sauce (or thick soy sauce) – I just used regular light soy sauce from TJs…
1 1/2 tbsps fish sauce
1 tbsp flavorless vegetable oil

1 cup rice

An assortment of cucumbers, carrots, fresh basil, fresh mint, zucchinis, and bell peppers of all colors

1. At least 2 hours before you want to start cooking, marinate the chicken. You could also do this up to 24 hours in advance. I think this is a really important step as you want the chicken to be as flavorful as possible! In the bowl of a large food processor or blender if you don’t have one, puree the lemongrass, shallots, garlic, and brown sugar. As recommended in the original recipe, if you dont have any of these tools, you could totally just chop it up really finely.

2. Add black pepper, fish sauce, soy sauce, and vegetable oil and puree until smooth. Place the chicken thighs in a large freezer bag and pour marinade over top. Swish around the marinade, ensuring all pieces of chicken are evenly coated. Refrigerate for at least 2 and up to 24 hours – taking the chicken out about 30 minutes before you want to cook it.

3. When ready to cook, take your chicken out of the refrigerator to bring to room temp. Meanwhile, bring 2 cups of water to boil with a pinch of salt. Once boiling, add rice and bring temp down so the rice is simmering. Cover and let simmer for about 30 minutes or until done.

4. After you’ve poured everyone a glass of wine (yes, Arianna, Kate and Julia, I will admit mine is the smallest), get to work chopping. Rice is a-cooking and chicken is ready for the stove. Ask your friend who is least afraid of raw meat to help you cut up the chicken into strips for sauteeing. You could also grill the thighs whole and chop them up afterwards. Sautee the chicken in batches for about 5-8 minutes on each side, until the pieces are no longer pink.

5. While one or two people are cooking the chicken, sautee some zucchini and peppers. For the raw vegetables, I like carrots and cucumbers julienned like they have at the restaurant. And lastly, for the herbs, chop the basil and mint into small dice or thin strips as it’ll be the garnish for the finished product.

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6. Once the chicken is done, put the veggies, herbs, and chicken on a large platter and let your friends serve from there! I like to start with a bed of rice, topped with chicken and veggies on the side. Make sure to add a generous topping of sriracha in whatever proportion you like. Enjoy! Oh, and don’t forget to offer a piece of candy for your guests on the way out 😉

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Mango Chicken Lettuce Wraps

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For all you party people out there who enjoy the likes of PF Changs, you’re in luck today! I’m going to woo you with Mango Chicken Lettuce Wraps as a way to distract you from nagging me about another blog post. Yes, I’ve been MIA and the person whose mostly losing out is my sweet grandmother, Winnie, who is about to be featured here. Grandma, my apologies for not writing this sooner!

Here’s the recap on the past two months: I went to a wedding in Sunset Beach, North Carolina where I had the most delicious mojito and danced the night away. I visited Lake Burton with my ATL crew and said farewell to friends moving to Boston. My dear friend Claire got married in Savannah where I ate the most deliciously moist lemon cake and my friend Sean broke his chair at brunch. Much to his dismay, it was the best part of the weekend. Monroe City, Missouri stole my heart with its rolling cornfields, welcoming community, and overwhelming wildflowers. Lastly, I visited Austin, TX for the first time where I was treated to the BEST food thanks to my lovely host Molly. My sister and I talked all things growing up while we gorged on tacos, amazing smoothies, kolaches, barbecue, and brunch. I am still dreaming of the mezcal drink I had with my sistahwife Molly along with many a cucumber-grapefruit-gin drink that I tried at every place we went.

Lately I’m saying many goodbyes to friends who are starting new adventures in new cities. While I’m sad to see them go, it’s exciting to see people go on their next adventure and become a little bit more of themselves. Throughout the process of saying goodbye, I got to partake in bucket list items that I might not have ventured to otherwise 🙂 This really means new people will have to learn to partake in my late-night baking activities and that I’m going to have to start trolling Yelp in the cities where my friends move. Note to all my friends out there – when I come to visit you, I will have already found the best food instagrammers in your city and will have at least one opinion about following their food recommendations.

Let me tell you about these lettuce wraps. My grandmother loves to take the girls in my family to PF Changs where we always like to get the chicken lettuce wraps. Every time I’ve had them, I never really thought they’d be easy to make at home. THEN my friend Cessie taught Christine and I how to make these really healthy chicken lettuce wraps just like the ones at the restaurant (where you wrap it up like a massive burrito and stuff it in your mouth gracefully and then everything falls out).

