Monday, February 17, 2014

Chicken Ranch Potatoes

I am alive! I'm afraid between Thanksgiving, Christmas and getting stuck up north in this epic winter for longer than planned alongside a pretty big project going down at work, this blog was pushed off to the side. However, in an effort to start cooking again and getting back onto some sort of schedule that involves more than me coming back to my apartment and warming up leftovers while I stare at the TV, I thought blogging about dishes again would inspire me. So, I picked a recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks and got to work. And while it was delicious, it was also a dish that the leftovers proved to be very boring after the first two nights.

I had most of the ingredients for this dish already which was why I'd picked it out of the book. There had been a sale on microwavable baked potatoes not too long ago so I had those in the fridge already. This was a very simple dish and tasty. I think though I would, rather than mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, mix them on top of the potatoes in the future. There is almost a little too much ranch dressing with this recipe. I'd also make it when I'm sharing a meal with someone so I don't have quite so much leftover next time so definitely one to share with people!

Having this with a salad made a very filling meal!


From Taste of Home's Fast Fixes with Mixes:

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups cubed cooked chicken
1 package (10 oz.) frozen mixed vegetables
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 cup ranch salad dressing
4 hot baked potatoes

Directions:
1) Place chicken and vegetables in a 2-qt. microwave safe dish; cover and microwave on high for 6-7 minutes, stirring once
2) Add salt and pepper and let stand for 2 minutes
3) Fold in the salad dressing
4) With a sharp knife, cut an X in the top of each potato; fluff pulp with fork
5) Top with chicken mixture

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Chicken Tacos

Fall has officially arrived in the Big Bend. I may go frolic in the nearest park and enjoy the fact I can stand outside for longer than 15 minutes and not be dripping with sweat. It was a very long summer. People around here think I am weird but never hated cold weather. Yes, North Dakota took cold weather to a level this Central New York native did not know existed and I did my share of complaining. Call me nostalgic for the seasons of home. Where it is currently in the 30s so I try not to complain about the heat to my family...

However, with the temperature falling to less hot and humid conditions, I was able to pull out my Crock Pot and try one of the many slow cooker recipes I've been stockpiling. I wanted to also pull it out while I would be home the entire time as it would be my first time using it with a very curious cat in the apartment. After she thoroughly investigated this new appliance on her side of the kitchen counters, and I think may have slightly burned the tip of her nose on it, it seemed to be uninteresting to her so success! I think it will be fine to leave it on for a work day if I want to do so and not come home to a monumental mess.

So, which recipe to start with? It wasn't quite stew weather yet and I wasn't quite ready to make a batch of Aunt Marcia's spaghetti sauce for the season. So, what to try? A quick search through Evernote where I hoard recipes found me this simple, easy to put together recipe for chicken tacos. I however don't have a source. I have a vague recollection that one of my friends pinned this and I saw the post on Facebook. I actually used less chicken than the recipe called for and the batch still lasted me from Sunday to Thursday. I changed it up over the week, using the chicken for traditional tacos, chicken taco salads and mixing it with rice. For the last of the batch, I covered tortilla chips with it and cheese and made some fantastic chicken nachos.

It may not look like much but it was tasty!
Chicken Tacos

Ingredients:
6 chicken breasts
1 jar of chunky salsa
1 package of taco seasoning

Directions:
1) Place the chicken in the bottom of the Crock Pot. Cover with the salsa and then sprinkle the taco seasoning on top. (I used about half the taco seasoning in the package as I used only 4 chicken breasts - use as you want to - the more you add, the more kick the finished dish will have)
2) Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4-6 hours
3) Shred the chicken with forks before serving.

Monday, September 16, 2013

The Brothers Grimm

I originally had thought for my DVD re-watch project, I would go in alphabetical order. But, then Friday the 13th came around and I thought a scary movie was in order. Now, a couple of things. One, 13 is a lucky number for my family. My sister and I were both born on a 13th - I even turned 13 on Friday the 13th which I have always loved. In fact, last Friday was my sister's 25th birthday. So, I don't really have the same superstition about 13 as many have. Two, I don't actually do "scary" movies. I am a wimp and have no qualms about it. I like  dark action movie or one that is creepy but I draw the lines at movies that try every five minutes to scare you out of your skin. Not my thing. Honestly, Tim Burton is about as scary as I get. I still have nightmares about a certain Supernatural episode for the love of Pete and even my beloved Doctor Who gave me a complex about stone statues. So yeah, a wimp may be too kind a word.

