Monday, December 30, 2013

Chicken Taquitos

Homemade chicken taquitos with guacamole


When I was a girl, my mom usually made pan fried (a.k.a. burnt) hot dogs or tuna sandwiches for Saturday lunches.  I wasn’t a fan of either, and I don’t think I’ve eaten a tuna sandwich since I became an adult.  Every now and then, though, she would buy frozen taquitos and make them for lunch.  They were my favorite, and I probably ate six at a sitting.  I learned to make them right around the time Kevin and I were married, and one of our family traditions is eating homemade chicken taquitos with guacamole on Christmas day.  Sadly, I can only eat two at a sitting these days…

Combine the shredded chicken with the salsa

Soften the tortillas by quickly frying them in hot oil

Add filling to the tortilla, then roll and secure with a toothpick

Fry until golden brown

Our family tradition!


Chicken Taquitos

2 large half chicken breasts, cooked
1/2 C. prepared salsa
16-20 corn tortillas
1-2 C. canola oil

Shred the chicken and combine with the salsa.  Set aside.  Heat 1-inch of oil in a large pan or pot (I use a pot to lessen the oil splatter) over medium-high heat.  Using tongs, quickly dip the tortillas in the hot oil, removing after a second or two.  Drain on paper towels.  Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Lay a tortilla on a flat surface; place about 1-1/2 tablespoons of chicken/salsa mixture atop the tortilla in a line along the length.  Roll the tortilla into a cylinder and secure with a toothpick.  Continue until you have run out of chicken or tortillas.

Fry the taquitos in heated canola oil until golden brown.  Serve with guacamole (Border Grill guacamole recipe available here).



Friday, December 27, 2013

Decor: Photo Gallery



Our home has a very long wall (16 feet long by 10-1/2 feet high) running from the dining room to the family room (it's opposite the kitchen).  It's a perfect wall for a family photo gallery.  Here are a few things to in mind while assembling it:

  • Because I like symmetry and consistency, all photos have the same frame and mattes (completely a personal preference, but maintain some consistency in the gallery i.e. same color or same style of frames)
  • Start with the largest (primary) picture in the center and work out from there
  • As often as possible, make the spacing between the pictures consistent (about 4-1/2 inches in this case)
  • Smaller pictures hang lower than large ones, so they can be easily viewed
  • Evenly distribute the horizontal and vertical pictures to both sides of the primary picture
  • Vary the content of the pictures to both sides of center. 
  • Remember, these are photos of your loved ones, so display them proudly!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Snowballs

These cookies are perfect for the holiday season!

I think everyone has eaten and loved this type of cookie-I’ve heard them called Mexican Wedding Cookies, Russian Tea Cakes and Snowballs.  They’re ball-shaped, nut-filled, butter cookies that are rolled in powdered sugar.  My mom has been making them for years but (I think) she made an improvement to the recipe.  Her secret is that she uses macadamia nuts rather than pecans or walnuts.  Generally, I’m not the biggest fan of macadamias, but in this recipe they make the cookies crunchier and richer.  You can’t stop at just one!

The ingredients

Finely chop the nuts (I use a food processor)

Ready for the oven

Roll each cookie in powdered sugar after they have cooled


Snowballs

1 C.  butter
1/4 C.  sugar
1-3/4 C.  flour, sifted
2 C.  macadamia nuts, finely chopped
2 tsp.  vanilla
2 pinches  salt
powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 375ºF.  Cream butter and sugar.  Add flour and salt.  Add nuts and vanilla.  Roll into 3/4” balls, place on cookie sheet and bake for 14 minutes.  Lower heat to 300ºF and bake for 2 minutes.  Cool and roll in powdered sugar.

Note-I bake these cookies on air-insulated cookie sheets so they don't burn

Friday, December 20, 2013

City Life Outfit

Barbour jacket (30% off), Search for Sanity sweater (33% off),
Martin and Osa jeans, Cole Haan shoes (sale), Chloe handbag,
Chan Luu necklace (25% off), Kyi Kyi beanie


One of the great things about living in the city is walking everywhere.  Two days ago I walked about 8-1/2 miles (according to my fitbit Flex).  With all this walking, I’ve learned that I NEED to wear comfortable shoes (no kidding, right?).  I also need to dress in lighter layers because my body warms up quickly when I walk. 

This casual outfit is perfect for running errands.  Wearing these Cole Haan shoes is like walking on clouds; the lightweight sweater means I won’t overheat; this waterproof light jacket keeps me dry if it rains; the beanie keeps my head warm and protects my ears from the wind; and the cross body bag is big enough to store small purchases and feels more secure than a satchel while walking in the city.


