Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Candied Pecans

This past weekend I couldn't stop thinking about the Harvest Salad that I enjoyed during our anniversary trip to Seneca Lake earlier this month.  The salad had tart dried cranberries, finely grated sharp cheddar, crisp apples, warm grilled chicken, and candied walnuts.  It was incredibly delicious and I can't get it off my mind.

My mission is to create this salad, or a close approximation, at home.  I knew I needed to get my hands on some candied nuts.  Yes, I can buy them in the grocery store, but they are unnecessarily expensive and I have tons of nuts in my freezer.  I did a little research and I struck gold with this recipe from

These nuts are shiny, crispy, and not too sweet.  The glaze enhances the nuts, but it doesn't overpower them.  The best part is that you don't need a candy thermometer or any special equipment.  I mixed these up in less than ten minutes and placed them in the oven while I took an afternoon shower.  By the time I stepped out of the shower E told me that the whole house smelled like Christmas.  That's a nice way to describe these nuts.  Roasted, sweet, spicy nuts.  I may not be able to save them for my salad!

You can (and should) try this recipe with other nuts.  I can't wait to do almonds and walnuts.

Candied Pecans

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups pecans or other nuts

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly butter parchment or spray it with non-stick spray.

Stir together butter, sugar, corn syrup, spices, and salt in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart heavy saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add nuts and cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes. Spread nuts in 1 layer on lined baking sheet, separating any clumps. Bake, stirring nuts once with a heatproof rubber (silicone) spatula halfway through baking (keep nuts in 1 layer), until golden and bubbling, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on baking sheet on a rack 45 minutes, then break into small clusters with your hands.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Baked Chicken Parmesan

My husband loves Chicken Parmesan.  The only Italian dish that he may love more is Fettuccine Alfredo.  Neither of these dishes is health food.  In the past I've chosen to lightly fry my chicken and top it with fresh mozzarella.  I'm not going to lie, I prefer my chicken fried.  This version, however, is a nice alternative and it is 85% as good as the traditional preparation.  Since it's almost as good, easier to clean up, and a bit healthier, I'll make my Chicken Parmesan this way from now on.  At least most of the time.

I chose to make my own marinara sauce, but you could absolutely use a jarred sauce to save time.  I prepped the pasta while the chicken was baking and I had the entire meal on the table in about 40 minutes.  This makes enough for six adults.  I made the full portion and then packed some for lunch the following day.

I should have reserved some sauce to top the chicken before serving, so my written recipe reflects that improvement.  I love topping my pasta with fresh basil, but basil isn't in season in my area yet.  If you can't find fresh basil (or don't want to spend $5 in the grocery store for it), leave it out.  I can't wait to start my summer garden so I have an endless supply of fresh basil.

Keep a close eye on the chicken.  If you overcook it you'll be stuck with dry chicken and you'll wish you had fried it.  If you get the chicken just right, it will have a juicy interior and a crisp exterior.

Don't be deterred by the long recipe.  A lot of the time for this recipe is hands-off.  Once you try this, you'll be able to make it even faster the second time.

Baked Chicken Parmesan
by Keeley

6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
2 cups of dried breadcrumbs (I used a combination of panko and Italian flavored)
2 eggs
1 cup of flour
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon garlic powder
about 1 quart of fresh marinara or 1 jar of store-bought pasta sauce
3/4 pound short, sturdy pasta (rotini, rigatoni, mezzi rigatoni, etc.)
1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
fresh basil, for serving (optional)
grated Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil and place a cooling rack in the baking sheet.  This will allow the chicken to bake up crisp and not get soggy on the bottom.  Spray the rack with non-stick spray.

Lightly season the chicken with salt and pepper, to taste. Use three shallow dishes (I used pie pans) to create your assembly line for chicken.  The first dish should include the flour, seasoned with garlic powder and about 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  The second dish should include the eggs, beaten.  The third dish should include the bread crumbs.

