Thursday, May 30, 2013

What's Cookin' Good Lookin'?? Chicken Pesto Pasta

So lately I've been doing a lot of Pinterest cooking, which is all fine and dandy (and let's face it...I freaking love it). But the other night I just didn't have it in me to scour the website looking for the easiest possible dinner, made with chicken (since that's what I had defrosted), to whip up last minute. So I resorted to one of our favorite meals that is easy and delicious.

I like to refer to this one as a 1-pan, 1-pot meal. Meaning exactly that. It's simple, quick and a crowd pleaser!

So without further ado, I give you my stupidly easy Chicken Pesto Pasta...

1 to 1.5 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 container of Buitoni All Natural Pesto with Basil
*I use this when I feel like cheating and don't feel like making pesto from scratch...though pesto is pretty simple to make. I'll share that recipe eventually...
1 box of thin spaghetti
*I like Golden Grain Hidden Veggie thin spaghetti. I'm not a huge veggie eater (GASP! I know. It's terrible. I'm working on it.) but I love this pasta. You can't taste the veggies in it at all!
Shaved Parmesan
Shredded Asiago
Salt and Pepper
Optional: mini sweet peppers

Cut the chicken into bite-sized cubes, drizzle a little olive oil into a pan and toss the chicken in. Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste, and cook the chicken. Halfway through cooking the chicken, if you've opted to add the peppers, slice them thin and toss them into the pan. When the chicken is 3/4 cooked, add in the container of pesto and let the chicken cook the rest of the way through.

Cook pasta to al dente perfection and drain. Toss with a tiny bit of olive oil to prevent the pasta from sticking.

In a large serving bowl, top the pasta with the chicken (and peppers) and toss. Top with shaved Parmesan and a handful of Asiago and serve.

Delicioso! That's right.


Enjoy!

Much love,
V

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

What's Cookin' Good Lookin'?? Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Yep! Another Pinterest dinner here! Good gravy I love that site.

So here's the pin I scored the recipe from....Spinach, Prosciutto and Mozzarella Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

What I Did Differently

Ok, so technically the recipe calls to use spinach and sundried tomatoes. Well, I happen to have a severe disdain for spinach...and I didn't have any sundried tomatoes, so those two got left out of the recipe. I will tell you, however, veggies were not lacking at this meal as the hubs had a nice spinach salad. So there!

What I Did Uniquely

The recipe called for crushed garlic and a pork tenderloin sliced and pounded to about 1/4 of an inch thick. Welp, this kitchen genius doesn't have a garlic press...or a meat mallet. So I totally improvised...with a can of baby carrots. Don't judge! It worked! Sorta....

Also, I had no kitchen string. I know, I'm on a roll here with things I'm missing in my kitchen. BUT instead I held the rolled up meat together with kabob skewers cut in half and this totally worked out amazingly! No kitchen string needed, just a touch of ingenuity!

The Verdict

Fully DELICIOUS. Seriously. I'm totally making this again. It's the kind of meal you make to impress your friends. ANNNND its a great "prep-during-nap-meal"...win!!

What I'd Do Differently

Well for one, I'm getting a garlic press and meat mallet for next time. Not that my canned carrots didn't work...they just didn't work well enough. I needed better crushed garlic and thinner meat (because I had trouble achieving the desired thickness with the pork, mine took about 45 minutes to cook as opposed to 30).

Also, the hubby claimed there was a touch too much lemon in the mix. So next time I'm going to do a little less lemon and a touch more Dijon and olive oil.


All in all, this was a pretty delicious meal and I paired it with Parmesan risotto (a staple side dish in my life). Definitely worth cooking again!

Bon Appetite!

Much love,
V

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Confessions of a Crafty Momma: Conner's New Nursery

So as you may have read in my "Where I've Been" post, during the midst of hubby's deployment, I moved us into a new house. And with the new house came a slew of new projects for me to tackle. I decorated, made some inexpensive wall art (that post will come, fear not!) and made our new place a home.

One thing I started while Derek was still gone was Conner's new room. I never got to finish it before Derek came home because, well let's face it, trying to decorate your toddler's room with them needing to be in there with you is like trying to host a dinner party with a bull in the middle of a china shop. BUT now that Derek is home, I finally got to finish my favorite project to date. My baby boy has a gorgeous new nursery that I am really, really proud of!

So here's the deal: A roll of brown craft paper, 2 rolls of billboard paper (the kind teachers use in their classrooms), a Sharpie, a whole slew of scrapbook paper and a few packs of crafty tack (also used by teachers! It's a great adhesive that won't damage the walls and works perfectly for sticking paper to them)....total cost was under $50. Seriously. I spent about $44 total at Michaels thanks to scrapbook paper being on sale and of course their amazing coupons...and their Military discount on Wednesdays!

