Tangy Avocado Sauce

Concocting luscious dips with Greek yogurt is one of my favorite cooking pastimes – almost it’s own little mini-cooking project for me. This recipe gets me excited because it has avocados (one of my favorite foods) and it goes great with pretty much any Mexican meal – which made it a huge hit with my family! Another special feature to this sauce? Once you’ve enjoyed it for dinner, it morphs into a dip – just add another scoop of Greek yogurt to thicken it up a bit.

Shown here with Chipotle Rubbed Flank Steak, Mexican Rice and Cowboy Beans

Tangy Avocado Sauce
Serves: 1½ cups
Love the flexibility of this sauce - you can decide how spicy you want it by using a ripe avocado or any type of guacamole dip. Happy cooking!
  • ½ cup Cilantro
  • ½ cup Canola oil
  • ¼ cup Greek yogurt, whole milk
  • ¼ cup Sour cream
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • ½ of a Ripe Avocado OR ½ -3/4 cup Guacamole
  • Salt to taste (I find if you use guacamole you won't need salt, using a fresh avocado you might want to add ½ tsp Kosher salt)
  1. In a food processor pulse cilantro and canola oil - it will have a paste consistency.
  2. Add the Greek yogurt, sour cream, lime juice, avocado or guacamole and salt (if using), pulse until smooth.
  3. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to 1 day before using.



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Chipotle Salsa

Chips and salsa are big in our house, so I’m always trying to come up with new versions. I made this salsa for the boys’ first night home from college – Mexican is always their favorite meal – and they all loved it! Of course with three college boys in the house, the whole batch of salsa, and the bag of chips, was gone by the next morning!

Chipotle Salsa
Serves: 3 cups
Another reason I love this recipe? It's so quick and easy to make! The salsa would also make a delicious topping to grilled chicken, seafood or steak. Happy cooking!
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans of Diced tomatoes - I used one regular and one fire roasted
  • 1 tbsp Minced garlic
  • ½ - 1 tsp Chipotle powder (use ½ if you aren't sure how much heat you like)
  • 1-2 tbsp Cilantro, minced (optional)
  1. Drain tomatoes of their liquid and place in a small bowl.
  2. Add the garlic, chipotle powder and cilantro if using and mix throughly.
  3. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour for the flavors to meld. You can make up to one day ahead, but if using cilantro, add before serving.
  4. Serve with chips.


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Orzo and Vegetable Pasta Bowl with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes and Onions

This time of year, there’s an amazing abundance of fresh vegetables, and it’s a great opportunity to get your children to try some new produce. Think about hitting a farmers market this weekend, and let your kids pick out something new to try. When you get home, make this recipe. With it’s grown-up and child-friendly versions, everyone in your house is guaranteed to eat dinner. The adults get to enjoy a delicious dijon vinaigrette while the kids sample the new vegetables with the buttery pasta they always enjoy.

The slow-roasted tomatoes and onions are delicious, but this dish will be tasty even without them. Although they do take a while in the oven, it’s hands-off cooking time, and the tomatoes and onions can be made up to a day in advance. I specify orzo, my personal short pasta favorite, but you can use any short pasta that’s popular with your family.

