Some nights it's just pure survival. Whatever you have planned for dinner, you just do it, get it into their tummies and move on to the next thing. When you have sports and school meetings and homework and early bedtimes, cooking up something fancy and beautiful just isn't high on the priority list.
But even the busiest of families get tired of eating the same things week after week.
I still hate chops (lamb chops that is), because it was the staple meal that my mother used to cook for us growing up in a busy house.
I think my kids are going to hate rice, sausages and chicken nibbles. They are my stand by.
So when, after watching Chelsea Winter win Master Chef NZ in 2012, I went out and bought her book, I honestly didn't expect to find so many amazing recipes in there that I could use on a weekly basis. My shelves are full of celebrity chef cookbooks, and after trying a few they usually sit there gathering dust because they're either too complicated or the ingredients are hard to find.
But not so with Chelsea's book. In a week where I had a mental block for any inspiration on meal ideas - I was going around the family and asking them for their favourites, and just about all of them said 'nacho's' (seriously? again?), and in desperation I pulled down Chelsea's book from the shelf and decided to do one every night for the entire week.
And all of them have been a hit, not only with me, but with all the family as well. I need to crank out a meal in about 30 minutes prep time or less, or I don't even bother with the recipe unless I'm entertaining or preparing for a special celebration. And every one of Chelsea's recipes that I tried, met that deadline, and yet were beautiful to look at and delicious - several great big steps up from the 'old standbys'. From her Buffalo Chicken Nibbles to the Prosciutto, mozzarella and basil pizza, to the Easy Butter Chicken (and the best I've ever made), and the Snapper with butternut puree, we have not been let down. I've made these multiple times already and always, always the kids and my husband ask for it again. But so far, the one recipe that takes the Blue Ribbon Prize for us, and my merry band of critical eaters is by far the Summer Chicken Salad. The herb and feta dressing is to die-for! I kid you not - I could lick it out of the blender - only my husband usually beats me to it.
We have been having some really hot, humid weather here in the Bay of Plenty this summer, and this meal just makes it all feel better - it's light, healthy and very, very good. And after asking Chelsea's permission, she has said I can share the recipe with you. This is from her book At My Table.
Thank you Chelsea, for being so awesome, and so generous to let me share it. You can find Chelsea on Facebook here, and her website is here, where she has lots more recipes available.
Chelsea Winter's Summer Chicken Salad
Herb and Feta Dressing
2 tbsp mayonnaise or aioli
1/4 cup feta
2 tbsp lemon juice, or to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh coriander leaves and stalks
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
1 tsp honey
olive oil for cooking
2 large boneless chicken breasts
1 tsp paprika
1-2 cups mixed salad leaves, tossed in a little extra virgin olive oil and lemon
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup ripe cherry tomatoes
1-2 stalks celery, chopped
1 cob cooked sweetcorn, kernels cut off
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
handful crispy noodles
Preheat oven to 220degC.
To make dressing, process all the ingredients in a food processor. Taste and season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper, and add more honey or lemon juice to taste.
Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and sprinkle the paprika on one side. Cook, skin side down, for a few minutes until golden and crispy. Turn over and cook for another minute or two.
Transfer to a baking dish and bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes depending on the size of the breast. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 minutes, then slice thinly.
Arrange the salad ingredients on a plate, top with the chicken and drizzle the dressing over.