Chili Cheese Tator Tots

That’s what I had for dinner. Are you noticing an unhealthy pattern? I am. Tomorrow I head to the doctor’s and I’m sure he’s going to suggest some changes, but man I’m gonna miss things like this!
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Published in: on January 13, 2008 at 9:27 pm  Comments (9)  

Crunchy Chicken Tacos

As you’ll find, when my family is gone, my blog entries tend to get shorter and more freqent, so here’s a quick look onto my dinner plate this evening. I made myself chicken tacos. I seriously considered making deep fried chicken tacos, but I didn’t want to make the tortillas nor did I want to pull out the deep fryer, so this is what I ended up with. I took a small package of boneless skinless chicken, cubed it and browned in a skillet. Then I added spices (chili powder, cayenne pepper, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, and some chicken boullion) and 2 cups of water and let it simmer and reduce back down to just the chicken with no liquid left in the pan. This took me all of 10 minutes, and I was ready to assemble.

Everyone has their own way of creating a taco, but here’s mine (with the reasoning behind it):

I first secure the shells with two upside down large spoons. Putting these on either side of the taco shells support them so they don’t fall when I add ingredients to the inside.

Then, I add the meat to the shells. Immediately following the meat comes the cheese. I like some of the cheese to semi-melt and putting it directly onto the hot meat helps this happen.

Next, I add the lettuce. Lettuce tends to want to really fall out of the shells, so I press it into the cheese and meat so it is a bit more stable. Then I add salsa or taco sauce, b/c lettuce is bland, so it’s a good place to add some spice.

The final addition is always the sour cream because it can be spread over the lettuce to further stabilize the lettuce from falling out of the taco.

Making a taco for me is like a major construction project, lol. What’s really funny, though, is that after all that work, I let the chicken tacos set for a while b/c I like for the juices to run down and soak the bottom of the taco shell so it’s soft on bottom and crunchy on top. I like the texture variation. So, despite all my efforts, my tacos usually end up all over my plate because of the soggy bottom. Oh well, it sure tasted good!

Here are a couple photos of my dinner:

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and the money shot:
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Published in: on January 9, 2008 at 9:56 pm  Comments (3)  
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Stove-Top Enchiladas-A Pictorial

Hey all, as most of you know, as soon as DH leaves for anything military related, I run like a crazy woman for the Ethnic aisle of my favorite grocery store, because it’s Fiesta Time! Okay, I don’t really party when he leaves, but I DO cook a lot of Mexican food for the first week or two. This is because my hubby is afraid of Mexican food, well maybe not afraid, but he really doesn’t care for anything remotely spicy, so I wait until he leaves and then create a huge buffet of all things Mexican for myself. A couple nights ago, I made Enchiladas, but when cooking for one or two people, it seems silly to bake a whole big batch of them, and I was hungry! So, to save some time, I made my enchiladas rojo true-Mexican-style, which means no baking, just stovetop preparation. This is how my old roommate made them, and I love the simplicity of it all.
First, brown some hamburger (I like it spicy, so I use taco mix in the hamburger as well), and drain well:
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Next, you have a few options. If you want a more traditional sauce, you can mix blended chiles or chile powder with flour and water and make a sauce that way (blander but not bad at all), or you can purchase a couple of cans of storebought enchilada sauce, or my personal favorite, go to the ethnic aisle in a predominately Spanish-speaking area and find those clear cellophane packages of Enchilada Sauce Mix. Follow the instructions to mix with water and heat, and you have completed step two:
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Next, heat a good solid skillet with a little bit of oil (I just used my cast-iron one that I had cooked the hamburger in, using the hamburger grease as my oil) over medium heat. This is where you’ll cook your corn tortillas till soft and pliable. (About 45 seconds on the first side, 20 seconds on the other does them well.):
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Your next step is to pick up the tortilla and transfer to your plate (tongs work nicely for this), sprinkle a tablespoon or so of sauce on this tortilla and add a heaping helping of hamburger to that:
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Then add cheese. Sometimes I use cheddar, sometimes monterrey jack, but in this case I just used the Taco Blend Cheese:
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Another layer of sauce:
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Continue layering as you desire. I usually do 3 tortillas, 2 meat and cheese layers, and several scoops of sauce. Always finish with a tortilla, then cheese, then sauce, and in my case Sour Cream!:
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Tator Tot Casserole, a Pictorial

Okay, this may not be one of the most visually appealing pictorials I’ve done this year, but it probably is one of the yummiest!

Tator tot casserole-Jessica style. Plain, simple, cheap, and filling. Just add a veggie on the side and you have yourself a great meal for the family. To me, tator tot casserole falls under the “comfort food” category.
Brown 1 lb-2 lbs of hamburger-depending on how meaty you like your casseroles.
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Drain hamburger and add to a medium sized bowl. Add to this 2 cans of cream of whatever soup. We like one can of cream of mushroom and one can of cream of chicken, but whatever sounds good at the time works:
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Mix together thoroughly.

