Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Look at Them Thighs!

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, or if we happen to be Facebook friends, you know that I post LOTS of pictures of food. Now I enjoy the pretty plating at a restaurant as much as the next girl, but the pictures that I post are mainly of my own cooking.

I'm no trained chef, but I will say that my cooking is pretty damned awesome.  This opinion is inflated by those of my family and friends, and aside from begging for the delivery of portions (I'm talking to you, Kyle!), the recipes are usually requested.
It is for this reason that I am going to make an honest attempt to photograph and blog the prep of some of my favorite dishes.

NOTE: I try to stick to organics 99% of the time. This is our personal choice and while I encourage everyone to adopt the same lifestyle for the betterment of your health, it's certainly not a requirement 

First up? A SUPER easy dish that is a regular contender on our weeknight menu.

Braised Chicken Thigh with Homemade Marinara and Spaghetti Squash

1 pack, organic boneless chicken thighs (about 5-6 pieces)
1/2 large purple onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
Approx 16oz marinara sauce - I use homemade, store-bought is fine
1 large spaghetti squash
Salt and pepper, other spices as desired
Fresh basil

Place a large, oven-safe pan on your largest burner and pre-heat it on high. Lay the thighs out and lightly salt/generously pepper both sides. Once the pan is hot, pour in a few tablespoons of olive oil and sear the chicken for about 2 minutes on each side. It WILL be raw in the middle. This is exactly how you want them!

Go ahead and heat your oven to 275 while these are cooking. 

Remove the thighs from the pan and place on a plate to the side. Once again, don't worry about the raw middle, it will all cook to tender deliciousness in the end. 

Using the "drippings" from the chicken, toss in the onion and garlic and sautee until the onion is just starting to  turn translucent. Go ahead and scrape the pan - you want all of those tasty cooked bits mixed in. 

Add the marinara and simmer for just a minute or two before replacing the thighs and pouring any juices that ended up on the plate back in to the pan. 
(By the way, your kitchen is going to smell incredible right about now!) 

Cover tightly with the lid and allow to cook in your 275 degree oven for 1 hour. 
While that's slowly turning in to melt-in-your-mouth amazingness, it's time to get started on the squash. 
I suppose you could use anything here (even noodles), but I don't know of any other veggie that shreds in to pasta-like strings which also take on the flavor of the dish, and noodles defeat the purpose of cutting the carbs. 
Not an issue for you? Go for it with the pasta! I'm sure it would be delicious as well.

Cut the gourd in half length-wise and scrape out the stringy/seedy mess just like you would with a pumpkin. 

Place the squash flesh side-down in a baking pan and add approximately one inch of water. 

When the timer beeps on your chicken, pull out the pan and use a fork to shred the pieces. The will fall apart easily right now, and this step is completely optional. 

Crank your oven up to 350 degree and pop in the pan containing your squash for 30 minutes, or until the inside of the squash is fork tender. 
At that point you can CAREFULLY* remove each half and simply scrape out the inside. It will simply form the pasta-esque strings. 

*I have burnt the hell out of my hands on this step. It is not fun.  
Use a dish towel and be mindful of the steam. 

You're almost there! 
Place a hearty serving of squash in a bowl, top with the chicken and a few spoonfuls of the sauce. 
I geeked out this spring and decided to test my green thumb, so picked a few leaves of fresh basil from my container garden to garnish this dish. 

Dinner is served and you spent a whopping 20 minutes in the kitchen. 
This meal makes plenty for your whole family and you can easily add more pieces of chicken, sauce, etc. for more servings. 
Hope you guys enjoy this recipe as much as we do!

What's your favorite weeknight recipe?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Step Right Up...

...and get your hands on the best caramel apple you've ever had!

Okay, so it comes in a glass. That doesn't make it any less delicious and satisfying. 
The dude and I are BIG time vodka people, and definitely love our flavored varieties, so when we saw THIS amazing stuff at our local liquor store we just had to try it!

We've been drinking it with Coke Zero, but when I tagged Stoli in my tweet, they offered up some other tasty options, which led to this incredible little treat. 

I'll leave out the fluff and get straight to the delicious details...

The Stoli Salted Karamel Appletini

* 1 part Stoli Salted Karamel Vodka
* 1 1/2 parts apple juice


Shake over ice and serve in a chilled martini glass. 
I sugared the rims and garnished with fresh apple.


