Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Spicy Chicken Pasta

One of Jeff's all-time favorite foods has always been the Spicy Chicken Pasta from Steak and Ale. Since they went out of business several years ago, he has never found what he considers to be an "acceptable" substitute anywhere else. I decided I would be nice and try to come up with a home-made alternative for him, but that proved to be harder than I expected. All the copy-cat recipes I found had very generic references to "cajun seasoning" in the cream sauce. Clearly this is pretty important to getting it to taste right, so I gave up on trying to make it like anyone else's version and just make my version!

My cajun seasoning blend consisted of chili powder, paprika, season salt, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and crushed red pepper flakes. I used equal parts of everything but the season salt in my mix, but ended up adding a little more of that later, so you could probably do equal parts of everything. I mixed it all together in an empty spice bottle so it's all ready to go!

This is actually a really quick and easy meal. It's almost a one pan deal! I only made enough for two, so if you want leftovers you could easily double it.

I started by sprinkling three small chicken breasts with the cajun seasoning and searing them in my big pan with a little bit of olive oil. When they're cooked, I just pulled them off and let them rest on a small plate. Then I added 1 Tbsp of butter and let it melt. Then I added 1 Tbsp of flour and a little more cajun seasoning and let that all cook down. Then I added half a pint of heavy cream and about 2 Tbsp of parmesan cheese. After this all cooks together, just toss in half a pound of cooked pasta. I

Top the pasta with the cooked chicken (diced), diced tomatoes, and green onions. You could also add a little more parmesan if you like. Yum! I loved this because it had a really good flavor but wasn't overwhelmingly spicy. If you like it hotter you can easily add more spice (especially more red pepper).

As always, if you try it let me know what you think or if you come up with any other variations!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Toasted Ravioli

Yes, I know it's been a while since I experimented with my own recipes, but I am thrilled to finally be back at it!

I have a long-standing love for toasted ravioli reaching back to a high school band trip to St. Louis, which is where this is supposed to have started. I don't know about that, but I know it's tasty!

This has got to be one of the simplest appetizers/snacks I've ever made because of one thing - my little deep fryer. If you don't have one, you can just use a pot of oil (it really doesn't take a ton) but since I have the fryer, it was one less thing to fool with.

I tried this two different ways - plain raviolis tossed in the fryer and those that have been breaded and then fried. Those that were breaded were a thousand times more successful!

I used pre-packaged frozen raviolis. If you want to go to the trouble to make your own, I applaud you, but I don't know that I would fry beautiful homemade ravioli! The whole process was very simple. I defrosted the ravioli, dipped them in a mixture of egg and a little milk, and then into italian bread crumbs. It takes longer to bread them than it does to fry them, that's how simple they are!

They went into the fryer at 325 degrees a few at a time because I didn't want them to stick together and you need room to flip them. I really don't have a time on it because I'm guessing it's about 90 seconds total but you can't set a timer and walk away. You put them in and give them just a few seconds and they will start to float. After they're all up, give them a flip and keep an eye on how brown they are. I usually flip them a little too early (better safe than sorry!) and then flip them again just to let them brown evenly. Then pull them out and let them drain.

That's it! Serve them with a little tomato sauce (or just eat them plain!) I thought about taking a picture about the time I popped the last one into my mouth. Oops!

These would make a lovely addition to any party, football or otherwise! If you give them a try, let me know what you think!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Five - Thanksgiving

Today's Friday Five is about Thanksgiving. Yay! I'm so glad that it's almost here!

1. Where will you be on Thanksgiving Day? With whom? Jeff and I will be heading down to Montgomery to celebrate with my mom's extended family. It'll be a little bit strange not having either of my parents there, but although it's not a "typical" family with clearly defined biological connections, it's still mine and I love them!

2. Are there any family traditions or memories associated with Thanksgiving? As a kid, we used to do a marathon road trip - Thursday and Friday were spent with Dad's family in Atlanta. Then on Saturday we'd get up and drive down to Montgomery where we'd spend two days with Mom's family. After high school that all sort of fell apart, especially since I worked retail! We're still in the process of establishing our own traditions now. My favorite memory was two years ago when we spent Thanksgiving with Jeff's parents and grandparents in Orlando. His grandmother still says that was her favorite vacation she's ever taken, and I'm pretty close to agreeing with her!

