It's a Wonderful Life

It is a wonderful life.  I am on Day 16 of my 30 Days of Thankfulness exercise and today am thankful for gratitude - for doing the 30 Days of Thankfulness in and of itself.  It's been such a blessing to me this month to force myself each morning to consider the good, when there have been days it would have been easier to dwell on the bad. Yet, rarely in life are the easy things the things that are good for us, so I pushed myself forward into gratitude, and have found a world of happiness.

The biggest news I have to share just happened two nights ago.  If you read this blog regularly, then you already know that our family has been struggling with finances a bit since WineStyles closed and we lost my paycheck.  Brian, in the meantime, was due for a raise at his job, but due to the poor economy did not receive one.  That left this family pretty much at the poverty line, which was scary, but in all fairness I never felt "poor" or like we didn't have enough.  Regardless, living that close to disaster was not sustainable, so Brian has been aggressively seeking other employment for two months.  Monday night he had an interview with an exciting, smaller engineering company downtown seeking an engineer with an artistic background.  Um, hello BFA in painting! :) He interviewed with the owner for 3 hours and was offered the job on the spot!  For more money than we had asked for!  And he starts just after Thanksgiving!

This means a huge change for our household.  We can release the choke-hold on the wallet a little.  We will be buying some Christmas presents for the kids, and now we can also give a little to others.  I hope we can even give a little to those we don't know, to those who need the help - to be able to be a blessing to others in the way that so many have blessed us during this time. That would warm my heart tremendously.

Last night I taught a cooking class, too! That was equal parts stressful yet totally fun.  A strange brew of adrenaline that had me unable to settle into sleep until early morning, which worked out because Liam was up, too.  I demonstrated several recipes from the upcoming cookbook, and I think it went well.  I haven't heard otherwise and everyone seemed to have fun, so I'll dub it a success! Plus, it marks the official end to my "professional" cooking for the Holidays.  Yes.  I am taking the Holidays off, from now until New Year's. I'm sorry to those that have come to depend on me for food each week, but I just feel this is something I need to do for my family so that I can focus on my kids.  I've not yet had a Holiday with them where I wasn't working in the service industry, and therefore had certain expectations and limitations on my time, as do most working adults.  I look upon this year as a blessing, and one I intend to grab hold of and work for all I've got.  I foresee lots of games, cookies, crafts, and songs in our future with the free time, and that means lots of memories that can keep me warm when my kids are older.

For the cooking class I had a friend of mine that is a family photographer (the same one that did our family photos in Brown County) come to take some "action shots" for the cookbook.  Earlier in the week, too, we had her come to our house early in the morning to photograph us making breakfast as a family (complete with jammies!).  Both photo shoots were amazing.  The jammy shots with the kids are just breath-taking - they were SO relaxed and happy! Anyway, I'm so impressed with them I have to share a few of my favorites and then direct you all to book sessions with her at www.lillybugphotography.com. The first two are lower resolution because I pulled them from facebook - so FYI.  :)

So, pretty cool, eh? This was the final piece of the puzzle for the cookbook.  Which means, yes, I will be adding a cookbook page where you will be able to place a pre-order via paypal by Friday.  Truly.  :)  I just want to ensure I have the price correct before I start charging people, so have been waiting for these photos to insert, upload to the publisher, and get a cost analysis.  But Friday - that's the day! Come hell or high water. :)

Last night I needed a make-ahead meal for the family to eat while I did the class, but I also didn't want something super heavy or crockpot-y because I knew I'd feel kind of sick when I finally got home and around to eating.  Weeks ago I had pinned a recipe for chicken enchiladas on Pinterest and decided last night was the night! And can I just tell you they were scrumptious? And Chloe LOVED them, like she ate the whole thing kind of love.  Score!

The original recipe can be found here.  What I'm posting is only tweaked ever so slightly to be a tad spicier, and to include more of the marinade as the flavor and less of the enchilada sauce.

Honey Lime Chicken Enchiladas
Yield: about 6 adult servings

1/2 C honey
1/3 C lime juice
1 T plus 2 t chili powder
sea salt and pepper
3/4 t garlic powder
1 pound chicken of choice, I used boneless skinless breasts
1 package fajita size flour tortillas
1 pound monterey jack cheese, shredded
1 C heavy cream
1 small can, around 8 to 12 ounces of green, mild, enchilada sauce

First poach the chicken in water or chicken broth for 30 minutes.  Remove it to a cutting board and run the knife through it while piping hot (hold it steady with a pair of tongs) so that it shreds.