So tell me...
What's your favorite vodka cocktail? 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Let There Be Light!!


It has been a ridiculously busy year! We closed on our home at the end of 2012, celebrated my son’s 7th birthday the first weekend of January (more on that to come), I accepted my 
job (aka: work from home and still make an amazing living) with an incredible company, my love accepted a position with an engineering firm downtown and in the middle of all of that, we've maintained some semblance of a social live while renovating and upgrading aspects of the new place.
I’ll dedicate sporadic posts to all of the neat things that my honey built with his new-found carpentry skills, but would like to kick off the home-improvement portion of my little inter-web home with a step-by-step of how I made our dining chandelier! 
A lot of my pictures were lost during an unfortunate Apple Store visit, where we found out that the phone would need to be replaced before I had a chance to back-up the last week or so of memory, so I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures to accompany each step. 

THIS Pottery Barn chandelier is really cute and vintage-y yet still kind of modern in its own way. It’s funky and different and….it's US. We had to have it. What we didn't have to have was the 16 pendant aspect OR the $400 price tag.
A few Google searches and stops at WorldMarket, Lowe’s, & IKEA and we were well on our way to a custom light fixture.

  • Mason jars (buy as many as you will need to get the look you’re going for)
  • Single drop-lights (same number as jars)
  • Edison Filament bulbs – you can go with regular bulbs, but I prefer the look of these.
  • Material for the frame
  • Drill with bits
  • Exacto knife
  • Wire strippers
  • Electrical tape
  • Hammer and one large nail

1.   Trace the opening for the lightbulb socket onto the center of the mason jar lids and CAREFULLY cut out the traced circles. Your lightbulb sockets should now fit perfectly into place – you will need to press firmly to get the lid past the threaded plastic. If you purchased from IKEA your drop lights have a plastic piece that can e screwed on to give everything a more finished look. Go ahead and use the nail to put a few holes in the lid as well. This will allow the heat to escape.

(Like this)

2.    Decide where you will want each jar positioned and mark the board. Drill a hole on each marking using a bit large enough that the wiring will have room to easily feed through. If you plan on painting or staining your wood you’ll want to do that before you begin. Didn’t do that? Go ahead and do that now & let it dry completely. You will want to research various hanging options and find the one that best suits your needs and taste.
3.       The lights have a plug at one end. Cut that plug off.  It feels SO wrong, but just do it – trust me. Feed each wire through its hole on the board.
4.       Use the wire strippers to remove the plastic coating from the end of each wire, being careful not to rip off the wire itself. You’ll want to determine the length you want for each pendant at this point. I used a spot of one of the wires as a reference point and after holding the others to the length I wanted, firmly zip-tied all of them together.
5.       Secure the frame to the ceiling. In my case, I built a shallow box with 4 - 2” x ¼” planks fastened into a square and attached it to the ceiling with L brackets, then used an 18” x 18” x ¼” board with the wires running through it and attached it to this frame once it was all wired together.
6.       Here’s the exciting part (and an extra set of hands is helpful)!!!
Separate the white-coated wires from the black-coated. Twist ALL of the white wires together including the one from the electrical box on the ceiling, secure a wire cap or wrap well with electrical tape. I used plenty of tape to ensure full coverage. You do not want ANY exposed wire or you’re risking fire. Repeat with the black wires.

Who doesn't love a beautifully coiled filament bulb?

7.    Once everything is insulated nicely, put in your bulbs; turn on the breaker and light switch to make sure that all of your pendants are working. If they are, go ahead and secure everything into place. For me this meant screwing the 5th board on to the frame.
8.    Secure the jars to the lids and stand back in awe of your beautiful new chandelier!

This is my finished fixture which hangs over our dining table. 
It's love.  
Total cost for my version? $50

5 Mason Jars: $15 at WorldMarket
5 drop lights: $15 at IKEA
Edison Filament bulbs: $12 (for 2) at Lowe’s
Bright white filament bulbs: $6 (for 3) at Lowe’s
Wood for frame: $10 at Lowe’s
Tools & small supplies: FREE – my love had them already

I hope you step out of your comfort zone and try this neat project.  There really is an awesome sense of accomplishment in having done it myself rather than shelling 350 extra dollars for a pre-made fixture.

Have you ever tried an extra-adventurous DIY project? What was it and how pleased were you with the results?