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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Winner Winner, Chicken Dinner! (Foraged Mushrooms)

“Eww…what’s that??”

Uh oh. This was going to be a hard sell.

Let me preface with this: one of my hobbies is hunting wild mushrooms. Well, I suppose it’s less of a hunt and more of a gather. 

This is considered somewhat of a weird hobby to most Americans, but according to the residents of the little Appalachian town in which I live, obtaining at least half of your food from the forest is not at all an uncommon practice. 

There is free food outside, people! It’s all over the place! You just have to know what the edible stuff looks like and you can eat it. It’s amazing.

My boyfriend, however, is like most Americans when it comes to mushrooms--though to his credit, he has come to politely tolerate my hobby. 

He can successfully identify the grocery-store varieties, but remains suspicious of my outdoor finds.

I plop a 4-pound bag of flabby orange fungus down on the kitchen counter. “Dinner!” I said.  

People are scared of wild mushrooms, because they don't know enough about them to safely identify them. They see one and think that if they eat it, they will probably die, or at very least, it’s gonna be nasty. But plenty of those exotic gourmet mushrooms you hear about at expensive restaurants or occasionally glimpse at the farmer’s market or fancy section of the grocery store are, in fact, (gasp!) wild. As in, came from outside. In the woods. Picked by someone wandering around with a basket and possibly (seriously) a trained sniffer-pig.  And you may have already eaten one…without even knowing it! (DUN dun…DUUUNNNN!!!!)

The reason for this is because many delicious gourmet mushrooms can’t be effectively cultivated. Some have what is known in mushroom nerd-language as a “mycorrhizal association” with specific trees—essentially a symbiotic relationship with the tree’s root system. 

Some are parasitic and must squeeze the last living breath from their host tree and feast on its remains in order to recycle it into sweet, sweet deliciousness for your dining pleasure. 

Many are waaay too much of a production to cultivate yet plentiful enough in nature that buying them from the dude with the basket is much more plausible, practical, and cost-effective. The good news is that you too can get your own delicious wild gourmet mushrooms, with no cost to you!

Meet the Chicken-of-the-Woods Mushroom (that’s Laetiporus sulphureus to you, bub). 

This is the best noob-mushroom ever, because it’s practically unmistakable and has no poisonous look-alikes.* 

It’s big, bright freakin’ orange with yellow or sometimes white pores (rather than gills) on the underside, and grows in huge shelf-like stacks on hardwood (almost always oak) trees in Eastern North America in the fall. 

You can usually see it from halfway across the woods, because its size and color make it really difficult to miss. 

It’s called “Chicken-of-the-Woods” because it tastes like…you guessed it…chicken. It’s got a meaty texture and even the “stringiness” of chicken breast. You can pretty much cook it in any manner that you can cook chicken. And like chicken breast, it’s a bit bland and needs a little seasoning.  It has officially become the BF’s new favorite mushroom. Success!

*On the Western portion of the continent and in the Great Lakes region, there are other types of “Chicken-of-the-Woods” that grow on conifers and eucalyptus trees. These have been associated with sometimes causing gastric upset (as in, unpleasant amounts of time spent in the bathroom hugging the bowl) in sensitive people, especially when consumed raw or undercooked. It’s uncertain why; most people eat it with impunity. 

Only eat young, tender, brightly colored Chicken-of-the-Woods, and cook your mushrooms thoroughly. Trying a small amount at first to see if it agrees with you before scarfing a huge plateful is always wise practice when it comes to any foraging, especially for mushrooms


So today, we’re making vegetarian Chicken-of-the-Woods Thai Green Curry.  




