Sunday, February 26, 2012

Oscar Picks - Hugo and the Artist Will Sweep

Let's talk about the Oscars, shall we?

A lot of people don't care about the Academy Awards.  I can't blame them.  Long speeches, movies that never came to your theater, and loads of rich people decked out in designer duds.
Then there's the grumblings about how the judging is handled and who exactly is doing the voting.  There's been a lot of buzz this year about the largely white and very male demographics of the Academy and how that skews which movies are highlighted.  

And how about the awards themselves?  What does getting a nomination/win actually mean, will the film or performance stand the test of time?

Good, now that we've cleared that out of the way, let me talk about why a cinephile like me still pays close attention every year.

I find the Oscars interesting because they capture a moment in history.  I believe that they reveal something about where we are as a culture and what issues are on our minds.  And regardless of the voting, it's still a peer-recognized award.

This year's theme is clearly inspiration.  With the economy still in the pits, it makes sense that each Best Picture nomination tugs at the heart.  The Artist is the inspirational story of the silent film era, Hugo - the inspiration story of a boy in Paris, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close - the inspirational story of a boy and his father's memory, and so on. 

I've seen over half of these films.  I'm not a betting woman so I won't make any predictions, but if I could cast my vote, here's what would be on my ballot:


Despite some movie patrons who clearly didn't know silent film etiquette, I really enjoyed this film.  Largely a tribute and homage, this Oscar darling highlights the best of the silent film era while making the story and the acting accessible to a modern audience.  

Regardless that the story isn't that original, it still impresses me that the industry could dust off these ancient movie making techniques and bring to life such a lovely film.  The cinematography was fantastic, with beautiful black and white contrasts and outstanding composition.  The costumes also supported the overall look of the film.

Nominated: Best Picture, Actor, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay, Music Score, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume, Directing, Film Editing

My Vote: Best Score, Cinematography, Editing, Costume, and Art Direction


Scorsese making a child's film?  Of course it's going to be a front runner this year.  No matter what this wins, there will be no surprises here (unless there's no wins at all).

I half enjoyed Hugo.  I was much more interested in the parts about Méliès and early cinema than I was about the little boy, but that's just a personal preference.  I didn't see it in 3D, but the cinematography was whimsical to fit the story. 

Nominated: Best Picture, Cinematography, Art Direction, Costume, Directing, Film Editing, Musical Sound, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Visual Effects, Adapted Screenplay

My Vote: Directing, Sounding Editing & Mixing, Visual Effects, Adapted Screenplay


Wow, was I ever surprised by this flick!  I didn't know what it was about going into it and I was totally pleased by the story and the understated magical realism.  I'm not even a fan of Woody Allen fan, but this movie is changing my mind.

This film offers a great ensemble cast, with an even better story.  Anyone who's studied literature or history will really enjoy the finer points of Allen's humor in the film. 

Nominated: Best Picture, Art Direction, Directing, Original Screenplay

My Vote: hands down Original Screenplay, Directing


This was by far the most difficult movie I've watched recently.  It's in the same ballpark as 2001: Space Odyssey, The Fountain, or Solaris - jammed packed with sweeping visuals, hard-to-pinpoint symbolism, and understated yet powerful acting.

I admit, I didn't enjoy the film on an entertainment level.  But on an artist scale, I'm very glad this movie exists and that someone has the balls in Hollywood to make a picture with such a grand intent. 

I don't think the Academy knew what to do with this film either.  Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastin should have been nominated for their performances in this rather than in Moneyball and The Help.  Their performances really drove the meaning of the film, as did the highly intimate cinematography.  

Nominated: Best Picture, Cinematography, Directing

My Vote: Cinematography and Directing 


A movie about race and empowerment?  Let the nominations roll.  

It's hard for me to not be sarcastic about this film.  I haven't read the book, but the movie, while fun to watch, doesn't really say anything noteworthy about race relations.  It does make it clear that women can be cruel to each more than any Jim Crow law and that change can start in the bathroom.

While Viola Davis is the more powerful and serious actor, I feel like her and Octavia Spencer's nominations are reversed.  Octavia has much more screen time and she brings depth to a character that could easily be played for laughs alone.  Their scenes together are excellent, which is why I have trouble fingering who is truly the leading actress from the supporting.