However, if a creepy movie has a good enough hook, I'll watch and just bury my head in a pillow frequently. Hence why, a long time ago, I shelled out for a copy of The Brothers Grimm. Starring two of my favorites, Heath Ledger and Matt Damon, it had a promising premise. Jake and Will Grimm are con artists who go throughout the French-occupied German countryside, taking advantage of local folklore to act as 18th century ghost hunters. That all goes awry when they end up in a real enchanted village where young girls are mysteriously disappearing and they are charged by the French occupiers to discover what is happening and to stop it.

From IMDB
Sigh, this movie is sort of scary? For Friday the 13th, it fell flat. I should have gone with The Mummy. Even for me, Grimm is on the weak side. It had been a long time since I watched this and honestly, I remembered it being better. It has great potential - the idea should be great but the execution is lacking. The story meanders a lot and takes too long to get to its climax. It has good characters - I particularly enjoy Heath Ledger as Jacob Grimm, the reluctant former scholar who follows Will from one con to the next. His willingness to believe in the fairy tale is endearing and what one would expect from a Grimm. Peter Stormare also deserves a thumbs up for his creepy yet delightful Cavaldi who is constantly trying to torment or kill someone via over the top means. At one point he has the Grimm brothers dressed in aprons and bonnets scrubbing the floor a la Cinderella. It's weird and yet makes me laugh. The Brothers Grimm does have its moments, including one of its best quotes (TRUST THE TOAD!), but overall, it falls flat. One for the Goodwill pile to start out my rewatching.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Well, that's summer then...

I will admit, the fact that it is September literally shocked me. Summer went so fast! It helped that I was very busy for most of it and had lots of fun times but that also meant I apparently didn't have time to blog. I have reasons.

Up a tree. Photo credit to my awesome cousin Jodi
One, summer was, as I said, busy! I got to go home when the temperature was above 40 degrees which means dinner at the Loop, races in Oswego, ice cream at Byrne Dairy and especially an awesome, no holds barred feast up at Grandma and Grandpa's camp. It was awesome! And then I went to Orlando to hang with a super awesome family which meant actually having children with me at the Disney parks. This was novel and so much fun and slightly nerve wracking because at times, in case you've never visited a theme park of any kind in the summer months, it was CROWDED. The amount of people required capital letters. But, we had a blast and rode lots of rides and ate lots of food and just had a fantastic time at Disney. I then turned right around and left for New Orleans for a conference but I did get to see some of the city but it's on my "really need to go back and spend days exploring" list because I really only had a day to see the highlights and that wasn't doing it justice. I did get beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde though and it is as tasty as they say. I always like when things live up to their praise.

Two, work. I love my job, I really do but we were very busy this summer. Hopefully, sometime this fall people will start to see the fruit of all our work when our new digital library site goes live but until then, I don't have much to show for everything we've done but know that we worked hard this summer on lots of stuff and hopefully this fall we'll get some awesome things to show for it. One of the downsides of my job though is a lot of hours in front of the computer screen meaning the last thing I often want to touch when I get home at night is my laptop.

Three, I think I am officially in a bit of a reading slump. I haven't been reading very fast or very much. Nor have I been that interested in what I've been reading. I am hoping to get back on track this fall and into a reading routine again. That always helps me stay on track with books even if they aren't holding my attention very well. 

Four, something about summer just means I go out for an hour and then spend four in front of the TV. Not good. I was hoping to get rid of cable (and temptation) but a frustrating couple of phone calls meant it would cost me more to pay for just internet instead of my current bundle (how twisted is that?!) so cable stays. However, a reading routine and books I actually want to finish will help me kick the cable habit I have developed! Also, the start of the fall TV schedule will help as when I know there is a show I want to watch at 10, I make the effort to read from 8 until 10.
Sigh, so good. Beignets and coffee at Cafe du Monde

I also am debating a movie re-watch of all my movies and blogging about it. This is both an effort to do some cleaning of my DVD collection (would I want to watch this ever again?) and also an effort to blog more about movies AND books again. We'll see if this fall works out for that or if that becomes a winter project (or at least as wintry as it gets in the South - autumn is just depressing because I really miss all the colors)

And recipes too should be making a reappearance here! I actually think I have a recipe to share that I just never did this summer so I will try to dig that up and share ASAP. I did just try a new dish last week but it was kind of blah so not sharing that one. Again, I am hoping to get back into a routine this fall and cooking is on the list to make a priority!

