Crock Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup
Mondays call for Crock Pots. They yearn for Crock Pots. They scream and dance and sing for Crock Pots. Granted, they also call (and sing and dance and scream) for coffee, and lots of it, but when it comes to dinnertime, Mondays were made for Crock Pots.
And the last day of September is made for soup. Granted, it was 75 degrees today (I hate South Carolina sometimes), but chicken tortilla soup sounded just too good to pass up. Especially Crock Pot chicken tortilla soup - the easier, the better. I came home at lunch to take the dog out to potty and throw everything in the Crock Pot, so when we got back from the gym we had a delicious meal already ready.
This was a stupidly easy recipe. It required minimal chopping and maximum dumping (sorry if that sounds gross, haha). I made several substitutions - the original recipe called for a serrano pepper, but since I couldn't find one at Trader Joe's, I didn't buy one. I didn't feel like driving around town just to buy a pepper. The recipe also called for chili powder, which I discovered we were out of. So instead I used two heaping 1/4 teaspoonfuls of red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, and a generous grinding of the South African spice from Trader Joe's that we used on the pork tenderloin last night.
It all turned out really well. B said it could even be more spicy - next time, I'm pretty sure I'll add the serrano (or jalapeno, or whatever pepper I can find) pepper. However, we both really like spicy food, so if you prefer milder food I would just leave it out. I would also use a little less chicken broth. It was a little bit runny, but the flavor was fantastic.
You can see the original recipe here, or you can check out the patented Emily version below. Ole!
Crock Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup
4 chicken breasts (frozen is fine)
1 15-ounce can sweet corn, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained (I used Trader Joe's fire-roasted organic tomatoes, and they were amazing).
5 cups chicken stock (I recommend 4)
1 small onion, diced
3/4 cup green pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 hot pepper (serrano, jalapeno, etc), minced
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Trader Joe's South African spice grinder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Dump ingredients in Crock Pot. Stir to mix.
Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.
An hour before serving, remove chicken breasts and shred. Return them to Crock Pot for an hour.
Serve soup with tortilla chips and shredded cheese (and a margarita, if you're lucky!)
Freeze leftovers for nights when you need a quick meal.
Fruit and meat
I personally think it's a good pairing. The first time I ever really had fruit with meat was in college where one of my roommates cranberry pork chops, a recipe out of our sorority cookbook. Needless to say, it's a trend I think should continue, especially since we still have something like two dozen apples to use up.
It shouldn't be a difficult task, if today's recipe is an indicator of things to come. It was DIVINE.
This recipe, chipotle pork tenderloin with apple chutney, is another one I saw on my sweet coworker's blog. However, to be fair, it bears only little resemblance to hers. In my traditional spastic, forgetful way, I made it my own.
I began by making the chutney. Peel and chop 3 apples into medium-small chunks. Saute them in a pan over medium-high heat with one tablespoon of butter until the apples start to brown. Add in 3 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1/3 cup of dried cranberries, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. The original recipe called for dried mustard, but I didn't have any of that so I just left it out.
Bring all the ingredients to a boil, then reduce heat and cook until the liquid is gone and the apples are soft. The finished product looked like this:
Now, for the pork tenderloin.
Well...the original recipe was for chipotle pork tenderloin, which does sound delicious. Unfortunately, once I started looking at the spices involved, I realized that pretty much all I already had was salt and pepper. Spices are expensive, and I'm already over budget for this month (oops), and I was already at Trader Joe's and didn't feel like driving to another grocery store for specialty spices, so I did what I do. I found what I thought was a suitable substitution.
And unlike some of my substitutions, this one was amazing.
Chipotle is a pretty smoky spice, so I was trying to figure out a way to make this pork tenderloin smoky and spicy and delicious. And lo and behold, in the TJ's spice section, I found a South African smoky spice blend grinder. SOLD.
So after I made the apple chutney, I set about the business of spicing up this pork. I first sprayed the pork with olive oil spray, then ground a lot of spice onto the tenderloin. B patted it in. Here's our spiced raw pork.
My coworker's original recipe called for grilling the pork tenderloin, but B only has a charcoal grill that takes forever to heat up and is generally more trouble than it's worth, especially for a Sunday night dinner just for the two of us.
Instead, we seared the pork for a few minutes, rolling around to make sure all sides got seared and crispy to lock in the juices. Then we put it into a 450-degree oven for about 20 minutes.
While that was cooking, I also roasted some Brussels sprouts and made some of Trader Joe's basmati rice with herbs and spices. The sprouts and tenderloin in the oven got a little smoky, setting off the fire alarm twice, but aside from a slightly spooked dog, everything was perfect.
And when I say perfect, I mean perfect. This is one of the best meals I've made in recent memory. The pork was spicy and tender and juicy, the chutney sweet and tangy, the rice savory and delicious and the Brussels sprouts gave everything an earthy, hearty feel.
The only suggestion I would make is to add even MORE spice. I would have liked to have more of that flavor on it. Even if it LOOKS covered already, it still cooks off. Be generous.
