Our Summer Favorites of 2011

Hello Readers, new and old.  We have missed you!
As we relaxed and soaked in the diminishing days of summer, we traveled to connect with friends and families, experienced wonderful meals and allowed our creative juices to simmer.   M.C. baked the cake for her cousin’s wedding; a laidback, outdoor affair backed by the gorgeous Lake Ceour D’Alene in northern Idaho, and Elisa was able to go back to her roots to a New Orleans City Park wedding where they drank spicy Bloody Marys and ate a traditional brunch of Grits and Grillades.

In our absence, we have been brewing up some new ideas and concepts because we are ready to take our blog to a new level this Fall.  We really love featuring friends’ recipes and are excited to make this a continuing theme.  If you are interested in sharing recipes with us, please let us know.  We are also inviting you, our readers to comment with suggestions, ideas, or requests on the recipes that you would like to see.

Sure, the days are still hot, the leaves are still green, and the summer season has not said its goodbyes just yet. But as we send our husbands and children back to the routine of the school year, a change is in the air.

Want to hear more about the favorite tastes we came across this Summer? Each of us has reflected on the summer’s most treasured highlights- dishes we savored and couldn’t stop thinking about, blog recipes we read, tried, and loved, and other good stuff.

As always, thank you for reading!

M.C.’s Summer Favorites, 2011:

Nick’s Caprese Salad Appetizer– Nick’s Fine Foods, Highlands, NC- http://www.nicksofhighlands.com/
Using local, brilliantly colored red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, this fine foods restaurant located in an old house atop the lush green peaks of Highlands, North Carolina, put together the simplest of appetizers that satisfied immediately. Thick, juicy slices of tomato were topped with soft, tangy, buffalo mozzarella cheese and drizzled with a basil-infused oil and swizzled with a balsamic vinegar, marrying these simple flavors to perfection. This appetizer was the perfect commencement to a romantic anniversary dinner out, yet could also suit a laid back family meal at home.

Pioneer Woman’s Artichoke Diphttp://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2009/06/hot-olive-artichoke-dip-yummy/
We had a potluck to close the summer the other day. Friends we haven’t seen all summer came to our house, hands full of delicious homemade food. While most of what they brought was ready to throw on the grill, I found myself especially thankful for those who brought appetizers…something this hostess had not exactly thought about. Our friend, Kat, brought the most incredible, rich and creamy artichoke dip I have ever put in my mouth. I feel like every time I make an artichoke dip, I find a new recipe from who-knows-where. No more! Thanks to Kat, this recipe, which came from the oh-so-talented Pioneer Woman’s blog, will forever be the one.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s Grilled Chicken with Peach Barbeque Sauce from Bon Appetite, June 2011- http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2011/06/grilled-chicken-with-peach-bbq-sauce
You should have seen our car heading out to Montana; packed to the gills like a fairly well-played Tetris game, a toddler tucked in there somewhere, covered in Cheerios. I brought every kitchen item I could possibly use during the course of a summer, but sadly, I couldn’t very well pack the grill. There were a few picnic-style charcoal grills scattered around our campus housing. We spent one windy evening trudging across campus with salmon and other dinner affects in hand, trying to find a grill we could light in such conditions. Finally we were somewhat successful, but picnicked much farther from our apartment than I would have liked. Grilling wasn’t a regular thing for us this summer. So when my family joined us for the wedding in Idaho and we spent several nights in a grill-equipped lake house together, I had to try this Peach Barbecue Sauce I had been eyeing all summer. We had fresh peaches and juicy free-range chicken breasts, not to mention a crisp salad and sweet corn for accompaniment. I loved the way the peaches sweetened up this sauce and made a traditionally simple recipe just a little different.

