Monday, January 30, 2012

Crock Pot Chicken Enchiladas

This is a change from my usual "throw it in and run" crock pot cooking. It actually took about 20 minutes to put it all together, but considering how many people this could feed, that's not bad.

I started with one of my bags of cooked, shredded chicken that I'm guessing was about 1.5 lbs. I tossed it in a bowl with 1 can of enchilada sauce. I scooped a spoonful onto a small corn tortilla, rolled it up, and stuck it in my slow cooker. I didn't put any sauce in the bottom, just sprayed the liner. I kind of wish I'd put a little sauce in the bottom, but I'll remember that for next time!

I was able to get about seven in each layer. After I got the first seven in the cooker, I put a little bit of sauce over the top, and began working on the second layer. I ended up having enough chicken for about 17 enchiladas, but I could have easily fit several more. I poured all the remaining sauce over everything so it would run down over everything, then just put on the lid and let it do its thing on low all day. Because the chicken was pre-cooked, it probably didn't actually need that long.

It came out really nicely. The tortillas were nice and tender, but not mushy (which is why you have to use corn instead of flour. Flour get mushy!) It could have stood a little extra sauce, but we topped them with our favorite respective toppings. It also re-heated really well, both in the over and in the microwave. This is definitely a keeper!

One thing I may try next time is to make it more like a mexican crock pot lasagna - save myself all the rolling and layer it in the crock pot (adding cheese.) You could also toss in some beans and any other veggies you may want, then just top it however you like! This could make an excellent football party food, especially if you don't want to do soup but want something more substantial than just finger foods

So the quick summary -
1.5 lbs cooked shredded chicken mixed with 1 can enchilada sauce (I used red, but you could definitely use green, too)
1 package small corn tortillas (I used 17)
1 extra can enchilada sauce for topping

Cook on low 6-8 hours

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Organization Evaluation

I am forever looking for ways to sort, categorize, and label my life. Pinterest and the endless photos of perfectly stacked and labeled containers for everything under the sun serves to both inspire and infuriate me.

This year I decided to take on getting organized in a new way. We are starting fresh in our home this year in so many different ways, so I wanted to make the most of it from the very beginning.

I saw several ideas that were genius, but wasn't able to put them into practice like I may want so they got modified.

I decided that, first and foremost, we needed a command center for our kitchen so that everyone would be on the same page. We had a little mail sorter that I had purchased for my first apartment in grad school, but it really wasn't serving much of a purpose for us except to take up space, so it had to go. Then I had to decide what to use to replace it. I looked at making various magnetic and/or dry erase boards but nothing seemed to fit. I did see an idea for making a folder for each week of the year to keep up with things. Between that and some great "family planner" printables I'd had taking up space on my hard drive, I decided to give it a shot.

I had seen a really neat hanging organizer that had a very large pocket on top specifically designed for holding file folders, two smaller pockets on the front, and four large hooks along the bottom. I filled the top pocket with my weekly folders, designated one small pocket for our various coupons, and used the hooks on the bottom for holding two key note pads. One had "to do" and 'to buy" lists on it. The other I used for my weekly meal plan.

The folders haven't worked as well as I had hoped. Maybe if we had kids with homework and a reason to get into the folders every day it would work better. But since it's just the two of us, I don't need the calendar pages to keep up with what's going on with us (and Jeff doesn't ever look at it!)

The one thing that has worked great for us has been the monthly budget accountability sheet I made up for us. That does get updated at least once a week! I think having maybe two folders (one for current/upcoming months and one for completed months) will serve us best.

The meal plan pad has been helpful, if not always accurate. I'm doing a better job about being aware of what I can and can't do on certain days and making it work for me, like making crock pot meals on the nights when Jeff will beat me home because that way dinner will be waiting for him! Otherwise, he'll eat salad and I'll just say "what's the point?" and make a sandwich!

The "to do" and "to buy" lists haven't worked as well as I'd hoped either. I generally keep my shopping list on my phone, but I definitely see the advantage of doing it both ways so if Jeff decides to go for me sometime he has the list!

