Thursday, February 26, 2015

Simple and Savory Baked Chicken with Vegetables

Simple and Savory Baked Chicken with Vegetables

After I had my fourth baby, my friend brought dinner over a dinner which changed my relationship with roasted vegetables forever.

I had entered the world of cooked vegetables later in life. My mom, mercifully, never forced us to eat zucchini, beets, brussel sprouts, or any form of squash because she didn't like them. It wasn't until I was married and almost grown up that I first encountered garden grown zucchini sauteed to buttery, garlicky, slightly salty perfection. The tender slices, dripping with joy were amazing, and I became a firm believer that any vegetable can be made edible with enough garlic, salt and butter.

Still, my vegetable love remained more of a flirtation. I learned to enjoy baked sweet potatoes in all varieties- the light honey colored ones to the super sugary tubers the color of a desert sunset. Topped with melted butter was my original preference, until I discovered how perfectly a baked sweet potato paired with roasted pork loin and a savory barbeque sauce. Flirtation turned to full on crush.

Next to tempt was oven roasted broccoli with lemon, pinenuts, and parmesean. I ate it by the panful and things started looking exclusive. Cauliflower wanted to commit, but I really wasn't ready.

Then came those delicious squashes in all their shapes and sizes. While I haven't adored the acorns,  the spaghetti squash- the darlings!- won my infinite affection because not only are they gorgeous with the standard LRH butter/garlic treatment, but my family inhales the pasta-like insides when covered with grilled chicken and Alfredo sauce. Oh. And then I smother that with parmesan cheese and broil that baby until it is nice, bubbly and nearly browned.

But oh, that butternut. Butternut squash roasted with olive oil and sea salt. Roasted with butter and brown sugar. Roasted with butter, garlic, sea salt and cracked black pepper. Roasted and then pureed with cream to make a divine sauce for sausage-stuffed shells.

Buddy the Elf's eloquence captures my feelings exactly, "I'm in love! I'm in love! And I don't care who knows it!"

But back to this dinner. My pictures can't do it justice because I'm still learning how to do that. Still, the meal is simple, delicious, and you'll only need a 9x13 baking pan, which is even better. You get all the goodness of savory veggies steamed in a buttery-chicken broth, and the chicken turns out fork-cutting tender and so flavorful. Three large chicken breasts is usually plenty for my family of 5 eaters, but you can adjust as needed. And the vegetables? Let's just say they put the gorge in gorgeous.

-mmmm-

Happy full tummy.

Simple and Savory Baked Chicken with Vegetables

Ingredients:

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cube (1/2 cup) butter
1 package dry italian dressing seasoning
1 lb chopped butternut squash*
3 chopped potatoes*
3 chopped carrots*
*Or any assortment of  vegetables. Cauliflower is an excellent choice as well.

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x13 pan.
2. Put chicken breasts in pan. 
3. Cover with vegetables.
4. Cut butter into large pats and disperse over the vegetables,
5. Sprinkle italian seasoning evenly over the vegetables and chicken.
6. Cover with foil and bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is cooked through. 

This is the final product.
See that brothy, chicken veggie goodness?

This is the final product on my actual dinner plate.


This is how I enjoyed the left overs with cilantro honey-lime chicken for lunch the next day.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Little Red Hen Does it Herself

I'm an independent person. When I was a kid, my brother's favorite milkshake flavor was chocolate, so I always chose strawberry. He always chose orange Popsicles, so I chose cherry. He loved peanut butter, so I hated it. I never realized how many of these early assertions of  my independence revolved around food. That probably means something.

The LRH likes to do things herself, too.

"But wait," you cry. "She asked all the barnyard animals for help and no one would help! She had to do it herself!"

"Ah, but whom specifically did she ask?" I ask with a knowing smile.

At my house, if I throw out a question like "Who's going to help put away this laundry?" I will hear silence- and possibly a cricket. If I ask , "Elinor, will you help me put away the laundry?" I might get a groan, but there will be some assistance. A specific need requires a specific question of someone.

Sure, I've thrown out a random question on Facebook, hoping that someone will help me out with a project, or babysitting. But, if you've got something specific in mind, from a specific person, a random Facebook post is not the way to go! Really, that drives me crazy- the subtle to not-so-subtle hint for me to fetch something, do something, help with something. I know, I should be a better person and just recognize the need, but like I tell my kids, sitting on the floor while pouting and declaring that you want toast is NOT how you get a piece of toast from me. Ask the question.

