The Halloween Edition

I love the holidays. All of them. I love decorating and celebrating. Typically, with a holiday there is time with family and friends. While Halloween isn’t an official holiday, it is one of my favorites.I love carving pumpkins, costumes, scary movies, and all of the candy!

For the last three years, I’ve put a lot of thought into my costumes. We have a costume contest at work that pays cash money. Even two years ago, I had a second costume for a party so I wouldn’t reveal my work costume before the day of Halloween.

 

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Moonwalks. Beetlejuice. Golden Tickets.

 

I’m a little bitter that I still haven’t won first place and that this year I didn’t even place. Originally, I was going to be David Bowie in the Labyrinth as the Goblin King. However, I realized that may be a bit obscure and went with Willy Wonka instead. Needless, to say this year’s loss has me already planning for next year.

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On the Friday before Halloween, Scott and I enjoyed our new backyard and patio for the first time. He grilled out steaks, we ate them inside because we only have tailgate chairs at the moment. While I carved our first pumpkin (we bought one last year but never got around to carving it), he started the fire in the pit my parents gifted up last week. We then listened to music and sat on the patio until midnight. It was the perfect evening and will always be one of my favorites. He gets me.

Halloween goes hand in hand with all the fun of fall, including seasonal vegetable. So a few weeks ago I made stuffed acorn squash and promised a few on Facebook I would write up the recipe. Here is the original and below is my adapted version (because I can never follow).

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Stuff Acorn Squash

2 Acorn Squash
2 pounds of pork sausage, casing removed (I did a mix of spicy and sweet)
1 onion – finely chopped.
3 cloves garlic – minced
2 granny smith apples – finely chopped
1 container of mushroom – finely chopped
1 – 1.5 cups of kale – FINE, I put mine in my mini chopper/food processor. I find this is a good way to get in some green veggies.
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme
1/2 tablespoon of fresh rosemary
Shredded gruyere cheese

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees

Cut the acorn squash in half. Spray (or rub) with olive oil. Place them on a baking dish cut side down. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes.

While the acorns are cooking, begin cooking your sausage. Add the garlic, onions, and herbs until translucent and fragrant. Then add the remaining ingredients, for the exception of the cheese.

Once the squash has cooked for 15 – 20 minutes, scoop the sausage mixture (once fully cooked) into the squash.

Place back into the oven for another 15 – 25 minutes. You should be able to pierce the acorn squash with a fork or knife when finished.

Once finished, top with cheese. If you don’t like gruyere any soft white cheese will do.

Enjoy! I always have leftover filling but I am okay with that. Makes for a great lunch the next day.

Happy Fall!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Return of #SoupSunday

I love fall, however, fall in the south is a weird mixture of cool mornings & nights and sweltering afternoons. I never know what to wear. But the cooler temps are very much welcomed from the stifling summer days (and nights).

With the return of fall, so comes the return of #SoupSunday. Several years ago I started making soup on Sundays because I love the idea of having something on the stove (or in the crockpot) you can eat throughout the day and enjoy with company while football on. Soup also makes great leftovers.

 

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Wedding in Camden, SC

 

On Friday, I left Charlotte at noon for Camden, SC to work a wedding. I stopped by Scott’s office on my way out of town and gave him a list for the grocery store. I figured I’d put a soup in the crockpot on Sunday when I got home and we’d have lunch/dinner. He texted me on Friday night and said he couldn’t find one of the ingredients (the green chilis), so I improvised.

 

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Spicy Pork Soup

 

Slow Cooker Pork & Green Chili Stew – here is the original recipe.

And here is mine: Slow Cooker Spicy Pork Soup

  • 2 pounds of pork tenderloin
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • cooking spray
  • 2 tablespoons of rice flour
  • 1 red onion – chopped
  • 1 can of chipotle peppers in adobe sauce*
  • 1 jalapeno – chopped*
  • 4 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon of cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • Can of black beans

Directions:

Cut pork into 2-inch pieces. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat a large non-stick skillet on high heat; when hot lightly spray the pan with oil and brown the pork over medium heat on all sides, about 3 – 4 minutes total. Sprinkle 1 tbsp of flour over pork and stir to cook 30 seconds, sprinkle remaining flour over pork and cook an additional 30 seconds. Add browned pork to the crock pot. (up until this point, the recipe matches the original).

Use the same pan to saute the onions and jalapeno* (read below).

Take the can of chipotle peppers in adobe sauce and add it to the food processor, pulse, then add to the pan with the onion and jalapeno. *This is where I would tell you, use only 1/4 or 1/2 a can of chipotle peppers. You can also omit the jalapeno. Our soup was VERY spicy.

