Who Knew Soup Was a Spring Thing …

It has been a little bit cool but really grey, windy and damp for days! It’s been either raining or drizzling for over 5 days straight … and at times just crazy downpours. Then yesterday it was really cool and the same wet. I was craving a warm bowl of soup the other day to comfort me, but since I am also in the middle of studying for finals and end of semester papers I have not had a ton of time on my hands. Thank goodness soups tend to be quick to throw together and are better the longer they cook and sit. My solutions … tomato soup and butternut squash soup.

Tomato soup is a classic and one of hubby’s favorite soups (there are not a lot of soups he can make a meal out of). Pair with a hot sandwich or quesadilla and you have a childhood classic!

Butternut squash soup is hearty and filling, but creamy and luxurious. It is one of my favorite soups on a cold, damp day. It can be made so many different ways and I like them all! 🙂

My tomato soup took a different twist than I anticipated, but it turned out amazing and I think will be the way I make tomato soup from now on!

Tomato Soup

2 large cans tomato sauce
1 large can whole tomatoes
1 shallot – large chop
3 garlic cloves
Penzey’s Ancho Chile Powder
Penzey’s Smoked Paprika
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Chicken Stock
Applewood Smoked Salt
Tomato Paste
Hot sauce (if you like it with a little kick)

Saute shallots until almost soft, add halved garlic cloves and saute just a minute. Add about 1 tablespoon tomato paste, stir in. Add chicken stock and scrape brown bits off the bottom. Add 2 cans of tomato sauce. Let cook until almost bubbly. Add whole tomatoes. Cook another couple minutes. Add chile powder, paprika & black pepper. Let cook a few minutes then taste before adding salt (some tomato sauce is saltier than others). Add salt to taste. Let cook a few more minutes. Keep adding seasoning to taste and let simmer with the lid on for 20-40 minutes. Use immersion blender to blend up the whole tomatoes. Let simmer 20-40 minutes.

Chiffonade basil to top with. Yes, basil and smoky flavors go! Who knew!? 

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Then … the next day … or two days later …

Boil some orzo or tiny little pastas. Drain just short of done.
(You could also add rice (brown or white) or farro)
Start to heat leftover tomato soup on low heat
I cut up some kale, drained a can of chickpeas (cannellini beans might be better), add some white wine (about 1/2 cup), a little more chicken stock and let the soup heat through. Add the pasta or rice. Let it get all heated through until the pasta are done and plate up. I added a grilled and sliced chicken breast to the top. So YUMMY!

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Butternut Squash Soup
1 butternut squash
3 carrots
1 onion
3 cloves of garlic
Chicken stock (you could easily substitute vegetable stock)
Coconut milk
2 cups white wine

Soup Topping (I may have gone slightly overboard, but oh man was it gooood!)
Bacon
Mushrooms
Goat Cheese
1 Apple
Chives

Roast the butternut squash with a little olive oil, salt and pepper until tender. Wash the carrots, do not peel, cut into chunks and roast until tender. I usually roast at 350 degrees.

While the squash and carrots are roasting, render out the bacon until crispy. Pull out the pieces and set aside. Add a little olive oil and saute the onion until softened. Add the garlic and saute for just a few seconds. Add the white wine to deglaze the pan, add about 1/2 the carton of chicken stock. Let cook a couple minutes, then add the roasted squash (scooped out of the skin) and carrots. Add the remaining chicken stock. Cook and taste for salt and pepper. Let it cook for another 15 minutes or so and make sure all the carrots and squash are really tender. Either put it in a blender or use an immersion blender to blend until smooth. Add a couple cups of coconut milk. Stir together until creamy and combined. I let it cook for little bit for the flavors to meld.

For the toppings add a little olive oil to a pan, add the mushrooms (sliced), some black pepper and a little bit of thyme. Once the mushrooms are a beautiful browned, add just a tad bit of salt, stir well.

Slice the apple thin (with skin on) and then slice into little matchsticks and then halve.

Ladle the soup into a bowl and top with the bacon, mushrooms, goat cheese crumbles and apple sticks. Then cut the chives pretty small with scissors (sooo much easier than a knife).