True, sometimes we may not know what to ask for. True, sometimes we know how to help without being asked. True, sometimes we shouldn't need to ask- or at least we feel that way. That is most often my problem. Can't the rest of the barnyard look around and see that some wheat clearly needs to be planted if we want bread any time soon? In my experience, the definitive answer is no, they cannot. And why is that? Probably because the wheat is most important to the LRH, and she has probably planted the wheat so many times before that no one even thinks to help or sees that there is a need. Wheat planting is always taken care of- like the dishes and the laundry, and the making of meals, and the turning on of the Wiggles DVD.

And really, who was the LRH asking for help? The LRH is off talking to the goose and the pig, who are clearly not in the state of mind to be planting wheat. At least they were honest and said they weren't going to help. Why ask the question then? Was it to just reassure herself that the LRH is more productive than those other farm creatures. Selfish. Was it because the LRH really didn't mind doing the project herself, but just wanted a bit of recognition or attention? Kind of selfish again. Was it so that the LRH would feel justified in eating the bread "all by herself"? I think it may come down to the fact that this LRH still likes to get a gold star and a smile from the teacher.

Still, there is hope! If the LRH can learn to humble herself and time the asking, she usually gets happy results. If she needs help with the baby, timing her request while the Rooster is not in the middle of a raid on "Clash of Clans," delivers. If she needs help with the laundry, timing her request not when the kids are actually getting along, delivers . If she needs help with the dishes, asking instead of grumpily shoving dinner plates into the dishwasher, delivers.

 Honestly, this isn't about hen-shaming or goose-shaming. I think we've all been the hen asking for help, and we've all been the goose who doesn't help, for a myriad of reasons. Ultimately, this rambling just illustrates how my perspective is changing. I can't always trust or understand another person's motives, but before I react and resent, I can step back and evaluate mine. For example, before I had my fourth baby I was really concerned that I would go into labor and the house would be a mess. So every night, I would frantically sweep, do all the dishes, grumble at the kids to clean up all the toys, and act resentful. I told everyone I was paranoid that people would come to my house while I was in the hospital and if the house was a mess they might a) think I'm a slob, b) I'd come home to an equally big mess, or c) people might want to clean the mess up, but think I liked my house to be messy and for fear of offending me, they wouldn't clean up. Consequently, I resented the possibility of people coming because I wanted a clean house. Ridiculous, right?

I have read this great book called The Bonds That Make Us Free  by C. Terry Warner, and it is filled with examples of how we put ourselves into situations where, deep down, we know enable people to hurt or offend us. And, he gives really great counsel as to how to break that cycle. Obviously, this LRH has far to go, but it really opened my eyes to recognizing what I can control and my motivations for acting.

Bottom line- if you want help with the wheat, ask. If you want to do it yourself, don't ask. If you want a pat on the back, ask for one- directly. "Hey, look at this beautiful wheat I planted! I'm so excited about it because I want to bake bread in a few months and I'll totally be able to write an entire blog series about the process! Isn't that cool?" You'll be met with interest or ambivalence, but you'll get some sort of response!

No matter what though...

Bake the bread. Share the slices.



Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Little Red Hen Has Braces

So, did I mention that I have braces? 32 years old and braces. 32 years old, married, with braces. 32 years old, married, 4 kids and braces. 32 years old, married, 4 kids, glasses and braces. Doesn't get much hotter than that, am I right?

I never had braces as a kid, and I never really felt bad about it. Braces weren't nerdy- more of a popular accessory which I could do without. I did pretended the cap to my Kool Aid Burst was a retainer, like most 10 year olds, but that was the extent of my orthodontic fantasies. I did want glasses. Badly. Once I started babysitting and making money, I went to the mall and bought a pair of non-prescription glasses at Claire's. I rocked those frames for an entire summer. They were gold, shiny, and 90's large. When you are looking for an air of sophistication at the age of 12, fake glasses are the way to go. I felt they added just the right touch of je ne sais quoi which is essential the summer before junior high. You understand.

But really, the top of my desire list was a cast, preferably with crutches because really, how cool is that? Sure, a cast provides some exciting attention, and an excuse to carry around a Sharpee, but crutches! You get to launch yourself around the halls at school! I was certain it would be just like playing with the old wooden set of crutches we had at home- flying through the air, landing solidly on my feet. Instantly everyone wants to be your friend, try out your crutches. You are somebody when you're on crutches.

Alas, my broken limb fantasy was not meant to be. I've never had a broken bone. My four-year-old has had a cast, but not me. That is fine though. Some dreams are meant to be left in the innocence of youth. -sigh-

Glasses, on the other hand, came to visit and decided to stay. My senior year of high school I was trying on my friend's glasses in the library, again wanting to feel that air of sophistication, only to put them on and realize I could see the numbers on the bookshelves from across the room! What? Elated, I got my eyes checked and I needed a mild prescription. Oh happy day! I could see trees on the mountains, street signs, scores on the screen at the bowling alley, and I thought they were the most attractive part of my beauty regime. I still love glasses. I love ugly, nerdy glasses. Statement glasses. But, I have branched and I do wear contacts when running, etc.

