roasted-butternut-squash-soup

Today has been a total bust. I went to a play date at a pumpkin patch with my mom’s group, only to get there and not be able to find anyone. It’s a new group, so I didn’t have any phone numbers. No worries though, I’m at a pumpkin patch on a beautiful sunny fall day! I’ll just let the boys out to play! What a terrible idea. I lasted literally about 3.5 minutes before I realized that it was too much for one person – – open area, 8 million kids running around, and my boys running in opposite directions. I decided it was better to go home and be bored than to come home with 0 or 1 babies. So I decided I would redeem the morning by getting a Coke Zero. I went to multiple drive thrus, only to find Diet Coke, which wasn’t gonna cut it. Finally ended up at 7-11, got everyone out and into the stroller, and got a Big Gulp of Coke Zero. Best Coke Zero I have ever tasted – they do something special to their fountain drinks there. Got home, got Price out of the car, and as we’re walking in he knocks it out of my hand. Coke Zero all over the sidewalk. Total bust. Not the worst day, but definitely not the best. And to be honest it’s hard to truly understand until you have two 14 month olds at the same time. Just the sheer effort and manpower it takes to get them dressed, into their car seats, out of their car seats, and into the stroller is too much sometimes. Or maybe annoying is a better word. Two kids in rear facing car seats is annoying.

Anyway, I am enjoying the rest of my afternoon with this butternut squash soup.  So simple and so quick. I roasted my squash for that extra roasted flavor, but you could easily just microwave it to save some time. I love getting the cubed butternut squash in a bag from Trader Joe’s, because it makes this recipe just ridiculously easy.

Recipe

  • ~2 cups chopped butternut squash (I love the Trader Joe’s pre-cut bag)
  • 1/4 cup diced onion
  • olive oil
  • 1 1/4 cup chicken broth (full sodium)
  • 1 tablespoon half & half
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • Pinch nutmeg

Roast the butternut squash on a baking dish at 400 for about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the onion in a pinch of olive oil.  Add the chicken broth to heat. Then, transfer the cooked squash and broth mixture to a food processor or combine it in the pan and puree with an immersion blender. Transfer back to the soup pot. Stir in the half & half, syrup and nutmeg. A little bit of salty Feta cheese goes great on top of this.

apple-and-smoked-gouda-stuffed-chicken

You guys, it’s 96 degrees in Dallas today.  I feel like I’ve been patiently waiting for fall, trying to see the positives of a never ending sweltering summer, and I just can’t do it anymore. I might lose my %$^&. I just literally drove my kids to and from a doctor’s appointment, and I’m so hot I might need to take another shower. I wish there was someone I could call and complain to, and maybe ask for my money back. I did not sign up for this.

The only silver lining is that we can continue using the man-made Braley waterpark in the backyard (which includes this fun little thing), and if the heat keeps up I could probably start charging neighbors for admission.

Since it’s too hot to cook any stews, I’m keeping things quick and simple in the kitchen. This dinner was delicious, fun, pretty, healthy, easy, and fast. What else could you ask for?

Recipe

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (2 full breasts), butterflied
  • 1 large Honeycrisp apple (or two small), cut into thin slices
  • 4 slices smoked Gouda (looooove Trader Joe’s)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil

Pan sauce (optional)

  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 cup apple juice
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt

Season the butterflied chicken with salt and pepper. I bought 4 chicken breasts and butterflied them myself (it’s pretty easy using a sharp knife, lay the breast half down flat and cut parallel to your surface until about 1/2 in from the edge), but you can easily have the butcher do this for you. Preheat the oven to 350 and heat about a teaspoon of olive oil in a large skillet.  Add the sliced apple to the skillet and saute for only about 2 minutes, to soften them up a bit. Transfer to a bowl.

With the butterflied chicken breasts lying open, add one thick slice of gouda (I like the pre-cut round variation from Trader Joe’s), followed by 1/4 of the apple slices. The gouda I centered in the middle of the butterfly, but the apple slices I placed on one side to prevent them from breaking.  Fold one half of the chicken over the other, and secure with a toothpick. Repeat with the remaining chicken.

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in the skillet over medium heat.  Brown each of the chicken breasts 2 minutes per side, transferring/moving the toothpick when you flip. This is actually fairly easy to do after the first side cooks, because the chicken stays folded over. When done browning, transfer to a baking dish.  Bake the chicken for 15 minutes.

While the chicken is baking, make the pan sauce if desired.  Add the apple cider vinegar to deglaze the pan, then pour in the apple juice and add the butter and a pinch of salt. Let the sauce reduce on low while the chicken cooks. Pour a spoonful or two over each breast before serving.

