lately: couple’s vacay!

The hubs and I had the most AMAZING summer vacation; I might just go ahead and say that it takes the top spot! In the week that we spent off, we managed to do everything we love: explore one of our favorite Southern cities, lounge beachside at the most incredible B&B, and get back to our camping roots in a gorgeous state park! The quality time we shared was idyllic, and I wanted to share some of the moments with y’all! 

Alicia xoxo

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Part 1: Charleston, SC

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Part 2: Folly Beach, SC

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Part 3: Lake Norman State Park, NC

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garlic parmesan wings

I’ve been so, so excited to share this recipe with y’all.

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One look and you’re in love, am I right? At least, that was how the hubs and I felt after devouring this meal for dinner.

These are a fun twist on my wings I made awhile back – they’re certainly a staple in our household; a quick and easy dinner to throw together during the week, full of flavor, and significantly healthier that traditional wings that are deep fried {so gloriously wonderful, but so naughty at the same time}. But for this particular recipe, we’re combining the Italian staples of Parmesan cheese and garlic but jazzing it up with loads of dried herbs, and two types of tangy mustard {!}. Is your mouth watering yet?

This batch of wings pack a flavor punch like no other. I am such a huge fan of explosive flavors, and these do not disappoint. As mentioned, we get that distinctive garlicky flavor from {almost} too much garlic, nutty undertones from Parmesan cheese, and more herbal notes than your taste buds will know what to do with. Both mustard types that I used – a classic, spicy Dijon and a sweet Honey Champagne – pair perfectly together, but you can easily sub in whatever your preference is. Baked until crispy and falling of the bone, the only thing that can take these one more notch above perfection is some dipping sauce on the side.

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Baked Garlic Parmesan Wings {adapted from Steamy Kitchen}

Ingredients:

2-1/2 lbs. chicken wings {I like to use the large ones}

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. dried rosemary

2 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. onion powder

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for baking

1/4 cup mustard {I used a combination of Dijon and Champagne mustard}

salt & pepper, to taste

non-stick cooking spray

serving accompaniments: hot sauce, homemade blue cheese dressing, celery, carrots – whatever you like! 

To Prepare:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray liberally with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl combine the herbs and grated cheese. Mix in the mustard, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss the wings in the sauce, making sure to ensure a generous coating. Line up the wings on the prepared baking sheet, and drizzle any remaining sauce on top. Sprinkle with additional grated cheese.

Bake 45-60 minutes, or until juices run clear and internal temperature has reached 165 degrees. Serve with your favorite dipping sauces.

greek-inspired roast chicken

Oh, the whole roasting chicken. Super simple and basic, but bursting with possibilities.

Not to mention flavor – I was feeling inspired, and also craving one, several weeks back. It was particularly gloomy Sunday, and I keep reminiscing how my mom used to make the best whole roasted chickens when we were growing up. Deciding to act on those memories, I began drawing up ideas for how to make it my own. The hubs LOVES oregano, so I thought was would be a way to incorporate that? I settled on the notion of “going Greek!”

Hands down, this is the best roast chicken that I have yet to make. It requires minimal prep work and comes together in just a few minutes. We’re filling it with briny capers, fresh vegetables, and of course – lots of oregano! A generous pour of good white wine in the bottom of the roasting pan creates a culinary perfume that envelopes the bird while it cooks, resulting in a bright, fresh flavor. Served alongside my smashed cauliflower, it was the perfect meal.

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Without trying to state the obvious, you’ll most likely end up with leftovers, as this recipe will easily feed a small army. Once the chicken is broken down, it freezes beautifully and can be used in a plethora of dishes. Chicken and Dumplings, Chicken Noodle Casserole, and Chicken Pot Pie come to mind – but don’t be surprised if you see me making chicken salad of out it and stuffing it into a pita.

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Greek-Inspired Roast Chicken {recipe adapted from Lemon & Olives}

The perfect Sunday dinner for a chilly winter evening, this flavorful roast will leave you feeling supremely satisfied. Plus – it comes together in no time! 

Ingredients:

whole roasting chicken {mine was just over 6 lbs.}

1 lemon, cut into large wedges

2 onions, cut into wedges

1.5 cups baby carrots, left whole

3 large garlic cloves, peeled and left whole

1 heaping tbsp. capers, drained

1 tbsp. dried oregano {plus more for seasoning the chicken}

3/4 cup good white wine {I used a Pinot Grigo}

1 cup low-sodium chicken stock

olive oil, for drizzling

salt and pepper, to taste

To Prepare:

Remove the chicken from its wrapping and rinse well, making sure to get the inner cavity. Dry thoroughly, and rub with olive oil. Liberally season the inside and outside with salt, pepper, and oregano. To the inner cavity add in half the amount of onions, half the baby carrots, half the lemon, one garlic clove, and the capers. Set aside.