This was a HUGE food win. I will now be making chutney for lots more meats, and I will be putting that South African spice on anything I can conceivably put it on. I'd even put it on roasted veggies, chicken, fish, you name it...it's that go. Run, don't walk, to your neighborhood Trader Joe's and load up on this stuff. If you want to use it to make the pork tenderloin, check out my recipe below.
Smoky Pork Tenderloin with Apple Chutney
3 apples, chopped into medium-small pieces
1 tablespoon butter
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons tightly packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Smoky Pork Tenderloin
1 pork tenderloin (whatever size you need/prefer)
Olive oil spray
South African spice grinder from Trader Joe's
For the chutney:
Saute apples in butter over medium-high heat until apples are starting to brown.
Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat until liquid has cooked off and apples are soft.
For the pork:
Preheat oven to 450.
Remove tenderloin from package. Spray with olive oil spray.
Twist grinder over pork, coating it well with spice. Be generous with the spice, it's the best part!
Press spices into pork.
In an oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat, sear the pork, being sure to cook all sides.
Once tenderloin is evenly seared, place pan in oven and bake for 20 minutes.
Let sit a few minutes before serving to preserve juices.
Serve with chutney spooned on top.
Sky Top Orchard
On Thursday, while attending the beer tasting at The Growler Station, mine and B's conversation went a little something like this:
B: We should go to an orchard up in North Carolina on Saturday. Do you want to?
Me: Ooooh, yeah, let's!
And that was that. The more I learn, the more I've started getting a little concerned about what we put in our bodies and where it comes from. Apples that we pick ourselves is about as close as we're going to get to the farm-to-table concept (or rather, orchard to kitchen counter, but anyway).
So this morning we woke ourselves up at 8:00 to put the dog in the car and drive the hour to Sky Top Orchard in Hendersonville, NC. I'd heard several people talk about it, so I was super-excited. After a brief detour to downtown Hendersonville to the Wells Fargo ATM (Sky Top is cash-only), we drove up a long and windy road, parked haphazardly where indicated along the side of said road, and entered the delightful zoo that is the orchard. We arrived around 9:30, and it was already crowded with people, especially families with kids. And when we left at 11...the crowds, oh my goodness, the crowds. If you ever go, go EARLY. Or on a weekday. But anyway.
We had heard many good things about the apple cider doughnuts, so we began our day with a hearty and amazing breakfast. These doughnuts are hot, crumbly, cider-y, cinnamon-y, sugary goodness. After our bellies were happy, we grabbed a bucket and began the adventure of apple picking. Sweet Luna was so well-behaved and loved all the new smells to sniff. We had fun picking our own food. The weather was lovely, and we even ran into some good friends, their two kids' and the wife's parents while we were there. It was a really delightful day.
But the best part is, we ended up with something like 30 apples, so stay tuned for a LOT of apple-based recipes. I'll give you a teaser...there's going to be some applesauce, but this recipe has a super secret ingredient to give it an amazing kick. And that's just the beginning. Enjoy the pics...recipes coming soon!
Making Life Grand
Ever since I've graduated from college, fall has always made me wistful, and not a little bit nostalgic. Every year when the air starts to cool, my heart aches as I remember those four precious years I got to spend in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Specifically, I remember the Septembers and Octobers. I'm typically a "spring" person instead of fall (hence my impending April wedding), but fall is just THE time to be in Chapel Hill. For years and years I missed it, and I still do. But...
There's always a "but," isn't there? Ever since I went to France with B in October two years ago, when the air gets cool I don't think as much of the Quad on a sunny fall day. Instead, I think of, and yearn for, our rainy train ride from Charles de Gaulle to our hotel in Paris. I think of the gorgeous crisp, cool, sunny day I visited the Chateau du Blois and Chateau Amboise. And I desperately, desperately, want to be back there again.
Well, it's hard not to, with views like this:
Or, you know this. Oh, wait. I'm marrying this view. Anyway.
Whether fortunately or unfortunately, my love of France does not extend solely to its aesthetic and architectural properties. It's kind of a good thing, because there's not much I can do about that. I live in South Carolina, and it is what it is. I can drive to Asheville to see an old estate, or I can drive to Charleston to walk around a historical city, but that's about it. I cannot take a 15-minute train ride, hop off the train, cross the tracks, and find myself at a giant castle estate. I just can't.
But like I said, it's not just about the views and the sights, and in this case, it's a good thing. It was more about how I felt there. And yes, I will be perfectly honest - a large part of it had to do with being on vacation and not having to go to work. Unfortunately, much like the lack of chateaux in the southeastern United States, there just isn't a whole lot I can do about that, either.
But there are other, more subtle things to be done to recreate that feeling here at home, without having to purchase airfare. So my goal, or resolution, if you will (because September has always felt more like a new year to me than actual New Year's), is to incorporate some of these things into mine and B's lives. Even if, um, you know, I haven't actually filled him in on this yet. Oops.
