Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mandee's Cheesecake Fiasco...

Sometimes, it's just good to be reminded you're not alone.  I know that many of you have read some of my kitchen disasters, but sometimes it's just good to know that even people who are good, experienced cooks, can make mistakes... even really messy mistakes!

Enter my friend Mandee.  When we lived in Chicago, she and her husband Kyle lived downstairs from us and would invite us over to play games or to watch "The Office"... Mandee is a good cook... dare I even say, incredibly domestic and talented?  :)  The other day I was on Mandee's facebook page and ran across a  picture she posted of a cheesecake disaster.  I asked her to share her story with me and she did.  Cheesecake is a food that has long intimidated me, and in recent days I have been wanting to try a recipe that I had at a girlfriends house a few weeks ago (chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake - recipe hopefully to come soon!!)

I present to you, Mandee's Cheesecake Fiasco...  :)

For a while now, I’ve prided myself on being a good cook with some talent in the baking arena as well. Which is quite an accomplishment since the only thing I made for my first 6 months of marriage was spaghetti. Now, I’m no Martha Stewart, I know my place, but I thought I had “down-home-cooking” nailed. Even though my husband hates it when I answer, “yes, I followed a recipe … mostly!” I have to say 9 times out of 10 my substitutes and adjustments are pretty good. I even made a quite delicious tiramisu for my mother’s birthday, which is far out of my country-kitchen norm! So when my sister asked for a cheesecake for her birthday I quite pride fully announced that it would be no problem! 

I received a stand mixer for Christmas which as been my favorite toy in the kitchen for the past 5 months, but apparently I should be more cautious with new toys. Ask any close friends of mine and they will tell you with confidence that common sense has eluded me quite often, and the cheesecake batter all over my walls, counter and floor from pouring liquid in the bowl while the mixer was on medium-high will attest to the same. This should have been my first warning that I was headed down disasters trail.

Of course, if I had used common sense from that point on I probably would have ended up with a picturesque cheesecake to present to my sister on her special day but I found myself deficient once again! I finished mixing the batter and poured it into a spring form pan. It filled the pan right up to the top, but I figured cheesecake wasn’t like cake or cookies and wouldn’t expand. Well it does, and it also explodes ….

Mandee, your pictures bring a smile to my face... thanks for sharing your disaster!  I love hearing other people's stories!  And I also intend on learning from your story.  When I do finally try my chocolate chip cookie dough cheesecake, I will make sure my springform pan is big enough... and that I've read the recipe carefully!!  :)

What about you, friend?  Do you have any disasters or successes you'd like to share?  I would love to hear your stories, see your pictures, and include them on this blog!  Maybe that'd help me post a bit more often!!

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Tribute to my Crazy, Caring, Coworkers

My coworkers keep asking me, "When are you gonna write a blog about us?"  But as you can see by my severe lack of writing in the past several weeks, I really can't just sit down and write unless I am inspired.  Well, yesterday, my coworkers really inspired me.  (And yes, there will be a recipe attached to this post, as well).

Most of you who read this blog know me, and you know that I am a person who values authenticity.  With me it stands that what you see is what you get.  Part of it, I know, is a generational thing (among us twenty somethings, "authenticity" is a total buzzword), and part of it is that I grew up in the midwest.  Something that I have been very judgmental about since moving here to the south is that I have had this conception that southerners are... well, fake.

When we moved here to northern Georgia, I struggled to find a job.  I was finally offered a pretty prestigious position at a local touristy restaurant/resort, and it offered great pay and the opportunity for advancement and was, in my mind, an "exciting job."  However, the work environment  proved my stereotypes to be true.  I had a hard time finding any authenticity among my coworkers, and in that environment, it was clear that "each man was out for himself."  It was a very stressful, agonizing place to work.  Most days I came home emotionally exhausted, feeling like I had to keep my guard up all day long just to survive the day.  And while I was at work with my guard up I felt... well, fake.

Not long after I started working there, another opportunity came my way to work as a nurse at a pediatrician's office.  I was hesitant at first, because I was still hoping to find something in my "field" and I wasn't sure how that job could fit.  But seriously, ever since I started working there, I've known that this is exactly where God wants me to be.

