Life Lately {May 2016}

Nick and I were so excited last month when we finally got the call from our sister marina that our boat was back in the water. A few days later we made the short one mile trip down the Chesapeake Bay to deliver Houd Vast back into her slip; we were excited to see many of the same dock neighbors from last summer and meet some new friends, as well.

Nickhelm

NickHV

Rainy weather has kept us from doing much sailing, but it’s given us time to tackle a few more projects – like reinstalling our sun canvas, cleaning and sealing our teak decking, which had weathered and grayed last season, and replacing our entire starter and house battery bank (six batteries total!).

Teakbefore

Teakafter

Nick gets kudos for doing nearly all the boat work on his own, since our first day back in the water ended with me having a broken toe.  I still have a little pain and am walking a bit slowly, but I’m back in regular shoes again!

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Nick and I are loving these ham, cheese and spinach puffs for breakfast from Eat Well; they are easy to make, are very filling, and reheat well, so they can be made ahead and eaten all week. (Vegetarians could easily substitute mushrooms for the ham).

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The lower level of our tiered backyard, also known as The Pit, and where we keep our compost bins, finally saw some action last weekend (we’ve been talking about tackling this area for years). Nick and I  defined a small space and laid down some weed blocking fabric, which we covered with leaf mulch that we had delivered from the city (and are using for another project – post coming soon!). Ultimately, our plan is to build a small fire pit down there and make it into a somewhat usable space. Stay tuned!

Backpit

Nick’s parents, sister and her husband are headed our way this weekend for a few days of visiting and fun! I can’t wait to share highlights from their trip.

A favorite quick-and-easy dinner

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a cooking post, so I wanted to share recipes for one of Nick’s and my favorite and simplest meals: spatchcock cilantro lime roasted chicken, baked sweet potatoes with a scallion yogurt sauce, and a basic tomato and cucumber side salad with a lemon-olive oil dressing. 

I wrote last year about how we plan and prepare our meals, and shared that while we love to cook and usually make full course dinners throughout the week, we strive for simple, healthy and easy meals to help cut down on our time in the kitchen, and this is one of those!

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I have to note in advance, that this meal is very simple to prepare and doesn’t require an elaborate ingredient list, but it does take about 45 minutes of prep and oven cooking time – it’s totally worth it though since it looks like it comes straight from a restaurant’s kitchen.

So let’s get started with the spatchcock chicken. Have you prepared poultry this way? It’s a technique that I’d definitely recommend since it cuts roasting time almost in half, which helps it retain much more of its natural juices. The process is pretty simple: use a sharp knife or sheers to remove the backbone of the chicken and press it flat. It sounds complicated, but this quick video shows just how easy it is. (Last year my sister-in-law even cooked her turkey this way with great results)!

Spatchcock cilantro lime chicken (from The Frugal Paleo Cookbook, a great cookbook gifted to me by my father-in-law). 

Ingredients: 

  • Whole chicken (about 3-4 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup lime juice
  • 2 gloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 TB coconut oil*
  • 1-2 TB chopped cilantro
  • Salt and pepper

*The coconut oil is key here, the flavor infuses into the chicken and really makes the dish. Thankfully, a jar isn’t too expensive and is available at most groceries (coconut oil also has many other cooking and beauty uses!). 

Instructions: Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare the spatchcock chicken, season with salt and pepper, and place into a gallon-sized plastic bag. In a small bowl combine the lime juice, garlic, salt and coriander. Melt the coconut oil in another dish in the microwave for a few seconds. Slowly whisk the coconut oil into the lime juice mixture and immediately pour over the chicken in the bag. Close the plastic bag and smooth the mixture over the entire chicken. Set aside for 15 minutes or longer. (These steps could be prepared the evening before if you are having guests).

Chickenbag

Now get started on the yams. 

Baked Sweet Potatoes with Scallion Yogurt Sauce

Ingredients
  • 2-4 yams
  • 8 oz. container Greek yogurt
  • 1 TB red wine vinegar
  • 2 scallions

Instructions: Wash the yams and cut in half lengthwise. Place the yams on a sheet of aluminum foil, coat with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange cut side down and add 2 TB of water around the yams. Cover with a top sheet of aluminum foil and roll to tightly seal the edges. 