Enjoy a delicious, hearty bowl of soup!

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Quick Skillet Vegetarian Tacos

20170329_135414I had a really full day of hard core, nose in the books, studying today and needed something nutritious and filling, but really quick for lunch. I pulled from what I had in my pantry and fridge. Vegetarian tacos for the win!!

First things first, peel a sweet potato, cut into bite-size chunks and throw onto a sheet pan to roast. Add a little olive oil, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder and chili pepp!er and toss to coat. I used Ancho Chili Powder and oh man, the flavor this adds! Roast for 10-15 min or so at 400 degrees.

Open cans of corn, black beans (rinse well before adding). Chop a bell pepper (I used orange) and shallot (you want bite-size, not minces).

Saute the pepper & shallot. Add salt & pepper and let cook till just softened. Add the corn, black beans, garlic powder, chili powder & smoked paprika and let cook for a few minutes. I had some frozen green chilis that I just threw in and let melt in. Add the roasted sweet potato. I had a little bit of rice leftover from dinner the other night which I add and then I added a little chicken stock (you could easily use vegetable stock) to help reconstitute and soften the rice. Cook with the lid on a few minutes and taste for seasonings.

Put on your favorite tortillas and add cilantro and avocado. If you want a little kick add your favorite hot sauce. Spritz with some lime juice to add a nice bit of acid.

Back to the books for me!

Farro Salad

On the days I am off work, I need to make the most of my time at home … and today was no different. I had a good bit of reading, homework and 2 quizzes I needed to do, in addition to grocery shopping, laundry, etc. I also wanted to make sure it was nutritious and would help fuel me for the rest of the day.

When I am home I try to be very intentional about eating really healthy and incorporating as many fruits and veggies as I can. Since I am home and have access to my kitchen (refrigerator, oven, stove, etc.), I can also be a little creative (as opposed to just a quick sandwich).

I had heard the many benefits of farro, but had a hard time finding it at my local grocery stores and had not tried it yet. Today was the day! I finally found it and thought since I was home I would whip up a little farro salad. Really filling and tasty! It’s also something that will store well and I can eat on for a couple days while I am home cranking away on homework. Seriously worth a try! It’s like a nuttier, heartier, more firm rice.

This is my Mediterranean farro salad (I have made a similar salad with orzo) with a twist that is an unusual ingredient, but works so well with all the other components.

1 cup farro (cook according to package directions)
1/2 cucumber (unpeeled, all the nutrition is in the skin)
1/2 red bell pepper (could also use yellow or orange)
1 small shallot (could use a red onion as well)
1/2 pint strawberries
1/2 cup spinach (I also love arugula in this)
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives (halved)
1/2-3/4 cup Greek dressing
Feta or goat cheese crumbled

Dice up the cucumber, bell pepper and strawberries into the same sizes (I did a small’ish dice). Cut up the shallot pretty small (mine was much smaller than the other veggies, no one likes biting into a hug hunk of onion).

Once the farro is cooked, make sure it is strained (you do not want any residual liquid). Let cool a few minutes (you don’t want rubbery cucumbers). I stuck mine in the fridge for about 5 minutes. Add the shallots, bell pepper, olives and spinach (the spinach will slightly wilt). Mix up well. Once it is cooled more, add the cucumbers and  strawberries. Add Greek dressing and combine well. Add feta or goat cheese. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve and enjoy!

It would be delicious with some grilled shrimp, salmon or chicken!

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Farmer’s Market Season

This is the first summer in two years that we haven’t been moving, so we are so very excited about taking full advantage of all summer in our area has to offer. This past weekend we went to our local farmer’s market for the first time and I can’t wait to go every weekend we can and eat some really fresh produce! We picked up some BEAUTIFUL greens, local meat (no hormones, no antibiotics), local goat cheese (some of the best I have EVER had, it’s AMAZING), local honey and local coffee. We used the greens in a salad and I have pretty much used them every chance I have gotten:

I marinated some mahi mahi in an Asian marinade and put it on top of these beautiful greens with some other veggies

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For lunch today I made a salad with beets and some of that local goat cheese and greens. ohhhh man! I also put some of the greens on my sandwich. What a difference in taste from store bought greens! I wish we had gotten more!

