Green smoothie

Green smoothie

green smoothie

Let’s talk about kale for a minute. A few years ago I read a weight loss blog where a woman had lost 100 pounds or something major. In one of her posts she listed one personal benefits about losing weight for every pound that she lost, one of which was that her new body craves kale. She said she was as shocked as anyone about it. Honestly, I didn’t believe her. I mean, I liked kale at the time, but I could never see my body craving lettuce. You guys, it’s totally true.

I started making these protein smoothies (full of kale!) as a way to sneak in some extra greens in our diet. They’re delicious. They’re so delicious. But also, after making them nearly every day for a month, my body seriously needs them. That weekend we just spent in Chicago? All I wanted was some kale. But also, I’m telling you, despite it’s suspiciously green color, you can’t even taste the kale. You’re going to have to try it. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

There are two secrets to green smoothies: 1) use frozen fruit and 2) make the green base first. This creates the best, most well blended texture. Also, here’s another secret, I make these the night before, pour it in two plastic solo cups and let them sit in the fridge overnight. Then I take one with me when I leave for work and drink it on my commute. They definitely  have a better consistency coming straight out of the blender, but making them the night before makes my mornings less hectic, and traffic is so much better when you  have a smoothie.

Let’s start. I make two at a time, so A.J. gets some sneaky greens in his diet too. Into the blender goes one container of light Greek peach yogurt, two scoops of vanilla protein powder (I buy this protein powder because it only has 6 net carbs), and one cup almond milk (I like Silk’s unsweetened, original). On top of that goes as much kale that can possibly fit. Blend. (I use the liquefy button.) [Read more…]

Honey-spiced chicken thighs

Honey-spiced chicken thighs


We just talked about marinades and why they’re great for meat, and today we’re going to talk about rubs. Rubs aren’t as effective in terms of changing the makeup of chicken or meat, (they’re not going to break down protein and make it more tender) but they do a number on the flavor. This is a spicy-ish rub with chili pepper and cayenne, garlic powder and cumin and paprika, mixed with some honey and cider vinegar. What I loved about this dinner, other than the deliciousness, was that it was cheap, quick and easy. Perfect for a weeknight.

Let’s talk about its flavor? Honey and chili powder is such a great combination — they bring out the best in each other. And then you have this earthy cumin and paprika base of flavor that rounds it out into something really satisfying. It’s like you take a bite, and you’re not sure what you’re tasting — you can’t distinguish the spices from each other, but you know it’s a party in your mouth.

I started by mixing up the spices, along with some salt and pepper, with the honey and vinegar. Then I used a silicone brush to brush it all over each of my chicken thighs. (Fun fact: before I owned a silicone brush, I used an old (clean) makeup brush for my brushing. It wasn’t the best idea I’ve ever had. Having a silicone brush has been really helpful.)  [Read more…]

Tandoori-spiced chicken

Tandoori-spiced chicken

tandoori spiced chicken

Marinating meat is sort of like slow cooking, except it’s not cooking. Slow flavoring anyway? The marinade and the fridge do all the work for you and then when you get home all you have to do is bake and dinner is ready. I rarely marinate meat, mostly because it requires some advanced planning, and I’m not too great at that, but that’s OK, because it means that every time I do marinate meat, I feel like I’m Marco Polo and just discovered something magical.

We talked about a tandoor — clay, cylindrical oven used first by the Indus Valley Civilization (around what is now India, Afghanistan and Pakistan) — when I made tandoori salmon. (In that post you can also see how far my photography skills have come.  Woof.)

Anyway, we didn’t use a tandoor for this dish, but it’s still known as tandoori, because we used the same marinade of a typical chicken that was cooked in a tandoor. So in the food world, if something is tandoori, it usually refers to flavor and not necessarily cooking method, for better or worse.

As a flavor, tandoori means earthy, Indian spices such as garam masala, ginger and cumin. The marinade is yogurt. Why yogurt? Yogurt (and buttermilk and other dairy projects) really do tenderize. Calcium in the dairy activates an enzyme in the meat that breaks down the protein — making it less tough. That is not typically necessary to get really good chicken, but it does add an element of foul-proof-ness to this dish, which is always nice to have.