Even more than just to remind us of France, it's occurred to me that these could be valuable suggestions for our marriage as well. Right now everything seems all hazy and dreamy and new, but I'm not so naive as to think that won't wear off eventually. Putting good habits in place now seems like a smart start to a marriage, plus a way to have more fun. So here goes.
**And disclaimer (if you haven't figured it out already): this is not a short post. You've been warned.
1. 86 the technology. I think this is the biggest one. In France, we didn't have smartphones. We didn't have television. We had B's laptop but we didn't have internet except our first night, in Paris. I had three books and he had...nothing. So I bought a deck of cards at one of the castles and we played high/low while drinking a bottle of sparkling Vouvray wine (AH-mazing) that we bought for 6 euros. He invented a drinking game while looking at the many pictures I'd taken one day. We talked to each other. A lot. Because what else was there to do?
I'm not one to turn on the TV, but I have been guilty of bringing a book or my phone to the dinner table. There are some days I get home from work and all I want to do is sit by myself in silence and play Candy Crush. But I/we need to limit that. And yes, I see the irony in the fact I'm saying we need to get off the computer as I'm sitting here at a computer typing this to you, but you get the idea. Purposeful blog posts? Good. Mindless web surfing? Bad.
2. Get our butts outside. Especially this time of year. This is a throwback from both France AND Chapel Hill. In both places, I walked everywhere. And aside from the obvious health benefits, it was just nice to be outside. These days I dash from my house to my car, my car to my office, and then I repeat the whole process in reverse after work. Some nights we go on a a longer walk with the dog, but that's about all the fresh air I get. It's a far cry from being outdoors all day, having coffee in outdoor cafes, and taking pictures like this:
And yes, once again, the whole "job" thing gets in the way of being able to be outdoors photographing all day, but I can sit outside at Starbucks and read during my lunch hour. I can sit outside and read on Saturday afternoons. And the dog is pretty much always up for a walk. To recap: move it outside.
3. Stop waiting for "special occasions": As I lay awake unable to fall asleep this week, I started thinking about all the fun things we registered for. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy when I thought about how I could have a dinner party for friends and serve everything up on our fine china. But then I remembered we're going to be living in my tiny townhouse for a few months, and my happy balloon deflated. My thought process went something like this: "There's no room in my house for all B's stuff AND all our new stuff. Besides, I should wait until we get a bigger, nicer house together before I bring out the good stuff and have people over."
Um, why? We might be a little cramped for a couple of months, but why shouldn't we invite friends over for food and fellowship? Yes, space will be limited, but I'm pretty sure we can spare some room for china, and maybe even a serving bowl or two. In France, I had a glass of wine every afternoon while sitting outside and reading Harry Potter, just because I could. It didn't stop me just because it was a Tuesday or it was raining. Any day can be a special occasion. Bust out the china and invite the gang over.
4. Get up and get dressed. This is sort of a subset to #3. Every morning when I'm looking at my closet, I think, "Oh, I don't want to wear that to work, that's too nice. I'll save that for the weekend." And then every weekend, I'll think, "Oh, I don't want to wear that, I might get it dirty and then I can't wear it to work." Instead, I invariably pick the most boring things I own and wear them over and over again. Let's get real: this is the 21st century. I have a washing machine. If, heaven forbid, I spill something on my outfit, I can get the stain out..
But when I'm on vacation, I bring my cutest outfits and wear them. I get up, get dressed (NOT in yoga pants and an old Phi Beta Chi t-shirt), and hit the town. Funny, isn't it, how I automatically feel better when I'm dressed in an outfit I actually like? It's not selfish or vain to want to look nice in an outfit you enjoy if it puts you in a better mood and makes you more optimistic and motivated. Here I am rocking one of my favorite outfits at the Chateau de Chenonceau, the cardigan of which I bought at H&M in Tours:
5. Make "down time" count. I am the queen of fooling around on my phone and finding out that an hour or so has passed and I have done nothing productive. When I'm at work I think longingly of all the things I want to do when I get off, but when I get home I take a few minutes of "down time" that somehow always turns into a big chunk of time gone with nothing to show for it.
In France, I had a ton of time and no phone to waste it with. I walked endlessly around Tours while B worked, taking pictures like it was my job. I wrote in my journal or read while I had delicious cafe au lait every morning and my glass of wine each afternoon. That trip felt so robust, and I think it's because I can tell you pretty much how I spent each day. And yes, a few days included sleeping late or naps (thank you, jet lag), but there wasn't much wasted time. Having a job does constrain my time, but I want to make our free time more meaningful.
6. Embrace spontaneity. B's birthday fell on the Wednesday we were in France. By that point he had been working for three days, while I got to sleep late and have coffee and wine. When he got home from work that day, he took a nap that lasted a couple of hours while I read. When he finally awoke, I was super-excited to take him out to dinner at one of the many resaurants I'd scouted out that day. But he was groggy and exhausted, and just didn't want to go out to eat. We wandered from restaurant to restaurant, looking at menus, him getting more unenthusistic and me getting more exasperated the longer we searched.
