Garlic Roasted Chicken & Butternut Squash with Pecans

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I’ve noticed a lot of us sitting in the polar vortex have been sticking with our old basic comfort foods to get us through the rest of this winter.  This past Wednesday was definitely a comfort food kind of day.

I tend to stay close to home when the weather’s going to be nasty, mainly because I drive a very impractical (but very fun) sports car.  Much to my dismay, I was caught about 10 miles from home coming out of Boston heading west into what was supposed to be rain with a dusting of snow.  All I needed was 14 minutes and I would have been back home – instead I ran straight into white out conditions with snow accumulating rapidly, slicking the highway and turning the back roads into skating rinks.  As I was trying to figure out which of the 4 approaches I could take to get to my house, I realized that they all included hairpin turns and were all uphill.  I think if I’d practiced a little earlier this winter I could have made the Olympic bobsled team which would have been a snap on a nicely groomed track.  With my skid control warning light flashing at me and my rear end sliding out (my car’s rear end) I just made it to our driveway and thankfully hit the garage door opener to slide the bobsled into the garage.  The only concern I had at that point was whether or not I’d be able to stop the slide into the garage before hitting the rider mower (just a little tap, shush).

A cup of tea to simmer down the shakes and it was time to get some comforting aromas in the house.  A roasted chicken has always been comfort food for me because it was usually what we had growing up for Sunday dinner.  There weren’t any foodies in the 50’s so menus didn’t vary much – chicken on Sunday, pasta on Wednesday, fish on Friday, and some kind of roast on Saturday.  Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday was up for grabs but usually the choices were  meatloaf, stuffed peppers, cabbage and spareribs, pork chops, casseroles from the latest Woman’s Day or Good Housekeeping magazine and always dessert.  Sometimes we’d have steak but that was always an incredibly long meal as everyone chewed…and chewed…and finally gave up to work on the potatoes and vegetables to give their jaws a rest.

A little story about our Sunday chicken dinners…my mother was a very good cook and especially known for her unbelievable pies.  She never minded cooking for a crowd and we often had family joining us for Sunday dinners – until my Uncle Arthur with his 7 boys got booted out of the house by Aunt Mary one Sunday.  If you’re younger than I am you might not remember that having a phone was still a new concept but the aunts and uncles who were invited to Sunday dinner would have called earlier in the week to let my mother know that a 5 pound chicken might not be enough and to plan accordingly.

I still remember sitting down one Sunday – 5:00 pm exactly – and just as the food had been passed around, Uncle Arthur was knocking at the door.  The 7 boys were already through the door and finding chairs to fit themselves at the table – they were hungry!  Of course my mother would never think not to invite someone to sit down to eat even if they were already stuffing their faces.  In any case, that dinner we all just had a little less than usual with no leftovers for lunches for the week.

Since Arthur was my father’s brother, Dad got an earful that night.  Not even close to the earful he got the next week, and the week after when Uncle Arthur and the boys continued to show up right at 5:00 every Sunday thereafter.  We never did see Aunt Mary who was probably still in bed recovering from the week.  I honestly thought that we were getting a special treat that Sunday when my mother had us all dress up and lined us up by the back door.  Just as Uncle Arthur’s car pulled into the driveway, we were marched out the door and just getting into our car as the boys began to pile out.  “Oh dear, so sorry but we weren’t expecting you…we were just heading out”.  As soon as the eating army was around the corner though we were marched back into the house and our chicken dinner was served.  I did wonder why we were leaving the house with the oven on and food ready to hit the table.

You’d think that would have been the end of it but nope, the following Sunday Uncle Arthur was back.  Yes, he was and we were caught unawares.  You did not mess with my mother though because the following Sunday we had our chicken dinner at 4:00 and were at the ice cream stand when Uncle Arthur pulled up wondering why no one was home.  A couple weeks of that and we were back to our 5:00 pm routine.

This isn’t  my mother’s chicken recipe, but it’s extremely juicy, tender, and flavorful.  I know it sounds like a lot of garlic in here but it isn’t overwhelming at all…although you can always have some mints on the side.