I have an idea for the "to do" list, especially as it relates to household chores. I'm really digging the idea of laminated cards for each room that can be put on a metal ring and hung from one of our hooks. Actually, I'd probably get two rings - one for "to do" and one for "done"

Next on the agenda is getting my closet more organized, then the pantry and freezer! What sort of system have you devised for keeping yourself and your family in order?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Week 55

I keep putting off doing an update about my 101 things because I wanted to wait until I had something else I could cross off the list. Well, I started writing this update on progress, but then got a great last-minute surprise and was able to cross something off the list~

87 - COMPLETED - Jeff got us tickets to go see Marvin Hamlisch with the Alabama Symphony on Saturday. I've got to say, I miss my days of student tickets for $10! Still, it was great. We had a wonderful time!

The rest of these are still in process, but there is some active work taking place! I'm not being a total slacker on all this stuff!

3 - This one is going really well. Thanks to our new budget, I think we'll have this one completed by summer!

11 - We found one we both really like at Macy's here, and it's on sale so it's within what we thought we would spend. The problem is that our "home improvement funds" are mostly going towards getting the house painted right now. I've had such a hard time finding one I like that will fit in our small dining room, I'm really hoping it will stick around long enough for me to get it. Anyone think I need a half-birthday gift?

14 - So far I've been to one (Utah). I'm trying to figure out WHICH new states I want to visit and how I want to go about visiting them. Suggestions are welcome. If you're planning a trip and need a traveling companion, let me know!

20 - This one is still on the short list. Probably in March we'll see what we can do to get this in the works

34 - I'm doing this one with my step-mom, probably in March. Yay!

36 - In all honesty, this one isn't going to happen until at least Lent, and maybe not even then. I have done one week, and I really don't have any desire to do the second week. We'll see.

42 - obviously I can't say much about this one until after the fact, but I have a few ideas.

47 - I'm guessing this will probably happen when we do our spring cleaning

57 - I've found some instructions online that seem easy enough, now I just need an excuse to try it out. I've pretty much decided that since I'm a better hand-sewer than machine-sewer, I'd be a better hand-quilter, too. That means it'll take me a lot longer, but I think I'll enjoy it more! When I put it on the list, I did it with the intention that it (and number 21) would go hand in hand with number one because I'd be making baby stuff. While that may still be the case at some point, these are both pretty big projects that will take some time so I might as well get started!

So that's where I am! If you want to help out with something or have some suggestions, please of please share them with me!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Being a Do-er

In the past few days I got the urge to actually try a bunch of the stuff I have found on pinterest. I knew I needed to go to the grocery store this afternoon, so I picked up a few extra goodies.

I started with Japanese Onion Soup. I think I put a little too much pepper in it but it was quite tasty. I was proud of myself! I ended up putting a lot of it into my new silicone ice trays so I can keep it stashed in the freezer for whenever I get the craving for a bowl of soup!

I then moved on to dry mixes for cream-of-whatever soup (I did chicken this time), ranch dressing, and italian dressing. I haven't tried mixing any up yet, but they are safely tucked away in the pantry waiting to be tried out.

Finally, I decided we needed a little sweet treat. I decided to try some cake-mix cookies. Even though I already had spice cake mix in the pantry, the picture on pinterest was of strawberry cookies and so that's what I got in my head and that's what I wanted. I threw together the cookies very quickly and they were absolutely awesome. I got some vanilla glaze to go on them, but decided maybe I'd just make little cookie sandwiches with my cream cheese icing. I haven't made it that far, but I'm keeping that one as a possibility (if I can keep two cookies long enough to try it!)

It was so much fun to get back in the kitchen and be really productive! I'm really getting into making more stuff on my own so I don't have to use as much canned stuff. It was nice to fantasize about clearing out a lot of room in my pantry! The only down side is that I'll need a much bigger freezer to store it all!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Loveless Cafe - Nashville, TN

I have a confession to make. I never ate at the Loveless Cafe while I was a student at Vanderbilt. I knew about it. I saw the sign on the interstate whenever I would drive over to Memphis to visit some friends, but I just never bothered to investigate. I just never had a reason to be over there and it didn't seem like the kind of place you would go alone. And I was indeed right - it's not the kind of place you go alone (although I guess you could) and other than actually eating there, there isn't a whole lot of other reasons to be out that direction. It's not a place you'll stumble on accidentally, unless you are really lost!

I DID eat there once while I still considered myself a resident of Nashville. The day after graduation, my dad came back with the U-haul and Jeff was preparing to leave with him to haul ALL my stuff back except for my air mattress and a suitcase. My aunt was also still in town, and she said she wanted to take us all to the Loveless. She had gone to Vanderbilt many moons ago, so that's how she knew about it. We all packed up and headed out there for lunch and it was really good. I didn't know what I'd been missing!

