You Are My Sunshine

Natures Botanical Gardens, Spring Hill, Florida. Photo courtesy of Jen Carter Photography.

My Only Sunshine

Natures Botanical Gardens, Spring Hill, Florida. Photo courtesy of Jen Carter Photography.

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17 January, 2013

Chicken Paella - SOOO YUMMY!

When I was little I always wanted to learn Spanish. I remember there was one specific Spanish book I would check out from the library in elementary school and spend hours reading it, totally thinking I was becoming fluent in Spanish. I also remember watching Unavision thinking I was absorbing the language and of course, I completely understood what they were talking about.....

Fast forward to highschool when I HAD to take a foreign language. I remember my father telling me to take Spanish. He said that I would need Spanish, and that it would help me with job prospects and the like. Of COURSE being the intelligent young girl I was, I took French - two years of it.

Fast forward a little more to college... I now had to have two semesters to graduate. College was a long term project for me, so I never attempted my foreign language requirement until I got to my junior year - GO BULLS! I flew through Spanish 1 with a Puerto Rican teacher, and survived Spanish 2 with a Mexican teacher.

I really wish I had stayed in Spanish. It would have been REALLY helpful in my line of work to be fluent in Spanish. I bet my daddy looks down from Heaven and chuckles every time I look up and say "You were right dad". The older I get the more frequently that happens!!

Okay... so what does this have to do with cooking??

I recently got back in contact with a long time friend of my family who is Spanish. Given that I'm on this quest to cook around the world apparently, it made me realize that I hadn't cooked anything Spanish. So I found a really great blog (or two) that I'll notate later. I came across a recipe for Chicken Paella - and it seemed safe. So, we gave it a shot tonight. It was super simple to make, and tasted great.

I immediately sent a text to my Spanish friend since I was sure I would look super cool cooking something from the country his people hail from.... I was informed that my meal is common in southern Spain, and in northern Spain it's all fish and octopus based. I'm not a huge fish fan - unless it doesn't taste like fish - and I HIGHLY doubt I'll be cooking ANYTHING made out of octopus in my lifetime if I can help it. So, with my deflated sails.... here is the recipe....

Spanish Chicken Paella

I should tell you that I got a fryer chicken from Walmart, already cut up. One thing I didn't like was that even though I got two HUGE breasts, I also got 4 thighs and two backbones. I would up trashing the backbones, and we don't eat dark meat. I have some furry friends, and one feathered one who will be finishing those off for me later.

I also didn't go for the "good quality Spanish rice" it calls for. I just used Mahatma Jasmine Rice. It worked fine.

Also, I was informed tonight that Vigo rice "rules". Essentially, what you are making with this rice is homemade Vigo rice. This is really similar to the chicken and yellow rice my mom made my entire childhood. I was informed that this person's Abuela (grandmother) put peas in hers. So if you're looking to add a veggie
I don't see why you couldn't put it in the Paella as well.

I kinda feel like since I'm NOT Spanish and I was trying to be as close to authentic as I could, that Vigo rice is cheating. Kinda makes me feel like because I had Taco Bell last week, I had authentic Mexican food, lol!

Here's a photo before I put it in the oven to finish cooking:

And one after I removed the dark meat and fluffed the rice:

Paella es muy sabroso! (And if that's wrong, blame google translator. My Spanish friend was unavailable, and the only Puerto Rican I know was giving me totally inappropriate phrases to put in my blog... at least I think they were... )

I have to thank the people over at Simple Bites for this great recipe! And if you're looking for MORE good Spanish food, join me in combing through the recipes over on A Little Bit Of Spain In Iowa.



13 January, 2013

Freezer Meals.... Love This Idea!

It seems like my days get busier and busier... I'm not sure how, but somehow it seems like there is more and more to do. I'm not sure if it's age and maturity, or just a new found longing to eat at home more like my parents always did, but it seems like eating out gets old a lot faster, and it's certainly WAY too expensive!

Back to these busy days I was complaining about... I've recently learned that I absolutely LOVE cooking - and I absolutely love cooking new things - and I'm actually pretty good at it! However, in light of all these busy days I find myself having less and less time to do it and it's just become to darn easy to order out.

I've been pinning recipes on my pinterest left and right for quite some time now. I've gone from full meals prepared right then, to falling in love with my crockpot, but imagine my surprise when I came across recipes for FREEZER MEALS!!! WHAT??? I love me some Stouffers Lasagna, but I'm seriously disappointed when it comes to the selection of freezer meals in my frozen food department at Publix. I find they don't taste very well, the portions are too small, and like eating out, they are too expensive (unless I get coupons, but that's a whole 'nother blog).