Now, obviously, when you're in a work environment with a lot of women, you are still bound to have cattiness and conflict.  Women are all very different in their approaches to things - we are territorial, easily offended, and very emotional.  My workplace is not by any means exempt from this kind of tension and conflict.  But never in my life have I worked alongside a more authentic, genuine group of women who at their core have the same core values and calling: to care deeply for our patients and to be a comfort and a light to them from the moment they walk through the door until they leave.  We all have our different strengths and gifts to work toward this goal, but in reflecting on each one of us as I was working yesterday, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are EACH there for a reason, and that together we work as one finely oiled machine.  Dysfunctional at times, yes, but when we are each focused on that one central goal, we are really, really good at what we do!

And, to be honest, my coworkers have shattered my stereotype of southerners... well, not ALL of the stereotypes (I love learning more and more about southern "lingo" and traditions), but the negative ones for sure!  :)

In no particular order... I want to encourage each of you with what I see as ONE of your many strengths, but the strength that stands out to me as your biggest contribution to our office, and specifically, to my life!

Nicki - You bring laughter and lightheartedness to our office even on the most stressful of days.  Not only that, but your personal nature makes each patient (and each of us!) feel like the most important person in the world.  THAT is a gift!

Sue - You are a comforter.  Whether it's on the phone or when you have direct contact with the patients, you have such a soothing and gentle way of dealing with patients and their concerns.  It's an attribute I do not possess, but I admire greatly.

Tina - You are full of wisdom.  You take time to THINK before you speak, and the things that you say very often penetrate the heart.  You have so much to offer so many of us, and you DO it!  I have learned so much about how I want to live my life by watching you!

Stephanie - You are a lifelong learner - and I don't just mean in school!  I love the way you are always willing to grow and seeking to improve yourself.  You have a very humble nature, and that is always one of my favorite attributes in people.  If you are willing to grow, you will go far!

Patty - You possess the gift of encouragement.  You are extremely selfless in the way you consistently affirm and encourage others.  You are always looking for ways you can serve and bless others.  Your selfless nature is something I strive to be like!

Kirsten - You are a great listener.  When someone is telling you what is going on in their lives, you can tell that you are listening not only with your ears, but with your heart.  It is very easy to talk to you because you make it clear that you care.

Elizabeth - You are very giving.  Even when you are having a hard time yourself, you seem to be entirely focused on how you can help someone else.  You are a blessing to everyone around you - even if what you're giving is a smile, it's always noticed and appreciated!

Anita - You are refreshing.  I admire your gentle spirit and calm disposition.  You have a way of making everyone feel comfortable and at ease, just by being around you.  You are full of gentleness, purity, and true beauty.  I know I could learn so much from being around you!

Trayce - You are so determined.  I see this both in the way you care for others and in the way you strive after your own goals and dreams.  It seems to me you will stop at nothing to find answers for people who need them, and you are constantly looking for ways to help.  God has given you the gift of steadfastness and perseverance.  I gain energy and faith watching you!

Marlene - You are full of joy and a great friend.  You genuinely want everyone to be happy and cared for, and it shows in your actions and your words.  Because of your attention-to-detail mind you are ABLE to care for many people this way.  I am blessed to call you friend!

So this is my tribute to my coworkers.  I love y'all so much - each of you with your little quirky ways (not that I'm one to talk - I may have more "quirks" than all of y'all put together)!  And even though we are all so different, I can honestly say that I love you ALL for your strengths and who you are!!  I am blessed to work with each of you - on the good days and the hard days.

And because y'all over there at work wanted it, I'm posting my scone recipe.  Just like the ingredients in these DELICIOUS scones, I love how when you put all us crazies together, you get one good tasting snack... now THAT's cheesey.

Scones A'La Heather  :)

  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter (softened)
  • 1 egg
  • lots of yumminess, like craisins and white chocolate chips (although my new favorite combo is dried cherries, white chocolate chips, and chopped up pistachios...)
  1. In a small bowl, mix together the baking soda and sour cream... it does some funky reaction - set it aside while you mix the rest
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, cream of tartar, and salt. Cut in the butter (MUCH easier if the butter is a bit softened, but NOT melted). Stir the sour cream mixture and egg into the flour mixture until just moistened... I use my Kitchenaid Mixer...
  4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead. Roll or pat dough into a 3/4 inch thick circle. Cut into wedges (you can make your "rounds" and your wedges as large or small as you'd like), and place them 2 inches apart on the greased baking sheet.
  5. Bake 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until firm and starting to get a LITTLE brown around the edges.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pizza - the Windy City Way!!