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Chicken Burgers

Not much says summer like burgers on the grill! I mean what is better than a hot meat patty topped with fresh, crisp lettuce and a nice cold tomato, ketchup, mustard, mayo for you southern folk, dill relish or pickles, melty cheese for you dairy loving  peeps, a nice soft bun and my personal favorite avocado slices and a fried egg. That and a cold beer is just amazing! There are so many different types of burgers. So many different meats that can be used and flavor palates that a burger can take on. It can be whatever you want it to be. Classic or edgy … burgers are summer!

A recent doctor’s appointment says I need to lay off red meat and greasy burgers, among other things. No way I can just give up burgers, I LOVE them. It really has nothing to do with the fact that they are usually made out of beef, it’s the burger concept. So many toppings that can be personalized. I had to find an acceptable alternative, I wasn’t going to make it through the summer without them. My mom can’t eat red meat, so she makes turkey burgers and I had one she made recently and it was pretty good (I am not a fan of ground turkey, so that was the only thing I didn’t like about it, otherwise it was DELICIOUS). I thought I would see about using some ground chicken and see if I liked that better. Let me tell you … after a little experimentation … I am not going to miss beef burgers at all! These chicken burgers are a really healthy alternative and full of flavor! Even hubby loved them and doesn’t miss the beef aspect!

A word of caution, you have to be careful with ground chicken (& ground turkey for that matter), it will dry out quick and be kinda bland. This recipe has given me super flavorful and moist burgers. It’s a great base to add whatever flavor palate you want. Also, this recipe is heart healthy! 🙂

1 lb ground chicken breast
1/2 of a ripe avocado
1/2 of an onion
1 clove of garlic (2 cloves if you’re like me and love garlic)
1/4 – 1/2 cup bread crumbs
smoked paprika
salt/pepper to taste
fresh herbs when I have them

Throw the avocado, onion, garlic, breadcrumbs & salt & pepper in a food processor. Process until paste. Put the ground chicken and paste into a bowl and combine with your hands (seriously, hands are the best kitchen tools! ;). Pop the mixture back in the fridge for about 20 minutes b/c at this point it will be kinda sticky and loose. Form into burgers and cook on the grill for about 5-6 minutes per side.

Warm up a nice soft bun and top with your favorite things and enjoy! 🙂 My personal faves are avocado slices, ketchup, brown mustard, lettuce, tomato, goat cheese and occasionally a fried egg! 😉

Grilled Chicken w/roasted veggie & balsamic pasta

No great story to tell tonight. I made a really yummy pasta dish and the picture turned out great (if I do say so myself), so I thought I would share. Last night we had an unseasonably warm day and evening. It was 70-something as a high. I was in the mood for pasta since it had been a while since we’d had it, but the warm weather did not really call for a hot, hearty pasta meal. So, we grilled chicken and I made pasta as a side instead. It was perfect! Satisfied the craving AND made for a little bit lighter fare on a warm evening.

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Boneless skinless chicken breasts (however many is needed to feed your crowd)
Olive Oil
Penzey’s Fox Point Seasoning (or other favorite chicken seasoning)
Fettucine Pasta
1-2 zucchini
1 container grape or cherry tomatoes
1 red bell pepper (cut into bite size pieces)
1 shallot (chopped, but not finely)
2 medium’ish garlic cloves (chopped fine)
Balsamic Vinegar
Salt/Pepper
Dried basil (I didn’t have fresh on hand)
Parsley (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. Peel the zucchini in striped (or completely if you prefer it that way) and cut into thick rounds. Put the tomatoes and zucchini on a sheet tray, brush with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Pop in the oven for 15-20 minutes (or until desired doneness, we do not like mushy veggies around here) and turn once during the process. Tomatoes will most likely burst, don’t worry, it just adds flavor! 🙂 Once it is cooked, cut the zucchini into wedges (I cut the rounds into fourths).