Happy Fall everyone!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Fated

From Goodreads
So, I'm not one for stories that end unhappily. I'm definitely more of a happily ever after kind of girl. If I want depressing and realistic, I'll watch the news. My reading is for escape. Which, I think I've mentioned before in one of my many tirades over what bugs me about a lot of contemporary modern fiction. But sometimes, I come across a book that has a clever enough concept that I'll read it even though it most likely isn't going to end well. Fated is one of those types of books. The idea behind it was so cool, I had to read.

Fated is the story of Fabio, aka Fate. He's gotten rather fed up with his job of trying to shepherd 83% of the population not on the Path of Destiny to conclusions that are just OK. Really, he's fed up with us because no matter how nice a fate he manages to create for us, we always manage to muck it up. Then, Fabio meets Sara, a mortal on the path of Destiny, and then Fate goes all down hill from there.

I think what I loved most about Fated was the cleverness of how it introduced its characters. At no point did it try to be too clever. A new character would walk in and Fabio would explain: "This is Dennis. He is Death. The thing about Death is he's X." X could be passive agressive, megalomanic, sociopath etc. The idea is these are the immortal beings directing things and they are completely off their rockers themselves. It made for fun introductions and interactions between Fabio and his fellow immortals. Fabio himself is likable in spite of himself. He is bored, lackadaisical  unhappy and frustrated. Even when he starts to change things up, he's a bundle of confusion and anxiety. He tries to play the straight good guy but being Fate, tends to blame others for what he's unhappy about. In that sense, he's a great depiction of Fate personified. 

The story itself sort of breezes along. There is no great adventure, no driving plot point to be solved in the end. We simply come into Fabio's life and follow it along for this limited period as he falls in love, repeatedly tries to be better and screws it up, gets called on his mistakes and then punished before finally reaching what, in the end, is an inevitable conclusion. Though it still erked me and actually kind of skeeved me out a bit how this story concluded. I can appreciate it but wish the author could have come up with a less...awkward ending.

So, Fated gets full marks for interesting premise and fun character development as well as a story that rolls along at a neat pace and tries to find a silver lining in the end which is more than a lot of books do these days. Check it out if you're in the mood for a quirky read and don't mind an odd ending now and then.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Food Stories (and a recipe!)

I've been watching, slowly but surely, the lectures from Edible Education 103, a class held at UC Berkeley last fall and headed up by Michael Pollan. I love to eat so a class looking at food and our relationship with it seemed like a good place to start looking into what MOOCs are but also, the class has just been fascinating. The one I watched last night was with NPR's The Kitchen Sisters who presented on collecting stories about the "hidden kitchens" in communities all over the country. One of their tenets of storytelling is that "Food is the New Music" - everyone has an opinion, a story, a song they want to share and food, like music, can trigger all sorts of memories.

Food is important in my family. We like to get together and eat. Most of my happiest memories involve food in some way. We have certain meals we eat at certain times of the year, we have certain foods we like to share with people, foods we hope our friends like when we bring them to parties. I've always loved sharing my family's recipes over the years with friends or being asked for them as my friends have scattered all over the world on their own adventures. I know my box and folders of recipes with titles like Grammy's Goulash  Jodi's Pumpkin Bread, Uncle Gary's Meatballs always meant I took a little piece of home with me no matter where I went.

Come summer, I pull out all the recipes for cold salads, dips and grilling. Recently, I made a batch of my Aunt Marcia's spaghetti salad. This was a dish I insisted I wanted for a grad school graduation cook-out to not only have as one of my favorite dishes, but also to share the dish with some of my best friends from school. Word of advice to the singles, this recipe makes a TON of food so halving the recipe means you still have leftovers but just not so much that you're sick of the dish by the time you are done. And hey, if you're invited to a potluck BBQ this summer, this recipe is a unique and delicious one to take along!