Finally, in a fit of frustration, I snapped that I had found a grocery store the day before and would he like to just go get some fruit and bread and cheese? Turns out he would. We loaded up with delicious blue cheese, crusty fresh bread, sliced meat, pre-packaged caprese salad, olives, and I can't even remember what else. We then hit a convenience store for two bottles of wine (one red, one sparkling Vouvray...seriously, that stuff is amazing). And we went back to the hotel, sat on the bed, and had what became the first of our patented meat-and-cheese dinners. Yes, dinner at the fondue restaurant would've been nice (and if we ever go back, B promised me he'd take me there). But we made an indelible memory that night that has led to a unique tradition. If we had gone along with my plan, we would have missed it. B was wise enough to see that, and I'm grateful for it.
7. Eat well, treat well. Let's be real here. I ate enough Nutella crepes, macarons and chocolate croissants in France to put a diabetic in a coma. We also had a ton of decadent, amazing meals. But - the portions were small. And the food was fresh and real. Combine that with all the walking we did, and we didn't feel a bit guilty. This is definitely a trend we need to start/continue here in good ol' SC. Admittedly, this is one of the easier resolutions. I try to cook a variety of healthy foods, but portion control tends to be an issue. So do mindless calories. Quality should always take precedence over quantity when it comes to food, even dessert. It may be more satisfying in the moment to eat a giant bag of M&Ms, but I know I'll be much more satisfied in the long run waiting for a really good dessert, like so:
So that, in a nutshell, is my list of 7 handy steps to try to make myself feel like I'm in France again. I would've made that the title, except, well, it's a little long. Faithful readers, if you have stuck with me until now, I raise a glass to you. Cheers to a fun-filled, fulfilling life!
Making Chicken Interesting
Last Friday night the hubby-to-be and I had one of our patented meat-and-cheese dinners, this time with beer pairings (thank you, Big Jon and the staff at the Growler Station, for the idea). Although our cheese selections vary wildly, depending on what's in the "Bit Basket" at Whole Food or what looks intriguing at Trader Joe's, we generally buy the exact same two meats: 1/4 pound of chorizo, and 4 slices of prosciutto parma. Before you start to think we're on some kind of insane diet, let me point out that the prosciutto is typically $27/pound, and no, that's not a typo.
But for some unknown reason, the guy at the deli counter at Whole Foods sliced off a whole bunch of thick slices before doing our four requested thin slices. He put them off to the side, so we thought maybe they weren't good or something. But then he just gave them to us - for free! Being as I was rather doped up on cold medicine at the time, I don't exactly recall WHY he sliced all the extra prosciutto in the first place, much less gave it to us for free, but I wasn't arguing. It was something like $9 of free meat (plus what we actually paid for).
True to form, we only ate a little bit with our meat and cheese dinner, and I didn't want to let all that delicious prosciutto go to waste. B used some of it to make prosciutto and Gouda scrambled eggs on Saturday morning while I was having fun Nyquil-induced dreams (not), but we still had a lot left.
Enter stage right: Pinterest.
Turns out a while ago I had pinned a recipe to my "Nom Nom Nom" board (recipes I want to try) for prosciutto-wrapped chicken with rosemary. Not only did it sound delightful, but it also had that crucial ingredient - prosciutto. Sold. Plus, it solved the universal quandary of, "How do I use this giant Costco bag of frozen chicken breasts without making the same thing over and over again?"
Preheat the oven to 375. Slice two cloves of garlic very thinly (see above). Take a sprig of rosemary and shred the leaves off the stem. Chop the leaves finely. Add to a plastic bag (or a dish), along with 1/4 cup of olive oil and a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice.
Add your desired amount of chicken breasts (I sliced them length-wise to make them more like tenders) to the plastic bag or dish, and mash the oil mixture into the chicken really well. Here's the chicken below in the bag.
Take each chicken tender out of the bag. Place a whole sprig of rosemary on top, then wrap in prosciutto, like so (thanks to my B for the picture):
Place in a baking dish and cook for 35 minutes. Here are my darling little prosciutto chicken tenders ready to go in the oven:
While they baked, I made some mashed potatoes (oh, all right, I made the instant kind) and sauteed some spinach for side dishes. I always forget how good sauteed spinach is...I don't know why I don't make it more often. Note to self: remember that.
Anyway, once the chicken comes out of the oven, drizzle a little balsamic vinegar over the finished product before serving, and then eat and enjoy! I thought this was a particularly good recipe. The prosciutto basically acted like bacon, and formed a delicious crispy crust around the chicken. The rosemary gave it really good flavor, and the olive oil and lemon juice "marinade" (such as it is) helped keep everything from drying out. My only suggestion would be to maybe add some dry white wine to the marinade next time, and let it marinate a little longer. Otherwise, this was delicious, and wildly impressive-looking. B gave it the thumbs-up from the male contingent, so rest assured this meal is man-friendly.