Pumpkin Spice Granola

pumpkin-spice-granola

Does anyone else start to feel overwhelmed when seasonal decor starts coming out? (p.s. – I’m aware that Halloween stuff came out in July).  I’ve been successfully avoiding it for months, but it caught up with me on Monday and I came home with a bunch of mismatched pumpkins that basically have no place to go in our house.  The white ones are so pretty, the orange ones you can carve into jack-o-lanterns, and the green/grays ones are WTF. (how do they make those?) So I got some of each, and they’ll probably all be dead by Halloween because it’s still 90 degrees in Texas. Oh and I got a half-dead Mum. But I get like this for every holiday: wanting, wishing, hoping to put together a wonderfully festive home..and winding up with something that falls dramatically short. I can’t tell you exactly why this happens, but I think it basically comes down to a lack of creative talent and little to no forethought. Last year I hastily ordered these beautiful little silver Christmas trees for our fireplace mantle, only to have them arrive in 5-foot-tall boxes at about 25lbs each. Not mantle material.

Anyway…I hope someday my brain flips a switch and I start to enjoy/become good at home decorating. But in the meantime, even if I can’t make my house LOOK seasonal, I definitely know how to make it smell and taste seasonal.  So I hate to be cliche with all the pumpkin and “fall” recipes, but I can’t help it.  I’m fully on the fall bandwagon and we’re moving fast. I LOVE FALL FLAVORS. This granola literally tastes like someone took Fall, crushed it into a bunch of little pieces and threw it in your mouth in the form of cereal. Not even exaggerating a little bit here. For full disclosure, this stuff is truly amazing and addictive. Let me say Fall a few more times. Fall fall fall.

And one more note before the recipe. If you have a Trader Joe’s near you, do yourself a favor and buy the pumpkin spiced pumpkin seeds in the nut section. They are AWESOME. I was actually shocked at how good they are. And they really turn this granola into something special. Otherwise, you can easily make your own.

Recipe

  • 4 cups old fashioned oats
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds or recipe here
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons canned pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a large jelly roll pan (or large baking sheet with rims) with foil. In a large bowl combine the oats, pecans, and pumpkin seeds (or basically 6 cups of stuff – oats, dried fruit, nuts, etc).  In a separate bowl whisk together the brown sugar, oil, honey, canned pumpkin and seasonings. Pour over oats and stir until well combined.  Transfer to the baking sheet, making sure it can all fit in a relatively thin layer.  Bake for about 1 hr 25 minutes, stirring every 20 minutes or so.

Dinner Party Menu: October

dinner-party-menu-october

I’d like to give a shout out to whoever was responsible for coming up with the idea of Fall. I mean I guess it was probably God (or whoever you believe in), but the idea is so genius I’m thinking there was probably more of round table group doing a bunch of brainstorming. I think the concept of being able to change the leaf colors to super bright red, orange, and yellow plus injecting the air with that crisp/smokey smell..sealed the deal. Hats off guys and gals (oh who are we kidding, there definitely wasn’t any gals included in the round table discussions back then).

So what’s your favorite part of fall? Leaves? Halloween? Football? Tailgating? Pumpkin Spice Lattes? Crisp mornings? Sweaters and leggings? Yeah, I thought so.  I will say that Fall in Texas isn’t quite what it was in Wisconsin…it doesn’t get as crisp, the leaves don’t get as bright, the mornings aren’t quite as cool…but I still love it and at least I still have the memory of the beautiful Wisconsin Autumn.

Anyway, this dinner menu obviously includes pork. Pork is fall. As are sweet potatoes, apples, and cranberries. And this menu includes some of my FAVORITE recipes for my favorite season. Enjoy.

 

Appetizer:  Trader Joe’s Cranberry Chevre Log with ginger snaps or pita chips

Main:     Slow Roasted Pork with Creamy Apple Gravy or Apple Stuffed Pork Loin with Apple Butter Glaze

Side 1:   Roasted Fall Vegetables or veggies that come with the Slow Roasted Pork

Side 2:   Kale Salad with Poppyseed Dressing

Dessert:Store bought pumpkin or carrot cake

To Execute:

  1. Several hours before guests come over, start the pork (start cooking if slow roasting, start butterflying/rolling if doing the stuffed recipe)
  2. Prepare the apple butter or apple gravy
  3. An hour before dinner, prepare and dress the salad (this salad tastes better with time to marinate)
  4. About 30 min prior to dinner, roast the veggies (if doing the stuffed pork)
  5. Pour some nice cozy red wine and start a fire

 

Red & Green Enchiladas

red-green-enchiladas

Ah, the age old question. Green or red sauce on your enchiladas? Does that decision haunt anyone else? It’s been a thorn in my side for years and it rears its ugly head nearly every Friday when we order Mexican food for dinner. When ordering out, why not get an enchilada trio, you ask? Well, because my husband and I get the same thing every week. We split chicken fajitas, an order of guac, and we each get one a la carte item. Usually one crispy beef taco and one enchilada. It’s a perfect order, and we’ll never change it. But I never quite feel comfortable with the enchilada piece. I want some red sauce and some green sauce; it’s that simple. And when my husband asked for enchiladas for dinner this week, the same decision haunted me all day long. Until I realized I could take control of my life and make a pan of enchiladas that had a little bit of both.  I created an aluminum foil barrier to separate the two (just fold it over into a 2 or 3 inch little panel and stand it up in the pan width-wise), but if I were braver I would have thrown caution to the wind and seen what happened without the barrier. Because there’s a good chance that some of the sauces would have meandered into the other’s side and it could be a super delicious green-red combo sauce. Up to you if you want to be adventurous. I don’t have that luxury in my life right now.

