Sunday, September 26, 2010

Comfort food

I just love comfort food.
It's easy, usually time saving, delicious and, well, comforting.
Over the past few weeks we've been eating mainly crock pot meals, casseroles and soups.
This is partially due to the season change and mainly due to our shortage of time in our household.
I've gradually been working on stocking our freezer with make ahead meals. This weekend I've added a chicken, rice and broccoli casserole.

That is a breading on the top. It will hopefully be similar to the Stouffers Casserole in the freezer section of your favorite market. But without all those preservatives and unnecessary fillers.

I also made some more enchiladas with the delicious left over sauce my Mr. made last week. Those always freeze quite nicely.

The crock pot is an old friend I've been getting reacquainted with again.

And of coarse the comforting sides (usually biscuits) that are likely to accompany the slow cooker meals. They too are wonderful.

Our favorite casserole from last week was this Chicken Florentine Recipe.
Here's what you do:

I will pour it over egg noodles next time (I have another in the freezer). The flavor was wonderful though! We enjoyed it as is but we all agreed it felt like something was missing! So yes, egg noodles or rice next time for sure!

And just because I took pictures of it, here are some apple sauce making pics.
I never posted these after the last canning post. The apple sauce turned out really good. We had nice sweet apples and so there was no sugar needed. I just added a little cinnamon.

I just love that little food mill!

This comfort food item is something that I've been wanting to make for a while.

These are not, however, "time-saving". I started the process on Saturday night so the dough would be ready on Sunday morning.
I used the dough recipe from here, and the frosting/glaze recipe from here.
My kids were so excited. Cinnamon rolls are one of their favorite comfort foods.

This week we are trying a new meatloaf recipe and for the first time...okra!
We got a bagful of okra in our last co-op basket. It may not be a typical comfort food for me, but I know it is in the South.
I've only tried it once. It was a frozen bag I boiled and it was extremely slimey. If you have any tips or recipes for okra let me know!
I will report back on how our little "okra experiment" goes!

I hope you enjoy your seasonal comfort food. I know I am!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Pioneer Woman Recipes

I'm sure by now most of the blogging world knows who The Pioneer Woman is. Ree Drummond, aka Pioneer woman, has a fun tale to tell on how her nickname came about. I won't tell you too much because A) you either already know all about her or B) I'll spoil you from going on to her website and experiencing the fun for yourself!

If you don't know about this website/blog, you should definitely check it out. If you do, then I'd love to know what recipes you've tried and what are your favorites?

Here are a few of my recent tries and favorites from Pioneer Woman:

Oatmeal Crispies.

The first time I tasted these little wonders was at work when a co-workers wife was kind enough to bake them for us. He came in with a big bucket of them and passed them around the office. I politely declined. If I am going to "waste" the calories on something I'd much rather have it be something I've been craving or know I will really enjoy. He looked rejected. I took one, to be polite of coarse. I planned on throwing it away when nobody was looking. After a while, I took a small nibble. And then another. And then a big bite. This thing was well worth the calories! I've been craving them ever since.

I got up the courage to ask for the recipe and found out it was one a Pioneer Woman recipe. By the next weekend I had all the ingredients on hand and the recipe printed out.
The ingredients are so simple. I could swear from the taste there was butter and cream in these things. Nope. Just good ol' Crisco. And not even any spices! The variation I made had the addition of craisins and white chocolate in them. Oh. My. Gosh!

They are not the easiest things to make. They are very crumbly. However, that may be due to the size of the fresh eggs I had. My brothers chickens are laying somewhat small eggs right now, I probably should have used three instead of two.
But nonetheless they were still divine!

Grilled Ribeye Steak with Onion Bleu Cheese Sauce

This is definitely for the "grown up" palate. My husband, eldest child and I found this to be really good. The two youngest ones didn't really care for it. But the sauce is separate from the steak, so it's optional.
We eat a lot of meat because we get the good homegrown stuff from my husbands parents who raise cattle, pigs and sheep. So this was a great way to change up steak night.

The corn in that picture- yeah, another Pioneer Woman recipe.

This Fresh Corn Casserole was also very yummy!

Breakfast Potatoes

These things are just like my grandma used to make! My Mr. ate three helpings of these! We ate them with a green chile omelet.

Although the omelet wasn't a Pioneer Woman recipe, I did get some ideas, tips and tricks from her about eggs and egg recipes.

Breakfast & morning sunshine!

The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake. Ever.
The name says it all. This thing is deliciously evil. The kids kept calling it brownies. Though they aren't as fudgy as brownies, but just as decadent.
This cake was so unbelievably easy and fast to make. I will be making it for pot lucks in the future.

Seriously delicious.

I also made some Meatball Sliders that everyone loved. Both camera batteries were charging. So no pictures of those though I highly recommend making them.

Buttered Rosemary Rolls.
*Sigh* These were so very good I made them twice and both times they were eaten so fast I didn't get a picture. I made them for company one night and my husband asked me to make them again for Sunday dinner. Yes, they are that good!

If you have some favorites from Pioneer Woman please share! Yes, that means all you family members who leave me messages in my email about my blog posts! It's really not that hard to leave one on here. I promise!

For those of you who haven't tried any Pioneer Woman recipes, let me know when you do!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Handmade Dolls

A couple of years ago I made this doll for Christmas for my oldest daughter.

She was approaching the age of being less excited by homemade gifts and toys and I was trying really hard to find things that would be unique and right up her alley. I was surprised at how well this doll was received. I was told numerous times it was her favorite Christmas gift that year. It is still proudly displayed on her bed everyday!

