Sunday, May 17, 2015

Chicken Parmesan my way

My father-in-law gifted us a smoker last year as a wedding gift. My husband LOVES to cook things on the smoker and I probably LOVE to eat the things that he cooks even more. But every now and again he'll make something and say to me "its your job to turn this into a meal" ... and I think to myself... "whaatt?! you made something that is not ready to eat?"

Lately he's been finding inspiration from It's this amazing website (literally) with tons of ideas of meals to cook and smoke. Last week, we had lots of tomatoes that were ripe and we had no plan of what to do with them. So, Brad found this idea of making marinara sauce by smoking the tomatoes - it's called Fired Up Marvelous Marinara Sauce. You can find the delicious recipe he borrowed here.

On Monday he made the marinara sauce and I couldn't come up with not one good idea of what to make with it by dinner time. I know that spaghetti is an easy dinner dish but I felt like this sauce deserved better than just spaghetti. Luckily, marinara sauce freezes pretty well so I had a few days to figure it out. I did a little googling and I decided I was going to make Chicken Parmesan, that sounded delicious.

I borrowed this recipe from Food Network as a starting point. I just needed to figure out how to make the chicken and I disregarded their tomato sauce because I already had my own.

I had one major question when reading through the recipe (I learned the hard way that I should read through a recipe 3-4 times so that I understand all of the steps involved before I begin... this makes actually cooking the recipe much less stressful): But, just how do you "pound thin" chicken breasts? I have never had to make chicken breasts "thin" before.

So, I decided to google the technique and I was able to find very easy instructions in a video here. Luckily, I had a wine bottle and didn't need to buy one of those $14.99 mallets to pound my chicken. Without google, this makes me wonder how in the world did people cook 20 years ago? If a recipe said to do something that the chef kitchen amateur didn't know how to do, how did they make it? Did they pick up the phone and call everyone in their phone book until someone they knew could explain how to do it? I give credit to Google for turning my into a "domesticated wife"... or at least I'm on my way :)

Moving on... 

After coating my chicken in flour, dipping it in the egg wash and covering it with bread crumbs, I was ready to fry my chicken in hot oil! I actually put the breaded chicken in the fridge for 30 minutes while Brad and I went to Publix to pick up a few ingredients for his own recipe. I haven't experimented enough to prove this theory... but its believed that the breadcrumbs stick better to the meat when it's had a little time to "adhere" in the refrigerator. 

Before I started cooking the chicken, I warmed up the marinara sauce on the stove top. As it was warming, I fried my chicken for 2 minutes each side, put some of the marinara on top with a few slices of mozzarella cheese and then I tossed both breasts in the oven for 5-7 minutes. While my chicken was finishing cooking in the oven (with my Texas Toast), I put some pasta to boil. TADA! ...And my chicken parmesan was delicious :)

After pounding those chicken breasts thin, I ended up with two LARGE breasts that I needed to fry one at at time. So, Brad and I ended up sharing one breast by cutting it in half.

There were lots of moving parts to this meal so I was really glad that I read the recipe 3-4 times before I started. I also prepped my entire work area with all of the ingredients that I needed. Usually, I start freaking out when something is frying or cooking and I have to get a second item in the oven or cooking on a different burner at the same time. This is the most chaotic part of cooking for me, heating up multiple items at the same time on different temperatures or burners.. BUT, I finally learned that if I prep my ENTIRE recipe's ingredients, read the recipe entirely 3-4 times and formulate a plan in my head... I'm less likely to burn anything in the process.

I still have occasional freak-outs but usually Brad is just a few steps away, analyzing the concerned look on my face and he asks, "do you need any help?". Luckily, I don't have to tackle this whole cooking thing everyday :)

Chef Stephanita

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Miles for Moffitt 5k

This past Saturday I ran the Miles for Moffitt 5k with our friends Phil & Elizabeth. I knew that I'd be "taking it easy" since my running efforts have been proving difficult since my second trimester started.

During my first trimester, I ran Ragnar when I was about 7 weeks along and I was 9 weeks when I ran the Gasparilla 15k pretty effortlessly. I ran Gasparilla 15k in 1hr 30min. My 15k PR for this race is 1:29. Although I didn't go into Gasparilla thinking I was going to "race" it or set any records, I was on target to beat my PR until mile 7 when I was feeling sluggish and decided to take it easy to the finish line.

Back to Miles for Moffitt...

My running really slowed down after Gasparilla. Between life getting busy and my no-motivation-to-run kicking in, I didn't make an effort to run more than 3-5 miles a week. I thought I was doing enough to be able to run the Miles for Moffitt 5k this weekend but boy was I wrong!