Chicken-Of-The-Woods Thai Green Curry

For two generous servings, you need:

Mmm…mysterious greenish paste...
2 c sliced Chicken-of-the-Woods mushrooms
2 c sliced mixed stir-fry vegetables of your choice (bell peppers, broccoli, onions, etc.)
2-4 tbsp of Thai green curry paste (look in the “international” aisle)
1 15 oz. can of coconut milk
1 green chili, minced (adjust to taste)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
Cooking oil or butter for frying
Vegetable or chicken broth for deglazing the pan
Chopped Thai basil, if desired
Salt & pepper to taste
2 c hot cooked rice

1. Sauté the mushrooms in butter or oil until browned. Don’t overdo it on the grease; this mushroom will suck it up readily like a sponge. Deglaze the pan with broth and set aside.

2. Saute the vegetables in butter or oil until crisp-tender.

3. Add chili, garlic, and ginger and cook for 1-2 minutes more.

4. Add the curry paste and lime juice and stir to coat.  

5. Stir in coconut milk thoroughly. Add cilantro and Thai basil and simmer for 5 minutes. Correct the seasoning. Add the “chicken” back to the pan and simmer for 2-3 minutes more, until hot. Serve over hot cooked rice. Done!

Enjoy this delicious meal, and the well-earned sense of satisfaction that comes from sucessfully foraging for your own dinner!



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Monday, October 20, 2014

Review & Giveaway - Mud Pie Soaps and Lotions


I've mentioned in my previous reviews on soap products that I have a mild case of determined psoriasis, which means I am very careful about what I use on my skin for fear of agitating the underlying beast.


At the same time, I like a good smelling soap with a good lather and a smooth after-shower feel. These are the four main proponents I judge soaps by:

  1. A pleasing scent, added bonus for unique scent combinations. One of my favorites is a mix of patchouli and vanilla, or vanilla and orange.
  2. A good lather so I at least feel like I am getting clean. This pretty much negates any and all glycerin based soaps, which never lather for me.
  3. My skin feels smooth after the shower and not sticky or rough.
  4. Healthy and natural ingredients without skin irritants

If you can match the above requirements, chances are you have a damn fine soap. I am not even worried about the coloring or shape of the soaps, so long as I am getting my money's worth. 

I am pleased to say that, for the most part, MudPie Soaps meets these requirements.




And they don't just stop at soaps. I was given the opportunity to try their soaps and some of their body butters. Who doesn't like a good body butter?



The items they sent over to me were:

  • Blueberry Soap
  • Patchouli & Lavender  Soap
  • Eucalyptus and Chamomile Soap
  • Blueberry Body Butter
  • Lavender & Chamomile Body Butter

My package arrived in a plain brown box within about a week of my order placement. As soon as I opened the box I got a potent waft of blueberry ambrosia and knew I was in for a scented treat, if nothing else. 

I decided to try out the Blueberry Body Butter right away on my hands. 

Being a computer programmer and farmer means I am constantly using my hands, and sometimes am very hard on them. I dislike the feeling of cracked, chapped, or dry hands, especially while trying to knock out some hefty website code. 


So keeping a small container of blueberry scent in a bottle is a great bonus for me.


Of course, if you do this at work, like I did, your co-workers are going to ask who is eating blueberries, and where can they get some. I did share once, and the whole office smelled like blueberries, added bonus.


The body butters go on thick, so you don't need a whole lot. Because it has shea butter, you can easily overdue the amount you rub into your skin, but at least it will last a long time. Your skin feels moisturized for a good long while, and the scent stays with you so you don't have to reapply often. 

I was very pleased with these creams and they were the perfect size to keep in my purse-where-all-things-get-lost.

I was unsure about the blue color and whether it would leave colored residue, but as you can see it blended in nicely.

I saved the Lavender & Chamomile Body Butter for next to my bed before I go to sleep because both scents help promote a restful sleep.

What I noticed immediately about the soaps was the beautiful color combinations used to create these delicious bars. They use tints and glitters to create creamy colorful waves of design into each batch, and my blueberry bar was topped with glitter!


Mud-Pie Soaps are made of olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, castor oil, shea butter, and cocoa butter as a base, and then the scents and extra oils are adjusted accordingly to create the various types.

