Weekend Workroom: Jamstress

**SIDE NOTE: I know this is totally, completely later than anticipated… I’ve been trying to figure out how to hook up our new camera in the little time I’ve had at home over the last few weeks. We’ve been gone back-to-back weekends, first to celebrate my husband’s birthday and then to celebrate my brother-in-law’s 30th, with a few shortened weeks and a couple trips through getting our car back from the shop thrown in there. It’s been a bit crazy, but I finally have a real day off today. I’ll be blogging, meal planning, grocery shopping, and doing all the things that I’ve really been missing about my life… Regardless, I give you jam!**

I must confess, I don’t know if I ever thought of making jam before. There’s been something really cool, however, about making my own tomato soup, and there’s always been a draw for me in the canning process (my grandmother used to can their garden each year and my mom occasionally cans when she finds great deals on veggies and fruit), so I figured I’d give it a try whenever the opportunity presented itself.

So, we had some friends offer us some plums a few weeks back, from the tree in their backyard (Italian plums, the best I could tell). I did some research and discovered a simple recipe that didn’t use pectin, a traditional canning process, or twice as much sugar as plums (believe it or not, it’s common to have a recipe for twice as much sugar as fruit, which just seems silly to me). This was all just an experiment. I don’t even like plums, as a general rule.

But I found this recipe:

And I went to work. I had a lot of plums, and I tried a number of ways to get them out of their skins. In the end, though, what worked best was making sure I had clean hands and using my fingers to remove the fruit… I found I got more of the fruit that way in the least amount of time. It was a really messy process, so make sure you’ve got a space that can take some sticky mess and be easily cleaned afterward.

The main place I deviated from the recipe was that I put my fruit pieces into a blender, rather than let them just cook down to the right consistency. I wanted an even consistency because I’m a odd sensitive-to-texture person, so I did it this way. You could certainly let the plum pieces cook down if you want a fleshier sort of consistency.

If you have a splatter screen, you’ll want to use it. I still have a small mark from where a bit of molten plum mixture jumped up and landed on my arm.

As soon as it was done, I poured it into two clean pint canning jars, using a canning funnel. I made a double batch, or I would have only filled one pint jar. I tasted it while hot and really enjoyed the flavor of the jam. Then, I let it cool and refrigerated both jars, where three can be stored for up to three months. I’m not sure it’ll last until then. It’s pretty tasty.

So, that’s my adventure in jam-making. I like the title “Jamstress,” (Gilmore Girls, anyone?) so maybe I’ll do this again!

Weekend Workroom: Settling Back In…

This is a little late (I mean, it’s Tuesday, right?), but I figured it was worth posting because I have just now gotten my computer back… which is fantastic.

There’s a lot that’s been happening around here lately, and that doesn’t just include all the work that Chris has been putting into getting our office finished out and ready for us to move stuff back in. We’re almost to the point where things are in their places and finding their homes again, which is good because our office has been spread throughout multiple rooms for a little more than a week at this point, and I’m eager to have this crazy room back.

For reals this time, you can check out the lower level remodel on that other blog. I couldn’t find the camera cord until we unpacked stuff, so… posts have been a bit delayed on all accounts.

God is moving us into a new season, which we’re really excited about. I feel like God is finally answering a ton of our long-held prayers in really backward ways that only show how incredible and merciful He truly is. I’ll be able to share more in a couple of weeks (and, no, that’s not a hint toward anything – I’m just not allowed to share too many details right now).

To celebrate being done with Missions Weekend this year (since Chris helped orchestrate a large portion of the meal after church and we both ran around with a bunch of other awesome people for several hours to make sure everything went as planned), I asked Christopher what kind of ice cream he wanted, giving him the options of several candies that I stockpiled after Valentine’s Day, when everything was on sale. He wanted the one with peppermint patties, which is one of our favorites. The base is like a Frosty from Wendy’s. It’s pretty fantastic.

Chocolate Mint Chocolate Ice Cream
(from cuisinart.com)

2 cp. heavy cream
1 cp. whole milk
1/2 cp. chocolate syrup
2 T sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cp. crushed chocolate mint candies (I use 15-16 of the small peppermint patties)

Combine all ingredients (except candies).
Chop or crush candies into smaller pieces – if you have some extra time, putting them in the freezer before you cut them can keep them from being super-sticky.
Freeze mixture according to manufacturer’s directions 20-25 minutes. Add candy for last 5 minutes of freezing time.

