What do you get when you cross a dinner timesaver with all the fall flavors? Answer: crispy chicken sandwiches with gouda, apple, mustard, and arugula. These were so quick for dinner one night – then again for lunch another day annnnd they use some of the bajillion apples we have.
Crispy Chicken Sandwiches with Gouda & Apples
Ingredients: (for 4, serves 2-3 people)
4 pieces of breaded chicken (I used frozen chicken tenders, or make your own)
3 tablespoons dijon mustard or honey mustard
1 large apple
4 rolls (I used finger rolls, shoot for the same size as your chicken)
1-2 cups arugula
4 slices of smoked gouda
Bake the chicken (until cooked through, or as the package instructs).
Slice the apple into thin slices.
Spread the mustard onto the rolls then add arugula, and apple slices.
Lay the gouda onto the chicken to melt the last minute of cooking.
Add the chicken onto the sandwiches.
I also like reminding the little ones that foods can be different all the time. We don’t just eat the apples off the core, here they are with other food!
I entered a burger competition not thinking a ton about it. Build a Better Burger by Sutter Home made me think I wouldn’t get picked, but maybe I’d get some wine! I then heard I’d be in the regional finals and I won! I couldn’t believe it! I have the national finals coming up in just a few weeks. It was exciting and nerve-racking.
I had never done something like this before! Cooking everything outside- with a set time was tricky!
I entered my Parisian Burger, circa 2014 (which deserves a reshoot for the blog). It is ground pork with rosemary & dijon with arugula, swiss, truffle mayo, and a fried egg on a brioche bun. Had I thought more about the possibility of cooking an egg on the grill, I might have planned otherwise! The eggs came out well though.
The regional finals:
There were 5 regional finals, each with 4 contestants. The winner from each goes to the national finals – that’s me! We had 60 minutes to cook 4 burgers for the judges + 1 display. The judges were 3 chefs and a former Red Sox player. The competition was outside Fenway Park then we got tickets to the game!
Racing a plate to the display felt like all the Food Network shows I watch!
We got a gift card to cover travel (so for me, that was parking but my competitors were from NH, Jersey, CT) and we got a gift card for our ingredients.
Cooking eggs on a skillet, on a grill is tricky. I also didn’t want the eggs hanging around forever before serving, so cooking them in batches worked out pretty well.
When they announced the winner I was super nervous. It was a long few hours of arriving, prepping, cooking, and waiting. I felt proud. This was all new to me so I just hoped to be ton time and produce my burger the best I could. I knew it’d be subjective for the judging so I just wanted to feel good about it. I couldn’t believe it when they announced it.
I was really thankful to have Mr. J there with me. He calms me down and was the perfect support I needed.
Next up, the national finals:
In just a few weeks Mr. J and I are heading to Napa for wine & the final competition. Can you believe it? One of the 5 regional finals will win $25,000! Fingers crossed! We are so psyched for a few days in Napa! Follow along on instagram (@emilyran) and I’ll try to get photos for a post about the trip & the final round!
Wooo-eeee! September was a whirl-wind!
September’s hype was the burger competition! I can’t believe it. I won! I literally entered because I thought ‘hmm. they won’t pick my burger but maybe they’ll send me some wine!’ I wanted more and more details so it was a bit clouded in mystery but it went really well. I practiced a few times. The timing (60 minutes to make burgers for 4 judges and 1 display) – exactly as entered was boarder-line too long. It was fun but nerve-wracking. I was proud and glad it all went well.
In addition to practicing my burger, I made this honey mustard chicken salad and loved it best in lettuce wraps – but of course it was delicious in a croissant! It was a fun back-to-school timing of lunch.
This Easiest Peach Cobbler was such a fun dessert. I made a small portion and am due to throw the other half together – maybe blueberry next!
I made a flatbread with naan, arugula, cherries and parmesan. It was such a fun lunch. It has this impression of being super special but couldn’t be easier.
