I currently live in Charlotte, NC and after spending 7 years as a personal chef and caterer, I am now happy to share my love of cooking with friends and family. My heart is in the kitchen, but my soul is in the stars!

The Way To A Man's Heart

I've always heard that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach and Lord knows I travel that route as often as I can for the Boy Toy despite his insinuations that all my cooking is making his "road" more "curvy." My mailbox overflows each month with subscriptions to various cooking magazines to ensure the road to Boy Toy's heart is traveled often, but as a woman I know the stomach isn't the only avenue to a man's heart.

A few months ago I purchased a Groupon that would grant me a year's subscription to Cosmopolitan magazine for a mere $5.  I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing out on any new tricks of the trade for wooing a man by a means other than with my cooking.  The first few editions came and I scanned through pages and pages of information and instruction hoping to find something useful.  I honestly feared most of the tricks Cosmo was touting to woo a man would land me square in the hospital with a dislocated something or other that my insurance copay would not cover.  I felt the folks at Cosmo were more concerned with how to stop a man's heart than how to find your way to it, so I was ready to toss the useless magazines into the recycle bin when I noticed - far back on those last few pages typically reserved for advertisements about psychics and online dating services - a recipe.  I ripped it from the the magazine and realized I should forget about all those other tricks and tips because surely food WAS the way to a man's heart afterall!

A quick online search of the recipe "Crispy Chicken with Rosemary Lemon Salt" shows that Giada De Laurentiis also takes credit for the published recipe in her cookbook "Weeknights with Giada" which probably proves my theory that Cosmopolitan can't come up with any original ideas on their own to win to a man's heart without making you perform like a circus pony or very minorly tweaking someone else's idea - like suggesting the chicken be served with marinara sauce and calling it their own.  I replaced the cornmeal with whole wheat bread crumbs and also had plenty of herbed salt left over so I've been using it for salads and such.  If you are focusing on "real food" for your meals, use a suitable oil such as coconut oil for frying and use organic, free-range chicken. 

In addition to serving these as an entree, these would make a great party appetizer.

Crispy Chicken with Rosemary Lemon Salt
inspired by Giada De Laurentiis/Cosmopolitan July 2012

Printable Recipe

Suitable oil, for frying
1 (6-inch) sprig fresh rosemary
1/4 cup kosher salt plus 3/4 teaspoon
Zest of 1 large lemon, divided
1 pound chicken tenders
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I whole wheat crumbs from my homemade bread leftovers)

For the salt: Heat 1/4-inch oil in a large, high-sided skillet over medium-high heat (the oil is hot enough when a pinch of breadcrumbs sizzles when added to the pan). Add the rosemary sprig and fry for 30 seconds until crisp. Using tongs, remove the rosemary sprig and drain on paper towels. Remove the leaves and finely chop to yield 1 tablespoon. Place the rosemary, 1/4 cup salt, and half the lemon zest in a small bowl. Mix with a fork until combined. Set aside.

For the chicken: In a medium bowl, mix together the chicken, garlic, rosemary, 3/4 teaspoon salt, other half of the lemon zest, and pepper. Add the breadcrumbs and toss until the chicken is coated. Add 1/2 the chicken to the same skillet used to cook the rosemary and fry until golden and crispy, 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining chicken. Sprinkle with the rosemary-lemon salt and serve (with marinara, if you'd like).

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A smoothie by any other color

Through the combination of my Pinterest addiction making an effort to change my eating habits to be more "real" and the ever present quest of finding make-ahead, easy-to-eat-at-my-desk items for breakfast, I stumbled across a recipe for a Green Monster Spinach Smoothie from Iowa Girl Eats. Under normal circumstances, I would have totally by-passed the recipe because I would have considered it as one of those things that a "health nut" would eat. But on this particular day I was game to investigate further because of the claims that you could not taste the spinach in the smoothie.

Even though this smoothie contains a generous helping of spinach, it is true that you cannot taste it. If you were blindfolded and could not see the green color, you would NEVER know that you were consuming a healthy dose of vitamins A, B2, B6, C, E and K along with iron, calcium, potassium, omega-3, protein and a slew of other healthy minerals.

On a whim, I snapped a photo as I whizzed up my green smoothie for breakfast and posted it to my Facebook page. The comments were as I expected...

I don't like that
That's the grossest thing I've ever seen!

I realized that this smoothie is a perfect example of how we, as people who are constantly bombarded with marketing about what we should eat and what our food should look like, are conditioned to think and act in a certain manner just because of what they tell us. The grossest thing you've ever seen...really?? Thanks to spending alot of time around a 13-year old boy, I can think of things waaaaay far grosser than a green smoothie. Is it gross because of the color? Do you think guacamole looks gross because it's green? Of course not because it is supposed to be green.

How about this green drink? How many would slurp it down without giving another thought to the color? We think and accept that it should be green because they present this to us as something we naturally know as being green (lime). Would you be suprised to know that the only thing "lime" about this margarita is the garnish on the side?

Totally discounting the alcohol and assuming this is made with Jose Cuervo premade margarita mix (which is considered a top-shelf product and highly recognizable and used in alot of home bars and restaurants), let's look at the ingredients of this green drink loved by so many:

Water, corn syrup, sugar, citric acid, natural flavors, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate (to preserve flavor), cellulose gum, polysorbate 60, gum arabic, glycerol abietate and FD&C yellow no. 5. Contains 0% Juice.