Weekend Workroom: Parts of the ‘Buffalo’

I have finally Gerry-rigged a way around not having the proper camera cord for the new/old camera that we have… until we find a cord that works, we’re just going to off-load the memory cards into the old camera, which doesn’t take pictures anymore but works wonderfully as a memory card reader since it still turns on and we have its correct cord. Complicated? Nah. We don’t do complicated around here.

What we do is try to conserve and be resourceful. It’s no secret to most of our family and good friends that finances have been tight as we continue to seek paying off the unexpected debt accumulated over the last year. This becomes even more tricky when, say, I’m still not in a permanent work situation and we do something like coming to the end of the life of the tires on the car that Chris drives to work everyday.

The result is that I’ve been trying to plan a little better, making use of each and every little piece of what we have in the house to eat. A week and a half ago, I sat down and planned our meals for the rest of the month and then went shopping – freezing a lot and trying to use produce that will go bad the fastest first.

This has led to some interesting resourcefulness on my part. I normally forget that I can make things out of what is left over… Perhaps it is just a weird flaw when it comes to food, because I seem perfectly able to remember how to make use of every bit of the proverbial buffalo when it comes to crafting and making things work around the house.

First, I have been trying to remind myself that I can freeze things that I make with leftover parts. I did this with a bunch of Roma/plum tomatoes (they were on sale, so I bought a few pounds more than I needed for our meals). I can’t eat canned soups (of any brand, it’s kind of sad), but I love soup. So, I set out to make my own tomato soup and froze it.

I used this recipe:

I added a blanched red bell pepper to the mixture and didn’t use quite as much basil, since my basil crop is being overshadowed (literally) by the overgrowth of cilantro in my garden. I made use of leftover cans of vegetable broth that I had purchased for a meal months ago that turned into something else.

The big thing here is that I used fresh tomatoes rather than canned. You can use canned tomatoes. I have plenty of cans in my pantry. Fresh ones were on sale, however, and I wanted to see how to use fresh ones to make a decent soup that I can eat without getting sick off of it.

I had to boil the tomatoes, however, to do this. It is an extra step. Worth it, if you ask me, but I guess that’s really up to you. About $1.10 per serving, which is easily comparable to a can of Progresso or Campbell’s Harvest Select or whatever – and much tastier, in my opinion.

To boil tomatoes:
Fill a pot with water, and set it on the stove top to boil. When the water boils, drop in tomatoes until you notice the tomato skins start to split (the tomatoes will also float to the top when this happens). My instructions told me 30-60 seconds, but it took quite a bit longer than that. This step is simply to make it easy to peel off the tomato skins. After the skins split, remove the tomatoes from the pot and place them in an ice bath to slow the cooking process, since the cooking will actually happen when you make the soup. After peeling them, I diced the 3 lbs of tomatoes that I used and continued with the rest of the recipe.

Made 2 quarts of soup. I put them in my Ball freezer containers (these are amazing), and put them in my freezer. Perfectly easy meals.

We came home from my parents’ house last weekend with a bunch of risotto that my mom and I made for dinner one night using this recipe from the Great Easy Meals cookbook (I think I reference that thing more than any other cookbook I have ever used – it’s fantastic): http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/fontina-risotto-with-chicken-recipe/index.html

But rather than eat the risotto as it was, we turned to the next page and made risotto cakes out of the stuff following this recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/risotto-cakes-with-mixed-greens-recipe/index.html

Granted, we didn’t do more than dredge them in panko and fry them up in oil because we didn’t have any of the other ingredients on hand… but they were incredible. Not as good on the reheat, but definitely worthwhile the first time around. If you’re having a party, it would be great to make the risotto ahead of time (it makes a ton), dredge and refrigerate the patties, and then pull them out and fry them right before your event… totally would be an awesome party food.

There was also a great deal on whole pineapples (97 cents apiece!), so I bought two at Christopher’s request, and we mixed one of them with strawberries, bananas, and yogurt to make smoothies this last week. We had things leftover, however, including 5 bananas and a whole pineapple.

