November 21, 2013

Spicy Cajun Chicken Noodle Soup

The other day I was craving soup, but I wasn't in the mood to go the completely homemade route (which includes cooking a whole chicken in the crock pot over night, reserving the broth, etc ...)  so when I found this recipe on a blog I like to read I made sure to pick up the ingredients next time I was at the store.  The recipe came together in no time and was pretty simple for a week night.  To make the prep even faster I used a rotisserie chicken and shredded it a couple days before, put the chicken in a container and froze it until I was ready to use it.  I also used the spicy jalapeño chicken sausage from Trader Joe's (TJs chicken sausage is fast becoming my favorite).
Clean & Healthy Spicy Cajun Chicken Noodle Soup
(Adapted from Taylor Made)
 1 rotisserie chicken (fully cooked & shredded)
8 - 10 oz pasta (of your choice)
 6 oz. spicy chicken sausage (I used Trader Joe's)
1 white onion, chopped in half
 4 - 5 cloves garlic, chopped in half
3 - 4 bay leaves
 4 large carrots, peeled
 4 stalks celery
 12 cups (3 cartons) organic/free range, low sodium chicken broth
 1/4 - 1/2 TSP cayenne (depending on your desired level of spice)
 1/2 TSP paprika
 1/2 TSP salt
 1/2 TSP garlic powder
 1/2 TSP dried thyme
 1/2 TSP pepper
 1 TBSP olive oil

 Remove all the meat from the rotisserie chicken and set aside (you can even do this days before and freeze) ~ using a large stock pot or Dutch oven bring the 12 cups of chicken broth to a boil ~ add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, celery and one of the carrots ~ return to a boil and then cover and allow to simmer for about an hour (I didn't have that much time so I let the whole thing boil (covered) for about 30 minutes) ~ once time has elapsed remove the veggies and bay leaves and discard them (there flavors will remain which will make the broth taste even better) ~ once all the veggies have been removed and only the broth remains turn on low heat ~ next slice the remaining carrots and celery and slice the sausage ~ heat a sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil then add the veggies/sausage and spices (cayenne, salt, pepper, thyme, and garlic powder) and cook/sauté the sausage and veggies (you can also cook the sausage separately if you like) ~ once they are cooked add the carrots/celery/sausage to the broth ~ added the shredded chicken and bring to a boil ~ once boiling add the pasta and cook until al dente ~ serve immediately and enjoy!
(Note - if the broth is not as flavorful as you would like it to be, add a couple chicken bouillon cubes.)
This soup was REALLY good - we both enjoyed it immensely, however since I cooked the pasta in the broth (instead of cooking the pasta separately and adding it to the broth later) the noodles continued to expand and any leftovers turned into more of a casserole than a soup.  The soup also definitely had a kick to it so it you like spice, it'll be right up your alley! 

Almost finished!
Ready to eat!

November 20, 2013

A Day of Reflection

One of the great benefits that my company offers is a paid day of reflection - that's right, once a year we get to take a day off and reflect on our career, personal lives and just relax away from the office.  It's an awesome idea and I used my day of reflection to the fullest.  Prior to taking the day we are required to submit a short essay explaining what we will be doing throughout the day and what we plan to reflect on.  Originally I was scheduled to take mine in mid-August, around the day of my 4 year anniversary of moving to Albany, but at the time my work load was just too heavy and I wasn't able to take it so instread I decided to take my day last Friday.  My original plan had included hot yoga, a small hike and lunch at one of my favorite lunch spots; however given that it's the middle of November I opted to forego the hike and spend approximately two hours painting my own pottery at The Pottery Place in Stuyvesant Plaza.  Actually, the majority of my day of reelection took place in Stuyvesant Plaza!
First thing I did the morning of my day of reflection was sleep in!  That may have been one of the best parts!  The past couple weeks have been really challenging and stressful - between travel, work assignments, follow-up and some person things I needed a day to just sleep in and enjoy a pot of coffee in the living room while watching some trashy reality TV.  After a relaxing morning I headed off to a hot yoga class at The Hot Yoga Spot.  I love hot yoga and use to take classes multiple times a week, but ever since I joined F.I.T. Strength & Conditioning and began taking boot camp classes, hot yoga has more or less fallen by the wayside.  I really should do it more often - I have noticed my flexibility has decreased and it really does relax and calm me; not to mention it's challenging!  Anyway, I took an hour and fifteen minute class and sweated my stress away - it was great!
Hot yoga!
The class ended around 11:30 AM and I headed around to the other side of Stuyvesant Plaza to walk around a little bit and do some 'window' shopping.  I really enjoy walking Stuyvesant Plaza and going into all the little shops.  Stuyvesant also happens to be home to one of my favorite places to eat - Bountiful Bread!  I go to Bountiful probably at least one time a week and it has become the regular meet up place for myself and many of my friends.  I love Bountiful's create your own salads and 90% of the time I go there that is what I get, so that afternoon was no exception.

Awesome 'create your own' and a breadstick.  Also notice the HUGE pumpkin whoopie pie in the back of the shot.  Bountiful has awesome whoopie pies so I bought one to split with Adam later that night.

