Friday, September 12, 2014

Pumpkin Chicken Spaghetti (Slow Cooker)


School has started and fall has arrived (did I mention that we might actually drop into the 30's tonight?) This combination means one thing.  I'm officially pulling out the Slow Cooker. The after school activity shuttle leaves no time for doing any actual cooking during the dinner hour. This is why I love my slow cooker. My husband bought me an All-Clad stainless steel beauty a few years back. Ahhh… flutter my heart. He loves me. Yes, while some girls call diamonds their best friends, it appears that I can be won over by small kitchen appliances. He knows me.


I make this family favorite spaghetti recipe at least once a month during the school year. It's about time I shared it! It's perfect for hectic days and its ease of preparation will keep you from the Taco Bell Drive-Thru!

Simply start with 3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  You can use chicken breast if you want, but the thighs stay moist through the slow cooking process.  Once you try them, you won't go back.  Top the chicken with 2 - 24 ounce jars of your favorite pasta sauce.


Next, dump in a 15-ounce can of pumpkin.  I know, it sounds strange, but it helps thicken the sauce when the chicken lets go of its juices and, as a bonus, your kids are now eating a whole lot of Vitamin A!


Add some brown sugar, balsamic vinegar and oregano.  That's it.  Put the top on and walk away.


When you return from Yoga, Target, the bus stop, piano lessons, football and tennis, shred the chicken in the sauce.
Boil some noodles and you are good to go.


This sauce is deliciously thick, well rounded and loaded with lean protein. 
Perfect for a weeknight family dinner!


Pumpkin Chicken Spaghetti
by Rachel @ Simple Girl


Ingredients:

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
2 - 24 ounce jars of spaghetti sauce
1 - 15 ounce can pumpkin puree
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic glaze (or vinegar)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Combine ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on low for 8 - 10 hours or on high for 4-6 hours.  Shred chicken in the sauce. Adjust seasonings, if necessary, and serve over pasta.



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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Butter Bean And Tomato Salad


I've had moderate success with my two tomato plants this year and by moderate I mean that I have actually been able to gather enough tomatoes at one time to make something.


Look at these beauties. The wave of feelings is swelling within me. Pride. Resourcefulness. Thriftiness. Domestic Bliss. My grandma would have been proud.


While these sweet, cherry tomatoes are delicious straight off the vine, I decided to marry them with my other love: Butter Beans. Unlike their smaller cousin, the Northern Bean, Butter Beans are big and meaty and beg to be eaten with a fork. Your mouth won't even know that you just slipped it a vegetarian meal!

To begin the salad, heat 1/3 cup olive oil and 1 teaspoon minced garlic for one minute in the microwave. Let sit. Sure, you could heat it on the stove and let that sweet, garlicky aroma fill the room, but this method is quick and easy.


Next, cut 4 cups of cherry tomatoes in half and place them in a bowl.


Realizing that your initial bowl was too small, switch to a bigger bowl and add two cans of Butter Beans, drained and rinsed.


Drizzle the garlicky olive oil on top of the beans and tomatoes.


Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of Montreal Steak Seasoning (or coarsely ground black pepper, if that's all you've got.)


Add a generous 1/2 cup of of green onions, whites and greens, chopped.


Add a dash of rice wine vinegar and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts.

This salad has sweet, savory, salty, meaty, chewy and crunch. 
It's the total package. Enjoy!


Butter Bean & Tomato Salad
by Rachel @ Simple Girl

Ingredients:

4 cups cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2-15 ounce cans Butter Beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup green onions, whites and greens, chopped
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Montreal Steak Seasoning
1 tablespoon Red or Rice Wine vinegar.
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Heat olive oil and garlic in a microwave safe bowl for 1 minute.  Let stand.  Combine tomatoes and butter beans in a bowl.  Drizzle with olive oil mixture.  Season with salt and Montreal Steak Seasoning.  Add green onions and vinegar.  Toss.  Just before serving, top with toasted pine nuts.

Serves 6





Friday, August 22, 2014

Chalkboard Tags - at Target!


School started yesterday. I'm somewhere in-between Yipee! and Sigh. Where did the summer go? One thing the girls and I love about back-to-school is school supply shopping!  A new school year. A fresh start. Sharp pencils. Crisp, coordinated folders. Who knew office supplies could create so much bliss?