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Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In the bottom of a large roasting pan, add  in the white white and chicken stock, mixing to incorporate. Place the remaining vegetables plus the 1 tbsp. oregano into the liquid mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you have a V-shaped roasting rack, set the chicken atop it {if not, do what I did – lay a cooling rack atop the roasting pan and carefully place the chicken on top of it}. Roast the chicken according to the package directions. Baste occassionally, using the drippings from the bottom of the pan.

Once cooked through, remove from the oven and set aside. Cover with foil and let it sit 15 minutes, so the juices can redistribute. Carve the chicken and serve with pan drippings and vegetables. Enjoy!

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chicken parmesan meatballs

I absolutely adore a good Chicken Parmesan. I have such fond memories of enjoying them throughout my childhood when out to special dinners with my family; my mom would often make it at home; I’ve even come up with my own twist on it!

But sometimes, there are those days after work…those days where you’d rather slide onto the couch in your most comfortable pair of yoga pants than stand in the kitchen, dredging chicken breasts, frying them, then finishing them off in the oven. THEN preparing the pasta. THEN melting the {oh so glorious} mozzarella under the broiler. All that…before dinner is ready. It’s ok! We all have those days. These meatballs are going to make you feel better.

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With these beauties, you get all of that wonderful flavor of the Chicken Parmesan, but made easy because we’re doing them meatball style! They pack a flavor punch bigger than their size lets on, that’s for sure. They’re loaded up with herbs, tomato paste, bread crumbs….everything that makes the classic dish, but it’s all done in one bowl! Tell me it doesn’t get any better than that, I dare ya. BUT WAIT.

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…did I neglect to mention that these are significantly more healthy than the original dish? I’m all about a big ol’ plate of pasta and chicken, smothered in cheese and sauce, but it doesn’t always feel so great after the fact. We’re baking these in the oven, which provides that wonderful crunch on the outside without the use of frying. They can be sprinkled with cheese at the end, fear not!

Not only are these easy to whip up on a moment’s notice, but they are great to make ahead and freeze for future use! Simply prepare them, roll them out, and transfer to the freezer on a baking sheet. Once frozen, they can be stored in a zip top bag and finished off in no time. You’ll be so thankful you did.

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Chicken Parmesan Meatballs {recipe adapted from Bake Your Day}

All the flavors of our favorite Italian classic, packed in to one easy-to-eat dish! You won’t be able to get enough.

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground chicken

1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 heaping tbsp. tomato paste

1 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. dried oregano

1 tsp. dried parsley

1 tsp. dried thyme

salt and pepper, to taste

your favorite Marinara Sauce for serving

To Prepare:

Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, and top it with a cooling rack. Spray with cooking spray and set aside.

Mix all of the above ingredients {less Marinara Sauce} in a large bowl until well combined. The mixture will be fairly moist, but should hold together when formed into a ball.

Scoop the mixture out and roll into balls {I opted to make 9 large ones} and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Bake in the oven until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. For my large meatballs, this took about 30ish minutes.

Serve with your favorite pasta and sauce, and top it all off with cheese. Enjoy!

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hot & sweet baked chicken wings

Chicken wings. Everyone loves ’em, myself included.

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BUT! One of my biggest issues with this delicious indulgence is that it veers slightly {ok, a lot} on the unhealthy side. I’ll be the first to agree with “everything in moderation” and “it’s ok to indulge once in awhile” but what is a girl to do smack-dab in the middle of football season, when wings abound at almost every game gathering?

Rather than spending my time mulling over the loss of eating wings, I decided to come up with my own! Easy or not, it’s always fun for me to come up with healthier recipes on more indulgent treats. Y’all should know that by now.

And let me tell you, this wings are a WINNER. Every time I’ve made these beauties, there is not one scrap of a leftover. They are THAT GOOD {the emphasis of caps is totally necessary for these, I’m not joking}. The flavor of the sauce, both sweet and hot, permeates down to the core of these wings, making every bite as delicious as the one prior. The exterior remains crispy, due to the high heat of baking {no frying here!},yett the meat itself is so perfectly moist and tender. These are to.die.for.

But be forewarned! – if you show up at a party with these, don’t expect to get away attending your next one without a batch or two. Your friends might not let you through the door.