Add broth to the pan, let simmer with the other ingredients.

Add everything to the crockpot.

Cook on LOW for 8 hours or HIGH for 4 hours (per the original recipe). Mine cooked about 3.5 hours on high in the crockpot.

Overall the recipe was very tasty but it definitely left us with clear sinuses and runny noses. I also, added grated (a lot of) cheese to the top to cut the heat.

This Sunday I am making the Fisherman Lobster Stew from Mario Batali’s Spain cookbook. Be on the lookout for pictures on Instagram.

Zip Code Dinner Club

It is no secret, I love food. All food. I have friends who are terrified of my food choices (the fact that I ate raw horse in Japan). However, I feel like life is too short to not taste the food!

Earlier this year I attended a talk with a theme to “get out of your zip code” and explore your city beyond the whitewashed neighborhoods we seclude ourselves to. After the talk I was speaking to a few food-loving friends and how we should explore the hole-in-the-wall places in different neighborhoods of Charlotte. Thus Zip Code Dinner Club was born. I, along with three other ladies go once a month to a new restaurant in a different zip code.

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Our first food adventure brought us to La Shish Kabob in Eastland, where we feasted on lamb, rice, and falafel.  Read all about our adventure (and the birth of Zip Code Dinner Club) on Charlotte Agenda.

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The following month we ventured to a Korean Restuarant and Market in Matthews. Pepero Asain Market is a hidden gem in an unassuming building, even the restaurant itself is tucked within this Asain market. We ate like queens ordering 3 different apps and soup. I highly recommend the kimchi pancake.

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In June, we ventured to South Boulevard for Greek fare at the Mad Greek. We started with hummus and stuffed grape leaves (which are my absolute favorite). For my main dish, I ordered spanakopita which was the most delicious and beautiful spanakopita I’ve ever had. I also downed 2 (maybe 3) Greek Iced Coffees. I couldn’t stand the idea of eating any more food, so I took dessert to go. While the Made Greek has items on the menu that are traditionally American, I challenge you to try something authentic.

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Unfortunately, life sometimes gets in the way and we missed our July meeting. However, we picked up right where we left off exploring Charlotte (and neighboring towns). We originally planned to try and bistro in Pineville. When we arrived it looked suspiciously quiet with only one car in the parking lot. Going to open the door, I felt as though I was going to bust into someone’s private dinner party. Nope. They were just closed. We didn’t have our token vegetarian with us, so we decided to venture to the local German restaurant, Waldhorn, and have a meat fest. And that is just what we did. We started with a bottle of German wine and promptly ordered the sampler plate. There is nothing more beautiful than having an entire plate of weiners placed on your table. I ordered the Kalbsrahmragout (sautéed Veal and mushrooms, in a light cream sauce, with homemade Spätzle) and I honestly think that was my first time having Spätzle. We had the best server, who convinced us all to come to October Fest. If you aren’t opposed to lots of meat and sauce, I highly recommend heading to Pineville for German eats.

Next month, we are venturing to the Greek festival.  While it isn’t a new adventure for me, it is my favorite way to kick off fall in Charlotte. I do plan to mix it up with the wine tasting and sit-down dinner inside…oh and the baklava ice cream, obviously.

Where are your favorite hidden gems in Charlotte? Help us explore this wonderful town and get out of our zip code! Follow me on Instagram for all of my food adventures (home cooking and eating out).

I also challenge you to do the same! My biggest piece of advice for heading into these restaurants, TALK TO YOUR SERVER! Don’t seek out what is comfortable. Talk to those who serve your food and find out what is popular and good.

The Move

In my last post I mentioned moving in with my boyfriend, while true it is not entirely accurate because my townhome is still riddled with my things. I took the essentials to his place and would go pack small car loads of items at a time. However, the time had come to make the move official. Call movers and finally, clear out my place to put on the market.

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Maybe, part of me was holding on to my townhouse for sentimental reasons. I bought that house in December of 2009. A lot has happened in those 6.5 years. And no matter what, through the good and the bad that was my place to retreat to. My home. Things were tough for awhile, I scraped the bottom of every paycheck but it was worth it because it was mine and I had a pup to share the adventure with. I remember, finally mustering up the courage to ask for the raise I deserved. I eventually left that job, it was my first real job and I had been there for 8 years. It was a hard decision but it was the right decision. I cried from a broken heart, countless times. I celebrated big events and milestones. Hosted out of town guests and put on Sunday family lunches. My best friend told me she was expecting her first on the floor of my living room, all the while we helped another friend pack up from her divorce. My dad and I put in the wood floors together, moments I will always cherish. And my most favorite memory of all is meeting Scott and to think he was just a guy in my neighbor who’s house I walked by on my walks with Callie. And while my first home will always hold a special place in my heart, I am excited about this next phase and to be sharing it with someone I love. And let’s be honest, part of me was just avoiding the last bit of packing (mostly the glass that needs to be wrapped carefully then packed).