After trying it once, I wanted to try out these lettuce wraps from Cookie and Kate for my grandma on Mother’s Day. My grandma Winnie is such an inspiration to me and also the person who gave me a bad habit of laughing anyone’s actually said anything. She can’t start a story without laughing which has entirely rubbed off on me. We also like to sit and eat snacks and chat about love, life , family , and most importantly faith. I was blessed to have so many wonderful Indian dishes from her kitchen over the years, and it’s been a joy to me to be able to actually make something of my own for her. Serve this dish as a light meal with coconut rice like I did or as an appetizer like at PF Changs. I actually made it in advance and it warmed up nicely. I think the mango salad benefits from some extra time marinating as well.

Thai Mango Chicken Lettuce Wraps

adapted from this recipe from Cookie and Kate 

Peanut sauce: 

⅓ cup creamy peanut butter

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons reduced-sodium tamari or soy sauce

2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar or maple syrup

2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

½ lime, juiced

2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced

Mango pico
2 ripe mangos, diced
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
½ bunch (about 4) green onions, chopped
⅓ cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1 jalapeño, minced
½ lime, juiced
⅛ teaspoon salt
Chicken:
1 lb chicken breast, cubed
soy sauce
sriracha or chili garlic sauce
For the rest: small head of green cabbage
Coconut rice:
 1 cup rice ( I used short grain brown rice)
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water
pinch of salt
1. Boil water and coconut milk in a small pot. Add rice and salt and bring back down to a simmer, covering rice for about 25-30 minutes or until rice is tender. (you can skip this step if you just want the wraps as an appetizer)
2. In a jar or small bowl, whisk all the peanut sauce ingredients together and place in the fridge to meld flavors.
3. Mix all the mango pico ingredients in a large bowl or serving dish. I know you’re thinking there’s not much in this but I promise it taste delicious and doesn’t need much to it!
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4. Cook chicken: Heat a saute pan to medium-high heat and add a few teaspoons of coconut oil or another light flavored oil. Once hot, add chicken and soy sauce. I would recommend about a tablespoon since that’s what the tofu in the original recipe is tossed in, and I added some chili garlic sauce as well. Saute chicken for about 3-4 minutes on each side and then turn off the heat. Drain sauce out and place chicken on a serving plate.
5. To serve, cut the bottom thick part of the cabbage stem off and slowly peel back the layers of the cabbage. Really get to KNOW your cabbage. I found this to be actually pretty hard, but the good thing is that the green cabbage leaves are so thick that even if they rip they can hold a good amount of food.
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6. Eat your rice on the side or make a big mound of lettuce wrap and put chicken, mango pico, and rice in your wrap. You can either pour sauce into the wrap or dip the wrap into it.
If you’re like me, you’ll ask your grandmother a gazillion questions about growing up, how to know what God’s calling you to do next, why men are from Mars, what her favorite thing about Grandpa is, and oh yea please pass the vino. Dear Grandma, sorry this post is so late but I’m so glad you like the meal! (and I hope you read this)
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White Chocolate Shortcake with Strawberries, Blueberries and Whipped Cream Frosting

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I’ve been perusing Etsy lately for new cannisters for my flour and sugar and then I started judging the cannisters based on how much rust they had on them. And then I got really self conscious thinking about the fact that I am searching the interweb for a vintage-y kitschy looking tin can and still considering purchasing it from those South Dakotans (yea that’s how you refer to them) who collect these things even though the can has RUST all over the inside of it. And then I took a deep breath and realized I had too much caffeine.

You know, when did the Container Store fall out of fashion and rusty South Dakota cans make a come-back?

Did you guys also love the Container Store circa 2006? It was absolutely the coolest thing to go and get rando trinkets and your day planner from there during summer break. Instead of buying those sleek Oxo bug-proof jars, I’m trying to find a jar with a print not as creepy as a gnome garden yet not as sleek as an Ikea esque white box. The things I do to procrastinate….

Speaking of flour and sugar….THIS CAKKEEEEE. If I had to describe a cake that would connect a wide variety of people’s sweet palettes, it would be this one. I am one to enjoy the most decadent of sweets, with cake layers full of butter and buttermilk topped with headache inducing frostings (and if you’re really lucky, two types of frosting and some kind of caramel brittley thing in the middle). On the other hand, there are those people born without a soul who like the “lighter” side of desserts.

Yes I am speaking to you, tart frozen yogurt lovers, sorbet-orderers, MERINGUE fans, and the worst – those who JUST SAY NO to dessert. This cake will woo even you!!

It’s a cake that is light enough to be dubbed a shortcake, yet dense and moist enough to satisfy the decadent sweets lovers like (hand-raised) me! There’s even some white chocolate chips snuck in there. The white chocolate gives the cake just enough sweetness that you don’t even notice that this frosting isn’t even really frosting at all. It’s whipped cream!

