chicken chili

January 15, 2013 § 1 Comment

chicken chili

A friend of mine is thinking about making chicken chili for a party she’s throwing, and I told her that I had the perfect one. It’s important to have a few well-worn, loved and trusted recipes in your kitchen. For me, the more used the cookbook or the more destroyed the printed recipe, the better! One of my best – and definitely most worn – recipes is the Soup Nazi’s Chicken Chili from the Top Secret Recipes online site. (You know the Soup Nazi, made famous in one of the best Seinfeld episodes where George doesn’t follow the strict ordering procedure and gets a sharp “No soup for you!” from the crabby but genius soup stand chef.) This recipe came to me from my friend Stacy’s mom, and they’d both already made a few modifications before it sending it my way. I’ve tweaked it a bit more, and the result is the most delicious chicken chili I’ve ever eaten. This is a crowd pleaser – give it a try!

The Soup Nazi’s Mexican Chicken Chili

2 pounds of chicken breasts
1 tablespoon olive oil
10 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 small onion
2 cups frozen corn
2 carrots, sliced
3-4 celery stalks, diced
3 cans diced tomatoes
2 cans red kidney beans, no liquid
1 jalapeno, diced
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
2 – 2 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
dash of cayenne pepper
dash of basil
dash of oregano
salt to taste

Saute the chicken breasts in the olive oil in a large pot over medium/high heat. Cook the chicken on both sides until done – about 7-10 minutes per side. Cool the chicken until it can be handled. Do not rinse the pot. Shred the chicken by hand into bite-sized pieces and place the pieces back into the pot. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot and turn heat to high. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 4-5 hours. Stir mixture often so that many of the chicken pieces shred into much smaller bits. Chili should reduce substantially to thicken and darken (less orange, more brown) when done. Combine some chopped Italian parsley with sour cream and serve it on the side for topping the chili, if desired.

bolognese

December 31, 2012 § 2 Comments

bolognese

It’s a quiet New Year’s Eve for us this year, and I’m chilling at home making a favorite. This is one of my most cherished recipes – tried and true, a crumpled and well-worn page torn from a Cooking Light magazine. This recipe for Bolognese sauce is the best I’ve found. Unlike a lot of the tomato-heavy spaghetti sauces we’re used to seeing in America, this sauce is a beautiful orange color filled with carrots, celery and onion, and flavored with nutmeg and bay leaf, chicken broth and milk. Eating it reminds me of the first bowl of spaghetti I ate in Venice on my honeymoon. Ooh, I though, this is what all the fuss is about. I couldn’t get that sauce out of my mind and spent a number of years trying to replicate it. This wonderful recipe comes pretty close. I always make at least a double batch and love it over egg fettuccine with lots of Parmesan; and I’ve also recently started using it as the sauce for my lasagna – delizioso! Happy New Year!

Ragu Alla Bolognese

From Cooking Light magazine – This recipe is adapted from the classic ragus of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup finely chopped celery
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
5 ounces ground veal (I usually sub turkey)
5 ounces ground pork
5 ounces ground round
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 bay leaf
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can chicken broth
1 (10 3/4-ounce) can tomato puree
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion, celery and carrot; cover and cook 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove onion mixture from pan. Add meat to pan; cook over medium heat until browned, stirring to crumble. Add wine, salt, pepper, nutmeg and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes. Add the onion mixture, broth and tomato puree; bring to a simmer. Cook 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Stir in milk and minced parsley; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 40 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Yield: 8 (1 1/2 cup) servings.

Lasagna with Bolognese

1 batch Bolognese sauce
lasagna noodles, cooked
2 eggs
24 ounces ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
16 ounces sliced mozzarella cheese

Combine eggs, ricotta, pepper and Parmesan, stirring well. Spread about 1 cup Bolognese sauce in bottom of 13×9 baking dish. Layer half each of noodles, ricotta cheese mixture, mozzarella cheese and Bolognese sauce. Repeat layers. Top with additional grated Parmesan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes; let stand 10 minutes before serving.

vanilla sugar

December 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

vanilla sugar jars

I came across the idea of homemade flavored sugars in the May issue of Country Living and saved it for the holidays. These recipes are so simple to make and taste great in tea or coffee. Start with 2 cups granulated sugar. For vanilla sugar, split 1 vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds from the bean into the sugar; then bury the bean in the sugar. For cinnamon sugar, add 1½ tablespoons ground cinnamon and 2 cinnamon sticks. I am loving the little chalkboard spice jars at Anthropologie, and this delicious vanilla sugar was the perfect thing to put inside as a holiday gift. Merry Christmas!