Orzo and Vegetable Pasta Bowl with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes and Onions
Serves: 8
This meal makes a lot, so you have delicious leftovers for a second dinner or to pack for lunch. Happy cooking!
  • Slow-Roasted Tomatoes and Onions:
  • 1 red onion
  • 8 Campari tomatoes or 1 - 1½ lbs Cherry tomatoes
  • 4 tbsp Olive oil
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • Orzo:
  • 2 cups (1 lb box) Orzo, regular or whole wheat, divided
  • Dijon Vinaigrette:
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp Honey
  • ¼ cup Red wine vinegar
  • ½ cup Olive oil
  • Other Ingredients:
  • 4-6 tbsp Butter, unsalted, softened
  • 1 (5 oz bag) Arugula or Baby Spinach, stems removed, divided (optional ½ bag for kids)
  • 4 cups Vegetables, cooked or raw - seasonal, divided
  • ½ cup Cheese of your choice - grated Parmesan, blue cheese, goat cheese, etc, divided (optional ½ cup for kids)
  • 4 tbsp Fresh herbs, optional (oregano, dill, thyme or basil would all work with this recipe), divided (optional 2 tbsp for kids)
  1. Slow-Roasted Tomatoes and Onions:
  2. Set oven to 250 degrees and cover a sheet pan with aluminum foil. On the sheet pan, drizzle the onion and tomatoes with olive oil and Kosher salt, stir to combine. Slowly cook the tomatoes and onions until somewhat shriveled, 1¾ - 2 hours.
  3. Save the juice from the tray to mix with the pasta salad. Tomatoes and onions can be made up to a day ahead.
  4. Cook the Orzo:
  5. Make a double batch, following package instructions - 1 cup each, so you can tailor one half for grownup flavors and the the other half for a more kid-friendly meal. Whole wheat orzo will take longer. Once drained in a colander, separate the orzo into two large bowls.
  6. Dijon Vinaigrette:
  7. In a Mason jar combine Dijon mustard, Kosher salt, honey, red wine vinegar and olive oil. Shake vigorously until the dressing is emulsified.
  8. Pasta Bowls:
  9. Pour cooked orzo into 2 large bowls. While the pasta is hot - in one bowl toss the vinaigrette and slow-roasted tomatoes (if using) and in the second bowl toss the butter with the pasta. It will seem like there is too much vinaigrette, but it will all be absorbed by the hot pasta.
  10. In the bowl with vinaigrette, add arugula (or spinach), vegetables, cheese and fresh herbs if using and toss until combined.
  11. In the bowl with the butter, add vegetables, and if using arugula (or baby spinach), cheese and fresh herbs and toss until combined.
  12. Add additional salt or pepper to taste.
  13. Refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 4 hours, let come to room temperature before serving, about 30 minutes.


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Zaxby’s Sauce

My five years in Brentwood, Tennessee were wonderful in countless ways…beautiful surroundings, a warm and close-knit community, incredible schools, wonderful people and Zaxby’s. I love Zaxby’s! I don’t eat fast food often, but Zaxby’s is one of my favorites. Every time we head to Charleston, Jeff knows that we have to swing by Zaxby’s on the drive from Charleston to Kiawah. What makes Zaxby’s my favorite is the sauce. It is sooooo good. Having a Zaxby’s craving? Try my version, it’s lightened up a bit, but totally delish!

Shown here with lots of veggies, I also always serve a basket of potato chips with this sauce

Zaxby's Sauce
Serves: 1½ cups
I lightened this recipe up significantly but there's still mayo. If you want to cut out the mayo, simply replace the mayo with sour cream or increase the amount of whole milk yogurt. Happy cooking!
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt, whole milk
  • ½ cup Mayonnaise (I use Duke's)
  • ½ cup Ketchup
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp Garlic powder
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  1. In a small bowl whisk together Greek yogurt, mayonnaise, ketchup, Kosher salt, garlic powder and Worcestershire sauce.
  2. Serve right away or refrigerate up to 5 days.


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Cowboy Beans

Inspired by Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday, these beans are my take on a beloved Mexican restaurant side. These beans were for the older boys first dinner home from school for the summer. Along with Chipotle Skirt Steak Tacos, Mexican rice and Creamy Guacamole Sauce, big servings of Mexican comfort food were devoured at dinner. Smoky, a bit spicy, Cowboy Beans are sure to become a favorite with your family.

Cowboy Beans
Serves: 4-6
Use this classic Mexican bean side to inspire all sorts of flavor combinations. You could add pickled jalapenos, roasted red peppers, or change things up and make a black bean version. Fresh cilantro would be delicious in either a pinto or black bean version. Happy cooking!
  • 4 slices of Bacon, cut into 1 inch pieces (preferably thick-sliced)
  • 2 tsp Minced garlic
  • 1 (15 oz can) Tomatoes, fire-roasted, drained (use regular tomatoes for less kick)
  • 2 (15 oz cans) Pinto beans (do not drain or rinse)
  • Salt to taste (I love salt and did not find this dish to need any additional salt)
  1. Heat a large saucepan over medium heat, add the bacon and cook until bacon is crisp, about 10 minutes.
  2. Remove bacon to a paper towel lined plate.
  3. Add the garlic and sauteed for 1-2 minutes, until lightly browned.
  4. Add tomatoes and beans with their liquid and stir to combine.
  5. Simmer over low heat, allowing the flavors to meld, for 15-20 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and stir in the bacon.
  7. Beans can be made up to 2 days ahead of time. Reheat in the microwave or over low-heat on the stovetop.


