Friday, August 19, 2016

chicken chili verde . . . and our simple, family-style Summer dinner

Our afternoon skies are dark and rumbling as I write this post . . . and I love it!

This kind of weather is exciting . . . and brings back so many happy childhood memories of spending our Summers in Kansas with my dad's family. There was nothing like the excitement of afternoon thunderstorms to cool everything off . . . and the lightning shows were pretty incredible, too!

Although it's been hot and humid lately, I still crave cozy crock pot meals . . . especially on Sundays and stormy days. 

It just so happens that we were blessed enough to find an amazing Farmer's Market on Saturday, where we bought handfuls of sweet white corn, a few watermelons, juicy peaches, and fresh herbs.
With thunderstorms in the forecast for Sunday, I couldn't think of a better way to spend our Sunday than with a cozy crock pot dinner and Summer Farmer's Market fare. 

our simple, family-style Summer menu
.     .     .     .     .     .
slow cooker chicken chili verde
with creamy shredded monterrey jack cheese and fresh cut cilantro
warm stoneground white corn tortillas
grilled sweet white corn
juicy, sweet watermelon
.     .     .     .     .     .

I saved this jar of Chili Verde Starter to enjoy for a special occasion . . . our first Sunday family meal since moving here.

Doesn't the description on the jar sound amazing? I had visions of using this Starter as a great base for a chicken crock pot meal . . . and I did. It was so delicious!

It's preparation is beyond simple! Are you ready?

slow cooker chicken chili verde
.     .     .     .     .     .
Season 2-3 chicken breasts with salt and pepper, both sides.
Pour jar of Chili Verde Starter into crock pot. 
Add chicken breasts, and cook on High for 3 hours. 
Using two forks, shred the chicken in the Chili Verde sauce.
Turn crock pot onto 'keep warm.'
.     .     .     .     .     .

I served it with shredded Monterrey Jack and lots of fresh cilantro. The creamy cheese was a cool compliment to the chili verde, and the cilantro added an incredible freshness to the dish.  Warm white corn tortillas and grilled, sweet white corn also made delicious compliments to the chili verde. 

It's almost embarrassing how easy this meal was to prepare! I absolutely LOVE it when I can prepare a delicious (and beautiful) meal with little preparation and just a few ingredients! 

On a side note, I thought it would be fun to share my thoughts on eating family style. I love serving this way, as often as possible. 

To me, this means casual dining . . . our table filled with the main dish, sides, and all the fixings. Sometimes I fill bowls and platters, but I try to use my breadboards as often as possible. For instance, I'll have our Littles grate cheese right on top of a bread board on the table; or, when we're eating chili or taco salad, I love to pile chips high in a basket or right on a piece of parchment, amidst all the food; and if we're having BLTA's for dinner . . . everything gets displayed on a breadboard, and placed right in the middle of the table.

I think food is extra beautiful this way . . . raw . . . organic . . . and welcoming! It's as though you're inviting your guests and family to create their own masterpiece on their plate.

~ BLTA's at our house ~

~our simple, family style chicken chili verde dinner ~ 

I hope I inspired you to pull out your crock pot, and make a few cozy (and simple) dishes this Summer. Be sure and add some of this Summer's Farmers Market fare to your table, too! You'll be so happy you did!

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

cilantro lime chicken


I've recently received more emails asking if I would consider sharing more savory dishes and dinner ideas. Absolutely!

Given the number of dessert posts that I share on this blog, you must think that I only bake . . . but that's not so; I love to cook, too! 

I'm a busy mom with three little ones, so I make every effort to keep dinners fast and simple.

I'm a BIG fan of one skillet meals!

One skillet (or one sheet pan) means less dishes . . . and LESS clean up!

One of my favorite weeknight meals is seasoned roast chicken with vegetables.

It's quick, easy, and delicious!

I use a variety of spices to season my chicken, depending on my mood and what herbs and vegetables I have on hand. 

And depending on the weather, I either finish roasting the chicken and vegetables in the oven - or finish it on the stove top.

Here are a few of my favorite spice and herb combinations . . .

Tuscan Garlic Herb Mix
Fragrant and herbaceous, this Italian-style mix goes with anything containing tomatoes
or milky cheese like mozzarella or ricotta.
.     .     .     .     .    .
2 Tablespoons dried rosemary 
2 Tablespoons dried thyme 
2 teaspoons fennel seeds 
4 teaspoons garlic powder 
2 teaspoons dried marjoram 
and 1 teaspoon dried sage

Scandinavian Lemon Spice Mix
Refreshing lemon, dill, and tarragon are combined with caraway seeds 
for a flicker of cooling sweetness.
.     .     .     .     .    .
2 Tablespoons dried dill weed
2 Tablespoons dried tarragon
2 teaspoons dried lemon peel
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon ground black pepper

I have a simple method of preparing chicken that yields a moist and flavorful finished dish.