If you want to see the original recipe, click here. Otherwise, scroll down to see it with my changes/additions.
Prosciutto-Wrapped Rosemary Chicken
2 chicken breasts, cut in half lengthwise
4 long pieces of prosciutto parma
5 full sprigs fresh rosemary
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
Juice from half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375.
Combine olive oil, lemon juice and garlic in a plastic bag. Take one sprig of rosemary, shred the leaves off the stem, and chop finely. Add to the olive oil mixture.
Salt and pepper chicken breasts. Add to the bag, and mix and mash to make sure chicken is well-coated.
Remove a piece of chicken. Place a full sprig of rosemary on top, then wrap with a length of prosciutto.
Repeat until you've used up all the chicken breasts, rosemary sprigs, and prosciutto strips.
Place in baking dish and cook in oven for 35 minutes.
When chicken is finished, drizzle a little bit of balsamic vinegar over the top.
Eat, and enjoy!
They say it takes a village to raise a child. I don't know about that (and I don't plan to for several more years), but it did take a village to make minestrone soup. Or at least several compiled Pinterest and Google-search finds, mishmashed together.
B and I were sick last week, and for me it carried over into the weekend. I spent most of yesterday on the sofa with a box of tissues, several mugs of hot tea, and a book. Actually, that would've been my idea of the perfect fall Saturday...if I had been able to breathe.
Anyway. So when it came time to choose the menu for this week, soup immediately came to mind. Soup is one of my favorite things to make, regardless of my health, but add in a cold and a decided lack of energy, and soup sounded just perfect. Especially soup that you make in the Crock Pot.
I had found a decent-looking minestrone soup recipe on Pinterest, but it wasn't for the Crock Pot. So I Google-searched for another one that was. But I didn't like that one as much, so I mishmashed the two together.
This is wonderful recipe for two reasons. The first is that if you can manage to open some cans and dump them in a Crock Pot, and chop a couple of veggies and do the same, then you can pretty much manage this recipe. The second is that it's one of those fun add in/leave out whatever ingredients you like or don't like to make it your own. B and I eat just about anything, but I know that's not the case with everyone so when I choose to share a recipe I try to make sure it's doable for kids or picky eaters.
This is important: don't be turned off by the amount of ingredients. I tend to get a little hesitant if there are more than 5-8 ingredients in a recipe, but in this case the amount of ingredients does not translate to a complicated recipe. It just translates to more goodness in your soup. And a lot of this may already be lurking about in your pantry, and even if it's not, none of this is inordinately expensive. Plus, it makes a ton, so you'll have plenty to freeze, or just to eat for leftovers.
I just dumped everything in the Crock Pot around 2:00 and voila! Dinner was ready at 8:00. We served it with sunflower bread from Publix bakery, and it was delightful. It was flavorful and filling and delicious without being heavy. It was just what my nasally challenged little self needed tonight. It was YUM. B loved it too, despite it not having ANY meat (or even chicken broth) in it, and it will stay on my to-make rotation for this winter.
Oh yeah, and that's another thing: this is vegetarian minestrone soup, and can be made gluten-free if you need by leaving out the pasta (or using gluten-free pasta). Speaking of, my only recommendation would be to back off the pasta shells. The original recipe called for 1/2 cup of pasta, which just seemed laughable in that giant Crock Pot full of stuff, so I upped it to 2 cups of pasta. In retrospect, I'd back that down to 1 1/2 cups, or even just 1.
As usual, check the original recipes here and here, or see my combination of the two below. Cheers to good food, good company, and (hopefully) good health!
Mishmashed Minestrone Soup
1 potato, cubed
1 zucchini, cubed
1 small white onion, chopped
1/2 C green beans, cut into 1-inch slices (I eyeballed the amount)
1/2 C shredded carrot (I used chopped baby carrots)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can red kidney beans, rinsed well
1 can white beans (Great Northern), rinsed well
1 can garbanzo beans, rinsed well
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
3 C fresh spinach (we just used three handfuls)
6 C vegetable broth (do not use chicken broth)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste
1 1/2 C shell pasta (optional)
Put everything except the shells in the Crock Pot, and cook on low for 6 hours. Add the shells during the last 40 minutes of cooking. Serve with toasted bread, and enjoy!
This recipe got started like so many of my favorites do: from Real Simple magazine. I have gotten that magazine since 2006, and although I do not have as much time to sit down and read it as I used to, I always, always, always check out the food section in the back. Without fail.
This recipe came from an issue last fall, in a sidebar or something about easy ways to eat butternut squash. I like regular squash, so I thought I would give this a go. I made it for B, and we both really liked its sweet, spicy flavor. But it really gained momentum when I went home for Christmas. Dad cooked a big beef tenderloin on the grill, and I was in charge of the side dishes. Among them was this. And everyone LOVED it. It was both of my parents' favorite side dish. They couldn't get over it.