Without going on a tirade, I'm also troubled by Jessica Chastin's nomination here.  I love her character and performance, but it complicates my interpretation of the film's message.  I identified more with her white trash character more than I had sympathy for the plight of the maids.  Maybe this stems from the book and is supposed to be deliberate, but it leaves me wondering.

I also have to add that Bryce Dallas Howard gave a fantastically delicious performance as the story's villain.  She should be recognized for helping the audience to not only hate her, but feel sorry for her misplaced purpose in life.  Her comeuppance at the end is a fine example of character depth. 

Nominated: Best Picture, Actress, and Supporting Actress (twice)

My Vote: I hope Spencer and Davis take the cake! 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (review)

Witches and vampires and daemons, oh my!

A Discovery of Witches is a wonderful book by Deborah Harkness.  It's a delightful blend of Harry Potter-esque magical realism, a nail-biting plot from Dan Brown, the lush historical details in The Historian, the science behind the movie Underworld, and (according to trusted friends) the sexiness of Twilight.  I was so in love with the story that I polished off this 575+ page novel in two sittings!

I honestly can't do the plot justice in a paragraph, so here's the inside book cover flap:  

Deep in the heart of Oxford's Bodleian Library, scholar Diana Bishop requests a manuscript called Ashmole 782 in the course of her research. Coming from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana sense that the ancient book might be bound up with magic - but she herself wants nothing to do with sorcery; and after making a few notes on its curious images, she banishes it quickly back to the stacks. But what she doesn't know is that the old alchemical text has set a fantastical underworld stirring. Soon, a distracting horde of daemons, witches, and vampires descends upon the Bodleian's reading rooms. One of these creatures is Matthew Clairmont, an enigmatic and eminent geneticist, a practitioner of yoga, and wine connoisseur - and also a vampire with a keen interest in Ashmole 782.

What follows is a lively story that snakes it way through alchemy, genetics, witchcraft, wolf behavior, history, magic, legends come to life, ancient brotherhoods, secret texts, iconic cities, famous libraries, and castles.

If none of that interests you, this is not the book for you.

What I love about this book is how adult it is.  This is not some YA novel with simplistic writing that grown-ups are picking up.  This is a book with characters who have PhDs,  engage in discussions about academic, magical, and scientific discourse, and are open about sensuality (fair warning - this is not True Blood, nothing R- or X-rated here).

I didn't feel like I was consuming literary junk food when I read this book.  It is smartly written, doesn't back away from gritty scenes, drives the narrative with a lively tone, never dumbs down or mutes its characters, and keeps you on your toes without any cheap tricks.


Colorful, thoughtfully developed, and engaging characters abound in a plot that with a less skilled writer would have descended into a catchy airplane read but nothing more.  I, unsurprisingly, was captivated by Diana, educated and feminist but complicated.  She is quite the opposite of Meg from A Wrinkle in Time and I can't say enough about how I need strong women in my books.  

I'm very excited that this book is part of a trilogy.  The plot is expansive enough that it will need the extra breathing room to fully flesh itself out.  I might have to be one of those crazy people who pre-orders the next installment this summer!

Do you dig books with mythical creatures like vampires, werewolves, witches, and talking animals?    

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Accepting Your Exercise Limits

Welcome to the Overachievers Anonymous Gym.  Our membership is open to workaholics, the hyperresponsible, perfectionists, the competitive, and former teacher's pets. You may also qualify if you routinely push yourself too much, too hard, or for too long.

Or if you look at this picture and immediately get depressed
If you are starting a fitness routine or struggling with a medical situation, repeat after me:

I will be kind to my body. 
I will accept my limitations. 
I will start at the beginning.

An out-of-shape or damaged body is a weak body and it takes very little to stress it out with intensive exercise. Whether you have a chronic disease, a physical limitation, or you're just overweight, your body will rebel if you ignore every warning sign that you're trying to do too much.

Trust me - put your overachieving ego aside and gracefully accept that you need to start at square one.  Yes, that can be a big pill to swallow, but your muscles, heart, and lungs will thank you.

Before I started being kind to myself, I was fighting with my body every time I tried to exercise.  Brisk walks, Tae Bo, heavy weights - all of it was frustrating me to tears and I would abandon movement all together. 