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Garlic Roasted Chicken with Rosemary

1     Whole chicken
6     Large cloves garlic
1     Whole head garlic
5     Tablespoons softened butter
4     Sprigs rosemary
1     Beer or 8 oz. chicken broth

– After rinsing chicken, insert full head of garlic and a couple sprigs of rosemary into cavity with a few glubs of beer
– Soften butter then mix in chopped rosemary (or use dried) and the 6 cloves of minced garlic
– Cut small openings under the skin of the chicken and push the butter/garlic/rosemary mixture into all of the areas you can read under the skin
– Pour more beer or broth on top of the chicken then cover and roast at 400° for about 1 1/2 hours, depending on size of chicken.  Remove foil for last 1/2 hour to brown skin.  You can continue to baste with beer.

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On the side, I had mashed potatoes with gravy and this butternut squash which was perfect with pecans.

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Butternut Squash with Pecans

– Chop about 1/2 large white onion
– Peel and dice butternut squash into 1/2″ cubes
– In heavy skillet, melt 4-6 tablespoons butter to cook onions until they’re almost caramelized
– Add diced squash and cover until squash is just tender
– Add 1/2 cup of chopped pecans, mixing onions, squash, and nuts
– Sprinkle granulated brown sugar on top

When I make this again, any of you are welcome to join us – just call ahead.

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Stuffed Artichokes – the lazy way

Have you gone through slumps where you just can’t figure out what you want to eat, never mind cook? With the hot and incredibly humid air we’ve had here for the past couple of weeks, I haven’t felt like doing either. Niki was at the house the other day making a grocery list because she doesn’t have a Wegman’s near her & always takes the opportunity to get over there when she’s out this way. I guess it’s like eating at someone else’s house or going to a restaurant when someone puts a great meal in front of you and kick starts your appetite because as she made her list, all of a sudden everything sounded good. I felt like I was cheating on a test but as she made her list I just copied it down. When she got to artichokes I realized that I haven’t made stuffed artichokes in a very long time.

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A lot of recipes tell you to clip the prickly points from each leaf and to open the artichoke up to pull out the choke.  Me?  Nah…if you want my stuffed artichokes you have to live dangerously.  I just par boil them until the bottom petal just starts to pull away, then let them drain.  For the stuffing I just pull each petal gently away and sprinkle in some bread crumbs, then plenty of grated parmesan cheese and finish off with a small drizzle of olive oil.  Put in an oiled baking dish and pop in the oven until the cheese has melted.

If I’m serving this to someone who might not have ever tried stuffed artichokes before I now give a little lesson after realizing a guest was trying to masticate the entire leaf (yes, prickles and all).  If you’ve never tried these, just pull each leaf off & run your teeth down the leaf, grabbing all the breadcrumbs and melted cheese and bite off just the soft tip at the end.  When you get to the artichoke heart, just cut away the soft heart and leave the choke…so you don’t choke.

Cheesy Baked Sweet Potato & Zucchini

We planned a relaxing Easter brunch at J’s Restaurant at the Bolton Winery so that I could have a break from cooking a big meal and try to shake the winter blues (yes, it’s still freezing here).  I must have some sort of guilt thing going because rather than just take it easy I decided I just had to make a major stuffed roast chicken with half a dozen sides on Saturday night.  It might have gone well since I’d prepped almost everything early in the day but after setting the oven temp and putting the chicken inside, I forgot one thing – actually turning the oven ON.  Now there’s not much you can do with a 7 lb. bird when you realize your mistake 2 hours later and the dinner planned for 7:30 pm turned into a 9:30/10:00-ish event with me just trying to keep my eyes open.  If I had been thinking, I should have taken the stuffing out of the bird and cooked that in foil to speed things up, but alas I did not think of that.  I also forgot to embarrass Niki with an old flashback to when she was 5 years old.  So I’ll do it now…

I was in the kitchen when Niki came racing in, back from church with my husband.

“Mom!  Mom!  MOM!!!   Did you hear what they did to Jesus Christ?”
Whoa, this sounded like breaking news. Not sure where she was going with this and was expecting something had happened at Mass, I let her go on…
“Well they hung him on a cross!”
Okay, I already knew that so all I could say was something like, yes that was a really horrible painful way to die.
 Mom, that’s not the worst…they made him carry his cross.”
Oookay…still not sure where this is going but I could tell I was missing the point in this conversation.
“MOM!  The cross was made out of WOOD – like my swingset – I’ll bet he got splinters.  Now those things really hurt!”

Ah, finally I get the picture and I guess what it comes down to is we can only truly relate to what our own experiences are, especially when you’re only five.