I am a fairly nastolgic person; I can be very sentimental, mushy, and a hopeless romantic.  At the same time, I am extremely practical; I don't like to do things or hold onto things if they don't have purpose.  While these characteristics may seem to be contradictory, I think I have found ways to combine these preferences.  If you come to my house, you won't see artwork or knick knacks picked up at a flea market or yard sale, but rather my walls and shelves are covered with photographs of times gone by, precious people, and places that are dear to my heart.

Something I am looking for but have yet to find is a large, black and white print or wall canvas of the city I hold dear to my heart, Chicago.  I spent my college years living in downtown Chicago, just blocks from Michigan Avenue, the Hancock Building, and the Lake Michigan waterfront.  These four years of my life were full of so many amazing memories and crazy adventures, and I would love to have a big black and white creative print of this crazy cool city to remember it by, and to make it part of my home forever.  You know what I'm talking about, you can find them at Target in the home decor section - they have a big canvas print of Wrigley Field and a long canvas print of the New York skyline, but that's as close as I can come.  I've found some online, but I just can't justify paying $200+ for a picture of a city that's image is so firmly burned on my heart.  (That would be impractical!)  Of course, I could always make my own.  During my four years living in the windy city, I had many intentions of taking my camera and hopping around the city, taking photographs of the landscape and architecture.  But quite honestly, I was too busy studying, playing, and savoring those memories and precious friends that I took very little time to take pictures.  So you know, if y'all ever see one of those big canvas or framed prints of the Chicago skyline (a view from the lakefront would be preferable) for a decent price, I am in the market!!

Although I haven't any memorabilia to commemorate my life in Chicago, I do have something that I can carry with me no matter where this world might take me: a fondness for Chicago-Style pizza.  If you've never savored the cheesy Italian gooeyness made famous by such pizzaria's as LouMalnati's, Gino's, or Girodano's, you're really missing out!  And if you're like me and have spent enough time in the city to become a pizzaholic, you're probably missing that delicious pie about as much as you miss the windy city itself!!

Thus, in the two years since I've left Chicago, I've been on the hunt for the perfect Chicago-style pizza recipe.  While the recipe I've created is not by any means a perfect LouMalnati's classic (I haven't attempted "butter crust" - I don't even want to know what's in it so that I'll still eat it in ignorant bliss when I return for visits to the city!!) I LOVE what I've come up with as a somewhat nutritious, delicious version of a Chicago Style Pizza - Heather Style!  :)

There are two main features that give a Chicago Style Pizza it's distinctive name.  The first is crust - determined not so much by the ingredients themselves, the by depth of the pan you bake it in.  A deep dish Chicago Style Pizza is much more like a pie than the traditional, round and flat pizzas eaten in other parts of the country.  They do make and sell actual Chicago style deep dish pizza pans, but I have found you can also use a cast iron skillet or even a springform pan for the same effect.  You can also use a pie plate or a cake pan if you don't have the other options.  Once you make and roll out the crust, you just have to make sure you pull it up around the sides of the pan to create the "pie" effect.  So you really don't need any special tools to make the pizza.

Here's my Chicago Style Whole Wheat Crust recipe:

1 teaspoon White Sugar
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon bread machine yeast
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour

Just because I love to make anything easier, I always use my bread machine to make pizza crust.  It's SO easy.  You just put the liquid ingredients in first (in this case the water and the olive oil), then add the dry ingredients, saving the yeast for last.  Dig a little hole in the middle of the dry ingredients (without exposing the liquid underneath) and pour the yeast in the hole.  Choose the "dough" cycle on the bread machine and let it do it's thing!  It takes (on average) about an hour and a half this way, so you can dump your ingredients in and go!  It's amazing.  :)

The second feature that gives a Chicago Style pizza it's distinctive quality is the order and importance of ingredients.  The main and arguably most important ingredient in a Chicago Style Pizza is the CHEESE. I use mozzarella or italian blend cheeses, and have recently fallen in love with the Sargento cheese that has a touch of cream cheese in it, because it melts better.  Chicago Style Pizza is also kind of upside down in respect to how you place the ingredients in your pie.  I usually put in the meat first, then the cheese, then the veggies, and THEN the tomato sauce.

