Thursday, May 29, 2014

First Grill of Summer

It's officially grilling season!! For those of you outside of Chicago you have no idea what this means to us. It's not only tolerable but enjoyable to be outside! Let's enjoy this while we can. I grew up in a house with the grill being my dads territory. Having 4 girls that was the only place we didn't try to take over, we just let him own it! I was always intrigued with grilling but didn't think I had any business doing it. Well... I'm ready to meet him halfway! I love grilling... You get to cook outside and change up your daily routine, not to mention those delicious char-grilled flavors that you just can't replicate indoors! I stuck to a simple menu but the payoff was great!
I marinated chicken breasts in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper. I also marinated portobello caps in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and McCormick Montreal seasoning (one of my favorite blends). I also grilled fresh corn (husked) and turned those often to get charred all over!
It was a really light dinner which I served with a wedge salad. Ugh I know, been there done that. Truthfully, I try to eat salads often which normally consists of spinach or kale so it's fun to switch it up from time and time and use various wedge toppers to spice it up! Tonight I used ranch with tomatoes, crumbled bacon, red onion, and plenty of black pepper. This was such a good dinner! If you aren't a griller or are intimated by the grill, I urge you to step outside of your comfort zone and try it! Grab a meat thermometer (if you aren't sure how long to cook the meat for), a glass of wine, and enjoy! It's very satisfying, I'll be honest with you. Stay tuned for great grilling tips :)

Monday, May 26, 2014

Baked Buffalo Chicken Wings

Who doesn't love wings?! Boneless are delicious but I'm talking about real wings. It took me awhile to get comfortable eating wings in public and I don't know why it took me so long! Sure, eating them creates many etiquette questions and I probably look completely unladylike eating them. Can anyone make eating wings look sexy, or clean for that matter? Like, is it appropriate to lick your fingers afterwards? Oh, is there there buffalo sauce on my cheek? Can I attempt to eat all of the chicken off the bone or does that look "piggish" and leave a little bit? Let me tell you something, forget all of those things and just enjoy those crispy, salty, chickeny goodies. Or just stick to eating them at home. Most wings are fried which ensures juicy chicken on the outside and crispy skin on the outside. I've been wanting to try a baked version and finally bit the bullet last night. After researching a few methods, I tried them a few ways to see which actually made the better wings...and found that simpler is better.
As you see, I served these with the usual suspects ranch, carrots, and celery. I imagine these babies are making you salivate, so let's jump right in!
I know, raw chicken looks gross but I'm showing a step-by-step process so please forgive me. I had about 2 1/2 pounds of little drummies and flat wings(tips removed and discarded). I laid them out over lots of paper towels and dried the tops really well. 
I took half of each for experimenting purposes but place them skin side up on a foil or parchment lined baking sheet. I seasoned them with cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper. Crank your oven to 450 degrees and bake them for 40-45 minutes or until the skin is crispy and golden. The bottoms become crisp as well, which is why I didn't flip them halfway through. 
Oh ya.
I did boil some based on some recipes I looked at. It does render some of the fat like those recipes mentioned, but by the time the skin got crispy, about 35-40 minutes, the chicken was dried out and the crisp skin wasn't any crispier than the other batch. Case in point, this boiling method is not necessary.
While the chicken is baking get started on your sauce. I made a traditional buffalo version but plan to play with alternative sauces soon! I melted 2 tablespoons of butter in a sauce pot over medium heat and gently sauté 2 cloves of minced garlic, just until fragrant, about 10 seconds. Then add in your favorite buffalo sauce, I like Frank's, but use whatever you like! I used about 1 1/2 cups, give or take, but use more depending on how many wings you have.
When the chicken is crisp place them in a large mixing bowl, a little sticking is normal but you shouldn't have to fight the foil for it! (I was getting really antsy to devour these and this picture reflects that. Oops!) Pour in a small amount of sauce and toss to coat. I like mine just coated, not saucy, but that's just me!
Place on a platter with typical accoutrements and dig in!! These have to be eaten right away so that the sauce doesn't make them soggy.