Another interesting thing about this outfit is that the jeans are old.  They’re from Martin and Osa, an American Eagle chain that closed in July 2010.  I bought them when boyfriend jeans first became popular and have been wearing them ever since.  Even though I actively looked for a new pair of boyfriend jeans in the summer, I didn’t find a pair I liked as much as these.  I wonder how much longer they'll be current...



Wednesday, December 18, 2013

New Friendship Brunch

Firas and Thom


After we found out we were moving across the country and I realized there were some acquaintances I probably wouldn’t see again, I filled with regret about not pursuing friendships with them-I got the feeling some felt the same.  I think this lack of momentum happens when we get too caught up in our busy, daily lives to make the leap from acquaintance to friend or perhaps when we don’t want to face possible rejection if the other wasn’t ready to make that leap.  I decided this situation wasn’t going happen again.    

So, when we immediately took to realtor Thom McGair and couture designer Firas Yousif and thought they felt the same, we arranged to get together.  Because it’s a busy time of year and because I like to cook for friends, we invited them to our home for brunch.  It was a smashing success-Firas and Thom liked our meal, and more importantly, a new friendship was established.



Menu

Homemade English Muffins with Butter and Peach Jam
Mixed Berries (Strawberries, Raspberries and Blueberries)
Creme Brûlée French Toast (recipe follows)

Creme Brûlée French Toast
1/4 C.  unsalted butter
1 C.  brown sugar, packed
1 Tbsp.  corn syrup
3 medium or 2 large croissants
3 large eggs
3/4 C.  half and half
1/2 tsp.  vanilla
1/2 tsp.  Cointreau
1 pinch  Kosher salt

Directions:

In a small heavy saucepan, melt butter, brown sugar and corn syrup over moderate heat, stirring, until smooth and pour into an 8-inch by 8-inch by 2-inch baking dish.  Cut the croissants in half and arrange slices in one layer in baking dish (cut side up), squeezing them slightly to fit.

In a bowl, whisk together eggs, half and half, vanilla, Cointreau and salt until well combined and pour evenly over bread.  Chill bread mixture, covered, at least 8 hours or up to 1 day.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF and bring bread mixture to room temperature.  Bake uncovered, in middle of oven until puffed and edges are golden, 25 to 30 minutes.  Serve with the caramelized sugar facing up.

Adapted from Courtney Weiner's recipe


Monday, December 16, 2013

Cindy Olivier's English Toffee


When Sean was 2 years old, he and I joined a playgroup.  As the children grew older, the playgroup evolved into a moms’ cooking group, which then became girls’ nights out-I’m pleased to say our friendships have endured, and we still stay in touch, though not as often as in the past.


During the cooking phase, my friend Cindy Olivier not only shared her recipe for English toffee but also demonstrated making it.  She graciously allowed me to share it on this blog.  I’ve been making it for years, and it’s always a big hit!

This recipe contains only four ingredients: Butter, Sugar, Nuts and
Chocolate Chips

Add half the toasted, chopped nuts and chocolate chips to most
of a jelly roll pan
Add the butter and sugar to a heavy bottomed saucepan

Cook over medium heat, stirring continuously until the candy
thermometer reaches 
305ºF

 After the chocolate chips have become soft, spread the chocolate over
the top of the toffee

The final product!


Cindy Olivier's English Toffee

         2 C.  almonds, toasted and chopped* See Note
         12 oz.  chocolate chips, semi-sweet
         1 lb.  butter
         2 C.  sugar

Spread half of the almonds on the bottom of a cookie sheet with a slight lip around the edge (The cookie sheet should be approximately 10” x 15”).  Sprinkle half of the chocolate chips on top of the almonds.  Melt the butter with the sugar over medium heat.  Stir frequently and continue heating until it reaches 305ºF (“hard crack” on a candy thermometer).  Remove from heat and quickly pour evenly over the almonds and chocolate.  Use a wooden spoon to spread it in the pan if necessary.  Quickly sprinkle the chocolate chips evenly on top and spread over the toffee with a knife.  Pour the rest of the almonds on top and push into the toffee.  Cool and break into pieces when the toffee is hard.

* Note: I toast the almonds prior to using them (Spread onto a pan and bake at 350ºF for about 15-20 minutes—when they start to crack, they’re done.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Book Review: Queen's Gambit






Queen’s Gambit

Elizabeth Fremantle






Queen’s Gambit is a historical fiction novel about the life of Katherine Parr, King Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife.  The story opens with the death of Lord Latymer, Katherine’s second husband who leaves her a wealthy widow.  Not by her own accord, she catches the eye of the king and a marriage is soon arranged.  Clever and politically astute, Katherine is a Protestant reformer who tries to steer the king away from his return to Catholicism, but must tread carefully between influencing and offending the king.  She also must hide her love for Thomas Seymour, the king’s brother-in-law from his third wife.  How did Katherine manage to be the only wife who wasn’t divorced, dead from childbirth or beheaded?

