Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cheesy Chicken Pasta Bake

This is my version of chicken spaghetti.... only without the spaghetti.  I just do not like spaghetti noodles.  Fettuccini, sure.  Angel hair.... maybe.  But not spaghetti.  It's one of my weird quirks.  So I decided to make a version of chicken spaghetti using an other type of pasta.  I made a few other slight changes to the recipe and the family loved it.


1 whole chicken, boiled and the meat shredded (I used a rotisserie chicken)
1 box Mezze Penne pasta - or any shape you like
1/2 large block of Velveeta (I used the 2%), cubed
1 can reduced fat cream of mushroom
1 can reduced fat cream of chicken
1 can Rotel, drained - I used mild but you can use any variety
1 jar mushrooms, drained
1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed to fine crumbs


Preheat oven to 450.  Spray a 9 x 13 casserole dish with non-stick spray.  Boil pasta according to the directions on the box.  I boiled mine a minute or two short because I can't stand mushy pasta and it will continue to cook a bit on the oven.  While the pasta is cooking combine the Velveeta, soups, Rotel and mushrooms in a large microwave safe bowl.  Microwave for 3 minutes at a time, stirring between, until the cheese is melted.  Stir in the shredded chicken.

When the pasta is done drain and place in the casserole dish.  Pour in the cheese and chicken mixture and stir well to combine.  Top with cracker crumbs.  Bake for 10-15 minutes, until the crust is golden.

Too bad I didn't have any frozen broccoli.  It would have been great in this dish.  Just thaw, pat dry and stit into the casserole dish before you put the crumbs on.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

WFMW - Favorite Kitchen Tools

I'm at a loss today for anything worthwhile to contribute to WFMW.  Yes, I'm taking the easy way out and spotlighting some of the tools I use most often in the kitchen.

I'm a sucker for kitchen stuff.... utensils, dishes, pots, pans, gadgets, appliances.  You name it, I need it!  I didn't realize how acute this had become until my husband and I had the opportunity to stroll through the mall last Saturday without any real purpose (or any children).  I couldn't care less about any of the department stores.  The clothing and shoe stores hold no power over me.  In fact, I really don't enjoy shopping much at all.  But then we stumbled upon Williams Sonoma!

I believe we spent almost an hour perusing every corner of the store while I ooohed and aaaahed over an assortment of culinary "necessities" that I have neither the funds to buy nor the space to store.  Then we hit up Home Goods and World Market!  By the end of the afternoon I had a list a mile long of various things that I just must have for my kitchen.  But until the day comes when a money tree sprouts in my backyard and my kitchen magically doubles in size I'm going to rely on the same trusty tools that have brought me this far.  I'll share some of my favorites.


Food Processor

It took me years to break down and buy a food processor.  I thought that anything I needed could be accomplished in my trusty (cheap) Oster blender.  Oh how wrong I was!  I use this more than any other appliance in my kitchen except my coffee pot.  Not only for the typical pureeing and grinding, but it grates a pound of cheese in SECONDS.  The fresh grated stuff is so much better (cheaper) than the preshredded bags but for convenience I have been buying them for years.  Not anymore!

Don't even get me started on pie crusts!  Who knew they were so easy?

Oh how I wish I had this when I spent months making baby food.  I can only imagine the time it would have saved.

Mesh Strainer

As a baker I'm almost ashamed to admit that I do not own a sifter.  I'm a firm believer in the sifting process and I know it makes a difference in the texture of baked goods, but I'm not a fan of the sifter itself.  They are a pain to clean and my mesh strainer works just fine.  It serves double (triple?) duty as a sifter/strainer/sieve in my kitchen. 

Flexible Cutting Mats

I use these mats instead of cutting boards.  It's easy as pie to transfer veggies or meats from the flexible mats to a bowl, pot or pan.  The labeled set of four allows you to use a different mat for each type of food and lessens the risk of contamination.

For more tips (on everything under the sun) visit Works for Me Wednesday and We Are THAT Family.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Afternoon at the Park

Yesterday afternoon the weather was gorgeous!  After weeks of colder than normal temperatures we've had quite a few mild days.  The weather was perfect for a trip to the park.  We fed the geese and spent some time on the playground.  We'll have to do it again soon when the older girls are home to play with us.

Tori isn't scared of the geese at all.  She tries to get them to eat out of her hand.  I'm a little more cautious.  I remember being chased by them as a kid.

You're never too old to swing!  It really was a beautiful day.

It was a little windy though.

I'm definitely going to need Botox in a few years! :-)

Slides are even fun for the big kids. :-)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

WFMW - Homemade (read "inexpensive") Body Scrub

Before I get to my WFMW post I want to take a moment to remind everyone to continue to pray for Haiti.  A magnitude 6.0 "aftershock" hit the area this morning.

