Monday, January 31, 2011

Sunday Roasted Chicken

I love roasting a whole chicken on Sundays. Not only is it delicious and affordable, but it also means I'll have delicious leftover chicken to use in another meal later in the week. That's a win-win!

I've experimented with a lot of different roasted chicken recipes but I've recently settled on one that is my go-to. It's easy, I almost always have all the ingredients on hand, and it tastes AMAZING!

I've made this a couple of times recently and every time I forgot to take a photo of the finished roasted chicken because I was so anxious to eat it. This time it happened again and I realized I was just going to have to deal with a photo of the chicken already cut up. At least you can tell how delicious it is by how much we wanted to eat it RIGHT AWAY. :)

Crispy Roasted Chicken
source: me

1 whole chicken (mine was 6 lbs)
1 lemon, cut into quarters
1 onion, cut into quarters
salt & pepper
2 Tbsp softened butter or margarine
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp Herbes de Provence (or 1 Tbsp rosemary & 1 Tbsp thyme would work just fine too)
1 tsp garlic salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Remove the innards from the cavity of the chicken (I always make Alex do this part) and rinse the inside and out of chicken. Pat dry with paper towels and place on a roasting rack or on top of a bed of vegetables (I use onions & potatoes when I do it this way).

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. Place the quartered lemon and onion into the cavity of the chicken.

Mix together the butter, oil, herbs & garlic salt until well combined. Using your hands, spread the mixture on the chicken. Also spread some of the mixture underneath the skin around the breast area. Make sure the whole chicken is covered in the butter mixture.

Place the chicken in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees and continue cooking for about another 1.5 hours, or until the area under the wing registers at 180 degrees.

Let the chicken rest for 10 minutes before carving.

**Note: If you put vegetables under your chicken, like I did in the picture, be sure that they are not cut too small. I cut mine too small this time and they were pretty much burnt to a crispity crisp by the time the chicken was done.

**Note #2: If you do NOT put vegetables under the chicken you will end up with awesome fat drippings under the chicken at the end of cooking, which you could then use to make gravy...(whisk in a little flour and chicken stock and heat until thickened). Sometimes we do this but lately we are trying to save the calories...and really the chicken is so moist and juicy that it doesn't even need gravy!

**Note #3: After we both get one dinner out of the chicken, we usually still have 2-3 cups of leftover chicken for another meal. Try using the chicken in a's soo good!

**Note #4: You can experiment with the spices in the butter/oil rub (as I often do)...Lemon Pepper also makes a great addition.

Maybe someday I'll actually remember to take a picture BEFORE we dig in to the chicken.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Seafood Gumbo

Soups or otherwise warm and comforty {it's a word...stop giving me the red squiggly line Blogger} foods are all I've been wanting lately. It's not even terribly cold here in Arizona and it's certainly not snowing, but I still crave the warmth of a soup.

Before I forced myself to revise it to include a little more variety, my menu plan looked a little something like this:

Sat: Seafood Gumbo
Sun: Tortilla Soup
Mon: Corn Chowder
Tues: Beef Stew

You get the idea. Kind of ridiculous, right?! I edited my menu plan to only include two soups, but one of the ones that made the cut was Seafood Gumbo.

I recently watched an episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay in which he made authentic "Nawlins" Seafood Gumbo. Not only did it make me want to get on a plane and fly to Nawlins, it also made me want to eat Gumbo RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE.

Instead of RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE, I had to settle for tomorrow since I had to give myself time to buy the needed groceries.