Meanwhile, pound the chicken breasts until even thickness on both ends. Brush will olive oil, season liberally with your favorite chicken seasoning on both sides. Grill until done (12 minues on one side/8 minutes on the next … depending on thickness of chicken). Set aside and let rest (don’t want to lose all those great juices).

While the chicken is grilling away, start your pasta water and cut all your other veggies (shallots, pepper, garlic). This is also a good time to chop your parsley.

Once you throw the pasta in the water (don’t forget to salt the pasta water), start a sauté pan with a little olive oil on medium heat. Once the pan is hot, throw in the shallot and red bell pepper. Cook until tender. Season with salt and pepper. Add chopped garlic and cook for just a minute. Next add about 2-3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and let the shallots, peppers and garlic sorta marinate in it. Give it a minute to cook and then take it off the heat.

Once the pasta is done, drain it then throw it right back in the pot and add the balsamic veggie mix and the roasted tomatoes and zucchini and dried basil. Toss well (I find tongs work best for this).

I add a little parsley at the very end to add a little freshness.

Dinner is served! 🙂

If you want a twist … a little goat cheese ‘never hurt ‘nobody! 😉

Fall … on the EAST COAST!!

Yet another long lapse of time … school, moving, new job and new surroundings! A little over a month ago we moved back to the East Coast, back to NC to be specific. And let me just say it is SO GOOD to be HOME! While it has not been easy in so many regards, there are elements of comfort. Being back on the East Coast has meant a bit of a delay in the fall weather (fall doesn’t really arrive in NC until AT LEAST mid-October and this year has been no exception). We are finally starting to really settle into a bit of a routine and enjoying reconnecting with friends and family. It has also meant we went from summer to fall and barely noticed. Thank goodness though … late summer in NC is MISERABLY hot and humid.

When I was a kid, fall meant apple picking in the mountains of Virginia and stock up on apple butter and at least one apple picking outing included picking up some pumpkins. To this day I cannot let fall go by without picking up a pumpkin. Pumpkins are happy fall accents, and they are orange which is even happier. Apple picking also meant climbing trees to get the apples (that was my favorite part) and getting some apple cider at the apple farms (oh my, that stuff was soooo good). And apple picking, always meant apple desserts. I LOVE apple desserts and hot apple cider … for me it meant fall had arrived (crisp air and changing leaves) and it is quite possibly my favorite time of year. As an adult it means those things AND more.

As soon as the first hint of crisp weather made it’s appearance … I knew it was time. Time for some sort of apple dessert. This year, I found a recipe from Trisha Yearwood that involved biscuits, apples, butter and cinnamon sugar … umm, you cannot go wrong with those ingredients! It’s ridiculously simple and easy. It is something that I think kiddos would probably really enjoy helping with and wouldn’t drive mom up a wall. Annnd, it’s a dessert that even my hubby LOVED … and he doesn’t even like apple desserts AT ALL. Score for wifey! 😉

Apple Dumplings
Trisha Yearwood

Ingredients
• 2 Granny Smith apples*
• 1 lemon
• 1 cup sugar
• 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 8 canned buttermilk biscuits
• 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Peel, core and slice the apples vertically into 8 slices each. Squeeze the lemon into a bowl of water and add the apple slices to keep from turning brown.

In a medium saucepan, mix 1 cup water, 3/4 cup of the sugar, the butter and vanilla. Bring the sugar mixture to a boil over medium heat.
Separate each biscuit into 2 layers. Flatten out just a bit with your fingers. Peel and core the apples and slice into wedges. Wrap half a biscuit layer around a slice of apple, stretching the biscuit slightly to overlap, and seal on the bottom. Place the wrapped slices, sealed-side down, in a 9- by 12- by 2-inch casserole dish. Pour the hot sugar mixture over the apple slices. Mix the remaining 1/4 cup sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle the mixture over the tops of the wrapped apples. Bake until golden.

*Note* I have found that the use of Granny Smith apples is really important. They give a tartness that really balances the sweetness that is added by the butter and cinnamon sugar. I tried it with some gala apples, and those were too sweet for the recipe.