Bozeman Community Food Co-op http://www.bozo.coop/home
Our Montana Summer proved to be a true adventure in many ways, one of which was providing new explorations in grocery shopping. Imagine my excitement when I came across this food co-op filled with organic groceries, locally grown produce, Bozeman-baked bread, and local, hormone-free meats! Added bonus? I could easily ride my bike there! This whole place was a summer favorite and it provided groceries for some delicious and simple homemade meals.

Elisa’s Summer Favorites, 2011:

Grits and Grillades from Ralph’s on the Park in New Orleans, LA, August 2011
When you look back on your summer months, which foods do you remember the most?  The ones that had you savoring each bite – of course; the ones you shared with loved ones –  of course; and the ones you hope to make yourself one day.  I am starting with the one that I will remember for years to come because not only was it a memorable occasion, not only was I with my all of my grand family for the first time in too long, but it also took place in one of the best places in the world, New Orleans.  The wedding was in August, in City Park, among the Live Oaks – truly a special place – and the reception was held across the street at Ralph’s on the Park, a restaurant owned by the Brennans family of New Orleans.   Imagine being on a beautiful Spanish style balcony, over looking all those grandfather oak trees, sipping spicy Bloody Marys with a cheerful and rowdy crew.  We have just witnessed a whole-souled ceremony and the ladies and gents are dressed in their nicest attire, the groom’s party in their elegant Scottish kilts, and the sweetest of children are running and laughing afoot – it is right out of a book. And yes, it is hot and the thick aromatic breeze carries the smells of the timeless dishes they are getting ready to serve.

Finally it is time to eat. The buffet table is abundant with a beautiful fruit plate, homemade southern biscuits and fresh jams, and then, the most important, a culturally significant dish of Grits and Grillades.  The flavors are rich and spicy and the meat is tender and it is served with slowly cooked grits.  It is impossible not to return to the buffet for seconds.  I am eager to try and recreate this dish for all of you but I have to admit is it is a little intimidating.  I just want to see it done, the way a local chef or typical New Orleans family would make it – do you know what I mean?  Anyway, the spirit, culture, and food of this region are my own, so I will dare to try it up here in the Georgia mountains, all on my lone, without guidance or the advice from a chef.  I am pretty sure I can do it – that is what being a cook is all about anyway –  going for  those favorite dishes and doing your best.  It is definitely a great way to learn, in my opinion.

Smitten Kitchen’s Zucchini Breadhttp://smittenkitchen.com/2007/07/summer-of-the-bats/
My must do again and again recipe that I found this summer comes from one of my favorite blogs, Smitten Kitchen.  Talk about a perfect loaf – and the muffins puffed up like the perfect little domes they should aspire to be!  My girls are still asking if we have any left (its been a few weeks since I have made them), and it will fill your house with an aroma that you would buy in a bottle if you could.  So don’t even hesitate – it is a winner!  Thanks, Deb.

Mr Chen’s Chinese Cookinghttp://www.mrchenschinesecooking.com/
We were in Birmingham one night, on our way to New Orleans, and we wanted to have a nice meal out on the town.  My daughter wanted Chinese food so my patient husband spent about 30 minutes reading reviews on the local eateries and what he found was amazing!  Small, quaint, and and extremely clean, Mr. Chen’s is a true gourmet, Chinese – and Taiwanese – experience.  The food is outstanding – light and fresh. We indulged in homemade dumplings, light and crispy egg rolls, shrimp fried rice, and traditional Lo Mein noodles with vegetables.  Every morsel vanished from our plates.  Keep it in mind next time you’re in Alabama – you won’t regret it.

Take it on the Lake’s Tomato Basil Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Lake Burton, All summer long, 2011

My friends have the best gourmet sandwich shop, Take it on the Lake, out on Lake Burton.  I have enjoyed working out there with them this summer because it is a beautiful and relaxed atmosphere and its just good fun.  It is great when you work with friends, rock your favorite beats and have the pleasure to make tasty foods for hungry boaters.  My favorite sandwich of the summer was definitely the Tomato Basil.  This delicacy is stacked with the best local tomatoes you can find.  It is served on a ciabatta roll with homemade basil mayonnaise and Havarti cheese.  The specialty is then placed on a panini grill for a few minutes and served with a handful of potato chips and two dill pickles – need I say more?