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Hot & Sweet Baked Chicken Wings

the perfect balance of spicy and sweet, these beauties are sure to please! & because we’re baking them in high heat for a long period of time, these are guaranteed to come out perfectly moist and delicious – every single time. 

Ingredients: marinade can be mixed and used to soak the chicken before cooking; I suggest a good 3-4 hours for maximum flavor absorption

2 large packages (anywhere from 2-3 lbs. & will be about 12 pieces) of bone-in, skin-on chicken wings {make sure you look for the ones that have the wing tip connected to the actual arm of the bird!)

1-1/2 cups Frank’s Original Hot Sauce

1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce

1/2 to 1 tsp. ground ginger, or to taste

drizzle of honey, optional

To Prepare:

If you have pre-marinated your chicken , remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before preheating the oven to allow them to remove some of the chill. This helps the wings to cook more evenly. 

In a large measuring cup, combine the 1-1/2 cups of Frank’s Original Hot Sauce, 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce, ground ginger, and optional honey. Whisk well to combine, and set aside.

Remove the chicken from its packaging and pat dry, making sure to remove any excess moisture. Add all pieces into a large mixing bowl, and pour in the marinade. Toss to coat, making sure every nook of the wings are coated. I really like to get in there, and just use my hands to do the mixing; it’s up to you! {just make sure to wash your hands really well}

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Prepare your baking trays – along the bottom and sides of a rimmed baking sheet, line generously with heavy duty aluminum foil. Place a cooling rack directly atop the foil, and spray generously with cooking spray. Repeat with the second baking sheet, and set aside.

Evenly disperse your chicken wings among the two baking sheets. Should you have any extra marinade left, make sure to drizzle on top of the wings!

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Bake for anywhere from 60-75 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the chicken {at its thickest point} reads 165.

Serve with slices of crunchy vegetables {celery, carrots, etc} and blue cheese dressing!

Let’s Discuss: what are some of your favorite wing flavors? Do you like sweet, savory, zingy, or any other combination?

beer can chicken

I’ve found that, in my years of cooking, the simplest dishes are oftentimes the most show stopping.

Take for instance, a roasting chicken. Such a simple and humble dish, but when served with the right accompaniments, it becomes transformed into a meal more that ideal for serving to guests. The aromatics will transport imbibers to previous memories, perhaps of their childhood, or other fun times associated with said dish.

I’ve taken a summertime twist on this classic roasting chicken – because, let’s be real, who wants to turn on the oven for anything in the middle of the summer? Take a look at this beauty:

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What we’re marveling at is a classic “beer can chicken”….or “beer butt bird”, depending on your preference. I cannot claim credit for this exquisite dish, however much I’d love to. It’s a dish that screams summer to me, so much so that I make it a handful of times each season. The beer does an amazing job of keeping the chicken moist and tender – so much so, you’ll hardly find yourself needing a fork, for both shredding and eating. A few ears of fresh corn and a big salad make this the super dish of summer.

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Beer Can Chicken {recipe adapted from All Recipes}

This is one dish where you simply can’t go wrong. A few minutes of prep work – rinsing and drying the bird, and giving it a spice rub massage – is all that’s needed. I’ve outlined a simple spice rub below that the hubs and I have enjoyed as of late, but feel free to get creative with your own! And don’t be intimidated by the size of the bird; in fact, I may even go a bit bigger the next time, as the leftovers here are glorious! Shredded up for chicken salad, or tossed in creamy alfredo, you cannot and will not be disappointed. 

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken {I used a 5 lb. bone-in, skin-on bird}, with innards removed

1/2 can beer, preferably one more mild in flavor {a pilsner worked great}

cooking spray or olive oil

spice mixture of your choice*

special tools: large roasting dish with handles, heavy duty aluminum foil 

To Prepare:

Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat; between 400 and 425 degrees is ideal. Line your baking dish with aluminum foil, making sure to cover all surfaces {this aids in clean-up later on!}. Spray the bottom with cooking spray or drizzle with olive oil. Place the half-full can of beer in the center.

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*Prepare your spice mixture, or feel free to use a pre-packaged one. I mix a combination of salt, pepper, paprika, garlic powder, and chili powder in a bowl to rub the bird down with.

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Rinse chicken under cold, running water. Pat dry very thoroughly; any residual moisture will prevent the skin from crisping up. Place on a plate and rub down with spice mixture, making sure to get into all the crevices and inner cavity. I also like to rub it on the breast meat, underneath the skin, for additional flavor.

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Fit whole chicken over the can of beer with the legs on the bottom of the pan; make sure it stands upright on its own. Sprinkle any remaining spice mixture into the cavity {this may cause the beer to foam slightly}.