But the braces! Really? Never in my life did I plan on strapping those babies to my mouth. Then I met this guy, who has straight teeth, and we both liked Harry Potter, so I dated him, and we read Dickens together, and snowshoed together. All of the sudden I was married to this guy with perfectly straight teeth (who still wears his retainer, but the way), and last fall he told me what I was getting for Christmas. Braces. Surprise! Go choose your orthodontist because 2015 is the year, babe!

At first I thought, "Why not?" Then I thought, "Braces cost as much as a trip to Disneyland, and we've been promising a 2015 Disneyland trip for 5 years. No braces." But, husband persisted. I found an orthodontist who is the father of one of the fifth graders I taught a few years back (I taught school for a while), and he was friendly. We upped our dental plan, and on January 7th, I got braces.

People keep asking if my mouth hurts. I tell them it doesn't hurt as much as my pride. Yes, my bite is off. Yes, I can't bite into anything straight on. I'll be eating my candy bars with a fork and knife Seinfeld-style for the next 18 months. And, it takes me 20 minutes to floss and brush my teeth! No joke. But I feel a sense of empowerment because I know my teeth are clean. It is like knowing all the laundry is done and put away. Or washing your face before you go to bed. Or waking up to a clean kitchen. Small things make me feel put together. True, no one is going to sign my braces, and they aren't nearly as fun a glasses, but I'll be glad to have them once they are gone and my teeth are straight. In 2016 I'll be 33, married, have 4 kids, glasses and straight teeth.

LRH lesson learned: You don't really appreciate the effort of planting the seed until you are eating the bread. And in 18 months, I'll be able to eat bread without needing to immediately brush my teeth. Now that is hot.

Bake the bread and share the slices, friends.
Cortney

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Little Red Hen Has an Epiphany

Okay, Little Red Hen (LRH) officially back blogging after a mere 2 year hiatus. (chuckle, snort). Why the sudden return? Yesterday, my best buddy since high school, the miraculous Alicia from the Baker upstairs, and I were chatting while 9 kids under the age of 8 ran around my little house- hyped up on strawberry marshmallow frosting and almond sugar cookies. I had a cookie decorating party for my four-year-old because I do home-school preschool with her and I figured she needed a Valentine party too. Anyway,  Alicia is an amazing baker, a generous friend, a strong woman, and a fantastic photographer. She has also been blogging since blogging began and is great at it. She was telling me about all the stuff she could be doing to make her blog more successful and told me I should be blogging too. (This isn't the first time we've had this conversation). Instead of feeling motivated, I felt total ANXIETY. I told her I could never take pictures great enough to put on a blog. I told her I had nothing interesting to say that had not already been said. And I assumed my favorite safe and sheltered position that I don't read blogs and I'm happier with a minimal blogging influence.

Later that night I stewed about it. This morning, instead of using the baby's nap time to exercise, or clean, or sleep, I knew I had to write...something. I had given in to LRH thinking for too long. If it isn't beautiful, perfect, or funny why write it? What if I try something and nobody reads it and I fail? (What a whiner I can be!)

I occurred to me that I can't remember the last time I did something where there was a very real probability that I might fail or stink it up- and that I'd care if that happened. I'm pretty comfortable here, where I am, because I do have it pretty good and I know I'm sustained and blessed every day. Doesn't that demand a bit of exertion? Not that being a wife, mother, friend, WOMAN doesn't require exertion. I'm exerting! But, if I've been given much, much is required of me. And if I spend my days noting tiny events as mental Facebook posts, shouldn't I just write them down in some sort of narrative?

So, LRH is going to learn how to blog. And I might fail- but I'm kind of excited about that. I'd like to share what I commit to do, and then I'll write about how it goes and how it fits with my life. Here's what I'm going to do:
  • Instead of just looking at the recipe I find on pinterest, I'm going to read the post too. 
  • I'm going to learn how to do this blog thing, which I have avoided with envy.
  • I'm going to read up on how to take a decent looking picture with my little point and shoot camera.
  • I'm going to write something everyday- about learning to blog and/or life.
  • I'm going to actually TRY.
The LRH is an excellent bread maker, but this time she's going to branch out and try a new recipe. Scary and exciting. We'll see how it goes. I'll keep you posted. 

Bake the bread and share the slices!
Cort