While we were shopping at Target, I spotted these adorable little tags:  Chalkboard!  Of course, the permanent chalkboard pens were right by their side.


Arielle dressed to impress on her first day of middle school. She handed out apples to her teachers that were tied with green raffia and labeled with these cute chalkboard tags.


Ella celebrated her 10th Birthday on the first day of school and attached the chalkboard tags to the ultimate first-day-of-school-birthday-goody-bags:  Clear pencil cases with some super fun (also from Target) school supplies! The possibilities are endless!






Saturday, August 9, 2014

Cream of Kohlrabi Soup


One of the things I like best about summer is our local farmer's market. I love gathering the kids on Tuesdays and driving them to the community center parking lot filled with white canopies where they are required allowed to pick one item. That grows from the ground. I'm not saying that we never indulge in chocolate bread and peppermint bath bombs, but a fruit or vegetable is a must.  It's fun to find unusual varieties of carrots and tomatoes and even more fun to find foods that we don't even recognize (i.e. that they don't sell at Costco.)


This was my pick for the week: kohlrabi. Kohlrabi has been described by culinary experts as a cross between a spaceship and an octopus. Can you see the resemblance? The name kohlrabi is of German origin and translates to "Cabbage Turnip".  Webster defines kohlrabi this way:
Form of cabbage (Brassica oleracea, Gongylodes group) of the mustard family, which originated in Europe. Its most distinctive feature is the greatly enlarged, globular to slightly flattened stem that grows just above the soil. Its flesh resembles that of a turnip but is sweeter and milder. Low in calories, kohlrabi is an excellent source of vitamin C, minerals, and dietary bulk. The young tender leaves may be eaten as greens; the thickened stem is served raw or cooked. Though not widely grown commercially, it is popular in some regions.

I asked the man under the white canopy how he usually cooked kohlrabi and he said that he he cooked it with chicken or put it in soup.  He said it was starchy like a potato, but not as heavy.

I decided to take his advice.
I made soup.


Start by peeling the outer skin of the kohlrabi and trimming off the ends.


Dice the kohlrabi into 1" pieces, along with one large diced sweet Vidalia onion.
Spread the veggies on a parchment lined baking tray.
Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt.

NOTE A:  I probably should have used two pans, but I really, really, really don't like washing dishes.
NOTE B:  Thanks to my 13-year old daughter, the hand model, who has very lovely hands and is currently obsessed with nail polish.



Roast the veggies at 400 degrees F. for 30 - 40 minutes until the kohlrabi is soft and edges are golden.


Bring out your friend, Mr. Vitamix.
Prove to your husband that it really was worth spending almost $400 on a blender because now you can go to the farmer's market and make soup.


Blend the roasted veggies with 2 cups of chicken stock until it is creamy and lump free.  Pour the blender mixture into a larger pan and reheat, adding two more cups of chicken stock (1 quart in all.)

Add 1/4 cup of cream or buttermilk or coconut milk and adjust seasonings if needed.


 Ladle into bowls and garnish with more cream and green onion tops.

If you like the flavor of cream of asparagus soup or cream of broccoli soup or cream of cauliflower soup, you will LOVE the fresh and milder flavor of this one.

The ingredients are few and simple.
Just like good food should be.


Cream of Kohlrabi Soup
Serves 6

By Rachel @ Simple Girl

Ingredients:

3 bulbs kohlrabi, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
1 large sweet Vidalia onion, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
olive oil
kosher salt
1 quart chicken stock
cream, buttermilk or coconut milk, optional

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place kohlrabi and onion on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Drizzle with  olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Place in oven and roast for 30 - 40 minutes or until vegetables are tender and starting to brown.

Remove vegetables from oven and place in a high speed blender.  Add 2 cups chicken stock and blend until smooth and creamy.  Pour puree into a heavy stockpot and add 2 more cups of chicken stock.  Gently reheat.  Add cream if desired and adjust seasonings if needed.

Ladle into 6 bowls and garnish with a drizzle of cream and green onions.







Monday, July 28, 2014

Packing Cookies for The Bus and My Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe!


