Ranch Chicken

I tried a new recipe last night.

It was a blend of two different recipes I’d found on the internet that I wanted to try – both called Ranch Chicken but very different in their approach/ingredients. So, being the daredevil that I am, I decided to make my own version by blending the basic pieces of the two.

It was a huge success. So much so that I couldn’t get a picture because my family gobbled it up!

This will most definitely go into my regular rotation for the future.  I served it with some chicken-flavored rice (a-la Rice-a-Roni type rice) and steamed veggies.  There was barely enough left for SuperMan to make a lunch plate for himself. And none for me to make a lunch plate. But I like it that way. That means they liked dinner!

A couple notes –

– I used a combination of panko and corn flakes. Mostly because I was almost out of panko but also because I was blending two recipes and one called for panko and the other for corn flakes. We really liked the crunch of the corn flakes and I’ll probably do just those next time.

– my Houston House Seasoning is a staple in my kitchen. I use it on almost every savory dish I make. It’s so easy to keep blended in an old spice container and I just sprinkle it on my dishes as I season. I like the combination of flavors that it adds to every dish.

– another staple in my cooking is Mrs. Dash Garlic Blend. I use it on almost everything. Salt free and full of flavor.  I buy the huge bottles at the warehouse store – that’s how much I use it!!

– I cooked these on top of a wire rack on a cookie sheet/jelly roll pan. That allowed the air to get all around the chicken and kept it from getting soggy on the bottom. If you don’t have a wire rack, you could just put the chicken on your cookie sheet. I think it’ll be just fine.

On to the recipe:

Ranch Chicken

1 cup mayonnaise
1-2 Tbsp. Ranch Seasoning (I use Hidden Valley Ranch – another thing I buy in bulk quantities) + more for seasoning the breading
~ 1 Tbsp. Houston House Seasoning + more for seasoning the breading
~ 1 Tbsp. Mrs. Dash Garlic blend + more for seasoning the breading
2 cups Panko bread crumbs OR Crushed Corn Flakes
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a large (gallon) zip lock bag, mix the mayonnaise, ranch seasoning, house seasoning, and Mrs. Dash
  3. In another large zip lock bag, mix the bread crumbs/corn flakes, parmesan and some additional house seasoning, ranch seasoning and garlic blend
  4. Place chicken breast in mayonnaise bag and shake to ensure it’s well coated in the mayo mixture.
  5. Place coated chicken in the breading bag and shake to ensure it’s well coated.
  6. Place the chicken on a wire rack (sprayed with cooking spray) that’s been placed on a jelly roll pan/cookie sheet.
  7. Repeat with all the chicken breasts.
  8. Bake 45 minutes at 375 degrees.

Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Mini cooking day

I try to do a cooking day every few months to prepare some casseroles and meals in advance so that when life gets crazy I have a secret weapon in the freezer to save my sanity and feed my family. I had planned to do a big cooking day with some friends this August, but life got nuts for all of us and it just never materialized.

Earlier this summer our big freezer decided it was time to go to the big appliance graveyard in the sky.  We lost a LOT of food – and a lot of the stashed meals I had. (sad face)  We were so fortunate to have a small refrigerator in reserve so we still have an extra freezer for storage and I’ve been trying to decide if I could stuff it with freezer meals or not.

I have been so busy with work and appointments for my Girl that I was really feeling the pinch of not having my secret weapon to rely on.  So, this past weekend I decided to do a mini cooking day.  I used the Labor Day holiday to my advantage. SuperMan went with me to the store and helped me shop (he’s great at finding deals) and I came home and spent a few hours doing some cooking.

Since my new freezer is small, I couldn’t do a lot of meals. I will probably  have to do smaller-scale cooking days from now on. But I did manage to make a couple meatloaves and some chicken spaghetti ahead for busy nights.  And we’ve already used one of each this week as we’ve been busy with doctor visits and I haven’t been home to cook early.

It’s a little extra work on the front end to do a cooking day, but it is SO WORTH IT in the long run. When you are stressed out, tired and frazzled it’s hard to make healthy decisions for feeding your family. I tend to want to fall back on take out meals.  That’s not only less healthy (generally speaking) it’s also a lot more expensive.

Rather than spending $30-40 on a take out dinner, I just doubled my portions for my meatloaf and chicken spaghetti recipes.  And we had dinner for probably $10-15 instead of more than double that. And it was GOOD. And I knew all of the ingredients were wholesome.