3. What will be on your Thanksgiving menu? As I'm not cooking, the only thing I know for sure is turkey, dressing, and cranberry sauce. Other standards are generally mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes (and something green that I generally don't eat so I don't remember if this changes or not!) Honestly, I would be happy with grilled cheese sandwiches as long as it means time with my family!

4. Are you trying anything new this Thanksgiving? This is the first Thanksgiving in probably 10 years where I haven't had "stuff" going on - work, school, illness, death, vacation, or who knows what else! I'm planning to just take it easy and soak it all in!

5. What is the weather forecast like? I had to look it up, but right now it's looking like Sunny with a high in the mid-60's. Hooray for Alabama sweater weather!

What are your plans for Thanksgiving day? (and the whole week for that matter!) Let me know what you'll be up to!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Week 45

I'm very close to halfway done with this little adventure, and so far I am pretty pleased with the progress I have made.

30 - I've marked this one as completed. While I can't say beyond a shadow of a doubt that I have made it into bed, lights off, on my way to sleep before 12:00 am for 30-31 consecutive nights, I feel that I have done what I set out to do with this goal. The goal was to develop new, healthier habits for myself so that I wasn't falling back into my student ways of staying up all night and sleeping all day or just plain not getting enough rest. While there are the occasional evenings where I am up late (usually the result of being on call) I am generally in bed and often am asleep before even 11 pm. Even when I get to sleep late, I am almost always up before 8 am. I generally get 8-9 hours of sleep every night, which is good and healthy.

40 - I accomplished this more quickly than I thought I would and I have a feeling there will be even more to come. I was going through some of the stuff in the garage and before I knew it had a huge stack of books to be given away. I am regularly purging myself of stuff. It seems like every time I step into my closet, I am looking for something else I can give away. I am working hard to develop the practice of giving away two old things for every one new thing that I acquire. It's much easier to do with clothing, but I really want to extend the practice to everything in my life.

63 - We went to the BSC homecoming football game on Saturday. It was kind of neat being back on campus, but it just doesn't compare to Auburn football (Sorry Panthers, I still love you lots!)

A few other items that continue to be in the works -
8, 9, and 10 - These are all on track to be completed by Christmas. Wow!

15 - I'm hoping to add yoga to my weekly routine beginning at the first of the year. We'll see how that goes!

19 - I'm digging into this one now. I've missed my deliberate "me time" and this will be really good for me! I was pretty vague on the requirements for this one, so I'm going to say at least twice a week for six months because that is not so ambitious as to be impossible when the intensity of life picks up again!

26 - I'm digging into this one, too. I've already finished one (The Scarlet Letter) so I've got two more to go. I've got three on my Kindle right now - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Phantom of the Opera, and Uncle Tom's Cabin. I think I'm doing Alice next!

34 - This is going to have to happen in early December if at all possible. I've got the groupon, I just have to use it!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Oh, Pinterest

I resisted your temptation for as long as I could. I really did try. But it was ultimately too much. The pictures were just so pretty and the ideas so plentiful and the ability to organize it so neatly was just more than my weak and not overly-occupied heart and mind could bear. So I joined in.

I'm having far too much fun with this. I have the feeling that I'm going to be looking for excuses to have parties and going a little bit over-board when I do. I'm finding all kinds of crafty ideas and inspiration for lots of crazy ideas and projects and adventures.

If you want to see what I'm up to, you can check out my stuff or, even better, follow me! I'm all about new ways of keeping up with people!

Saturday, November 12, 2011


I have been a blogging slacker lately, and I want to apologize, but I just can't. Because my life has been consumed by something pretty darn important, more important than blogging. I've been getting my commissioning papers finished up. Overall, the process went much more smoothly this time and I was much more confident in what I submitted.

They increased the requirements on the theology and doctrine sections, so even my answers from before that were good had to be re-done because they had to be double the length. I had about 22 pages (single spaced) of theology stuff. Which means that when it was "properly formatted" to be turned in, I had a flipping book! The sad part is that most of my answers were closer to 600 words than 1000, which is the parameters that were set forth for us!