The recipe I used comes from a cookbook that I haven't used much in the past, but that I am suddenly LOVING now. It's called Peace Meals and it's a cookbook by the Junior League of Houston. I've made so many things from this book in the past few weeks! It has a lot of slightly more "fancy pants" recipes in it that are still very approachable for a non-chef like myself. {If you're interested, you can buy the cookbook from Amazon here.}

My quest to make authentic seafood gumbo was somewhat stunted by the fact that I could find neither seafood stock nor file powder in my grocery store. :(

The good news, though, is that it still turned out delicious (although much less authentic) with chicken stock and no file powder. :)

Seafood Gumbo
source: Peace Meals
serves 6 to 8

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
1 Tbsp chopped fresh garlic
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme
2 dried bay leaves
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
6 cups (1.5 quarts) seafood stock (or chicken stock if you can't find it)
1/2 pound crab claw meat
1 pound shrimp, cooked and peeled
12 lightly sauteed oysters
gumbo file, for garnish
diced green onions for garnish

Heat the oil in a large stockpot over medium-high until hot but not smoking. Gradually whisk in the flour. Cook for 20 minutes or until the roux is the color of peanut butter, whisking constantly. Add the celery, onions and bell peppers. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes or until the vegetables are tender; the roux will cool slightly as the vegetables are added and darken as the vegetables release their natural sugars. Stir in the garlic, thyme, bay leaves, tomato paste and cayenne. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes or until heated through, stirring occasionally. Add the stock. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to medium. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Add the crab, shrimp and oysters and cook until heated through (a couple minutes). Discard the bay leaves. Garnish with file and green onions.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Chicken & Chickpea Soup

I just realized I haven't posted a dinner recipe in entirely too long and I know why. It's not what you probably think...

The truth is, I have lots of dinner recipes that I've been wanting to share with you, but I've been HATING my food photos. So much so that it makes me not even want to blog about it because I'm a big believer in eating with your eyes first. It gets dark so dang early so by the time I go to take my photos I have exactly zero natural light. No natural light makes for verrrrry dismal photos and I just don't feel right about putting up dismal photos on a regular basis.

I mean, the other night I made Coq au Vin and I have yet to blog it because I'm so depressed about the way the photos look. COQ AU VIN!! I should not be embarrassed to blog about Coq au Vin!

But I am.

I've been dropping lots of hints at the Mister to help me make a Light Box so my photos will turn out better whether it's day or night, but alas...I still don't have a light box.

For the time being I've been trying to make do by re-photographing the leftover food the next day, in better light, and that's exactly what I did with this Chickpea & Chicken Soup.

(Unfortunately the Coq au Vin didn't re-photograph well either....damn you fancy but unphotogenic French dish!)

This soup certainly deserved a second photo shoot because it was so darn delicious! I'll take the extra time for a reward like this soup any day!

And it was no surprise that it was delicious, since it hails from one of my favorite food blogs, How Sweet It Is. (Jessica is a girl after my own heart with her deep love for all things bacon and chocolate.)

My changes are noted below.

Chickpea Chicken Soup
serves approximately 6-8, depending on your serving sizes

4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped (I used a green pepper...doesn't matter)
1 cup mushrooms, roughly chopped (I omitted the mushrooms because my husband dislikes them)
2 cups raw spinach (I used baby spinach)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I used leftover cooked chicken from a roasted chicken I had made earlier in the week)
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 cup chopped carrots
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 25-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (I just used a normal-sized can of chickepeas...15 oz. I think?)
24 ounces low-sodium chicken stock (I used 32 oz of chicken broth (one large box) to make it more soupy)

Preheat a large pot on medium heat. Add chopped bacon and fry until brown and crispy. While bacon is frying, chop vegetables and prep chicken. You have 3 options for the chicken – you can either bake it while the bacon + veggies are sauteing, you can pan-fry it while the bacon + veggies are sauteing, or you can use pre-made/leftover shredded chicken in the soup. Either way, take the time while the bacon is frying to get the chicken ready. (Like I said above, I used leftover shredded chicken)

Once bacon is done, remove and drain on a paper towel. Keeping heat on medium, add onions, mushrooms and peppers to bacon grease and saute until soft, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic, spinach, paprika and cumin and stir for 60 seconds. Turn heat down to low and add chickpeas, celery, carrots and chicken. Pour in chicken stock and simmer for 30 minutes.

Right before serving, add bacon back into soup. Garnish with parmesan cheese and serve with toast if desired. Season with salt and pepper if needed. I found I needed no extra salt.