baking party

December 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

baking party

We just went to an awesome baking party yesterday, and I was reminded of Bella’s 6th birthday. This was one of my favorite parties! Fun party planning for me always begins with a great idea for the invitation and the party favors, and for this one the recipe card invites and the homemade aprons were so much fun to make. I loved the retro papers and fabrics I used – I even found a matching dress for my birthday girl to wear. I’m not great with patterns but pretty handy with the sewing machine, and these aprons weren’t too hard to cut and patch together without a pattern. The guests were set up around the kitchen island and spent the evening making their own pizzas and rolling and decorating sugar cookies. Most children love to help in the kitchen and, just like at the party yesterday, the adults were impressed with just how quiet it got as the little one focused in on their grown-up baking. It was an adorable party, and the memories are unforgettable.

thanksgiving recipes

November 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

“Who does not thank for little will not thank for much.” – Estonian Proverb

With my wonderful mother-in-law and both girls in tow, I braved the grocery store this afternoon for “the big shop” – the annual gathering of all my essential items for the perfect Thanksgiving meal. I love this holiday: time spent relaxing with treasured family and friends, the football games, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and, of course, THE FOOD. I’ve got our family’s perfect southern meal down to a science, with a number of recipes that are must-haves – I’m not even sure my brother would show up without my Grammy’s corn bread stuffing or our dad’s green beans (which, like all his great recipes, includes a can of beer). Even my addition of marbled mashed potatoes in recent years has quickly become a staple. I’m sure most people are like me and have tons of traditional family recipes they can’t live without but, if you find yourself searching for something new, look no further. These favorites of mine cannot be beat and are another little thing in my life that I’m so thankful for!

Sweet Cornbread Stuffing

4 boxes of cornbread mix, prepared and cubed (MUST be Jiffy brand)
3/4 cup butter
2-3 cups chopped celery (including leaves)
1 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
salt and pepper to taste
poultry seasoning to taste
dark meat turkey and broth

Make cornbread ahead of time and cut into cubes. (I make it the night before and let it sit out overnight to dry out.) Heat butter on the stove. Add celery, onion, salt and pepper to taste and cook until softened. Stir in the cubed cornbread and add poultry seasoning and more salt and pepper to taste. In true southern-girl style, I boil up some turkey parts (neck, thighs, etc.) with butter and lots of salt and pepper the night before and add a bit of this along with some of the turkey broth to moisten. I save the rest for the gravy the next day. In our family, we always cook our stuffing in the bird, but this still tastes great baked in the oven on 350 degrees for 30 minutes in a casserole dish.

Dad’s Green Beans

fresh green beans, ends broken off (as many as will fill a large stockpot)
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
pepper to taste
1 medium onion, diced
1 thick slice ham steak cut into pieces
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 can beer (I sometimes use wine)
water
2 tablespoons butter

Combine all ingredients in pot with a few inches of liquid in the bottom. Cook on low heat covered for at least 4-5 hours. Let it cook down slowly overtime – beans will reduce by at least half. Stir carefully to not break up the beans too much. Lid can be removed toward the end to boil off excess liquid. Additional salt and pepper can be added to taste.

Marbled Potatoes (from “True Grits” by the Junior League of Atlanta)

1 pound red potatoes (I substitute russet potatoes)
1 pound sweet potatoes (I use canned)
2 large scallions, chopped
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whipping cream, whipped
nutmeg to taste
1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper (may want more)
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Cook the regular and sweet potatoes separately and mash in separate bowls (no need to cook canned sweet potatoes). Saute the scallions in 1/4 cup butter in a skillet until tender. Stir half the scallions into each bowl of potatoes. Whisk the sour cream with the whipped cream in a bowl. Fold half gently into each bowl of potatoes. Add half the nutmeg, salt and pepper to each bowl. Layer the potatoes 1/2 at a time in a greased 1-quart dish. Swirl with a knife to marbleize. Sprinkle with a mixture of the bread crumbs, melted butter and parsley. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until the topping is golden brown.

breakfast muffins

October 28, 2012 § 5 Comments

I love having good friends in my life who aren’t afraid to give me a little kick every now and then. My friend Stephanie had been telling me about these delicious breakfast muffins she’d found on Pinterest – so easy to make and her family was loving them. I gave her a little yeah yeah and added it to my to-do list of future ideas. Friend that she is – who loves my family and knew that we could not go another day without this tasty breakfast – decided to remind me with an insanely early morning text (hey, who doesn’t love being awakened by the ding ding from their iPhone at 6:47 a.m.!?!). How could I not be compelled to act? My family’s happiness was on the line. So I took the hint, dragged myself out of bed, and made these quick and easy little breakfast muffins. And you know what? She was right of course – she knows us so well. Drew and the girls went crazy over them, and I got to feel like the best mom ever for the rest of the day. Thank you friend for always looking out for me, and here’s the blog post you were expecting:

Breakfast Muffins
(originally from Martha Stewart)

In a well-buttered muffin pan, layer white bread (cut into circles or with the crusts cut off), grated cheddar cheese, cooked bacon, and one cracked egg. Salt and pepper to taste and bake at 350 degrees until egg is cooked. Variations can include other breakfast meat, cheeses or a scrambled egg, which my girls prefer. Delish!