I made this for my office May cookout a few weeks ago with the help of my baking aficionado friend Tim. While I insisted it probably wasn’t the best idea to break into this cake before bringing it to the office, we made a mini version with the overflowing bowl of batter and made sure the recipe was legit. Here are my tips for assembling cakes after my cake-toppling incident a few years back:

Bake your cake layers the night before if you are gonna make this. Then wrap each one in plastic wrap and cover overnight. In the morning, transport the layers and frosting separately if you’re gonna have limited fridge space because this frosting isn’t the greatest for sitting out. Assemble the cake with the frosting and fruit right before eating!

For all of you who want the recipe – buy JoytheBaker’s Homemade Decadence book!!!

Creaming some butter and sugar (view the sweet potato blondies I also made below)

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2015-04-30 21.19.06Here are my tips on getting cake out of the pan. Take your spatula and point it straight down around the edge of the cake. Do this a few times until you know the cake is free from the edges. Then start to go down then under the cake and gently pull up slightly on the cake, but don’t actually try to take the whole thing out. Once you’ve primed the cake, place a plate over the cake and count your self down to a flip (I had Tim help with this). 1-2-3 flip!!! Then tap the bottom of the cake pan which is now facing up as you place the plate down on the counter. This will get any last bit of the cake out. Gently pull the pan up – and there ya go.

If you can feel that the cake didn’t in fact come out of the pan (gasp), just flip it over, look both ways to make sure no one saw you, and give it a few more minutes 🙂

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2015-04-30 20.32.03You know, just use a big pot to make your whipped cream when all your mixing bowls are taken….

2015-04-30 20.32.262015-04-30 20.32.47Watching this progression above, this is what happens when you don’t let your mini cake cool and just drop dollops of whipped cream on top :/

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I buckled it in shortly after. This is my recommended safety position for your cake.
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2015-05-01 12.22.55Shoutout to my coworker Michael who helped put this together!!!

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ohhhhh yeaaaaaa

Sausage and Kale with Spaghetti Squash

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I write to you as a serious grown up, sitting here in my apartment, roommate less for another week, reflecting on life and shifting all the much-loved time with my roommate to some really productive things. I’ve taken to actually watering my one plant, cleaning my room, paying bills and running errands that most people take care of within a few days of needing something but usually take me months.

There’ve been some important conversations and revelations with my friends. To my dismay, I found out that one of my closest friends prefers the cardboard flavored animal cracker to the quite conveniently transportable AND fashionable AND delicious barnum & bailey animal cracker box which we’ve decided are really “animal cookies.” While I find her opinions to be wrong, I’m glad we can be honest about these things.

On the positive side, Jason DeRulo has two new songs out, I’m going to the lake this weekend and this spaghetti squash with kale and sausage was delicious. Though I will miss Christine dearly, we have decided to have a roomie food challenge from Atlanta to Boston. Since we used to cook together, we want to facetime while we are making our favorite recipes so I can help her know JUST WHEN to stop stirring her muffin batter and she can share her attempts at our laundry list of recipe ideas. If you can master any of them first and send to us, we’ll be amazed….the list includes Basic girl dip (goat cheese, kale, dried cranberries, candied pecans and whatever other basic things you can think of), more vegan peanut butter pies, granola recipes, the best tahini dressings, tahini baked goods ,anything with kimchi, and mediterranean seven layer dip take 2. OH and anything that involves slow-cooked short ribs or stewed tomatoes.

On to this recipe. I made this a few months back with my friend Ed whom you’ve met in earlier posts. I like stuffing vegetables with meat and garlic and I also love the kale/sausage combo. This was ideal for a cold day, but could still be a good spring recipe with the amount of greens you could substitute right now.

Speaking of greens, who has ever heard of green garlic?? I went to this farmer’s market a few weeks ago and tried to buy green onions at literally three different farm stands only to be stopped by the soft spoken vendors who noted, “ah, no, see the flat stems, ah yes, that’s green GARLIC.” So apparently green garlic is a green onion with a flat stem. Who would’ve thought. (I’m gonna get to the recipe I promise). I HAVE to tell you guys about the ricotta fritters first though. My friend Justin and I walked around tryna be all skinny minny, looking at the bread table and not sampling anything until wafts of *FRIED SOMETHING WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE” floated from this Italian restaurant’s table.

What I came to find is that ricotta donut holes are the most heavenly start to a weekend you could ever experience. Forget long-winded brunches with your closest friends, sipping your coffee quietly while listening to indie brunch music while the birds chirp, sleeping til the afternoon – no, in order for you to start the weekend off right, you really need to pop out of bed, get over to the farmer’s market and demand one of these fritters. Ok now that you’ve decided what you’re doing this weekend….recipe!!

