Easy Peazy, Chicken Squeezy

We had an awesome snowstorm this past Wednesday that was quite abrupt {it was 65 degrees the day before}, and here in Colorado, you have to be prepared. They say everyone should have a change of clothes in their car {for hot weather or cold} because the climate can change drastically at any moment – literally.

After having a lazy morning, AJ and I got all bundled up to play in the snow – there was approximately 6 inches, and after our “snow walk,” we came inside to get toasty and bake some S’Mores bars. It was the perfect day for me to reminisce on my wonderful childhood, when after a day of sledding and snowball fights, we would open the door to a burst of fragrance of something that had been cooking all day.

On a frigid day, there is truly nothing more pleasing than the aromas of wintry seasonings, like sage, bay leaf and thyme – especially when it’s least expected.  I wanted to create this sentiment for my husband when he came home after a long, cold day of work – and I didn’t have to cook all day.

This recipe isn’t hard, it’s actually very easy, and I trust that ANYONE can make this delicious meal without fail – and maybe impress some individuals along the way.

{This is perfect for a double date on a budget, by the way.}

What you’ll need:

4 Large Chicken Breasts

1 Large Sweet Potato {you can substitute a regular Russet, if that’s more you’re style – they cook the same}

1 – 12 OZ Package of Frozen Brussel Sprouts

1 Large Red Onion

1 C Mini Carrots

3 Cloves of Garlic

Spray Cooking Oil

2 TSP of Pepper

1 TBS of Salt

4 Sprigs of Thyme

1 TBS Italian Seasoning {I’m quickly finding out that this is my go-to spice}

2 Bay Leafs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and cover a 9X12 baking dish with foil, letting some hang over the sides. Spray the inside of the foil with a thin layer of cooking spray.

Cut Sweet Potato and Onion into bite size pieces and slice garlic into small slivers. Throw in a large bowl, with chicken, Brussel Sprouts  and baby carrots. Spray this concoction to coat with cooking spray. Mix pepper, salt and Italian seasoning in a different, small bowl, and coat the chicken and veggies with this spice mixture.

Toss the entire combo into your baking dish. Gently nestle the time sprigs so they are each cuddling a piece of chicken, then burrow a bay leaf in the middle of each side. Gather both sides of the excess foil, and fold the ends together, as though you are tucking in your yummy creation, taking the greatest of care.

Place in the oven for about 45 minutes {oven temps may vary} or until the chicken is cooked through. Open the foil up and put the dish back into the oven on broil for 2 minutes, to brown the tops of all the components. No longer than that, because broil will brown things QUICKLY, and you definitely don’t want this burnt.

Serve up everyone a chicken breast and a large spoonful of veggies, and you have yourself a delicious, HEALTHY, and filling cold-weather meal.

You can play around with the veggies – it’s also delish with grape/cherry tomatoes and quartered or button mushrooms.

It’s very important that you use Chicken Breasts rather than any other part of the chicken. It is virtually free of fat and has more protein than the other parts. Breasts are a POWER house, so cook with them frequently! Also, to cut fat, use spray oil {the fat content is essentially nonexistent} – the can says 0 calories, but there are a few.

Stats {approx.} Per Serving

 Calories 363.8
  Total Fat 3.6 g
  Saturated Fat 0.9 g
  Polyunsaturated Fat 1.0 g
  Monounsaturated Fat 0.8 g
  Cholesterol 136.9 mg
  Sodium 1,954.3 mg
  Potassium 1,253.9 mg
  Total Carbohydrate 23.1 g
  Dietary Fiber 5.6 g
  Sugars 6.6 g
  Protein 58.5 g
  Vitamin A 145.5 %
  Vitamin B-12 14.9 %
  Vitamin B-6 86.9 %
  Vitamin C 107.2 %
  Vitamin D 0.0 %
  Vitamin E 8.1 %
  Calcium 10.3 %
  Copper 19.3 %
  Folate 18.4 %
  Iron 22.2 %
  Magnesium 25.0 %
  Manganese 34.9 %
  Niacin 141.0 %
  Pantothenic Acid     30.7 %
  Phosphorus     57.5 %
  Riboflavin 22.6 %
  Selenium 63.2 %
  Thiamin 23.6 %
  Zinc 17.3 %
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Zombies…

The title of this post says it all… I have a love — no, an obsession with zombies, and this weekend my husband and I went to the Zombie Crawl Downtown Denver and it was everything I expected and then some.