My goal for myself was NOT to be waiting until the last minute to get everything done. The "Called and Disciplined Life" section was the one I completed first, and got nothing but positive feedback from my liason when she read through it. That was actually one of the sections they were hardest on me about last time because my answers were so short. The directions are a bit vague, so I gave them 2-4 page total, not 2-4 pages per answer. I fixed it this time and feel really good about it.

The "Practice of Ministry" section was a little bit easier for me this time. I recorded several sermons and chose the one I thing was the best. There's always room for improvement (and of course some of my best ones weren't recorded) but I was pretty happy with it. My bible study was actually really enjoyable to re-work, which was a little bit surprising to me. The "pastoral care situation" was one from CPE, so it was almost an afterthought.

The "Theology and Doctrine" section was the hardest. They increased the requirements on that section, so even my answers from before that were good had to be re-done because they had to be double the length. I had about 23 pages (single spaced) of theology stuff. Which means that when it was "properly formatted" to be turned in, I had a flipping book! The sad part is that most of my answers were closer to 600 words than 1000, which is the parameters that were set forth for us! This was the last of the "big" writing that I got done. My goal was to get it done by the end of October. I actually finished on November 1st, but seeing as I had two days without the use of my computer, I'd count that as a win. It was still two weeks before everything was due!
I was pretty relieved to simply be done with the writing early, but I knew I wanted to give myself some time to get everything finished up and finalized so that all my i's would be dotted and my t's would be crossed and I could really exhale when it was all finished.

After the initial relief of "Whew! I'm done with two weeks to spare" (which wasn't exactly true) I was faced with going back to double and triple check everything. One thing I almost forgot was that I had a paper that had to be notarized! Oops! Thankfully that was a quick and easy fix! After that, the hardest part was waiting on the feedback from my board liaison so I could either make changes or print it all out and be done with it! I finally came to a point where I hadn't heard from her and knew I wanted to get everything in, so I decided to go with my gut and just use what I had. Despite everything it got done and I feel really good about it.

So what am I doing with myself for the rest of the year? Well, I'm going to wind myself down a bit. This week is kind of busy, but will conclude with Charge Conference on Saturday. After that, it's Thanksgiving week so that means family time! I've also got plans for a massage, a really nice date night with my Hubby, lots of Christmas craftiness, and a few hot dates wit Harry Potter and my other literary loves who have been rather neglected lately.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Jalapeno Popper Dip

This summer Jeff and I decided to plant some jalapenos in the garden. I put one little plant up near the kitchen and for the most part, that was all we needed. Jeff put several plants down in the big garden and we suddenly found ourselves over-run with peppers. Jeff wanted jalapeno poppers. I made them, he loved them. I like the cream cheese in the middle but am not interested in the pepper outside. So I started thinking about it, and decided to give the dip a try.

I mixed a block of softened cream cheese with about half a cup of sour cream (you could probably also use mayo), one diced jalapeno, and some cooked and crumbled bacon. Then put it all in an oven-safe dish and bake.

It wasn't bad, but it wasn't great either. It needed something. I'm not sure what, but I'm guessing extra spices. I have some left over, so I will probably continue to play with it for at least a day or two!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Brownie Bites

I got a new toy - a cake pop maker! I'm going to actually make cake pops, but I'm saving those for Christmas. Of course, I couldn't resist the urge to try it out, so I decided to use the fudge brownie mix we had hanging out in the pantry.

The directions recommended using a plastic bag like a piping bag to fill the little wells. In keeping with my eternal hatred of doing dishes, I decided to take advantage of the fact that there were only a couple of things to add to the mix and mixed the egg, oil, and water in a little bowl, then tossed that and the mix into the baggie. Then I squished it around to mix it. I mean, if I made ice cream this way in high school, why not brownie batter? Then, I just cut off the corner to squeeze it into the little wells. I cut the corner too big so I sort of made a mess, but it all worked out.