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German Plum Cobbler

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I always want to buy plums in the market, but honestly have never enjoyed eating a plum by itself that much. Cobblers are summer’s way of saying “I love you” to fresh fruit – all kinds of fresh fruit.

While the word “kuchen” means cake in german, I found this recipe to be so reminiscent of a summer cobbler. There is no better way to eat cobbler than with vanilla ice cream melting slowly over the top!

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GERMAN PLUM COBBLER

Adapted From Cooking Light’s Plum Kuchen, July 2011

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour

2/3 Cup plus 2 Tablespoons Granulated Sugar, divided

2 Tablespoons Brown Sugar

1 Teaspoon Baking Powder

3/8 Teaspoon Salt, divided

1/2 Teaspoon Cinnamon, divided

1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger

1/4 Teaspoon Nutmeg

7 Tablespoons Butter, divided

1/2 Cup Milk

1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

1 Large Egg

1/2 Pound Black Plums (about 6 medium) or any variety of plums, pitted and quartered

1 Teaspoon Grated Lemon Rind

PREPARATION

Preheat Oven to 425°.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, 2 Tablespoons of granulated sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, 1/4 Teaspoon Salt, and Spices (1/4 teaspoon Cinnamon, Ginger, Nutmeg) in a medium bowl. Using two knives or a pastry blender, cut in 4 Tablespoons Butter until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Whisk together Milk, Vanilla, and Egg in a bowl. Add milk mixure to flour mixture, and stir until just comvined.

Spoon batter into a 9-inch square metal cake pan coated with butter using a butter wrapper or cooking spray. Arrange plums in a linear pattern over batter.

Combine remaining 2/3 Cups Granulated Sugar, remaining 1/8 Teaspoon Salt, and 1/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon in a small bowl. Melt remaining 3 Tablespoons Butter. Stir into sugar mixture. Sprinkle plums evenly with sugar mixture.

Bake at 425° for 35 minutes or until browned and bubbling. Cool in pan for 20 minutes. Serve for dessert, warm with vanilla ice cream or as a breakfast cake.

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Fresh Veggie Frittata

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Temperatures are rising here in Bozeman. Today we enjoyed a bike ride through town which led us to a community garden just beginning to really take off with everyone’s love-sewn vegetables. I just like to peek at what everyone is growing. It made me think of what to make for dinner. Summer is in our faces today. What are your favorites to make on a warm day?

This frittata was a tasty meal to close our day; sweet bursts of flavor soothed by creamy goat cheese, feeling ultimately healthy. I had never made a frittata. I mean, I had certainly come close, making an omlet will guarantee you to be almost there. Simply leave it alone in its pan, dollop with the cheese and bread crumbs and bake in the oven to get the eggs to set. It will work with what your garden offers you, but I really love the corn and tomatoes in this.

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SUMMER VEGETABLE FRITTATA

Inspired by Clean Eating, July 2011

INGREDIENTS

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil

1 Medium Onion, Diced

1 Clove Garlic, minced

1 Meduim Zucchini, cut into half moons

1 Ear of Fresh Corn Kernels, sliced from the cob

1 Cup Cherry Tomatoes, Cut in half length-wise

Salt and Pepper

6 Eggs

1 Teaspoon Water

1 Teaspoon Dijon Mustard

2 Oz. Soft Goat Cheese

1/2 Slice of Whole Wheat Bread, processed into Crumbs

PREPARATION

Set oven to Broil.

In a large, oven-safe skillet, pre-heat Olive Oil and/or Butter. Add Onions and Garlic and cook for 3 minutes.

Add Zucchini and Corn Kernels and cook for another 3-4 minutes, until softened.

