Friday’s Hot Tip: What’s Cookin’? Vinaigrette Dressing

I’ve written before about my cooking phases, but I’m also very conscious of going through phases in salad dressing. When I was growing up, Momcat and I would notice new dressings in the condiments aisle of the grocery store and we would try them out. I remember when ranch dressing made its way onto the scene, usurping many a bottle of Thousand Island not only in our house, but across the land as well. We also tried a tomato dressing that featured sun-dried tomatoes in a vinaigrette-style based – I’d love to find it again, or recreate it, the flavor was so good. When Paul Newman started making his own dressing, we were on it and many a meal at the Moxie kitchen table included that blue-eyed devil staring at us from a bottle of his finest vinaigrette.

About five or six years ago, I was inspired by a former friend to start making my own salad dressings. She would make these incredible salads full of fresh veggies, beans, and other delectables, but instead of serving them with a store-bought dressing, she would mix up olive oil with vinegar, different herbs and spices, and add some ingredients I wouldn’t have thought to add to a homemade dressing.

Over the years I’ve adapted this recipe for my own purposes, and every batch turns out differently, but the following recipe is a good place to start if you are new to DIY salad dressing. Add or remove ingredients as you see fit.

Moxie’s DIY Vinaigrette Dressing

6 T olive oil
4 T rice wine vinegar (balsamic vinegar or red wine vinegar is also good)
1/2 T honey
1/2 T spicy brown mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 T fresh thyme
1 T water

145 calories per 2 T serving

Mix all ingredients together using a whisk or hand-held electric beater. Store in a jar with a tight lid or a cruet.

Friday’s Hot Tip: 5 Ways to Help Your Unemployed Buddies

I decided to follow up on Sunday’s post about dealing with the unemployed with some good tips on helping out friends and family members who find themselves without work. These tips are based on what I’ve experienced being unemployed/underemployed, and what I wanted from my friends and loved ones during that time.

1. Start with asking, “How can I support you?”

These five little words should become a mantra for you, as this phrase works beautifully in many situations when someone is experiencing difficulty in their life. In an unemployment scenario, it gives the other person the power to decide what they want or need as they process the loss of their job. Pro tip: don’t ask this question just once, either. Whenever they need to vent about their job search, interviews that went nowhere, or their struggles to stay afloat, it’s your opportunity to ask what, if anything, they need from you.

2. Don’t assume you know their master plan post-layoff.

As I briefly mentioned in Sunday’s post, unemployment can give someone the opportunity to pursue life-long dreams. It opens the door to write, start a business, make a career change, travel, or volunteer. And believe it or not, they might not want a full-time job again. Everyone’s situation is different – give them space to figure out what’s next, and if you remember Tip #1, then they might just let you in on what they are dreaming up.

3. Keep your comments about money to yourself.

Trust me when I say someone who is unemployed (or even underemployed) does not want to hear you complain about the state of your bank account. Nor do they want to hear your comments about what they are doing or not doing with their money. Like politics, sex, and religion, discussions about money can kill a conversation, and in some instances it can kill a relationship. Do yourself and your friend a favor and hold your tongue.

4. Don’t radically alter your communication style or forget about them altogether.

Just because someone loses their job doesn’t mean they are a social pariah and you need to leave them alone. By the same token, if you were having phone conversations with them every couple of weeks, don’t suddenly start calling every other day. Be sensitive to their situation and let them guide the conversation when it comes to work or career topics, but feel free to talk about current movies, TV shows, books, music, local news or happenings. Or you could even talk about your pet’s antics or the latest celebrity scandal. The key is to keep things normal.

5. Let them mourn the loss of their job.

Momcat always told me, “When a relationship ends, it’s a death and it needs to be mourned.” She was talking about romantic relationships, but this also holds true for the relationships we have with our jobs, which are just as complex and layered as any love relationship. Give them space and time to grieve, and allow them to dictate when they are ready to move on in their career.

Have your own tips to add to this list? Leave them in the comments section.