So, I made some amazing chocolate chip banana bread using a recipe book that some friends gave us for our wedding. I had everything on hand except a full bag of chocolate chips, but considering I was able to make three loaves off of a doubled recipe, I was willing to grab a bag of chocolate chips from the store the last time I was there. No pictures of the bread, but I will give you the recipe:

Chocolate Chip Banana Bread (c/o the Fenwicks)
1/2 c. melted butter
1 c. sugar
2 unbeaten eggs
1 c. mashed bananas (about 2.5)
1/3 c. milk
1 t. lemon juice
2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. sliced almonds (optional)
1 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Add sugar to melted butter gradually and blend together well. Blend in unbeaten eggs and bananas. Add milk and lemon juice and fold in nuts. Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add dry ingredients to sugar mixture and blend until combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Turn into a well-greased and floured loaf pan. Sprinkle with more almonds. Bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes (ours took 5-10 minutes longer), or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool before slicing. NOTE: Can be made into muffins also – bake for 25 minutes in lined cups.

Those who know me know that I love making my own ice cream. Part of it’s because I know exactly what’s in it (which is a good thing these days), but part of it’s because I can make exactly the flavors that I want. I used the extra pineapple to make 1.5 quarts of sorbet using this recipe that I found through Pinterest: http://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/pineapple-sorbet/. Very tasty.

I’m not sure what I think about Pinterest just yet, as I’ve barely dabbled, but it is an interesting resource when it comes to looking for ideas from other people’s blogs. It might prove a great asset to trying to use all the ‘buffalo’ parts.

After I finish the next few rows of Christopher’s blanket (the chevron I started here), I might need to stop for a while until I’m able to get more yarn out of the ‘buffalo.’ It is coming along quite well, don’t you think? It has an awesome texture to it, and is finally at the point where it keeps me warm while I’m working on its rows. While waiting to get some new yarn, however, I’m likely start a new project using yarn that I was given when the awesome woman I work for decided she was going to give away a bunch of yarn while spring cleaning. Haven’t decided what kind of pattern I want to do, but I’ll be looking into that over the next few weeks.

Regardless, I’ve been up to a lot of cooking and baking. I keep thinking that those don’t qualify as weekend projects, but that’s what I’ve been doing on my weekends! I’m hoping to get to my stack of creativity projects soon (maybe one this week, now that I know the camera works well enough to document the process), so keep your eyes out for that… Sick of the ‘buffalo’ analogy yet?

Weekend Workroom: Foil-Packet Salmon

So… I don’t know about you, but the whole “Daylight Savings Time” has really been messing with me – especially today. Maybe it was just because I worked on a Monday for the first time in a long time or that I went to bed super late because I was completing an assessment for the second round of a job or whatever, but I felt really dead mentally almost all day long. Kind of absurd.

I spent the evening baking, and wanted to share the recipe with you through pictures but, alas, we don’t have quite the right input/output cord for the newest/old camera that we borrowed from my parents this past weekend. The fact that I took pictures of the process is completely useless with no cord.

Regardless, I have another recipe I’d like to share. We adapted this out of Great Easy Meals‘ “Mix & Match Foil-Packet Fish,” which I’ve mentioned a few times. This was an incredible meal, people. Man. Really simple, too. I mean, I guess it wouldn’t be great if you don’t like or are allergic to fish, but for everyone else = fish-tastic.

Essentially, you take four 4-oz fillets of salmon (I bought a pound of salmon fillets in the frozen food section at Walmart for $5, and they come individually wrapped, of all things), put them over some veggies, wrap them in a piece of foil, and bake them for a while.

For ours, we used about two cups of veggies. Instead of choosing two types of veggies, as the instructions state, we went with three: 2/3 cup each of green onion, corn (from a can), and red bell pepper. This is also a little less than the instructions state (2 cups total instead of 4), but it was plenty and entirely sufficient for adding good flavor to the salmon. To the veggies I added 1/2 cup chicken broth and 1/2 fresh lemon juice, stirring it all together with some salt, pepper, and a few leaves of freshly shredded basil.

For each fillet, you put 1/2 cup of veggies down on a piece of foil, set the fillet on top of them, and add 1/4 cup of the liquid to the fillet so that it steams while in the oven. Then, fold up the foil into packets so that the juices don’t get lost in the cooking process and so there’s room for steam to build (basically, leave a little room for air in the packet), and put in the oven. They’ll look a little like:

Bake the foil packets at 450° for 12 minutes, until they’re cooked through. Remove from the oven and let them rest an additional 5 minutes.

I put ours over a simple flavored rice mix (I think it was Herb & Butter Rice a Roni), and just flipped the packet upside down onto the rice – fish first, then veggies on top. It was an amazingly flavorful and healthful meal. Only about 525 calories, even with the rice (fish and veggies alone – 275 calories).

