Good Friday 4/30/10

30 04 2010

Every Friday I write a post about the good things from the previous week in an effort to focus on the positive things in my life. You can see all my Good Friday posts here.

TGIF

Can I say that it being Friday is one of the good things in my Good Friday post? Well, I’m saying that it is. TGIF people!

S’mores Cake

The Hubby and I didn’t get to have date night this week, but I made my self a cake anyway. This cake is a HUGE mess, the marshmallow filling kept squishing out the sides, but it’s very tasty. I got the recipe from BakingBites.com, my new favorite blog.

New Quilt Project

I started a new project after I finished the purple quilt last week (don’t tell The Hubby, he knows how many unfinished projects I have!). It’s a block of the month from Joann’s (pictures in the Crafts in Progress page at the bottom). There’s 12 different blocks, so you could do one each month and have a finished quilt at the end of the year with a minimal amount of work each month. I decided to do them all at once, I’ve finished 11 out of the 12 blocks in just a week! They’re so fast because the fabric is all cut already. I just pull the pieces out of the bag and sew. They seem a little on the expensive side, about $125 if you buy all 12 blocks and the setting kit, but when you compare that to the cost of buying all the fabric for a quilt you design it’s about par for the course.

Hope all you guys have a great weekend!

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Cooking 101: Chicken or Eggplant Parmesan

28 04 2010

Big post incoming. Go grab yourself some coffee and settle in.

Since this photo blogging cooking thing seems to be going around the interwebs I thought I might share a few of my favorite recipes with you. We will begin with Chicken (or Eggplant) Parmesan. I’m making this for a meeting the next night as this dish works really well for meals you need to prepare ahead of time. You cook it halfway and then refrigerate. When you’re ready to eat just heat in the oven.

It’s a very tasty recipe and easy to make, though it tends to be a mess and tends to use quite a few dishes in the process. Just something to keep in mind 🙂

First off, I’d like to share 2 things I’ve found to be necessary in any cooking endeavor.

An Apron

And a lovely beverage. My beverage happened to be juice, but anything you enjoy will do. Cooking is hard work!

Ingredients

  • Chicken Breasts (Cutlets or Butterflys, we’ll discuss this later) or Eggplant or both as desired. I used one smallish eggplant which made 4 slices and 5 chicken breasts wich made 3 large and 4 small servings.
  • Spaghetti sauce. I used Prego Three Cheese, but anything you like will be fine.
  • Bread Crumbs. I used Progresso Italian Seasoned. Again, any kind you like will work, though if you use Plain you’ll want to season it yourself or else your breading will be very bland (basil, parsley, and some grated parmesan cheese should work well). For this batch I used about 1 1/2 cups
  • Shredded Cheese, not pictured. I like mozzarella, but any white Italian cheese, works great (you can use a blend too).
  • Spaghetti. Any strand-like pasta will work
  • Eggs. For this batch I needed 3 eggs
  • Flour. For this batch I needed about a cup
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Oil (not pictured)

Chicken Prep

First we will prep the dredging mixes

Get yourself 3 bowls, wide and flat works better than tall and skinny. In the first bowl put your flour. No matter how big of a batch you’re making you’ll want at least 3/4 of a cup of flour, just so there’s enough to dredge your chicken/eggplant easily. In the second bowl, put your eggs and give them a good beating. In the last bowl put your bread crumbs. Same as the flour, you’ll want plenty in the bowl to work with.

Next, you want to season each bowl with some salt and pepper, I don’t really measure but if I had to guess I’d say it’s about 2 tsp of each in the eggs and breadcrumbs and maybe 3 in the flour. The trick to making this dish taste really good is to season at each step. You don’t have to overload, it’ll just taste like salt, but if you don’t season everything you can wind up with really good chicken, but bland breading (or the other way around!). Give each bowl a good mix to incorporate the salt and pepper.

At this point, if you have any jewelry on, you might want to take it off. I usually don’t take my bracelets off, but the rings can get really nasty.