So during our little vacation we decided to go back. One of the themes of our trip seemed to be wandering back roads, which I really enjoy as long as someone else is doing the driving! We took a different way out there, and it wasn't as far removed from civilization as I remember. Of course, this trip I wasn't already starving so it was a much more enjoyable journey, too. Even at 4pm on a Sunday, the wait was about half an hour. That didn't bother me because there are a few little shops around to explore, including one that held the creations of local artists. I fell in love with several pieces but didn't take any of them home. All the more reason for me to return.

The atmosphere is definitely laid back. One of my favorite things was the cute paper place mats with the story about the Cafe and little puzzles and games. Clearly, it doesn't take much to keep me entertained. Because of the history associated with this place and the fact that it's definitely a tourist destination, it would be so easy for the whole thing to be a little over the top with costumes and trying to make a show out of the whole meal, but thankfully they don't. It's just very genuine, friendly service in a comfortable atmosphere with fantastic food!

An oh, the food. There is a part of me that is convinced there are major corporate dealings that require less negotiation and cooperation than ordering a meal here (at least for us!) The problem isn't the way the menu is written at all. Most plates are pretty standard - an entree with two sides and all the biscuits you can handle. The problem is that there are SO many good options for both entrees and sides and choosing is really tough. Thankfully, Jeff and I are both sharers so we use that to our advantage.

Jeff got the sampler plate with fried chicken, country ham, and fried catfish. I settled for simply the fried chicken. Our sides consisted of macaroni and cheese, caramel sweet potatoes, turnip greens, and marinated cucumbers and onions. The macaroni and cheese was great. I was expecting more of the "casserole" style (which I like, but isn't my favorite) but it was very creamy and fantastic. I think I could lose myself in a family sized bowl of it! The sweet potatoes were a little too sweet for my personal taste, but they were still very good. I won't swear by this, but I think Jeff wanted to tip up his bowl and drink the pot liquor that was in with his greens. He restrained himself and soaked it up with a biscuit, but it was definitely not wasted. Of course there were the biscuits (a few of which "accidentally" ended up in my purse for breakfast the next day!) and we both ate way too many. But despite being ridiculously full, we managed to share a slice of peanut butter pie. It wasn't my favorite peanut butter pie, but it was not disappointing.

Obviously, this is now on our "regular rotation" of places to eat in Nashville. We're trying to come up with ways to get various family members up there so we can take them. One option that we really enjoyed during our first trip was the family style dinners. Since we had at least four people, we were able to get two entrees (fried chicken and meatloaf were our choices) and three vegetables (mashed potatoes and gravy, grits, and turnip greens) and share them among everyone. It's all you can eat, but I can't for the life of me see how anyone would need seconds. The platters of food put out for us were HUGE and, although the menu says no to-go boxes, since we never ordered seconds our waitress said she could give us boxes and we filled up three with our leftovers! If everyone likes different things this may not be the best option, but if everyone is going to order the fried chicken (which I recommend, especially on your first visit!) then it's perfect.

If you have an excuse to visit Nashville and the means to get away from downtown just a bit, go check it out! Just don't plan on eating much else for the rest of the day!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Merchants Restaurant - Nashville, TN

During our Nash-vegas Vacation, Jeff and I had lunch at Merchants, and it was quite possibly one of the best meals I've ever had in this fine city!

We didn't set out to eat here. In fact, in all my time visiting here and living here (and having friends living here) I had never heard of it, or at least didn't remember it if I did. In all honesty, even if I did know about it I probably would have been hard pressed to actually eat there because it was downtown and I loathed going downtown unless someone else was driving and I KNEW I had parking covered. However, now that I have the privilege of simply being a tourist and I do know about it, I'm going to have to put it on the regular rotation!

We went in about 1 pm on Saturday. Not only was it a holiday weekend, but there was a big hockey game going on as evidenced by all the people in town wearing jerseys for both the Predators and the Philadelphia Flyers. (And for the record, I not only recognized the Flyers stuff but I was the one to inform my husband about what it was. I hope you are imporessed!) There were about three couples in front of us in line, and the hostess informed each of us that she had places at the bar or on the patio, or there would be about a 20 minute wait. Nobody bothered to wait, ourselves included. We happily took a table on the patio. It was actually in the alley so it wasn't right out in the middle of everything but you could still do some people watching. Plus, it was enclosed with plastic and there were heaters going. At first I thought I was actually going to be TOO warm, but it ended up being quite nice with the breeze that was provided when people came and went.