Perfect for Summer

One week it’s snowing and the next it’s sunny and 80’ish … which is HOT for me. I am not a fan of hot weather … warm is ok (lets define “warm” as no more than 75 degrees), hot is NOT. When it’s hot I always say I go from one air conditioned unit to another. It’s the only way to survive. Well, not the ONLY way … the other way is to eat cool summery foods! I don’t have as large a repertoire of summery foods, but the ones I do have, I make quite a bit and they are quick and easy and do not require heating up the kitchen. The following recipe is one that we eat often and seems to go with so much and is so refreshing (GREAT with hamburgers fresh off the grill). Also, I could eat cucumbers by the pound (seriously, ask my father-in-law, we “fight” over them when we are together). So whatever way I can find to incorporate them into dishes, I do! 😉

Cucumber and Mozzerella “Salad”

Ingredients
2 Cucumbers (peeled)
Cherry Tomatoes
Fresh Mozzerella block
Garlic Powder
Salt/Pepper
Parsley

Cut each cucumber in half and then each half in half again (quarter spears). Slice each spear into bite size chunks. (How do you like my technical terminology? Ha!!) Wash the cherry tomatoes and cut in half. Cut the mozzarella into bite-size cubes. Put all these into one bowl and add a little garlic powder, salt and pepper. Taste as you go and don’t over season. Sometimes hubby likes it when I add just a tad of balsamic vinegar.

*Note* Penzeys has a garlic salt that is really perfect for this.

Jambalaya

We have had a cold snap here … as in 30’s and snow the last two days. It was a really wet snow and slushy. This morning’s commute was GROSS. Wet and cold and blustery … which is ok in February, NOT MAY! Last night was so cold and wet that hubby and I wanted a hot, hearty meal to comfort our disgruntled spirits from the weather. Hubby’s jambalaya was the perfect solution. Fairly quick and easy and so filling and comforting.

Spice Mix:
We make the spice mix and just keep it on hand for when we want jambalaya.
2.5 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tbsp. salt
2 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tbsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. onion powder
1/2 – 1 tsp. cayenne pepper (we use only a little cayenee because I don’t like it super hot. If it was just for hubby, he would put quite a bit more in.)
1 tbsp. dried, ground oregano
1 tbsp. dried, ground thyme


Rice:

3 cups of chicken broth
1 tbsp. spice mix
2 cups jasmine rice
Cook rice according to package directions. I use Golden Star or Mahatma brands jasmine rice.

Jambalaya Meat/Veggies:
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 packages Hillshire Farm turkey polska kielbasa
1 green pepper
1 shallot
2 cloves of garlic

Directions:
1. Cut each chicken breast into bite size cube. Toss in a few spoonfuls of spice mix or until it looks like it’s well seasoned (it took us a few times to find out the right amount).
2. Slice kielbasa into ½ inch rounds and then slice the rounds in half.
3. Cut green pepper into bite size pieces.
4. Add small amount of olive oil. Saute chicken until barely cooked. Remove from pan into a bowl.
5. Add a small amount more of olive oil. Add peppers. Saute until barely soft. Remove from pan into the same bowl the chicken is in.
6. Add kielbasa to same pan and brown. Remove from pan into chicken & pepper bowl.
7. Add garlic to pan, saute for a few minutes (too long and it will burn and be bitter).
8. Add ½ cup chicken stock to pan, allow to simmer and deglaze the pan for 5 minutes or so.
9. Make sure to taste for seasoning.
10. Add chicken, peppers and kielbasa back to pan. Let simmer for a few minutes just to get the flavors combined.
11. Serve over rice.

Variations 1: If we were still living on the East Coast, I would definitely make it with shrimp. Shrimp out here is expensive and so disappointing (no flavor) so we don’t use it. We did make this with my in-laws back in March (who DO live on the East Coast and can get delicious shrimp and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg) with shrimp and it was fannntastic. If you can get good shrimp and not break the bank, you should absolutely add it in! Just cook the shrimp until just done before saute’ing the garlic.

Variation 2: If I make this when hubby is not eating, I would add okra for sure. You could just add some frozen sliced okra. You can cook it with the peppers until just done. It is amazing.