The first batch I baked for the five minutes recommended by the instructions for the machine. When I went to take the first brownie ball out of the maker, it exploded in a little chocolate lava bomb. Normally, this would be a great thing, but it was kind of making a mess. I left them a couple of minutes longer and got them all out, but they were still pretty soft and so they got pretty mangled. Not that I didn't love my little chocolate lava bites, but they definitely wouldn't have been "dippable" as the cute perfect little balls.

I expected the overflow to burn on the maker, but it didn't. Sure, it was more crispy than the rest, but still very edible and tasty. The second batch I baked for right at seven minutes to start with, and while still a little soft, they weren't quite as bad as the first ones. They never did get burned on the bottom (which was my fear) so I guess for future reference I'll have to remember that with fudgey brownies they take about twice as long as suggested!

Although not pretty, they were very tasty. Clean up was an absolute snap because nothing stuck at all! Everything, even the "mess" came off clean and beautiful, so all I had to do was wipe it off!

I'm loving my new toy and can't wait to try it again soon.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Five - Time with Friends

Today's Friday Five asks its readers (and players) to list five things that you like to do with friends. This was actually pretty hard for me because I've forgotten! I don't get a ton of friend time anymore, and that makes me sad. So basically, if you are reading this, we need to hang out! Here are a few of my favorite places/ways to do that.

1. A Big Porch - or any other place with a nice view and some comfy chairs. One of my favorite "time with friends" memories was my bachelorette party. I'm just not a huge party/club/bar person, and thankfully my lovely Maid of Honor knew and respected that. We borrowed a friend's lake cabin and just spent the evening after my first shower hanging out, making and eating yummy food, drinking wine, telling stories, and doing a whole lot of laughing. It was glorious! The following morning was followed by more of the same (minus the wine because it just doesn't go well with chocolate chip pancakes!) and also included the addition of watching a great snow storm on the lake!

2. Helena Amphitheater Park - This is one of my favorite places to take visiting friends or family. It's a really great little park with a beautiful creek (you may remember this adventure!) located in a great part of Old Town Helena. It's a lovely place to walk and talk.

3. Melting Pot - Who doesn't love a big pot of cheese or chocolate?(Well, besides my vegan friends!) This one is especially fun for Girl's Night Out or a nice double date!

4. Fox Valley - This one is another local favorite. It's a little pricey so it's more of a special occasion place, but it's totally worth it. The food is amazing and the atmosphere is a little surprising, but in a very good way. I highly recommend the cheese soup and the Steak and Cake. And absolutely get desserts. (Notice that is plural!)

5. Donut Dates - Another favorite "friend time" memory was when my friends Betsy and Lauren and I all got to hang out early one Saturday morning. They had been out having fun the night before while I was on-call at the hospital, so I picked up donuts and we hung out on the couch, all slouchy and exhausted. We talked, we laughed, we watched youtube videos, and we enjoyed just being together and not having to go anywhere or do anything or try to impress each other. My only complaint is that it ended too soon!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Week 43

Wow! I can't believe how time is flying in regards to my 101 things list! Nothing new to officially cross off, but still some progress to report.

8 - This has moved up the priority list because our "fixed" burners are starting to go out on us again, and I refuse to let Jeff fix them again, it's beyond time to replace it. We are currently keeping our eye on one. It may have to be our Christmas gift to ourselves!

9 - This goes with number 8, although it's less of a priority. We'll see what happens and when!

10 - Good progress is being made here. It's just about emptied of boxes and junk, we're preparing to pull up carpet and rip out walls. The goal right now is to be done by Christmas.

40 - While I don't feel I can cross this off yet, I am making progress towards this. In the process of cleaning out I have given away several books, and as we start moving books back in (they are currently in the garage) I will sort and give away quite a few more.

63 - Looking forward to completing this one next Saturday at the BSC homecoming football game!

69 - I've got four out of six recorded. I'm thinking I'll save my last two for Christmas and Easter.

71 - While this hasn't become permanent, it's getting that way. I'm working more in the living room and less in the bedroom. Of course, now that it's getting cold and the bedroom is the warmest room, that may change!

101 - I've got a recipe for a juice jelly that I want to try. Now to actually do it...