Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Fast and Easy Roast Chicken and Veggies

Congratulations, you've spatchcocked your first bird!  If you haven't, ask your local meat market guy to do it for you (I've asked at 3 of my local stores and 2 of the 3 said they would butterfly the bird at your request).  Now that your bird is butterflied we can roast him flat and quick.
This is after browning, but prior to roasting.

1 5ishlb butterflied chicken
2 large russet potatoes, skin on diced about 1"
6 large carrots, cut about 2"
1 lemon
1 onion, roughly chopped or 1 frozen pearl onions
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme
2 TBSP olive oil


Preheat the oven to 350.
Place the potatoes and carrots in a large oven safe stainless skillet (mine is a nice deep 12" skillet) and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and cook 3-5 minutes.  You want them to just yield to a knife, but they should be firm.  What we're doing is par-cooking.  The chicken will cook in a shorter time than the veggies, so this step allows everything to finish at the same time.
Strain the veggies and allow to sit.
In the same pan heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Pat the chicken dry with paper towel; drying the chicken will allow it to brown properly.  Once the pan is hot liberally season the chicken with S&P and place it carefully in the pan skin side down.  Allow the chicken to brown 3-5 minutes.
Once the skin has begun to turn a lovely, crispy, golden brown lift the chicken up and place on a plate.  Turn off the heat and toss in the carrot, potatoes, onions, garlic and thyme.  Squeeze the lemon over the top and season.  Return the chicken to the pan skin side up.  Drizzle the pan with another tablespoon of oil (or dot with a few pats of butter).
Place the pan in the oven for approx. 45 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and golden.  Allow it to rest for 15 minutes before caving.  Plate it up and serve it for your whole family to ohh and ahh over!

Monday, February 25, 2013

On Anatomy of the Bird

People are scared of butchering birds.  I used to be too.  Want to get the most bird for your buck (insert laugh here) you'll need to buy it whole.  I can find a whole chicken for about $1.19lb vs. $2.99 for boneless skinless chicken breast.  Not only is the whole bird cheaper, but you get a lot more flavor and mileage from it.
Thankfully most markets take care of the bulk of dirty work for us.  The whole chickens come plucked, cleaned and void of head and feet.  The innards we need for gravy making come neatly bagged up and ready to go.  Nothing scary--just a neat, clean package of bird ready to be roasted.
Well most of us would think of roasting first, but it's not the only thing to do with a whole chicken.  Now bear in mind that anything we do to the chicken we can also do to a turkey.  In theory we could also do it to a game bird, but those tiny little guys are more than I'm willing to tackle.
This is the first part in a multi-part series on how to deal with a whole bird.  Today we'll take it easy; we're going to spatchcock, or butterfly, the chicken.  Why spatchcock?  It cuts the cooking time down and gives you 360 degree crispy roasted skin (and let's face it that's why we eat it anyway right?).

Still with me?  Haven't gone running for the hills yet?  Good. 
First things first equipment.  You'll need a good sharp pair of kitchen shears.  I have these purchased from Amazon and I love them.  If you're shopping for a pair of shears the most important feature is that they come apart.  If they don't come apart they aren't going to be cleaned properly.
You'll also need a large cutting board, a bowl or bag for the trash and somewhere to deposit dear old Bob once you've dispatched of him.

Alright we're ready.  Step one.  Over the sink remove the bird from the packaging.  Most of the grocery store birds are packed in liquid, which you don't want running all over the counter.  Drain it and set the interior pouch aside.  Move the chicken to your cutting board, butt toward you, back up.

Next hook the thumb of your non-dominant hand inside the chicken to hold him steady.  Carefully insert the shears to the right of the backbone and start to snip.  This will take a good bit of pressure, it is after all, bone we're cutting through.

Once you're through the right side open the chicken up.  Grasp the tail and hold it tightly.  Now you'll want to snip down the other side of the chicken removing the spine completely.  If you make stock toss the spine into your stock bag. 

