Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Cheesy Chicken and Kale

Sometimes Pinterest is my Google. Seriously, I often feel like my phone should come with an option to say "OK, me recipes using chicken, kale, garlic and cheese." And yesterday was one of those times. I was trying to decide what to fix for dinner, so I just typed in the ingredients I wanted to use and behold...all of these great recipes came up!

One immediately caught my eye. It's probably because I could see all the cheesy goodness. I used her recipe as a starting point for dinner. It sounded so good and I figured I could make some changes to suit our tastes, and switch out the pasta for spaghetti squash, Ugh, giving up pasta is hard.

What you'll need:

2 lbs chicken breast, cut into bite size pieces
1 large spaghetti squash
1 medium onion, diced
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
2 Tablespoons Italian seasoning
1 c chicken stock
1-2 Tablespoons butter
1-2 Tablespoons flour (equal amounts of butter and flour)
5 ounces baby kale, cut into manageable pieces
2 c Italian blend shredded cheese
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste

So I started by getting the spaghetti squash in the oven. I used a rather large one knowing I was feeding 2 teenage boys and my husband as well. I generally cook for 8 so we have plenty for dinner and for lunch the next day. After the spaghetti squash had been in the oven for about 30 minutes, I started in on the rest of the ingredients. First-saute onions in some olive oil.

After about 5 minutes, I added in some garlic and let that simmer for another few minutes. Then the chicken and herbs.

I let that go until the chicken was no longer pink on the outside. By this time, the spaghetti squash was done, so I pulled it out of the oven so it could cool enough for me to touch it.

Back to the chicken....
Push all the meat to one side of the pan and drop in a tablespoon or two of butter and let it melt, then whisk in an equal amount of flour and let that cook until it stiffens up. Add in about a cup of chicken stock and mix everything together in the pan. Keeping a simmer going, add in the kale and the cheese. After a couple of minutes, the sauce will start to thicken. Add milk until it's nice and creamy. Then add in the spaghetti squash and make a mess all over the stove top as you stir it all together. A final seasoning with salt, pepper and some red pepper flakes and it's ready to go.

I was going to add in some spinach too at this point, but I decided since we were having a salad with it and there was spinach in the salad, that was probably enough. Next time I make this, I'm going to toss in some capers though. The brininess would be perfect in here! But even without the capers, dinner was a hit with everyone. There was just enough left for the husband and I to have lunch today.

Monday, November 16, 2015

DIY Outdoor Christmas Tree Decorations

I managed to make it half way though November before the Christmas decorations came out. That's some sort of record for me. Because the husband and I are both still kids when it comes to Christmas, we have to set a limit on how many decorations we buy each year, and that includes lights. This year, he opted to buy a few of the inflatable outdoor decorations, and we had to retire a couple, so it really didn't feel like we added anything this year. While we were out shopping this weekend, we saw some outdoor decorations for sale that I knew we could make ourselves. The decorations were basically tomato cages turned upside down, then donned with tinsel, lights and some decorations. They were $9.99 each, which wasn't a bad price, but I knew we could make some with items we already had around the house, which essentially makes them free. I can do free!

I grabbed three tomato cages from the garage. We had a few that have been through many garden seasons and were starting to fall apart, literally. I figured these would be perfect for this because I don't have to undo it all to use them again in the spring. But, with just a few snips, they could be ready to go for garden use if we needed to.

Mine were a bit mangled, so I started by straightening them as much as I could, then flipped it upside down and tied the top together with zip ties. Have I mentioned I love zip ties? I think half of our house/garage/chicken coops/fencing is held together with zip ties.

Next, add the lights and tinsel, wrapping around the "trees", securing with zip ties along the way. Then add your ornaments and a tree topper. We used star ornaments as the tree toppers.

All that's left is to trip the zip ties. They look like something out of a Dr. Seuss book at this point, but that's ok. Once they are outside and turned on, no one will notice. 

The last step is to take them out and plug them in!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Lightened Up Casserole

One of my favorite comfort foods is chicken and broccoli casserole. It doesn't matter what time of year it is or what the temperature is outside, that's the one meal that always hits the spot for me. And the best part is it's made from leftovers.

Last night I was trying to figure out what to make with the leftover turkey breast I had, it came to me that I could fairly easily tweak the chicken and broccoli casserole recipe to make it work with the turkey, and lighten it up in the process. Today I entered the ingredients into the Recipe Calculator to see what the nutritional difference was between the original recipe and the new version. The amounts may be slightly different, but for the quick comparison, it will do. Here's the original recipe:

And the Nutrition Information

For this version, here are the swaps I made: 
1 roasted turkey breast for the chicken
1 egg beaten in place of the mayo
1 roasted spaghetti squash in place of the rice
3 slices of cheddar cheese in place of the colby jack
1/2 c riced and roasted cauliflower in place of the breadcrumbs

Check out the new nutrition information: 

These swaps cut out over 100 calories, 16 g of fat and 20 carbs per serving!! That's not to mention all of the increased vitamins and minerals!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Raised Trench Carrot Harvest

Last year we grew the most delicious carrots. The problem was we left more carrots in the ground than we actually brought up. I don't know what the secret is to digging up carrots without breaking them and never did figure it out. This year, I knew we wanted to have our own carrots again, but we had to figure out a better way to harvest them. After thinking about it, we came up with the idea to build boxes that would act as raised trenches. Oxymoron, I know. But that was the best term I could think of to describe what we were doing.