Pour mixture into a 9×13 pan (or if using 2 lbs of hamburger, a 9×15 works nicely).
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Place frozen tator tots on top of the hamburger mixture, spreading evenly into ONE layer. Preheat oven to 350. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes or until the tots are golden brown on top like this:
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Published in: on January 8, 2008 at 12:25 pm  Comments (4)  
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A Sad Weekend, Finals for Cooking Class…

This weekend was really tough on all of us. It was the weekend in which Bryan left us for his Officer’s Training, and it was also the Final for K’s cooking class. She was soooooo nervous about it, but she did absolutely wonderful. I actually wish we would’ve had time for her to do this last weekend, but we simply didn’t have that kind of time, so it fell to be Bryan’s “last meal” before leaving for South Carolina.

To give you an idea of how upset Kaylea was about her daddy leaving, here’s a pic of her doing her favorite thing-cooking. As y’all know from previous photos of her in the kitchen, she’s always smiling, but this was the smiliest she got all weekend, even while making her apple crisp:
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Don’t ya just feel awful for her? She’s never been away from Daddy for more than a week or two in her whole life…it’s just not fair, but such is the life of an Army Angel (I refuse to call her an Army brat-it’s not accurate!).

Now, on to the delicious dinner! Her final for the cooking class was to plan, shop for, prepare, and serve us dinner that at the very minimum covered the 4 food groups and some of which needed to be stuff she hasn’t made before (to test her recipe following skills). She was graded on time management, appeal (which included the table setting), actual flavor of the meal, meeting the requirements on menu planning, and shopping with a list.
The meal plan was:
Drink: K’s Frozen Chocolate Drink (a recipe she created earlier in the semester-it’s basically a chocolate shake, but SHE had to come up with the ingredients, amounts, etc. all by herself)
Appetizer: Fruit tray with Homemade Fruit Dip
Main: Pork Tenderloin
Sides:Homemade Cheesy Rice and Green Beans
Dessert:Homemade Rocky Road Ice Cream, Homemade Apple Crisp

And here are the pics:
Apple Crisp-
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Fruit Tray and Dip:
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Table Setting:
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Pork Tenderloin:
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Green Beans (bad pic, sorry!):
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Cheesy Rice:
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We helped her a little, but she really did pretty much everything on her own. I purposely had Bryan go shopping with her, too, so I would know she was truly picking things out herself and I wasn’t “helping” read interfering with her thought process. I’m so proud of our girl, she presented a lovely meal that many grown women couldn’t even pull off! She definately got an A!

Stuffed Shells and Homemade Soft Rolls

Knowing hubby is leaving soon, I’ve been trying to make some of his favorite meals, lately. Tonight his request was Stuffed Shells. I normally make my stuffed shells and put them in the crockpot with lots of sauce and the cheese on the inside, but I was in a hurry and made them in the oven today. They turned out pretty good. I just make italian-spiced hamburger meat and mix it with ricotta cheese and shredded mozzarella cheese and Hunt’s spaghetti sauce and stuff that into the pre-cooked shells, then top with more sauce, more mozzarella cheese, and bake/put in crockpot for the whole day. The crockpot yields softer shells than the oven which is why it is my preferred method, but this works in a pinch. Anyway, here’s a photo of the shells:
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And a few pics of the rolls:
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My family has really taken to these fluffy and soft rolls since I started baking them in my cast-iron skillets. I made a double batch this time and made them as usual, letting them rise and bake in the cast-iron skillets, then brushing melted butter over the top when they are fresh out of the oven. They are sooooooo yummy like this, and I love the sizzle they make when the butter hits the sides of the pan. I had never considered baking them in my skillets until one poster commented that they thought I had done this on Thanksgiving because I had set my baked rolls in the skillet to keep them warm on the table, and since then I started doing them this way, and have been getting nothing but rave reviews from both hubby and stepdaughter ever since. If you have a cast-iron skillet, try this, you won’t regret it!

Published in: on January 3, 2008 at 9:46 pm  Comments (12)  

It’s almost time…

In a few days, Bryan will leave for an officer’s training thing and it’s going to get a little strange around here. It will be difficult being without my best friend for a few months, but through the support of family, friends, and church, I’ll get through, and so will he and K.

Speaking of K, we were trying to come up with something to help her stay connected with Dad while he’s gone, besides the typical phone calls and letters and flowers and cards, and I think we came up with a great idea which I thought we should share with y’all.