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Place the baking dish with standing chicken onto the preheated grill, making sure it’s not directly over any burners {in this case, indirect heat is best for cooking}. Close the lid and cook until the chicken is no longer pink and the bone and juices run clear, about 75 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, near the bone, should read 180 degrees.

Remove the pan from the grill and cover entirely with foil. Let it rest for 10 minutes, allowing the juices to redistribute.

Using tongs, carefully lift the bird off the beer can {discard this}. Break down the bird and serve with your choice of sides!

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Let’s discuss: Have you every tried making beer can chicken? If you cook this regularly, or any other sort of roasted bird, what is your favorite thing to do with the leftovers!

lightened up buffalo chicken dip

Please & Thank You.

Peas & Carrots.

Romeo & Juliet.

…the list goes on and on, and on and on. I could sit here for hours on end, thinking of the perfect marriage between different fun phrases, historical couples, and other random trivia notes, but there’s always one pair that jumps to my mind when I sit and think on “what does pair so well together??”

The answer, my dears, is plain and simple – buffalo chicken and blue cheese.

I could tell you that there was a time, back when I was just a young thing, and I could not even tolerate the mere thought of blue cheese. My dad {sidenote: can categorize basically his entire life using his salad dressing preference} is a huge, huge fan of the stuff, and I have vivid memories of him adding it on to just about every salad at dinnertime. I couldn’t even do it.

As I got older, my tolerance for creamier things began to develop, and I even allowed myself to like love Ranch dressing, especially when paired “late night” style with some delivery pizza. Wings and veggies got the same treatment. I would always reach for the Ranch.

But then, one day, it all changed.

I think that I had gotten so used to the flavor of this classic American dressing that I no longer even liked it. Clearly, my tastes had changed, yet again, and in doing so I thought to myself “what the heck – let’s try this blue cheese again.” And then I fell in love. Blue Cheese on everything! – from pizza crusts to salads, wings to French fries, crumbled on top of pizzas, you name it, I’m game. And then when I saw this recipe I’m sharing with you today, I knew that this was a long-term love affair.

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The best part about this dish is that it’s been slightly lightened up! As we all know, traditional blue cheese dressing is made with gobs of sour cream and mayonnaise. Once you fold in the crumbled cheese, you’re basically looking at a calorie bomb. Same with casseroles and dips made with this beloved culinary treasure. But that’s why were here, right! I distinctly remember stumbling upon this recipe last year, right before the Super Bowl, and it was if Heaven shone a golden light down onto my screen. You can have your blue cheese, and eat it, and enjoy it, too!

We’re replacing the typical mayo/cream cheese/sour cream base of this baked and bubbly dip with one of my favorite ingredients – Greek yogurt! I vary slightly from Cassie’s original recipe, because I opt for 0% plain Greek yogurt, and a blended cream cheese-yogurt mix, but feel free to use whatever you like!

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This is a fantastic dip to take for tailgating, to casual dinner parties…or if you’re really craving it, whip it up for dinner one night! Served alongside some crostini and a big, colorful salad, you’ll be fully satisfied, and not left with a guilty conscience heavy tummy!

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Lightened Up Buffalo Chicken Dip {recipe adapted, slightly, from Back to her Roots}

serves 12, at 1/2 cup per serving

Ingredients:

4 ounces softened Greek Yogurt-Cream Cheese blend*

1/2 cup crumbed Blue Cheese

1 cup plain, 0% Greek yogurt

2 cups of cooked, shredded chicken breast

1/2 cup buffalo wing sauce {you can add more if you prefer a bit more heat! – this yields a more mellow flavor}

2 T. fresh, chopped parsley

1/2 tsp. dried dill

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

salt and pepper, to taste

2 green onions, sliced thin

*this is sold at my local Kroger…it’s a cream cheese and yogurt blend, and I think tastier than regular or low-fat cream cheese. If you can’t find it, no worries! Either regular or low-fat cream cheese will work just fine.

Optional Toppings:

1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/2 cup panko

To Prepare:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, mix together the softened cream cheese, crumbled blue cheese, Greek yogurt, shredded chicken, buffalo sauce, parsley, dill, garlic powder, salt and pepper until well combined.

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Pour mixture into an ungreased one quart casserole dish. If desired, sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese and panko.

Bake in preheated oven until golden and bubbly, at least 30 minutes. I like to, at the very last second, turn the broiler on for 1-2 minutes to get that topping nice and crispy.

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Serve with desired scoopables {pita chips, tortilla chips, etc.} and hearty sliced veggies. Enjoy!