And just because I feel like I haven't embarrassed my husband on here in a really long time either, I present you with this photo:
Yes, that's a headlamp on his head. He was grilling steaks outside and it was dark and we don't have an outdoor light so he resorted to this. He's cute AND resourceful! :)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Breakfast of Champions

I love eggs. They are one of my favorite foods in the world....scrambled, fried, poached, etc. I just love 'em!

But as we all know, eggs have a lot of cholesterol and aren't always the healthiest thing to eat. So many people switch to egg whites, but if I'm going to eat egg whites instead of my beloved cholesterol-laden eggs, they better be spruced up a LOT.

That's how I came up with this delicious little gem of a breakfast sandwich one morning when I was thinking "How can I make these egg whites edible?" And it worked! This is definitely my favorite new breakfast option!

I think I'll call it...a Healthy Egg White & Hummus Sandwich. Very original, no?

I use the kind of egg whites that come already separated and in a handy little carton.
I cook up the equivalent of about 3 egg whites I think...? I don't measure, I just pour until it seems like enough so it varies from day to day. Anyway I cook them up in a skillet with a little salt & pepper.

Then I spread a toasted bagel (I used one of those 140 calorie bagel things in this case) or a piece of whole wheat toast with about 1 Tbsp hummus. As I mentioned in my last post, I am really crushing on the White Bean & Basil hummus from Trader Joe's but any version would work (though I think a flavored hummus would add more of a kick).

Then I throw some baby spinach on the sandwich and call it a day! Sometimes I saute the spinach a little first to get it to wilt down and sometimes I don't.

The calorie content comes out to between 200 and 300 calories depending on how many egg whites and what kind of bread I use. But it keeps me full for HOURS!

This is such a delicious AND nutritious breakfast! I highly recommend that you give it a try!
What is your favorite healthy yet delicious breakfast?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Things I'm Loving

It has been a while since my last "Things I'm Loving" post. And by "a while" I mean like 6+ months. I guess I haven't been very loving lately.

1. Nail Polish.
Check out my collection! And yes, I'm a nail polish snob. OPI (or China Glaze as a 2nd best option) all the way!

Going for the muted tones this week.

I just can't get enough of it. If you catch me with my nails unpainted, go buy yourself a freakin' lottery ticket immediately because it must be a sign! I seriously don't ever leave my nails unpainted anymore. It just makes me happy to look down and see a little splash of color on my fingertips. Plus, I think I have weirdly shaped fingers so this helps normalize things a bit. :)

2. Arizona Sunsets.
Beautiful. Enough said.

3. White Bean & Basil Hummus from Trader Joe's.
Sooooo freaking good! I love mixing it in with unexpected things too, like eggs.

4. Woohoo by Christina Aquilera (feat. Nicki Minaj)
Yes, it's inappropriate. No, it takes no actual talent to sing this song. But it's just so damn catchy! Great workout tune! "Licky licky, yum yum!"

5. Getting my ass kicked by my husband at the gym.
No pictures to document this (thankfully) but he put me through his Kettlebell workout at the gym 3 days ago and I'm STILL sore. Thanks, husband. (I think he secretly enjoyed seeing me suffer.)

6. Garnier Moisture Rescue Fresh Cleansing Foam face wash
Moving to AZ did a number on my face was flaky, dry, itchy, etc. and no amount of moisturizer seemed to help. Then I realized that it might be my face wash was too harsh and drying so I ponied up the money for a special "moisture rescue" face wash and prayed that it worked. Well, it did! I love this stuff! It washes without stripping the moisture.

7. Beckham Signature for Women
Love this perfume! I got it for Christmas from my sister-in-law and it's my new go-to scent.

8. So called "Three Buck Chuck" wine from Trader Joe's.

I'm no wine snob. The cheaper, the better (as long as it tastes good!) and this Sauvignon Blanc certainly fits the bill.

So there you have it! The things I'm loving. Do you love any of these things?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Books Read in 2010 - Awards

Well, I didn't come anywhere near 25 books in 2010, but I made a valiant effort. I actually read the last 5 books just in the month of December.

