Friday, September 23, 2011

Artichoke Crusted Chicken

{Photo courtesy of Sugarlaws}

It was raining when I got home from work yesterday, so instead of going for the three mile walk/run (yes, I'm trying to run now), I decided to crash on the couch and rest. Us Southern women don't nap. We rest.

Before I knew it, it was 7. I was groggy and in no mood to cook dinner, so I began negotiating with my husband. "If we go out tonight, I'll cook tomorrow night."

Very casually, he says, "I think we should just cook."

This was a very dangerous thing to say, and he knew it, so he followed up by saying, "But it's up to you. I feel like I'm telling you to get into the kitchen and make my dinner."

The freedom of choice with a side of guilt. Nice strategy.

I grumbled my way through dinner prep. Quartering potatoes, flattening chicken (which I really enjoyed), grating cheese. We were trying another Pinterest recipe, Artichoke Crusted Chicken, and my mood suddenly shifted when I saw my artichoke mixture bubbling and browning underneath the broiler.

O .....

M .....

G .....

I would have eaten seconds if there were any seconds to be had. I've posted some good chicken recipes in the past, but this tops them all. I love going out to dinner. So, to find a chicken recipe that makes you glad you stayed in is miraculous!

The chicken is tender and juicy and the artichoke mixture is creamy and soft and tangy. I think the first bite made me curse it was so good!

Try it out for yourselves!

Artichoke Crusted Chicken

2 six-ounce chicken breasts, pounded thin

2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup light mayonnaise
1/4 cup artichoke hearts, drained and chopped (I used canned artichoke hearts)
1/3 cup grated white cheddar cheese
  • Salt and pepper the chicken and then sauté each chicken breast in 1 tbsp olive oil on medium-high heat, for about 8-10 minutes, flipping once. Set aside.
  • Mix together the mayonnaise, artichoke hearts and cheddar cheese until evenly distributed. Spread the mixture over the sauteed chicken breasts, and then broil at 400 degrees for about 3 minutes. Do not take your eyes off them — broiling can lead to burning faster than you can imagine. When the cheese is melted and bubbling and the tops are golden, remove and serve.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What's Brewing at Our House

My husband and LJ's husband, Marcus, recently decided to get into beer brewing. They've researched and watched videos and ordered kits and watched yeast rise. Meanwhile, LJ and I mock them mercilessly because we are amazing wives like that.

Monday night, once the yeast packet had risen, it was time to make beer. It would have been preferable for this event to take place on a Friday or Saturday night when I am more prone to keep my eyes open past 9:30 p.m. But the yeast wasn't ready. And the yeast is very important. So we waited on the yeast. And because of the yeast we were up past 11 p.m.

For their first brew, Ty and Marcus picked Oktoberfest. I guess brewing a seasonal beer is how boys get excited about fall. I buy cardigans and tights and boots. Potato, patato.

I'm going to give this info to you in girl terms because I don't really know what all goes into the beer making  or the tools of the trade. There is this giant tea bag that you steep. Then you mix it with some hops and this gel-like stuff that resembles what vampires turn into when they meet the true death on "True Blood." You boil a little while, then cool, then pour into a canister and store in a cold, dark place (my guest bath), and in two months, you have beer.

There is lots of wearing oven mitts and strategizing and timing stuff.

And stirring while wearing oven mitts and drinking beer, which is ironic since you can drive down the street and get some of that in less than two months.

And wafting the aroma into your nostrils. It does not smell good, FYI.

A glimpse inside our pot of beer.

And transferring the big pot of beer to a sink full of ice to cool down the beer quickly. Ty says, "watch out!"

Adding ice to the sink to cool the beer.

Baxter says, "Move over boys, this is a man's job."

And after some more shaking and cooling and other stuff I didn't document because I was watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, we have five gallons of our unfermented concoction. I'll let you know in a couple of months how things tasted!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells

Stuffed pasta shells are a regular favorite in our household. When I can't figure out what I want to cook, these are always a good bet because I know my husband loves them. My recipe comes from my sis-in-law's artillery and is very good. It combines ground beef (or turkey), Velveeta, cream of mushroom, Parmesan for a delicious filling.

With our love of stuffed shells, I was practically drooling when I found this recipe on Pinterest. My bestie, LJ, says the large shells look bizarre and freak her out. Isn't that interesting? I think I'll make these the next time she comes over. JK, LOL, XOXO! 

In the future when I make these, however, I will adapt between my recipe and the Pinterest recipe. The stuffing is perfection, but without any type of sauce, the shells get very chewy and difficult to cut when you serve them. And even if you like shells, I guarantee you won't like chewy shells.