The first soap I decided to try was the Blueberry soap. I couldn't help myself, that's how good this stuff smelled. I was very pleasantly satisfied. 


The scent was amazing, the lather was great, the after-shower smoothness was spot on.


The patchouli soap also had an amazing scent and lather, but unfortunately my skin felt sticky/rough afterwards, so it was not my favorite of the bunch. Which sucks because patchouli is one of my favorite scents of all time.


The eucalyptus soap was an aromatic herbal scent that opens up my airways when I shower and leaves me feeling refreshed.

Overall I am very happy with my package from Mud-Pie Soaps. It was a fun and pleasing package of aromatherapeutic goodness that made me smell great, lifted my spirit through scent, and made me feel clean and delicious. Highly recommended! Body Butters cost $4.50 each, and soaps are between $5.00 and $5.50. Because these are small batch artisan soaps, the available scents change often, so check in frequently.

Mud-Pie Soaps Etsy Shop
Mud-Pie Soaps on Facebook



To share the gloriousness of these fine delectable soaps, Mud-Pie Soaps is offering a giveaway of 3 of their favorite soaps to one lucky United States winner. What varieties the winner gets will be a mystery, but that's part of the fun! This giveaway will end just before midnight ET on November 3, 2014, and is valued at approximately $16.00.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment in this entry as instructed by the Rafflecopter, then leave the name you commented under and your email in the box in the Rafflecopter entry. (This lets us contact you if you win!)  This will open up additional optional entries to increase your odds of winning.


Good luck, everyone!


a Rafflecopter giveaway





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Thursday, October 16, 2014

Review/Giveaway: LillyPopArt


As a parent, this company is one of the coolest things I've ever discovered. If you have young ones, I imagine your fridge is about as covered as mine in works of ‘art’. Some of it may be questionable, at best. However, I’ll bet that every now and then, like in our house, you are presented with a drawing that you just are in awe of. Who knew that little kid had such an imagination, right?

So what do you do with that special gift? You hang it on the fridge, or on a special art wall. It gets food splattered on it, or crumpled up. It probably has fallen down a few times and been stepped on, getting re-hung a little worse for wear each time. Eventually its probably tossed and replaced by the newest masterpiece.

BUT! It doesn’t have to be like that - not with LillyPopArt just a click away.

With LillyPopArt, you can preserve your child’s art in a variety of ways. I chose to turn one of the most precious drawings my 5 year old daughter presented me with into a throw pillow.

Actually, as I began the process with one drawing, luckily I got distracted before finishing, because she drew another, even better one, which I ended up using.




The first one is the original picture I was going to use. She included her baby sister who was still in my belly, and the Hello Kitty on her current dress. The one I ultimately went with, the one on the right, included her dad as well.

The process of ordering was super simple. From their website ,you choose what product you are going to make. That is probably the hardest part of all, with so much to choose from! You can pick a canvas to display on the wall, serving trays, clocks, cell phone covers, even shower curtains (and so much more!)

After making the hard decision on which product, scan your child’s drawing into your computer. If you can’t scan, you can take a picture of the drawing instead, and upload it. 


I was able to scan the picture however I was contacted by Helene at LillyPopArt the next morning to say it didn’t go through. 

I was able to just email them the picture. On the order form it also asks your child's name, age, and if you have a preference on dominant colors. You can choose to ‘trust LillyPopArt,’ which I did.

In the following days we emailed a few times discussing the final product. 

She sent me a digital proof showing the process of turning it from original, to digital photo, to what it will look like on the pillow. 

I literally cried when I saw her picture come to life like that! I only asked them to make one color change to it. I wanted the baby in my belly to have a colored outfit on to depict gender. 

A few days later once everything was approved, they told me it had sent. 



It was then less than a week until the pillow arrived in the mail.

It was absolutely everything I could have dreamed of! The pillow itself was soft, with flawless stitching. The design was bright and vibrant, and most importantly, exactly how it appeared in the proof email. On the underside is an invisible seamed zipper to remove the pillowcase for easy cleaning, so I can be sure that this will be an heirloom that will last a long time. 