Spring Pesto Pasta and Chicken

Sorry for the delay folks … school work has gotten the best of me the last couple months. Now that I am in the homestretch to the end and the workload is starting to wind down, I’ve been letting my creative juices flow a little more and the results have been pretty tasty if I do say so myself! 🙂

The sun has come out (oh wait, it’s almost always out in Denver) and feels warm (NOT always true in Denver) and a sun dress or two may have made an appearance! The windows have been open more often and the cool breezes blowing in. Sunshine, warm weather and cool breezes put me in the mood for lighter fare to eat and quicker meals so I can spend more time outside. This is one of those recipes that is perfect for a spring evening and for eating outside! 😉

I recently saw a recipe for an edamame and spinach pesto. I took the base idea and made it my own and the result was not half bad! 😉

Spring Pesto Pasta and Chicken
I apologize for the poor quality of the picture … all I had was my phone handy.


Pesto:

1/2 cup frozen shelled edamame, defrosted
1 cup spinach leaves (I used baby spinach)
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons water (or chicken or vegetable stock would be great too!)
2 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt & Pepper to taste

Chicken & Wine Sauce:
2 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup white wine (I like a Riesling because it’s almost always a nice, light wine – feel free to use whatever you like, should always be worth drinking)
1/2 tbsp. butter
1 lb gf pasta (this works best with something like a spaghetti or fettucine, not so much with short-cut pasta)
1 shallot
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 tsp Penzey’s Florida Seasoned Pepper
Goat cheese crumbles

Combine all the pesto ingredients except the olive oil into a food processor. Start the food processor and once the mixture has started to combine, start streaming in the olive oil through the top of the food processor spout. You may need to stop the blender and scrape the sides of the food processor. Pour enough olive oil to get the mixture to creamy. Let the mixture blend for a couple more minutes. It should be creamy and smooth. Taste to adjust for salt & pepper. Add to a small saucepan and cook for a few minutes until simmering … just to heat and get rid of the raw flavor. It’s a beautiful spring green color!

Start the pasta water, bring to a boil, add the pasta and salt generously (this adds great flavor to the pasta and the dish once complete). Cut the chicken into small cubes, sprinkle the Penzey’s Florida seasoning over it and toss and let it sit a minute. While that is sitting, cut up your shallot to your desired size (I don’t mind seeing it and eating it, hubby doesn’t want to know it’s in there), mince up the garlic.

Put a sauté pan over medium heat, let it get hot and add olive oil (“Hot pan, cold oil, food won’t stick” – The Frugal Gourmet) … just enough to barely coat the bottom of the pan (don’t want to deep fry). Add the shallots (they should sizzle when adding), sauté for a couple minutes, add the chicken and brown (“brown food tastes good” – Anne Burrell). Add garlic and sauté for just a minute (burned garlic tastes bitter). Add white wine and butter. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let it all cook together for a few minutes and marry together.

Drain pasta (reserve a cup of pasta water), add to a large pasta bowl. Toss with warmed pesto. If the pesto is too thick, add a little pasta water until it’s at the desired sauciness (yes, that’s an “Amy-ism”). Plate pasta, add chicken to top, sprinkle on goat cheese crumbles. VOILA! Enjoy with a glass of white wine and a beautiful sunny evening! 😉

There are so many great variations for this recipe … here are a few of my favorites:

Bacon Variation 1: Render up some bacon that has been chunked into small pieces. Cook until crispy. Add to pasta once the pesto has been added and they have been tossed together or as a garnish on top.

Veggie Variation 2: Roast some veggies till just under done and add to the chicken the last couple minutes of saute’ing (or just make the sauce with the roasted veggies). The picture shows some eggplant that I tossed with salt and pepper and olive oil and then roasted. The chicken and veggies can also be grilled and then cubed up afterward. The wine sauce can also be made by itself and poured over grilled meat if you want to put a whole chicken breast.

Seafood Variation 3: This would be fabulous with some grilled shrimp or fish as well. We can’t get good fresh seafood here in Denver, therefore it’s chicken. This is where the making the wine sauce separately would work.