Get out a large cutting board and your chicken. Trim off the fat and the little flappy thing that I’m holding out in the picture, they should look like this:

At this point you have 2 options for prepping your chicken breasts. Butterflys or Cutlets. A whole chicken breast is too thick for this dish; the breadcrumbs will burn before the chicken gets cooked all the way through. For both options, place the chicken breast flat on your cutting board. Put your left (or non cutting hand) on top and be sure to keep your fingers up and on top of the chicken breast. I find that tucking my thumb and pinky under the other three fingers prevents a lot of cuts. With your knife parallel to the board slice through the chicken breast about half way up the side, using long strokes. After each stroke you may need to open up the chicken to properly reposition the knife. To make a butterfly, leave a little bit still attached on the side and open it up so that it lays flat. For cutlets, just cut all the way through. Since this takes 2 hands I was unable to take photos of the process, but here’s the finished product:

Next, though I didn’t get a picture, season the chicken with salt and pepper.

Eggplant Prep

This is fairly simple. Trim off the stem and the end and cut into slices about 1 1/2 inches thick. I like to cut on a bias (about 45 degrees) as it will make the slices a little closer to “chicken-breast” size. If you cut on a bias, you’ll have 2 little wedges from the ends leftover, you can use them if you like, but I just threw them out as the breading doesn’t stick very well to the skin of the eggplant.

Dredging

The trick to easy dredging is to switch hands. You’ll need a “wet” hand and a “dry” hand. If you use the same hand for each stage you wind up breading your fingers over and over and it’s very difficult to work.

Grab your first piece of chicken (or eggplant, it works the same for both) and place it in the flour bowl. Notice I’m using my left hand.

Turn it over, flop it around, just make sure all surfaces get covered in flour.

Next, transfer to the egg bowl. Again, make sure all surfaces are covered. Notice I’m using my right hand.

Lastly, transfer to the breadcrumb bowl. Again, make extra-super-double-sure that all surfaces are covered. Notice I’m back to my left hand.

Eggplant follows the same procedure, though covering ALL sides doesn’t work quite as well since none of it sticks very well to the skin. Just make sure the rest is covered.

Frying and Boiling

Now you’ll want to get a large skillet (the biggest you’ve got) and put enough oil to cover the bottom in about 1/4-1/2 inch of oil. I use vegetable oil. Light olive oil will give a better flavor but it’s kind of expensive. Heat the oil over med-high heat, you’ll know it’s ready when a little pinch of breading sizzles and pops when tossed into the oil. Also, put a large pot of water on to boil. Both of these can be done while you are prepping the chicken and/or eggplant but I always forget.

Place a couple pieces of chicken or eggplant in your skillet once the oil is hot (don’t crowd the pan!). 

When the breading is Golden Brown & Delicious flip the chicken/eggplant over and fry the other side. This will take a minute or three per side.

When the second side is done, remove the chicken/eggplant to some paper towels to drain off the extra grease. Work in batches until all your chicken and/or eggplant is cooked.

When your water comes to a boil, add some salt. If you don’t already know to do this, it will make your pasta taste a lot better!

Cook the pasta according to the package directions and,

drain and set aside when it’s done. You could toss in with a little olive oil to prevent sticking if you so desired.

Put It All Together

If you are going to eat this right away, you’ll want to heat the spaghetti sauce, if you’re cooking ahead of time you can spoon straight from the jar, as I have done. Put some sauce in the bottom of a baking dish, just enough to cover the bottom in a thin layer, and place your chicken/eggplant in the dish. If you need to, you can overlap the pieces a little but you want most of the surface to be exposed for cheese-iffication.

Spoon a little sauce on top of each piece. If you like sauce a lot, go ahead and slather it all over. Me, I like just a little bit.

Top each piece with some cheese. I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but you CAN put too much cheese on this dish. If you put too much cheese it doesn’t melt evenly and can get kind of greasy when the fats come out of the cheese. You want a nice, even layer, covering the entire exposed surface of each piece.