asian salad

September 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last week for our school’s staff appreciation luncheon the theme was salads, and I had the perfect recipe. Anyone who knows me, knows I LOVE salad and that it’s one of my favorite foods. My girls also know it, and in first grade Bella made sure to tell her teacher this on a school report. (Of course, to be fully forthcoming, she also reported that my favorite drink is wine – a proud parenting moment to be sure!) This asian salad recipe came to me from my friend Stacy and is a wonderful combination of sweet and savory; and the crunchy topping – a mix of uncooked ramen noodles, sesame seeds and almonds – gives great texture. It is the perfect addition to any salad-making repertoire, and I love surprising people with its unique and delicious taste.

Asian Salad

1 whole shredded green cabbage
chopped spinach (about 6 ounces)
chopped green onion

Topping:
2 packages oriental flavored ramen noodles (mashed)
1 pack of dry oriental seasoning from ramen noodles
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup slivered almonds
3 tablespoons butter (melted)

Dressing:
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Combine cabbage, spinach and green onions in salad bowl. For topping, mix together 2 packages of uncooked ramen noodles (I break mine up with a wooden spoon before opening package), 1 pack of the dry seasoning mix that comes with the noodles, the sesame seeds, and the sliced and slivered almonds. Melt butter and pour over mixture. Broil in the oven on a cookie sheet until toasted. Add toasted topping to lettuces, coat with dressing and mix well.

picking blackberries

September 1, 2012 § 2 Comments

Right now, all the blackberry bushes around here are covered with ripe berries, and the whole town it seems comes out to gather a few. Last year we were able to pick berries from the bushes in our neighborhood all the way through the fall; it was so much fun for the girls, and I loved all the sweet pictures I got. Today my dad and brother are visiting so we went on a nature walk and picked some berries along the way. I’m looking forward to making a berry crisp tomorrow after a day of sightseeing – just another little thing to love!

guacamole

August 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

I have no idea how I made it through the first 35+ years of my life without guacamole but now, honestly, I can’t imagine my world without it. I’m not sure if I’d never really tried it, or perhaps just hadn’t tried it enough – but when it’s done right (and several of our close friends can get it really right!), homemade guac is a perfect creation. Our weekly taco nights with friends over the last couple of years have truly clinched the deal for me, and now chips with guacamole is one of my favorite foods.

On our recent trip to Sunriver, I watched my friend Jenn closely as she made a batch and took careful notes to be sure I could remember her essential ingredients – it’s important to get all the flavors in there for the full effect. Hers is a variation on a recipe she found in the Williams Sonoma cookbook, and the directions are simple: combine all ingredients (Jenn just mashes hers together with a fork) and enjoy. Just estimate the proportions to get the quantity and flavor that you like. Now that I’ve realized my love of guacamole, I can’t get through summer (or really any time of year) without it!

Perfect Guacamole

avocado
lime
garlic
salt
cilantro (finely chopped)
white or red onion
cherry tomatoes (cut in half)

Roughly combine all ingredients to taste.

finding the happy

July 19, 2012 § 1 Comment

On vacation, I spent some time with my latest find in the self-help department, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, reminding me why these types of books are so valuable. I’ve always been the kind of person who can’t turn my brain off (I even cheat at yoga: when you’re supposed to be clearing your mind and renewing your spirit, I’m making mental to-do lists). As a lifelong over-thinker, over-analyzer and worrier it’s important that I work to find my happiness along the way. I first took notice of these happy books and thoughts in my twenties; fresh out of college and overwhelmed by the demands of life, I stumbled upon Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson. It literally changed me overnight – things seemed easier when I focused on the important things and counted my blessings. Amazed by the fact that such a small book – that I picked up on a whim – would have such a lasting effect on my outlook, I began to focus on the joys in my life and try to keep the negative to a minimum.

Over the years, I’ve looked to similar books for a fresh perspective and to remind myself of what truly matters. I spent a year with the book Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach, reading the once-a-day essays with great results; I still pull it out from time to time to read the day’s entry and can always find something to apply to my life. Although I’ve honestly only read a couple of pages, just researching, talking with friends about and buying Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret was helpful to me; I think believing that there could be a secret to happiness and fulfillment in life made me feel happier and more fulfilled – strange, huh?

My most recent addition, The Happiness Project, tells the story of one woman’s journey to find the joy in her life and live in a more appreciative way. Her struggle resonated with me, and I realize I’ve been on a similar quest for most of my adult life. It’s the path that has led me to this blog and to taking note of the little things that make my life worthwhile. It’s my love of writing and crafting and decorating and clothes and cooking and parties and family and friends and traveling – it’s all the pieces and parts of my life that I love, that make me happy and that make me: me. Life is a long and winding road, but finding the joy – anyway you can – makes the journey so much sweeter.

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