Prepare the chicken by dredging it in flour on both sides, then egg, then breadcrumbs.  Place prepared chicken on the baking rack.  Repeat with all six pieces of chicken.  Bake chicken for 18-25 minutes or until golden brown.

While chicken is baking, boil pasta to an al dente texture.  Drain pasta and return to the pot you used to boil it.  Stir most of the sauce into the pasta, reserving about 1 cup to top the cooked chicken, if desired.  Pour pasta and sauce mixture into a 9 by 13 baking dish.  Top with mozzarella cheese.

When chicken is finished cooking, remove it from the oven and set aside.  Switch oven to broiler mode and put the pasta on the top rack.  Broil until cheese is bubbling and starting to turn brown, about 3 minutes.

Top chicken with reserved marinara sauce.  Top pasta with chopped basil.  Serve chicken with pasta on the side.  Top with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Food Budgeting: Where Do You Shop?

Back in February I posted Food Budgeting:  Building Your Supply.  In January I shared Food Budgeting:  Menu Planning.  Now that we've addressed planning your meals and what you need to have on hand to minimize extra trips to the store, let's talk about the fun part - shopping!

Believe it or not, I love to grocery shop.  I don't even mind when the stores are crowded.  I always shop with a list and I enjoy picking out produce, comparing prices on items, and planning what meals we'll enjoy as a result of a shopping expedition.  My husband and I have been shopping together since we dated in college.  We buy most of our groceries from three places:  ShopRite (regional grocery chain), Costco, and the local farmer's market (indoor, open year-round). 

Although I find Extreme Couponing on TLC very entertaining, I seldom use coupons.  In my experience, coupons are typically for processed items like cereal, frozen desserts, boxed mixes, and cosmetics.  I find very few coupons for fresh produce, raw meat, and pantry staples like flour.  The one exception is that sometimes ShopRite or Costco offer coupons that are only valid in their stores (store coupons, not manufacturer's coupons).  If these coupons are for items that I typically buy (milk, chicken, eggs, pork chops), I may use them.

I limit my shopping to a few stores because I feel comfortable with the layout and the stock of the stores.  I know who has the best price on a gallon of 1% milk (Costco, usually), where to buy unusual produce in small quantities (farmer's market), and where to buy laundry detergent (ShopRite, $1.99).  Since I'm only shopping for two and I'm a very active home cook, I buy whatever we want to eat, I just make sure we pay a great price.  If we want sea scallops or New York strip, we buy it.  We'd rather eat it at home than pay the huge markup to eat it at a restaurant.

I average less than $50 a week on food for two adults, including the occasional  regular bottle of wine or takeout pizza.  We pack our breakfast and lunch on weekdays and I cook dinner at least five nights a week, on average.  It's important for us to keep our food budget under control because other aspects of our household budget (like fuel, tolls, and mobile phone bills) are higher than most families due to our long commutes and long work hours. 

The biggest money drain is last-minute purchases.  Make a list (preferably based on a weekly meal plan) and stick to it.  As much as I enjoy shopping for food, I only hit the stores once a week.  If I don't have a food item and it's not critical, I substitute another item until our next shopping day.

Where do you buy your food?  Do you use coupons?  How many of you end up making multiple trips to the store for forgotten items?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Roasted Potato and Leek Soup

I've been m.i.a for a few days, but I have good reasons.  I'm trying to finish writing my doctoral thesis and I'm spending every spare moment with my laptop.  Okay, not every spare moment, but it feels like it.  I think I'll be getting my life back in the next 30 days and I'm looking forward to planting my vegetable garden and working on the design of this blog.

In spite of the fact that I haven't been writing as frequently, I have been cooking!  I've been taking my own advice and making a menu plan every week.  For the most part we stick to it and I really think that planning our meals has helped our grocery budget.  We even cook large batches of steel cut oatmeal and pack it for breakfast in the office.  If I could just get myself back into the gym I'd be saving money and losing weight at the same time!

