Thursday, January 26, 2012

Back in the Kitchen: Southern-Style Chicken and Dirty Rice

Hi, friends! Can you believe I'm back for the third week in a row? I'm pretty proud of myself! It's a lot less than I was posting this summer, but better than once a month. I'm hoping to keep up the once a week post from here on out. But I make no promises.

Let's start with updates first, and then we'll get into the chicken and dirty rice. My TOMS arrived yesterday! Holla! (I hope the exclamation points adequately display my excitement!!)

Aren't they adorable? I am sooo ready to bust these out this spring. Bring on the warm weather!

In other news, Jesse and I went to Johns Hopkin's for the day for my pre-op appointment. We heard about what to expect the day of my surgery, I filled out a bajillion-page packet about myself, and gave some blood. Everything went pretty well, with the exception of the wait times between each part of my appointment (we were there for nearly 4 hours!), but the scariest part was finding out that I'll be in the neuro-critical care unit for the first night after my surgery. I guess it's good to know that they'll be monitoring everything so closely, but I have a feeling it means I'll be in a lot of pain. Boo. On the bright side, I'll have Jesse, my parents and his parents all there taking care of me. I feel very lucky that I'll have so many people nearby!

Enough of the scary stuff, let's talk about chicken and rice. I love that there are so many variations of this combination. When my mom was here a few weeks ago, she not only made my favorite chicken and rice casserole, she also made an amazing chicken and wild rice soup. You would think that two chicken and rice meals would be enough to satisfy my cravings, but as you can probably tell by the title of this post, I still wanted more.

In an attempt to ease back into the kitchen, while also getting more of my chicken and rice fill, I decided to try a slow cooker recipe for southern-style chicken and dirty rice. I found the recipe in the cookbook Slow Cooker Revolution, which was a Christmas present from my sister-in-law and brother-in-law (thanks, Corina & Neil!).

This recipe takes a little more work than some slow-cooker dishes, due to the fact that you brown the kielbasa and vegetables before adding them to the slow cooker, but it's definitely worth the effort! Sautéing the kielbasa makes everything smoky, meaty and deep in flavors. YUM!

I was really happy with the results of this dish and I'm excited that I have one more recipe to add to my slow cooker repertoire!

How about you, do you think you'll give this version of chicken and rice a try? Do you have any go-to slow cooker recipes? I want to add more slow cooker recipes into the rotation, so I'd love to hear about some of your ideas!

Southern-Style Chicken and Dirty Rice
Adapted from Slow Cooker Revolution

Serves: 6 to 8
Time: 4 to 6 hours

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8-12 ounces turkey kielbasa, cut into 1/2-inch pieces*
1 onion, minced
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper**
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth***
2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
salt and pepper
2 cups instant brown rice
2 scallions, sliced thin (optional)

Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown sausage well, about 3 minutes. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, thyme, chili powder, and cayenne and cook until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in flour and cook for one minute. Slowly whisk in broth, scraping up any browned bits and smoothing out any lumps.

Meanwhile, season chicken with salt and pepper and add to slow cooker. Pour the vegetable and kielbasa mixture over the chicken, stir, cover with a lid and cook until chicken is tender, 4 to 6 hours on low.

Break-up chicken into bite-size pieces using wooden spoon (or two forks). Stir in rice and 1 teaspoon salt, cover, and cook on high until rice is tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle with scallions and serve.

*The original recipe called for 8 ounces of regular kielbasa sausage, but I substituted with the Trader Joe's 12 oz. turkey kielbasa and couldn't tell the difference.
**Cayenne pepper adds spice to this dish, but we found that 1/8 teaspoon wasn't enough for our liking. If you like mild dishes, I would leave the recipe along. Otherwise, I recommend adding another 1/8 teaspoon to the recipe.
**The original recipe called for 1 1/2 cups chicken broth and white rice, but I used brown rice. I noticed that the rice absorbed all of the cooking liquid before the 20 minutes was up, so I wish I would've used more chicken broth. If using brown rice, I recommend adding another 1/4 cup chicken broth to the mixture.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Checking-In and TOMS!

Let's start with the exciting news ... I got TOMS! I've been dying to get a pair for more than a year now, but after months of agonizing over which pair to get I decided to ask for them for my birthday. Jesse did the smart thing and rather than picking out the wrong ones, he told me that I could pick out whichever pair I wanted. I originally planned to get Gilded Herringbone in the classic style, but the more I looked at them, the more I worried  that they'd be too fall/winter-y. Rather than splurging on them halfway through winter, I agonized for yet another month-and-a-half about which pair to get. I went to four different stores looking, and narrowed it down to Ash or Olive, but couldn't decide between the two. Oh the agony! 

When my mom was in town, we went to their website for one more round of browsing and came across one of their newer designs - Burlap Triangle - which caught my eye. I was a little hesitant about the woven soles at first, but ultimately decided that they'd be perfect for spring. 