Here's the final wrap up of all the books I read in 2010:

1. The Gastronomy of Marriage by Michelle Maisto {click here for my review - 5 stars}

2. Shelter Me by Juliette Fay {click here for my review - 3.5 stars}

3. Dear John by Nicholas Sparks {click here for my review - 2 stars}

4. Dead as a Doornail {Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood, Book 5} by Charlaine Harris {click here for my review - 4 stars}

5. The Mercy of Thin Air by Romlyn Domingue {click here for my review - 1 star}

6. The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond {click here for my review - 2 stars}

7. Definitely Dead {Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood Series, Book 6} by Charlaine Harris - 4 stars

8. All Together Dead {Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood Series, Book 7} by Charlaine Harris - 3.5 stars

9. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - 2.5 stars

10. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski - 2 stars

11. Sarah's Key by Tatiana deRosnay - 4.5 stars

*new 12. From Dead to Worse {Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood Series, Book 8} by Charlaine Harris - 4 stars

*new 13. The Help by Kathryn Stockett - 5 stars!!

* new14. Fireflies in December by Jennifer Erin Valent - 5 stars!!

*new 15. Stuck in the Middle {Sister-to-Sister Book 1} by Virginia Smith - 3 stars

*new 16. A Dog Named Slugger by Leigh Brill - 3 stars

Favorite Book of 2010: It's a toss up between Fireflies in December and The Help! Close second is The Gastronomy of Marriage.

Worst Book of 2010: The Mercy of Thin Air...serious snoozefest!

Most Overrated Book of 2010: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle...sorry Oprah!

Favorite Series of 2010: Duh! The Sookie Stackhouse series.

What were your 2010 Book Awards?

Monday, January 17, 2011

My New Favorite Dessert Recipe: Cranberry & Apple Cake

This recipe is one that I actually made back in December, but I am finally getting around to posting it. Trust me though, the time it took me to post it has NOTHING to do with the quality of the recipe.

Ina Garten's Easy Cranberry & Apple Cake is actually probably one of my favorite things I made in all of 2010! That's high praise, coming from me!

I found the recipe while browsing through a cookbook that my mom received as a gift for Christmas. I wasn't super impressed with the majority of the cookbook but this particular recipe definitely caught my eye. I'm so glad I made it, because it's amazing and SO easy! Essentially it's just pouring a batter on top of some lightly sweetened fruit....Ina is right: "How easy is that?!" :)

It's actually more like a cross between a cobbler and a pie than it is a cake, but regardless it's awesome. You can't go wrong with the delicious combo of tart cranberries, apple and sweet "cake".

I served the cake to a whole bunch of my family over the holidays and therefore didn't remember to get a photo of a slice, so this photo from the cookbook will have to do...

easy cranberry & apple cake

Source: How Easy is That by Ina Garten

Serves 6 to 8

12 ounces fresh cranberries, rinsed and picked over for stems

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and diced

½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed

1 tablespoon grated orange zest (2 oranges)

¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1 & 1⁄8 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided

2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

¼ cup sour cream

1 cup all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Combine the cranberries, apple, brown sugar, orange zest, orange juice, and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon in a medium bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs on medium-high speed for 2 minutes. With the mixer on medium, add 1 cup of the granulated sugar, the butter, vanilla, and sour cream and beat just until combined. On low speed, slowly add the flour and salt.

Pour the fruit mixture evenly into a 10-inch glass pie plate. Pour the batter over the fruit, covering it completely. Combine the remaining 1 tablespoon of granulated sugar and 1⁄8 teaspoon of cinnamon and sprinkle it over the batter.

Bake for 55 to 60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean and the fruit is bubbling around the edges. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Back in Action!

Good news! The first thing I unpacked was all our kitchen supplies so I could get back into the cooking/baking mode. Screw setting up the bed or worrying about unpacking silly things like clothing. I have my priorities, people! :)

So the first thing I baked was a recipe that I actually attempted before the move and failed miserably. The recipe is the extremely popular (in the blog world at least) MamaPea's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls. They're supposed to be like a chocolate chip cookie on the outside, but doughy and gooey on the inside.