The movers come Saturday, so all week I’ve gone straight from work to my house to pack, then home to prep dinner. Needless to say, it has been an exhausting week and I look forward to having the packing behind me. Here is a breakdown of this week’s meals:

Monday
I did not feel like cooking after packing that night, so we went to the new Sabor in Steele Creek. Delicious.

Tuesday – Grilled Salmon with Mango Salsa
I had put the salmon to defrost in the fridge and cook on Monday night, but that plan ended up with us eating tacos. So we absolutely had to have salmon on Tuesday.  Let me just say, I would pay extra for pre-cut mangos. What a pain in the butt! However, the salsa was delicious and worth the work. I am a big fan of having something green on my dinner plate, so I also sauteed some kale. IMG_7530

Wednesday – Pork Tenderloin & Green Beans
On Saturday, I cleaned out my freezer and realized we had a lo of great meats that needed to be cooked. I used a marinade we had on hand for the pork tenderloin and let it sit while I prepped the green beans. An attorney I work for brought in all sorts of farm fresh goods on Monday, including these green beans. I just steamed them, nothing special. While the pork tenderloin turned out delicious, I did overcook it by a minute or so. Lesson learned.

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Thursday – Zucchini Pie & Chicken Hash
When I got to work on Thursday I realized I had not taken anything out for dinner or had a real plan. I decided we would have breakfast for dinner, though I ended up going beyond the typical eggs & bacon. I need to learn to keep things simple. In addition to the green beans, I got some zucchini and decided to try my hand at this Zucchini Pie I found. This meal is delicious, I did make it gluten free by buying the GF Bisquick. However, the directions are VERY simple, do yourself a favor and learn from my mistake: add the cheese, Bisquick, oil, and eggs first. Mix. THEN add the zucchini and onion. As for the hash, I brought the frozen diced with peppers added leftover cheese from the zucchini pie, thyme, and kale, and rotisserie chicken.

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Tonight
We will be doing the last bit of packing, so afterwards we are hitting up one of Scott’s favorite neighborhood restaurants near our old ‘hood. Cheers to what is to come!

Until next time (in which I will probably be complaining about unpacking),
Jen Leigh

Inspired

 

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photo credit

 

It has been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve blogged, so long that I no longer consider myself a blogger or identify as being one. I honestly lost the desire to write and to share. Then suddenly last week, I looked up my blog and the desire returned.

It is not that I have the time to blog. Life is currently nuts (recovering from surgery, moving, selling a house, training two dogs, and work). I think my time in the kitchen has rekindled my urge to share. Cooking has inspired me.

In the last two weeks I’ve cooked 4 new recipes, while in 14 days that may not seem like a lot, 3 of those have occurred within one week. The prior week, one of the recipes was not new to me and the rest of the week was spent eating out and celebrating my 32 birthday. In those two weeks and 5 meals, I’ve really rediscovered my love for cooking.

What has changed in the last two weeks? I moved in with my boyfriend. And while I’ve cooked for him before moving in, it was typically only once a week and it wasn’t my kitchen. Things were always missing (his kitchen isn’t as stocked as mine), I’d buy ingredients we already had, or he would do the grocery shopping. Also, I was skimping out on cooking/shopping for myself. Up until the move, my kitchen was pathetic.

I also find it a great joy to cook for someone else. So far, I haven’t screwed up a meal nor has he given me the thumbs down on any meal. I know it is only a matter of time before something turns out awful and there is a total failure that ends with me ordering pizza.

So what have I been cooking?