I didn't want to accept that my body was no longer the basketball-playing, tennis racket-welding, elliptical machine-happy, marching band junkie it used to be. 

Believe me, it's enormously difficult to accept that you have limitations.  But if you don't acknowledge the reality about your health or fitness level, you're only putting another stumbling block on your path.       

Whatever it is that you must accept about your body, identify it and come to peace with it.  It's OK if a certain type of exercise causes you pain or frustration.  Listen to your body or mind if it's telling you "I'm not ready for this."  

This doesn't mean you're giving up and it's not an excuse to just sit on the couch.  What you're doing is eliminating activities that aren't beneficial for you right now, this moment, under these circumstances.

For example, I love Tae Bo.  But 20 minutes in, I'm panting up a storm, getting frustrated that I can't keep up, and usually dissolve into tears.  One, that's super embarrassing.  Two, that's no way to work out.  So I've resigned myself that right now, at my current fitness level, this particular exercise isn't doing me any favors.  If I really want to pursue it, I need to buy a beginners DVD and start from there.     

Once you come to terms with the things you cannot do (remember - right now, at this moment), turn your mind toward things that you can do and that have a positive association.  Write a list out if you have to, but do it.       

I enjoy walking. 
I can do low weight, high repetition strength training. 
I like dancing to pop videos.
I'm able to go swimming.

Now that you've identified your starting point, build from there.  The only way you can become the exercise machine vision in your head is to compassionately inch your body in that direction.

I know, I sound a little hippie-dippie and Mike is laughing in the background because I've been ignoring this advice from him for years.  But it's completely worth my time to find out what works for me since all previous attempts have been unsuccessful.    

So I'm slowly creating an exercise routine based on walking, light weights, dancing, and Pilates.  This isn't going to be some quick miracle transformation.  In the past two months, I've neither lost weight nor been exercising as much as I should.

But I have been exercising, every few days in fact, and that's something I wasn't doing at all before. 

I can't say enough good things about starting slow and gentle.  As I'm heading into March, my only goal is to take these Jennie-friendly exercises and keep things simple by only increasing the frequency and duration.  

Which exercises help to keep you in a groove?    

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Recipe Finds - Move Over Cupid, I'm in Love with Chocolate!

What's better than a surprise party with all of your friends before you deploy?  A chocolate-themed suprise party! 

You should have seen our apartment this weekend.  The chocolate overraneth for sure: brownies, truffles, drinks, no-bake cookies, baklava, dipped potato chips.  A few waistlines may have expanded from our indulgences!  

To honor Valentine's Day, here's a sampling of chocolate-laced dishes. 

Chile con Carne

This all started because I got a chocolate cookbook for Christmas. Amid the pages of breads, pies, bars, and sauces was this intriguing recipe for chili.  I've had chili-infused dark chocolate before so I knew this was workable.

This is first and foremost a serious chili.  You skip any notion of using chili powder and rehydrate dried ancho and New Mexico chilis, which can be found in the produce section or the Hispanic aisle.  You then blend them into a velvety sauce before adding cumin, allspice, beef, onions, tomatoes, and 70% dark chocolate.

I made a double batch for our party, pureed the onion with the chilis, and added a can of black beans instead of an additional pound of beef.  It was gobbled up within the first hour! 

It's not a chili you would have often, but it's got a wonderfully deep flavor with the chocolate.  It only needs a touch of cheese and the flavors intensify the longer it sits.  Give this a try if you want something different! 

I actually think it would be better without the beef and just using black beans.  It was a tad sharp so the next time I might add the 60% chili-infused chocolate instead of 70% dark.

4.5 out of 5 forks 

Chocolate-Chip Pumpkin Bread

Chocolate and pumpkin?!  Oh yes, it's completely awesome together.  You eat bananas, strawberries, and raspberries with chocolate, why not pumpkin?