Perfect summer meal in my book! Burger and spaghetti salad

Aunt Marcia's Spaghetti Salad

Ingredients:
1 lb. cooked spaghetti
1 large green pepper - chopped fine
1 red onion - chopped fine
8 oz. Kraft Zesty Italian Dressing (1 small bottle or half a larger bottle)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1 bottle McCormick Salad Supreme

Directions:

1) Prepare spaghetti as noted on box. Mix together with all ingredients in large bowl.
2) Let chill for 24 hours before serving
3) Still well before serving as the vegetables tend to settle towards the bottle of the bowl over night.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

All Nighter

I never pulled an all nighter in college. I was one of those annoying students who finished papers and take home exams days before they were due. I can remember two late nights. One was on an essay for my Working Girls class. Not that kind of working girl mind you, the class took a look at the portrayal of women and work through the 19th and 20th centuries. I'd not done well on my first paper for that class so I did what I often did in cases like this, blew the second paper into major dramatic proportions. I needed to nail it; it needed to be the best paper this professor had ever read. I had gone to the library to start work on it in the early evening but I got into a groove and just kept working and writing and suddenly it was 2AM and I was still in the attic of the library. Not a big deal really but it happened to be I lived quite a walk from library at the time so the walk was perhaps not something I should have been doing. The other time was actually before the last one though I remember it less vividly. I'd been getting no where on a paper. I didn't know what I was trying to say in it or where I wanted to take it. I was frustrated and annoyed. So, I did the only thing I could think of; scrapped it. All four pages of useless pratter I'd managed to write and started over. At 11PM. My poor roommate. However, once I didn't have to worry about what I'd said before, I was able to make headway and once I started making headway, I didn't want to stop for fear I'd run into a roadblock if I walked away. So I got about half the paper done before I was confident I knew where I wanted the rest of the paper to go. All this to lead up to a story about Walt Disney World. Bet you didn't see that coming.

Heading into MK at 11PM
I missed the first 24 Hour event in the Parks. I was in Florida at the time but unable to justify taking the day off, driving down and dealing with the crowds. So, I lived vicariously through my Twitter feed and was bummed I missed it. When the Monstrous Summer All-Nighter to promote the upcoming release of Monsters University was announced it just so happened to fall on a weekend I was already planning on visiting. So I talked my sister and her newly minted fiance into going when I got to Orlando after driving down from Tallahassee at 9PM. To start with, I think our timing was off. We managed to arrive just as Wishes! was going off which meant the pakring lot at MK was still full as the first mass exodus from the park had not occurred. Instead, we were parked at Epcot and left to work our way to MK. The line for the monorail was mammoth so we opted for a bus to the Contemporary and then a walk to MK. It's funny to see the park packed to the gills at 11PM which is about the time we finally made it in the gates. They had already run out of buttons and t-shirts so no souvenir merchandise for me which saved me money. We did make it for the second showing of Memories. Because of the lighter crowds in the Hub, we were able to get closer than usual and really enjoy the detail of the show.

Full Moon over Cinderella Castle
We then booked it out of there to avoid getting caught by the 1AM showing of the Main Street Electrical Parade. However, the park packed. The wait for Big Thunder Mountain was more than we were willing to wait (it would have put us on the ride at about 2AM) so we hit up Haunted Mansion and The Little Mermaid. The full moon lit the park in both a cool and eerie way. I was thinking it was a good Kingdom Keepers vibe. After Mermaid, we decided the other lines were longer than we wanted to commit to (I'd had coffee before coming so I was wide awake, my sister and her fiance however were fading fast) so we headed for our last stop - ice cream. At 2AM. No better time! The Eye Scream Sundae, special for the event, was delicious. I went for the Mint Chocolate version complete with a white chocolate Mike circa University disc. Just as we finished eating, the dance party in front of the Castle was getting started. A DJ was setting up to keep people awake and moving as they entered the home stretch. We danced out way down Main Street and started the long trek back to our car at Epcot. Taking the monorail in that time of night was fun though - seeing Epcot getting spruced up for guests the next day.

All in all, I am glad I went and experienced one of the 24 hour events though I don't know that I'd need to attend another one. A fun novelty definitely but not something I need to do again.