Friday’s Hot Tip: What’s Cookin’? Chicken with Potatoes & Green Beans

Yep, this is another one-pot dish – we’ve already discussed how I feel about one-pot cooking. This is a recipe I saw on the label of a Swanson’s chicken broth container & I decided to make it for my Christmas dinner. I modified the dish by using a mix of small red, white and blue potatoes – it made the dish much more fun to look at with all the color. I also added a shallot because I’ve recently discovered just how very cool shallots are. It’s a baby red onion, all cute and wrapped up in pale brown onion skin! How can you not love them?

The name of this recipe suggests it’s only for eating in the fall months, which is rather limiting and I hate feeling limited. If you want a good meal and you’ve got chicken breasts and green beans in the freezer and a few potatoes in the pantry, plus a can of chicken broth or some bouillon cubes, you’re good to go.

Golden Chicken & Autumn Vegetables

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves (4-6 tenderloins work fine too)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen whole green beans
  • Heat the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook for 10 minutes or until well browned on both sides. Remove the chicken from the skillet.
  • Stir the stock, garlic, shallot, rosemary, thyme, black pepper, potatoes and green beans in the skillet and heat to a boil.  Cook for 5 minutes.
  • Reduce the heat to low.  Return the chicken to the skillet. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and the potatoes are tender.


  • Flavor Variation: for Herbed Chicken Dijon with Wine, add 1/4 cup white wine, 1 teaspoon lemon juice and 2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard with the stock.
  • Substitute mixed red, blue and yellow potatoes for sweet potatoes.
  • If you like your green beans crisp and bright, do not add them to the pot until the last 10 minutes.

Friday’s Hot Tip: What’s Cookin’? Chicken with Quinoa & Veggies

When it comes to cooking for myself, I go through phases:

  • Phase 1: buying items that allow me to assemble quick, easy meals
  • Phase 2: having zero interest in making anything that involves a pot, pan or a spatula
  • Phase 3: getting bored with everything I have been making during Phase 1 so seeking out new recipes and experimenting

I’m currently in Phase 3, which can lend itself to some pretty tasty dishes…or some culinary horror stories. Fortunately last week’s experiment turned out very well, and I’m posting the recipe here so you can try it for yourself. I’m a big fan of one-pot cooking, and I eat a lot of chicken at home, so this is my variation on a one-pot chicken recipe I found on Real Simple‘s website.

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) is an itty-bitty grain first harvested by Native Americans. It’s got loads of protein and can be served for breakfast (the texture is similar to oatmeal and you can make it sweet or savoury) or as a side dish with vegetables for lunch or dinner. It can be cooked like rice, so it’s very easy to substitute quinoa in entrees calling for rice. Plus you get the fun of saying quinoa.

Chicken with Quinoa, Mushrooms, Peppers & Spinach

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast tenderloins
  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil or canola oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 C mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 C mixed bell peppers, chopped (I use frozen mixed but fresh red bell pepper would be great here)
  • 1/4 t basil, dried
  • 2 C vegetable broth
  • 1 C uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 1 1/2 C baby spinach, washed, stems removed
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add chicken and saute until golden, about 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to plate.

Add mushrooms to skillet and saute until browned, about 3-4 minutes (Note: you may want to add more oil or a little water to keep the mushrooms from burning; I added water). Add peppers, garlic and basil. Cook until peppers have softened, about 3 minutes.

Add broth and quinoa, stirring gently to mix with vegetables. Increase heat to medium-high and allow broth to come to a slow boil. Return chicken to pan, spacing pieces evenly. Lower heat and cover pan. Simmer for 12-15 minutes or until quinoa has cooked through and broth has been absorbed. Season with pepper.

Remove lid, turn off heat and add spinach, tearing up larger leaves. Season with salt, then stir spinach into quinoa and chicken mixture, allowing heat from the dish to wilt the spinach.

Serves 2-4.

Got any quinoa recipes to share? Tell me in the comments!