The Baby Girl:
She seems so big! She’s so strong and adjusted ok to the switch to milk. She’s a fantastic eater. She loves it all. I can’t get over the volume she’s eating! The other night she ate a BBQ chicken thigh, most of a corn cob, and about 1/3 cup of rice. She loves the swings, following big brother around, and taking things out of whatever they’re in.
The Little Boy:
He’s loving his new school! I can’t get over how much he’s learning. We did it because the biggest learning curve is meeting new people and adapting to new routines. He’s doing so great! He just taught me about fiction books and how he does big kid math! We’re so proud of him making friends and being himself – what more could we ask for?! Pasta is his #1, of course. He loves that his new school isn’t nut-free so PB&J it is! He’s super into Italian dressing which seems funny and talking a lot about fish so we’ve had salmon, coconut shrimp, and crispy fish tacos.
Year of ___ decluttering/minimizing/organizing: I should get back on it. We’re done with bottles so I’m hoping to find somebody who wants them!
Feeding Littles: I reflected on introducing little ones to new foods – like blue cheese dressing!
Work on advanced food prepping: We went for easy while super busy at work and a cold that passed along amongst us.
What I’m reading: I read Pachinko for bookclub.
What I’m watching: We watched the movie Vice which was so good.
I love the simplicity most about this flatbread. It has some special touches but is wayyy easier than it seems! The cherries were frozen- with the pits already removed! They can pretty much thaw on the counter while everything else is prepping! What a great way to get another color of the food rainbow in!
Cherry, Arugula & Parmesan Flatbread
4 naan (I used wheat)
1/4 cup whipped cream cheese
3 cups baby arugula
1/4 cup shaved parmesan
1/2 cup dark cherries, frozen
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt & pepper
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, or a toaster oven to toast the naan for 5-8 minutes, until crisping on the edges but still soft.
Toss the arugula in olive oil with salt & pepper.
Spread cream cheese on each piece of naan and sprinkle arugula, parmesan, and cherries on top.
Slice & enjoy!
This takes 10 minutes and I can picture munching it on a patio at a restaurant who’d ask $18 for it. I love the cherries contrasting the arugula and parm. The cherries are a great smoothie addition for leftovers or are fantastic on yogurt.
I use naan for the fastest weeknight pizzas ever. This week is nutty at work with an event this weekend so I planned some quick pizzas on naan for a weeknight meal and my Thursday night self thanks that Sunday planning self! Naan pizzas freeze well too if prepping in advance – not an arugula flatbread, but go for it with traditional toppings! I also found tiny naans that are a great kid size for lunches too!
Winner winner, chicken
dinner lunch! This was SO good and perfect if you’re packing lunches! Our pre-schooler loves honey mustard so he was my inspiration! I made a batch for a few servings – one decadently in a croissant, and some another time as a lettuce wrap.
If you’re thinking you don’t do chicken salad, I urge you to try this one. The honey mustard and lettuce make it seem like a salad and it is such a great use of leftover chicken or to liven up lunch! It is a great use for dark meat if that’s not your fav- at our house, we seek leftover options for white meat since that’s often dried out & has less flavor.
Honey Mustard Chicken Salad
Ingredients: (for 3-4 servings)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup yellow mustard
3 tablespoons mayo
1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
salt & pepper
1/2 roasted chicken, torn or forked apart (~2 cups of chicken)
Whisk together the honey, mustard, mayo, and garlic- or shake together in a jar.
(If using as a salad dressing – add a splash of olive oil whisked in. It’ll be too thick otherwise!)
Add the chicken into the bowl and gently mix.
Sprinkle in salt & pepper and mix.
Refrigerate until serving, or enjoy immediately on a sandwich, salad, open-faced on toast, or in a lettuce wrap!
This is so easy, can be made in advance, and eat it all different ways. I packed some separately and spooned it onto romaine lettuce as a lettuce wrap at work. That worked out really well.
And by peach, I always mean nectarine, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it. I don’t do peach fuzz but eat lots ‘o nectarines. This is a foolproof dessert…that comes from a non-baker. It was fantastic to make a tiny one or make a full size one for a crowd! I loved it and will whip it up again soon- I’m thinking blueberries before it is apple season! The little dude thinks chocolate, but it won’t work the same.