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Dilly Chicken Salad

Chicken salad with dill is just a summertime classic…ideal for a lunch at the pool, a picnic, dinner on the deck. Not only does dill taste like spring and summer to me, I always think of the first time I had chicken salad with dill. It was at Cafe Hon in Hampden. I know lots of people go for their comfort food, but for me, that chicken salad with the dill vinaigrette, it’s the only thing I’ve ever ordered.

Don’t have any chicken? Try my fail-proof poached chicken recipe for tender, flavorful chicken every time http://gatherconnectempower.com/2016/06/poached-chicken/

Dilly Chicken Salad
Serves: 6
Consider this recipe your template for perfect chicken salad, a jumping off point to experiment with all sorts of herbs and flavor combinations. Happy cooking!
  • ½ cup Whole milk Greek yogurt
  • ¼ cup Sour cream
  • ¼ cup Mayonnaise (I use Duke's)
  • ½ tsp Kosher salt
  • 2 Celery, minced
  • 2 Scallions, green and white parts, minced
  • 1 -2 tbsp Dill, minced
  • 3 cups Shredded chicken breasts (from about 2 chicken breasts)
  1. In a medium bowl place Greek yogurt, sour cream, mayonnaise and Kosher salt.
  2. Whisk to combine.
  3. Add celery, scallions, dill and chicken.
  4. Mix throughly.
  5. Serve immediately, or refrigerate up to 2 days.



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Spinach & Ricotta Papparadelle

Searching for a delicious and quick pasta dinner? Need to get out of the red sauce rut? Look no further than this luscious meal – simple to prepare, full of flavor and easy to customize to fit your family’s tastes. And although it’s delicious on it’s own, this pasta is also a terrific compliment to chicken, seafood or fish. I topped ours with seared halibut which I had brushed with some of my oregano marinade. Dinner couldn’t have been easier to pull together!

Topped with Seared Halibut that I brushed with my Oregano Marinade

If you’re adding protein to this dish, try my http://gatherconnectempower.com/2017/04/oregano-marinade/

Seared fish is a terrific addition to this pasta dish http://gatherconnectempower.com/2017/05/seared-halibut/

Spinach & Ricotta Papparadelle
Serves: 4
Consider this recipe a template, if your family is not a fan of spinach, you can substitute different greens or even steamed or sauteed broccoli. Happy cooking!
  • 1 (8.8 oz box) Pappardelle
  • 2 tbsp Olive oil
  • 2 tbsp Butter, unsalted
  • 1 Shallot, finely minced
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 (6 oz) bag Baby spinach, stems removed
  • 1 cup Ricotta, whole-milk
  • ¼ cup Parmesan-reggiano, grated, plus more for serving
  1. Cook pappardelle according to the package instructions. Not sure how to cook pasta perfectly? Click on this link and follow the step by step instructions. http://blog.williams-sonoma.com/how-to-cook-dried-pasta/
  2. In the meantime, heat butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  3. Once butter is melted, add the shallot and cook until shallot is lightly browned, 3-5 minutes.
  4. Add the spinach and toss with the shallot mixture for 1-2 minutes.
  5. Turn off the heat and add the ricotta. Mix the ricotta into the spinach mixture.
  6. Once pasta is finished cooking, reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and set aside (I simply scoop a 1 cup measuring cup into the pot and set that aside). Drain the pasta.
  7. Add the pasta to the skillet and toss with the spinach - ricotta sauce.
  8. Grate the Parmesan into the pasta and continue to toss. Portion the pasta onto plates and pass additional Parmesan.



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Seared Halibut

Knowing how to expertly sear a piece of fish is a great skill to add to your cooking repertoire. While fish is expensive, it’s a terrific source of nutrients. So, find the best source you can for the freshest fish and keep an eye on sales. Halibut is a great choice to feed your family, and can often be found at a good price.

Below is a template for cooking halibut, but feel free to substitute other fish. Try one of my savory marinades to amp up the flavor. Simply brush a tablespoon of marinade on each fillet before searing. Serve additional marinade on the side for an instant and delicious sauce.

Brushed with my Oregano Marinade and served with Spinach & Ricotta Pappardelle

To sear halibut:

You need a 6 oz piece of halibut (each about 1 1/2 – 2 inches thick) for each person. Don’t cook more than 4 fillets at a time (crowding the pan would steam the fish instead of searing)

Heat 2 tbsp Olive oil in a large skillet.