The race started at 8am - the sun was already out and stirring up heat at the start line. I was excited to participate in another race since the Florida racing season is almost basically over and I didn't think I'd get another opportunity until after our little bambino was born.

I'm representing Brandon Running (love, love, love this group!)
you can check them out here: 
Elizabeth and I agreed on a jog/walk method to finishing the race. My friend Elizabeth is a TROOPER! She just underwent hip surgery last fall and has recovered beautifully. She ran in the Gasparilla 8k and then signed up for the Miles for Moffitt 5k with me. She is always so cheerful and optimistic that I knew she'd stick with me and help me get through.

The first two miles we did a 3/4 mile jog with 1/4 mile walk method and this was working pretty well for us. Around the beginning of mile 3 I remember the sun just staring us in the face with little shade in sight. We changed our plan to jog 1/2 mile and walk 1/4 mile. That plan quickly changed again to jog 1/4 mile and walk 1/4 mile until the finish line. We finished averaging 13:40 per mile! In the end, I was pretty happy about this pace.

Running has been one of my favorite forms of exercise for the last 4 years. My husband introduced me to running in 2011 and in 2012 we went off and signed up for our first half marathon. Since then, I've run 9 half marathons and 2 marathons. BUT right now I have to admit that running and pregnancy just don't seem to be meshing for me, I definitely haven't been enjoying jogging/walking more than 1-2 miles at a time. This makes me a little sad since I had big dreams to resume running and pick up racing again once my body recovered from delivering our bambino.

Has anyone else run while pregnant? Did you notice a difference in your emotional attachment to the exercise? I think I'll be kicking running to the curb here shortly and I'm signing up for Prenatal Yoga!


Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Salted Caramel Cake Pops!

Some how, I survived last week with flying colors. I rocked my work trip, my project team was very productive even though I was out of the office AND my cake pops were delicious! I feel like that is a win for all.

I borrowed the recipe from

I made this recipe about 3 years ago, I believe Isabella (my niece and "mini-me", I call her Bells) was turning 6 and I told her that I'd bake her anything she wanted. Of course at the time, making cake pops that tasted like they were the ones from Starbucks sounded like a massive challenge. The first time I made this, I had a LOT of help from my husband... baking was not my forte.

Since I was traveling last week, I broke this recipe up into phases. I started the cake mix on Monday morning around 6am and put it to bake. I don't think I let it bake quite long enough (yes, I did read the temp and time instructions!) because when I let it cool on the stove, it ended up looking like this:

I'm no master chef but I'm pretty sure the cake isn't supposed to have this big HOLE in the middle! I proceeded to chop up the cooled cake in the food processor on Monday evening and that HOLE easily disappeared once all of the cake was mixed together in a bowl :) No stress! I followed the next steps of the recipe and mixed my crumbled cake and the caramel sauce together to form little cake balls. I let the cake balls harden in the fridge over night and on Tuesday morning I put them in a freezer bag and threw them in the freezer.

Wednesday through Friday I was working in Ohio on a large client project. Large, complex projects are what I DREAM about! During the 7 years spent in college, 5 of those years I had no clue what I wanted to do once I graduated. I was lucky enough to have managers and mentors through the years who involved me in some large initiatives and thats how I discovered project management. I still work for the same company, but now I get to manage small projects of my own. My trip to Ohio was with a team of coworkers or "experts" in their area from all over the country.

While I was gone, I also took my first pregnancy "bumpie" as I turned 19 weeks on Friday.

Add caption

On Friday night around 8pm I took my cake balls out of the freezer and I started to melt chocolate. I took the easy-way out by purchasing this microwavable dipping chocolate at Publix. The first time I made the recipe I melted the chocolate on a double-boiler (you can find out how to melt it like a "pro" using a double-boiler here). I did use a double-boiler for the white choloate. But dipping the entire cake ball for the milk chocolate was much easier to control the heat in the microwave as you literally have three steps involved: 1) microwave 2) stir 3) repeat as necessary

Once the chocolate was nice and warm, it was ready for dipping! First I dipped every stick into the chocolate before I put it in the cake ball. This was an exceptional tip from the recipe site I followed. ALL OF THE CAKE POPS STAYED ON THE STICKS WHILE BEING ENJOYED! This is pretty fantastic because the first time I made this recipe, it was a royal mess of cake pops falling off their sticks.

Once I dipped all of the pops, I put them on a silpat to harden.
 didn't realize until afterwards that this
would make my pops "flat" on one side.
I tried to cover up the flat side with the white chocolate and the caramel drizzle.
The wonderful thing about 8-year-olds is that they don't judge you on aesthetics && this is the smile that I used to measure my success :)

Until next time!
xo Chef Stephanita