This is a fantastically easy quick bread recipe.  It's probably perfectly fine as is, except I just can't leave recipes alone :)

For a slightly healthy makeover, consider the following:
  • Sub half of the flour for wheat flour.  It won't overpower and you'll be adding in a touch more fiber.  You may need to increase the baking time by a few minutes so be mindful toward the end.
  • Instead of 1.5 cups of oil, use 1 cup unsweetened applesauce + 1/2 cup oil.  You could use all applesauce, but the texture will turn a little gummy.  Leaving in some oil will help perserve the fluffliness.
  • Due to a shortage at the time, I originally used only 3/4 mini chocolate chips.  It was really nice and I fear going to the full 1.5 cup would drown out the pumpkin flavor.  Reducing the chocolate also reduces calories and fat.   
5 out of 5 forks

Bacon Chocolate-Chip Cookies

The chocolate-bacon craze has been gathering steam the last few years. I recently tried a bacon chocolate bar and it was decent. It's not so much the bacon flavor that's being imparted, but smoky, salty goodness.

A friend of mine brought these delightful morsels over for our party and they were a hit. She used regular bacon instead of maple but followed the recipe otherwise. This is a very flat cookie that's soft in the middle but crispy on the edges - my favorite texture.

The taste is mostly chocolate with little spikes of bacon throughout. Don't be weirded out by putting meat in a cookie!  If you've ever drizzle pancake syrup on bacon, it's the same idea.

4.5 out of 5 forks, only because I'd have to resist making these often! 

Malted Fudge Brownies

Malt powder, brownies, and whoppers.  I can never make this recipe again.  I'm serious, it's that addicting!

I don't think I could go back to plain brownies after this dish either. Omitting the walnuts and underbaking these bars turned it into a glorious concoction of malted goodness. Soft, fudgy brownie topped with crunchy, salty whoppers.  OMG!!!

Move over Cookie Monster!  Nom, nom, nom, nom, nom!

5 out of 5 forks

What foods are your favorite for Valentine's Day?

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Looming High School Reunion

Something odd is happening.  My 10-year high school reunion is 6 months away.     

I know, I know - by many people's standards, I'm still a young whipper snapper.  I've had a mix of emotions about this event since rumors of its planning began to abound on facebook.  It's amusing, terrifying, and intriguing all rolled into one.   

I have a number of reasons to march into that reunion with my head held high.  In 10 years,  I went to college, earned two degrees, taught classes at public and private universities, got married, and currently hold a career job in a specialized field.  I've neither been knocked up, arrested, divorced, nor fired.  I've moved away from my place of birth and I don't live with my parents.   

I don't have some underdog complex that I need to resolve or a high school bully to confront.  I was never a popular girl, but I had a steady group of band and church friends.  I was a teacher's pet but I earned it by being a good student, not a suck-up.

This doesn't fully erase a few hesitations I have about going, one being that I get to walk down memory lane without Mike on my arm to make snarky comments with (and to show off what a good catch I landed, tehe).

One is that I had the experience of carrying two high school friendships into college.  Both failed and left a bad taste in my mouth.  I don't mean to make that sound like a sob story.  People naturally grow apart and change, which would be fine if that's what had happened. 

It's just that it didn't and both of these people represent unresolved chapters in my past.  Let's just call it unfinished business.       

The second, decidedly more childish, hesitation is my expanded waistline and bloated face.  If I could just look a little bit more like myself when I go, that would be lovely.  Hope my current routine of pilates and walking will help.

The past is a tricky thing.  Some people cherish it, some are trapped by it, and some leave it behind in the dust.

I'm the latter type.  I point myself toward the future, put the pedal to the metal, and keep moving.  So when all of a sudden dusty memories from a youthful time in another decade float up for untouched regions of my brain, it catches me off guard.   

It's even more surreal to think that I am a part of someone else's memories.  Somewhere in a dark corner of their mind, my childhood face or voice is imprinted on a neuron.  My picture resides in a memory box, family photo albums, or, horror of horrors, on video tapes.

I'm in someone else's head!  Muhahahaha!

Joking aside, I understand why some people think high school reunions are a superficial exercise.  Fair enough.  For me, it's not just about reliving those 4 years before turning 18.  It's remembering the time you spent with these individuals since kindergarten.

Think about it.  When you add up the numbers, you actually spent more time with classmates (and teachers) than you did with your parents growing up.  That's a lot of time accumulated between classes, recess, gym, music, sports, birthday parties, church night, theater, general mischief, and whatever else you did previous to your adult life. Particularly when you graduated with a small number of people (101 for me), the memories can be pretty specific.