I’m hoping to get back to more projects for the Weekend Workroom, but I haven’t been working on too much lately other than trying to cook and keep things picked up. I have worked a bit more on Christopher’s blanket, though, so an update picture might pop up sometime soon…

Weekend Workroom: Salad Mixology

So… as I sat at the table this afternoon eating my lunch, I realized that I needed a new game plan for my approach to this here blog. Our camera is still dead and, since we had to buy new tires for the car this weekend, there isn’t really a chance of replacing it anytime soon. I’m still using our video camera to take pictures, but they’re super-low light and definitely need some editing – which makes for a big problem since I’m currently having trouble with the latest version of Adobe Creative Suite that I loaded about a month ago. Somehow, it thinks I already have it loaded on two computers that don’t include our desktop. Silly electronic licensing. It is loaded on my desktop – that’s the second!

Regardless, until I get that figured out, there is little chance for my own pictures to make their way onto the blog. The result is that I’ve tried to figure out a way around that, and I’m going to use other people’s pictures as much as I can.

As part of our attempts to live healthier and lose weight (in case you haven’t heard, I’m down 15 pounds and in the healthy weight bracket for the first time in many years – very excited about that), we try to take at least a week every month and eat salads for our dinners. While it is true that salads can very easily be boring, there’s a few simple rules I follow when planning for them that make for really simple, healthy meals that still have ability to fill your stomach:

Jen Waller, Creative Commons via Flickr

Rule #1: Buy a Huge Tub of Greens

We buy the pound tubs of mixed salad greens because we find we can get 4-5 meals out of them. It’s a lot of greens for two people and about $6. Sometimes, if they’re on sale, you can get ’em for $4-5. This really helps stretch your meals and your budget. The big tubs (or bags, but I prefer the tubs since the bags aren’t typically re-sealable) come in a variety of types of greens, so even if you’re not a fan of the crazy bits and pieces pictured above, you can still go with a tub of romaine or spinach that will give you more nutrition than a head of iceberg.

_SoFie, Creative Commons via Flickr

Rule #2: Find Good Deals on Veggies

Good veggies are key when it comes to a salad. I love bell peppers more than I probably should (and more than Chris would like me to). I’ll go out of my way to find good deals on peppers, usually at stores that are more like local farmers’ markets than supermarkets. Sometimes the bigger chains will have 10 peppers for $10 or something like that, but most of the time any color other than the greens can be $2-3 apiece. That’s why I like places like Sprout’s or Sunflower. Most of the time, reds, yellows, and oranges aren’t more than $1 apiece, and they often run specials like 3 reds for $1. That’s when I definitely know we’re having salads for the week. I stock up on peppers, go home and chop them up all at the same time. and store them in a plastic container in the fridge.

This is a great game plan for your veggies. If you know you’re going to be eating a bunch of them over the course of the week, come home from the store, rinse everything off, chop everything as small as you need it for the week and store it in various plastic containers. It makes preparation the day of a ton easier, and while it may take a while to chop everything, you’re only washing the cutting board and knives once. Totally a great thing for me.

Other veggies that are great: carrots, celery, tomatoes (if you like that sort of thing), snap or snow peas, avocado, cucumber… pretty much anything that you like to throw on a salad is fair game. And the great part about veggies is that most of them are nearly calorie-free since they are primarily made up of water – a great way to get full without empty calories.

Lisa Clarke, Creative Commons via Flickr
Rule #3: Be Smart about Empty Calories
First confession: I am a carbohydrate, cheese, and salad dressing junkie. It is a problem. One thing that I’ve been finding, however, as I’ve continued in trying to lose weight is that those three things are what can give me a good day or a bad day – and they can stretch a lot further than I think they can. 
Second confession: I have become one of those people who measure things out. I’m not always exact, grabbing for the nearest measuring device (who wants to clean extra things every day? Not me!), but I have gotten used to eye-balling and knowing how much my fingers can pick up of dry goods. Get to know the information on pre-packaged products. It’s good to realize that two tablespoons of something might contain 60 calories, but will be perfectly sufficient in adding that extra bit of salty crunch that us carbohydrate lovers crave. Likewise will two tablespoons of dressing be sufficient for a dinner-size salad, and just one for a side salad.
The empty calories are where restaurant salads, and sometimes even homemade ones if you’re not careful, can easily turn from something healthy to I-should’ve-just-eaten-a-burger-and-fries. 
I love Fresh Gourmet’s tortilla and wonton strips – we use them on just about every salad we make. They also have good crouton varieties if you’re a crouton person. Since they’re not really greasy, they make great additions that I can still feel good about.
The other killer of healthy meals is salad dressing. Vinaigrette dressings are typically lower-calorie than cream-based dressings, but some types of salads call for that lovely helping of ranch. Just be careful. Measure if you’re uncertain as to how much you’re adding. A good salad dressing swap out and portion can easily take off 100 calories. Remember, two tablespoons is more than sufficient!
A tablespoon or two of cheese also goes a long way, especially if it’s shredded. If we’re having salads for the week, I’ll often buy a pound or two of the shredded cheese that goes the best with most of the salads I plan to make.