My daughter was so excited to open the package, and recognized her work of art immediately. The pillow has been a wonderful conversation piece to anyone who has seen it. This is the most wonderful keepsake and I truly hope to add to its collection soon!




LilliPopArt has generously agreed to let us host a giveaway of an original work of art made into a one of a kind personalized plush fleece blanket (50"x60") valued at $65!  This giveaway is open to US residents only and will end just before midnight on October 30.

To enter the giveaway, leave a comment in this entry as instructed by the Rafflecopter, then leave the name you commented under and your email in the box in the Rafflecopter entry. (This lets us contact you if you win!)  This will open up additional optional entries to increase your odds of winning.

Good luck, everyone!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


LillyPopArt Website
LillyPopArt on Facebook
LillyPopArt on Pinterest
LillyPopArt on Twitter
LillyPopArt on Instagram


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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chelsea's Italian-Style Stuffed Chicken Breast

As I was growing up I started to resent chicken because my mom, bless her heart, was so busy between taking care of 4 kids and also working part-time that she tended to make chicken the same exact way about 4-5 nights a week.

Baked with salt and pepper.

As I started growing up I would do anything to avoid buying or making chicken because I was stuck in that baked salt and pepper chicken mindset that seemed to have scarred my taste buds from poultry all together.

Once I moved out on my own I started experimenting with recipes and tastes that I found appealing and shortly after realized that there are SO many different and delicious ways to cook chicken and upon trying new ideas one that has become a favorite for my family and friends is my personal spin on an 'Italian style' chicken breast.

-Chelsea's Italian Chicken-

(Chef's Note) I usually feed 4-5 people so this is the recipe serves 4-5,
You can cut it in half or double as much as needed.

Ingredients:
5 boneless skinless chicken breasts
16 oz of whipped cream cheese
2 full packs of fresh basil (or about 15-20 fresh basil leaves off plant)
Italian parsley
Garlic salt&pepper
Olive oil
4 Roma tomatoes
Parmesan cheese (either finely grated or powdered Parmesan in plastic jar works too when on a budget)

Food processor, blender, or mixing bullet...if you don't have any of those you will need to mince the basil and parsley as fine as you possibly can but for best results and texture you will want to use one of the above blending methods

- Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Instructions
- Mix cream cheese, basil and 1/2 head of Italian parsley in food processor and start blending on "high"

- While blending pour in about 1/4cup of olive oil.

- Let blend for about 2-5 minutes until mixture starts to turn green, then add 1 teaspoon of garlic salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper

- Also add 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese and keep blending.  Once completely blended, mix should be a light green and smell like pesto mix should also have no large chunks of parsley or basil

- Set aside blended stuffing mixture.

- Take chicken breasts and carefully cut through center in middle to make pockets for "stuffing"

- Generously stuff each chicken pocket with your Italian basil cream stuffing, reserving some of the stuffing. Flip top of chicken over so they are secure and stuffed full

- Cut each tomato into 4-5 slices and put one layer of pieces of tomato all over each piece of chicken,
4-5 slices on each breast,

- Lightly pour a little bit of olive oil over tomatoes then cover tomatoes with more Parmesan cheese.

- Stick chicken in glass baking pan, and cook in oven and for about 45 minutes until stuffing is bubbling and starting to flow from the chicken, I always cut into one piece to make sure there in no pink since sizes of breasts.  Oven temperatures always vary:)

- When done, the Tomatoes with Parmesan on top should be slightly crisp and lightly browned.

- Serve on plate and don't forget to add an extra dollop of the Italian cream stuffing on each plate for extra dipping.  People love it when you leave some of your cream stuffing left over to individually put on each plate for extra dipping and taste.

Last but certainly not least...ENJOY! :)


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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Review: SquareBar


For the past year,  I have been working very hard on me.  I have been much more active,  but more importantly, I have been learning about nutrition, and eating right. 