With the spirit of Halloween upon us {including the greenish gray skin of everyone around us}, it brought me back to a recipe that I used last year {a variation of several similar ones I found on the web} – Witches Fingers. They’re not as disgusting as one would think… Actually, quite delicious!

Simply use a basic Sugar Cookie recipe:

1 cup of softened butter

1 cup of powdered sugar

1 egg

2 teaspoons of almond extract

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

2 2/3 cups of all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 teaspoon of salt

3 drops of green food coloring

3/4 cup of whole almonds

1 small tube of red cookie decorating gel

Lightly grease baking sheets {Pam works best for me} and pre-heat your oven to 325 degrees.

Combine the butter, sugar, egg, almond & vanilla extracts and food coloring into a large mixing bowl. Beat mixture and gradually add the flour, baking powder, and salt, continually beating; refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Scoop 1 tablespoon at a time, and with greased hands,  roll out dough until it is about 3/4 inch thick and 2 to 3 inches long. Lightly squeeze each cookie near the tip and again near the center of each to give the impression of knuckles, then press a fork or make cuts with a sharp knife to create wrinkles on the “knuckles”. Press one almond into one end of each cookie to give the appearance of a grody fingernail. Arrange the cookies on baking sheets.

Bake in the preheated oven until the cookies are slightly golden in color, 20 to 25 minutes.
After the cookies have cooled a little, remove the almond from the end of each cookie and squeeze a small amount of red decorating gel into the cavity {to make it stick and also make it look as though it’s oozing}; replace the almond to make the gel squeeze out of the sides and you have yourself a creepy confection!

{You may have noticed that there are no nutrition facts on this post. There is a reason for this – these aren’t necessarily good for you, however, they are good for your spirit. Indulging occasionally is completely acceptable… especially when you have children to please. Plus, it’s Halloween!!}

Beans, Beans, the Wonderful Fruit…

I won’t finish that song, but we all know it. Beans have inherited a negative connotation, but they really are a power food. They are BURSTING with fiber {causing fullness and eliminating hunger},they are full of antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids, which have been known to reduce inflammation and can lower the risk of cancer, arthritis, and heart disease.

So, how do we get more beans in our life? Tacos and burritos are a great food source to get more beans in your diet, but can often be brimming with unseen calories {not to mention all the add-ins like sour cream, cheese, chips, etc.}. The perfect way to indulge in this fascinating food group is chili. I decided to try a different take on classic ground beef/turkey chili and go with shredded chicken. This recipe is so easy, you won’t believe it when you indulge.

Chicken and Black Bean Chili

4 Chicken Breasts

1 Can of Black Beans

1 Can of Garbanzo Beans

1 Small Jar of Salsa {I like hot, but use what your palette prefers}

1 Can of Stewed Tomatoes {cut the tomatoes so the chunks aren’t too big for a bite}

1/2 Small Red Onion, Diced

1 TBS of Olive Oil

1 TBS of Chili Powder

1 TSP of Paprika

1 TSP of Cayenne Pepper

1 TBS of Garlic Salt

Pepper to Taste

Drain the beans, throw everything in the crock pot and let it sit for at least 5 hours. When you are ready, open the lid and with two forks, pull the chicken apart to shred it. Throw back in and let the chili cook a little bit longer {to let all the flavors soak into the inside of the chicken meat}. Garnish with some fresh cilantro, and even a whole wheat tortilla {because the soup itself is fairly low in calories, giving you some wiggle room}.