ChiaLynn, Creative Commons via Flickr
Rule #4: Vary Your Proteins
Some can eat a salad for dinner without needing protein. I am not one of those people. One of the things that I love most about salads is that they can easily stretch our proteins – particularly when they are more on the expensive side. Find good marinades. If you want, cook meats in advance and store in plastic containers in your fridge. Make the most of the leftover lunch meat from your lunches. There are a lot of ways to get a good source of protein and, as long as you don’t suddenly have the urge to fry your protein, there are a lot of great ways to use spices and seasonings for great flavor that add very little calorically.
Chicken: Chicken doesn’t have to be complicated. You don’t always need a good marinade, but if you have a favorite for chicken, go ahead and use it. Use leftovers. Take a thawed or fresh boneless, skinless chicken breast piece and grill it on the George Foreman or outside (if you have a grill outside), or just put it in a skillet and cook it on the stovetop. There are a hundred ways to cook good chicken. I really like a good sprinkle of Chesapeake Bay style seasoning. 
Eggs: Not everyone is a fan of the hard-boiled egg, but I am. It’s a great, healthy, lower-calorie protein that works really well in most salads. Normally, you’ll only need one. Or try a fried or poached egg if you like those better. The yolks can mix some really great flavor in with your dressing.
Fish & Seafood: Salmon, tilapia, shrimp, scallops, and just about anything that’s not terribly fishy (unless you like fishy fish) make for really great salads. It’s also a great way to get seafood without paying for a whole pound. For the two of us, we often buy one fillet of fish – which means $3-4 instead of $6-8.
Beef: Beef can also make a great salad. With ground beef, add a packet of taco or fajita seasoning and make yourself some taco salads. We find we can get four salads out of a pound of ground beef this way. With a tri-tip or strip steak, find a good marinade and make an Asian-style salad. There’s a lot of variety with beef.
Pork: Pork can be a little dry if you’re not careful. I find it’s best if it’s a roast cut that has been cooked in a slow cooker (like carnitas). Great for leftovers in this way. Avoid loin and chop cuts unless you’re really into pork, and make sure that you have a really great marinade to add flavor if you use those cuts.
Lunch Meat: Deli meat can be a great, low-calorie option. Just take a slice or two, cut it up and add it to your salad. A simple way to use such things up before they go bad just sitting in your fridge.
Our Favorites:
Taco Salad: Brown one pound of lean ground beef. Add packet of taco seasoning (like Old El Paso). For each person, put 2-3 cups of greens in a large bowl (not like a soup bowl – a large bowl) or on a plate, add 1/3 cup red bell peppers, 1-2 tablespoons mixed Mexican/mixed shredded cheese blend, 1 tablespoon each of sour cream and spicy ranch dressing (Hidden Valley makes a spicy ranch that is really good), and 2 tablespoons of Fresh Gourmet Santa Fe Style tortilla strips, and put 4 ounces (a 1/4 of the pound) of the meat on top. Mix and enjoy. About 550 calories per serving.
Salmon Salad: We don’t always cook our fish with much seasoning. Salmon, specifically, has such a great flavor on its own that we just kind of let it be. We typically just make sure that there is some oil on both sides so that it doesn’t burn while cooking, sometimes mixing in some lemon juice or fresh herbs dependent upon what we have on hand. We prepare much the same salad as above (greens, peppers, cheese, other veggies), subbing Fresh Gourmet’s Garlic Ginger wonton strips (which I might be able to eat without ceasing) and a nice vinaigrette like roasted red pepper or sun-dried tomato. If we do an Asian marinade (like the “Asian Ginger Grill Marinade” from allrecipes.com), we sometimes use a balsamic or champagne vinaigrette (find light champagne dressing – it still tastes great, but has considerably fewer calories). If you use about 4 ounces of fish per salad, you end up with about 350 calories per serving.
Steak Salad: Steak is a rare treat in our house and we try to make it stretch when we have it. Often, we’ll look for a cheaper tri-tip on manager’s special or a good skirt steak or something good for marinating. We’re not too picky about our marinades unless it’s a special occasion, choosing vinaigrette salad dressings for a quick marinade before cooking. If it’s a special occasion, we might opt for something amazing and time-consuming like the “Tangerine Beef with Scallions” recipe from the Great Easy Meals cookbook. We typically use croutons or the Ginger Garlic wonton strips with steak, and a vinaigrette dressing instead of a cream-based one – naturally in the same proportions used in the salads above. Shredded mozzarella or a softer cheese like feta work really well with this type of salad. All sorts of veggies are great additions, resulting in about 400 calories per serving.
A really long post, to be sure, but thanks for sticking with me. I didn’t used to consider salads as meals, but have been grateful for the variety they offer while not sacrificing flavor in my efforts to lose some weight. They can be really flexible, easy-to-prepare options that stretch your budget, your proteins, and your calorie count.