This is my personal favorite Chicago-style pizza recipe:

1 package pepperoni
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup fresh broccoli, cut into small florets
1 bag fresh baby spinach
1 8oz bag mozzarella cheese
2 cans diced tomatoes, drained well (sometimes you can find italian seasoned tomatoes - saves some time!!)
Pizza Seasoning

I start, of course, by preheating the oven to 350 degrees, then greasing the pan really really well.  Then roll out the pizza crust into the right size for the pan.  It's kind of a guessing game, and I usually end up rolling it out about the size of the bottom of the pan (a little bit bigger if I'm feeling confident) and then stretching and pulling it up to cover the sides of the pan as well, like a pie crust.  I then rub some olive oil on the crust and baking it for about 8-10 minutes.  Take the partially baked crust out of the oven and layer the bottom of the crust with pepperoni.  Next, I sautee all of the vegetables.  I start with the spinach - I put a little bit of olive oil in my frying pan and cook it down.  It's amazing how small a whole bag of fresh spinach will get.  I set the spinach aside and then cook the other veggies I've chosen in the olive oil as well.  Use just enough olive oil to cook the vegetables, but not to make them soggy - just soft.  Once the spinach has cooled a little bit, I mix it together with the cheese, then dump the cheese and spinach mixture in the pizza pan as well, spreading it to cover all of the pepperoni.  then I add my cooked veggies.  As a final step, I cook my diced tomatoes (not too long - you don't want it to get too liquidy!) in the same pan I cooked the veggies in, adding any seasonings I think may add to the flavor.  I drain any remaining liquids from the pan and lay the tomatoes over the top of everything else.  I turn the oven up to about 400-425 degrees and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the crust is browned and the cheese is bubbly.  OH YUMMY.

Once you have the basic idea of the entire process, it's REALLY easy to swap in your favorite ingredients.  My husband loves hawaiian pizza, so I've made this with pineapple and canadian bacon.  I've also substituted chicken or sausage for the pepperoni, and used lots of other veggies.  You can also make it without the spinach mixed in with the cheese (though I'm not sure why you'd want to) or use white crust instead of whole wheat!  Whatever you do, it's a treat for sure, and extremely filling!!!  :D

I think I may have to make a point to learn a signature recipe from every area I move to from here on out.  It could make a really interesting cookbook one day.  Or maybe I could collect local signature recipes from my friends around the world.  Do you have any recipes you'd like to share?

So go ahead - try a Chicago-style pizza!  And while you're biting into that deliciously cheesey slice of heaven, picture yourself on Michigan Avenue, sitting outside your favorite pizzaria, enjoying the sites and sounds of your favorite city.  You might just forget you ever left.  :)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Coupon Queen!! (Well, maybe I'm entering the court!)

Two blog posts in one day???  Could it BE?!?!  There is an urgency to this blog that made it mandatory to post TODAY!!

I have recently taken on a new endeavor - coupon-clipping!!

While visiting home in Wisconsin for Christmas, I had the JOY of spending an entire day with my best friend Becky.  I've referred to her before in this blog as Becky-Homecky!!  :D  Becky is amazing at all things domestic, and she is a GREAT teacher.  While I spent time just "doing life" with Becky, she was excited to open her pantry and show me "all this great stuff I got for basically nothing or FREE!"  Becky had recently begun coupon clipping and was thrilled with the results.

Now, I remember Sunday afternoons growing up - I would frequently enjoy sitting with the Sunday paper and clipping coupons with my mom.  But as I got older and ventured out on my own, I tried to do the same and found myself frequently discouraged.  Many of the coupons I clipped were for items I would never need, and really, how far can "25 cents off" go anyway?  I was disenchanted, believing that coupons were just a marketing ploy to get you to buy things you don't want or need, so I decided it was a waste of time.

Well, as Becky opened my eyes to - that 25 cents off coupon can go REALLY far if it's used wisely and with the right timing.  She opened my eyes to a few "secrets" of coupon clipping...

1.  Coupons don't expire as soon as you think.  Manufacturers coupons in the Sunday paper (the typical inserts are RedPlum, SmartSource, and P&G) often last several months, so if you organize your coupons well, you can WAIT and PLAN to use your coupons - you don't have to just run out and use them that week.  She actually suggested organizing them by the month of expiration, not just the type of coupon, to help keep track of expiration dates.

2.  Many stores will also accept internet coupons.  If you get to know your favorite stores coupon policy, you may be able to combine a manufacturers coupon found in a Sunday flyer AND an internet coupon for a better deal.