First, I SEASON and BROWN the chicken (that's what makes the flavorful, scrumptious bits on the bottom of the pan), then I remove the chicken and DE-GLAZE the pan. Next, I add wine (or broth) and REDUCE, and then add the chicken back to the pan (add more broth) and put it in the oven.

I use this method almost every single time I make a chicken dish.

The method of SEASONING, BROWNING, DE-GLAZING, AND REDUCING yields a ton of flavor! And then a "finishing bake" in its own juices and broth provides a moist environment for the chicken to finish its journey . . . yielding tender and moist chicken! 

This is a crazy flavorful dish! 

The spice combination, along with fresh garlic, lime juice, and cilantro, makes an AMAZING flavor combination!

The gorgeous, deep golden au jus (see photo below) is FULL of flavor . . . and can be drizzled over a bed of arugula (my favorite), rice, or couscous. 

Add colorful beets . . . and a few sweet potatoes . . . and you have a delicious Fall-inspired meal.

It's not only family worthy, but company worth, too!! And that's a WIN-WIN in my book.


cilantro lime chicken thighs
.     .     .     .     .     .
8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 cup dry white wine (or chicken broth)
2 limes, juice of
2 cups chicken broth
1 bunch cilantro, stems removed, chopped; more for garnish
Olive oil
root vegetables, optional
.     .     .     .     .     .
Mediterranean-inspired SPICE MIX
1 Tablespoon seasoned salt
1 tsp hot paprika
1 tsp black pepper
1 Tablespoon garlic powder
½ tsp ground nutmeg
.     .     .     .     .     .

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.

In a small bowl, mix the spices. Pat the chicken thighs dry, and season each thigh on both sides with the spice mix. Be sure to season underneath the skin as well. Let the chicken thighs sit in room temperature for about 15 minutes.

When ready, heat 1-2 tbsp of olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Brown the chicken thighs deeply on both sides in the heated oil. Remove from the skillet and set aside briefly.

Lower the heat and de-glaze the skillet with the white wine. Let cook to reduce, and then add the broth.

Bring the liquid to a simmer then add lime juice and garlic.

Now return the chicken to the skillet; add vegetables; and toss in the cilantro.


Bring to a high-simmer for about 5 minutes or so.

Cover the skillet and transfer to the 375 degree F-heated oven for 35-45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.

Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with more fresh cilantro, if you like.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

vanilla bean lemonade . . .

Lemonade will always hold a special place in my heart.

It's reminds me of long, leisurely walks through the local Farmer's Market in my home-town.

The Farmer's Market has been a part of my life since my early twenties.

For more than a decade,  I visited weekly. It was . . . and still is . . . a great source of inspiration for me.

Before I got married and moved South to a new county, I would venture to the Farmer's Market every Saturday morning with my sister.

There was a Lemonade Stand that offered a variety of amazing fresh lemonades . . . blueberry, strawberry, lime, and watermelon.

We would arrive early to beat the crowds and the heat; and even with our arms full of flowers and fresh fruits and vegetables, we always found room to carry a large cup of lemonade.

There's really nothing like the taste of fresh, home-made lemonade.

It's nothing like the lemon-flavored beverages you order in restaurants. Instead, home-made lemonade actually tastes (and smells) like real lemons. It's sweet and a little tart . . . and refreshing, especially on a hot Summer day.

Although our local Farmer's Market doesn't have a Lemonade Stand like the one in my home-town, it doesn't mean that I can't enjoy fresh lemonade at home.

One of my favorite Summer activities to do with my little ones is make lemonade.

We've made several flavors over the years, including blueberryblackberry mint, peach & thyme, cucumber mint, and strawberry.

With strawberry season in full swing here, we're looking forward to making Strawberry Lemonade the week after my six-AND-seven-year-old are on Summer break . . . 7 days and counting down (smile!).

While at our kids' Open House a few weeks ago, we were invited to pick more lemons from the tree on campus. It was an offer I/we couldn't turn down (smile!). I still can't believe how many lemons were on that tree! So we filled a bag and headed home with thoughts of what we were going to do with them. 

We thought it would be fun to make vanilla bean lemonade for our seven-year-old's class to thank them for sharing so many lemons with us over the last several weeks. 