Here comes the fun part.  Open the bird up like a book, inside facing up.  Take your hands, place them on the breast bone and push down.  You want to crack the breast bone so the bird lays as flat as possible.

You're in the home stretch now.  You could just stop here.  I do one more thing to help the chicken cook evenly.  In order for the wings to stay close to the body and brown properly without burning you'll want to tuck them in.  I cut one small slit in each breast and tuck the wing into the slit.

That's it.  You've made your previously roundish bird into a nice flat surface.  My favorite cooking method for a spatchcocked chicken is the grill.  Check back tomorrow for an easy one pan recipe using your beautifully butterflied bird!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Quick Bite: Potato Soup

Here's a great soup recipe that is cheap, comes together fast and will keep your crew full and warm!
I talked about my love of soup over on Another Cent Saved the other day.  This soup, like my corn chowder, is a crowd pleaser that will be on your table in a flash.

  • 2 large Russet potatoes, diced
  • 6 slices bacon, diced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp thyme, preferably fresh
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • 2 TBSP flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

In a stock pot cook the bacon over medium heat until crispy.  Keep an eye on it; it will go fast (secret: I almost always over cook it, ere on the side of caution).  Remove the bacon and set aside.
In the bacon fat over medium heat soften the onions and garlic.  Once they're softened add in the chicken stock, 1 cup milk, potatoes, salt & pepper and thyme.  Bring everything to a boil over high heat.
Allow the soup to cook for 12-15 minutes, until the potatoes are softened.  Once the potatoes are fork tender transfer half the soup to a blender.  CAREFULLY puree the soup until smooth and silky.  Transfer this back to the soup pot.
Now here's where I deviate a little from other potato soup recipes.  Take 2 ladle fulls of soup, the remaining cup of milk and the 2 TBSP of flour into the blender and puree.  The flour will help give the soup a thicker body.  If you dump it directly into the soup it will turn clumpy.  Once it's smooth pour it and the cream into the soup and stir.  Cook over very low heat for 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.  I occasionally like to add a few dashes of cayenne or a tablespoon of whole grain mustard.
Serve garnished with cheese and bacon.  I hope that you and your family enjoy it!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


I had to use an exclamation point in the header--my husband will do just about anything for a meatball.  I make meatballs in several different ways.  The recipe that follows has become my family's favorite meatball.  This make approximately 36 meatballs; I keep half out and put half into the freezer.  Feel free to double the recipe (I often do).  Meatballs are a lot of work.  When I double this I always have my husband hand to help me roll them or be a set of clean hands.

  • 1lb 80/20 ground beef
  • 1lb mild Italian sausage
  • 1 1/2c. diced onion (1 large onion)
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled, seeded and diced (3/4c)**
  • 1TBSP minced garlic (4 cloves)
  • 3oz. chopped fresh spinach (about 4c)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1c. ricotta
  • 1/2 c. grated Parmesan
  • 1/2c. bread crumbs
  •  1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 TBSP Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 2 TBSP basil
  • 1/4 tsp chili flake
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
In a large non stick pan saute' the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat.  When the onion is softened add the spinach, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, basil, red bell pepper and chili flake.  Saute' until the spinach is wilted, about 3 minutes.  Move off the heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes.
While your veggies are wilting put the beef, sausage, egg, ricotta, Parmesan and bread crumbs in a LARGE bowl.  Once your veggies are cool to the touch add them to the bowl.  Using your hands (there's just really no way around this) mix all the ingredients together well, but do not over mix.  Make sure to break up any lumps of sausage and beef.
Once everything is incorporated you're ready to roll (hahaha).  I use a 1.5" ice cream scoop (about 1/8c sized) to make sure that each meatball is the same size.  Set your newly formed meatballs on a baking sheet or 9x13 pan.  They should just touch. 

Now comes the trick to nice round meatballs.  Pop them into the freezer for 30 minutes.  This is a softer meatball, freezing them helps them keep their shape while baking.
While your meatballs are baking preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Once they've firmed up put them in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.
How you serve them is up to you.  I usually refrigerate them until about an hour before dinner and then I let them simmer in marinara for about an hour.  Serve them over spaghetti or in a bread heel and enjoy the fruits of your labor!