Weekend Workroom: Two Favorite Recipes

Thanks for bearing with my inconsistency… our camera is totally on its last leg (if it hasn’t already finished its last leg – we’re still waiting to figure that out), and the result is that I’ve been preoccupied and not quite able to get into my groove. I’m hoping to stockpile some entries this weekend so that they’re ready to go for next week. I think that’s how most people do it, anyway…

Regardless, I wanted to share two of our favorite recipes. One is a more recent find and one was adopted really early into our marriage. Both are super-simple, so I hope you might give them a try as well!

One of our more recent finds has been Broccoli Chowder with Cheddar Toasts from the Great Easy Meals cookbook put out by the Food Network. I received the cookbook as a birthday gift last year, and almost everything we’ve made from it has been simple and has tasted amazing. This soup has a great base to it, which means it’s versatile – you can make almost any kind of chowder using the base and I’m fairly certain that it would be excellent. Granted, it has bacon in it, so unless you don’t like bacon it kind of has to be great, right?

Anyway, we’ve adapted it a little to suit our own tastes, but the original recipe can be found here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/broccoli-chowder-with-cheddar-toasts-recipe/index.html

The first thing we changed is kind of major – we use half a pound of bacon instead of two slices. We use bacon a lot as our protein in the winter because you can use half a pound at a time in soups and get a lot of eating out of it. Especially if you can find a great deal on bacon, it’s a great meat to use.

As with just about all of my soups, I add more vegetables than recipes call for, and here we added a small can of yellow corn, the broccoli was frozen rather than a fresh head (for approximately a dollar a bag for the store brand, I love the freshness and convenience of the frozen vegetable section), and I think I put in more potatoes than I’m supposed to, but I love potatoes.

It becomes a really colorful and flavorful soup when it’s all put together. Easily good for four servings, and since it uses milk instead heavy cream or half and half to give it its cream base, it’s a lot better for you than most cream soups, too.

We also don’t make the “cheddar toasts,” partly because I’m trying to be a bit healthier than cheese broiled on bread most days, but also because there’s something great about how a simple whole-grain baguette or piece of bread just tastes better. At our grocery store, they have take and bake baguettes, which are awesome because I don’t have to make it right away to prevent it from going crusty – I can make it when I’m ready. Whoever came up with that = genius.

This last time, we also sprinkled some fresh cilantro from my garden on top. Great light flavor that ties in really well with the whole thing.

The other recipe is a really simple way to make chicken fajita mixtures, which we turn into enchiladas. I adapted it out of a slow cooker cookbook several years ago, and it’s one of the great meals we look forward to fairly regularly.

Therefore, The Reynolds’ Chicken Enchiladas:

Ingredient List
12 oz. red salsa (fresh or canned; medium is best heat level)
1.5-2 lbs of boneless, skinless chicken (can be light or dark meat)
1 bag frozen 3-pepper and onion blend
   or 2.5-3 cups sliced yellow onion and colored bell peppers
6-8 tortillas
1.5-2 lbs mixed cheese (colby jack, Mexican blend, etc.)
1 small can diced green chilies (from Old El Paso or Hatch)
olive oil spray

The first thing is to spray the slow cooker well with an olive oil spray. I prefer olive oil, but you could use most any other cooking spray that isn’t butter (unless you really like butter) – there’s a few varieties to choose from at just about every grocery store.