There's just something about spa treatments that make a girl feel better.  But venturing to an actual spa for an actual treatment requires not only the time (and babysitting) but the money.  With this body scrub you can pamper yourself without breaking the bank.

Maybe it's the baker in me that loves this scrub because it smells so delicious!

Brown Sugar Body Scrub


1-1/2 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup olive oil (canola oil can be substituted)

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Blending Procedure:

Pour the brown sugar into a bowl and pack it tightly using the back of a spoon. Add the olive oil and mix together to form a paste.

Add the vanilla extract last for a hint of scent. Mix well.

To use, scoop some into the palm of your hand and massage gently from limbs to torso, avoiding broken skin and face. Rinse well.

Store in a jar in a cool place.  This also makes a great gift!  Use mason jars and ribbon to dress it up.  Don't forget the recipe so your friends can make more.

More WFMW tips can be found here!

Monday, January 18, 2010

P-Dub's Apple Dumplings

Actually, these would be correctly title Pioneer Woman's Momma's Apple Dumplings, but who cares what you call them.  Just make them!  But make them when you have a few people to feed them to.  They are by no means anywhere close to healthy (look at all that butter and sugar!) and are also so, so good that you'll be up sneaking bites in the middle of the night.  Don't ask me how I know.

Apple Dumplings from The Pioneer Woman Cooks


2 whole Granny Smith Apples

2 cans (8 Oz. Cans) Crescent Rolls

2 sticks Butter

1-½ cup Sugar

1 teaspoon Vanilla

Cinnamon, To Taste

1 can (12 Oz.) Mountain Dew Soda - Both PW and I only used about half a can.  I accidentally bought diet and it was fine.

Preparation Instructions

Peel and core apples. Cut each apple into 8 slices each. Roll each apple slice in a crescent roll. Place in a 9 x 13 buttered pan.

Melt butter, then add sugar and barely stir. Add vanilla, stir, and pour entire mixture over apples. Pour Mountain Dew around the edges of the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Serve with ice cream, and spoon some of the sweet sauces from the pan over the top.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Prayers and Assistance for Haiti

Unless you've been living in a hole the past few days you have heard of the 7.0 earthquake that struck the already impoverished nation of Haiti.  The loss of life is estimated to be upwards of 40,000.  This nation, these people.... THEY NEED OUR PRAYERS!

They also need assistance.  I know that economic times are hard and you might not feel like the five or ten or even one buck you can contribute can make a difference, but it will.  Everything helps.  I've noticed that the blog world has shown an incredible outpouring of love, prayers and ways to help.  I'm providing links to a few and you can check out their suggestions for where/how to provide monetary assistance.

CakeWrecks - Doctors Without Borders

Run the Earth, Watch the Sky - Harvest International

The Pioneer Woman - She's having a giveaway and donating 10 cents for each entry.  That might not sound like much, but she's got quite a following and it really adds up.

Serious Eats - How to help send food.

If you want to donate actual items, Charity Chicks Houston posted this.

The Haitian Association of Houston is accepting donations of canned food, water, clothing, blankets, medical supplies and money from 7am-10pm through Friday (Multi-ethnic Community Center of Southwest Houston, 9819 Bissonnet St.). They will still be helping after Friday, but those hours are not confirmed past Friday.

The Houston Chronicle and KSBJ also have lists of places/organizations that you can donate to.

An unusual way to help - text "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts and the charge will appear on your cell phone bill.

I hope you choose to make a difference!   Please keep praying!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Works For Me Wednesday - Speedy Softened Butter

This is the first time I've participated in Works For Me Wednesday (WFMW).  It's a blog carnival hosted by Kristen at We Are THAT Family.  If you don't read her blog..... START!  Every Wednesday participating bloggers post a tip on their blog and a link on We Are THAT Family.  There are tips for EVERYTHING there, saving time, saving money, cooking, homeschooling... everything.  I think this is going to be fun!

My first WFMW tip is pretty simple.  I'm always hit by a sudden urge to bake something.... and it never fails that what I choose to bake calls for softened butter.  But who wants to wait hours for butter to come to room temperature?  Maybe you have the patience for that, but I'm still lacking in that department.  So here is my solution.

Set your oven to begin preheating to the lowest setting.  Let it heat for about 5 minutes, then turn it off.  You may even need to leave the door ajar to let some heat escape.  You want it to be warm in there, but not hot at all.

Cut butter into small cubes on a cutting board.  The smaller the cubes, the faster it will soften.  This has to do with increasing the surface area of the butter that is exposed to warmer temperatures, therefor decreasing the time it takes to raise the temperature of the butter.  (Thanks Alton Brown for being a food nerd!)