Add Tomatoes and cook for 1 more minute. Add Salt and Pepper to taste and stir.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine Eggs, Water, and Dijon Mustard and a little Salt and Pepper. Whisk to combine. Pour Egg Mixture into skillet with Vegetables. Allow to set over medium heat for about 3 minutes, pulling back sides to allow eggs to settle in evenly. After 3 minutes, it will be wet on top, but nearly set on the bottom.

Dollop Goat Cheese over Frittata and sprinkle Bread Crumbs on top.

Place into oven for 4-5 minutes or until completely set. Remove from oven and let sit for 1 minute before transferring gently, with a spatula, to a cutting board.

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Lemon Basil Granita and Frozen Raspberry Lemonade

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A name says a lot for a recipe. This is why I am giving you two names for something that could easily be two flavors of the exact same thing…

I shied away from making “granitas” and I can’t pinpoint exactly why. Once I finally tried it, I was telling everyone how easy it was and was proud of how elegant it could be. Dress it up, or dress it down; that’s my reasoning for giving these two variations on a fruity, refreshing summer treat different titles.

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These two delicious refreshers begin with the same bunch of lemons and their tart juices mixed with a simple syrup. Once combined into a modified lemonade, you can take the flavors in different directions. Here’s how:

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LEMON BASIL GRANITA

INGREDIENTS

For the lemonade base:

3/4 Cup Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice (from 5-6 lemons)

1 Cup Sugar

1 Cup Water

1/4 Teaspoon Lemon Zest

——-

1 Cup Lemonade Base

1 Teaspoon Chopped Fresh Basil

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Sliced Lemon for Garnish

PREPARATION

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine water and sugar. Bring to just under a boil, stir to dissolve sugar, and cool.

Stir in Lemon Zest.

Divide Lemonade Base into equal parts (approximately 1 cup each). Reserve one for Frozen Raspberry Lemonade  and pour remainder into a small, freezer-safe pan.

Sprinkle Basil into lemon mixture and stir to combine. Place pan into freezer. After 3 hours, use a fork to scrape granules of the lemon mixture. Allow to freeze for another 3 hours. Scrape again.

Spoon into a glass or bowl and garnish with sliced lemon and fresh basil.

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FROZEN RASPBERRY LEMONADE

INGREDIENTS

For the lemonade base:

3/4 Cup Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice (from 5-6 lemons)

1 Cup Sugar

1 Cup Water

1/4 Teaspoon Lemon Zest

——-

1 Cup Lemonade Base

1/4 Cup Fresh Raspberries

1/4 Cup Sugar

1 Tablespoon Water

Sliced Lemon and 2 or 3 Fresh Raspberries for Garnish

PREPARATION

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In a saucepan over medium heat, combine raspberries, water, and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring, then remove from heat and cool.

Pour 1 Cup Lemonade Base (For Lemonade Base preparation, See Lemon Basil Granita Recipe) into a shallow pan. Place into freezer for 3 hours.

Remove pan from freezer and gently stir in Raspberry mixture to form a swirl. (…no, I did not make this happen for my pictures, but I believe it can happen. If not, they are pretty when pink…)

Return to freezer for another 3 hours. Scrape into granules with a fork.

Spoon into a glass or bowl and garnish with sliced lemon and fresh raspberries.

These are so refreshing. Tart, yes. I like them that way. If you feel like you might want a little less zing, omit the lemon zest from your lemonade base.

This recipe makes about a cup of each flavor, which could work into two servings for both. Of course, if you’re feeling like serving up raspberry goodness on a fine summer day, double the raspberry sauce and go all raspberry, by all means…serve them in glass stemware and call them granitas to be fancy! ..Or don’t.

It’s all about the name and how you dress it, right?


