Monday, January 28, 2013

Another One-Pot Wonder: Chicken Tortilla Soup

Apparently I have been missing out - for years - on the amazingness of Chicken Tortilla Soup. It wasn't until about 2 years ago that I tried it and now it's one of my favorite soups.
Chicken Tortilla Soup Recipe
Of course I have a favorite go-to recipe for Chicken Tortilla Soup - this one from Health. The best part is that it is really simple to make, not requiring a ton of prep work or ingredients. Many of them you probably have right now in your fridge and pantry. It's also a great recipe for entertaining - you can get it started ahead of everyone arriving and leave it to simmer as the guests arrive. It easily lends itself to a bar of toppings too - cheese, tortilla chips or cornbread, sour cream, and maybe even avocado slices (more on that below). One other bonus that I love is that it's a one-pot wonder (read about my love for these here and here).
Start with your onion, garlic and green pepper: 
Onion, garlic, green pepper
Stir in your spices, broth and tomatoes - look at that steam:
Chicken Tortilla Soup Recipe
Add your chicken - try grilled, shredded chicken. More on that below:
Grilled Chicken
Chicken Tortilla Soup Recipe
Chicken Tortilla Soup Recipe
Add toppings and enjoy:
Chicken Tortilla Soup Recipe
I have a few recommendations for making this recipe even better:
Grill your chicken ahead of time. This not only makes for easy prep, it adds a nice, smoky flavor. Shred it with two forks instead of dicing it once cooked for a nice look.
Add a little more spice if you desire a little more of a kick. It has good flavor as is, but some people like it hot. If you're one of them, a little hot sauce of your choice can be easily incorporated into the recipe.
Instead of petite diced tomatoes, which we often used to buy for recipes, get regular diced tomatoes. The size makes for nice presentation and balances out well with the size of the chicken, onions, bell pepper etc.
Try serving it with avocado slices. Yes, this may sound a little weird, but the creaminess of the avocado goes perfectly, I promise - I've tested it!
Try it out and let me know what you think. You may find it in your regular rotation!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Back Splash Inspiration

My husband and I are getting ready to begin a kitchen renovation. It's a large project we knew we wanted to take on when we bought our home a few years ago, and we are both excited to finally be getting to it. I'd love to tell you we were DIYing the whole thing but it involves some things just a bit over our heads like swapping the location of a pantry and the refrigerator and building a built-in unit for the refrigerator, so we are utilizing the expertise of a design firm.

One aspect of the renovation that we both think can bring a big punch as far as design goes is the back splash  Renovating a kitchen means you're drawing inspiration from other finished products/projects. I've spent lots of time poring over Pinterest, Houzz, some magazines and the interweb in general to get some ideas from what other people have done. Here are some of my favorite back splash inspirations and what I love about them:

Quatrefoil backsplash
So beautiful. I've since found out this kind of beauty costs way, way more than my budget allows, but a girl can dream right?

Penny tile and its wonders:
Penny Tile
John and Sherry over at Young House Love did an amazing DIY kitchen renovation and introduced me to penny tile. I love the look of the small tile in such a consistent pattern.

Herringbone Pattern (with subway tile):
Herringbone backsplash
This is essentially just a pattern created using subway tile but I think it's a really eye catching twist on simple subway tile.

Iridescent tile:
Kitchen Inspiration
or this:
Kitchen inspiration
The first picture has long, skinny iridescent tile and the second picture has tiny mosaics with an iridescent finish. Both give a nice hint of sparkle and shine without being too overbearing I think.

Splash of color:
Green backsplash
This back splash provides a splash of color to this kitchen with darker cabinets. We have cabinets in a very similar color, so I like that the green brightens it up.

Diagonal tile backsplash
This is a simple twist on plain, square tile but it is a nice variation from the linear pattern you get when applied in rows. You could get really fancy with travertine or marble tile too.

I'm not sure what we'll choose but these all provide some ideas to inspire!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Ragout? What's that?

