Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Less Is More

Sometimes it is just better to keep it short.

Here is a list of things I think are better when people take the "less is more approach":

FEATURE-LENGTH MOVIES: I prefer them to be no longer than 100 minutes.

PHONE MESSAGES: In fact, who needs them at all when you call someone who already has your number programmed in your phone?

LIFTING WEIGHTS: Lower number of reps means you can lift more weight.

BRIDESMAID DRESSES: Sure they should be to the knee for the actual wedding, but lopping off some of that material with your amazing new sewing machine (thanksbostonlady!) can transform that thing into an awesome cocktail dress!

Before (photo by the amazingly talented wedding photographer, Jenny, who has posted lots of Meagan and Jon's wedding pictures here):


I cannot wait for a good reason to wear this little number.

I used to think things are always better when you cook them longer in the slow cooker. This may have been wishful thinking since I usually turn it on in the morning and do not make it home to turn it off for at least 10 hours. I have always cooked things longer than the recipes calls for, and everything has always been delicious. I was under the impression this was actually helping rather than hurting. I do want to keep this post short to maintain the theme, but I should say, make this dish for a nice comforting, non-intimidating-attempt-at-using-polenta-for-the-first-time recipe.

It is easy, satisfying and healthy. However, do not cook it in the slow cooker for longer than the recipe recommends. In this case, less is more when it comes to time in the pot as the chicken can get a little on the dry side.

Keep It Short Chicken Ragout with Polenta and Veggies

3 cups frozen mixed vegetables (preferably Italian style)
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 (14-ounce) jar pasta sauce
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp crushed garlic
1/4 C dry sherry (or another dry white wine)
1 (24-ounce) tube pre-made polenta, sliced 1/2-inch thick
4 slices provolone or mozzarella cheese (optional)

Combine frozen vegetable medley in the bottom of a slow cooker.
Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning. Place chicken on top of vegetables.
In a large bowl, stir together pasta sauce, tomato paste, garlic and sherry.
Pour 2/3 of the sauce over chicken and vegetables.
Top the chicken with polenta slices and cover with remaining sauce.
Cover and cook on the LOW setting for 4 to 5 hours.

Totally optional and not part of original (healthier) recipe:
Scoop out the chicken breasts when they are finished cooking, and place them in a small oven-safe dish.
Top each chicken breast with a slice of provolone or mozzarella cheese, and broil in the oven for about 2-3 min (until cheese starts to turn golden.
Then serve chicken on a plate, scooping out the vegetables and polenta onto the plate as well directly from the pot.

Serve hot with Parmesan cheese if you decide not to take the last step with the cheese slice.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Oh Lighten Up

Have you or anyone you love been visually assaulted by a Bravo! Network’s “Real Housewives” mini marathon?

In an attempt to sink their teeth into their victims viewers, Bravo strategically laces the end of each show seamlessly into the beginning of the next. Upon blinking, it would be difficult for the average woman person tell when one episode is ending and the other is beginning. Did I mention I love the show?

Sitting in front of the TV with a bowl of delicious pasta and some NY housewives (with their awesomely petty drama)to keep me entertained was 100% more relaxing than the attempt I made at getting a massage that left me sore (an unable to turn my head to the left for a day) last weekend. There is something about the mindlessness of it all. Somewhere around episode 3 of a marathon, you start to share emotions with these ladies. It is just enough drama to make you forget your troubles but not enough drama to actually stress you out. The New York Housewives are, by far, my favorite. However, I should say New Jersey is sliding in to a close 2nd.

Programs such as this are the "comfort foods" of television so why not cook up some comfort food to go with it? A pasta dish will do the trick, but let's keep it light...there is nothing worse than watching these women with better bodies than most 20 year-olds while burying my face in a 1,000 calorie bowl of heavy creamy pasta.