Summer Broccoli Salad

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I hope you enjoyed everyone’s favorite picnic holiday this Fourth! We had quite a unique celebration, camping for the weekend in Yellowstone National Park. It was Harper’s first camping experience. That child got dirtier than she has ever been before and loved every minute of it. Our scenic campsite included some extremely interesting visitors at nearly every meal. There were two gigantic bison (largest North American animal, by the way) that wandered right into our campsite each day and sniffed around to see what might appease their palates. Thankfully they were satisfied with their grass, but those guys are so huge. It was incredible…and a bit scary to have them so close. Had they decided they wanted to partake in our meal, I’ll be willing to bet their dish of choice would have been this broccoli salad. It was certainly a big hit among the humans.

I brought two cookbooks to Bozeman this summer. One was Martha Stewart’s Living Cookbook, which I was excited to have the time to explore. The other was my Big Green Cookbook, a gift from people who know just how to please me. This book not only  has a lot of great recipes and grand variety, it is full of tips for living a greener life, both in and around the kitchen.

This broccoli salad uses yogurt for the sauce and is ever-so-slightly sweetened with both honey and jam (in my adaptation). Even if you have a broccoli salad recipe standby, you should really try this one. It is different without neglecting the reasons we love broccoli salad. This travelled well in our cooler and lasted through several meals with 6 or 7 munchers.

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SUMMER BROCCOLI SALAD

adapted from Big Green Cookbook,Jackie Newgent, RD

Makes about 8 cups; great for a large crowd.

INGREDIENTS

7 Cups Broccoli Florets

1/2 Large Red Onion, very thinly sliced

3/4 Cup Sharp Cheddar, Grated

1/2 Cup Dried Cranberries

1/2 Cup Plain Yogurt

2 Tablespoons Mayonnaise

2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Honey

1 Tablespoon Jam (I recommend Raspberry, but whatever you have on hand will do)

Salt and Pepper to taste

1/4 Cup Chopped Cashews

PREPARATION

Layer the broccoli, onion, cheese, and cranberries in a large bowl.

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Whisk together yogurt, mayonnaise, vinegar, honey, jam, and salt and pepper in a small bowl. Pour the dressing evenly over salad and gently toss.

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Sprinkle with cashews and serve.



Chocolate Sour Cream Cake

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Just because we are eating on a budget doesn’t mean we can actually live without dessert. I know, I tried. That’s why this cake is a perfectly simple, delicious way to stretch dessert.

America’s Test Kitchen has always been my go-to for the best of anything recipe. I took this Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake of theirs I had stashed away in my recipes folder and split it into two loaf pans. That way, we worked our way through one loaf slowly while we froze the other for the next time the craving hits for the most moist,rich,chocolatey cake that doesn’t overwhelm after a simple meal.

You could fancy this up, of course; add raspberries and whipped cream on top or dollop it with our espresso whipped cream for an elegant touch. This doesn’t have to be a simple, weekday sweet, but it certainly does a good job as such.

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CHOCOLATE SOUR CREAM CAKE

adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

INGREDIENTS

For the Pan:

1 Tablespoon Butter, Melted

1 Tablespoon Cocoa

For the Cake:

3/4 Cup Natural Baking Cocoa Powder

6 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon Instant Espresso Powder

3/4 Cup Boiling Water

1 Cup Sour Cream, room temp.

1 3/4 Cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

1 Teaspoon Salt

1 Teaspoon Baking Soda

12 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter (1 1/2 Sticks), room temp.

2 Cups Packed Light Brown Sugar

1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract

5 Large Eggs, room temp.

Whipped cream or confectioner’s sugar to top*

*optional

PREPARATION

Stir together melted butter and cocoa in a small bowl to form a paste. Use a pastry brush to coat the inside of two standard loaf pans (or one bundt pan). Adjust rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°.

Combine Cocoa, chocolate, and espresso powder in heatproof bowl; pour boiling water over and whisk until smooth. Cool to room temp. Whisk in sour cream.

In a second bowl, whisk flour, salt, and baking soda to combine.