After lunch I walked around a little more and then headed over to The Pottery Place to paint some pottery!  Awhile back I bought a groupon for 4 free hours of studio time; I used two of those hours back in June when my friend Barb came into town and even though it was fun I didn't really like the mug I made.  This time I decided to paint a salad plate and after careful consideration (it took me forever to pick out my colors and stencil) I decided to go with a blue base with black and yellow flower designs.  One of the ladies who worked there actually gave me a great tip that helped me ensure my design looked decent!

Getting ready to paint!

The end result turned out awesome!  I will get it back this Friday and I can't wait to see how it turned out.  One of the guys who works at the Pottery Place said my plate looked 'wicked awesome,' I was excited!  I have never been a real creative person so they fact that I was able to paint something like that (even with the aid of a stencil) really made me happy!

Can't wait to see how it looks once it's fired!
While painting was a ton of fun it was great to just sit by myself for about two hours and work on something that wasn't work, house or life related - it was really relaxing!  Overall I had a GREAT day and I am very appreciate that my company offers a day of reflection - it was much needed and a great way to reflect, relax and refocus! 

November 19, 2013

Many Adventures in the Midwest

In the last four weeks I have been all over the Midwest - Michigan, Illinois and Missouri - and I loved ever minute of it!  The Midwest is truly a great place!  I love exploring the small towns, meeting new people and everyone I met was just so nice.  It seems like every time I go to the Midwest I end up calling Adam asking if he wants to move there (he typically says 'yeah sure' and just ignores me) but I do try to get out there whenever work allows me.  So here are some pictures of my adventures!

First up - Lansing, Michigan, on the campus of Michigan State University to be exact.  I didn't end up taking many pictures in Michigan because it truly was a whirlwind; we landed in Detroit on a Sunday night, drove to Lansing and then the next morning we got up, worked all day and then flew home.  Either way it was still fun to be in a new place.

Go Green!  Michigan State!


Next up I went to Springfield, IL.  Springfield is the capitol of Illinois and in my opinion one pretty cool city.  It is the home of Abraham Lincoln and pretty much everything in the area has something to do with Abe.  It is also home to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum.  We flew in to Chicago O'Hare and made the four hour drive to Springfield and let me tell you, once you get outside of the Chicago area there is nothing but flatness and farm land and HUGE wind turbines.  The next day my boss and I were determined to do at least a little site seeing before we had to head back up to Chicago for out 9:30 PM flight.  We knew the forum would take most of the day but we ended up having about 45 minutes for sight seeing (power sight seeing).  One of the representatives at the forum was actually on the board of the Abraham Lincoln Museum and was able to reserve us passes, free of charge!

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum
In the land of Lincoln!
"Here I have lived a quarter of a century and have passed from a young to an old man."
- A. Lincoln
Abe and his family inside the Abraham Lincoln Museum
John Wilkes Booth lurking outside the White House in the Abraham Lincoln museum.
Young Lincoln outside of the model of his log cabin childhood home.
Me & Abe!

On the way to Springfield we stopped at this hole in the wall diner off the main highway - it was called That 50's Place and since my boss loves 50s style diners we had to stop!  The food was actually really good - so good in fact we stopped there for dinner on the way back to Chicago too.  The diner also had great 50s memorabilia including Betty Boop, a Cadillac and the blue brothers! 
Pulling into That 50's Place!
Awesome sign over the counter!
Me and Betty Boop!
As I mentioned before on the way to and from Springfield, IL there was a ton of farm land and it was just flat, flat, flat; but that made it a great area for TONS of huge wind turbines.  This isn't the best picture but this is along an access road to the highways with nothing but farm land and wind turbines! 
After Illinois my last and most recent trip to the Midwest was a three stop tour of Missouri including Columbia, Jefferson City and Fulton.  I flew into St. Louis and made the trip to Columbia to hold a forum.  While in Columbia I bought my first pair of cowboy boots!  Authentic cowboy boots!
This was our first stop along our search for cowboy boots - I didn't end up getting my boots there but it was a really cool store!
After spending the day in Columbia I headed over to Jefferson City, the capitol of Missouri.  I was really impressed with the town!  It was very walkable, had some great sites and I was able to do some Christmas (and personal) shopping at some of the local stores.  The morning before my conference presentation I also went for a run around the downtown and was able to take some pictures.
Welcome to Jefferson City!  Sign was on the building that houses the Amtrak station.
Museum next to the railroad tracks - it wasn't open but it's apparently the original station Lincoln would use when he would come to Jefferson City.
The capitol building!
View of the governor's mansion. 
View of the capitol from near the governor's mansion.
I found the Lewis & Clark statues!
Lewis, Clark and their crew.
Lewis, Clark & the capitol.
Front of the Missouri Capitol.
 My conference presentation!

The day after my presentation I traveled to Fulton, Missouri and toured the grounds of the state's Forensic Mental Health Hospitals and State Penitentiary - which was so cool!  Both institutions were constructed in the 1850s and the grounds included a ton of haunted buildings.  I told my Missouri trainers that next time I come back we'd have to actually go inside!  After the tour I road tripped back to St. Louis and headed back to Albany.  Overall, it was a GREAT tip!  I have grown to love Missouri and I think the Midwest overall is just a great place!