3. MOST stores have days or weeks that are "double coupon" days - again, look into your grocery stores coupon policy to find out when the double coupon days are and to see if there are any restrictions on double coupons (for example:  Ingles has double coupons every day, but will only double a certain number of coupons per amount of money spent, ect).

4.  The BEST way to use coupons is to use a coupon when an item is already on sale.  This is where the weekly store ads come in handy!  Comparing the store ads to the coupons you already have clipped can help you save the MOST!

Phew!  Sounds like lot of work, huh?  Well, thankfully for the internet, there are HUNDREDS of people around the country who are already doing all of the work for you - you just need to find the best sites for your particular stores!!  Many of these people are basically "professional coupon clippers" and know ALL the secrets to getting the best bang for your buck!  You simply go to their blog each week, click on your store of choice, and they will list the best deals that week, combining coupons and store sales, FOR you!  Many also list the stores coupon policy right on those pages as well.

My current personal favorite coupon blog is Swappin' Spoons.... I like it because it features all of the grocery stores (in addition to WalMart AND Pharmacies - which also have some FANTASTIC deals)  and she really lays out the information in an easy-to-use format.

Depending on your area and what stores are available to you, you may need to do a bit of hunting at first to find your ideal blog to follow for great coupon deals, but Money Saving Mom has a great list of stores and blogs to follow for those stores.  It's a great place to start.

OH - and did I forget to mention - the reason why I HAD to post this blog this week is that...


That means that the great deals you can get with your coupons are even BETTER this week!  So it's a GREAT week to try it out!!

To get you started, if you shop at Ingles, here are this week's deals from Rebecca at "Swappin Spoons!"


Chi Chi's Tortillas, 16-17oz., $1.98--On sale buy one get one free ($0.99)
Use $0.50/1 coupon from the 1/16 Smart Source insert
Free after coupon 

French's Mustard, $1.33
Use $0.50/ coupon from the 1/23 Smart Source insert
Free after coupon triples!

Tabasco Sauce. $1.29
Use $0.50/1 printable
Free after coupon triples!

Hambuger Helper, $1.39
Use $0.50 printable (print limit leach)
Free after coupon triples!

Blue Diamond Nuts, 1.5oz., $1.25
Use $0.50/1 printable
Free after coupon triples

Franks Redhot Sauce 4.5 oz., $1.25
Use $0.50/1 coupon from the 1/23 Smart Source insert
Free after coupon coupon triples!

Carefree Liners,22count, $1.49
Use $0.50/1 coupon from the 1/09 Smart source insert
Free after coupon triples

Halls Cough drops, $1
Use $0.50/ coupon from the February or March All You Magazine
Free after coupon

Scotties Facial Tissue, 60-132 ct., B1G1 at $1.28 (64¢)
Use $0.50/1 printable
Free after coupon

Lever 2000 Bar Soap, 2 count, $2 --on sale buy one get one free ($1)
Use $0.25/1 Lever coupon from the 1/30 Red Plum insert
$0.25 after coupon

Buy 6 Dannon Single Serve Yogurts, 6 oz., at $0.50 each
Use $0.40/6 coupon from the 1/30 Smart source insert
$0.30 each after coupon triples

Cake Mate Candle $1.99
Use $0.50/1 Cake Mate printable
$0.49 after coupon 

Breakstone's Sour Cream 16 oz., $1.99
Use $0.50 printable
$0.49 after coupon triples

Minut Rice, $2.10
Use $0.50/1 coupon from the 1/23 Red plum insert
$0.60 after coupon

Heluva Good Dip $2.39
Use $0.50/1 printable
$0.89 after coupon 

Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes, 14 oz.,  $3.78--On sale buy one get one free ($1.89)
Buy 2 and use $1/2 Frosted Flakes cereal printable 
$1.39 each after coupon


Nissin Bowl Noodles, 3.27-3.36 oz., $0.80--on sale buy one get one free($0.40)

Laura Lynn Gravies, .75-1.25 oz., $0.66--on sale buy one get one free ($0.33)

Sweet Onions, $0.98 

Peppers, $0.98

Tyson Thighs or Drumsticks Family Pack 98¢ 

Braeburn or Fuji Apples, 3 lb bag, $1.98 

Florida Strawberries, 1 lb, $2 

Tyson Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast Family Pack $1.98 lb 

Carolina Pride Select Slices Lunchmeats, 9 oz., $2.98--on sale buy one get one free ($1.49) 

Carolina Pride Smoked or Polska Rope Sausage, 16 oz., $3.58--on sale buy one get one free ($1.79) 

Sometimes, Frozen Pizza is Perfect.