Since then I've had several requests from both kids and parents for these dolls.
I've made four more for gifts and have an order for one to make by Christmas time this year.
They are obviously not your standard dolly. I've made three "Goth" versions and one "Punk" version of this doll. I like doing these styles because they are very whimsical and don't have to be perfect. Each crooked stitch and mismatched arm or leg adds to the uniqueness of the doll.

They are a blast to make and don't usually take more than a few solid hours from start to finish.
A dear family friend was turning 10 years old and she asked a whole year in advance for one of these for her next birthday.
Her "next birthday" was Saturday. So I got to finally make her this little cutie.

This is how I did it:

First I start out with a template. My husband drew this one out for me for the very first doll I ever made. Since it worked so well I've kept it and used it ever since.

I have a stash of organic cotton I usually use but I have made one out of muslin and that worked well too.
After ironing my fabric I fold it in half allowing just enough room for me to trace the template on it.
I pin the template directly onto the ironing board to keep the fabric and template from moving while I'm tracing.

After I'm done tracing I remove the template but replace the pins back into the fabric and through the ironing board. (This is easier and quicker than pinning the usual way.)

Now I cut out my template.

Then I pin together both pieces of fabric (right sides together).
Then I sew around the edges (about 1/4 inch seam) leaving at least a two inch opening on the top of the head for stuffing.

Turn the sewn doll inside out and stuff with batting or polyfill.
Then whip or blind stitch the opening closed. It doesn't have to be perfect because the hair (yarn) will cover it.

I both sew and hot glue the hair to the doll. This is the most time consuming part but also my favorite part. I've used all sorts of variations such as black w/red stripes, black with blue chunks, blond and pink ponytails, baby bangs, pig tails and with this particular doll I found some yarn that was strikingly similar to the hair of the person I made it for.

Then I sew on eyes and a mouth.

Finally, its time to make some clothes. I find that the tutus go over really well. Oh, and some little dolly jewelry and slippers too.

These are just so dang fun to make and great for those girls that think they are both to big and too cool for dolls!
Thanks for having a birthday Em, I was needing some creative time!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Make ahead meals; Mexican Casserole

I have a feeling make-aheads are about to save my life.

Two to three nights of soccer, two nights of music lessons, a tutoring session, two nights a week w/out the hubby's help because he's teaching night classes and countless hours of homework make for a really busy week. Oh, not to mention the fact that I work full time (9-5), away from home....

ZzzzZzzzZzzz....huh..what...OH! Sorry about that!

Ahem. Alright, as I was saying. It is really helpful to have something ready to just pop in the oven when I get home. So I've decided to try to make some "make-aheads" during the weekend to ease the load of the weekdays.

Now, some of these meals are not the epitome of healthy. But I can't exactly be perfect ALL the time. (yes, I said it out loud, write it down!) However, it is a huge step up from the pre-frozen meals packed with preservatives and, of coarse, the path of desperation which leads us to the evils of the McDonald's drive-thru.
Both of these things have been crutches in the past during our family busy season. I am vowing to abstain from them this season.

One of the make-aheads for this week was this Mexican Casserole. Casseroles are easy. Easy to make, easy to freeze, easy to just pop in the oven and easy to clean up! Easy = saving time for me!
I thought for sure the kids would turn up their noses when they saw how awfully ugly this thing was.

And I was pretty much right. They ewwwed and ahhhhed over it just how I expected them to. Then they watched me scoop it into some mini tortillas (large tortillas cut up because mini everything is soooo cool)and eat it like a little burrito. It must have looked like fun because they did it too. Naturally, it only took the first bite to reel em in.

This casserole may not look pretty, but it is indeed tasty.
Here's how I did it-

You will need:
(1) small onion, finely diced
about (2) cups shredded Monterrey Jack Cheese and (2) cups shredded cheddar
1 & 1/2 cups uncooked rice
3 cups chicken broth
4-5 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
(1) 10.75 oz can of condensed mushroom soup
(1) 10.75 oz can of condensed cream of chicken soup
1 & 1/2 cups of mild salsa
Either a 9x13 casserole dish, or two 9x9 casserole dishes. I used one 9x9 casserole dish and a 9x9 throw-away aluminum dish for freezing.

First, start your rice by adding both the chicken broth and the rice to a sauce pan and cook on high, uncovered until boiling. Cover, reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for twenty minutes or until soft.

Boil your chicken breasts in water (I seasoned with a little bouillon and some garlic powder) until they are cooked through and shred easily. Then chop it all up for later.

Next, mix together both cans of soup.

Rinse out your cans and recycle them. Pretty please.

Add your diced onion. And do yourself a favor, and do this in a much larger bowl than I did.

Then add your salsa and mix it all in really good.

Now grab your casserole dish/dishes and spread out a layer of the cooked rice in the bottom of the dish.

Then add a layer of the cooked and cut up chicken.

Spread the soup mixture over the top of the chicken.

Now sprinkle the very top with the two shredded cheeses. (Remember, I used two cups of each between two casseroles. So that would be one cup of each per casserole.
We don't need to make this unbearably unhealthy.
I know, kill joy.

Now you can bake on 350 for about 30-45 minutes.

Or you can wrap it up for the freezer.

Or both like I did!

Now clean up those dishes.

Because the magical dish fairy doesn't really exist. (Or he's just so exhausted from going back to work and teaching night classes he no longer has it in him to grace me with his presence.)

There are five small eaters in my family. One 9x9 dish was enough for a meal plus left-overs for lunch for three of us. Plus it made another 9x9 pan to put in the freezer for another time.

Please feel free to share your favorite make-aheads. I will surely be needing more of them!