The chicken works the same way.

If you’re cooking ahead of time, stop here, cover the baking dish and refrigerate until you’re ready to eat! You’d probably be good preping up to 3 days in advance.

Baking

Just for you, Internet, I set aside 2 servings of the chicken so that I could show you how to finish the recipe. Just for you, I made this sacrifice… and so that I could have dinner the night I made this.

Preheat your oven to 350. You can do this whenever, but I never think about it until everything’s ready to go into the oven.

Bake for 5-10 minutes, until the cheese is good and melted. If you cooked ahead of time, take the dish out of the fridge about 30 mins before baking and let it come to room temperature, then bake for 15-20 minutes.

You can stop here, and serve just like this, but if you want that awesome, restaurant-like finish, turn on the broiler and move the rack up to the top.

You’ll need to watch closely, it will only take a few minutes to give the cheese a nice browning. Unfortunately Golden Brown & Delicious is remarkably close to Burned and Nasty.

I like to serve this over a bed of pasta and a little sauce. Salad and garlic bread would be a nice addition but as you might have noticed from the shot of my oven on preheat, it was 11:00 at night… salad and garlic bread just weren’t going to happen.

Enjoy!!





Book Review: City of Bones

26 04 2010

Back Cover: When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder — much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Clary knows she should call the police, but it’s hard to explain a murder when the body disappears into thin air and the murderers are invisible to everyone but Clary.

Equally startled by her ability to see them, the murderers explain themselves as Shadowhunters: a secret tribe of warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. Within twenty-four hours, Clary’s mother disappears and Clary herself is almost killed by a grotesque demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know….

As you can probably guess this book falls under the Young Adult category. I was poking around the book store a while back and decided to look for Percy Jackson and the Olympians since I liked the movie and knew it was based on a book. For the life of me I couldn’t find it in the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section. I went up to the desk and asked where I might find the books, thinking they were on an end-cap or table somewhere. The lovely sales person directed me to the Teen section. I don’t know about you, but when I was a “teen” I didn’t have my own section in the book store. It went straight from Kids to Fiction or Sci-Fi or whatever. I do seem to remember part of the Kids section being dedicated to novel length books, but it was mostly Judy Bloom/Ramona Quimby/James and the Giant Peach type of books. Not YA Urban Fantasy. Apparently the genre’s changed a bit! I didn’t end up actually getting Percy Jackson, but I did pick up this one. I’m not entirely sure what drew me to this book… maybe it was the shirt-less guy on the cover…

Anywhoo, as befits a novel in the YA genre, it’s a tale of teenagers discovering who they are and who they want to be. It’s about a broken family learning their secrets and loving each other anyway. It’s a story of betrayal and redemption. Clarke doesn’t shy away from difficult situations as some YA authors tend to do. She’s not heavy handed with the moral lessons either.

The pacing sags a bit in the middle and the end felt a little long as well, I wanted resolution of the conflict a bit before it happened. That being said, neither of those things detracted from my enjoyment of the book.

Clary is cute and clutzy (though Clarke talks about her being clutzy a lot more than actually showing that she’s clutzy). She’s a character that I like and can identify with. I thought Jace (the other primary protagonist, not mentioned in the synopsis above) was a bit over the top, I didn’t like him at first but by the end he had won me over.

Summary

I’ll give it 3.5*’s depending on your like of the YA genre it may be worth a purchase, but either way worth a check-out from the library!





Good Friday 4/23/10

23 04 2010

Every Friday I write a post about the good things from the previous week in an effort to focus on the positive things in my life. You can see all my Good Friday posts here.

Book Reviews

I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading the past few weeks and I’m finally getting around to writing some book reviews. They’ll start going up next week and I’ll post one a week until I run out! Hope you guys enjoy!