So far so good

Well, I’ve blogged every day this month, so I’d say I’m doing well with NaBloPoMo. But tonight I am tired and lazy. It’s raining out, my bed and comfy gray blanket are calling my name, and I don’t feel like making a huge effort to be particularly clever or creative.

Since I don’t want to feel guilty or wrong about writing such a lame post, instead I’ll post a few links to some good articles, videos and blog posts I read this week.

What news stories and blog posts caught your eye this week?

Friday’s Hot Tip: What’s Cookin’? Pasta!

Years ago I found this recipe in InStyle Magazine – I think it was Janet Jackson’s favorite dish at a restaurant, but I don’t have any information on which restaurant. Nevertheless, Ms. Jackson has excellent taste because this pasta is addictive. It’s really delicious served hot but I also like it cold or room temperature. It takes time and attention to make the olive-oil-based sauce, so plan on setting aside about 45 minutes to babysit the saucepan.

Last week I served this pasta along with London broil and a spinach salad made with pomegranate seeds, candied pecans and Parmesan cheese tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette. It was a big hit and paired beautifully with the beef.

Since this recipe makes a lot of pasta, I recommend making it for a party. You’ll glow with pride as your guests rhapsodize about your mad skills with penne.

Penne al Pomodoro e Peperoncino

  • 1 1/4 cups olive oil
  • 2 cups chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrot
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper
  • 1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 lbs penne pasta
  • 10 fresh basil leaves
  • Chopped flat-leaf parsley for garnish (optional)

In medium saucepan heat oil. Add onion, celery carrot, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, 15-17 minutes. Add tomatoes and red pepper flakes; reduce heat to medium low, cook for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in large pot bring 6 quarts salted water to boil. Add pasta, stir. Return water to boil. Boil pasta 11-13 minutes, until al dente. Drain well. Return pasta to pot. Add basil leaves to sauce. Spoon sauce into bowl of food processor; process in batches until texture is smooth. [Moxie adds: I use my blender because my food processor is too small and I would rather get the whole thing done in one fell swoop. If you’ve got a big honkin’ food processor, though, by all means use it.]. Pour sauce over pasta; toss well. To serve, place pasta on warmed serving platter. Garnish with chopped parsley. Serves 6.

Friday’s Hot Tip: What’s Cookin’?

Last May I read Signora da Vinci, a fascinating and fun historical novel about Leonardo daVinci’s mother. Several times in the book, the narrator referred to a special dish she would make from grapes and olives. The fictional characters who enjoyed the dish raved about it and made me want to try some myself. I’m not a foodie but I love good flavor combinations and this one sounded very intriguing.

Fortunately the author, Robin Maxwell, had the foresight to add a recipe at the end of the book. I have made it twice for parties and it’s been a big hit. While it may feel too hot to run the oven right now, I think you owe it to yourself to make this compote for your next happy hour or gathering. It’s very tasty with pita chips.

Grape & Olive Compote

1 bunch seedless red grapes
1 jar Kalamata olives, pits removed (use a little bit of the liquid)
3 T balsamic vinegar
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T fresh chopped thyme

Mix in ovenproof dish – I use a deep Pyrex bowl.

Bake uncovered for one hour at 350 degrees, turning every 20 minutes to recoat with oil & vinegar.

Serve warm or cold.

Got any good recipes to share? Send ’em over!

Drink This, You’ll Feel Better: Natural Remedies for Cold/Flu

I personally hate taking medicine and will avoid taking it unless I am in major pain. It’s probably because I suffered from bad allergies as a child, growing up on the allergen-loving East Coast, and seemed to be constantly taking medication. To this day I hate anything that’s artificial cherry flavor (aside from the occasional Cherry Coke) or artificial fruit flavor. I see a bottle of Robitussin and I shudder with the memory.

Since I’ve been in California, I’ve looked for natural cures and home remedies for all sorts of ailments. For the most part they work very well for me. My two personal favorites are hot drinks I have concocted when I have a bad cold or the flu. These mixes do a great job of soothing what ails me and there’s no side effects.