Now don't get me wrong - I love me a margarita or three and I'm not going to sit here and say shame on anyone for drinking something that is loaded with preservatives and contains absolutely nothing natural because I've done my fair share. But (there's always a but), I'm starting to think more and more about what goes into my body and educating myself on the way things REALLY should be and not just what someone said it should be. So what if the smoothie is green? Would a rose by any other color smell any differently? This tasted like any other fruit smoothie - I tasted the peanut butter and the banana.

Only one of my friends was brave enough to say that she'd like to try the recipe for her and her kids, so this is for you, Tammy, and for anyone else out there brave enough to tackle a green smoothie. Enjoy!

Popeye's Spinach Smoothie
inspired by Iowa Girl Eats

Printable Recipe

1 frozen sliced banana
1-1/2 Tablespoons peanut butter
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 Tablespoon honey
1 cup milk
4 cups baby spinach (approximately 1/2 bag)
1 Tablespoon chia seeds (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.

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The Perfect Combination

Since my quest to move toward real food, I've surprised myself with a) how many recipes I've tried with ingredients I'm not used to, and b) how many of those recipes I've actually enjoyed.  This recipe for Apple & Fennel Salad with Bleu Cheese from Eating Well magazine has appeared in my dinner rotation two times in as many weeks.  I thought it was so delish I even ate the leftovers for breakfast the next morning!  Fennel is loaded with Vitamin C, fiber and potassium and the only way I had ever eaten it before was roasted  - it pairs well with pork.  The anise/licorice is more pronounced when raw, but not overpowering. 

As my food magazine subscriptions start to run out, I'll be more selective as to which ones I renew but Eating Well will definitely be one that I'll keep.  It's loaded with alot of simple and real recipes that don't require alot of exotic ingredients.

Give this salad a try - the sweet butter lettuce with the salty, tangy bleu cheese and crisp apples and fennel tossed in vinaigrette is the perfect combination.

Apple & Fennel Salad with Bleu Cheese
Eating Well, September/October 2012

Printable Recipe

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 large crisp, sweet apple, such as Honeycrisp or Ambrosia, thinly sliced
1 medium fennel bulb, quartered and thinly sliced, fronds reserved
6 cups torn butterhead lettuce
1/3 cup crumbled bleu cheese

Whisk oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add apple and fennel and toss to coat.  Chop 1/4 cup of the fennel fronds and add to the bowl along with lettuce and bleu cheese; gently toss.

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It's all new to me

I've been doing really well with my weekly real food pledges and have found them to be pretty easy so far.  I breezed through week 1 dealing with fresh fruits and vegetables (and I'm proud to say I'm still conscious of making sure I get my daily quota.)

The challenge during week 2 was to move away from sodas, drink more water and only sweeten your tea or coffee with honey or 100% maple syrup (not the Ms. Buttersworth stuff) in an effort to wean yourself away from refined sugars or artificial sweeteners.  I don't drink sodas, coffee or milk but I do need to drink more water and sweet tea is my weakness.  I've tried a few times in the past to switch completely to unsweetened tea and found it to be the equivalent of drinking dirty water, so I'm not sure I can ever make that total switch (which rolls around as the challenge in week 12.)

I had to push the week 3 challenge a little further down the list simply because of time restraints right now.  The challenge was to purchase only locally raised meats and while we certainly have that option available here in Charlotte (I plan to check out Baucom's Best), I have been in the middle of home renovations and my weekends have been tied up with other obligations and that is pretty much the only time the outlets that sell Baucom's products are open.  In an attempt to totally not ignore the pledge, I purchased some organic chicken and beef, it just wasn't local. 

The pledge for week 4 was easy too because I don't eat fast food or even eat out in a restaurant very much and I don't deep fry.  I will admit to occasionally indulging in Boy Toy's fried chicken wings, just not during the pledge week.

So that brings me to the week 5 challenge which was to try at least 2 new whole foods that you've never tried before. I chose kale and quinoa.  To me, as a former caterer, kale is something that is used to garnish dinner plates or line serving platters and not something that you would actually eat.  It seems that kale chips have been all the rage for several years now and I guess I've been living under a rock because I'd never heard of such a thing until I started researching what in the world to do with garnish kale. I haven't tried the quinoa yet but I'm so glad I gave these kale chips a try because I was very surprised at how much I liked them.  It was a bit like eating crunchy fall leaves, but they were addictive and I couldn't stop eating! 

Check out this link for more ways to enjoy kale and here's a video of my girl crush Hilah Johnson making garlic sesame kale, which is next on my list of ways to try it.

Kale Chips

1 bunch fresh kale, washed and thoroughly dried
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Strip the kale leaves from the "rib" and roughly tear them into pieces.  In a bowl, combine kale with olive oil and salt and toss to completely coat the leaves.

Place leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 10-15 minutes or until the edges of the leaves turn brown, shaking the pan once during cooking to redistribute the leaves and prevent them from burning (not all of the leaves will turn brown and crisp, so don't try to get them all to look the same.)

These are best when eaten the day of baking.  I had a few left over and they were a bit chewy the next day. 

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