So when I found pre-cut butternut squash in the veggie case at Trader Joe's (my mecca) this Sunday, I was all for it. Especially since the whole ones are REALLY difficult to cut (especially when, like my parents, you have knives that wouldn't cut hot butter). I definitely thought we needed to indulge in this fall treat this week, and after a busy day yesterday, it seemed just the thing.
The recipe is one of those infuriating ones with absolutely no actual measurements - but the good news is that you can add ingredients to suit YOUR tastes (not mine, or the nice folks at Real Simple). It's also VERRRY easy. Tonight, we served it with chicken with Cackalacky sauce and mashed potatoes. Here is a pic before it went into the oven:
And here's a pic when it came out. Admittedly, this was not my best go at this. I learned (the hard way) that you need to mix your squash pieces with butter so it's well-coated. THEN put the toppings and spices on it, and don't mix after that. Otherwise, all the good gooey-ness ends up on the bottom of the pan where it burns and causes a lot of smoke and you have to open the kitchen window and the front door and then the dog nearly runs out the door and...anyway.
Try it yourself, change it up, add or subtract ingredients, go nuts. And above all, leave feedback - let me know if it works or not!
Spicy-sweet butternut squash
Butternut squash, cubed (or pre-cut squash cubes, whatever)
Pecan pieces (or just plain pecans, however you prefer them)
Freshly cracked black pepper
Fresh rosemary (we use dried oregano if we don't have fresh rosemary)
Pour butter over squash and toss to coat well. Put rest of toppings on top, in quantities of your choice (I like a lot of spice, fyi). Bake at 375 degrees until the squash is tender (typically around 20-25 minutes). Enjoy! Happy fall, y'all!
It came! It finally came! After being shipped a week late, and then hanging out in the FedEx facility here in G-Vegas for a few days (because that seems logical), my StitchFix FINALLY arrived! I have been so very anxiously awaiting it, as have my coworkers, who are waiting to order their own box until they see if mine is any good. Luckily I've had lots of experience being everyone's guinea pig, being a firstborn and all. Occupational hazard, you know.
Anyway. It's finally here! There was much rejoicing at the office. In fact, one of my coworkers met me at the door when I came back from lunch with the pronouncement, "It's here!!!" Well, I had to open it then, of course. I looked at everything and showed it to the girls. They liked more of my stuff than I did, but at this stage of my life I'm very practical. If I can't wear it to work, it generally doesn't get bought.
I formed some opinions pretty quickly, but I wanted to wait to reserve final judgment until I could go home and try it all on. The waiting would've been incredibly painful had I not received, about 30 minutes later, the proofs of our engagement pics. That helped occup my afternoon - butttttt more on that later! That will be another post!
But anyway, back to the box. It was a long afternoon waiting to go home and try this stuff on. And when I did...my initial predictions were pretty accurate. See my reviews (and pictures) below...
Kinlie Floral Applique Cardigan
Love. Love, love, love, love, LOVE, L-O-V-E. I keep saying that I must have been a librarian in my past life (or else I missed my calling), because I LOVE cardigans. They're so versatile and practical and cute! And this one...ridiculously adorable. It was the first thing I pulled out of the box, and right away I knew I was keeping it. It's my favorite color (which is turquoise - the picture looks a little gray). AND it was only $28. So with the $20 payment/credit up front, it was only $8. Quite possibly the biggest fashion win ever. SO excited to wear this...fall, hurry up! It's still a little too warm in SC!
Wendie Tribal Print Sleeveless Blouse
I wasn't super-crazy about this when I pulled it out. The tribal pattern isn't my favorite (I'm not very bohemian), but I did like the colors. When I tried it on it fit pretty well - not super-tight, but not too baggy, either. I didn't completely love it by itself. It was just kind of meh. But once I put my pink cardigan on over it I liked it MUCH better. I'm kind of torn whether or not to keep this. The jury is still out on this one, so stay tuned for the verdict.
Opaque Leaves Necklace
This one isn't my favorite. I thought the green leaves were kind of pretty, but when I pulled it fully out of its box, I really didn't like the thick, yellow-gold chain. The leaves were also pointy and kept poking me. If it was really, really cheap I might have considered keeping it just for a bit of costume/statement jewelry. But $32 is way too much to spend on something I already know I'll wear sparingly. Decent try, but pass.
Stacy Tabsleeve Floral Print Dress
My first thought when I pulled this out of the box is that my mother would be laughing her head off if she saw it. She would invariably make some kind of "Little House on the Prairie" joke. After I put it on, I just thanked all my lucky stars my mama is safely up in North Carolina because she would STILL be laughing at me if she saw this. In fact, she's probably laughing at this picture, and will continue to do so at least until next week. It was too big...wayyyy too big. And frumpy. When your fiance's response is, "Gertrude? Is that you? Weren't you on the last episode of Amish Mafia?" you know it's a fail. This one is DEFINITELY going back. Now excuse me while I go hunt down my horse and buggy.