The atmosphere was a combination of elegant and fun. I feel like a horrible person for not remembering our server's name, but she was great. Instead of a bread basket we got a little can of popcorn! I tried my darndest to figure out what exactly was seasoning that popcorn, but couldn't do it. Obviously there was an herb (I'm guessing parsley) and I'm thinking maybe some parmesan. Perhaps if I had a chance to savor and study it a bit more I could have figured it out, but it was exceptionally yummy and my loving husband was eating it by the fist-full so I joined in the gobbling!

We started our meal with the fried green tomatoes, which were served with a spicy tomato jam and pimento cheese. I'm not a fried green tomato fan, but that pimento cheese was fantastic. It was not overly-mayonaised and had just the right amount of kick. The cornmeal breading on the tomatoes came off quite easily and basically made the perfect little cracker for me to enjoy the pimento cheese. Jeff happily ate all the tomatoes and said they were some of the best he has had.

For lunch, I ordered the "Soup and Sammy". It's a grilled cheese sandwich made with cheddar, smoked gouda, and bacon and a bowl of tomato bisque. It's supposed to also come with freshly made potato chips, but since they also do sweet potato fries I substituted those. They were served with a fabulous smokey barbeque sauce. I honestly felt like there was some sort of little gremlin inside of my head who knew exactly what all my favorite flavors and textures were and was giving them all to me on one fantastic plate! I have to say, I love grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon and never have I had one made so perfectly! The soup was also delicious and creamy and not too rich. I definitely did the whole "dip the sandwich in the soup" thing and it was just wonderful! And the sweet potato fries? One was on the edge of my plate and I bumped it into the floor before I could move it to safety. I really almost cried at its loss, they were that good!

Jeff ordered a Cobb Salad with ranch rather than the vinaigrette described on the menu. Although my husband is not especially picky about many things, he is picky about his ranch. He is a sucker for good, homemade ranch dressing and that is one area that I have yet to be able to achieve his seal of approval because I can't get it exactly the way he wants it (and, bless his heart, he can't tell me WHY!) However, he really loved this ranch and was very happy with his salad. I also let him try a bite of my soup, and for someone who claims to not like tomato soup, he was very eager to get as much as he could!

Although we thought about it, we decided to forgo dessert on this trip. Although it wasn't an extremely huge, leftovers for days, sized meal it was more than enough to satisfy us and had I gotten dessert, I don't think I would have been able to enjoy it. I think a chocolate truffle was probably the only thing keeping this from being ALL my favorite things at once!

During these colder days of perfect "tomato soup and grilled cheese" weather, I have a feeling I will be longing for this lunch frequently. I know I'll be re-creating it at home and it'll be nowhere near as good, but I will eagerly anticipate a return trip. If I make it back in the summer, I'm thinking a burger with that pimento cheese on it. Who wants to join me?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

(Nash-) Vegas Vacation

I have been longing for a weekend getaway for a long time. I love getting away any time I can, but it's definitely nice to have a break from church. Jeff and I decided near the end of last year that I would take my available Sunday off sometime after Christmas but before Lent, but that Jeff would do most of the planning for our little getaway. So I warned the key folks at the church that I may not be able to give them a ton of notice, but that I would make sure everything was taken care of. Fast forward through some logistical details that I'm guessing nobody really cares about, and we realized that MLK weekend would be the perfect time for us to not only have a weekend getaway, but a LONG weekend, since Jeff would have Monday off work!

After some discussion, we decided we wanted to go to Nashville. It's been a long time since we've been up there so it's time. Plus, the timing was sort of important. MLK weekend 5 years ago was the first time Jeff came up to visit me in Nashville! Hard to believe it's already been five years!

Jeff got off work a little early on Friday and we hopped in the car to head north. It wasn't as long a trip as I was expecting. I really enjoy road trips with Jeff because I love the (generally) uninterupted time together to just talk and laugh. We checked into The Baymont Inn & Suites in Brentwood (as much as I would have liked to stay downtown the budget this time just wouldn't allow it!) and grabbed dinner around 7pm. Our hotel was actually sort of in the midst of an office park so there weren't a ton of obvious dining options. We explored a bit and stumbled upon a Five Guys. Neither of us had ever tried it and they didn't look too busy so we headed inside. It was great and I'm glad I know I can get this at home now!