After seeing the movie, The Other Boleyn Girl, I’ve been fascinated by stories about Henry VIII and his family.  It’s amazing to me that one person could have so much power-the ability to start and end wars, changing an entire country’s religion, enriching his favorites and punishing his enemies, to the extent of putting them to death.  The dynamics at court are unforgettable-watching courtiers jockeying for position and backstabbing one another, each trying to better his or her own position.  It’s also interesting to me how women were treated as chattel and how they had to survive by their own wiles.


Reading Queen’s Gambit is a great way to take a journey into another time and place!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Four Star Finds: fitbit Flex Activity Tracker



A few months ago, I bought a fitbit Flex activity tracker.  It's worn on the wrist, 24 hours a day, and automatically tracks my steps, miles walked, calories burned, and active minutes.  If I'm interested, I can log my weight, desired weight, exercise, food eaten, sleep amount and water consumed.  The flex syncs with my computer, iPad or iPhone where I can view my daily statistics.

What I've noticed about wearing the fitbit is that I'm more apt to exercise, walk and limit the number of calories I eat.  In fact, when I first got the fitbit Flex, I was a bit compulsive and would frantically run up and down the stairs at 11:30 p.m. in order to meet the daily goal for calories burned and/or steps taken.  While I don't do that anymore, I feel really good when the fitbit vibrates to indicate I've gotten 10,000 steps in a day.

The company has even come out with a new fitbit that allows you to view your statistics on the band itself, has a clock and distinguishes between walking and taking the stairs.  It's a great holiday gift for someone into fitness!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas Open House

We hosted Kevin's coworkers for a holiday open house yesterday.  It was nice meeting and becoming acquainted with the people he works with and their spouses.  Another benefit of the day was that I was INCREDIBLY motivated to unpack all the boxes and get the house in order.

Here are a few pictures from the day and links to the recipes:


Cheers! We served Stella Artois beer, J. Lohr Cabernet Sauvignon,
Clos du Bois Sonoma Reserve Chardonnay, Diet Coke, 7-up and water

We served Pizza Chena, French sandwich, prosciutto wrapped roasted asparagus,
tortilla chips with homemade salsa, mixed nuts, homemade Cheez-it's, cheese plate
(manchego, brie, gouda, apricots, walnuts, grapes and crackers), snowball cookies
(recipe coming soon), chocolate chip walnut oatmeal cookies and homemade
English toffee (recipe coming soon)

Emmie eyeing mixed nuts and English toffee

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mexican Chicken Soup



I've been a huge fan of Ina Garten's recipes since she released her first cookbook, The Barefoot Contessa, in 1999.  Every recipe in that book is fabulous.  This Mexican chicken soup, though from another cookbook, is another favorite, and I've adapted Ina's recipe to save a bit of time.  This soup is perfect on a cold winter (or fall) night.


The ingredients

Saute the veggies and spices together

Shred the chicken

Add the chicken just before serving

Mexican Chicken Soup

3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 C. onions, chopped
1 C. celery, chopped
2 C. carrots, chopped
1 Tbsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. cumin, ground
1 tsp. coriander seed, ground
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced
28 oz. tomato puree
10 C. chicken stock (or broth)
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
1 whole cooked chicken*
avocado

Heat olive oil in a large pot.  Add the onions, celery, carrots, salt, pepper, cumin and coriander.  Cook over medium heat until soft, about 10 minutes  Add garlic and jalapeño peppers and cook 1-2 minutes.  Add the tomato puree and chicken stock.  Cut the tortillas in half and then into 1-inch strips and add to the mixture.  Bring soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer about 30 minutes.  

While the soup is simmering, remove the chicken from the bones and shred.  Add to the soup just before serving and stir to warm through.  Top with sliced avocado and serve.

*I use a cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store

adapted from Ina Garten's Mexican Chicken Soup recipe

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Movie Reviews: Delivery Man, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire & Homefront

It's been a surprising week for movies.  Everything was better than I expected!





Delivery Man

Rated PG-13





David Wozniak (Vince Vaughn) is a well-intentioned slacker who drives a delivery truck for the family business.  After finding out that his sperm bank donations resulted in siring more than 500 children, he tries to figure out what sort of relationship (if any) to have with them.  Complicating matters, his girlfriend (Cobie Smulders) announces she is pregnant.  Will David continue to skate through life or will he take responsibility for his actions?