Using a mixer, beat butter, sugar, and vanilla on med-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. reduce speed to med. and add eggs one at a time, mixing about 30 seconds after each addition and scraping down bowl with rubber spatula after each. Reduce to med-low speed and add about one third of the dry ingredient mixture and half of chocolate/sour cream mixture and stir until just incorporated. Scrape bowl and repeat twice, dividing the dry ingredient mixture in half. Mix until batter is thoroughly combined.

Pour into prepared pans and bake until toothpick comes out with only a few crumbs attached, 45-50 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then invert to cooling rack and cool completely.


Pan Roasted Chicken and Sweet Cherry Salad with Dijon Dressing

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You’d never know I was such a grumpy lady while preparing this dinner. Yesterday was just kind of crazy. I feel like I had a fussy baby clinging to my leg and frizzed out hair and one shoe off around 5:30 yesterday. I guess that isn’t really true…well, except the fussy baby part. We are adjusting to the changes of being in a new place, as we must.

The tired child soon fell fast asleep, and the hubby and I sat down to this very tasty, very peaceful dinner afterwards. I feel much better.

I’m going to call this meal quite budget-friendly. I bought a large pack of chicken thighs and pan-roasted them all, saving some for another meal this week. Lettuce, radishes, and chives are not expensive. The cherries are our week’s very special treat. As long as I control myself with munching from the bowl, I will have some left for another cherry treat, but they totally make this salad. If you’re stuck in a dried fruit rut with your salads, using fresh cherries as this recipe does, is a vibrant change.

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Pan Roasted Chicken and Sweet Cherry Salad with Dijon Dressing

adapted from Bon Appétit

INGREDIENTS

4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (I couldn’t find them with either skin or bones, but they were fine)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 Tablespoon Vegetable Oil

1/4 C Fresh Lemon Juice

3 Tablespoons Dijon Mustard

3 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Dill (I used dried b/c it’s what I had, again, loved it anyway)

2 Tablespoons Honey

1 Clove Garlic, minced

1/4 C Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, plus one Tablespoon (divided)

2 Tablespoons Butter

4 Thick Slices Sourdough Bread, torn into 3/4″ pieces

1 Pound Fresh Cherries, stemmed, pitted, and lightly crushed

1 Large Head Leaf Lettuce

4 Radishes, thinly sliced

1 Tablespoon Chopped Chives

PREPARATION

Pan Roast Chicken Thighs-

Preheat oven to 475°. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a heavy skillet med-high heat, until just before it smokes (It shimmers). Place chicken in with skin side down until skin is golden brown, about 12 minutes. Transfer to oven to cook for 13-15 minutes more. Flip chicken and cook another 5 minutes until skin crisps and meat is cooked through. Let rest 5 minutes.

Using two forks, pull chicken into bite-sized pieces and set aside*.

*If using my money and time-saving method, cook 7-8 chicken thighs the same way, pull apart all chicken. Reserve 2 Cups cooked chicken for the salad and store the remainder for a broccoli chicken and rice casserole later in the week.

Prepare the Dressing-

In a small bowl, whisk together the Lemon Juice, Dijon Mustard, Dill, Honey, Garlic. Gradually drizzle in Olive Oil while whisking to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

*I recommend doubling this recipe and keeping this dressing on hand in a jar. It is outstanding!

Croutons + Assembling Salad-

In the same skillet used for the chicken thighs (yes, use the fat!) Melt the Butter and 1 Tablespoon Olive Oil. When bubbling, place torn sourdough bread pieces in and cook, stirring frequently, for two minutes or until golden. Remove from skillet and drain onto paper towel. Season lightly with salt and pepper while hot.

Place pulled chicken in a large salad bowl. Add cherries, lettuce, radishes, and chives, and drizzle with the dijon dressing. Toss to coat. Divide among plates and garnish with croutons.

Relax +Enjoy!