**To roast your bell pepper you've got a few options.  You can a) crank the grill up to high and allow them to char on each side for 3-5 minutes, until the skin is charred and the pepper sizzles b) do the same thing directly on a gas burner of your stove or c) do the same thing in your broiler.  Once you've charred them put them in a bowl and cover with saran wrap for 5 minutes.  This lets the steam from the peppers loosen any un-charred skin.
If this doesn't sound like something you'd like to tackle you can purchase jarred roasted bell peppers from the grocery store.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

How To--Line Your Roman Shaes

We have cheap bamboo shades in our living room...

They don't really provide a lot of protection from the sunlight that comes pouring in around 2 in the afternoon.  Maybe not the best choice, but they were about $4 on clearance at Lowes and we needed shades, so home they came.  Well we've lived with the glare on the TV and the squinting while trying to read long enough.

What to do?  Buy new shades?  Well that's not really in the budget.  Well why line the back with something?  So the hubs and I tried some upholstery fabric, home decor fabric, muslin and finally felt.  We settled on felt the same color as the shades.  It let in some light, but diffused the light coming in enough that we no longer felt like we were living on the sun.

Here's what we did.

We took the blind down and stretched it across the dining room table.  Next I measured the blind, I kept the felt in about 1" from either side.  You could go all the way to the edge, we had stitching running down the shade at 1" in so I felt it was a convenient place to hide my glue seam (though after doing this the glue didn't seep through at all, so this wasn't really an issue).  If you're blind is a full length (I think our windows are 63" tall) I recommend using a rottery cutter to cut your fabric.
After I cut the fabric I laid it out on the blind, then rolled it up so it would be out of the way.  I fired up the glue gun and secured the top all the way across.  A little glue goes a long way.  I could have done this myself, but the extra set of hands sure was handy (haha).

Now a few inches at a time I ran some glue down the shade and secured the felt to it.  Don't use too much glue or the blind will be stiff and won't roll properly.

When I got to the end I ran glue across the bottom and secured the felt to it. 

Wow...look at that!  You lined a shade. 

I paid about $4 for the felt bringing my investment for the shade to a whooping $8.
The motto in our house is "It's broken, fix it!".

Monday, February 11, 2013

Recipe Sources and Inspiration

"Where did you get the recipe?" people ask me.  Much of my culinary inspiration comes from foods I ate as a child--pork chops and sauerkraut, meatloaf, angel food cake and apple pie are all foods I've given modern twists to.  Food T.V. gives me lots of ideas and Pinterest is always a great place to find some inspiration when I'm in a rut.
While Pinterest is great, and food blogs are fine (yeah, here I go putting myself down a little), I want recipes with lots of reviews that I know have been tested.  Here are a few of my favorite places to find great recipes.  I've rarely, if ever, been let down by them.
The three of these sites are my most frequent go-to sites.  Epicurious has a great recipe box feature that allows you to save all your favorite recipes.  Out of the three of these I find they are the most hit or miss, but they are cataloging recipes from over ten years so I give them a little leniency.
As far as books go I find myself returning to the following most frequently.
  • How to Cook Anything, Mark Bitmann
  • Ad Hoc, Thomas Keller
  • Betty Crocker
  •  The Bon Appetit Cookbook
I may not always cook a recipe from these sites or books, but they're a great stepping off point.  As a side note, if you need a great gift for pretty much anyone How To Cook Anything and the Betty Crocker cookbook make wonderful, versatile gifts.  I usually have a copy of each in my gift storage box for easy gifting.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Angel Food Cake