But back to  our Saturday dinner, everything did come out fine, especially these cheesy baked vegetables which I had prepped well ahead of time.  I used a large zucchini and two medium sweet potatoes but any type of potato or squash would work.

cheesy veg and bacon fried mashed 011It’s so easy to make and you can have it all prepped ahead of time, ready to pop in the oven for about 20-30 minutes at 375°.
– Dice a medium white onion and 2 cloves of garlic.  Saute onion in butter until translucent – add the garlic at the end so as not to burn.  Spread onion/garlic mixture in the bottom of a small pan (depends on the amount of vegetables you’re making).
– Slice the zucchini and sweet potato, about 1/4″ thick then arrange in layers in the pan, dotting the top with bits of butter.  Bake until vegetables are just softened, then sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese.  Put back into the oven for a few minutes until cheese has melted.
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Bourbon Street Pork Roast & Bacon Asparagus

Just your average New Orleans guy

Just your average New Orleans guy

I know I’m a little late with a Mardi Gras themed meal, but you can enjoy this marinade all year long.  It reminded me a this guy.  Niki found him on her recent trip to New Orleans.  No, he’s not dressed for Mardi Gras…this is his regular day to day panhandling outfit.  I’m trying to envision him really decked out in his finest for Mardi Gras.

Anyway, Bourbon Street marinade is great on pork and chicken as well as a beef roast.  Last night I used a pork loin with a nice layer of fat that I scored before roasting.

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Just toss all of the ingredients into a plastic baggie, shake it up to dissolve the brown sugar & mix the ingredients, then add meat which you can rotate every now & then while marinating (I did this the day before cooking).

Bourbon Street Marinade
1       Cup of water
2/3    Cup of soy sauce
3/4    Cup of bourbon
3       Tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
2      
Tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1/4    
Cup brown sugar

Serve with Bacon Asapargus:
Still a believer that everything tastes better with bacon, I  cut the asparagus into chunks and sautéed in a little butter then sprinkled chopped bacon on top.  I don’t often see my husband reaching for seconds for vegetables, but I think the bacon got him.

Bacon Asaparagus-Who can resist?

Bacon Asaparagus-Who can resist?

 

Prosciutto Wrapped Stuffed Chicken – over to you Niki

We had a little leak in our kitchen faucet, no big deal. I gave my husband the perfect out to not bother with it since I hope in a few months we’ll be re-doing the entire kitchen, sink & all.  But….

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I had no idea that John was going to go ahead and “fix” the leak so when I heard all kinds of banging going on downstairs I swung by to see what was happening.  It went like this:

John:  “Damn spigot broke right off in my hand”
Me:  “Ummm, do you think the hammer might have had something to do with it?”

Since this project was started on a Sunday and Home Depot, Lowe’s and Ace didn’t carry this part and since the plumbing supply places are closed on Sundays, well…why don’t we just swing by Niki’s place and see what’s happening in her kitchen.
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Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all enjoyed your holidays. I have to say I not only enjoyed the holidays, I ate like the world was ending (alas, that didn’t happen so I need to do a little more running and boot camp – thanks a lot Mayans!).  December is fairly quiet in public relations –  journalists are starting to wrap up their stories for the year and go on vacation as well as many of our clients. Because of this “slow time” I am lucky enough to get a week and a half off at Christmastime. I had planned on making all kinds fabulous dinners that I found on Pinterest and I swore to my nutritionist that I didn’t have ANY issues because I don’t go to many holiday parties. Boy was I wrong!!!

Not only do I enjoy holiday parties, my birthday also falls in December along with three of my very good friends, Julie, Colleen and another Colleen. That’s cause for lots of celebration and needless to say I found myself beside a lot of cheese platters and dips over the month of December.

While I enjoyed all the festivities, some of my favorites included an impromptu mini vacation to Florida with my friend Taylor, a birthday ride on the Polar Express with the Murphys, many special birthday drink celebrations with friends and my first Christmas in Brighton that included skating on the famous Frog Pond in the Boston Common with my terrific boyfriend Tim.

Frog Pond

Frog Pond

All of that was topped with a fun New Year’s Eve celebration in Boston with my college friends and a special celebrity appearance by Tim’s brother Dan from Chicago.