Onto the recipe. Guys, this is such an easy dinner. I bought boneless skinless chicken breasts but these would be incredibly delicious using a rotisserie chicken (might need two if you like them meaty like we do). But with the jarred salsa verde and red sauce this comes together in minutes, and tastes great for days. I toyed with the idea of making my own sauces, but then realized that if I wasn’t super excited about that idea then someone busier than me certainly wouldn’t embrace the thought. Easy and simple is my theme these days.

Recipe

  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (I just boiled for 20 min)
  • One ~15 oz jar red enchilada sauce
  • One ~15 oz jar salsa verde (make sure it’s one you like-love Happy Tomato in TX)
  • 1/2 cup light sour cream
  • 12 corn tortillas (flour works too)
  • 1.5 cups shredded jack/cheddar cheese blend (or mexican blend, or just cheddar)
  • S&P

Preheat the oven to 350. Mix the salsa verde with the sour cream in one bowl. In another bowl, pour the red sauce. In another bowl, place your shredded chicken.  Put your foil sauce divider into a 13×9 inch pan (if using), and ladle one big spoonful of red sauce on one side, and green on the other. Wrap the tortillas in paper towel and microwave for 40 seconds. Keeping them warm throughout this process makes them more pliable so they won’t rip, and you may need to reheat them a few times (I did at least 3 times).  When heated, dip each tortilla in one of the sauces, fill with chicken, roll it up and place seam side down in the pan. Do six of each kind (I laid 4 next to each other side to side, and the final 2 had to be perpendicular to stay on their side). So you should have about 12 enchiladas, 6 red and 6 green.  Pour the remaining red/green sauce over the enchiladas on either side. Top with cheese, cover with foil, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 5 more minutes to brown the cheese a bit. Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving (with sour cream, of course).

chicken-lettuce-wraps-a-la-p-f-changs

Has anyone found the news to be extremely boring lately? I’m so bored with the news I’m almost hoping for another Kardashian family scandal to break.  No really though…the news is just filled with noise noise noise. Riots and protests, the latest Trump tweet, the latest person who’s been offended by something, the Emmy’s speeches which were just more of the same.  Even Hurricane Irma and Harvey which were HUGE news stories died down after the ‘drama’ was over. Can’t the media cover the real aspect of anything? How are those communities recovering from the hurricanes? What does it look like? What activities are going on in the country to help these cities? And if it is possible that global warming is responsible, then can we see some sort of special on it that discusses the data and historical facts? Seriously, I would like to be educated. I’m not trying to be controversial but it just seems like the media is consistently consumed by the latest drama that will get the biggest reaction, but that aggressive coverage and ‘investigative journalism’ stops short of actually educating people and bringing them real, useful information. And please, for the love of God, FIND MH370. That mystery has me so intrigued I’m almost ready to volunteer to help in the search (not sure what skills I would bring to the table other than curiosity).

Anyway, I used to really like reading the news but because I’m so bored with it now I have to eat my way through the week with delicious recipes.  Last week I wrote about strategies for avoiding Chinese takeout with my Mongolian Beef recipe.  If you want to understand why anyone would do that, you’ll have to read the post (and even then, you might still be confused).  But in order to really corner the Chinese market with my husband I needed to figure out how to replicate P.F. Chang’s chicken lettuce wraps. He LOVES them. There are lots of copycat  recipes out there that inspired me (like this one), but I made several changes to get it exactly how I wanted it (less hoisin sauce, more soy sauce, add brown sugar, Sriracha instead of garlic sauce, no green onion, etc). I’m not really a lettuce wrap person because I love rice with anything Chinese, but these are definitely worth it. And so, so easy to throw together.

Recipe

  • 3 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
  • 2 lb ground chicken, S&P
  • 1 sweet/yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce
  • 5 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1-3 teaspoons sriracha (I used about 1.5-2, just a touch of heat)
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, finely minced (I did just two)
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • ~1/2-1 teaspoon ground ginger (I don’t love a strong ginger taste, start with 1/2)
  • 1 8-ounce can water chestnuts, drained and diced small
  • 1 6 oz can mushrooms (I used straw mushrooms from Asian section), drained & chopped
  • 1 head butter lettuce, leaves separated and washed
  • Special Sauce from here (optional, but highly recommended. I halved recipe, omitted mustard and used about 1/2 tsp sriracha)

Brown the chicken in 2 tablespoons of sesame oil, and season with salt and pepper. When chicken is almost done cooking, add in the diced onions. Cook another 5 minutes or so until onions are soft. Transfer Chicken/onions to a bowl. Add in the remaining tablespoon of sesame oil, then the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, garlic, brown sugar and ginger. Cook for several minutes to combine and thicken. Add back in the chicken, and the water chestnuts and mushrooms. Stir and cook for about 5 minutes. Serve on lettuce leaves with special sauce.