There are lots of “dump cakes” around the internet. I just had to share because who doesn’t need a foolproof dessert option in your back pocket?! Also, it’d be easy to make 2 varsities at the same time if you don’t want half a box of cake mix hanging around until your next one!
Easiest Fruit Cobbler
Ingredients: (serves ~4)
2 teaspoons of white sugar
1/2 box cake mix
1/2 stick of butter
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Slice the peaches and lay into a small baking dish sprayed with non-stick spray (a pie plate or 9×9 would work).
Sprinkle the peaches with sugar then sprinkle half the cake mix onto the peaches.
Slice the butter and lay slices across the top.
Bake for ~20 minutes. Check that the whole top is getting nicely brown. Bake another 5 if needed for a light brown crust.
Enjoy! Serve warm or room temperature.
The little guy had this twice and I had it about 3 times. We added whipped cream on top and loved it. He liiiiives for dessert and it was fun to have something special/different and fitting for the season without making a ton. Mr. J would head towards ice cream or an Oreo before this- unless served at a dinner party or holiday etc.
Frozen fruit (peaches, mixed berries, cherries, blueberries) would be great too and make it super convenient to whip up quickly. I tucked the other half of the cake mix away for another day but need to keep this these ratios in mind!
The end of August brings some teases of fall weather and I’m 100% here for it. The only good thing about August is the height of tomato season – or our baby’s birthday. She’s 1! We made the most of summer days with swims at the grandparents pool, and popsicles, and quick dinners so we could play outside. A trip to see my college roomies and their families filled me up AND my bestie got engaged. I’m feeling so thankful for my friends, near and far.
I have a super exciting burger competition coming up in September! My Parisian Burger will go against 3 others and then one of those will advance to a final round in Napa! Fingers crossed (and some legit practice for my timing)! I was all over the place confirming I’d attend. I was feeling stressed with the timeline and requirements, and annoyed I left it to the last minute. I then thought, why would I add something into my life that induces stress? Should I just forget it and move on? I was afraid I was too late but figured I’d just go for it. I don’t push myself outside my comfort zone frequently. Here’s hoping!
This month, I made crescent dogs – 3 ways which require zero brain power but capitalizes on hot dog season. They’re not grilled so make ‘em whenever. My fav were the bagel dogs!
On vacay I made not-your-average spinach salad with strawberries which deserves repeating while the strawberries are still good!
I made the easiest app: Pesto Puff Pastry Twists I’d totally made these to be lunch, or have them alongside fall soup, or serve with tomato sauce to dip for a fun dinner!
September will bring some changes- new school for T and new work hours for me- which might help with the dinner rush! I have some ideas for lunches and highlights of this fantastic season of produce.
The Baby Girl:
She’s super strong and curious. When we tell her no, she shakes her head. I can’t wait to hear words! She loves carrying toys around and taking everything out of whatever contains it. It is fun to see her interest in things big brother likes and she now wears shoes since she wants to walk everywhere. Finally more teeth are coming in and just now had her 1 year check up. She had a fun birthday and loved the cake. Thanks Grandma! We’re slowwwwly reducing the pacifier she loves so much. We had one on the carseat and in bed for sleeping times…emphasis on had. I’m attaching other toys and she’s less than impressed. She can do it! She’ll sit through about 1/2 of a board book- progress!
The Little Boy:
He loves his sister so much that he needs reminders to chill, enough hugs, let her be. Little dude can’t hang on days he doesn’t have a good nap. He is falling asleep at the table- by 6:15 without one. I cherish nap time and am thankful for 4 1/2+ with regular naps. He loved seeing his new school and we’re excited for him to start next week. I’m so proud when he gets comfortable and settles in, like seeing the new school and when we visited friends in NY and he got right into playing with everyone. Poor guy has wicked motion sickness and Dramamine didn’t cut it on a 4 hour ride from NY. We had a fun trip through Costco and he sampled everything: granola bar; dumpling; almond milk; kielbasa; open faced tomato & mayo sandwich; Norweigan flat bread; and cheese. I love the adventurous side despite always hoping dinner will be pasta.