I woke up at 7:00 this morning prepared to another marathon writing and editing session, but I just didn't feel like it.  I decided to take a break and work on our menu plan for next week.  I like to look through my cookbooks and bookmarked recipes for inspirations and today I pulled out Ina Garten's Back to Basics.  I knew I had a bag of Yukon Gold potatoes in the pantry, so I decided to try her Roasted Potato and Leek Soup.  I didn't have any leeks, so I put them on my shopping list and headed to the farmer's market.

Click below to

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Seneca Lake Pt. 2 - Wine Tasting

Do you like wine?  Have you ever done a wine tasting?

I know that not everyone likes or drinks wine, and I'll admit that it's an acquired taste.  In the past five years I've gone from the woman who always orders or purchases that reliable White Zinfandel (and there's nothing wrong with that) to a foodie who purchases new wines and dreams of ways to pair them with food.  I'm by no means an expert, but my palate has expanded over the past few years and I always appreciate an opportunity to try before I buy.

Wine tasting is supposed to be fun, but the fun all depends on your attitude and the knowledge and personality of the person serving the wine.  Oh, and the wine itself.  Of course.

In many areas you can taste wine at a local liquor store.  I've also been to wine tastings in people's homes and more recently I've had the opportunity to actually visit real wineries. Last year my mom and I visited the Brandywine Valley Wine Trail in Pennsylvania and this year E and I spent out anniversary in the Finger Lakes region of New York, which is famous for its wines.

Click below to

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Seneca Lake

Wagner Valley Winery and Brewing Co., on Seneca Lake
E and I celebrated our 6th anniversary with a 3-day trip to the Finger Lakes Region in upstate New York.  We spent our time on Seneca Lake, which is about five hours from our home in Delaware.  I think it's the perfect spot for a quick getaway if you live in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeast.  The drive was easy (well, easy for me to say... I didn't do the driving!), the people are friendly, and all the hype is true... the wine is good!

Seneca Lake, view from near the Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel

This was my first official trip to the Finger Lakes Region.  The lakes are referred to as "fingers" because they are a series of long, narrow lakes formed by glaciers that used to exist in upstate NY.  Seneca Lake is right in the middle of the region and has over 50 wineries, plus a few breweries and distilleries.  In addition to the wine, there is a lot of cheese, beautiful parks, waterfalls, and very nice local establishments that serve fresh, regional cuisine.

(Click below to read more.)

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Spring Cleaning

One of my goals for 2011 is to improve the appearance and navigation of this blog.  I'm definitely not a web pro by any means, but I want to make it easier for readers to find what they want and to interact with me.

I have a lot of stuff going on right now, but when I get a stretch of free time (say, June or July) I plan to make some improvements.  For right now I added a search function (it's a few scrolls under my photo on the right side) that I hope will make it easier for you to find the recipes you're looking for.  I also added some tabs right under the blog header with some quick links to information about me and this blog.

I'll be working on improving the categorization of my posts and I'll also be playing with how many posts you see when you land on the main page.  I want to make it as easy as possible for people to see the good stuff... the food!

Do you have any design suggestions for me?

Hoppin' Jason

First, who or what in the world is a Hoppin' Jason?  This whole culinary ordeal started about a month ago when I was watching an episode of Cooking For Real on Food Network.  Sunny (the host) was working on some type of Southern-style menu and she made her version of Hoppin' John.  Okay, so what's Hoppin' John?  It's a black eyed peas and rice dish that's commonly enjoyed in the South.  Despite the old tradition that they bring good luck, I don't like black eyed peas.  Apparently, Sunny doesn't like them either, so she made a modification of the traditional dish and called it Hoppin' Jason.  Who is Jason?  Apparently he's her boyfriend.  Or something like that.  I don't know, but the food was good.

(Click "read more" below.)

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