So, anyway. Step one: create your marinade. I like to marinade in a plastic bag because it’s disposable. I dump my chicken breasts in a big gallon-sized freezer bag. Then I add the other ingredients –in this case I added minced garlic and ginger, some ground garam masala, cumin, paprika, turmeric, salt and pepper, some Greek yogurt and some olive oil — right to the bag and squish everything together. Sometimes I’ll put that bag in a second bag, just to ensure raw chicken-yogurt juice isn’t going to leak all over my fridge. Sometimes I’ll take a walk on the wild side and risk it. (No, really I never do that. My ideas of walking on the wild side involves, like, getting a kale smoothie for breakfast.) [Read more…]

Chicken in lemon-garlic-sage browned butter

Chicken in lemon-garlic-sage browned butter

lemon garlic sage butter chicken

I’ve been saving this little number for a few weeks now. I was waiting until it’s memory faded a little bit because I didn’t want to gush. But as I’m typing these words, I realize that I’m probably going to gush anyway. This. Chicken. Is. So. Good. I mean, like,  best-chicken-I’ve-ever-had good. It’s succulent and absolutely bursting with flavor. Garlic and sage are amazing together, and just really brighten the flavor of the chicken. And, like, I knew it was good as I was eating it. But then my cousin, Elisha, texted me the next day and also said that she made it for her family and it was amazing too. So it’s not just me. Based on my scientific survey of two people, it’s unarguably out of this world.

lemon garlic sage butter chicken

[Read more…]

Salsa verde chicken

Salsa verde chicken


We went shopping on Memorial Day at the Grove City Outlets, which is halfway between Pittsburgh and Erie. I had painted my nails the night before, and on the way to shopping,  I wondered out loud if the polish was too flashy. (It’s a neon pink.)

“This nail polish might have been a bad decision,” I said.

A.J.’s mom responded: “I don’t think there are any bad decisions when it comes to nail polish.”

Man, she’s totally right.

Unrelated, if I could be any kind of chef, I would most definitely be a saucier. Sauciers are in charge of all the sauces in a restaurant kitchen, as well as soups and stews. I think sauces are the most fun, because your creations — which capture the essence of all these ingredients — can completely transform a dish.

Last night I made a wonderful sauce with a little melted butter, sauteed garlic, lemon thyme (which I later removed — see, essence) and lemon juice. It took all of five minutes to create the sauce and spoon it over the chicken, but it made pan-fried chicken absolutely wonderful.

So this post is about plain chicken. Boring chicken breasts seasoned with a little salt and pepper and pan-fried in some olive oil. But then there’s this glorious, spicy, Latin sauce. And suddenly the chicken isn’t so boring. It’s bright and flavorful and spicy and wonderful. Just with a little sauce.

I started by seasoning the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides and heating some olive oil in a medium-sized pot. When the oil was shimmering, I added the chicken and cooked it three minutes on each side, to get it golden brown, but not cooked through. (That comes later.) Then I set the chicken aside.

salsa-verde-chicken1 [Read more…]

Tamale pie

Tamale pie

tamale pie

Tamale pie is one of those Americanized hybrids of perfectly good Mexican food, but we’re going to forgive it because it’s also totally delicious. As you probably know, tamales are meat and veggies inside cornmeal-y dough, wrapped in leaves or corn husks and then steamed or boiled. Tamale pie consists of the same meat and veggies with a cornbread crust. For this dish, I just baked the cornbread batter right on top of each serving, which is sort of lazy, but also means less dishes and less work, so you know, I’m on board with that.

Our filling consisted of ground turkey, some chopped olives, black beans and canned fire-roasted tomatoes.

I started by draining some olives, the tomatoes and black beans in a colander. The topping was a very simple cornbread from a box. And then we had delicious garnishes of more olives, an abundance of cheese, sour cream and cilantro, all served in a bowl. It’s like a burrito bowl, but instead it’s a tamale bowl. Or something. [Read more…]

Chicken, asparagus and broccoli stir fry with zero-calorie noodles and the giveaway winner

Chicken, asparagus and broccoli stir fry with zero-calorie noodles and the giveaway winner

chicken broccoli aspargus stir fry with zero-calorie noodles

Stir fries are such an easy weekday meal. There’s a little chopping involved, but once that’s done, then you throw everything over high heat and dinner is done. With stir fry, more than anything else, it’s important to prep all your ingredients ahead of time, because once you start the cooking process, it goes super fast. The other thing I love about stir fry is that you can pretty much put whatever you want in there and it will taste good. I like to use a variety of sauces, but if you don’t have all of these, that’s OK. Just use what you got.

First, I want to congratulate Jamie, who won the coffee giveaway. I really appreciate everyone who took the time to enter. There will be more giveaways in Oven Lovin’s future so stick with me, and better luck next time!