I thought Delivery Man would be a typical Vince Vaughn movie-only crude and funny.  I was wrong-although it was funny, the movie had some touching parts and the characters were well developed and complicated.  I enjoyed this movie a lot.





The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Rated PG-13





About two years ago, I read The Hunger Games series.  I loved the first book, liked the second and thought the third was odd.  I was a little hesitant to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire given my ambivalent feelings.


This movie is one of the rare instances where the film is better than the book.  While the film followed the book, more emphasis was placed on Katniss's anguish about winning, her relationship with Pieta and the revolution she and Pieta inadvertently started, rather than on the 75th Hunger Games (Quarter Quell).  Great acting by Jennifer Lawrence and superb storytelling make The Hunger Games: Catching Fire a must-see!



Homefront

Rated R







After his wife's death, retired DEA agent Phil Broker and his daughter move to a rural Louisiana town to rebuild their lives.  Trouble soon finds them via drug lord Gator Bodine (James Franco) and through a biker gang seeking revenge.

Jason Statham movies always have great action sequences, but his characters usually have one facial expression, a scowl.  Homefront was pleasantly surprising because Statham's character is multi-dimensional-he's a devoted, loving father who also happens to be a bad ass.  This movie has everything needed for a good action flick-the story and characters aren't predictable, great fight sequences and humor to break apart the tension. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

O Christmas Tree



Before we moved to Boston Kevin would spend the day after Thanksgiving putting up the outside Christmas lights-He put up so many that I used to teasingly call him Sparky, Chevy Chase's character's nickname in Christmas Vacation.  This year, we won't have outside Christmas lights, so we decorated the tree early instead. It's a great backdrop for these photos.

I recently bought the Rag and Bone double-breasted jacket and sweater during Saks Fifth Avenue's and Bloomingdales' Friends and Family sales, respectively.  Because these pieces, along with the jeans and sandals are pretty edgy, I added a Chanel handbag and J. Crew's ultra feminine necklace and bracelet  This outfit is perfect for daytime holiday parties.

Rag and Bone Harrow blazer (on sale here), Genevieve perforated sweater,
J Brand mid-rise skinny jeans, J. crew necklace & bracelet, Chanel handbag,
Jason Wu sandals

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

I'm going to take Friday off to spend some time with my family and will have a new post on Monday,  December 2.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Four Star Finds: Trader Joe's Seasonal Foods

Two years ago, my friend Nora gave me Trader Joe's Candy Cane Green Tea as a gift.  I immediately became hooked, drank all the tea she gave me and went to buy more.  I was so disappointed to find out that it was a seasonal item and that when the supply runs out, it's gone until the next year.  Because I didn't want to suffer the same fate last year, I bought ten boxes and had enough to last through May.  

Grocery shopping isn't one of my favorite things to do, so I usually just try to find what I need and leave.  Now that I know about their seasonal items, I actually spend a bit of time browsing the aisles at Trader Joe's.  These peppermint waffle cookies are another seasonal treat I recently discovered and can't get enough of...


  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Decor: Moving, Unpacking and Attachment

A crane hoisted our piano and some of the other furniture
through the front windows
The whole process of moving has been an adventure!  When we've moved in the past, we've always moved to bigger homes.  In this move, our square footage went from around 2,500 square feet to almost 2,000 square feet.  I thought I was prepared because we had given away a lot of stuff, including, but not limited to, furniture, small appliances, clothing, and home accessories.  How wrong I was!

It was overwhelming to see all of the furniture and boxes, but we plugged away, opening boxes, unwrapping things from the packing paper, straightening the packing paper (so the moving company can come and take it away), flattening the boxes (same reasoning), and finding a place to store things-We have a lot of storage that can be accessed with a ladder, but have less easily accessible storage, so the process also involved judgment calls about what things rated premium storage space.

After two and a half days of hard work, it seemed like we hadn't made much progress-boxes were everywhere, every surface had stuff on it, and I still couldn't find the espresso maker.  I had a complete meltdown that even included crying about having to give away even more things because we didn't have space for them-things that I still liked…

After a few hugs from Kevin, two sangrias and a good night's sleep, life looked infinitely better the next morning.  Overnight, I developed a zen-like attitude and realized my attachment to things was bringing me unhappiness and that by giving things away, someone else would be able to enjoy them.  And realistically, they're just things; they're not people or even my dog.  

With my newfound attitude, we furiously unpacked, went out to brunch, unpacked more, went to the movies and unpacked even more.  This is the result…




Though there's still more unpacking to do, I'm happy to have one room completely finished.  As you can see, I also found the espresso maker!