Lunch & Learn

Wednesday I went to a little seminar at my church. I almost didn’t go, but I’m really glad I did. I learned a few things that I hope will really help me to be a better Small Group leader. Besides learning some nuts and bolts about asking good questions (which was enlightening on it’s own!), I realized that I need to be much more intentional about leading my group. I can’t sit back and just let things happen.

I’ve written and deleted probably 12 sentences now, and I’m realizing that I still don’t quite know how to articulate what I’m thinking and feeling right now. I probably need to sleep on it a little more. Let it suffice to say that I think I learned something really important!

Date Night

It’s my week to pick the movie for date night, but I decided to allow The Hubby to pick. He picked up the Family Guy parody of Empire Strikes Back. It was funny, but I don’t think I enjoyed it as much as The Hubby did 🙂

I was pretty tired and fell asleep on the couch almost immediately after the movie. The Hubby got me up and into bed by around 9:30 (knowing that I don’t sleep well on the couch, he takes good care of me), and I slept almost all the way through until getting up the next morning. Felt pretty good!

Cake

I had a hankerin’ (yes, I said hankerin’, I’m from Texas. Sue me) to bake something Wednesday night. Originally I had planed to make some brownies but later on I changed my mind and decided to try this recipe for Lemon Buttermilk Pound Cake instead. Baking Bites is a new favorite of mine. The recipes are easy to follow and the 2 that I have tried so far have been good (the other was Irish Cream Brownies which were a big hit).

As I tweeted, I screwed up the batter a little bit. I skipped a step and forgot to add the eggs. Thankfully I realized my mistake as I was licking the spoon about to pour the batter into the pan. I added the eggs to the otherwise finished batter which probably meant that I over mixed it. The finished texture was a bit… off, the flavor of the cake was really good though. I’m fairly sure the texture issues are due to my goof and not any problem with the recipe.

Quilting Night

Most of the time 2 of my girlfriends and I get together once a week for coffee. We get some “girly time” and chat and catch up with each other. This week, however, one of them is getting married and can’t make it to coffee night. The other girlfriend (who has started a blog, by the way, Jill of Few Trades, go check it out) and I decided to have a quilting night instead. Another other friend is in town for the previously mentioned wedding and came over for quilting night too! It was really awesome to see her again and I’m really looking forward to spending some time with her this weekend.

I actually finished a project! This is a quilt I started 3…4… maybe 5 years ago and have been working on it a little bit here and there. I can finally move it from the work in progress page to the finished projects page!!

Seedlings

We have seedlings! Basil and lavender to be specific. I think we’ll be planting these in our handing baskets this weekend! It’s been really amazing to watch these little guys grow! I would have pictures for you but the batteries in my camera are dead. You’ll just have to use your imagination 🙂





Good Friday 4/16/10

16 04 2010

Every Friday I write a post about the good things from the previous week in an effort to focus on the positive things in my life. You can see all my Good Friday posts here.

This is one of the more difficult Good Friday posts I’ve had to write so far. It’s been kind of a sucky week but there’s not really anything specific I can point to that made it sucky. Here goes with the non-sucky parts, because if I try to forget the sucky parts maybe they’ll  just go away!

Flowers

My roses are blooming! Need I say more? Pictures are worth 1k words!

Oops! Was that last one a puppy picture? I’m sure none of you will mind 🙂

Date Night

The Hubby got to pick our movie this week. He chose a movie that he watched with his small group called Peaceful Warior. When he told me about it, my first response was “Oh, have you read the book?” At which point he got this dejected look on his face because I already knew what it was, having read the book myself. I had been meaning to watch the movie for a while now, just never got around to it. The movie has a very different feel to it than the book, and it’s more than just the conversion from prose to script. The movie has a more… supernatural feel than the book. The Hubby thought Socrates was supposed to be God and Joy maybe The Spirit. I can see how you could draw that conclusion from the movie, but from what I remember the book just didn’t lean that way. It just felt different. I think I might have to go read the books again 🙂

SSBP

I tweeted about it earlier this week, I’ve started a Super Seekrit Bloggerly Project. This is not the big unveiling (sorry guys), I think I’d like the project to remain annonymous for now. I’m sure if someone was really industrious they could find it since I use the same wordpress.com account to host all my blogs 🙂

Anywhoo, this project is going well so far and I’m hoping I’ll be able to keep it up for a while. I think it will do me some good!