Pesto Chicken Stuffed Shells

12-16 jumbo pasta shells
4 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese, plus 1/4 cup for topping
3 tablespoons prepared pesto (homemade or store bought)
2 cups shredded cooked chicken (I used a store-bought rotisserie chicken)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jar spaghetti sauce
salt and pepper to taste
  • In a large pot over high heat, boil water and prepare pasta shells as directed on package. Cook pasta shells until al dente. The pasta will finish cooking when the dish is baked. Drain the pasta shells and set aside.
  • Coat the bottom of the baking dish in a thin layer of spaghetti sauce and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients, except the 1/4 cup of cheese for the topping. Fill the pasta shells with the filling and place in a baking dish. Cover with as much spaghetti sauce as you like and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of cheese over filled shells.
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake shells uncovered for 30 minutes or until shells are bubbling hot and cheese melts.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Real Food Done Real Good - Part 2

Now, where did we leave off? Oh yes, the wind in my hair. The Bloody Mary in my cup holder. On perhaps the nicest day ever recorded in the Farmer's Almanac for New Orleans.

So somewhere in between my pre-ride mojito, my Abita Amber and my Bloody Mary, I thought it would be a great idea to ask my tour guide to take me by Brad and Angelina's house. He didn't know where it was specifically, but he knew which block it was on, so he took us down that street, which was good enough for me. Did I see Brangelina's house? Probably. Do I know that for sure? No. Am I going to tell people I saw Brad Pitt on a balcony in nothing but a towel? Absolutely. 

After our delicious Bloody Mary and some "No Penetration, Just Conversation," it was time for our next food stop. Our guide took us to Bennachin, which is this blink-and-you-miss-it spot serving African food in the French Quarter.

Ty and I shared this delicious plate of fried plantains. They're sweet and caramelized on the outside, and surprisingly, they go very well with the marinara sauce. These are often compared to bananas, but are more starchy and less sweet. Very different and yummy!

This was probably our shortest stop on the trip. I hate to eat plantains and run, but I was excited to see where the bike ride would take us for our final stop -- a guaranteed "special treat" by our guide.

We cruised along until we hit Canal Street. This was the craziest part of our biking experience. Lots of traffic, including people, cars, horse-drawn carriages and horse-drawn carriage "left behinds" that you definitely don't want slinging on you off your front wheel. But it wasn't a scary experience (other than those "left behinds"). We finally pulled up to our last stop, Palace Cafe.

It's such a charming restaurant with a comfortable French style. Ty and I decided we would enjoy one of their special treats, Peter's Planter Punch, which placed in the 2010 Tales of the Cocktail National Drink Contest.

I believe this was about the time I started bragging to my husband about how well I had done taking pictures and that I had remembered to get each building and each plate of food to be able to share our tour with you all.

Then I looked down at my plate and saw this.

I guess I spoke too soon. And I was so close! Fortunately, I found this picture on the web.

The crabmeat cheesecake is one of Palace Cafe's signature dishes. Imagine a savory cheesecake. It's baked in a pecan crust with a wild mushroom sauté and Creole meunière sauce. It's dense and fluffy at the same time. I really can't explain this thing, other than to say it's delicious. 

By this point, we'd spent almost five hours riding around the city. It was so much fun and definitely not lacking in character. Here are some other signs we saw cruising around town.

The Facts, according to New Orleans. I consider these all worthy rules to live by.

So many homes in New Orleans still bear their markings from Katrina. The top of the X is the date the home was searched; the left lists the inspector; the right notes any hazards, such as gas leaks or infestations; and the bottom number is the death count for that home. Such a sad reminder that is still on the majority of homes.

And finally, there was this sign. It once caught the attention of Travel Channel's Andrew Zimmern, and it's not hard to understand why. I'm a Louisiana native and many of these "wildlife specials" scare me.

FYI, they leave the fur on the racoon's feet so you know they're not trying to sneak you a rat instead. That's the kind of valuable knowledge you can get only on a culinary bike tour. Not that I would eat rat or raccoon!

Bon Appetite!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Real Food Done Real Good - Part 1

I don't even want to tell you the process I have been through to share these pictures with you, but take my word for it when I say it has been a digital, virtual, absolute nightmare! The good news is, I get to share them with you now.

Our Culinary Bike Tour with the Confederacy of Cruisers in New Orleans was one of my favorite experiences of the year. If I can't spend my anniversary on the beaches of Cabo, drinking heavenly pina coladas and eating an embarrassing amount of refried beans, then I want to spend it doing this.

I haven't been on a bike since I was probably a kid, so this definitely brought out a very childlike, adventurous side of me. I was so into it, I think I'm asking for a cruiser bike for Christmas. We spent five hours cruising around different parts of New Orleans and eating at places I wouldn't have the gumption to find or visit on my own. Nevermind that all of the food is amazing, the entire experience is about as much fun as you can possibly have eating!