You can see a photo of the lemonade basket I dropped off at Charley's class on my Instagram, here. I was so happy to hear that the lemonade was a hit! Yay!

vanilla bean lemon simple syrup
Do you see the vanilla beans?
((recipe below))

Have you ever had Vanilla Lemonade? It's so unique! 

It's sweet & tart . . . with a warm & smooth finish.  It might sound a little strange . . . but it's so good! 

I like to prepare the vanilla bean simple syrup a few days in advance, so that the vanilla beans have a chance to infuse all its warm flavor into the sweet syrup.

My little ones take turns squeezing the lemons, using the same glass lemon squeezer from my childhood (smile!); then we add just the right amount of water to make the lemon base for our lemonade; and finally, we add the vanilla bean lemon syrup. Voila! 

With the right lemon juice : water : vanilla lemon syrup ratio (see recipe below) . . . you, too, can enjoy Vanilla Bean Lemonade at home, which is sure to be a hit with your family and friends!

And stay tuned for my Strawberry Lemonade recipe . . . just in time for your Fourth of July picnic or gathering.

Have a great weekend!

for the vanilla bean lemon simple syrup
.     .     .     .     .     .     .
2 cup sugar
2 cup water
6 slices of lemon peel
2 vanilla bean, seeded
1 generous pinch of salt
Cheesecloth, to strain syrup
*For a stronger vanilla flavor, prepare one day in advance.
     .     .     .     .     .     .     .     
for the lemonade
.     .     .     .     .     .     .
juice of 6-8 lemons, strained
8 cups of water
1+ cups of vanilla/lemon simple syrup
lemon slices to garnish
    .     .     .     .     .     .     .     

Slice the vanilla bean in half and with the back of your knife scrape out all the seeds.

Bring sugar, water, vanilla beans and pod, lemon peels and salt to boil on your stove.

After sugar dissolves I gently simmer mine 5-10 minutes to really get the lemon peel flavor in there.

Remove from heat, strain through a few layers of cheesecloth set over a large measuring cup and cool. *For a stronger vanilla flavor, prepare (and refrigerate) one day in advance.

Once the syrup has cooled; add it to a large pitcher along with the 8-10 cups of water and strained lemon juice. Stir well. Garnish with a few lemon slices.

If you like your lemonade on the sweeter side, then add 1/4 cup more vanilla lemon syrup until you reach desired sweetness.

For a stronger vanilla flavored lemonade, prepare at least one day before serving.
The longer is sits, the stronger the flavors.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

greetings from Virginia . . . and a scruptious Summer recipe!

Greetings from Northern Virginia! We finally made it! 

I have amazing blog followers who have emailed me and checked in since March, as they noticed that my posts were tapering off. I was able to share with so many of you that my family was in the process of packing and relocating to the East Coast. 

You see, my husband accepted a promotion and relocation to Virginia in February. Big changes were about to happen. He moved to Virginia in late February, and the Littles and I stayed behind, as I wanted them to have the opportunity to finish the school year with their long-time friends. It also gave me more time to spend with my family and friends before our big move the East Coast!

It's been a long, hard, and stressful journey to get where we are today. 

Sadly, I didn't have time to blog for several months. I missed it terribly! I love coming here and sharing photos and recipes. Blogging is a creative outlet for me . . . it's relaxing and brings me much happiness.  I look forward to settling into a new blogging routine soon. Until then, I'm giving myself a chance to breath and settle into our new surroundings before sharing regular posts again. 

~ our view into town every day ~

We're still living among a sea of boxes that continue to call out to me daily. I unpack a few every day, but have spent more time exploring our new little town and the beautiful countryside with my Littles. It's way more fun than unpacking anyway. 

I have so much to share with you! One of my neatest finds is "Fields of Flowers" . . . a pick your own flower farm located just a few miles down the road.  The farm boasts fields of seasonal flowers just waiting to be picked, cut, and taken home to enjoy! I can't wait to share photos from our adventure there. Since the nearest Trader Joe's is more than one hour away, this might be where I get my weekly fresh flowers. I've heard that their sunflower fields are stunning in the early Fall. I can't wait!!

Oh! So many of you have asked on Instragram and email about my culinary adventures in Virgnia so far. Well, to be honest, I haven't cooked too much yet. I only recently found and unpacked my favorite cooking utensils and pots and pans. Perhaps the dish that I've prepared the most lately are omlettes made with locally grown vegetables and fresh eggs. Yes, fresh eggs! As in, eggs from our neighbor's chickens!  Seriously, you can't beat simple recipes with exceptional ingredients!