And now I give you my masterpiece :)








I may still add a few small details here and there, but overall I'm thrilled with how it turned out. And really proud of myself (that's right, I'm patting my own back on this one). My little guy finally has the nursery I had hoped to give him some day :)

Much Love,
V

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What's Cookin' Good Lookin'??: Baked Veggies and Turkey Kielbasa

Last night I attempted the following pin:


Let me start by telling you that when you click the actual pin, the website it takes you to doesn't give a great recipe. Honestly, the caption on the pin is pretty much what I went with.

What I Did Differently

First, I added yellow squash to the mix of veggies listed on the pin and instead of using the standard bell peppers, I used sweet mini peppers (which I cook with all the time...they're cute, flavorful and the hubs loves them). Second, I added season-all to the mix of spices to give a little bit of a bolder flavor, spice-wise.

The Verdict

All-in-all, this is a definite make again dinner. It was easy, flavorful and healthy!

What I'd Do Differently

Since the kielbasa is already a bit salty, and since I added season-all, I would completely cut adding any additional salt to this recipe. It's just not necessary, and since you're kind of just winging it with how much of each seasoning you add to the mix, you risk over-salting...which is never good!
Also, the pin says to bake for 40-ish minutes. While most everything turned out great...the potatoes never cooked fully and were pretty gross (raw potatoes...ugh). When I make this again, I'll probably either cut the potatoes out completely, or give this an extra 10 minutes to let the potatoes cook more. They definitely needed it!

Also, next time I cook this, I am totally going to prep the veggies before-hand. This is definitely a meal where I can cut veggies during nap time and then just toss everything together and throw in the oven at dinner time. I've learned (especially when the hubby is away!) that prep-ahead meals rock!!

This is definitely a dish I want to attempt again this summer...and maybe even test it out on the grill instead of doing it in the oven! This would be awesome with some fresh grilled corn on the cob...YUM!

Much love,
V

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Guest Post: Momtography and Cameras

Today I am featuring a guest post by my friend Stephanie, who writes the The Adventures of Us blog, and who owns Stephanie Anne Photography, LLC based out of Virginia. Steph is a great friend of mine and an amazing photographer! And she's sharing a few tips for those of us who dabble in what we call "momtography"... taking awesome pictures of your beautiful babies!! Today's post gives you some basic pros and cons of Point and Shoot cameras verus DSLR. Enjoy!!



First I want to thank Val for hosting me today *waves* Hi Val! and Hello to you, dear readers! Today we are going to talk cameras.....so buckle up, I'm going to hit you with some knowledge!

So you're a new(ish) mom! And like all new moms, you have most likely discovered the joy of not only photographing, but sharing adorable images of your little one(s)! Now, how do you keep from being the mom with the grainy dark pictures that never look quite right? You need to KNOW your stuff. So I am writing for you today, moms (and dads!) to help you get a little more know-how so you can get some snapshots to really show off!

Your first step is to invest in quality equipment. And with that, I bring you the most basic of camera comparisons: the point&shoot versus the SLR. 

The Point-and-Shoot

These are the cameras most people were using before camera phones and have a slight edge over most camera phones. These are your basic, compact little digital camera, such as the Nikon CoolPics, Canon Powershot and Fuiji FinePix that you see at the store. With similar resolution to a camera phone, these Point-and-shoots offer a compact, lightweight camera that is usually about the size of your iPhone, but with a few more features, better zoom and a slightly stronger flash. They usually offer auto-focus capabilities (most allow you to refocused by touching on the screens now, just like a camera phone!) and can be had for around $200-$350, depending on the brand and store. 

What these make up for in convenience they lack in features, however. Have you ever tried to capture a moving toddler with a point and shoot? Not easy. With it's auto-metering and limited shutter speed, Point-and-shoots can lack clarity in photos of more challenging situations. Unless you are in the most ideal light, you are going to have a photo that is blurry, grainy, pixelated or even just way too dark. Most point-and-shoots right now top out around 16.2 MP (mega-pixels) but even the highest of resolutions doesn't make up for clarity and control. 



This is an example of a blurry P&S shot due to slow shutter speed.

This isn't to say P&S can't take great pictures.


The DSLR
That's where the Digital SLR (single-lens reflex), or DSLR, comes in. With more control over your settings, more and better zoom and the ability to buy new lenses, all working together in harmony with a little bit of solid know-how, you can produce some crystal clear images. The camera doesn't make the photo; sure having better equipment can help, but know that your first day on a DSLR will be FULL of mis-shoots, over exposures, under exposures and just plain bad shots until you get the hang of things and learn a bit more about your camera. Understanding some basics like shutter speed and f-stops can help a great deal (but that's another conversation for another day!). 