Sausage and Kale stuffed spaghetti squash (really this is a capsized spaghetti squash boat we ate it bowls)

adapted from Paleo grubs, serves enough for two Jason deRulo and Ariana Grande fans + leftovers

2 medium sized spaghetti squash

1.5 lbs Italian sausage – we used a mix of sweet and hot

4 cloves, minced garlic

1 small onion, diced

1 bunch sliced kale (I used half of one of those big bags from Kroger)

a few tablespoons of olive oil

salt n pepper

parmesan cheese, to top

1. Start by turning your oven on to 400-450. Slice the squash lengthwise and scoop out the inside pumpkin-y stuff until it’s smooth. This can be confusing because I know you think that the stringy part is the spaghetti but in fact, it’s not. Rub olive oil over the inside of the cavity and sprinkle with salt n pepp. Place squash halves down in a baking dish and place under the oven for 35-50 minutes, turning throughout. I always roast them cut side down but this recipe said cut side up so we rotated….

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2. Heat a cast iron skillet or other wide skillet to medium high head and saute your onion for 5-6 minutes until they start to look translucent. Add garlic for 2 minutes more, then add in sausage, breaking it up after taking the sausages out of their casing. Cook the sausage for 10-12 minutes until brown and cooked through.

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3. At this point you can fold in your kale – you want to remove as many of the tough stems as you can. If you get the bank of kale you can just rip it off, if you’re using a more sturdy kale you can cut ribbons off the stem. Wilt the kale in for another 3-5 minutes until soft.

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4. Back to the squash….when the insides are fully cooked you can poke through them easily with a fork. Take them out of the oven and scrape out the insides with a fork, shredding the “spaghetti”. Mix in with the sausage kale mixture and you can either put the mixture back in the squash boat or in a bowl.

5. Serve with parmesan cheese and wine! Yummmm

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Sriracha Hummus and my new favorite party app

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Today I write to you with a new view on life. Let me tell you about the new, Argentine Katie, and how I’d like to convene with those of you who may share the same new views as me. I recently returned from an amazing trip with my cousins, aunt, uncle, and their grandmother to Buenos Aires. To be honest with you, I had no idea what to expect and had an amazing time exploring the city, meeting new people, and spending time with my cousin’s girlfriend’s amazing family.

While in Buenos Aires, I learned that we wait for EVERYONE to arrive before eating*. I’d like to really pronounce this as “eating asterisk” because what it really means is, let’s have a very large spread of appetizers and drink beer and be joyous until the last person arrives and then let’s still eat a completely normal meal as if we didn’t eat any of those apps.

SO, we found out that there is a tradition of serving “picada” before the meal. While I don’t think my family totally figured out what actually is included in the picada (apparently it really means there has to be some specific forms of meat and cheese), we associated it with a few key items.

While I did love the olives, cheese, and crackers they served, nothing compared to the saltiest salt-mine bag of peanuts that you could find at any grocery store. We were so amazed at the amount of salt in these snack bags we seriously considering draining them in a colander and saving the leftover salt at the bottom of the bag. This is the ULTIMATE pre-dinner snack which paired well with the Imperial beer.

mani peanuts

Second, PRINGLES. A great app that also went well with beer. From now on, I’m going to try and find the salt mine peanuts and have pringles when I entertain. These were party starters. Next time I go back, I want to bring this hummus with me and see if they’d like the American tradition to their picada. The only thing is, apparently Argentines don’t like spicy food :/. Until then, more for me!

This hummus recipe is an original from my friend Mike who is master of all spicy foods. An avid sriracha fan, Mike went so far as to carry a sriracha flag with him throughout a festival in Atlanta as the reference point for all of us to find throughout the day. Serve this up at your next dinner party and adjust the spice to your liking 🙂

Sriracha Hummus – easily adaptable to all spice pallettes

1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed

1-2 cloves garlic, chopped slightly

3 TBS tahini

juice of 1 lemon

salt and pepper to taste

1/4-1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

SRIRACHA – looks like we used maybe 1.5-2 TBS sriracha

1. Combine all ingredients except olive oil in the bowl of your food processor, magic bullet, or blender. Preferably you want to use a food processor here, but if you have either of the others they will work. Pulse in the food processor until the mixture starts to become smooth.

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2. Once you’ve broken up the chickpeas and can see the garlic is small, slowly stream in olive oil. This is the part where you can start with a little bit and add more depending on how thick you like it. Mike likes his on the thicker side so that’s what you’ll see here…it’s on the lower end of the olive oil scale. Puree until smooth or keep a bit chunky if thats how you like it.

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3. Finish off with a heart-shaped sriracha garnish and a few sesame seeds. Serve with carrots, pita, cucumbers, or on top of a salad/sandwich.

Can’t wait to share the SWEETS I fell in love with in Argentina…I know you’re all on the edge of your chair wondering if I mean desserts or men amirite??? jajaja bon appetit! Let me know how the peanut picada works for you next time you have people over!

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