I think it's going to be pretty interesting to go back and catch up.  I suspect I have more in common now with people I wasn't friends with and barely anything shared with those I was.  Funny how things change, but so it goes.

Did you go to your first high school reunion?  Do you have one coming up?  

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Recipe Finds - BLT Pasta Wins by a Mile and Two Soups Try to Win Our Affection

Chocolate-Cherry Smoothie

We're big smoothie fans so it's always great to find new recipes.  I ran across this one from Prevention Magazine and didn't think twice about the nutrition content, assuming it was healthy.  I used Chobani vanilla yogurt and unsweetened vanilla almond milk to be on the safe side.

This smoothie is GOOD!  The greek yogurt makes it more like a shake and the combination of dark cherries and chocolate chips is yummy.  With the protein from the yogurt and the fiber from the fruit, this will also stick to your ribs.  Plus, you're getting in 2 servings of fruit with this. 

But to my dismay, this liquid delight is also a diet buster.  Using a nutrition calculator to double check, I clocked in this smoothie at:  

510 calories76 carbs (25%)18 fat (28%)18 protein (36%)4 fiber (16%)165 sodium

If you left out the chocolate chips, you would save yourself almost all of the fat and 280 calories.  Eeecks!

This leaves me quite conflicted.  On the one hand, I had this for breakfast and was full enough to skip my mid-morning snack and drank tea instead.  But since I'm calorie counting, this definitely marks this in the "treat" or "only once in a while" category.

I'm guessing that you could easily cut the chocolate chips in half (2T instead of 4).

3 out of 5 forks (2 for nutrition but 5 for taste)

Yucatán-Style Chicken, Lime, and Orzo Soup

This dish looked like it would be a hit and I really liked the idea of using orzo pasta in soup. 

Unfortunately, this recipe wasn't balanced properly.  The lime overpowered EVERYTHING.  It was sour to the point of being bitter.  I'm not sure if this is because we didn't use fresh lime juice or this needs a little suger to balance the acidity.  

We ate a bowl a piece, but the leftovers went down the garbage disposal.  While we didn't like it, we both agreed using orzo would be a nice twist on chicken noodle.  Duly noted.

1 out of 5 forks

Bacon-Linguini-Tomato (BLT) Pasta

What's better than bacon?  Bacon with pasta!

If you don't like the mess of cooking bacon in a frying pan, try it in the oven.  Whip out a rimmed baking sheet, line it with foil, lay out your bacon slices, and cook for 30 minutes at 375 degrees, flipping them over half way through.

Note: fully cooked bacon keeps well in your fridge and is perfect for the freezer.  This is ideal for small households who don't need the temptation of a whole pound of bacon laying around.  I'm not pointing any fingers ...

Back to this recipe - NOM!  With your bacon in hand, this recipe is a cinch if you ignore all of the Pampered Chef promo stuff and go with my modifications instead.  

Throw your chicken broth, tomatoes (I insist on fresh), garlic, and 1/2 of bacon with the pasta and boil under tender (we use onion powder in place of onions).  Once the pasta is cooked, remove from heat, add remaining bacon, cream cheese, and parsley.  Let sit for 5 minutes and stir to coat with sauce. 

Box up leftovers right away because this recipe is hard to portion control!

I love this dish because you're not consuming that much bacon, you can halve this for two people, you won't miss full-fat cream cheese, and high fiber pastas are ideal. 

5 out of 5 forks 

Tortilla Soup

Ever wanted a homemade soup that tastes like one from a market deli?  Look no further.

Clearly we've had some troubles with soups lately, so I was leery of making this one.  This was worth every ounce of effort I put into it.  It tastes WONDERFUL!

A few hints:
  • Yes, blending soup is a pain in the arse but you won't regret it for this.  Just remember all of the fools on Chopped who blend hot liquids and make a royal mess.  Fill your blender half way, put on the lid, and cover the top with a towel.
  • I split my 28-oz of tomatoes between a can of Rotels and a can of fire-roasted tomatoes.
  • Chipotles in adobo sauce are expensive, but they go a long way.  They keep forever in the fridge but outsmart yourself.  Get an empty ice cube tray, chop up your chipotles, and make ice cubes out of them.  Perfectly portioned for future uses!
  • Because you blend the entire soup, this recipe is ideal for onion haters like me.  No chunks to pick out!
  • If you're ambitious enough to fry your own tortilla strips, have fun.  But you can use any type of tortilla chip instead.    
4.5 fork out of 5

What are your favorite soups to make?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

2011: The Year of Slow Financial Progress

To be honest, I don't think we made many gains in 2011. 