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There’s a couple of things that I think are essential — peanut oil and butter. Peanut oil can be hard to find in manageable containers — it’s most often sold in Western Pa. in big jugs for deep frying turkey, but check for Planters brand (only because that’s the only brand I’ve seen sold in smaller bottles) on the top shelf.

So I started with my ingredients. Shown here are peanut oil, sesame oil (used for drizzling, not for cooking), oyster sauce (for that umami flavor), soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, sriracha, sliced mushrooms, chopped raw chicken, chopped asparagus, some zero-calorie noodles (made from yam), diced red pepper, yellow pepper and celery (and onions under those ingredients) and some chopped broccoli, which I bought frozen and thawed it slightly for the stir fry.

I am sure I’ve posted about shirataki noodles before, but they are usually found in the refrigerated produce section, near like egg roll and wonton wrappers and tofu. They come in a bag filled with liquid, and it’s important to drain the liquid and rinse them thoroughly before cooking with them. They smell a little odd when you first take them out of the package, but after a good, long rinse, that odor dissipates and when cooking, they act like a sponge and absorb whatever flavor is there.

chicken broccoli aspargus stir fry with zero-calorie noodles

When you’re cooking stir fry, you add ingredients based on the most hardy (or longest cooking time) to most delicate. Because asparagus can be woody, I went ahead and parboiled them first. Parboiling is where you add vegetables to boiling water for a very short time in order to start the cooking process. I added the asparagus to the boiling water for about two minutes, and then drained them in a colander in a sink.

chicken broccoli aspargus stir fry with zero-calorie noodles

OK. Our ingredients are prepped. Here we go. [Read more…]

Pimiento cheese-stuffed chicken and a request for help

Pimiento cheese-stuffed chicken and a request for help

pimiento chicken

You should be able to feed yourself and your family. It’s a skill that we’ve lost. It’s an important biological skill to coax your family to eat. To entice them to eat well through delicious food from beautiful ingredients.”

–Padma Lakshmi, host of Top Chef, in an interview this week with Christopher Kimball on America’s Test Kitchen radio

I found this quote so beautiful. Padma was talking about one of the lessons her grandmother taught her, so she wasn’t speaking about what others should do, it was about what she was taught, but still I think it applies.

I’m having a little bit of trouble, you guys. I’m having trouble with having a lot of ideas for Oven Lovin’, and I have no idea on which to focus.

I started Oven Lovin’ because I wanted to reassure people who were nervous to start cooking that it’s easy and doable and will better your life when you make your own food to eat or share with your friends and family. I wanted to provide really clear instructions with visual cues so there were no questions through the cooking process if you were doing it right. I also wanted to write for people who were comfortable in the kitchen, but had never gone to that “next level” of making homemade bread or making a pie crust from scratch. Finally, I wanted to write for people who felt like they were too busy or too poor or too tired or too disorganized to cook, and provide recipes that worked for their schedules and their budget and their energy level, along with ways to organize and meal plan.

But lately I’ve felt like a recipe machine. I’m making delicious food, and sharing it with you guys to make too, but I feel like I’ve lost that original mission.

So. I’m seeking help.

If you fall into any of those categories, what can I do to make your life better? What do you need from me? Should I just keep cranking out the recipes — that you know you can trust and follow? Do you want meal plans, where I go over how to turn a dish into a meal, with sides and timing information and grocery lists? Do you want a cooking e-course, where I take you through “beginner’s dishes” such as Alfredo sauce and stews to more advanced dishes? Are there other things that I’m missing that I could be doing to provide you with help in the kitchen?

Don’t get me wrong, I love taking you into my kitchen and showing you what I’ve made today. I love sharing dinner with you every night. I just need to know if that’s enough. And if it’s not, what more can I do. How can I coax you into your kitchens to make delicious food through beautiful ingredients? There are lots of ways to communicate this information, and if you wouldn’t mind taking a few minutes to do so, I would love to hear what you have to say. Leave a comment below, email me at jewelsphraner(at)gmail(dot)com, or find me on Twitter or Facebook.

So that was kind of heavy. But hopefully this recipe makes up for it. I really like stuffed chicken. Stuffed chicken is so easy, and it’s such a fine way to dress up boring chicken breasts. Also, there are really so many chances to be creative. You can make any kind of stuffing you want! Cooked rice and herbs, prosciutto and Swiss cheesy, broccoli and Alfredo sauce, sausage, sage and mushrooms. Today, I stuffed the chicken with cheese, pimientos and bacon.