Real Housewives Shrimp Linguine

(serves 3-4)

1 pkg fresh linguine pasta (12-16 oz)- fresh pasta is really a lot better
1 lb cooked shrimp, med size - peeled and deveined
5 cloves garlic, chopped finely
2 big handfuls fresh spinach leaves
2 tbsp finely chopped shallots
2 lemons
plenty of olive oil
plenty of grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/2 C)
salt and pepper

Boil the fresh pasta as directed (about 2-3 minutes). Drain, drizzle with olive oil and set aside. The Olive oil will help keep it from sticking together.
Remove tails from shrimp.
Toss shrimp in a bowl with salt pepper. Squeeze the juice out of one lemon over the shrimp, and toss again.
In a large skillet or pan, sauté the shallots in olive oil for about 3 minutes over med-high heat.
While the garlic/shallots are sauté, squeeze the juice from 1/2 of a lemon over the leaves, and toss around until evenly coated. Then add the spinach leaves to the skillet/pan.
Cook spinach in the pan with the olive oil, garlic/shallots for another 2 minutes.
Add the shrimp (with any excess lemon juice from the bowl) into the skillet/pan; toss to incorporate (add olive oil as needed).
Now add the pasta (be sure to separate it as much as you can as you put it in the skillet/pan. Continue to add olive oil as needed.
Mix everything in the skillet/pan. Squeeze the juice from the remaining 1/2 lemon over the pasta, and add the Parmesan cheese.
Continue mixing until all ingredients are incorporated and the shrimp is heated all the way through (you do not want to keep it in there too long of the shrimp will get tough).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Father Knows Best: How to cut a Watermelon

Have you ever really looked at the skin of a baby?

It would make anyone jealous the way it is perfectly smooth. It has yet to face the harsh conditions of childhood and beyond: the bumps, bruises, rashes, scabs and scratches. It is fresh start.

I think a lot of people feel this way of marriage: it is a fresh start. It is a clean slate for two people in love to go anywhere with their lives from this unscathed starting point. I don't see it that way at all. By the time two people get married, they have been through something. I would always go ahead and make the assumption that the worst and best are yet to come so a couple who decides to marry must be at the point where they feel they will be able to support each other through not only the worst of times but also the best of times.

Meagan and Jonathan were married last weekend. I had the grand pleasure of standing next to her in front 200 close friends and family. It was a surreal experience being so close to the marriage ceremony. I could see the subtle exchanges between the bride and the groom that made for such an intimate experience: the squeezing of each others’ hands, the whispering of their prayers while her brother sang. I could see the pastor’s thorough notes from which he referred (he has known the couple for years and known Meagan since she was a little girl). I could even smell the flame drifting off of the unity candle. Everything about the ceremony and the events leading up to it were just right because those kids are right for each other.

Thursday evening was the CRAZY girls’ night at Ceviche, a tapas restaurant in South Tampa. We enjoyed a delightful evening together, listening to plans for the honeymoon and details of what the next few days would bring. The night continued as we moved the party to Meagan’s home where we enjoyed delicious chocolate-covered strawberries and oreo-cheesecake truffles (I must have the recipe even though I am totally not allowed to eat them), coke zero and wine. Megs told charming tales, engaging us all …

Friday started off with GTL baby! (for all you “Jersey Shore” fans) – GNAILS – TARGET – LUNCH.

This was immediately followed by other random errands, diet lemonade from Chic-fil-a (so good), the rehearsal at the beautiful church, and finally the rehearsal dinner. The dinner was hosted by the groom’s family and was at the ever-so-classy event room at Jacksons Bistro on Harbour Island. Three walls were glass, and it all overlooked Tampa Bay at sunset.

The views of Tampa Bay from the restaurant gave me a fresh look at my hometown; it is prettier than I remember.

The speeches ranged from moving to hilarious (the bride’s brother and sister-in-law took the gold with their rap, “The Married Life” to the tune of Fergie’s “Glamorous”).

Saturday was the big day involving hours of primping, pictures and happy tears. The ceremony was so nice (as described above), and the reception was a blast. Everything just came together so nicely as we sent the happy couple off to their honeymoon at an all-inclusive resort in St. Lucia (IamnotjealousIamnotjealousIamnotjealousIamnotjealous).

I wish Megs and Jonathan all the best (not that they need it). While it may not be a fresh start, this certainly is the beginning of a fun new chapter in their continued lives together.

Upon returning to the real world this week (after all the exciting wedding festivities)...I find myself breaking open many a watermelon, one of my favorite summer foods. I usually end up eating about half of the thing myself. It is just the epitome of freshness. The bright pink flesh has never been exposed to the elements of the outside world. It grows and plumps within the confines of the thick, green shell until it is burst open to be pillaged for its cool, sweet and refreshing insides.

I have decided to share something very important exclusively with my readers: how to properly cut a watermelon (according to me). Very important indeed. Of course there is no wrong way to cut a watermelon, but as someone who has had a lot of practice over the years (a self-proclaimed expert, if you will), I have found that the best way is the way my dad taught me originally from the time I was a kid. I have tried it several ways, but as the 1954 television series says...