  • Pineapple Chicken Kabobs
    Sundays are grill days. Scott grills all of his chicken for the week for his lunch, so I figured if the grill is going that dinner should be grilled too. While the grilled pineapple was delicious and the combination of sweet and peppers was perfect I was disappointed with the recipe’s marinade and sauce. I’ll definitely use a different marinade next time.
  • Chicken Quesadillas
    This meal was kind of a disaster, only because it was really messy. To simplify cooking dinner on a Monday night, I decided to use the crockpot for the quesadilla filling. Except it was a taco recipe, which means it was wet. Doesn’t do well in a quesadilla. The flavors were spot on and we used my quesadilla maker but we did need extra napkins for this one!
  • Grilled Pork with Charmoula
    We knocked it out of the park with this meal. I do the prep work and Scott fires up the grill. This original recipe calls for lamb chops but Scott isn’t a fan, so I used pork chops instead and rubbed them down with LOTS of cumin. I doubled the sauce recipe (because as the Sauce Boss, I always need extra). We grilled sweet corn as our veggie and they were so wonderful, they didn’t even need butter! I highly recommend pulling out the grill and giving this recipe a try. If you do it with lamb, let me know!
  • Salmon Meatballs with a Dijon-Lemon Sauce
    I was a little nervous about this meal because I was going to make the salmon filets into ground salmon. I may have over pulsed it one too many times in the food processor. I also used the food processor to chop up spinach to add to the meatballs.
    For the sauce, I used a cup of half & half and a cup of greek yogurt. I didn’t feel like it called for enough mustard/lemon so I added more to taste. I served it over a bed of zucchini noodles. This one was a big hit.
  • Spinach and Artichoke Skilled Chicken with Sundried Tomatoes
    This recipe was made on a whim because I was too lazy that morning to prep everything in the crockpot. I wasn’t crazy about this. Probably because I didn’t use cream cheese. Though it wasn’t bad and didn’t get any complaints from Scott, I don’t think I’ll be repeating it again.

I look forward to blogging more in the future and sharing not only my adventures in cooking but in life as well.

Until next time.
Jen Leigh

Weekend Update: Hello Fall

This weekend encompassed all the things of fall. Chilly weather, Halloween, FriendsGiving, and of course Soup Sunday. I could not have had a better weekend and was glad to have yesterday to reflect and rest.

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halloween with katie

Despite not having children, I absolutely love Halloween. Typically the entire month of October is filled with scary movies carving of a pumpkin, roasting the seeds, and coming up with the perfect costume . However, Halloween has the ability to be a lot like New Years’s Eve, where there is a lot of hype and buildup to the holiday only be let down on the day of. Thankfully, this Halloween did not disappointment. I had a killer costume that won me 3rd place and a cash prize. I took my winning costume to another party with my friend, Katie, and her boyfriend, Nick. We basically just drank and danced. I only partly regret drinking the mystery juice (you know what I am talking about — the pre-made mix drink where you don’t know the percentage of juice to alcohol). I took Uber home and I was hydrated and in bed by 1am. Overall a winning Halloween.

Saturday morning, I rallied got myself out of bed. I planned on getting an oil change but knew in my gut it would be more than just a simple oil change. And it was. Almost $200 later I was on my way to vote. While standing in line at the Cornelius Town Hall, Thom Tillis walked in. I will say no other comments than that, other than if you haven’t voted yet tomorrow is the day. Do your civic duty and vote! Before going home I picked up some Bojangles, it is my cure for a night of drinking. That evening I went to FriendsGiving hosted by my friend Kseniya and her husband, which is an awesome way to kick off the holiday season and to practice overeating. I made my MawMaw’s broccoli salad (it’s not her recipe, but every time I have it I think of her). There was a lot of amazing home cooked meals that evening, my stomach was full when I went home that night.

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I woke up on Sunday with an extra hour of sleep and that fall had officially arrived. I was blessed enough to attend a local church with my dear friend Erin. It not only fed my soul but I was honored to hear the testimony of Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of Saeed Abedini the pastor being held in an Irani prison. Her story though heartbreaking, there is beauty in the strength she has found through her faith. I encourage you to look up his story (here is some information), as the pastor said “it is not just a Christian issue, this is a religious freedom issue.” Everyone should have the right to worship as they wish and the religion they wish. After having my soul fed, we went to Georges Brasserie in Southpark. It was my first visit and it was worth the wait as well as lived up to all the good reviews. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend.

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And because it was Sunday, I made soup (#soupsunday). This week’s soup was Spanish Chicken Stew in the crockpot. I’ve been asked for the recipes for my soups. For this soup I followed the recipe for the exception that I also added red wine to the broth. I added some red pepper flake to my bowl of soup for some kick. This is probably one of the easiest soups that I’ve made so far this season.

After an fun and uplifting weekend, I am confident that I will enjoy the week ahead. Happy Monday all.