Milan Lace Print Sleeveless Dress
My "stylist" said she chose this for me because I had mentioned in my Style Profile that I was getting married soon, and she wanted me to have some fun party dresses for showers or rehearsal dinner or whatnot. I thought it was super pretty when I took it out. My first thought with this one was that, even with the wedding stuff, I don't know how much of a chance I would have to wear this. And it's the most expensive of the bunch, at $68. It's pretty, but it's a little large in the chest (story of my life). I also just can't see how much opportunity I'd have to wear it, so I really can't justify purchasing it.
Overall, I'm pretty happy with my box. I actually was hoping I would NOT like everything, because I can't really afford to buy it all. But it was worth it to get the cardigan. I wouldn't have found that on my own, and it's super cute (and appropriate for work).They didn't quite nail my style, which is interesting since I had to fill out a pretty extensive questionnaire, but I'm hoping after returning this stuff my next box will be a little more on-target. The thing that really impressed me was the sizing. Aside from the grandma dress, which I think was just MEANT to be big, everything was pretty dead-on. And that was my biggest concern.
The bottom line? Not only would I recommend it, I would totally do it again. Actually, I AM going to do it again. My dear coworker, Megan, signed up using my referral link, so I'll have $25 credit toward whatever I buy from my next box, which is incentive enough to do it again. If you're interested in signing up, definitely use my referral link. And by all means, let me know how it goes!
**Mad props to my sweet B for being my photographer. Best fiance ever :)
Sunny, With a Chance of Meatballs
When I thought about what I wanted to make for dinner this week, for some reason I wanted meatballs. No idea why. I just did. And that's pretty weird for me - I tend to want vegetables more, and I generally only make meat because I know B wants/needs it. But today - well, today I wanted meatballs.
I had some vague recollection of someone telling me about ground turkey meatballs with spinach and feta, but I had no clue who it was. Since the odds of me finding the person and/or the recipe were slim to none, I went to the old standby: the Google search. Google did not let me down. A plethora of turkey spinach meatball recipes appeared. One in particular seemed like it would be good, but I mixed in some elements of a couple of other recipes, only because they seemed good.
To start, you need one pound of ground turkey, one 10-ounce package of frozen spinach, three ounces of feta cheese, one egg, and 1/4 cup bread crumbs.
Put all of the above into a bowl. Add one teaspoon of oregano and one-half teaspoon of black pepper. This was in another recipe - the original one I used didn't call for any spices, but I didn't like that. I'm a big fan of adding spices to recipes because you get flavor without calories. Win-win. Anyway, mix the ingredients WELL. You want a little of everything in each meatball.
*Note - no need to add salt. The feta is pretty salty, and you also wind up putting the meatballs in marinara sauce later, so between the two you get your salt. Trust me, there's no shortage of flavor.
*Note 2 - if you need gluten-free, just leave out the bread crumbs. We really couldn't tell they were there, anyway. Maybe just add a second egg to bind everything together, and you're in business!
Once everything is very well mixed, form into meatballs, like so:
Once you get your meatballs together, put a large pan with high walls on the burner on high heat. Spray with cooking spray (we use the olive oil spray). Drop meatballs until the pan until you run out of room. Sear without flipping until that side is crusty. Flip to the other side and do the same. Roll them around a little. Then, put them on foil on a cookie sheet.
Repeat until you have browned all the meatballs and placed them all on the cookie sheet. The original recipe didn't call for baking the meatballs in the oven, but we felt like they would cook better (and more expeditiously) with a few minutes in the oven. So we baked the meatballs for 6 minutes at 350 degrees, and that was just about perfect.
Then return the meatballs to their original pan, along with a jar of your favorite pasta sauce, and let simmer for 10 minutes until the meatballs and sauce are heated through and well-mixed.
Ta-da! That's it! Pretty easy, huh? We served ours over pasta, but we bought some whole wheat pitas to put the leftovers in for lunch this week (we're big fans of versatile meals). You can also eat them by themselves, maybe with some roasted green beans or broccoli to round out the meal.
Click here to see the base recipe I used, or see below with my additions/changes. As always, feel free to add or remove ingredients as YOU please. And regardless of how you eat them, please remember to do one just one thing: enjoy!
Turkey, spinach and feta meatballs
1 lb. ground turkey (we used a 1.5-lb. package from Costco)
1 10-oz package of frozen spinach (we used a 16-oz package)
3 ounces of feta cheese (I just eyeballed the cheese)
1/4 C bread crumbs
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 jar your favorite marinara sauce
Put turkey, spinach, cheese, bread crumbs, egg and spices into a bowl. Mix very well.
Roll mixture into meatballs (I like them a little smaller, but you can make them whatever size works for you).
Heat a pan until sizzling, then spray with cooking spray.
Put a layer of meatballs in the pan and sear on both sides.
Remove and put on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Repeat until all meatballs have been browned.