Here’s the Stats:

Amount Per Serving
  Calories 235.9
  Total Fat 4.0 g
  Saturated Fat 0.7 g
  Polyunsaturated Fat 0.9 g
  Monounsaturated Fat 1.7 g
  Cholesterol 68.4 mg
  Sodium 1,259.7 mg
  Potassium 612.5 mg
  Total Carbohydrate 17.9 g
  Dietary Fiber 4.7 g
  Sugars 1.5 g
  Protein 31.7 g
  Vitamin A 15.9 %
  Vitamin B-12 7.5 %
  Vitamin B-6 46.3 %
  Vitamin C 19.2 %
  Vitamin D 0.0 %
  Vitamin E 3.6 %
  Calcium 5.7 %
  Copper 15.1 %
  Folate 16.8 %
  Iron 15.1 %
  Magnesium 17.1 %
  Manganese 20.5 %
  Niacin 70.1 %
  Pantothenic Acid     12.1 %
  Phosphorus     31.3 %
  Riboflavin 10.0 %
  Selenium 32.5 %
  Thiamin 12.2 %
  Zinc 11.4 %

Southern Hospitality

This recipe wasn’t really inspired by anything in particular, but by my love of the South. I have never been to the South {the time I had a lay-over in Atlanta on my way to Ireland doesn’t count – not a good experience}, but the thought of giant trees, polite & hospitable people, and those ADORABLE accents makes me yearn for it {let’s face it, I would kill for a Southern accent}.

Without fail, everyday, somebody asks me if I’m from Savannah, Georgia. Frequently, I get annoyed by this repetitive question, but I think it’s because I have to say “no” – not from there, never been there. I think I would fit perfectly, though. Paula Deen and I would be best friends, I just know it.

This recipe is for blackened fish, but the most important part of the dish is the seasoning. Use this recipe to make a large amount that can be stored and reused {because you will use it. Again and again}. It is also very good on chicken and pork.

Blackened Seasoning:

1 heaping TBSP Paprika

2 TSP salt

1 heaping TSP garlic powder

1 heaping TSP onion powder

1 TBS ground cayenne pepper

2 TSP black pepper

1/2 TSP leaf thyme

1/2 TSP leaf oregano

Mix all ingredients in a resealable container. If you don’t have thyme, oregano or garlic powder, you can substitute Italian Seasoning for these ingredients. It tastes pretty much the same and eliminates some steps.

Blackened Fish

6 filets of White Fish {I used cod}

1 TBS Olive Oil

1 Can of Black Beans

1 Box of Whole Grain instant Dirty Rice {If the work is done for you, why take extra steps?}

Sliced lemon wedges

Season the fish in a large bowl by lightly coating with olive oil spray {to make it light, not oily} then douse the fish with seasoning until you can see hardly any white. Marinade for at least 15 minutes in the fridge. On the stove, heat olive oil in a dutch oven or iron skillet on medium-high heat. When the pan is very hot, place the fish inside, searing the outside. Cover {to cook the inside} and let sit for about 2 minutes, or until most of the exterior is black. Remember, it is BLACKENED, so don’t worry that it looks like it’s burning. Meanwhile, cook the Dirty Rice according to the directions on the box. Flip fish, cover again and let sit. Drain black beans, and when the rice is done, throw them in with it, stirring to make sure the beans are warmed. Remove fish and serve over rice. Garnish with lemon. Yum!