Year of ___ decluttering/minimizing/organizing: Together we attacked a closet and donated a bunch of stuff. We quickly got a few things on the buy-nothing group for the town and unloaded stuff pretty quickly!
Feeding Littles: I didn’t share a ton- just a reminder that nobody has picture-perfect meals all the time.
Work on advanced food prepping: I’d like to do more of this- without it being Sundays. Maybe I can work harder to create a habit that fits.
What I’m reading: I read Southern Lady Code (skip it, unless is realllly speaks to you) and Becoming (we should all be a little more like Michelle) and Educated. Educated was for bookclub (a must read and a repeat for me but I loved it just the same for round 2).
What I’m watching: I’m ready for substance (This is Us! A Million Little Things!), but have kept up with AGT & Bachelor in Paradise.
Summer isn’t quite over! There’s still time for these dogs! Though, these are pretty season-less since the dogs are wrapped in crescents and baked. I whipped these up for a weeknight dinner since I could prep them most of the way and just heat and serve.
These got delayed- life got in the way. It was a busy few weeks with the baby’s 1st birthday, our refrigerator struggled and we lived out of a drink fridge until it got fixed, an overnight away, and everything else. I made a few flavors giving some fun choice at dinner!
Crescent Dogs, 3 ways
Bagel Dogs: dogs, wrapped in crescents, brushed with egg wash, sprinkled with everything bagel seasoning
Cowboy Dogs: crescents, brushed with barbecue sauce, with caramelized onions, with the dog rolled in the crescent.
Taco Dogs: crescents, sprinkled with cheddar cheese, sprinkled with taco seasoning (I used Chili Lime Seasoning), with the dog rolled in the crescent.
Try ‘em with any of your fav hot dog toppings. Chili and cheese would be fun! Bacon and cheddar would be fun! Bruschetta & balsamic would be fun!
We go through a lot of pesto pasta here at our table. The pre-schooler and baby both love it and I appreciate it for variety. I smeared some on some puff pastry with cheese for this instant appetizer knowing it would be a hit!
Pesto Puff Pastry Twists
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted in the refrigerator for ~8 hours or overnight
3 tablespoons pesto
1 cup shredded mozzarella & asiago
1/2 cup tomato sauce
Roll out the puff pastry sheet.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (or as the puff pastry package suggests).
Spread the pesto across the whole sheet, all the way to the edges.
Sprinkle the cheese on top, all the way to the edges.
Slice with a pizza cutter into 1 1/2 inch strips. Hold from the ends and twist around. Place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking sheet. (Add the cheese that falls out back into a crack.)
Bake for 10-15 minutes.
Let cool 5 minutes.
Serve with tomato sauce to dip. Enjoy!
These were a fun appetizer and could even be a meal of their own! Serve them as an app, alongside soup or pasta or with salad. These are a great use for a smaller amount of leftover pesto. These take so little hands-on time!
Fruit in salad instantly elevates the salad. I wanted to uplevel the traditional spinach/strawberry/poppy seed salad by adding some cute tiny bowtie pasta and avocado. I used this balsamic fig dressing from Trader Joe’s but think shaking up some fig jam with some balsamic vinegar together in a jar would do the same thing!
Not Your Average Spinach Strawberry Salad
Ingredients: (serves 2)
1 1/2 cups mini bow tie pasta
2 cups baby spinach
1/2 teaspoon poppy seeds
2 tablespoons fig balsamic dressing (or 1 tbs fig jam and 1 tbs balsamic whisked together)
Boil the pasta, cook, drain, and let cool.
Mix together the spinach, pasta, strawberries, avocado, pasta, and poppy seeds. Mix gently.
Add in the dressing and mix again.
This was a fun one! We thought red onion would have been tasty in here too. I allllmost swapped the poppy seeds for everything bagel seasoning but didn’t in the end. Some shredded chicken would add some protein to turn this into a substantial meal. Spinach is pretty delicate so keep the dressing separate until serving.