I can’ t recommend that you try this yourself strongly enough.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

Here is how you can get started:

  • Pick a couple recipes (2-3 to start with) that you know are family favorites and would freeze well.
  • Work out your shopping list – if you’re doubling your recipe be sure you double your items on your shopping list.
  • Shop your pantry and freezer first. Use up what you have before you go buy more. (save money!)
  • Go shopping for your remaining ingredients. Don’t forget disposable pans and zip lock bags. You won’t want to tie up your casserole dishes in the freezer. (This also makes it easier to gift a freezer meal to a friend if she needs it one night!)
  • Pick a day when you have 2-3 hours (at least) to work in the kitchen.
    I suggest doing your prep (vegetable cutting, etc.) the day before if you can. That’s more efficient for cooking day AND you divide the labor over multiple days so it’s not so tiring.
  • For your cooking day, fill your sink with hot soapy water so you can clean as you go (in case you need to reuse your utensils or bowls)
  • Clean everything off the counters that are not related to your cooking project – give yourself as much working space as possible.
  • If the family isn’t helping, banish them from the kitchen (if you can) for less distractions.
  • Lay out your recipes and place your ingredients next to your recipes. Lay out the utensils and bowls as well.
  • I usually start with the recipe that requires pre-cooking first – like when I need to cook chicken for a casserole, or brown ground beef.  Get those started first.
  • Assemble your dishes.
  • This is going to sound crazy, but DON’T SIT DOWN. Keep going until you finish. If you stop, it’s hard to get going again. Trust me on this one.

When you’re preparing the finished dishes for the freezer, here are a few tips for you:

  • Use multiple layers to ensure you get a good seal. I usually use plastic wrap AND foil. I have had too many experiences where I’ve only used foil and someone slid something on top of my dish in the freezer and tore the foil.  Doubling up your layers lessens the risk of a ruined meal and also helps to preserve the moisture in the dish and protect from “freezer flavors” getting in your food. *Don’t forget to write a note on top of the dish to remove the plastic wrap!* Melted plastic wrap would be a nightmare in your oven.
  • Use labels to identify what the dish is, whether it needs to be defrosted first, and how it should be cooked. Be sure to take into account the fact that you may be pulling it from the freezer and cooking it semi-frozen. I’ve found that adding a few minutes to the cooking time normally called for in a recipe helps to ensure you don’t pull out a half-finished dish from the oven. This also helps if your hubby or kids are doing the cooking – make it as easy as possible for them to be successful!
    You can also write directly on the foil with a sharpie if you don’t have labels.
  • Stack your items in the freezer – and consider adding a label to the outside edge so you can easily see what’s there without having to pull out the whole stack.

Here are some of the recipes I use in my freezer –

You can also do chili and taco meat easily in the freezer.

If you’re a freezer cooking gal, I’d love to hear any tips or suggestions you have!

And if you’re not – I hope you’ll give it a try!

*tap, tap, tap*

Is this thing on?

Just as with a workout routine, an unfinished project, or a strict diet; once you leave a blog stagnant for a while, it’s hard to start things back up again.

I am, however, still here.  Life has just been busy the past few months.  And when life gets busy, blogging takes a backseat to everything else.

The last third of 2013 was full of, well, full of life… living, loving, being creative, nursing, nurturing, reading, knitting, cooking…all those things I love to do.  And, working,of course.

December was busy – work projects demanding attention, holiday projects doing the same. But we managed to fit in some fun along the way and enjoyed being with those we love the most for both Christmas and New Year’s (and the days in-between)

snow baby

School is back in session after the holiday break and the snowpocalypse of last week.  The girls are bucking down and have their sights on the mini-break we have next week when they’ll get a four-day weekend.

French Onion Soup in the making

Big Girl has a retreat with her church group this weekend and Little Bit has a sleepover planned. SuperMan has been cleaning and reorganizing the basement after our flood a few weeks ago and I’ve been busy manning the support duties for the family – cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc.

Pizza "bread"

I’ve been trying a few new recipes, which I plan to share with you  here  soon, and have been knitting like a madwoman. I have fallen in love with quick, one-skein projects – things I can tote with me in carpool line and that seem to finish up within a few days. I love the sense of accomplishment and being able to wear the fruits of my labor quickly.  I just read that someone calls January the “selfish knitting month,” which I have to say I agree wholeheartedly with. I have been doing just that for the past month – knitting things I wanted to knit just for me.  And loving every minute of it.

Hat & Scarf project

I did work on some “by request” projects over the holidays – made a hat for a longtime friend and a hat and scarf for another friend’s niece.  Those special projects were fun and I was terribly flattered that people actually wanted me to knit something for them! I certainly don’t consider myself the caliber of knitter that would make things to sell. (still don’t)  But my friends seem to like what I’ve made them.  Even my sweet little nephew loves his hat!

Very first hat I made

I hope you’ll stick around and join in on the conversation… Recipes and projects coming soon!

Wonderful Waffles for Supper

I’ve gotten on a “breakfast for dinner” kick.

It’s super easy, inexpensive, and lets you enjoy some breakfast-y things that you would not normally have time to make during the week at breakfast time.

Like waffles.

You see, I’m not a morning person. Never have been.