Serves 6

 Calories 381.7
  Total Fat 6.8 g
  Saturated Fat 2.0 g
  Polyunsaturated Fat 1.2 g
  Monounsaturated Fat 2.6 g
  Cholesterol 104.2 mg
  Sodium 619.0 mg
  Potassium 731.7 mg
  Total Carbohydrate 31.4 g
  Dietary Fiber 7.7 g
  Sugars 0.1 g
  Protein 47.3 g
  Vitamin A 11.4 %
  Vitamin B-12 31.6 %
  Vitamin B-6 34.3 %
  Vitamin C 28.2 %
  Vitamin D 0.3 %
  Vitamin E 5.3 %
  Calcium 7.4 %
  Copper 15.4 %
  Folate 23.8 %
  Iron 15.9 %
  Magnesium 36.2 %
  Manganese 46.1 %
  Niacin 30.0 %
  Pantothenic Acid     6.8 %
  Phosphorus     38.9 %
  Riboflavin 13.1 %
  Selenium 107.2 %
  Thiamin 24.2 %
  Zinc 14.2 %

Kernels and Kids

Yesterday, my husband and I took our boys to a pumpkin patch to release some energy and spend some time with their friend Caden and his mom, Ty.  Pumpkin patches sure have changed in the last fifteen years – bouncy castles, snake tunnels and an interesting invention where the kids go inside of a plastic bubble, it gets filled with air {from a leaf blower}, and they are thrown in a pool to be tossed about and run in place {like a hamster}. Sometimes I feel like our generation makes it so hard to have simple, wholesome fun for the offspring of their own. The toys nowadays say 6 and up, but watch my husband and I try to put them together, and you’ll be quite entertained. Everything needs batteries or a charger, and if it doesn’t, it’s tossed aside within 30 seconds.

This concept made me begin to think of my childhood, and the things we did when we were little. Scarcely is it anymore that you see grandkids in the kitchen with grandparents or parents, but that was my sisters and I when we were young. Seeing the boys play in huge vats full of dried corn kernels, and how they were so effortlessly and naturally happy was a delight – all the nostalgia also made me think of making treats in my grandma’s kitchen, and this particular event made me think of the time we made popcorn balls.

Last year I tried my hand at making popcorn balls with the kids; after about 20 minutes in, the boys got bored and left to watch TV to my dismay. After all the effort, the burnt hands and the trial attempts, I actually came out with something better than decent, and boy were they cute. I took them to Jacob’s kindergarten Halloween party that year.

Although not necessarily known for being healthy, there are healthy alternatives you can use to make popcorn balls. I didn’t use them, but you might try them.

Instead of using corn syrup, use brown rice syrup {it contains more complex sugars than corn syrup which provides less of a spike in blood sugar} and if you use bagged popcorn, go with natural – no butter, salt or sugar added. I used healthy pop, and the lack of flavor worked perfectly with the sweetness.

One VERY IMPORTANT RULE – use silicone gloves when forming the balls, as it is extremely easy to burn your hands {learn from my mistakes}.

Popcorn Balls

Tools you will need:

Sticks {try to find rounded ones, like you would see in a lollipop, instead of popsicle sticks}

Halloween Rings {you know, the spiders, bats and skulls}

Cellophane sheets {I purchased the kind that are iridescent}

10 cups popped popcorn {approximately 2 bags}

1/2 cup brown rice syrup

1 cup packed light brown sugar

½ tsp. salt

margarine or oil

Food Coloring of your choice

Pop popcorn.

Place the brown rice syrup, brown sugar, salt, and ¼ cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the entire mixture boils, then turn down to medium-low heat, keeping a constant, low boil for about ten minutes. Pour in 5 drops of food coloring of your choice at the very last minute.

Here’s where you need the gloves: rub butter on your gloves and in a HUGE bowl, pour the uber-hot liquid over the popcorn balls, and work fast. Try to get every kernel coated, then quickly shape the balls into the size of a large apple {I made them a little larger than one serving, but hey, it’s Halloween, right?}. Stick the sticks in the center and put a toy ring around the stick, close to the popcorn ball.

Place the ball on a 1/2 sheet of cellophane paper {AFTER it has cooled}, grab all the ends up towards the top of the stick, and tie with festive ribbon.