Season the halibut on both sides with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Cook the fish for about 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Turn and cook about 5 minutes longer, or until the fish is opaque in the center and browned on both sides.

Happy cooking!

My Oregano marinade is delicious with seafood http://gatherconnectempower.com/2017/04/oregano-marinade/

For a Southern-inspired dinner try http://gatherconnectempower.com/2017/02/vidalia-onion-vinaigrette/

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How do you know when chicken breasts are cooked?

One of the best cooking skills you can ever learn is how to tell when food is cooked and ready to eat. Chicken is the backbone of family meals – so knowing when chicken is cooked is just one of those “ah-ha” moments that saves you so much time and worry. You can confidently know when it’s ready to eat.

A digital thermometer is among the the best investments you will ever make. All the guesswork is taken away, you know with a quick check when your food is ready, and it saves you the time of slicing into your protein to check it – which also helps your food stay juicy because you’re not cutting into it.

The perfect internal temperature for chicken is 165 degrees. My secret to juicy chicken is that I pull the chicken when the temperature is 160 degrees. While the chicken rests, the temperature continues to rise, and in 5 minutes, it will be ready to eat at 165 degrees. If you don’t have an instant-read thermometer, you can always do a little cut into the middle to check that it’s just about opaque in the center. Just be careful not to slice into the chicken too often, you don’t want to lose all those juices.

Looking for a highly rated, inexpensive digital thermometer? https://www.amazon.com/Thermometer-Electronic-Collapsible-Replacement-Guarantee/dp/B011BF25HS?tag=foodal02-20

Happy cooking!


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Grilled Honey Barbecue Chicken

A perfectly grilled, juicy chicken breast is a thing of beauty – and once you have mastered this take-it-slow technique, chicken success on the grill will be guaranteed, every time! Don’t be afraid of the lightly spiced paste, I was worried my children wouldn’t go for it. But slathered in the sweet honey glaze? They gobbled dinner right up!

Honey Barbecue Chicken
Serves: 6
Consider making a double batch of the spice paste and honey glaze. With dinner insurance in the fridge, you are just a step away from a savory dinner - simply brush some on grilled or seared meat, pork, fish or shrimp. The flavor is incredible. Happy cooking!
  • ½ cup Olive oil
  • 1 tbsp Honey mustard
  • 2 tsp Garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp Paprika (preferably sweet paprika)
  • 1 tsp Brown sugar, light
  • 1 tsp Oregano, dried
  • 1 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp Chipotle chili powder (optional)
  • 4 - 4½ lbs of Chicken breasts, skinless and boneless, trimmed
  • ¾ cup Honey
  • 2 tbsp Soy sauce, low-sodium
  • 2 tbsp Ketchup
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp Apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp Sriracha (optional)
  1. In a small bowl mix together the olive oil, honey mustard, garlic, paprika, brown sugar, oregano, Kosher salt and chipotle chili powder (if using).
  2. Spread spice paste all over the chicken breasts and store them in a large ziploc bag. Marinate in the fridge for at least 1 hour or up to overnight. Let come to room temperature for 30 minutes before grilling.
  3. In the meantime, in a second small bowl, whisk honey, soy sauce, ketchup, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar and Sriracha (if using). Set aside and reserve ½ cup to serve with dinner.
  4. Spray the grill with canola spray and heat to high. Close grill top and allow the grill to heat to 350 - 400 degrees.
  5. Once grill is heated, turn the burners to low, place the chicken on the grill, preferably on a slant for the grilling marks.
  6. Grill chicken for 5 minutes and then flip to the other side.
  7. Once the chicken has cooked for 10 minutes, brush with glaze and then flip for an additional 5 minutes. From this point forward, brush with glaze every time the chicken is flipped.
  8. Once that time is up, flip and cook for an additional 5 minutes. At this point the chicken might be finished, or need an additional 5 -10 minutes of cooking time.
  9. You should pull the chicken when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees, while resting, the chicken will continue to cook an additional 5 degrees (chicken is ready to eat when the internal temperature is 165 degrees).
  10. Once chicken is finished cooking, allow the chicken to rest 5-10 minutes before slicing.
  11. Serve with reserved sauce on the side.


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