Sweetpotatoes

It’s time to put the chicken in the oven!  Transfer the chicken from the plastic bag into a roasting pan (and any juices) and set the timer for 15 minutes. 

While the chicken is cooking, prepare the scallion yogurt sauce (right in the yogurt container!). Start by removing the lid from the yogurt and seasoning with salt and pepper. Thinly slice the scallions (the white bottoms and green tops) and add to the yogurt. Add the tablespoon of red wine vinegar and stir. 

Greekdip

After the chicken has cooked for 15 minutes add the sweet potato packet along with the chicken in the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes. 

While the chicken and potatoes are cooking, get started on the salad. Nick and I love this salad, which is tangy and light and very flavorful for being so simple. It’s actually a popular Indian salad, which matches perfectly with the spicy dishes we love to prepare, but goes with pretty much anything. 

Simple Salad with Lemon and Olive Oil Dressing

Ingredients

  • 2-4 cups of romaine or iceberg lettuce, chopped
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1-2 diced roma tomatoes
  • 1/2 diced cucumber
  • 1-2 TB chopped cilantro (optional)
  • 1/8 tsp salt and pepper
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • Drizzle of olive oil 

Chop and combine the first six ingredients of the salad. Right before serving add the lemon juice and olive oil and toss to coat (the lemon juice will wilt the salad, so hold off adding until just before serving). 

Salad

The chicken and sweet potatoes should be done by now. Remove from the oven and garnish the chicken with the cilantro and the potatoes with the yogurt sauce. Plate and serve!

Finalmeal

*Note that Nick and I always prepare chicken without the skin, but if you left it on, the bird would be a beautiful roasted color!

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The sweet potatoes and chicken reheat so well (and are often even better the second time around), so this is a great meal for two nights. Enjoy!

In every thing give thanks

I just returned home from seven days in San Diego for my company’s annual conference, so not much has happened with our hearth project.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner though, I thought I’d share our holiday menu like I did in 2014, 2013 and 2012.

I’m especially excited for the holiday this year, since we’ll be blessed to spend it with family, which hasn’t happened since Nick’s parents visited us back in 2013. My dad and his wife Judi will by flying to D.C. from Wisconsin and spending the holiday weekend with us, and we’ll be jamming it full of food and fun 🙂

Growing up, my dad’s stuffing was the most anticipated dish  of the holiday – and frequently improvised, so you never knew what surprises you’d find inside – so I’m very excited for our guests to try our  Nick’s recipe, which he’s been honing ever since it was shared by his grandmother.

Once again, our feast will include many of our favorite, traditional Thanksgiving dishes, and the new things I added this year mostly came from one place: My lovely sister-in-law works for a natural and organic products company and one of their lines recently launched a new holiday site with recipes and tips for entertaining, and there were simply too many delicious recipes! Once I started pinning recipes, I couldn’t stop, so every bite, from our appetizers to dessert,  will be cooked and eaten with family in mind.

With that, here is our 2015 Thanksgiving holiday menu:

Signature cocktails:

winter-spiced-old-fashioned

Photo from spoonforkbacon.com

  • Winter spiced old fashioned (we’ve already prepared the simple syrup spiced with anise, cinnamon and cardamon pods)
  • Pumpkin beer, served with a rim of cinnamon, pumpkin spice and sugar

Appetizers:

simply-organic-holiday-15-organic-pistachio-and-pesto-stuffed-mushrooms-recipe-finish

Photo from simplyorganic.com

Main Course:

  • Turkey (gobble, gobble!)

Sides:

simply-organic-holiday-15-category-appetizers

Photo from simplyorganic.com

Dessert

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Photo from simplyorganic.com

Since I always like to decorate our dining table with a festive centerpiece, I DIY’d a simple table decoration out of  natural evergreen branches, apples, oranges, pinecones and some faux leaves. I always arrange my centerpieces on a wood board that I covered with chalkboard paint a few years ago; that way, once it’s time to eat, I can easily slide it out of the way to make room for all of our serving dishes.