Fluctuating income was our biggest stumbling block.  We often knew what the government owed us from the GI Bill and drill pay, but it was a matter of when it would come in.  You simply can't plan well for an ever-moving paydate, especially when it could be a 2-week window overlapping into the next month.  Problematic, I tell you.    

The Successes

The initiation of Meatless Mondays was a grand success.  After we found a revolving staple of vegetarian recipes, it was easy to include them on a weekly basis.  We actually look forward to these dishes. 
  • Being more mindful of our meat consumption has also affected our other recipes.  I now routinely halve the amount of meat, particularly in soups or pasta dishes. It's also easier to stick to the 4-6oz of meat per person rule.  I wouldn't say this has lowered our grocery bill, but it has freed up money to buy better quality ingredients (more organics + free-range meats).

We paid off our furniture store credit card, just over a $1,000 balance.  This permanently eliminates a monthly payment as we have no other furniture needs at this time. 

While it had a roving balance, we consistently paid off our Firestone credit card in full.  Over $2,000 went on it in 2011 (all for the truck, sigh), but we ended up at $0 several months before the year ended.

The Not-So-Sures

We bought a car.  We made a purchase we haven't regretted and our lovely little Mazda 6 will last for another 10 years.  The downside is that we're paying $200 a month on a $10,000 loan.  We needed the car, no doubts about it, I just don't like having to take on so much debt to ensure transportation.  But it is what it is and I love that car!

We voluntarily raised our rent from $750 to $785 so we could add a garage.  This is much cheaper than renting a storage unit, but that's also over $400 we're paying extra annually.  

We also added to Mike's student debt as he was a student for most of the year ($10k +).  He didn't qualify for Guard tuition assistance because we missed the application cutoff by the time we made the decision late in 2010.  This is a necessary investment given employers' relunctance to hire non-degreed veterans, but it's one I hope we'll get a return on and, more importantly, can pay off.

We started using our savings account this year.  We never got to a place where we had a true emergency fund (3+ months of your bills), but it was an ok start.  On the upshot, once money is moved to savings, we are VERY relunctant to take it out.  That's a good mindset we can capitalize on.
The Not-So-Goods

We still have credit card debt.  $6,500 in fact.  $5,000 of that is all on one card, which we had excluded from our goals last year.  Unfortunately, the two bank cards that were our primary targets frequently were paid off but shortly had balances again.  They currently have $700 a piece.  Not pleased.

Slooooowww progress was made on our student loan debt.  I lowered two of mine by 6% and 4%.  Unfortunately, I'm on an interest-only payment for my federal loans and I quite depressingly only lowered the total by 1%.  On a $25,000+ loan, that's pennies. 

We didn't do a good job tracking what when in and what went out.  I can tell you from our bills how much we paid in total for water, rent, or internet, but I wasn't tracking groceries, gas, restaurants, or supplies.   

2012 and Beyond

This year will be highly unusual with Mike gone for half of the year overseas.  That also translates to a huge influx in income as he'll make in 6 months what I do in a year.  We're still evaluating our goals for 2012, but debt reduction will continue to be at the top of the list.

How did you fair last year?  What were your successes?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Recipe Finds - February Week 1

Coconut Jasmine Rice

If you've never had jasmine rice, first of all run out and get some.  It's wonderfully fragnant and has a lovely, delicate flavor.  It truly needs no flavoring.

However, if you're looking to jazz up your jasmine rice, this is worth trying.  This extremely simple and budget-friendly recipe involves cooking the rice in a bath of coconut milk and a touch of garlic.

Coconut milk is easy to find in the Asian section of your supermarket, but make sure to get LITE.  Even 1/3 cup of light coconut milk will cost you 20% of your daily satured fat.

This recipe is decent.  It has a mild flavor that's tasty, but it won't blow you away.  We paired it with lime chicken (below).  