Serve alongside a bowl for bones and a very cold beer. Can't go wrong with that combo!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Spa Water

The first time I went to the spa I was with my oldest sister and she walked me through the process of relaxation. You get into your robe, grab yourself a glass of cucumber infused water, a handful of banana chips (or whatever else is out to nibble on) and you go into this lovely serene room full of plush benches and candles while you wait for your massage. This place was pure bliss. For a couple years we went annually and I always look forward to this event...which reminds me, I think I'm past due for a return! The massage is amazing, but that water always reminds me of how peaceful my time at the spa is! It took me awhile but one day I realized, I don't need to be at the spa to enjoy this deliciously refreshing cucumber water! I can make it at home and enjoy the same thing, although I will admit, it never quite tastes the same. Since then I regularly enjoy this beverage I call "spa water". For some that know me, you knew this post was a long time coming! I drink the stuff all the time! I get a lot of strange looks from passer-by's with my water bottle or glass full of fruit and herbs.
I've really expanded this beverage and it's sort of an experience in itself. I love slicing strawberries, cucumbers, lemons, grapefuit, oranges, limes (the million dollar fruit these days) and whatever other berry I happen to have in the fridge. Basil and mint are also delicious to include. Sometimes I stick to just lemons and strawberries, sometimes cucumber and lime, and some days when I'm feeling sort of crazy, I'll mix all the above! Not only does it infuse your water and taste delicious but it takes me back to a place of calmness. I keep refilling my glass or bottle and at the end of day discard the fruit, it turns slightly pale and you wouldn't really want to eat it!
I rocked all sorts of combos shown here and it's really a cinch to do. Just plop in some fruit, fill with water and ice and after 15 minutes or so you can start tasting light notes of whatever you put in there! 
Cheers :)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Girl Math

After work I met up with a friend to get a mani/pedi and told my boyfriend he was in charge of dinner since I wouldn't be back early enough to cook. With all hopes of attempting to eat "light" this week I arrived home to find an XL box of sausage and pepperoni pizza to my horror.
At first I was a little surprised since this is our typical Friday night behavior but considering the Blackhawks were about to play, I should have known. Then I had this mischievous feeling like I was little again eating something cool like McDonald's on a school night! Surely you all know what I'm talking about. After ruling out a healthy dinner I quickly pulled out my girl math, again, you know what I'm talking about. I needed some greens...a nice salad to cancel out my greasy, deliciously cheesy, and meaty pizza. I had a little leftover edamame salad from Whole Foods with fennel, artichokes, and dill so I added that to a bowl of baby spinach and added shredded carrots, grape tomatoes, chopped parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper. It was so delicious I was actually sad I didn't have more! 
Salad+Pizza=balanced meal. That's girl math and I swear by it! 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cinco de Mayo

Happy Cinco de Mayo!! I wish I knew more about why we celebrate this holiday...I recall hearing about the Battle of Puebla in high school Spanish class but clearly nothing stuck. Now I like to celebrate Mexican culture on this day eating delicious food and clinking my margarita glasses to those around me. I had a little "fiesta" yesterday and coming up with the menu was tough! There are so many scrumptious dishes to choose from and many margarita flavors. I picked a tasty menu and will be showing you some of my other favorite Mexican dishes in the coming weeks. 
I started the earlier afternoon with a couple apps and margaritas for the Hawks game. I made guac, bacon wrapped chorizo filled jalapeños, and chorizo fundido with tortilla chips. So delicious! To wash it down I made pineapple margaritas.
And for dinner I made carnitas tacos and some lime rice. 
Let's start with the pork since that takes a couple hours. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. In a Dutch oven preheat to medium high heat and drizzle in a little olive oil. I used a pork shoulder, bone-in, about 3 1/2 pounds. Season generously with salt and pepper. 
Sear on all sides until a golden brown crust has formed.
Deglaze the pan with the juice of 1 orange, a beer (any kind you like drinking) and chicken broth, about halfway up the pork. You could omit the beer and just use broth and if you only have beef broth, no problem. There aren't any rules here!
I seasoned my pork with cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, and a few crushed garlic cloves. Bring it up to a simmer, cover, and then pop it in the oven for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the pork is fall-apart just looking at it tender. 
Oh my goodness. The aromas of this pork slow cooking in beer is amazing! 
Once the meat is tender take it out (carefully) and transfer to a cutting board. Shred the meat with a fork, doesn't take much muscle!
 Transfer this shredded pork to a foil-lined baking sheet and stick back in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the outside is slightly caramelized and crisp.
Meanwhile, reduce the cooking liquid, season to taste, and transfer the meat back to the hot tub of flavor. Keep warm or until your ready for it! 
I served the carnitas in warm whole wheat tortillas and kept the toppings simple. Shredded Jack cheese, sour cream, lime wedges, jalapeños, and Cholula. I also served a side of rice, also keeping it simple. I warmed brown rice and added in fresh lime juice, chopped cilantro, salt and pepper. Easy peazy.