I had heard things like "abs are made in the kitchen", and "80% nutrition,  20% fitness,  100% attitude", but until you put your knowledge into practice you don't know what you're missing!
Part of what I had heard over and over,  and finally put into practice is to eat smaller meals, more frequently. 

My previous weight loss plan (which was really a bust) was to eat very few calories in a day.  The calories I would consume would be lacking nutrition. Great example: Oreo's for lunch. Duh.   They were from the vending machine,  so I had portion control, and I only ate the  6 Oreo's, so I saved myself all those calories from, like,  a healthy sandwich AND the Oreo's,  right? Good thinking Jen.

I would eat 2, maybe 3 times a day, if I was lucky. And the only thing I payed any attention to on the nutrition facts portion was the calorie count.

Now I eat 5 to 6 times a day. Part of me still has to glance at the calories, but I pay much more attention to the ingredients, and how much protein I will get.  I love me my protein! Feed my muscles, food, do it! 

When I saw the opportunity to try and review SquareBar,  I jumped! 

The idea and creation of SquareBar started with a couple, Sarah and Andrew Gordon, from San Francisco, CA.  That's less than an hour away from me - so as far as I'm concerned, local!  Sarah had asthma, and to control it she found eliminating  inflammatory foods (gluten,  dairy,  soy) was the way to go. Kitchen experiments led to SquareBar! Mmm.

SquareBar is an organic protein bar with low glycemic coconut nectar, and packed with 11-12 grams of protein per bar.  The bars are also coated in real dark chocolate, rich in antioxidants.

SquareBar is available in 3 flavors,  all of which I got to try: Cocoa Crunch, Cocoa Almond, and Cocoa Coconut.

Each of the three SquareBars are Gluten free, dairy free, soy free,  and "natural flavoring" free.  I loved looking at the ingredients list on the packages, I could read and pronounce the few things listed on each one.

I first tried the Cocoa Coconut.  I am not a fan of coconut,  so I thought I'd start there,  and I had company over so I knew they could try it and give me additional feedback.  

The chocolate coating just melted in my mouth. The coconut texture was primary,  though there was a powdery texture and finish too.

I enjoy powdery textures, when I used to have hot chocolate I always wanted a powder,  not syrup.

The coconut texture was too much for me,  but it wasn't over imposing in taste. I'm glad I was able to share it.


The Cocoa Almond SquareBar was my favorite.  The chocolate coating was again, melt in your mouth yummy.   It also had a slight coconut flavor,  and powdery, or gritty texture, but a strong cocoa flavor.  I loved the almond slivers, they gave a soft crunch. Eating this made me think of eating a See's candy.  It was that good.

The Cocoa Crunch to me tasted like the Cocoa Almond, sans slivers of almond. The crunch comes from organic brown rice crisps. Snap, crackle,  pop!

The size is convenient for Purse travel, and they hold up to a beating.  The Almond Crunch stayed in my purse for days.  It looked like a cracked painting,  (as an artist, I totally know) but kept its shape until I bit through, or pulled off pieces. Impressive!

All the bars are soft bars, as compared to a crunchy, crumbly granola.  I prefer the soft bars like this.

In looking online for more about these SquareBars, I found that some people like to crumble them over fruit and peanut butter,  or yogurt. 

I also noticed on the SquareBar site, healthy, delicious looking recipes using SquareBar, like mint chip truffle, and almond joy parfait shooter! Say what! I gotta try that!

SquareBars can be purchased from their site,  a box of 12 is $34.49. You can choose to get a box of one flavor, or a multi pack with 4 of each flavor.

If you want to try SquareBar, you can purchase from squarebar.com with this exclusive discount code! The code "ReviewsChewsAndHowtos" can be entered at the end of checkout for 20% OFF + FREE SHIPPING!! (shipping is domestic only)

All in all, SquareBars are too coconuty for my usual taste, but I enjoyed them.  Definitely worth a try. When you do, tell the Gordon's I say hi!



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