Needless to say, when my girlfriends in Boston wanted to get together for the weekend we were all looking for a low-key night to hangout and not eat in a restaurant. I proposed the idea of having a potluck dinner at my apartment and a movie night. Of course all the girls wanted to know what I would be making to allow them to make appropriate sides to go with the main dish. I wanted to try something new and I stumbled upon a recipe for chicken wrapped in Prosciutto.  I also found a recipe with chicken stuffed with basil and cheese wrapped in Prosciutto. I decided to combine these two recipes and put my own twist on it. 

Stuffed Chicken Wrapped in Prosciutto
Chicken breasts (6)

proscuitto wrapped chick

One package of shredded mozzarella cheese
One bunch of fresh basil
3-5 shallots
3 garlic cloves
1 lemon
Olive oil
12 slices of Prosciutto

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Slice garlic and set aside
  3. Chop shallots and basil and mix together in a bowl, set aside
  4. Lay out prosciutto so it’s easier to deal withwrapping chicken
  5. Take one breast and with a sharp knife cut into the side of the chicken breast
  6. Put  2 slices of the prosciutto down on the cutting board
  7. Put the chicken breast on top of the prosciutto
  8. Put a few slices of garlic on one side of the chicken then add some of the basil mixture on top and finally top the basil shallot mixture with a sprinkle of mozzarella cheesestuffing chicken
  9. Then fold over the chicken flap and start rolling the chicken in the prosciutto
  10. Finally put the chicken in an oiled baking dish and repeat the process for as many chicken breasts as you have
  11. Squeeze one half of a lemon over the chicken and top the chicken with a little bit of olive oil
  12. Put the chicken in the oven for 35-40 minutes.

Side Dishes – Roasted  Veggies
2 zucchinis
2 summer squashes
3 shallots
Italian seasonings
Salt pepper
2 Tablespoons butter

  1. Chop zucchinis and squash and shallots
  2. Put in a skillet with 2 tablespoons of butter
  3. Dress with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper
  4. Sprinkle with your favorite Italian seasoning

Hope you enjoy! Happy New Year to all!

Spaghetti Squash, Chicken Parm & Jury Duty!

I always win the lottery every 3 years…no, not the Mass lottery or anything where I get money, but the juror pool lottery.  In Massachusetts we have a “one day, one trial” system where everyone 18 to 70 years old must report for jury duty for either one day or if you’re chosen for a jury, one trial.  Unless you’re in the hospital on life support it’s not easy to get out of.  I personally don’t mind being on a jury, except for the part about arriving at 8:00 am (7:00 if you’d like a parking space at only $10). Juries don’t get selected until you watch a movie about responsibility, the Constitution, and John Adams that hadn’t changed in 12 years that I know of, followed by a black robed judge who came in to give us the final locker room  pep talk.

Really, if you appreciate me so much Your Honor, then where’s the free coffee?  And if the judge had come out a little more like Sammy Davis Jr. on Laugh In, I wouldn’t have been such a Miss Cranky Pants.

After sitting for over an hour,  jurors 1 through 95 were asked to shuffle into a courtroom.  I’d never seen them call so many potential jurors for screening and figured it must be a major or controversial trial.  Of course holding juror #2 card, I followed the crowd to find out what this one was about.  The judge gave a quick overview of the criminal case  – a man accused of raping a 13 year old girl.  One screening question asked if you might have any prejudices or could not be impartial.  Juror #2 held up her card and was called for questioning at the bench – good-bye Diane and back to the juror pool.  To wait…

Once enough potential jurors had been bounced off the rape case, at about 11:30 am, we once again shuffled off to a different courtroom to hear about a civil trial. For some reason, they really didn’t ask any questions other than if you knew either of the parties or witnesses and before I knew it, there I was in the jury box.  Not wanting to waste time, the judge had each lawyer give opening remarks.  A quick synopsis:

Dope 1 walked into a local bar, saw Dope 2 kissing his girlfriend of 17 years (although they’d broken up 3 days before), and punched Dope 2 in the eye knocking him off his bar stool.  Dope 2’s lawyer said Dope 1 proceeded to kick Dope 2 while he was down, resulting in serious injury which required surgery and a metal plate to repair a shattered cheek bone.  Medical bills of over $35,000 (we do have state insurance here so I doubt that was out of his pocket), loss of work, pain, anguish… Dope 2 is suing Dope 1 for all that and hopefully a pile of money.  Open & shut, right?  Until you got to hear Dope 2’s lawyer:

No doubt about it, Dope 1 did punch Dope 2 in the face but the fight was quickly broken up as witnessed by 3 people who will also state that there was no kicking.  There would also be witnesses saying that Dope 2 had told them that he’d been punched in the face a couple months prior – sounds like Dope 2 has a face people love to punch.  Also, Dope 2, although he was in severe pain resulting in surgery and hospitalization, did not bother to go to the emergency room until 3 days later and never reported the assault to the police.  Okay, now we’ve got something to ponder…but it being lunchtime and the judge not available after 2:00 because she had to hear motions from other dopes, we were told to report back to the courthouse at 8:45 am on Friday.