And so, my kids suffer at breakfast because I’m struggling most mornings to be vertical and coherent for them.  Cooking fantastical breakfasts is just not going to happen.

But cooking an awesome “breakfast” for dinner? Totally do-able.  I’m awake at 5PM, just not so much at 5AM.

So, we’ve been making breakfast for dinner the past few weeks… It’s sort of become our Thursday night dinner tradition since the kids aren’t wild about leftovers and Thursdays are a busy day with dance classes, etc.

I’ve been hunting for a good waffle recipe. Something that was a “scratch” recipe and not from a box.  Last week we tried one that was just okay. Not great, and not something we wanted to try again –

And so this week I went looking for new recipes to try.

What I found was that there are not too many variations – eggs, flour, sugar, etc.

What did differ was whether the egg whites were whipped or not.  The first recipe we had tried did not have the whipped egg whites and the waffles were flat – in taste and volume. I wondered if whipping would make a difference, but, quite honestly, it seemed like a lot of extra work. Was there really a payoff?

Then I found a recipe on Food Network’s website for “Waffles of Insane Greatness” which are from Aretha Frankenstein’s restaurant in Tennessee. Right off the bat I was intrigued – the name of the waffles, the name of the restaurant and the fact that it was a southern recipe.  Then I saw that you don’t have to whip the egg whites. Score!!

I had also found this recipe for the Very Best Waffles (they claimed) – I printed it out and compared to the Insane waffle recipe.  Pretty much the same with the exception of the addition of some spices.

I had one other requirement for my waffles that no recipe included but that was non-negotiable for me. They  had to have some added protein.  I couldn’t handle the carb-fest myself and wanted to be sure the family got a little more protein in their dinner, even if I had to sneak it in. I figured I’d improvise that part.

I headed into the kitchen to give it a go…

waffles

They turned out, well, wonderful…

So much so, that, as I’m typing I’m nibbling on one, cold & dry, and yet it’s still good.

The kids loved them, SuperMan devoured them, and after I ate one, I collapsed on my rocking chair in a blissful carb coma.  (but it was worth it)

So, give these waffles a try – it’s a fast and easy way to whip up some supper one night without a big ole mess in the kitchen.  Serve them up with some bacon, fresh fruit and you’ll have your family singing your praises…

Wonderful Waffles

Ingredients:

Dry ingredients:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar

Wet ingredients:

1 cup buttermilk (or whole milk mixed with about 1 1/2 tsp white vinegar to make 1 cup of “buttermilk”)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract

Optional Ingredients:

1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg (optional)
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)

2 scoops vanilla protein powder

Instructions:

1. In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients.

2. If using, add the cinnamon & nutmeg to the dry ingredients.

3. In a measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, oil, extracts and egg. Combine gently.

4. Pour liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and use a whisk to combine.

5. Let the batter sit for 5-10 minutes while your waffle iron heats.

6. Spray your iron with nonstick cooking spray and ladle some batter onto the iron. Bake them as per the instructions for your iron.

7. Serve immediately or keep warm in preheated oven until ready to serve.

A couple of things to note:

– I doubled the recipe and got 10 waffles. Depending on how many people you’re feeding you may need to double as well.

– I think next time I will preheat my oven to 200 degrees, as the one recipe suggests, and put the finished waffles on the rack in the oven to stay warm until they’re all finished being made. That way we can sit down and eat together rather than in shifts as I finish up waffles.

– The almond extract, nutmeg and cinnamon are completely optional but I put them in and I think it added a great flavor. Big Girl was not crazy about the nutmeg. I may leave it out next time since I’m the only one who is really nuts about nutmeg around here.

– The protein powder is also optional and using it only enhances your protein content of your meal. You don’t need to add any extra liquid if you it. (or take any away if you don’t)

– I had a few left after we ate dinner and I put those in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator for breakfast the next day.  I reheated them in the toaster oven.

Just hangin’ on

Hey, y’all.

First of all, I have to tell you, I haven’t forgotten about you – I’ve just been overwhelmed with life lately.  My big work project is going strong and we’re in the final push to get to the end – which is right around the end of the year. Which means things are not going to slow down at all until January. Sigh.

Adding to that, Big Girl is going to have surgery next week. We’ve finally found out what is going on with her foot.  She’s been suffering with steady pain for over a year and after an MRI a month or so ago we found out she has fused bones in her foot. We’ve already exhausted the conservative treatment options in the last year, so the next step is surgery.

She will be in recovery mode for the next few months – no school, limited mobility and hopefully on the mend to pain-free state.  I’m sharing this with you so that you will know why things might be a little “light” around here for the next few months.  I’ll be focused on her and fitting in blogging may or may not happen.  Don’t worry. I’ll be back. I’m not leaving for good.