Makes about 8 popcorn balls.

Here is your end result:

Nutrition Facts:

Calories 214.6
  Total Fat 1.9 g
  Saturated Fat 1.0 g
  Polyunsaturated Fat 0.2 g
  Monounsaturated Fat 0.5 g
  Cholesterol 3.8 mg
  Sodium 264.4 mg
  Potassium 126.7 mg
  Total Carbohydrate 60.8 g
  Dietary Fiber 1.5 g
  Sugars 53.0 g
  Protein 1.2 g

Cold{ish} Weather, Warm Heart, Hot Soup

Our October has been extremely mild here in Colorado, compared to what we’re used to. Yesterday was in the mid 80’s, and typically by this time of year, we’ve been through a few snowstorms. No such luck, this time.

As I walk through the stores and see all of the Halloween and even Christmas decor, I long for a little sign that the season is approaching, but seldom does that happen. At least we have our beautiful trees and we can actually SEE the colors changing, instead of the delicate branches piled with snow.

I have been dressing in sweaters and tights, hoping I can will the temperature to drop a few degrees and with that willing of the weather, I also have been using my crock pot often; partly because it reminds me of the frigid temperatures and partly because I got it as a Bridal Shower gift and couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, and boy has it been used.

Tuesday morning, I decided to throw a mishmosh of items we had in the cupboards into the crock pot so that  I didn’t have to do any prepping after work. Often times, those impromptu recipes are the best. Turns out, I had prepared Chicken Rice Soup, an enticing take on the classic Chicken Noodle Soup. In addition to the pleasant taste and feeling you get upon sipping a spoonful, it is also EXTREMELY healthy! Loaded with vitamins and protein, it is also VERY low in calories: the whole pot has less than 1,400! So, even if you ate the whole pot, (Not recommended, but let’s face it: it’s that good) you still wouldn’t have reached your daily calorie intake requirement!

My children ate two helpings, explaining to me that I am “a better cook than Grandpa!” I took that as a compliment.

Here is the recipe for you to try, along with the estimated nutrition facts below:

Enjoy!

Chicken Rice Soup

5 Cups of Water
2 TBS of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Beef {low sodium is best} Bouillion Cubes
3 Large Chicken Breasts
1 Small Red Onion or a Quarter of a Large Red Onion, Diced
1 1/2 Cups of Shredded Carrots
1 Cup of Brown Rice {NOT instant}
1 TSP or 1 Clove of diced Garlic
1 TBS of Garlic Salt
1/8 TSP of Cayenne Pepper
2 TBS of Italian Seasoning
2 Bay Leaves
2 Sprigs of Thyme
Pepper to Taste

Throw all the ingredients in your crock pot on low heat in the morning, and come home to a delicious meal after work!
Makes 8 Servings

Next time, I may add some diced mushrooms and substitute a cup of water for a small can of diced tomatoes.

Nutrition Facts (approximate):
Calories 166.4
Total Fat 4.9 g
Saturated Fat 0.8 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0.8 g
Monounsaturated Fat 2.9 g
Cholesterol 51.3 mg
Sodium 1,336.2 mg
Potassium 434.2 mg
Total Carbohydrate 8.1 g
Dietary Fiber 0.7 g
Sugars 0.8 g
Protein 21.2 g
Vitamin A 1.1 %
Vitamin B-12 5.6 %
Vitamin B-6 27.0 %
Vitamin C 3.5 %
Vitamin D 0.0 %
Vitamin E 0.9 %
Calcium 1.7 %
Copper 3.5 %
Folate 1.6 %
Iron 4.7 %
Magnesium 9.2 %
Manganese 13.4 %
Niacin 51.5 %
Pantothenic Acid 8.1 %
Phosphorus 19.8 %
Riboflavin 5.4 %
Selenium 26.1 %
Thiamin 6.0 %
Zinc 5.9 %