Our first stop on the tour was Elizabeth's, where we feasted on the fried boudin balls in creole mustard sauce and praline bacon. This was one of two restaurants we stopped at that has been featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.

The fried boudin balls in creole mustard sauce were Ty's favorite of the day. They were crispy on the outside and warm, spicy and gooey on the inside. And the creole mustard sauce is good enough to spoon directly into your mouth. It's the consistency of white gravy with a tangy brown mustard flavor.

My favorite dish of the day was also from Elizabeth's. As if bacon weren't good enough on its own, the praline bacon takes it to a new level. It's got that salt/sweet combination and the praline sauce is caramelized and slightly crispy ... I die!

We biked a little more and eventually found ourselves at The Joint, another Diner's, Drive-ins and Dives spot. This is the sort of place you drive by, thinking they probably have really good food, and never actually try it.

They served us ribs, sausage and mac 'n cheese and we paired it -- to perfection -- with Abita Amber. I was a little disappointed when we pulled into a rib place, since I officially swore off ribs about two years ago. But these ribs were smokey and tender and flavorful. Good enough to change my mind.

I get kudos every now and then for my mac 'n cheese, but this dish is a divine thing!

The place was overflowing with character. I had to clean my hands to snap a picture of this sign. It made me think of our friend and die hard Saints fan, Clint Gulett. If only they sold T-shirts! Little did we know, there was more interesting signage ahead!

After all that eating, it was time for a cocktail, and Marie's serves the best Bloody Marys around. The place was a total dive. Slightly scary, but the kind of place I like. Ty said he wished we had a place like this in our neighborhood. I wouldn't go that far with it.

But this Bloody Mary is legit. I love a Bloody Mary with lots of pickled veggies in it. Olives, green beans, whatever. At that point does it become more of a snack?

Another interesting sign we stumbled upon along the way. I like it when people establish strict parameters for relationships right off the bat. Before we left, Ty and I spoke with one of the locals. We loved his stories until he told us the government blew up the levees with dynamite during Katrina. And ... time to move on!

More food and signage to come next time ...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball

{Photo from Taste of Home}

I got together last night with some girlfriends that I met through my sister-in-law, Ashley. Love these girls! And technically, they're more Ashley's friends than mine (since they've all known each other for roughly a zillion years), but I always appreciate the invite to spend time with these ladies.

We usually get together for frozen dinner swaps, but this time we wanted to do something more low maintenance. So, we began to plan Whine with Wine. Everyone brings their beverage of choice and a yummy appetizer to share with the group.

The list of appetizers sounded delightful: cream cheese artichoke dip, buffalo chicken dip, meat pies, cream cheese with Pickapeppa sauce. Shall I go on?

I originally wanted to bring a hot, cheesy bean dip I found on Pintrest. I love refried beans so much I would bathe in them, so it seemed like a delicious option. But then I was short on time and probably going to run late and I needed to simplify. Plus, no one had really committed to bringing anything sweet. Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball to the rescue.

If you haven't had this dessert, brace yourself. This treat is always a hit at parties and it's so easy to make. I arrived at Angie's house, and soon Carrie walked in with a Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball, too. Thankfully, this is one divine dessert that you don't mind having duplicates of.

I never shaped mine into a ball. It still looks lovely and tastes just as good in a dip bowl. But you could always make the ball and even roll in chopped pecans if you're into that sort of thing.

Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball

1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tbsp brown sugar
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips (use regular chocolate chips if you don't have the minis)
Graham crackers for dipping
  • In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth and combined. Gradually add confectioners' sugar, brown sugar and vanilla and beat just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  • Place cream cheese mixture on a large piece of plastic wrap; shape into a ball. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
  • If you're feeling nutty: just before serving, roll cheese ball in pecans. Serve with graham crackers.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Crispy Oven-Baked Tilapia

There is nothing more I would love to do than share with you all my photos from our culinary bike tour. ... But. ... (and there's always a but) ... I managed to jam the memory card in this adaptor thingy and can't seem to recover it and must wait on my Mr. Fix It to, well, fix it.

So there you go.

Instead, I will share with y'all a delicious fish recipe I tried the other night. It wasn't as delicious as our culinary tour, but I'm doing what I can here, people.

Ty and I eat a lot of fish. Mostly grilled. Mostly the same way. Mostly boring. Although I will give us a big pat on the back for no longer using frozen fillets. That's the first important step with any fish. You can't slack on freshness. I like to eat fish about once a week. It makes me feel like I'm doing something good for myself, and I always feel a little skinnier the next day.

But I'm really bored with the same old grilled fillet, so I was thrilled to find this Crispy Oven-Baked Tilapia recipe. It's not even going to come close in comparison to fried fish, so don't let me give you the wrong impression. But it's still good. Really, really good and fresh and crispy.