As I looked at the jury, I thought to myself, we’ve got 2 on here with severe attitude problems.  One a dreadlocked, purple haired, nose ringed, tattooed young lady and the second, a slouched and shuffling kid who’d purposely dressed in droopy sweat pants, flip flops and a skull t-shirt to ensure that he wouldn’t be chosen.  Both looked to be the minimum age (18) but for some reason they felt the adults in the room cared about the the terrible disruption in their lives and spent the entire wait time whining about it  Sure, the adults in the room had some complaints – one guy had to drive over 50 miles each way, a woman who worked from home had to make special arrangements for a babysitter, pretty much all of them had to miss work although by law their companies are required to pay them for the first 3 days of jury duty … well except for the guy who has his own business who I guess is required to pay himself.  We all got to pay for gas and parking out of our own pockets.

Friday we were back in for 8:45 am sharp and put into a jury room until 9:00… except guess who didn’t show up?  Yup, Mr. Attitude whose life must involve things too important to stop by to join us.  I will give credit to dreadlock girl who did show up, but after waiting a half hour, asked to speak to the judge after which we didn’t see her again.  So, then there were 10…and it was now after 10:00 when we were told that they were trying to contact the ‘gentleman’ who didn’t show up (or call).  Really?  If you’re going to blow off jury duty, would you answer a call where the ID says “Worcester Courthouse”?

After cooling our heels for an hour and a half, we were shuffled back to the courtroom where the judge told us that due to the delay in trying to find our wayward juror, the fact that she had anticipated the trial to end that day (Friday), the holiday on Monday, her commitment to be in a different court on Tuesday, and problems rescheduling witnesses, that she would have to declare a mistrial and we were released.  No, there were no alternate jurors selected and since the trial had already started, she couldn’t pull new jurors from the Friday pool.  So, thanks to the bad attitude of one irresponsible kid, everyone involved in the trial – defense, plaintiff, witnesses, judge, courtroom personnel, jurors, all wasted 2 days and I’m sure much expense while the 2 dopes who decided to punch each other out will need to come back at another time to do it all over again.  And what did I personally get out of it?  A really lousy cold since everyone around me was coughing and spraying.

Obviously, I can use all of the above to not cook a real meal, but I happened to be very lucky.  I had plenty of left over spaghetti sauce, chicken fillets, mozzarella & parm cheese PLUS my daughter had given me a hot tip about spaghetti squash.  I’ve heard of spaghetti squash but never knew what to do with it until Niki explained that it was a self-cooking meal.  Get out!  This is what I’ve been looking for since leaving my mother’s home cooking.  Whether you’re tied up on jury duty or busy in court suing someone for punching you in the head, this is something you can put together with no effort at all.  If you don’t have your own spaghetti sauce hanging around you could use a good prepared sauce but if you’d like the secret family sauce recipe which should hold you for almost a week, try this link from a prior post.  Let’s start with the easiest thing in the world –

SPAGHETTI SQUASH with Browned Garlic Butter Sauce
1.  Take a spaghetti squash & toss it in the oven at 375° for about 45 minutes, until soft when you poke with a fork.  You don’t have to do a thing with it –  no peeling, oil, no pan…
2.  Cut squash in half, remove the seeds in the center, then pull out all the ‘spaghetti’ strands with a fork.  It will look like this:

3.  Mince garlic, saute in pan with 3/4 to 1 stick of butter until just browned, then pour over squash and toss to coat.

FAST CHICKEN PARMESAN

– Wrap chicken breasts in Sarah wrap, take out your frustrations by pounding it flat.  Quickly saute in combination of olive oil & butter, then remove to a lightly greased casserole dish.
– Layer slices of fresh mozzarella, then freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top of that.

Coat with homemade spaghetti sauce (or jarred).  Put in the oven with the squash for about 30 minutes.

Enjoy with your choice of wine – after all…It’s FRIDAY!!!