I'm not sure why buying a pair of Toms feels like such a big deal (it's not a new car or anything!), but just to be sure I was making the right decision I slept on my decision before clicking purchase. I woke up yesterday morning, started working, and then had one of those "OH YEAH" moments when I remembered them. Once that moment happened, I knew I was making the right decision, so I went to their site and ordered my very first pair of Toms. I sort of love them. Sigh.

In other news, I got another update from the doctor. At my last appointment, there was talk of surgery, which was quickly shot down because the location at which he would need to operate is very difficult to access (where the skull base and inner ear meet), and he's not sure how to fix the problem once he gets there. (Background: my brain lining is herniating into my inner ear, creating a gap for infection to enter my brain. Hence, meningitis.

The solution last week was that I needed to become a vigilant hand washer, stay away from sick people and germ-y kids, and watch for any signs/symptoms of meningitis. My doctor was hopeful that scar tissue would build-up and cover the gap, but since nothing else has gone according to plan, he wasn't confident that it would work. Understanding that surgically fixing the lesion wasn't an option, I had to deal with the doctor's short-term decision, knowing that he would be meeting with the rest of his skull base team to develop an alternate plan. (Side note: I'm very fortunate to be seeing a doctor at John's Hopkins who runs the Otolaryngology (ear/nose/throat) Department and specializes in skull-based surgeries

Not expecting to hear anything else from him until my next MRI in April, I was really shocked to get a phone call from his resident last Thursday. She explained that he'd been talking to the rest of the team and they all agreed that a new plan would be better than leaving it alone, and ultimately came to the decision of entering via a different route and protecting the lesion by creating a barrier in my middle ear.

First I had to come to terms with the fact that I might have surgery, then I had to settle with the fact that surgery wasn't a possibility, and now here I was coming to terms with surgery again. Can't they make these decisions before sending me on a roller coaster of emotions?! That being said, it's been about a week since I got the last call, so I'm definitely more comfortable with the idea of surgery now. As one of my friends said, I'm especially comfortable knowing that a bunch of doctors sat in a room talking about my case, working up a plan to fix everything.

While the last month has been full of unknowns, I'm trying to keep a positive outlook. I found a saying on Pinterest that seems perfect for my situation, so I used it as inspiration for the print below. It's a good reminder to stay calm and not worry about the things I can't control, so I'm hoping it will help me get through these next couple of weeks as I prepare for surgery.

Surgery is scheduled for February 10th and the recovery time is expected to take about 10-14 days. I'll try to keep everyone posted leading up to the surgery (and hopefully right after), but if you don't hear from me for a few weeks, now you'll know why. I know it won't be too much of a change since I haven't been the most faithful blogger lately, but at least this time I have a real excuse! :)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Happy 2012 and a Few Projects

Happy 2012 friends! I know I'm a little late to the party, but I hope you can forgive my absence. After going through meningitis and then finding out that there's an underlying health issue at fault for everything, it's been an exhausting couple of weeks. I'm pretty much on the mend now, but I have two more doctor's appointments to get through this week. One of which involves shots. No fun.

But let's move past the un-fun part and talk about something totally fun ... I updated the header on my blog! If you're reading this post from a feeder, you'll have to click over to my blog to see the update. :) I'm really proud of the new header because it's something I did all on my own. I used Picnik and Pixelmator to create everything, and I found the amazing background at Sprik Space

In addition to the new header, I switched the body around so that the posts are on the left and all of my information is on the right. And since I was making so many other changes, I decided to add my Instagram feed as well (keep scrolling down to see it right below my Pinterest link). It's a good way to see what I've been up to, especially when I'm slacking on the blog!

On top of all the blog updates, I recently finished another artsy project. My good friend, Meredith, got married on New Year's Eve (how fun, right?!) and I wanted to do something really special for her. (I was supposed to be a bridesmaid in her wedding before all of the meningitis crap started, but that's neither here nor there.)

I was brainstorming ideas with my boss and she told me about a wedding gift she recently ordered from Etsy -- it was a funky print with her friend's wedding details. I thought it was a really neat way to remember such an important day and a perfect idea! I considered buying one for Meredith, but decided to take a stab at creating my own first. It took several drafts to get it right, but the end result is just what I was hoping for!

Once again, I got the background from Sprik Space and used Picnik to create everything. After I was happy with everything, it was time to print my project. I thought about using a photo site like Shutterfly or Snapfish, but ultimately decided that a canvas would look best. I wanted to print it in a size that Meredith could easily hang somewhere in her house without it overwhelming the space, so I ordered it in an 8x8 from my favorite canvas site, Canvas on Demand.

This canvas was the first time I've printed my own work, so it was a proud moment when it arrived in the mail. In fact, I think I was just as excited to open the box as Meredith was when she received it as a gift. :)