Place the butter in the warm oven and check it after five minutes.  If it's not soft continue to check it every few mintues.  You do NOT want to melt the butter so make sure the oven isn't too hot and that you don't forget about it.

I hope this tip works as well for you as it does for me!

P.S.  It also works for cream cheese.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Parmesan Crusted Tilapia

Most if the time weeknight dinner at our house must be two things - super quick and relatively healthy.  Last year Troy asked if I would start cooking more fish.  Fish?  Seriously?  I eat fish two ways - batter fried with a side of hush puppies or wrapped in a nori sheet with sticky rice and plenty of wasabi.  Either way... the fish is prepared by someone else.  Cooking fish isn't something I do at all, not to mention well.  But I've never been one to turn down a challenge in the kitchen, so if Troy wanted me to cook fish, I would cook fish.  This recipe has been the most successful by far.

Tilapia is a mild, inexpensive and readily available fish.  You can find it in the frozen seafood section.  It's usually sold in individually frozen fillets.  This recipe is flavorful and crispy on the outside, flaky and moist on the inside.  It shouldn't be mushy or fishy at all.

Parmesan Crusted Tipalia


6-4 oz. tilapia fillets
1 cup breadcrumbs (you can use store bought or make your own.  In a pinch I have run croutons through my food processor.)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese (Grate your own, preshredded, even the powdered stuff would be okay.)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp italian seasoning
1 tsp cajun seasoning (Use more if you want.  Use whatever dried seasonings you like!)
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper


Preheat oven to 450.  Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick spray, or if you have baking racks set them on the baking sheet and spray with nonstick spray.  Using the racks will keep the fish crispier on the bottom as well.

Place breadcrumbs, cheese and seasonings in the blender or food processor and process just until everything is combined.

Place olive oil in a small bowl and the breading on a plate.

Rinse each fillet and pat dry with paper towels.  Brush both sides with olive oil and coat with breading, pressing to make sure it sticks.  Place fillets on the baking sheets or racks.

Press a bit more breading onto the top of each fillet and let them rest for about 5 minutes.

Bake for 12 - 15 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

Serve with steamed or roasted veggies and a salad for a quick, healthy dinner.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Dealing with Anger?

Until now, most of the time this blog has been used for general musings, pictures of the kids, and of course recipes.  But today I've decided to talk about a subject a little close to home and personal for me..... anger.  Writing a blog post about it forces me to dig deep into scripture to uncover what God has to say about the subject.  And I get to share what I find with anyone out there interested in reading it.

I will be the first to admit that I struggle with anger on almost a daily basis.  Then I struggle with guilt over being angry.  I mean.... the Bible says that anger is wrong, right?

Well, yes and no.

Psalm 37:8 says "Cease from anger and foresake wrath; Do not fret, it leads only to evildoing. For evildoers will be cut off, But those who wait for the LORD, they will inherit the land."

Anger can lead us to do evil.  Anger, the emotion is not evil but it can give the devil wiggle room in our minds and our hearts.  If unchecked it can lead to wrath and fury, causing us to sin.

In Ephesians Paul gives Christians a set of standards to live by.  Among them are refences to anger.

"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold."  - Eph 4:25-27

Also, verses 31 and 32 - "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."

Anger is a naturally occuring emotion.  What we do with our anger is our choice.  God tells us not to STAY angry, not to let our anger evolve to WRATH and cause us to sin.

"A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control" - Proverbs 29:11

"How much more grevious are the consequences of anger than the causes of it." - Marcus Aurelius

Anger itself is not a sin.  The Bible contains accounts of times when Jesus became angry.  (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 3:5)  Jesus was without sin!  Therefore, anger is not a sin, it is neither wrong nor right (or for a more grown up word we can say it is amoral).  The anger displayed by Jesus is true righteous anger.  Jesus was angered not at a personal attack on him.  And He handled His anger in a appropriate way.  To learn how to deal with our own anger we can look at how Jesus dealt with His.

Got Questions Ministries lists the following six traits of Jesus' anger.

1) His anger had the proper motivation. In other words, He was angry for the right reasons. Jesus’ anger did not arise from petty arguments or personal slights against Him. There was no selfishness involved.

2) His anger had the proper focus. He was not angry at God or at the “weaknesses” of others. His anger targeted sinful behavior and true injustice.

3) His anger had the proper supplement. Mark 3:5 says that His anger was attended by grief over the Pharisees’ lack of faith. Jesus’ anger stemmed from love for the Pharisees and concern for their spiritual condition. It had nothing to do with hatred or ill will.