My baby boy turned 17 yesterday. Sigh. Just saying that out loud feels like an out of body experience. Seventeen? That's practically grown up! His sisters are already lamenting the inevitability that one day he will leave them and go off to college. They find themselves in the unending conundrum of wanting their big brother to stay at home forever and wanting to place dibs on his room. The way I see it, they are likely to lose both those battles.

Fortunately, my boy still has a little more time at home.  Today he left, not for a lifetime, but for a  week-long missions trip. To Florida. Now, if the suffering is not in the destination, it might be in the transportation. A 27-hour bus ride to be exact. It just so happens that Florida is a lot further away from Minnesota than it is from Atlanta. I know. I'm good at geography like that.

Since his birthday was yesterday, I decided it might be nice to send a little birthday treat for the 48 people making the trek - something not too crumbly, not too sticky, not too melty, not requiring any utensils but completely and entirely delicious. I went back to the basics: My Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies!


In an attempt to make the cookies cute and transportable, I decided to package them in individual-sized portions. I love these glassine bags from Uline! I know. Some wives love it when their husbands buy them jewelry. My husband buys me cases of cute food packaging supplies. This is why we've been happily married for 20 years. I'm just saying. He knows me.

Let me introduce you to another one of my very favorite newly discovered products:  Avery Kraft Brown Round Labels. No skill required. Simply go online to avery.com and enter the product number. Up pops hundreds of designs. All you do is type in your customized words!


Since I like the kraft brown paper to shine, I chose a simple design with black ink.


Next, I put three of these perfectly delicious chocolate chip cookies in each glassine bag, folded the top, and sealed it with a birthday sticker.


These labels are so foolproof, they even work when you put the paper in the wrong way!


 The individual bags made passing out treats on the bus clean, easy and festive!

Happy 17th Birthday, Samuel!


My Best-Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies

by Rachel @ Simple Girl

1 1/3 cups Earth Balance, room temperature
(Butter tastes good, but creates a different texture)
1 cup sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips (depending on how chocolatey you like it!) 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whip Earth Balance and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Continue to beat until smooth and creamy.

Gradually add flour, soda and salt. Beat until just combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop a heaping teaspoonful on a parchment-lined baking sheet, 12 per sheet.  Bake 8 minutes or until the cookie just starts to brown. This is the key to creating a soft, delicious cookie. Don't over bake.  Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes.  Remove from pan and repeat until all the dough has been used.

Makes 48 - 60 cookies, depending on the size.




Saturday, July 19, 2014

Celebrity Home Sightings


We've just returned from a family trip to the East Coast. Our mission? To get my husband to his 50th state: Maine. Ok, and maybe eat a little a lot of lobster. One of our food stops was The Maine Diner in Wells, Maine. Five years ago we saw it featured on Diners, Drivers and Dives. They had Lobster Pie. We had to go there. (More food pics to come!) It was this stop for Lobster Pie, however, that got us focused on another missions:  Celebrity Home sightings. Are you confused yet? I thought so. It just so happens that the exit for Wells, Maine was also the exit for Kennebunkport. Maybe we could find the Bush Compound! After talking to a few locals, we got a general idea of where it might be and confirmed that it could be seen from the road. We were off. As we approached our destination, the congregation of other onlookers confirmed our suspicion. This beautiful peninsula entertains two former presidents.


We were surprised that they did not invite us in considering our rented minivan sported Texas plates. 
I guess we should have called ahead.


The day we spotted the Bush Compound, we travelled from Portland, Maine to Connecticut. While there is very little actually IN Rhode Island, we swung wide to include this itty bitty state. Wait. There IS something in Rhode Island. Taylor Swift's new beach house! You didn't see her Fourth of July beach photos on Instagram? If you didn't, you apparently don't have any tweenage girls. Because The Hubby is such an awesome dad, he took the risk. After much internet searching, their brother and I narrowed down the address to a neighborhood:  Watch Hill. We knew it was on the ocean. As we neared our destination, the tech savvy daughter took my phone and, in 30 seconds, found an exact address. We weren't sure if we should be thrilled by her resourcefulness or fearful of her natural ability to become a stalker. As we drove by, the security guards out from confirmed our inclination. We love Taylor Swift!