Side Note: If you haven't already, please check out MamaPea's blog! She is a hilarious mom of 2 little girls who also happens to be a vegan. I'm not much for vegan cooking, but I totally love her blog and she even makes me want to be a vegan for a split second. But then I get a craving for a big juicy cheeseburger and that thought fades away pretty quickly.

The first time I made them they turned out wayyyyyyyyy too dry and crumbly...not "doughy" at all. This time I added some extra liquid to make them less dry and they turned out much better....however I still wish they were a tad bit more "dough-like" on the inside. There's always room for improvement!

Also, you're supposed to chill the dough before baking for 30 minutes in order to keep the dough balls from flattening while baking....however I am an impatient person so I decided to skip this step. To compensate for the lack of chilling, I baked them in a mini muffin tin to help them keep their shape. It actually worked pretty well and they look like cute little mini muffin cookies. :)

Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Balls
adapted from Peas and Thank You

1/2 cup softened butter or margarine
3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or you can use cake flour)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1-2 Tbsp of milk (if needed to reduce dryness)
1 cup chocolate chips

Beat butter, peanut butter, sugars and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer until fully incorporated. In a separate bowl, combine baking powder, baking soda, salt and flours. Slowly add the flour mixture to the mixer bowl and mix until a dough forms. The dough should be slightly crumbly but not dry....if it's dry at this point, add the milk. You should be able to form them into balls without them falling apart on you. Stir in the chocolate chips. Chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Scoop dough with a mini ice cream scoop, roll into a ball and place on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10-12 minutes. They’ll still be soft and look much like they did going in, but don’t overbake. The bottoms will be very lightly browned. Let the dough balls rest on the pan for a minute before transferring to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2011 Resolutions

Hi friends!

Sorry for the blogging hiatus. We were busy spending the holidays with family and then working on getting settled in our new home in Arizona. (More on that later.)

How about some resolutions?! It is the new year after all! And hopefully this will help to keep me on track and accountable.

1. Organize and De-Clutter my Life.

While we're living here in Arizona I am not planning on searching for a new job, since we'll only be here for 6 months. That means I should have PLENTY of time to get my life de-cluttered and simplified. This means getting rid of anything that isn't important to me and making everything else easily accessible and orderly. Maybe I should invest in a label maker?!

2. Shop Smarter (at the grocery store).

I'm going to try a LOT harder this year to use up food that we already have BEFORE buying new food. I may also try couponing, now that we're a one-income family and I have more time on my hands.

3. Live in the Moment, Stay Positive and Be Thankful

I need to take more time to enjoy the things around me and stop fretting about things I can't control. Although 2010 was a really hard year for me (for various reasons), I still have a lot to be thankful for. I vow to stop letting those "bad" things overshadow the good.

4. Moisturize!!

This may seem like a frivolous one, but Arizona is really dry. REALLY dry. I've never been much of a moisturizer (perhaps because I grew up in the humidity capital of Texas?) but my skin is seriously suffering since moving here.

5. Be Active.

Do something active at least 6 days a week. That doesn't necessarily mean working out, but maybe taking the dog for a long walk, going fishing with the Hubs, shooting some hoops, hiking in the beautiful Arizona foothills and so on. This will also help me to not become a Stay-At-Home-Wife-Hermit and get out of the dang house! :)

6. Be a Better Friend.

I'm a notoriously bad long-distance friend, but it's time to change that. I need to take more time to catch up with my friends and make them feel like they are still special to me. Whether that means talking on the phone (which I hate), chatting on Gchat, sending an email or a cardor whatever, I need to do it.

7. Make it Myself....Whenever Possible.

Make it instead of buy it. Bake my own bread, craft my own greeting cards, refurbish furniture instead of buying get the picture.

I think that's it! Thanks for letting me share my resolutions with you and I hope you'll help to keep me accountable. Feel free to share some of your resolutions in the comments!

Happy New Year and here's to an amazing 2011!