I love Angel Food Cake.  It’s light, fluffy, not too sweet, a wonderful blank canvas and it’s fairly simple to-boot!  Despite all of these pros for the feather light cake I don’t often I make it.  Why?  It takes TWELVE egg whites.  I don’t know about you but I have a hard time coming up with a use for a dozen yolks.  I like custards, ice creams and lemon curd as much as the next person, but they’re heavy and tend toward the fattening end of the spectrum.  Well I recently came into a free carton of 100% Egg Whites Egg Beaters.  WIN!
The recipe below is essentially the Betty Crocker recipe with a few tweaks.  If you’d like to leave the chocolate chips out or substitute grated chocolate instead feel free.  I felt like going a little crazy here!
1 ½ c. powdered sugar
1 c. cake flour, or soft flour (I use White Lily all purpose)
1 ½ c. egg whites
1 ½ tsp cream of tarter
1 c. sugar
1 ½ tsp vanilla
¼ tsp salt
1 c. mini chocolate chips tossed in 1 tbsp of flour
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and rustle up a tube pan DO NOT grease it. 
Sift the powdered sugar and flour together.  In a large bowl (I mean really large) whip the egg whites and cream of tarter until soft peaks form.  If you have a stand mixer this is the time to use it.  When the egg whites form soft peaks start adding the sugar slowly, a few tablespoons at a time.  Whip the whites until they form stiff, glossy peaks; add in the vanilla and salt.
Slowly, and by hand, fold in the flour mixture into the whites with a spatula.  Fold it in ¼ cup at a time until it is all incorporated.  Don’t over mix it!  If you deflate those puppies there’s no going back!
You’re almost there.  Fold in the floured chips (the flour is to keep them from sinking).
Spoon the batter into the tube pan and spread it evenly.  Once is it’s in there take a knife and run it through the cake—just in case there’s an air pocket in there.
Bake for 35 minutes, until the top is crusty, cracked and brown.  Once it’s done CAREFULLY turn it upside down on a heat proof surface to cool (cookie sheet, marble, granite etc).  Completely cool the cake before running a knife around the cake and gently removing it.
My favorite way to enjoy is with whipped cream and berries.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Hair Tips from a Mom

Any of you out there have a squirming toddler girl who doesn't like her hair done?  Ohhh I see lots of hand up.  Ya, it's not easy.  I get asked frequently by other moms how I manage to get my daughter's hair into the 'do's' she wears. 
I'd never really thought about it, but you don't see a lot of 2 year olds with 'fancy hair', as my husband would say.  Well, most 2 year olds don't have as much hair as Sophie either.  Here's how I do Miss Diva's hair.
    You can find them at Sweet Sophie Mae's



  • Have everything ready to go.  I keep a comb, spray bottle of water and hair ties in the kitchen.  On the way to hair central I grab barrettes if I need them.  I keep her barrettes on a hanger like this one ----> 
  •  Keep them entertained while you do it!  I do Sophie's hair during breakfast.  She's engrossed in shoveling the food in and hopefully not noticing I'm doing her hair.
  •  If I miss breakfast hour I plop her down in front of a movie.  I do this when I need to trim her bangs as well.
  •  I don't go in with a plan.  I know this seems counter intuitive, but if I don't plan on creating a hair masterpiece I'm not disappointed when it doesn't pan out.  My goal is to get the hair off her face...anything other than a pony tail is a major win in my book.  I load up on rubber hair bands so I have plenty and go from there.
  • If you need inspiration Pinterest has lots of great ideas.  
  Here's what I did for her birthday...and all without a single tear or pulled hair.

 We missed the boat on breakfast on her birthday, but Sesame Street to the rescue!


If I Can Do It You Can Too

I don't make cakes for a living, but I do get requests from friends and family for cakes from time to time.  Let me tell you I've never gone to school or taken a class on pastry.  I watched a lot of Food Network when I was pregnant (gotta love a kid kicking you all night long) read a few books, got inspiration from Pinterest and played with my food.
If I can do this...
you can too.
Not only did I make this, but I toted it 500 miles from our house in Middle TN to Chicago!
Don't be afraid to take risks and try projects that inspire you.  It might not be the Mona Lisa of cakes, but it was tasty and everyone loved it.  If I hadn't decided to try this I'm sure I would have regretted it!