Here's the gorgeous beach view of her house on a hill.
(With more security guards)


And the sign out front based on her famous lyrics.
The girls may or may not have thrown a handful of Swiftie beach rocks into my bag.


The next day we took a ferry from Connecticut to Long Island where one of my favorite East Hamptonites lives:  Ina Garten.  This is the previous location of her specialty food store, The Barefoot Contessa.


And, once again using the skills of my tech-savvy daughter, 
we decided that this may or may not be the Barefoot Contessa's East Hampton home.
But we think it is. Probably.
I believe there is a saying in the Hamptons: "Tall Hedges make good neighbors!"


Another one of my favorite people:  Martha Stewart! I confirmed the shape of the gate with other website sightings. Martha's East Hampton home is located on a lovely, exclusive street. Someone on her block was having a big party and as we drove by, fancy people were being shuttled to their festivities in golf carts. I'm sure that our rented beige minivan with the Texas plates did not look out of place at all.  Ahem.


Our final stop of the rich and famous was the Oheka Castle a.k.a. "Shadow Pond" of my favorite guilty pleasure summer viewing, "Royal Pains" on USA Network. While the show depicts the castle in The Hamptons, it is actually located in Hungtington, NY which is on the West side of Long Island. The Oheka Castle is the second largest private home in the United States. This long driveway has been in many Royal Pains scenes, usually involving running, fancy cars and shooting. Look for an entire post on this amazing home coming soon!

We had an awesome trip exploring the New England and the East Coast, but even with mountains of laundry to climb, I must say, there's no place like home. So glad to be back!

Rachel

Monday, July 7, 2014

Red, White and Blueberry Flag (Flop) Cake!


Every year we make a special Fourth of July dessert and this year was no exception.  The girls were paging through my copy of Food Network magazine when they came across THIS Flag Ice Cream Cake.  It looked easy enough. Red and white layers of ice cream topped with a blue layer of cake.  When you cut into the cake, each slice looks like a flag.  Very cool indeed. So I packed one springform pan for our trip up to the cabin and planned to get the ingredients once we arrived.  Guess what?  The further you get away from civilization, the less likely they are to have raspberry sorbet.  Plan B.

Forget the ice cream. What if I just made a layered flag cake? I smiled to myself as I considered this brilliant idea. I stopped at the local Target and guess what I found?  A white cake mix, a red velvet cake mix and, yes, a blue blueberry cake mix!


Once at the cabin, I baked the cake mixes, one at a time, in my one pan. Note the golden oak side table and the sliding glass doors.


A couple of notes: Read cake mix directions carefully.  If it says, "egg whites", it means that the color of the mix will change if you use the yolks. You've been forewarned.

Also, check the size of the cake mix.  For instance, the red velvet cake mix only made half a cake. I know. Crazy.

After baking the cakes, I decided to cut the red and white ones horizontally to create stripes.  I did this using the old dental floss trick. It works better than a big knife. I cut the little red cake in half and the larger white cake into thirds. My cake would have to be satisfied with five stripes.


Here's the layers:  First, place a white cake layer on a plate and top with cream cheese frosting.


Next, add a red velvet layer and more cream cheese frosting.


Add another white layer and more cream cheese frosting.
At this point, things are starting to look a bit ugly.


Here's what you do with the blue layer - leave it unsliced, but cut a circle in the middle. (Do you like the purdy plastic flowered dishes? Did I mentioned that we were at the cabin?)

Place the entire cake on top of the cake layers you have started. But don't flip it. That would cause the cake to fall apart and crumble into pieces. (Don't ask me how I know this.) And this is where the pictures stop. This is where I start screaming, "Somebody, help! Get some giant skewers to hold my cake in place! WAAH!!!"

If I had continued to take pictures at this point, you would have seen me cut equal sized circles out of the last two layers of red and white cake and insert them into the blue cake, adding cream cheese frosting between each of the layers. But I didn't take any pictures, so you'll have to take my word for it.


Here's my finished cake after I froze the cake and trimmed the edges.  
Frosting and blueberries cover a multitude of sins.
I like to think of it as rustic.


Here you can see the slice.
Good idea.
Poor execution.
Still delicious!