3.5 forks out of 5 - worth keeping around and finding a better dish to pair it with.

Lime-Honey Chicken

I love chicken.  It's got a good nutrition profile, it's moderate on the wallet, and it can be made a million ways.

I also love recipes from Eating Well.  They're awesome about making tasty food that's still good for you.  This recipe certainly delivers with the zippy, lip-smaking flavors of honey, soy sauce, and lime.

I've modified this recipe for indoor use and 2 people - I've never tried it on the grill as intended.  I use about 12 oz of chicken breast and cut the marinade in half.  This is what I've learned:
  • This definitely needs the marinade time.  Did it once without and it just wasn't the same.  Have always done the full 2 hours, but definitely don't go over because the soy will make your chicken rubbery.
  • DON'T do this recipe on a George Forman grill.  All the beautiful marinade runs off and doesn't turn into a glaze :(
  • Your best bet is to simply throw this is a skillet and cook it up.  No additional oil is needed.  Don't go too high with the heat, otherwise you'll burn the honey.  The sugars do start to carmelize, so expect your chicken to take on a golden hue, but this is the good stuff.  
5 forks out of 5 (for my modifications)

Root Beer Cake
Disclaimer - I did not make a bundt cake.  Luckily, the recipe size fits neatly in a 13 x 9" pan.

This is a fun cake to make because of the flavor profile.  It's a chocolate cake base that you add root beer and allspice to.  Oddly enough, chocolate and root beer pair really well!

The cake is ridiculously moist and super tasty.  You could have a lot of fun seeing how different brands of root beer affect the flavor (I just used A&W).  Modifications in mind: 
  • I was not satisfied with the glaze, which hardened - I'd rather warm up root beer and powdered sugar to make a warm sauce.  
  • Add mini chocolate chips.  Oooh, or crush up those root beer hard candies and sprinkle on top!
  • Find a brand of root beer without high fructose corn syrup.  It doesn't make sense to make a cake from scratch and then add in a highly processed ingredient and artificial flavoring.
5 forks out of 5

Beef and Bean Chili Verde

Ok, so that's totatlly a picture of chicken chile verde.  Use beef and I promise it will look about the same, just with cow bits and red kidney beans instead.

Our soup exploration continues with this "dump" soup.  Turn off brain and dump in green salsa, kidney beans, garlic, browned hamburger, and chili + cumin.  Turn stove on low, put on burner, walk away for 15 minutes.  Dinner is served, just add cornbread.

Admittedly, I was a little creeped out by the color of this chile and I'd never had green salsa (which uses tomatillos instead of tomatoes), but it has a snappy taste and improves the next day.  I skipped the red pepper in favor of a can of diced green chilis I had. 

All in all a keeper, with a few pointers:
  • There is a LOT of beef in this dish.  It's almost like slightly watery taco mixture.  Because we're cutting down on our meat consumption, I would much rather use 1/2 lb instead of a full pound.  In fact, I would make this a strictly vegetarian dish and just use 2 cans of beans, maybe even mixing kinds (kidney + black beans).  
  • This is a salty chili.  I can't imagine how much higher it would be if we'd used green taco sauce.  Thin this out by adding 1 cup of water.
  • 15 minutes is nice for a quick meal, but if you're like me and enjoy very soft beans, let this simmer for 30+.
3.5 forks out of 5 - wouldn't have it every month, but good to keep in mind 

Roasted Parmesan Potatoes

Got a hankering for fries but watching your calories?  Give these potatoes a whirl. 

As long as your broiler is functioning and you don't leave these babies in for too long, this is a hard recipe to mess up  Just scrub, nuke, cut, sprinkle, broil, and voila!  Crispy, cheesy potatoes without the guilt.

This recipe is inexpensive, decadent tasting but healthy, and quick to boot.  To really portion control, I used 1/2 T butter (cut into little cubes), 1/4 tsp Lawry's seasoning, and 1.5 tsp grated parmesan per potato.

I made this recipe this week because I was craving fried chicken after a stressful day.  Instead of caving in, I used these spuds to satisfy my need for crunchy and salty.  Objective achieved!

5 forks out of 5
What are your favorite ways to dress up rice or potatoes?