Saturday we got up and headed to town. It was early enough in the day that we were actually able to get street parking downtown. We wandered around a bit waiting for Bath Junkie to open. I have previously professed my love for their stuff, and this is officially the closest store to me now, so I had to stock up. They were all out of the body mist I wanted, but I got some other things and even a few gifts. After we dropped my purchases off at the car we wandered a bit more, and ended up at the Country Music Hall of Fame. I had been once almost five years ago, and Jeff had never been at all so we decided to do the tourist thing. It was neat, but we were only there a little over an hour so it didn't really seem worth the $20 each we spent on it. Still, it's a fun thing to see. On our way back to the car we were ready for lunch and found ourselves stopped at a crosswalk by Merchants. I'd never heard of it, but as we waited for the crossing signal we looked in the window and everything looked good so we decided to try it. I'm so incredibly glad that we did because everything was amazing. I'll post a more in-depth review soon, so stay tuned. After that we started making our way back down toward Brentwood, exploring as we went. We ended up at Green Hills Mall where we used to waste lots of afternoons while we were dating. We also took note of the "new" Trader Joe's and stopped in for some snacks. The English Toffee has been a long-standing favorite of mine and the Sweet and Spicy Pecans are a new favorite.

Sunday we *gasp* SLEPT IN! And it was absolutely glorious. After a lazy morning we headed over to Dave and Buster's for lunch and the ultimate ski-ball challenge. I kicked his rear end, although he got even in air hockey. While we were there we stopped by Bass Pro Shop to look at boats. We thought about seeing a movie, but there wasn't anything we wanted to wait around for. We decided to indulge in one of our favorite vacation past-times - exploring. We drove around just re-familiarizing ourselves with parts of town and reminiscing about our time there. Then we decided to head out toward The Loveless Cafe for dinner. This also requires a post of its own to cover all the details.

Monday, we checked out of the hotel about 9:30 and decided to head south to the Cool Springs Galleria, taking in some of the back roads. It was another fun, exploration adventure. We wandered around the mall for a while and left after lunch. We were very disappointed to find that the Dippin' Dots booth had closed. There really wasn't anything else we needed to do, so we headed home. We made a pit stop at my step-mom's and made it back home at a reasonable hour.

All in all it was a great weekend. I had a wonderful time and can't wait to go back!

Friday, January 6, 2012

My first crafty-creation of 2012

I feel like i have shared the gloriousness of Pick Your Plum before, but if you haven't checked it out yet, please do! Quite a while back they had an awesome deal on colored twine, but I had no idea what I might do with it so I didn't get any. Then I saw the cuteness that is gifts wrapped in brown paper and twine, and I was all over it. Later, another twine deal showed up on PYP so I was all over it!

I'm giving the credit for this to Pinterest, but I don't have any pins like this on any of my boards so I have no idea if this is actually where I found this or not. No matter. It's mine now and I love it! Another little tip I am almost certain came from pinterest but have no proof of that, is the idea of using a sugar container to store your twine. You run your end up through the little hold in the top and just pull what you need! My spool is just a bit too wide to fit in my little container, but I figure one or two more wrapping jobs and it'll be perfect!

In the midst of all this cuteness, I found myself on the hunt for cute gift tags. I found and downloaded lots of free printables thanks (again) to pinterest. But I wasn't really digging any of them if for no other reason than I didn't have a ton of colored ink in the printer. But then it hit me - check my cricut cartridges and see if my basic shapes has a tag on it. And it certainly did! There were several, actually. But even better than that, I found the "charm" function which will add a little loop to the top of any letter, number, or shape. Perfect!

One thing I worried about was getting the tape to stick because the paper was pretty heavy and stiff. I used gift-wrapping tape and it was fine, but I also had some glue dots which I think would have worked just a well and you wouldn't have seen any tape on the underside. In the future I think I may use contractor paper, which I believe is not quite as thick and stiff, but it comes in much bigger rolls and I didn't want to shell out for that if this ended up not being as cute as I thought it would be!

I have a few other ideas for expanding on this, but you'll have to wait to hear about those! (And I'm sorry for the lack of picture. When I try to load it, it's huge! So check it out on my facebook page or just stay tuned for future attempts!)