All the Feelings

I stopped blogging. I thought starting a new blog would inspire me. It didn’t. However, my friend Michelle mentioned bringing her blog back and it made me miss writing. Though I realize I am not the best writer, I do enjoy it. That is what truly matters, right? And practice makes perfect. Then Katie over at Honeystuck, posted an emotions survey and I figured this would be an excellent catalyst to begin blogging again. I honestly don’t know if everyone wants to know this much information about me, but here it goes.

Making: my MawMaw’s broccoli salad for Saturday’s FriendsGiving feast.

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Cooking: lot’s of soup! Now that it is fall I make the tradition of making soup on Sundays (#soupsunday). This past Sunday, I had my parents over for lunch and made an Ale & Cheddar soup at my mom’s request. It turned out really well, next time I’ll double the recipe.

Drinking: water. That’s pretty much all I drink. Well, last night it was Tito’s vodka, so today it is time to hydrate.

Reading: I am in between books currently. I did just order Dark Places by Gillian Flynn. Her books are well written as well as dark & twisty. I like it.

Wanting: to plan an international trip next year. Though I don’t know the destination, I think it is about time to leave the states for a visit to another country. I also want to take a weekend trip to Tampa…oh and Austin and don’t forget NYC! With that said, I am wanting more money so I can travel more.

Looking: for some nice tall black boots this season. Every year, I just wear the hell out of my boots because I tend to buy cheaper boots. Not this year. Buying quality boots that would be worth resoling.

Playing: music at night when I go to bed. I use to need absolute silence and dark to sleep but I find the music quite soothing. It also helps me from keeping my mind from wandering, well too much!

Wasting: money on cable TV. I’ve had DirecTV since I moved into my house, however it is overpriced for someone who only watches network stations and the FoodNetwork. I can’t wait when the time comes that you pay for the channels you want/watch. I’ve been considering making the swap or ditching cable all together.

Sewing: Sew?! I can’t even cut a straight line much less sew something. This just makes me laugh and wish I was more crafty.

Wishing: these damn commercials for the politicians. I have never learned anything about a candidate from a commercial. Are there not better things they can spend their money on?!

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Enjoying: the pictures from last night’s Yelp Gets Freaky party at the NC Music Factory. However, I am still wishing I was still in bed.

Waiting: for my day trip to the mountains. I’ve spent very little time in the North Carolina mountains and I would like to change that this year.

Liking: Halloween season. It means candy, costumes, and scary movies. All things I like.

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Wondering: what to wear for my Christmas card photos this year. Last year I wore a red flannel top with a fur skirt, the photos were taken in a local park. This year I am thinking a red tulle skirt with a white top and jean jacket, with the photos taken uptown. Too much? I mean at least I am not going to be dressing up Callie too.

Loving: all things cooking competitions. I pretty much watch Chopped & Cutthroat Kitchen all the time.

Hoping: to find a church that has a community of people within my age/stage of life.

Marveling: at the beautiful colors of fall. Even after being in NC for 12 years, I still love seeing the changing of seasons.

Needing: an oil change (and an inspection). But who has that kind of time to waste?! However, the ole Honda is in desperate need. I also should have the car detailed while I am at it.

Smelling: antibacterial hand gel…I was sick so I am trying not to spread my germs or catch anymore dirty germs.

Wearing: a mix between my spring and fall wardrobe. North Carolina weather can’t make up it’s mind. It is 40 in the morning but 80 by the afternoon.

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Following: Texts from Your Ex on Instagram. It will either make you feel better about all of your past relationships or it will remind you of someone. I highly recommend.

Noticing: that my closet/bedroom is a disaster. Because I am working between two seasons, I haven’t made the wardrobe switch. I have an overflow of clothes strung out between my closet to my bedroom. This madness must stop.

Knowing: that daylight savings is coming this weekend makes me incredibly sad. The shorter days just makes me want to go into hibernation mode.

Thinking: do you all really want to know all of this information? This damn thing is long…also, what was I thinking?!

Feeling: inspired. I am hoping that this post will help reignite the fire to be a real blogger again, rather than just a micro-blogger (you know, just Twitter & Instagram).

Bookmarking: recipes. I am finally feeling like cooking real meals again. After I had a cold and just not feeling motivated to cook, I am back!

Opening: my email to see all sorts of new fall pieces makes me want to go shopping…but maybe I should deal with that disaster of clothing in my closet first before I buy new stuff.

Giggling: at the family text messages. Now that my brother and I are sending GIFs, it makes things even more humorous. Love my family.

 

So if you are still reading this, those are all my feelings. Happy Wednesday and welcome back to Jen Leigh Blogs!