Lemonade Remedy
1/2 – 3/4 cup lemonade
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce (Tapatio is my preference; tabasco or Cholula also work)
1/2 teaspoon or more apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon or more honey

Put all of the ingredients into a mug. Heat in the microwave for 2 minutes and drink while hot. Yes, it sounds gross, but you mostly taste the sweetness of the lemonade and the honey – the hot stuff just helps clear the sinuses.

Tomato “Tea”
1/2 – 3/4 cup tomato juice (mixed vegetable juice also works)
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce (see a trend here?)
2 minced garlic cloves (about 1/2 teaspoon if you get the stuff in the jar)
fresh lemon juice
Dash celery salt or Mrs. Dash (optional)

Put all of the ingredients into a mug. Heat in the microwave for 2 minutes and drink/sip while hot. It’s like a Virgin Bloody Mary with the heat turned on. I sometimes will eat this “tea” like soup, getting some good pita chips or tortilla chips to dip in my mug.

Got a home remedy that works wonders?
Please share it in the comments.

Friday’s Hot Tip: Technology

When you’re on a tight budget, shopping can really be a pain in the ass. Not only do you need to track which grocery store has the best deals on meat, eggs, and cheese, you also have to remember what exactly you need to buy at the store without falling prey to impulse buys. (I know all about this, trust me. Many times the Little Debbie display has called to me, saying “Oh Moxie, the Swiss Cake Rolls are soooo very delicious, don’t you want a box? What about my Nutty Bars, hmm?” And who can resist a little girl offering you cookies? This is how Girl Scouts stay in business.) Sure, writing down a list is good, but tracking actual dollar amounts and doing comparison shopping can get a bit complicated.

Enter SplashShopper, a list manager program from our dear friends at SplashData, makers of SplashID (which I previously reviewed here). SplashShopper makes tracking what you need and how much it is to get what you need very easy and fun. Available for use on Palm OS, Windows, and Mac platforms, SplashShopper comes with 9 pre-installed lists for groceries, books, and movies, which you can easily modify to reflect your preferences. You can set everything up on your desktop computer and then sync it with your mobile device so that once you hit the stores, you have all your lists ready for review.

There are two things I really like about SplashShopper:

  1. The price tracking feature. Let’s say you want to do some price comparison on a set of margarita glasses. This program will let you set it up to track prices by store by merely checking a box on the List Info pop-up window. Once you add the margarita glasses to your list, select “Multiple” on the Store drop-down menu, then add all the stores you want to check – Pier 1, Cost Plus World Market, etc. When you’ve gotten the prices at each store, you add them to the Price field on the Multiple Store window. This makes it so much easier to find the best deal.
  2. The Needs List. Yes, we all have needs, but there are some things we need more than others, right? For every list you set up, whether it’s a Packing List or Groceries, there are two tabs: All and Need. Everything that you’ve put into that particular list is included on the All tab. When you’re ready to go shop, you click on the items you need to purchase and the items are marked with a cute little icon, like a shopping cart on Groceries or a shirt on the Clothes list (you can change the icons if you don’t actually think they’re cute). Go to the Need tab and there is your shopping list – you can see only the items you need for that specific shopping trip.

There are many other things to love about SplashShopper, though. How about the fact that you can beam items from your mobile device to someone else’s? This could be really handy when you are double-teaming the local supermarket, or if you want to share your birthday wish list with your technologically astute friend (yeah, T-Wizzle, I’m talking about you). You can customize the display to show only certain columns, you can create QuickLists for when you have repeat shopping performances (for a specific recipe, perhaps), and it will wash your dishes. Nah, I’m just joking about the last one, but if anyone knows of a program that will do this, let me know.

All in all I highly recommend SplashShopper. It’s a great way to keep on top of the details without turning everything into a major shopping trip, which makes Pops’ head explode. And nobody wants that. My grade: A