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I continued with the natural theme and prepared some simple name cards from fallen leaves. After wiping them down, I used a paint pen to color the leaves in shiny gold.

namecards

Nick and I are very excited to give thanks this year with family at our table, as always, we have so much (and so many people) in our lives for which to be thankful.

(And now I need to get off the computer…remember when I mentioned we haven’t gotten far on the hearth project and we have guests coming?!)

Happy Thanksgiving, Y’all!

Moroccan Chicken Charmoula

I’m in the middle of my busiest time of year at work, so I haven’t spent a lot of time working on house projects recently. Instead, I thought I’d share one of Nick and my favorite recipes.

I absolutely love to cook and experiment with different foods and recipes, and I’ve recently taken an interest in cooking ethnic foods, especially Indian and Moroccan cuisine, which use many of the same herbs and spices in their recipes.

For the most part, cooking these dishes is pretty easy since the cooking techniques are very basic (meats or vegetables are simply slow cooked in a variety of spices). The hardest part is actually finding the spices, many of which aren’t available at tradition or organic grocery stores. Thankfully, D.C. has several international food stores, which have a great selection of harder-to-find herbs and spices.

(Most of the spices I’ve bought are sold in bulk packages and not in traditional spice jars, so I store the spices in larger Tupperware containers).

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Some Indian dishes are spicy-hot (jalapeños are just as common in Indian food as in many Mexican dishes); however, most recipes are not hot at all, but abound with many layers of strong spices, which I think makes them incredibly delicious.

This recipe for chicken charmoula is one of those spicy-but-not-hot dishes.

 

Moroccan Chicken Charmoula (adapted from a recipe by chef Mourad Lahlou)

INGREDIENTS:

1 tsp kosher salt
1.5 TB paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 TB minced garlic
1 TB parsley
2 TB chopped cilantro
1 TB grated lemon peel
1 TB lemon juice
1/2 c olive oil
1/2 c water
1/2 c tomato puree
4 chicken thighs
1 can drained chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

Rice or couscous for serving

DIRECTIONS:

1. Combine the salt and spices in a small bowl. Add garlic, parsley, cilantro, lemon peel and juice.

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2. Whisk in oil, water and tomato puree.

3. Warm a small amount of oil in a Dutch oven or saute pan over medium heat.

4. Season the chicken legs with salt and pepper.

5. Brown the chicken on both sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.

Note: I usually prepare this recipe with chicken thighs, but I remove the skin to reduce the fat. Chicken breasts would probably work too, but since the chicken simmers for nearly two hours, bone-in chicken typically stays more moist.

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6. Add the charmoula sauce to the pot and bring to a simmer.

7. Return the chicken to the pot, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the chicken is fork-tender, about 2 hours.

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8. During the last 15 minutes of cooking, add the drained chickpeas.

9. Skim any excess fat off the sauce.

10. Serve the chicken and sauce with flavored rice or couscous.

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Isn’t it a beautiful dish? And it’s so easy to prepare!

I prepare this dish – and many others that require low, slow cooking – in a tagine, which is traditional North African earthenware that is often used to slowly simmer stews and rice dishes.

Mine is from William-Sonoma and was bought with a gift certificate from my lovely sister-in-law, Anne. I love how beautiful it is; it’s even pretty enough to keep out and display 🙂

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As the food cooks, a small amount of steam is allowed to escape from a small hole in the lid’s top, but the rest of the steam rises up in the cone, condenses, and then drips back down the sides and into the dish to keep it moist.

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Since a tagine is made from clay, it’s important to use a diffuser on your burner to block it from direct heat, which can cause it to dry out and crack. These are sold at pretty much any home or kitchen store.

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If you are interested in trying out any Indian recipes, I definitely recommend any cookbook by Indian chef Madhur Jaffrey, who’s recipes are simple and delicious. For Christmas, Nick gifted me her Quick & Easy Indian Cooking cookbook and we’ve been making our way through it and trying new dishes almost every week.

Jaffrey

Here’s a photo gallery of some of the Indian dishes we’ve recently prepared (Nick, the family baker, has even baked traditional naan bread a few times).

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So, who wants to come to dinner?