With all the bells and whistles offered by even the most simple of DSLRs, comes the burden of knowing how to use one. You will have to learn a few new things to really make your camera work for you. Unlike a point-and-shoot, which is pretty self-explanatory, DSLRs require some knowledge, practice and patience. I have been shooting on my current DSLR body for over 2 years and I am just now starting to really get a feel for how it works. Most basic DLSRs now, like the Canon Rebel Ti series and the Nikon D3xxx series are being made to cater to the common consumer (versus the professional photographer) and are more user-friendly for a beginner who doesn't know much about photography. 

DSLRs can also be expensive. Sure, you can pick up a kit (body + two zoom lenses usually) for $500-$900  at your local box store, but with more parts, there is more maintenance to be done and eventually some parts to replace. You may also want to invest in one or two REALLY good lenses down the road, and those can start as low as $300 and cost up to $900 before you get into the professional grade equipment (but again, another discussion for another day). So by committing to a DSLR you need to know that you either need to learn how to clean it (or find a local camera shop that can do it for you), and that there may be more costs associated with it as the years go by. If you buy from a big box store, I HIGHLY recommend getting their insurance/replacement plan, as I have seen the prices for some DSLR repairs and they are not always cheap!

Finally, DSLRs are much bulkier and heavier than you might think. If you want to take your camera anywhere, you need (or at least ought to!) protect it with a proper bag or padded case, and when you combine even the smallest of DSLRs with a padded bag you'd be surprised how big (and how heavy) it can be, especially if you are lugging it around all day. However, you eventually get used to the added weight and bulk and there are some cool accessories, like the Joby sling strap, that make toting your camera around a lot easier!

My first decent DSLR shot. I have about 35 pictures of these roses, this is the only one that came out close to how I wanted it to.

In Conclusion...
So, what can you take from this? Some knowledge. Some things to think about. Think about what you are willing to invest; not just monetarily, but in time and knowledge. If you have the money to invest, great. Begin to consider, however, the following: 
Will you have the time to learn how to use a DSLR? Or would you rather be able to take your camera right out of it's box and start shooting? 
Do you have money down the road to cover damages to a DSLR? Or would it be cheaper (and easier) to replace a Point and Shoot? 
Do you want to lug a heavy DSLR and bag all over or would you rather have a point-and-shoot that you can stick in your pocket that weighs about as much as your iPhone?

No matter what you decide, go out and take pictures. Often. Especially because your kids will change and grow faster than you can imagine. And you definitely want to capture that!

Finally, an image I truly love. A shot of my daughter making faces at home for me one day. Two years and a lot of practice later, this is a good shot.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What's Cookin' Good Lookin'?? "KFC" Baked Chicken

So a new thing I've decided to do is that I am going to sort of cook my way through recipes on Pinterest. There are so many yummy looking and interesting dishes floating around on there that I thought it would 1) make for some new and exciting meals in my house and 2) make for some good reading on here. So as I cook the things I find, I will share the recipe, give you my take on the food, and tell you of anything different I've done with the recipe. If you miss a post or want to back track the recipe, you'll find it under the "What's Cookin' Good Lookin'" tab at the top of the blog page :)

So last night I tried out the "KFC" baked chicken recipe that's floating around. You can find the original recipe (pun intended...bahaha) here, on the Our Life Uncommon blog.

What I did differently...

As opposed to cooking whole chicken breasts or larger wings, I cut boneless, skinless chicken breasts into strips, and made them into homemade chicken nuggets.

I also flipped them after 15 minutes, then again after another 15 minutes. I still maintained the 40 minute cooking time, but I think the extra flip maintained the crispy coating better.

The verdict...

The end result was actually really delicious. The chicken was tender and not dry at all, the coating was delicious, and this was a fairly easy meal to prepare. It's definitely one I will make again. My toddler even liked it! The kid ate four pieces! That's a dinner success right there.

What I'd do differently

There's not much I'd change about this recipe, really. Though next time I make these, I plan to use probably only half of the butter, if that. I think using a little less butter will keep the recipe great, but give a little extra crunch to the coating, which I prefer (plus cut out some fat and calories). I'd probably also add a touch more pepper and a touch more season-all. Just to kick up the flavor a notch. The batter wasn't bland, by any means, but my own personal preference is to have a bit of a bolder flavor on my coating.

Bon Appetite!

Much Love,
V

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Where I've Been

Well, it's been a while, that's for sure.

I hope you can all forgive me for the hiatus I've taken from my writing. And I hope you'll welcome me back with open arms and continue to follow my journey as a wife and momma.

And now to explain my absence.

In early fall, my husband deployed. I can't and won't give any details of his deployment, but I will tell you that it was our 4th deployment together...but our first as husband and wife, and our first with a child. And so that sort of consumed my life for the past eight months. I wasn't really sure where to go with it all, and couldn't really find it in me to write at the time. But he's home safe and sound now, and reflecting back I am better and stronger for having gone through this one...and those to come.