Ok, well I need to close this post and get the Littles ready for our trip to the local library today. It's time to check out new books, and enjoy the free Arts & Crafts class scheduled at 2 o'clock. 

I'm not sure if you noticed yet, but I updated the sidebar on the blog with my favorite Summer recipes! Be sure and check them out for a little Summer inspiration!

Our local market has corn on sale this week . . . 20 for $2.00!!! It's too good of a deal to pass up. I see lots of corn on our menu the next few weeks (big smile), inlcuding this blueberry and corn crisp!

This is one of my favorite Summer posts from last year . . . I hope you enjoy!

.     .     .     .     .     .     .

Summer is officially here! Woohoo!

It was our six- and seven-year-old's last week of school, so we were quite busy with end-of-school year festivities, and I had several cookie and cake orders. So by the time the week was over, I welcomed the weekend . . . and first days of Summer . . . with open arms!

Our kids had a wonderful school year, and were blessed with amazing and caring Teachers. They're actually bummed that their school year is finished. And our four-year-old, well . . . she isn't happy that her older siblings will be home every day, as "they're just going to bother us." Too funny!

Perhaps they'll appreciate Summer break a little more once we have a chance to shift gears and begin enjoying lazy mornings, trips to the library, and many, many picnics to the park and beach.

In the spirit of Summer, I thought it would be fun to share this delicious Summer chowder with you.

I love its versatility!

In the Fall, I change up the ingredients and add sweet potatoes and purple potatoes with ham . . . and a pumpkin-shaped 'crouton' topper. Yum!

So what do you think of the lobster and crab toppers?!

I dreamt them up one night when I should've been sleeping. This creative mind LOVES the quiet of the night to dream up recipes and CREATE! If I only had the time of day to bring to fruition what I dream up at night  . . . I'd be a millionaire, lol.

Ok, back on track . . . Let's talk corn & chicken chowder!

I found Sweet Summer corn at our Farmer's Market 5 for $1.00, so we've been enjoying grilled corn on the cob . . . and this sweet corn & chicken chowder. You can also substitute the chicken with sauteed scallops, grilled blackened salmon, or grilled shrimp. All are delicious!

The creamy base is so fast and easy-to-prepare . . . and is a great compliment to the onions, red potatoes, sweet corn, and roasted chicken.

The lobster and crab toppers are made using cookie cutters and pie crust dough. I love using Trader Joe's PIE CRUSTS from their freezer section.  They're buttery and flaky . . . and a make for quick soup and chowder toppers.

I thought it would be festive to make lobster and crab shapes in honor of Summer.

I sprinkled half of them with Smoked Paprika for a reddish-hue, but also because I love the smoky flavor it gives the chowder.

You can break up the lobster or crab crouton over the top before eating, or break off pieces with your spoon as you're eating it. I think the buttery and salty flavor makes this chowder extra delicious!

Corn and chicken chowder paired with big wedges of sweet watermelon and a tall glass of lemonade makes for a delicious and festive Summer lunch or dinner!

Happy, Happy Summer!

corn & chicken chowder
.     .     .     .     .    .
5 ears of fresh corn or 3 cups frozen whole kernel corn
3/4 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
3/4 cup chopped green sweet pepper (optional)
1 Tablespoon olive oi
1-14 ounce can chicken broth
1 cup cubed RED or purple potato (1 medium), skin on
.     .     .     .     .    .
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons snipped fresh thyme
1 cup half-and-half, light cream, or whole milk
1 1/4 cups chopped roasted chicken (about 6 ounces)
OR sauteed scallops, grilled blackened salmon, or grilled shrimp
.     .     .     .     .    .
3 slices bacon, crisp-cooked, drained, and crumbled or 2 tablespoons cooked bacon pieces
2 Tablespoons snipped fresh parsley (optional)
2 Tablespoons snipped fresh chives (optional)
.     .     .     .     .    .

If using fresh corn, use a sharp knife to cut the kernels off the cobs (you should have about 3 cups corn). Set corn aside.

In a large saucepan cook onion and sweet pepper in hot oil until onion is tender but not brown. Stir in chicken broth, potato, and corn. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.

In a small bowl combine flour, salt, pepper, and thyme. Stir milk into flour mixture; add to corn mixture in saucepan. Cook and stir until slightly thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir for 1 minute more. Add chopped chicken; cook and stir until heated through. 

If desired, garnish each serving with parsley, chives, and bacon. Enjoy!

Makes 6 servings (5 1/2 cups)

Another delicious corn recipe . . .

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I love reading your comments and appreciate them so much!

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