You know I like one-pot meals or one-pot wonders as I like to call them. I posted here about it recently. I have a new you like zucchini? Tomatoes? Kale? Cannellini or white beans? Chicken sausage? If you like those things, you might love this recipe for a White Bean and Sausage Ragout.
White Bean and Sausage Ragout Recipe
White Bean and Sausage Ragout Recipe
What's a ragout? Don't worry, I didn't know either. And I definitely wasn't sure how to pronounce "ragout" either. I would say a ragout is similar to a stew, with meat and veggies. Merriam-Webster defines it as "well-seasoned meat and vegetables cooked in a thick sauce." It's actually pronounced like the popular brand of pasta sauce, Ragu.

On to the recipe...It was our first time trying it. It was also the first time I'd really cooked with kale, but I've heard it is a super food so I figured it can't be too terrible, right? It wasn't bad at all! 
White Bean and Sausage Ragout Recipe
The recipe was simple. A little chopping was required at the beginning but after that, it was a quick and easy. The end result was delicious, along with colorful, giving it a nice presentation. It's perfect for a cool evening and of course, it's a one-pot wonder, my favorite. If you haven't ever really had kale or cooked with it, this is a good dish as an introduction. Give it a try - you may find you love it.

If you wanted to make it more soup like, you could add chicken stock before simmering it. I might also recommend making cornbread to serve with it. Enjoy!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

I Mustache You

Get it? It is "I must ask you" case you didn't get it at first. Unless you are living under a rock, you know the mustache has been quite popular for awhile. I recently helped with planning a 60th birthday party for a relative who happens to have and has had, a mustache for years, and years, and some more years. Guess what became the obvious choice? You give up? A mustache party! We expected it to be a fun theme that everyone would enjoy and embrace, and we were definitely right! It was a hit among all ages.

Of course there were plenty of craft projects for the party. I created two things that I'll share the how-to on, and then share some other things that were done.

I created three styles of mustache-on-a-stick photo props. To achieve this, I found a link after googling "mustache silhouette" and printed out the mustaches. I chose three and cut them out, then traced them onto black card stock. You can get card stock for less than 40 cents a sheet at Hobby Lobby (when on sale) and you'll only need about 2 sheets for 40ish props. Talk about inexpensive! I just used scissors to cut the sharp, pointed end off some wooden skewers and attached the mustache silhouettes with a hot glue gun. Was a lot of cutting but a pretty easy process overall.
Mustache Party Ideas

Mustache Party Ideas
And as a bonus, they doubled as centerpieces for the tables. We used simple mason jars with a black ribbon tied around the neck to hold a few mustache sticks on each table. It was a really easy centerpiece and it didn't take long for party attendees to start picking them up and posing with them.
Mustache Party Ideas
I also created a personalized birthday banner for the birthday boy, complete with two little mustaches to tie in the theme. To create this, I typed the words into Word. I adjusted the font until I liked it, and made it bold and large. After it was printed, I trimmed out each letter and then traced it on the black card stock. Once those were trimmed, I used a glue stick (I wanted to make sure it wasn't wrinkly) to glue the letters to some bright green card stock. After these were dry, I punched two holes in each one, just in the top corners of each. I used some twine to string it together. It probably took about 2 hours all together but it wasn't too bad. A Cricut would have cut that time way down I'm sure, if you have one.
Mustache Party Ideas
One of the other nice pieces included a really large "60" completely covered in photos of the birthday boys from over the years. That mustache was in almost all of them! I can't take credit for that but it turned out great. It was really neat to see people looking at the photos at the party and remembering exactly when and where certain pictures took place. It brought a lot of memories back for a lot of people. 
60th Birthday Party Ideas
Stick on mustaches were also a huge hit. We ordered these mustaches and while they were not super fancy, they were perfect for the party and well priced at about $8 for 36. I don't want to post pictures of family and friends without permission, so I'll just say it was fun to see aunts, uncles, the young and the older, all with stick on mustaches adorning their upper lip. One of the ones that seemed to enjoy it the most, and that I was most surprised to see loving it was one of our grandmothers. A mustache and a smile on grandma was priceless. Can you imagine your grandmother with a stick on mustache?
So you want to throw a mustache-themed party yet?