I decided that not only was I going back to couponing this week, but I was going for it with the freezer meals too. I planned my menu, prepared my shopping list, and from then on it was GET OUT OF MY WAY at Publix, because for three hours I was shopping like a crazy woman!

I spent last weekend sorting through all the available recipes for freezer meals on Pinterest. Ugh... I was SOOO unhappy with my choices. Then I came across a blog which may very well be the best thing to come out of Chicago. I'll post a link at the end of the blog. They have a TON of great recipes, and she tells you how to turn each one into a freezer meal.

Here's what I've learned so far about the freezer meals:

1.) My freezer is OBVIOUSLY too small to do this on a grand scale. Crap.

2.) To store (and cook) the food, you'll want to get some "OVENWARE", I believe it's by Glad. I found it at Walmart, and you get two for about $5.24. I hope they are reusable. I'll find out shortly. If you find out before I do, let me know.

3.) There aren't really too many shortcuts as far as preparation is concerned, but if you plan your menu and then devote a whole day to the cooking process, you'll save a ton of time during the week.

4.) These meals need to be thawed prior to cooking. That's easy enough... Pull it out before work, and then it's ready to go in when you get home from work. YAY for that!

Okay, so here's my menu for the week. You can click on each meal. That will take you to the recipe. You'll also find these on my Pinterest board entitled "Freezer Meals".

Freezer Pasta Milano

Freezer Baked Shrimp Scampi

Freezer Smothered Pork Chops

Freezer Twice Baked Potatoes

Freezer Skillet Lasagna

Freezer Beef and Mushroom Stirfry - This is a two part meal. You make the meat and freeze it, then make the vegetable portion and store it in the refrigerator. I made the meat and will make the veggies the night I make it.

Due to running on short on time with picking up our daughter, and an unexpected trip to the local wildlife rescue, we opted to eat the Pasta Milano tonight. My husband doesn't eat tomatoes, or large pieces of mushroom. He ate two plates - and didn't pick out a thing. So, that should tell you how good that was!

The Scampi looks divine. It smelled SO good putting it together. The recipe calls for a dry white wine, and while I was looking at the cooking wine in the grocery aisle I saw the word DRY on a bottle with a white liquid in it, I immediately grabbed it and threw it in my cart. So, today I made the recipe as it called for it. It smelled REALLY strong to the point I took the bowl to my husband and said "SMELL THIS!" He said "that smells like if I wanted to get drunk I could just drink what's in that bowl". Well, after I put the recipe together and started cleaning up from this recipe and prepping for the next one, I read the bottle - it's Vermouth. This should be interesting. It'll either taste awful and we won't eat it, or it'll be great and we'll all have a buzz! Just kidding, here's hoping my super fast shopping trip didn't ruin a pound and a half of shrimp that I painstakingly deveined and butterflied for the first time in my life EVER. (They sure aren't pretty, but that scampi sauce smells fantastic!)

The Smothered Pork Chops smelled great going together too. We usually don't use bone in chops, but these looked FANTASTIC, so since the recipe called for them, I think we'll get around it! Can't wait to eat them later this week!

All I can tell you about the Twice Baked Potatoes is that thank God they are good, because I have enough of them to feed an army! I put cheese and bacon in mine, but you can put whatever you want in yours... OOOH! Must remember to try CHIVES next time!

Finally, we'll be having the following meals as well this week. One I actually have to cook, and the other is a crockpot recipe. We're just going all around the world via our dinner table this week!

Crockpot Chicken Curry

Spanish Chicken Paella

It was a TON of work getting all of these together, but it wasn't so miserable that I won't be doing it again in the VERY near future. I'm certainly going to enjoy the heck out of being able to just put a GREAT meal in the oven and not having to hassle with the prep. I would highly recommend this method to anyone wanting to save a bit of time in the kitchen during the week. Even if you just did it for one or two meals during the week - like when I go to my belly dancing class and I don't have time to cook beforehand!

I know that some people cook for the month... I can't see myself doing that, but if I can take a couple of hours on the weekend and throw some great meals together to save time during the week when everyone is tired from work, or running to and fro, it's totally worth it!

I'd like to give a HUGE thanks to the people over at "What's Cooking Chicago", "The Cutting Back Kitchen", and "Simple Bites" for all these awesome recipes - and I stole their pictures since I didn't think to take any of my own in this fiasco of a cooking spree!