So I've been bad about posting once again (has it really been over a MONTH?!?), mainly because I am never home these days... the theater company I'm involved with has been busy busy once again getting ready for shows (one of which we've already rehearsed and performed since my last post!), my husband is back in school, and all other time is spent at work or cleaning up the mess I leave behind in our house.  This has not left much time for blogging, or even for really cooking for that matter!

In all honesty, during weeks like these, I sometimes feel like a bad wife.  I'm never around, always busy, and struggle to find time to grocery shop, much less cook!  (That being said, the busy routine of our life works for us right now - It just looks different than other peoples lives!)

Last week Friday, I got home from work and had a free night.  Although I was tired, I just had an itch to cook something fabulous for my favorite guy.  I found a recipe for his favorite - Sweet & Sour Chicken - and decided to give it a shot.  I made a list, hopped in the car, and went to WalMart to go grocery shopping.  I got to the checkout about an hour later... exhausted and hungry, and as I handed my credit card to the cashier, my attention was suddenly diverted to the elderly couple in line behind me.

The sweet old lady was hanging on her beau's left arm and they were smiling lovingly at each other.  You know those kinds of couples - those people who have obviously been together for years, but still are madly in love?  He was talking softly and sweetly to her, and seemed quite contented by her presence.  In his right hand, he held a WalMart ready-to-bake pizza, a bottle of Dr. Pepper, and a movie.  Suddenly, I had a craving - to just spend time with my hubby.

So, I took my groceries out to the car and walked back into WalMart, grabbed a pizza and a bottle of Diet Pepsi and got back in line.  Sweet & Sour Chicken can wait.  Time with my sweet husband, however, could not.  :)

Sometimes, Frozen Pizza is perfect.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Snow Day!! (complete with comfort food!)

My husband and I recently moved to Georgia from Wisconsin.  This move meant a lot of change; the change I was most excited about was warmer weather and potentially a lack of winter altogether.  

Well, little did I realize how much I loved the winter and took it for granted until I experienced the boring "brownness" that accompanies winter in the south.  The seasons still change, the leaves fall, and the grass turns brown-ish... the biggest difference in the weather is that temperatures tend to hover above 40 degrees,  a welcome change from the -20 degree winter temperatures I'd become accustomed to in wintery Wisconsin.  At the same time, however, I found myself getting jealous of the snow that was falling so consistently on my home state early in the winter.  Don't get me wrong, the snow gets old, too... but I was aching for one good snowfall here in the Georgia mountains.  Imagine my glee when I opened the shades yesterday to see over 7 inches of the white stuff, and the snow kept falling all day!

(if you look closely, you can see the mountains in the background of al of these pics - SO PRETTY - I'm sad my camera is not really a high enough quality to get a good picture of any of this stuff!!)

Now, because we live in the mountains and many people live up on top of mountain roads in this area, when it snows like this, EVERYTHING shuts down.  Today is my second day home from work, which is a huge blessing, although we could surely use the money.  But I think that yesterday may have seriously been my first snow day EVER.  I was so excited.  We went for a walk in the snow, I went for a drive in the snow (probably not the smartest thing - I get why they cancel school - they don't plow the roads!) and today, I intend on building a snowman!!

So what's the perfect food for a snowy day?  Chili of course! When it's cold and wintry outside, you want comfort food - something that will warm you up and stay with you.  That's why yesterday I made a big pot of one of our new favorite meals - White chicken chili.  This is another one of those recipes that sounded so intimidating to me at first, but after making it once, I realized how simple a food like chili could be!!  I got the recipe from a coworker and have made a few of my own modifications.  I really recommend it!!   Easy and SOOOOOO yummy!!