The dish calls for the fillets to be coated in butter before being patted with panko crumbs. I think next time I will skip the butter to lighten it up some more, or maybe opt for my handy I Can't Believe It's Not Butter spray instead to dampen the fillets a bit more. Both would be healthier, better options.

Here's what you need and what to do!

Crispy Oven-Baked Tilapia

Zest from a lemon 
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1 teaspoon paprika
4 (4-oz.) tilapia fillets
salt, divided
6 tbsp. butter, melted
  • Preheat oven 425° and grate zest from lemons to equal 4 tsp.
  • Combine panko, paprika and 2 tsp. lemon zest in a shallow dish. Sprinkle fish with 1 tsp. salt. Dip fish in 1/4 cup melted butter; dredge in panko mixture, pressing panko to adhere.
  • Place fish on a lightly greased rack in an aluminum foil-lined broiler pan. Drizzle remaining 2 Tbsp. melted butter over fish. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until fish flakes with a fork.
The butter does give the panko a nice golden color, but maybe the spray butter will accomplish a similar goal!


Monday, September 12, 2011

Happy Anniversary, Year One

Last night, Ty and I cuddled up on the couch in our PJs, cut into some year-old wedding cake and popped in our wedding photo slideshow.

We had so much fun together in New Orleans celebrating our anniversary. Nice dinner. Sleeping in. Piano bar. But this quiet, intimate moment together, free of all frills, was my favorite part of our anniversary. It instantly took me back to our vows and reminded me of what our marriage is about.

It's not about whether or not his clothes make it into the hamper each day. It's not about the material things you have or strive to gain. It's not about having a clean and perfect house or an amazing meal on the table each night. And it's not about the millions of other things that snag us day to day.

It's a greater purpose that you share. What a blessing to share my purpose with Ty. He makes me so, so happy, but even more importantly, he makes me better.

Two years ago, a dear friend gave me a print to hang in our master bedroom. I read its words nearly each week and am reminded of the greater purpose of our marriage. It gives me the healthy dose of perspective that I so often need.
"How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice . . . Nothing divides them either in flesh or in spirit . . . They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God's church and partake God's banquet, side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other's company; they never bring sorrow to each other's hearts . . . Seeing this Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present."

— Tertullian
I'm grateful for such a wonderful husband to stand side by side with each day. We don't do all of these things perfectly, but we have a lifetime to keep getting better.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cruising Through New Orleans

Tomorrow morning, Ty and I will be pulling out of town for a weekend in New Orleans to celebrate our first year of marriage. A whole year ... already!?

If the first year is supposed to be the hardest, and it was this easy, then the whole 'till death do us part thing is going to be a breeze. I'm not quite that naive, but consider me an optimist. I picked a good partner!

In celebration, Ty and I have some fun things lined up. One of the things we're going to do I saw in Southern Living in May and have been plotting to make it happen ever since. We're going on a culinary bike tour through the Confederacy of Cruisers. Think progressive dinner on wheels!

My in-laws, who are known for going on vacation to ride bikes, got a kick out of the fact we were taking a bike tour. I can't say that biking is exactly our thing. ...  but when we're talking about food and I have a cup holder for my cocktail ... well, I'll pretty much follow you to the ends of the earth!

Here's a better description of what we'll be doing:
The route and menu follow the season’s best foods, but expect a sampling of NOLA classics (gumbo, po’boys, jambalaya) as well as a few ethnic surprises (locally made cannoli, Senegalese fried plantains) well off the tourist track. You’ll consume calories, yes, but burn a few too, while pedaling a one-speed cruiser—equipped with back-pedal brakes and a cup holder for cocktails—through a city that built a mound of dirt so its kids could see what a hill looks like.
We have a fancy dinner lined up and also plan to swing through the New Orleans Seafood Festival while we're there, but I'm most looking forward to a fun, relaxing weekend with my husband!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I Love College Game Day

Each fall, it hits me ...

O ... M ... G ...

I love college game day!

Ty and I had the opportunity to go to Dallas this past weekend for the LSU vs. Oregon game. What a way to kick off the season in these amazing seats!

We had a great time tailgating with friends. Cowboys Stadium was unlike anything I've seen. We had a great time soaking it all in. But at the end of the day, I prefer games in Tiger Stadium. You don't have to hike 10 miles to get to your friend's tailgate. A Tiger Dog won't cost you $40, like our Cowboys Stadium chicken fingers and two Miller Lights. 

{This is what expensive chicken fingers look like.}

But coming home, on the three-hour trip that turned into a five-hour trip, we definitely could say we enjoyed our experience! And hopefully, we'll make the trek to Baton Rouge for at least one game this year.

I can't believe it, but this upcoming weekend will mark our one-year anniversary! Ty and I are getting away to New Orleans for a fun, relaxing time together. We have some really fun things planned ... I'll tell you more about that later!