As far as my menu plan for the week this week, I’m focused on some family favorites as well as a new recipe or two:

  • Monday: Crock Pot Beef & Broccoli with steamed rice
  • Tuesday: White Bean Chicken Chili (it’s supposed to be rainy – recipe coming later this week)
  • Wednesday: Rotel Chicken Pasta bake
  • Thursday: Baked Potato with salad & rotisserie chicken
  • Friday: Friday Night Mexican

I hope you have a great week – later in the week I’ll be sharing some of my recent crafty projects (they’re what’s keeping me sane right now) and the White Bean Chicken Chili recipe, so come back soon!

O.M.G. Salisbury Steak

Y’all, I made the BEST Salisbury Steak the other night.

Totally by accident.

It was so good, I don’t even have a picture of the finished meal to share with you.  My family devoured it before I could take one!

O.M.G. Salisbury Steaks in the pan
goodness in progress

So, I can’t SHOW you how yummy it was. But I can certainly TELL you.  And SHARE the recipe so that you can try it out yourself.  And it is so easy to make.  What you need most is a little time.  Not Thyme – Time.  I think the secret to this dish is cooking is slowly and letting the flavors really “percolate” in the dish. The longer you can let it simmer, the better it will be.

Seriously.  I wanted to DRINK the gravy it was so good…  oh.my.goodness.

There’s nothing fancy you need for this recipe.  It’s pretty much all basic ingredients.  Unless, of course, you consider mushrooms or brown gravy mix “fancy” ingredients?  Those are the only two things I don’t always keep stocked in my pantry.  But they’re worth the shopping trip to purchase.

I made the patties from ground beef – almost exactly like I make my meatloaf – and then browned them in my cast iron skillet, adding the onion & mushrooms to brown alongside the steaks.

O.M.G. Salisbury Steak & Gravy

2 pounds ground beef
~1/2 cup milk
~1/2 cup bread crumbs
Houston House Seasoning
2 eggs
2 tbsp dried minced onion
1 tbsp minced garlic

~1 cup mushrooms,diced
1 onions sliced

1 can Cream of Mushroom Soup
1 package Brown Gravy Mix
1 bouillon cube (beef)
about 2 cups of HOT water

  1. In a large bowl, combine the milk & bread crumbs to make a paste.
  2. Add the beef, eggs, onion & garlic.  Add seasoning & mix well with your hands to combine.
  3. Form into patties – about 3/4 of an inch thick.
  4. In a large skillet, heat some oil and add the patties.
  5. Let them cook on one side for 5-7 minutes on medium heat. Don’t move or mess with them. Once they’ve cooked enough, they’ll release from the pan and you can turn them and cook on the other side.
  6. After you’ve flipped them, drop the onions and mushrooms in the pan with the patties – cover.
  7. In another bowl, whisk the soup, gravy mix, bouillon and hot water.
  8. Pour the gravy over the steaks. Re-cover and cook on low for about an hour.  You may need to add more water (I added close to a cup) to keep the right consistency of the gravy.  It will get dark brown and delicious.
  9. You can also run a wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan to get the brown bits off the bottom to get mixed in the gravy for even more goodness.
  10. Serve with mashed potatoes and die of happiness.

You can also do this with cubed steaks – I’ve done that before, too.

Baked Ravioli

 

Well, that was fun (not) –

I’ve been sick for the past two days with a stomach bug – the kind that reminded me of the worst morning sickness days of my pregnancies.  I lived off of saltine crackers, plain bagels and ginger ale for two and a half days. Not sure if it was a virus or food poisoning, but it was most definitely not fun and I’m so glad I’m feeling better this morning.

I have a yummy and easy recipe to share with you.  This is one you can literally have in the oven in 10 minutes if you have the ingredients on hand – and dinner in a half hour. Super simple.

Baked Ravioli

I made it one night last week when I was crazy busy with work and needed something filling and fast.  I served with a salad and garlic bread and the family loved it.

It’s kind of like a lazy-woman’s lasagna.  But tasty in it’s own right.  And, ironically, the little one doesn’t like lasagna, but loved this.

Baked Ravioli

1 large package prepared three-cheese ravioli
1 quart marinara sauce (you can use jarred, I used leftovers)
1 pound ground beef
Italian Seasoning
Houston House Seasoning
2 cups mozzarella or three-cheese Italian blend

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Brown the ground beef. Season with Houston House Seasoning & Italian Seasoning.
  3. In a large casserole dish (deep dish is best) put about 1/2 cup of marinara. This will coat the bottom of the pan so the pasta won’t stick.
  4. Add in one layer of ravioli. (if they are frozen, that’s fine)
  5. Spread about half of the ground beef on top and cover with some more marinara.
  6. Add in another layer of ravioli and top with the remaining beef and marinara.
  7. Top with cheese
  8. Bake, uncovered, about 20 minutes.

Let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

IMGP4506

Serve with a salad & garlic bread.