Finance Seminar

The Hubby registered us for a finance seminar at church. I’m not really looking forward to it. It rubs me the wrong way for someone to tell me how to handle my money, but clearly my way isn’t working. I’m going to just suck it up and give someone else’s way a try. Then I’m free to ridicule it later if it doesn’t work (just kidding… mostly).

Seriously though, if this thing can get us out of debt faster or in a better way, I’m going to call it a good thing. Woah. Visions of Martha Stewart just there.

Have a great weekend everyone!





Good Friday – 4/9/10

9 04 2010

Every Friday I write a post about the good things from the previous week in an effort to focus on the positive things in my life. You can see all my Good Friday posts here.

Green(ish) Lawn

I was afraid after the extreme heat and drought  of last summer that my lawn was competely dead, but there’s some shoots of green popping up. The Hubby put down some weed killer and fertilizer and we started up the sprinkler system this week.

This time of year is fascinating for me. I swear my plants are visibly growing every day. It seems that when I get home they are taller or have more leaves than when I left that morning.

Backyard

The Hubby got some chairs for the back porch. Hopefully we can spend some time out there while the weather is still nice. I still need to do some work in my flower beds back there (don’t suppose anyone wants to come over tomorrow morning and help me out?), it’s kind of a mess right now, but at least we can enjoy the weather. It’s been gorgeous for the most part!

Clean House

Since we had family in town for Easter, The Hubby and I spent several days cleaning house and setting up the spare bedroom. It’s really nice to have the house clean (and someone needs to remind me how nice it is when I’m procrastinating about cleaning!) and have at least one room where we don’t have to keep the door shut all the time because it’s a train wreck.

I think we’ll be able to keep it clean, The Hubby’s small group meets at our house every week now so we’ll have people at the house every week. I’ll at least have to keep the living areas picked up 🙂

Date Night

The Hubby and I re-instituted a date night. We both have so much going on we don’t get to spend a whole lot of time together. We decided to do something on Wednesday nights. This week I bought a movie (Men Who Stare at Goats) and we curled up on the couch with dinner and watched the movie. The movie was mostly “Meh” but it was good to spend time with The Hubby.





Good Friday 4/2/10

2 04 2010

The Hubby is Home

The Hubby is home! The Hubby is home! The hubby is home!

Did I mention that he’s home? I think this is the last of his travel for a little while. Maybe now we can get back into a normal routine again (Pfft! Normal? Us? I guess a girl can dream).

Easter

Easter is coming very, very soon! That means marshmallow eggs!

My sister-in-law and nephew/godson are coming into town, in fact they arrive today. I’m very excited to see them. SiL and I are going out for a spa day on Saturday, then Sunday we’re having a big family dinner and I’m guessing we’ll all go to church. I’m hoping to take The Kiddo out at some point this weekend to take some bluebonnet pictures. We’ve had lots of rain so far this spring and the wildflowers are looking great even though it’s still a little early.

Flowers in Bloom

For those of you who don’t know, the bluebonnet is the State Flower of Texas:

When they bloom in the spring they have a habit of turning lovely green fields into a sea of blue:

It’s kind of a tradition around here, especially when you have kids (or dogs) to go sit in the middle of a bluebonnet field and take pictures. The tricky part is finding an open field where you can get a good shot without buildings or highway in the background. I think I may have found a great spot as I was driving to pick up The Hubby for lunch.

Flowers make me one happy girl!

Spring Cleaning

The Hubby are doing a deep clean on the house… the whole house, not just the living spaces the guests see. It’s making me exhausted getting it all done, but I know I’ll feel better when the house is all clean. Hopefully we can keep it clean this time.