Put browned meatballs into a 350-degree oven for 5-7 minutes.
Remove, and put back in the pan, along with a jar of marinara sauce. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until meatballs are coated with sauce and heated through.
Serve on pasta, in pita bread, or on their own.
Champagne and Mexican Food
Because that's normal, right? Champagne and Mexican food, I mean. No? Just us? Well, that seems reasonable. To be fair, it got started with the engagement. Brian proposed around 11:30 in the morning. He had bought two bottles of champagne. The next logical celebratory meal was lunch, but all we had was leftover Mexican. And so a weird, weird tradition was born: Mexican food and champagne. We never can seem to do anything in the normal, regular way.
But regardless of what beverage you choose, I have two AMAZING recipes for you. We make both of them very frequently. We even made them for Mama P one night when we went to the beach with her this May, and she LOVED them (and she's picky!). These are super-delicious, easy, and easily convertible - you can add or leave out ingredients as you please, with very little effect on the finished product. And we all know customizable meals are a big favorite of mine.
The two recipes? Easy Mexican pizza (think Taco Bell, only not sketchy) and garlicky pinto beans. Like I said, big favorites, both of them. And wonderful for a lazy Friday night after a LONG week of work.
Let's start with the Mexican pizza. To begin, pour yourself a wine glass full of Champagne (we like Korbel, purchased from Costco because it's cheap, but that's just us).
Next, find a gigantic, awkward Labrador to lie down in THE most inconvenient place in the center of the kitchen so you trip over her or step on her every time you turn around to get an ingredient or kitchen tool.
Just kidding. That's optional. Unless you're me. Then that's pretty much just a given.
All set? Next, brown one pound of ground turkey, unless you're one of those people who just insists on actually having ground beef (but we've found we can't tell a difference).
Once the ground turkey is browned, add a little water and one tablespoon of this homemade taco seasoning - all the flavor, none of the sodium. And it uses ingredients we already have on hand. LOVE.
Preheat the oven to 350. Grease an aluminum pan (we use a giant one, but that's just because B has a bunch of them in his apartment. I don't know why). Put a tortilla in the pan. Spread a thin layer of refried beans on the tortilla. Add a thin layer of the ground turkey mixture. Put another tortilla on top, and bake for 10 minutes.
While the base of the pizza is in the oven, start work on the beans. Slice up six (yes, SIX) cloves of garlic. Saute in two tablespoons of olive oil for a minute or two. Once the garlic is soft and fragrant, add two 15-ounce cans of pinto beans (drained and rinsed VERY well!), one-half cup water, one-half teaspoon oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer until the water has reduced and the beans are heated through. Sprinkle sliced green onions on top. Okay. Those are done.
And bonus - these are gluten free! AND delicious!
By this point, the base of the pizzas are probably done. Take them out of the oven (carefully!). Spread a thin layer of your salsa of choice on top. Layer on cheese, olives (if you like them - I LOVE them), chopped tomatoes, and green onions. Put back in the oven for 5-7 minutes until the cheese is melted and everything is all warm and gooey and delicious.
These are our pizzas, ready for the final baking.
That's it! Pretty easy, huh? And you can customize the pizzas to your heart's content - leave off the olives if you're one of those weird people who doesn't like olives, add green peppers or onions, put some guac on top...the options are endless. And the leftover pintos can be reheated and put on top of some tortilla chips with some queso for quick and easy nachos. Or you can put the beans and leftover ground beef in a tortilla for a burrito. Really, Mexican food rocks - there is so much to do with it! So play around to your heart's content and enjoy these recipes. You can check out the original recipes for the pinto beans and the Mexican pizzas here, or you can see them below with my modifications/suggestions. Ole!
Easy Mexican Pizzas
1 pound ground turkey (the original recipe calls for 1/2 pound, but we always find uses for the extra)
1 packet taco seasoning (or one tablespoon of the mixture above)
1 15-ounce can refried beans
4 9-inch flour tortillas
1/2 cup salsa
2 cups Mexican cheese blend
Scallions to taste
Sliced black olives to taste
Chopped tomatoes to taste
Preheat oven to 350.
Brown the ground beef. Add the seasoning with a little water until fully mixed.
Grease two aluminum pie pans and place one tortilla in each pan.
Add a thin layer each of refried beans and the ground turkey mixture.
Top with the remaining tortillas and bake for 10 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly.
Top with salsa, cheese, scallions, olives and tomatoes (or your toppings of choice).
Return to oven and bake until cheese is melted, about 5-7 minutes.
Slice and serve - and enjoy!
Garlicky Pinto Beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, sliced (yes, you really need that many)
2 15-ounce cans pinto beans, rinsed well (you definitely want to get that weird syrup off)
1/2 C water
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Sliced scallions (green onions) to taste
Over medium heat, heat the olive oil and add garlic. Saute until fragrant and soft.
Add beans, water, oregano, salt and pepper.
Saute over medium-low heat until water evaporates.
Add scallions and serve.