We stared by building boxes out of 1x6's, adding square supports in the corners. Each board is attached with screws so we can easily take the boxes apart at harvest. We used untreated wood knowing the boxes would probably only last a year or two.

Before placing them in the garden, we dug out a trench about 3 inches deep so the boxes would be partially below ground level. Then we filled them up with dirt and planted the carrot seeds.

Then we patiently wait all summer while everything else grows and the carrots take their time. I'd like to saw we did an excellent job pulling weeds and all that maintenance stuff, but it didn't happen. At some point during the late summer, we realized that the critters (rabbits maybe?) got into the garden, which is completely fenced in with chicken wire. They found one row of carrots and completely devoured all the plants. Yep, an entire row of carrots-gone. They had got into the second row, but not all the way. I don't know what stopped them, but I was glad we were going to have a least a few carrots. Fast forward to mid October and the looming first frost. It's time to harvest the carrots!

I sent the husband out to take the screws off the corners. Don't mind the massively overgrown weeds all around. 

After the top board was removed, we could start to see some decent looking carrots.

After removing the bottom board, we just pushed the rest of the box backward so it was easy to move the dirt away and grab the carrots.

After a quick rinse and trim, we ended up with a decent amount of carrots. Next year, I'm thinking about adding chicken wire over the top of the boxes so the critters can't get in there and dig up the veggies!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Fried Cupcake Squash

As much as I love all things fall, it's always disappointing to see the end of the gardening season. We still have a few things left, so we're savoring them as long as possible! Since the cupcake squash were a new addition this year, we're still looking for different ways to fix them. The other night as I was staring at them, I wondered if they could be fried like zucchini. I mean if you can fry oreos, Pepsi, green beans, and butter, why not cupcake squash?

While the oil was heating in my cast iron pan, I set up my assembly line of frying essentials.

First is the flour. I used whole wheat and seasoned it with Italian seasoning and salt. Next, a couple of eggs--scrambled. The last bowl is breadcrumbs. I used a mixture of panko and some of my random frozen bread crumbs. (Whenever we have bread or crackers that start go to stale, I run them through the food processor and add it to the bag in the freezer. Currently, there is a mixture of whole wheat rolls, rye bread, and multigrain crackers.)

And I cut up the squash. I sliced it, then cut the slices into quarters just to make the frying process easier.

When the oil was about 325 degrees, I dropped the coated pieces in. I used my smallest cast iron pan for this because I like to work in small batches and I think it keeps the oil at a more consistent temperature. About 3 minutes per side was perfect for these.

After each side gets a nice golden color, set them on the rack and add some finishing salt.

The cupcake squash really have two very distinct phases. When we first pick them, the seeds are still very soft and more like zucchini. But as they ripen, the seeds and the inner flesh become more like typical fall squash. The late/ripened squash are much better suited to scooping out the seeds before cooking. Fried cupcake squash really needs to be made with the earlier squash where the flesh and seeds are still very tender and juicy.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Roasted Cupcake Squash and Brussels Sprouts

It's been a crazy gardening season. It started out so much cooler than usual, which wreaked havoc on all the plants that thrive in warmer weather. Then it rained. And rained. I'm fairly certain I saw Noah go by. Then it finally remembered it was summer and warm weather came. The zucchini did great. We have been eating zucchini daily for about 2 months and I was able to freeze a lot too. The corn didn't fare as well. All of the rain completely flooded out the green beans-not a single plant survived. And because of the super soaked soil, the weeds took over nearly everything else. The one bring spot was the cupcake squash. I was concerned at first because when the cooler weather decided to stick around for a few weeks, we only had male flowers-no fruit. But soon, we had so many I couldn't keep up with them.

If you haven't seen cupcake squash yet, here's what they look like.

They're about the size of an onion and taste similar to zucchini, but with a nutty taste. And like zucchini, if you don't pick them on a regular basis, they will grow to amazingly large size! We had a few that were missed and ended up about the size of my head! We like to add them to salads raw, but my favorite way to eat them is roasted.

Roasted Cupcake Squash and Brussels Sprouts

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet, toss together brussels sprouts (cut in half, long ways), sliced squash, olive oil and salt. I used olive oil infused with Italian seasoning and garlic.

Roast until veggies are tender, about 30-45 minutes, stirring around about half way through.

When veggies turn a light golden brown, they're ready. Finish off with some pepper.

I like the squash by itself, but pairing with brussels sprouts is the best combination! They hold up really well to roasting, much better than other summer squash, but still have a delicate taste. We're just about to the end of this growing season, so I don't have too many more of these left. They will absolutely make it into next year's garden.