The day he left was the longest day of my life to date. I awoke at 3 am with the worst headache I've ever experienced in my life. Radiating from the back of my neck to my eyeballs, I could feel the anxiety and stress of saying "see you later" consuming my body. Derek woke the baby, holding him tight, and loaded Conner into his carseat. We headed to his unit in mostly silence, holding hands, and praying that the next eight months go by quickly. We arrived at Derek's battalion and waited for the buses to arrive, and I held it together until they called his name to board the bus to the airfield. I lost it as he kissed us goodbye and we watched him walk away.

To put it simply, the goodbye part of it all really sucked.

I fought with my emotions the entire rest of the day, holding it together so that my 10 month old little boy wouldn't see his mommy sad. I kept busy, taking Conner to the park, cleaning during nap time, and making a trip to the commissary which included purchasing a package of oreos and a bottle of wine at the PX. That's my routine. Whenever Derek leaves for an extended period of time, I always get oreos and wine. And the first night of him being away, I put the baby to bed, turn on a trashy TV show (NEVER ever a chick flick), and indulge in cookies and Pinot. I get it out of my system and move on. It works for me.

The next few weeks were an adjustment for me. And very tiring. I was getting used to being a single momma, 3,000 miles from home and family, and I was dealing with my feelings about Derek being gone. And never mind my own adjustment...because Conner had his own too. Even at 10 months old, Conner knew something was different. And his way of coping was to wake up in the middle of the night screaming bloody murder until I put him in bed with me. For the most part, I didn't mind. I was grateful for the little warm body snuggled with me at night. But the screaming broke my heart. Luckily though, Conner adjusted eventually and made it through the deployment like a champ.

I wasn't on my own completely into the deployment, luckily. Six weeks into it, my sister-in-law came to visit and it was amazing. We visited Seattle for a day, drank more coffee than we knew what to do with, and I had a chance to relax...and not change every single diaper for a few days! Ha. While she was here I also had a hand prepping our apartment for Conner and I to be gone for a few months, as we would travel to PA to be with family for his 1st birthday and the holidays.

And then hurricane Sandy struck...and we got stuck in Denver for 3 days after our connecting flight to Philadelphia was cancelled...3 times.

After our adventure in Denver (which consisted of a lot of movie quoting "that John Denver is full of sh!t!"...and slurpee drinking...and being given a generous hand by the hotel staff who went out of their way to get diapers for us!) we made is safely to Philly, arriving late on Halloween night with Conner dressed so cutely in his baby Yoda costume.

The next few months consisted of some pretty emotional moments for me, starting with little man's 1st birthday. I struggled with the fact that Derek wasn't there to blow out his candle with him...and with the knowledge that this would certainly not be the last birthday Daddy will be missing. I survived though, with family by my side. We had a sweet apple-themed party where the love for my little boy was present and abundant, and where Derek Skyped just in time to watch our little boy blow out his candle and open presents.

Next came Thanksgiving and Christmas...and again stressful moments. And again I had to remind myself that this would be the hardest year because it was the first time we'd gone through holiday separations as a family. And again we survived, with family by our side...and mimosas. And I will say that being home was wonderful. It was a time where family was so appreciated...and I don't think any of them will ever truly know what it meant to me to be home with all of them at the time.

When January approached, the opportunity arose for us to move. And we took it. So Conner and I flew back to the West Coast and we experienced the most hectic week of our lives...with movers, meetings, walk throughs and boxes upon boxes upon boxes. That week was a wonderful reminder of the sisterhood that is the world of Army wives, though. One of my closest friends was there, lending the biggest hand she could...and in what seemed to happen all too easily, we were in a new home and happy. And it was another milestone met on the journey of hubby's deployment.

And so the months to follow after that consisted of staying incredibly busy...as busy as I could possibly keep myself. I had a home to unpack, Valentine's Day and Easter to get through, a little boy to watch grow and explore his new surroundings, care packages to mail, coffee to drink, tears to shed when it got to be too much, a husband to miss and a life to appreciate every day. In April I found myself with a little reprieve as my in-laws came to visit...and then there I was. Finally staring face first at the end of this deployment.

It was the longest three weeks of the entire eight months. Derek's homecoming was so close I could taste it. And no matter how busy I kept, the days dragged by...until finally, at 1 AM on a Wednesday morning, those buses that broke my heart eight months before arrived to the exact same spot where I had left them. Carrying my husband, the other piece of my heart. It took a minute but as I saw him walking towards us, it was over. Finally, he was home. Our little boy, now 18 months old, recognized his daddy right away. And Derek, for the first time in person, got to hear his son say "Daddy!!".

And so here I am. Back to writing, back to life. And that's where I've been.

Much love,
V