White Chicken Chili
4-5 boneless skinless chicken breasts
chili powder 
1 lg onion, diced (you can use more or less depending on how much you like onion)
1/2 stick butter (unsalted is best)
salt & pepper
1 or 2 cans green chilies (depending on how spicy you like it!)
2 cups half & half (I use fat free)
1/4 cup flour
1 cup chicken broth 
1/2 cup monteray jack or mexican style cheese
2 cans white chili beans
tortilla chips, sour cream, and cheese for toppings

1.  Coat the chicken in chili powder.  Grease a medium sized skillet & cook chicken, making sure to get a good crust on both sides.
2.  Remove chicken from skillet and shred (I use a fork and knife and pull it apart into small pieces.  It's pretty easy once you get the hang of it).
3.  Cook onion in the same skillet you cooked chicken in, until soft.
4.  Melt 6 tsp of butter in a large pot.  add flour and whisk for about 3 minutes.  Add cooked onions.  Whisk in chicken broth and half & half.  Cook about 5 minutes or until thickened.  
5.  Add 1 1/2 tsp of chili powder, 1 tsp of cumin, and salt and pepper (I use more of these spices, but I do it slowly and taste in between until I get just the right flavor.  Don't overdo it right away!  That's harder to fix!!)
6.  Add chilies, shredded chicken, and cheese.  Simmer about 20 minutes.  Serve with tortilla chips, sour cream, and cheese.

Oh, yum... I can hardly wait to eat it again at lunch!!!

My one problem yesterday was that when I went to pull out all of the ingredients... I was all out of chili powder!!   How can you make chili without chili powder!?

Well, one of my favorite things about the internet and cooking is that you can search for substitutions!!  Any time I'm missing an ingredient, I'll just type in "______ substitute", and all of the cooking geniouses in the world return with ideas of what to substitute.  In this particular instance, I was advised to use a mixture of cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano, and garlic powder.  It worked GREAT!  Who knew, huh?  :)

So the next time you have a snow day (sorry all you up-north folks!) pull out a new recipe and go at it!!

Next time, I'll be writing about my newest housewife adventure - coupon clipping!!  :D

Monday, December 20, 2010

Holiday Hosting #2

As you read below, my Thanksgiving meal was truly a blessing and a success.  However, true to form, I did experience my own little Thanksgiving day cooking disaster.

Awhile back, I found a fabulous recipe for an apple pie.  It is fabulous because it is simple, but everyone who tries it insists it is the most delicious apple pie they've ever eaten.  :)  So, I decided to make this pie as one of my Thanksgiving desserts.  My husband LOVES his pie warm, so I waited to bake it until everything else was done.  I placed the pie on the rack in the oven and baked it as directed, not realizing that sugar drippings were oozing from the pie to the oven floor below.  I also did not realize that my dear husband, trying to be resourceful, had placed tin foil on the bottom of the oven to catch any renegade food particles that would potentially fall to the bottom of the oven.  Well, the tin foil was successful in catching the pie drippings, but...

...after we had consumed our delicious pie and everyone was in the living room watching "Elf", I decided I was going to bake the rest of my homemade rolls so that we would have them ready for turkey sandwich leftovers.  I turned the oven to 350 degrees and put the rolls in the oven while my hubby set to work on the dishes.  Five minutes later I heard him yelling from the kitchen - "HEATHER!  COME QUICK!"  I rushed into the kitchen to see the oven-bottom tin foil, engulfed in flames.  Oh dear.  Instantly in my head, I saw images I'd seen on the news of holiday house fires caused by improper use of ovens and stovetops.  Fortunately, it only took a moment for the fire to completely consume the tin foil, and the fire was out in a matter of minutes.  

I did learn from this experience, however, that maybe leaving dirty tin foil on the bottom of an oven isn't a great idea.  And also, I figured out why my mom always put a small cookie sheet on the rack underneath her apple pies when she cooked them.  Then, when the pie is done, you can take the cookie sheet and wash away any flammable sugar drippings.  :)

Ah yes, and the fabulous apple pie recipe?  Here ya go!  Just please don't burn down your house!  I would feel horrible!

1 store-bought pie crust (top and bottom crust)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 teaspoon corn starch
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 bag Granny Smith Apples - peeled, cored, and sliced (a good husband job!)

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Stir in the flour to form a paste.
2. Add water & sugars, bring to a boil.  Reduce to simmer.
3.  Place bottom crust in pan.  Fill with the apples, allowing them to mound in the pie crust. 
4.  Cover with a lattice work crust (great directions here!)  
5.  Slowly pour the sugar and butter liquid over the crust, making sure much falls into the lattice holes.
6.  Bake for 15 minutes in the preheated oven.  Reduce temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for 45 minutes, or until apples are soft and pie crust is browned.

My pie, before it was baked and caused the fire.  :)

Again, this recipe is GREAT because it is soooooooo simple!  And a lattice work crust makes your pie look professional and BEAUTIFUL, but it's really quite simple!!

So please learn from my mistakes and your pie will be a huge success!!

Till next time,