"Father Knows Best" - How to cut a watermelon; do it this way.

With a great strong knife, cut the watermelon in half long-ways.

At this point you can wrap plastic wrap around one half of the melon if you want to save it to cut later so it stays fresh longer. However, if you are me, you are eating the entire thing over the course of 2-3 days so you might as well cut it all.

Place the watermelon half, pink side down, on a large cutting board. Slice it in half lengthwise.

Place one of the quarters, green side down, on the cutting board. Slide the knife from tip to tip longways on one side, staying as close to the rind as possible (see picture).

Then do the same thing on the other side (try to make the cut meet close to the middle).

Cut slices (as thick as you like) across down into the melon.

If you want smaller triangles, you can make one more slice down the middle longways.

Pop out the slices!

You can cut the slices into smaller pieces if you want, but I like'em just like that.

Store them in a big ole' bowl and cover with a lid or some plastic wrap.

Thanks, dad, for ALL the life life lessons I have learned and continue to learn from you!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How Sweet It Is

This is the first summer in Los Angeles that I feel like a true Californian.

Ironically, I am writing this first post of the "new year" from my parents' home in Tampa, Florida. I am in town for the wedding of a very special lady: my best friend since kindergarten and a wonderful girl, Megs (more on that later). This will be the third summer I spend as a resident of the West Coast, and I finally feel like I've got it down. I know all the hot spots for the summer I won't want to miss. I know when the weather will be just right for beaching it with a sweater and beaching it with a bikini. Sadly, there are only about 2 weekends each summer when it is bearable for me to actually swim at the beach; otherwise, it is too cold!

Zach and I are always sure to hit up at least one of the cemetery screenings of old movies that are projected onto a huge screen at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery (you bring a picnic dinner and some vino and sit in a cleared field in the middle of the cemetery surrounded by mausoleums and graves.

One such screening last year:

We will surely take a day to drive over to the Pala Casino Resort (about 2 hours Southeast) to sit by the resort-style pool, gamble, spend our earnings at the huge buffet and then drive home (an actual room there costs about $400/night on the weekends).

There will be plenty of outdoor dining with our new companion, Stanley. We will also likely take a mini-vacation to someplace new as we usually do each summer...just for a weekend, of course.

Just because you are not out of school for summer as a "grown up" does not mean the summer feels the same as every other part of the year. It still feels special, and it should be celebrated!

I have chosen to celebrate with a favorite summer beverage back where I came from: sweet tea. The best sweet tea in Florida can be found at one of three establishments: Sonny's BBQ, Publix Grocery Store or Chic-fil-a (and yes, there are facebook groups supporting all three of these fine beverage variations). My recipe is for southern sweet tea with a California twist since I am including the mountain blossom honey we bought on our trip to Jullian, California earlier this year. It is just the thing to give this Florida classic tea a dash of refreshing California cool (although I am sure any kind of honey, plain or flavored will work just fine).

Southern (California) Sweet Tea
8 cups water
8 black tea bags (you could also use green tea bags if you want to be super-California)
1 1/2 C white granulated sugar
2 tbsp honey (regular or flavored)
Lots of ice

In a huge pot, bring the 8 cups of water to a boil (barely)
Remove water from heat, and add the tea bags.
Allow tea bags to sit for about 10 minutes, stir and then remove the tea bags from the pot.
Stir in the sugar and then the honey. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Transfer the tea from the pot into a pitcher (or two), filling the pitchers up just over halfway.
Add ice to the pitcher(s) until it is full. The ice will dissolve right away. Taste the tea to see if it is sweetened to your liking.
You can add more ice to make it less sweet, but keep in mind that you will serve the tea with ice as well so it should still be slightly sweeter than what you will want the finished product to be.
Put the pitcher(s) in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.
Fill a tall glass (or best case scenario a huge mason jar) about 3/4th of the way with ice, and pour the tea over the ice.

So refreshing.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Happy Anniversary!

I feel like an ass.

It completely slipped my mind to wish myself a happy one-year blogging anniversary. I made it to the one year mark as of June 2nd. Thank you to anyone who reads and a HUGE thank you to anyone who comments in private or in the comments section below (just so you know...the comments section is highly preferred). It is really encouraging to hear from you!

I think I will keep up the good (and-by-good-I-mean-consistent) work.