Pimientos are considered the most mild of the chile family, and are usually found already diced and jarred in two-ounce and four-ounce glass jars, near the other canned vegetables.

I started with my ingredients: two largeish chicken breasts, some olive oil, salt, pepper, crumbled bacon bits (which I made by cooking two pieces of bacon on a paper-towel lined plate in the microwave), minced green onions, pimientos, shredded cheddar and Colby jack cheese, and a little mayonnaise.

pimiento chicken prep

I combined the bacon, green onions, cheese, mayo and pimientos in a large bowl and stirred them until everything was well mixed.

pimiento chicken prep [Read more…]

Salsa verde turkey burger

Salsa verde turkey burger

salsa verde turkey burger

When I was growing up and my mom made tacos there were always two types of hot sauce on the table amid the little bowls of taco toppings. The red salsa we all know and love and green salsa for my mom. She was the sole salsa verde lover in the house.  As a kid, I didn’t like it. It tasted too green to me, which I think was saying that it was too tart or acidic or vinegary or something.  However, recently I’ve become obsessed. I cooked chicken two nights ago in a salsa verde sauce I made AND I made these turkey burgers for the third time a few weeks ago.

After deciding we were going to eat red meat more sparingly, I’ve been using more and more ground turkey to replace ground meat in recipes. The problem is ground turkey doesn’t have as much flavor as ground beef. There’s a meatiness that comes from ground beef that adds another dimension to meals, that I just can’t replicate with ground turkey. There are several ways to overcome this. Using ground pork instead of ground beef is a good option because it has that meaty flavor, but sometimes that can create its own flavor. The other option is to bring in a lot of spices and seasonings and flavors from other sources just so the bland turkey doesn’t overpower the rest of the meal. Enter: salsa verde.

This recipe uses salsa verde and cilantro in the burger patties. It also calls for a lovely guacomole-esque spread on top of the burgers and a delicious use of pepper jack cheese that combines into one of the best burgers ever. I never thought I would say that about ground turkey burgers ever.

And you all know that I never try to make the same meal twice, but this meal has nearly become a weekly staple because it’s so good and so easy and so cheap and it just tastes so good.

Man, I love a good burger.

I started by making the burger patties. In a bowl we have ground turkey, fresh cilantro and salsa verde. It creates a very wet mixture that is a little prone to falling apart so be gentle. I mixed up the ingredients with my hands and then formed four patties. [Read more…]

Chicken with pine nut, raisin and parsley gremolata

Chicken with pine nut, raisin and parsley gremolata


So the other day at the gym, I was listening to a podcast about pizza while I was on the elliptical machine. At one point, one person got on the machine on my right at the same time another person got on the machine on my left, and I had a little brain freak-out, where I thought they might be able to hear the podcast also? My thought process went a little like this:

Oh, god, can they hear what is happening? Are they judging me? I don’t always listen to food-related podcasts. No, I totally do. Well Joy the Baker doesn’t always talk about food. Maybe I should find other podcasts not about food for strictly listening to at the gym? They can’t hear this. What if they tell others and I become the laughing-stock of the gym? I have headphones on. They can’t hear what’s going on. Can they? Are they judging me? It’s pizza! They can’t judge me for this. I’m not eating the pizza, I’m just listening about it. So what, if they can hear? It’s cool. It’s pizza. This is who I am. They shouldn’t be so judg-y anyway.

I eventually ascertained that they couldn’t hear what was happening inside my headphones anyway. I swear if there’s no stress to be had, I just create it in my head.

This dinner is no stress. Don’t create your own stress in your head. It’s a little chopping. A little toasting. A little zesting. And some cooking. That’s it. And I totally won’t judge you if you listen to a podcast about pizza while you make it. Or when you’re at the gym. Everyone should be listening to podcasts about pizza always, is the situation.

Panfrying chicken can get a little tricky — especially thick cuts. You want your temperature to be at the high-end of medium, try to use a ceramic Dutch oven if you have it, because that tempers the heat a little, if not that stainless steel. Always cover it, and try not to uncover it to look at it too much.

So this dish is just chicken. Just chicken covered in this delicious, buttery, crunchy, chewy parsley gremolata — which is an Italian word for an herb-heavy, chunky condiment — made from toasted pine nuts, chopped parsley, lemon zest and raisins.

I started by placing my chicken in a pot in some olive oil. I covered it and let it cook for seven minutes on the first side. [Read more…]