Start layering. Dump the salsa into the bottom, and make sure it coats the bottom before adding more ingredients. You can just pick up the slow cooker and swish it around to do this. Then, place your chicken on top of the salsa. The salsa is your liquid, so this helps the chicken be really tender and fall apart at the end of the cooking process.

I love that this recipe is really versatile when it comes to the chicken you use. We’ve tried it with chicken breasts (light meat) and thighs (dark meat), and it has been great every time. You can also use either frozen or fresh chicken pieces, so even if you don’t have time to defrost chicken before putting it in the slow cooker, it still works and works wonderfully.

After the chicken, layer in the onions and peppers. If you have extra pieces of fresh peppers lying around (this happens to us a lot, since there are only two of us), feel free to chop those up and add them in so that they don’t go to waste.

Cover and cook on low for 8 hours. At the end of the cook time, turn on the broiler for your oven.

When the filling is done, break up the meat with a pair of tongs or some forks and make sure the meat is well-mixed with the vegetables and remaining salsa. It should just fall apart.

Spray a standard 9×13 baking dish with the same spray used on the slow cooker, and begin rolling the filling into tortillas. For 8-inch tortillas, we use 3/4 cup filling for each, which typically results in 6-8 enchiladas, dependent upon how much chicken mixture you have and/or if you’d like to save some for nachos or quesadillas (it’s a very versatile mixture).

Over the rolled enchiladas, spread out the mild green chilies and the cheese (see first picture from above) and place the baking dish in the oven for broiling. Broil for a few minutes (keep a close eye on your meal) to melt the cheese and warm the tortillas a bit. Some like their cheese a little browned, and some don’t – so I’ll leave that up to you.
When desirably melted, remove from the oven and serve with sour cream, fresh cilantro, extra salsa, or whatever you would like to add to your dinner.

And there you go – simple, tasty chicken enchiladas!

Peaches & Recipes!

In honor of all the lifestyle and food blogs I’ve been gravitating toward lately, I digress from my usual program to bring you this:

I love Colorado peaches. Having spent many of my summers growing up on the Western slope as the crops came in, I’m all sorts of supportive for peaches and sweet corn.

So I purchased some peaches when I last went to the store, and we’ve been enjoying them. Sometimes right out of the fridge (cold and refreshing) and sometimes like this:

And sometimes like this:

We love peach crisp. Tasty stuff, especially fresh from the oven with a bit of (or a lot of) vanilla ice cream…

Seriously, though, we’re enjoying our new kitchen and have been trying to eat at home more. A few examples include carnitas in the crock pot (left) and honey chicken (right). Both are modifications off of recipes – the carnitas comes from a slow cooker book recipe for shredded beef, but I use pork and whatever peppers/chilies I can find, and the honey chicken is a Rachael Ray recipe, but with a lime-for-lemon juice substitution and some bell peppers for added flavor (and we don’t make the rice the way she does – just white for us, please).

If you’re interested, you can find the Rachael Ray recipe here:

The Reynolds’ Carnitas
(based on “Shredded Beef for Tacos” from Fix It and Forget It, p. 126)

4-5 lb pork roast, scored deeply on top (if smaller, just decrease veggies)
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves
1 tsp. salt
pepper to taste
1 cup water

Mix & match chilies based on desired heat level:
(Last time for us – mild chilies and four jalapenos, as we couldn’t find serranos)
2 serrano chilies, chopped
1 can (small – 4 oz, I think) mild chilies
2 seeded green jalapenos
2 seeded red jalapenos

Grease slow cooker (I prefer an olive oil spray, as it’s easy) and add meat (scored side up), onions, chilies, garlic, salt, and water. I prefer to put all of the veggies together before adding them in, but it shouldn’t make a difference in the outcome. I just make sure that they fall into the scoring, so the flavor seeps in through the middle of the meat as well as the outside.

Cover. Cook on High 6-8 hours. You can also cook on High for 4 hrs and then turn it to Low for 4 hrs – totally up to you.

Shred meat with forks. Put into tortillas with sour cream, cheese, rice, beans, lettuce, salsa – whatever your heart desires really. Leftovers are great for quesadillas, tacos, and a variety of other tasty foods.