We went to the mall the other day and let K pick out some of her favorite flavored Jelly Belly Jellybeans (which mostly consisted of buttered popcorn and chocolate pudding with the occasional tutti fruity thrown in). Then we counted up the days that Daddy will be gone, and together we placed that many jelly beans in the jar. (I lent her one of my canning jars.) Next, I picked a picture out that showed Daddy and K having fun together (making marshmallows if I remember correctly), and Bryan cut it to fit the side of the jar, and we taped it on. I also came up with a cute little poem to put on the other side of the jar and taped it on, too. Then Bryan began to write a comment for each day he is gone, and signed them, and those went in the jar with the jellybeans. The comments said cute things, like:

I miss you more than sand misses the desert! and

How many more days? and

I want a K hug! and

Are you ready to beat me at *insert game here*? and

You are becoming a lovely young lady! and

Daddy’s Little Princess and

Where are my cookies?

I thought this was such a cute idea and the comments are full of little reminders of the fun we have together. The bonus of the jellybean jar idea is that several months of jellybeans seem like just a drop in the bucket when put in a sizeable jar. We all were able to breathe a sigh of relief when we saw how few jellybeans it looked like. Somehow looking at those few jellybeans made the time apart seem manageable to us all.

So in case anyone else is facing deployment or a long business trip that will take Daddy away, I thought I’d share the poem I wrote for the jar. It really is an awesome idea!

The poem goes as follows:

I’ll take one a day

While Daddy’s away,

It’s a way to keep track

Until Daddy is back,

Once I empty this jar

Dad returns from afar!

Published in: on January 3, 2008 at 8:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ham and Beans and Homemade Cornbread

Okay, this is a crazy thing to admit, but until recently, I’ve never tried to make ham and beans. Like, never! I tried making from-scratch baked beans with dried beans once and it was such a disaster that I never tried any other kind of dried bean ever again.

As usual, though, Alton Brown has inspired me. After recently watching his show about dried beans, I thought maybe it was worth a shot. So I gathered all the info that I could find and gave it a try…it was the best ham and beans I’ve ever eaten, and since I normally don’t like beans, that’s pretty good. I mean they were good enough that I would make them again because I wanted them not because I’m trying to save money or because the family wants them. I used a recipe off of allrecipes.com, but I left out the onion in favor of onion powder (we don’t care for onion pieces in our food). Then I thought, “Hey, why not try cornbread from scratch as well!”. It, too, turned out awesome. I just combined the best of a few different recipes and made some incredible cornbread.

First, the pics:
Ham and Beans anyone?
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The cornbread in the skillet:
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And an individual serving of the cornbread:
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Now, it is a rarity in my house that we run out of something simple like butter, but for some reason on this day, we were out. K and I love our butter, so this was a tragedy, but the meal was already made and hot and we ate anyway. K’s comment: “This cornbread is good enough that I actually don’t mind eating it without butter. In fact, without butter I’d give it a 9.5 (out of 10) and with butter, I bet it’s an 11!”

This was way better than Jiffy, folks, and I love Jiffy Cornbread!

The ham and beans recipe is:
1 pound dry great Northern beans
1/2 pound cooked ham, diced
1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried parsley

Rinse beans in a large pot; discard shriveled beans and any small stones. Add 8 cups of cold water. Let stand overnight or at least 8 hours. Drain and rinse beans.
Return beans to pot and add ham, onion, brown sugar, salt, pepper, cayenne and parsley and water to cover. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until beans are tender. Add more water if necessary during cooking time.
What I actually did was put the beans in the slow cooker on low for like 12 hours. Perfection!

The cornbread recipe is as follows:
Jessica’s Sweet Cornbread
1 c. flour
1 c. yellow cornmeal
2/3 c. sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 c. plus 2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 tsp. vanilla

Preparation:
In a small bowl, soak 1 c. cornmeal in 1 c. milk for 15 minutes without stirring. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9 to 12 inch round pan (I use cast iron for even heating). In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, salt and baking powder with whisk. Stir in eggs, cornmeal and milk mixture, vegetable oil, and vanilla. Batter will be slightly lumpy, that’s okay. Pour into prepared pan and bake in preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into center of cornbread comes out clean.

Published in: on January 3, 2008 at 3:32 pm  Comments (47)  
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We’ve been sick lately!

I hate it when the whole family gets sick and especially around the holidays. I try so hard to counteract the sick bug with antibacterial kleenex and multiple hand washings and warnings to not leave used kleenex all around the house and such, but alas, when one household gets sick the other one does, too. Our precious K is like a poor little germ carrier that brings it back and forth. It’s so not her fault and I wish it weren’t that way, but it’s just the life of a child that travels between houses on a regular basis.

As always, when we get sick we all want our Mommies and Daddies to cuddle with. Here is a cute shot that I got of K cuddling with Daddy while feeling rotten.
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And, another day, still sick, still wanting to cuddle with Daddy:
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One of the things that I truly adore about my husband is his ability to make a sick family member feel better. He keeps up on medication times, brings home extra soothing goodies, and is right there ready to cuddle up with us when we just want a warm body and a hug to make us feel better.

Published in: on January 3, 2008 at 2:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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