4) His anger had the proper control. Jesus was never out of control, even in His wrath. The temple leaders did not like His cleansing of the temple (Luke 19:47), but He had done nothing sinful. He controlled His emotions; His emotions did not control Him.

5) His anger had the proper duration. He did not allow His anger to turn into bitterness; He did not hold grudges. He dealt with each situation properly, and He handled anger in good time.

6) His anger had the proper result. Jesus’ anger had the inevitable consequence of godly action. Jesus’ anger, as with all His emotions, was held in check by the Word of God; thus, Jesus’ response was always to accomplish God’s will.

If we keep these in mind we can deal with our own anger in a way that is pleasing to God instead of letting it become a destructive force. 

My prayer for today is that I have the strength to let go of my anger and the selfishness that I use to justify it, to replace it with the love and forgiveness that God has shown to me.

Have a blessed Friday everyone!  Stay warm!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Better than the Best Hot Chocolate

Since the weather man forecasts a 25 degree drop in temperature today I figured now was the perfect time to post this dreamy hot chocolate recipe that my sweet friend Karen shared.  Actually, my oldest girls whipped up a double batch of this in no time flat last night so it's super easy to make.  A double batch was a really baaaaad idea since it's also very, very (almost too) good and I now have quite a bit of it calling me from the fridge.  I meant to try it my coffee this morning, but (luckily for my waistline) I forgot all about it.

Here's what you need:

1 can (14oz) Sweetened Condensed Milk

1 pkg (6oz) Chocolate chips

1 tsp Vanilla... See More

1 cup cool whip

Here's what you do:

Combine Milk & Choc chips in bowl, cover and microwave 2-3 minutes, stirring twice, or until most of chips are soft. Stir until choc melts. Stir in vanilla and let cool. Fold in Cool Whip. Cover & store in frig for up to 2 weeks.

To serve, spoon 3 Tblspns of mixture into mug & fill with hot milk (or do what I do, put mixture in mug with cold milk and heat in microwave, stir and enjoy!)

It was such a wonderful treat last night topped with a spoonful of the extra Cool Whip!  Some sweetened, whipped cream would be great if you have that handy or mini marshmallows and chocolate shavings!  I bet the fat free sweetened condensed milk and Cool Whip would work fine if you wanted a less guilt inducing version..... but where's the fun in that?

Thanks Karen for the great recipe!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Baby, It's Cold Outside - Chilly Weather Chicken and Dumplings

We're in for record setting lows this week here in Southeast Texas.  While much of the country would laugh at our lows in the 20's, we're just not used to that here.  It's time to wrap the pipes, cover the plants, build a fire, and have a warm, hearty dinner. 

This isn't the chicken and dumplings recipe that I grew up eating.  It's not even close, but it's quick and tasty and the whole family enoys it.  A friend's husband made it for us once and then lost the recipe.  I've recreated it as best I could and let me just say, it's pretty darn good.  It makes enough for two big meals, but I'm not sure how well it would freeze.  Also, this is definitely more a semi-homemade recipe than from scratch.  But sometimes we need all the help we can get in the evenings.


3 stalks celery
1/2 medium onion
2 carrots
1 Tbs butter or olive oil
1 whole chicken (I used the rotisserie chicken from the grocery store)
1 large can cream of mushroom soup
1 large can cream of chicken soup
1 large carton (32 oz.) chicken stock
1 1/2 - 2 cups milk
2 cans regular sized refrigerated biscuits (not the Grands, the little cheap ones are great)
salt & pepper


Chop celery, onion  and carrots pretty small (fine dice).  They should be about 1/4 inch pieces.  You want these to cook thoroughly so be sure they aren't too big.  Or if you want crunchy veggies in your dumplings (eww) make them bigger.

Melt butter or oil in a large stock pot and saute vegetables on medium heat until the onions are translucent and the vegetables all begin to soften. 

Add chicken stock, bring to a simmer and cook for about 10-15 minutes. 

While the veggies are cooking, remove the chicken from the bones and shred it.  Save the bones and the trimmings from your vegetables to make chicken stock if you want.

Add both cans of soup to the pot and stir thoroughly (or wisk) until it is smooth.  Stir in the milk until it is the consistency you like.  You might want to add more milk after you add the dumplings, as it will thicken up a little.

Bring the pot to a boil and cut or tear the biscuits into small pieces.  I like to have smaller dumplings, so I cut them into 10-12 pieces per biscuit.  You can make them bigger, just be sure to cook them a bit longer.

Turn the heat down so that the pot is simmering and drop in the dumplings one at a time.  You might have to stir a couple of times to get them all in the pot.  Stir in the chicken and let everything simmer for 10 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.

This is perfect with a warm, crusty bread and even better as leftover for lunch the next day!