Meanwhile, combine the honey, lime juice, chili powder, sea salt and pepper, and garlic powder in a mixing bowl large enough to accommodate all the chicken, too.  Once the chicken is shredded add it to the bowl and let it marinade at least 1 hour, though up to 1 day or overnight is best.

To prepare, remove the chicken from the marinade and save the marinade.  Spread about 1/3 of the can of enchilada sauce on the bottom of a glass baking pan.  Take 1 flour tortilla, a good handful of the chicken, and a palmful of the cheese, and roll it up, then place it seam side down into the enchilada sauced baking pan.  Continue on until you fill the pan, pushing firmly each enchilada up against the other so they stay rolled (and to get more yummy enchiladas in the pan!).  If you have chicken leftover - freeze it.  Yummy on nachos, in tacos, or for more enchiladas!

To finish, combine the remaining enchilada sauce, the reserved marinade, and the heavy cream with a whisk, then dump it all over the enchiladas.  Top with the last of the monterey jack cheese, and if you feel like it a bit of sharp cheddar.  Bake uncovered for 30 minutes.  Yummo!

Another recent crowd-pleaser was the Sicilian Rice Ball Casserole I made a few weeks ago.  Chloe mistrusts rice most of the time for some reason, so I'm pushing more on her trying to encourage her to get over it. :)  This was pretty simple, very filling, and was less "weighty" than a traditional lasagna, which I liked. The original recipe can be found here.  Naturally I tweaked it.  :)  The original version is a "skinny" version that utilizes ground turkey.  I went for more flavor, but subtracted lots of rice in exchange.  The original made a sandwich, almost, to replicate the rice ball, which is rice filled with meat and sauce.  So, I understand the sandwich sentiment, but found the flavor to be spot on and more well-balanced this way.

Sicilian Rice Ball Casserole
Yield: about 6 adult servings, a half steam pan (roughly 8 x 11)

1/2 C long grain white rice
1 C water
2 pounds sweet italian sausage
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 sweet onion, diced
1 C frozen peas
sea salt and pepper
2 C marinara sauce of choice, divided
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 C grated parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 C bread crumbs
1/4 C melted butter
about 1 C shredded mozzarella

Cook the rice in water and season with salt.  Spread onto a sheet pan in an even layer to cool in the fridge until you're ready to use it.  If you will immediately prepare the dish, skip that step.

Meanwhile, brown the sausage with the ground beef and onion, seasoning as you go.  Drain the grease. Return the meat to the pan and add the peas, 1 1/2 C marinara sauce, and a little more salt.

Combine the cooked rice with the beaten eggs, 1/2 C of the parmesan cheese, and the remaining 1/2 C marinara sauce.

On the bottom of the casserole dish, spread the melted butter and sprinkle the bread crumbs over.  Spread the rice mixture, pressing it into the pan in an even layer.  Next add the meat and sauce. Sprinkle the mozzarella and remaining 1/4 C parmesan on top.  Bake covered at 400 for 20 minutes, remove foil and bake uncovered for 15 to 20 more minutes.  Serve.  You can add ricotta on top, but I found it kind of unnecessary frankly.

Lastly, I was asked to bring an egg dish to MOPS recently, and settled on something truly yummy.  A long time ago I was in charge of baking the quiche at a local restaurant, and devised several tasty flavors that are still in use if one was to go there right now.  Since I've decided quiche isn't my favorite thing in the world after much trying (it's too rich....) I have long wondered how best to utilize some of my favorite quiche flavors in a new way.  Enter the strata - the best breakfast invention ever.  :)  This is what I will be making for Thanksgiving morning!

Spinach and Bacon Strata
Yield: about 6 servings

1 pound frozen spinach, thawed and thoroughly pressed/squeezed/drained
1 sweet onion, diced
1 pound bacon, cooked crisp and chopped
4 T butter
sea salt and pepper
1/2 t garlic powder
a pinch of nutmeg
12 large eggs
2 C half n half
8 C french bread, diced into 1 inch cubes
1 pound italian cheese shredded blend (usually has mozzarella, provolone, and parmesan at the least)
1/2 C shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Bake bacon in the oven on a parchment lined baking sheet at 350 for 10 to 20 minutes (oven times will vary) until very very crisp - a little too crisp for simply eating as is.  Remove to a towel to drain, then chop up into pieces coarsely.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet and saute the onions until soft, then add the spinach, garlic, salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and toss it for 1 minute.

Combine the eggs with the half n half, more sea salt and pepper, with a large fork or whisk until well whipped.

Cut up the bread into cubes.

In a casserole or foil baking pan sprayed with Pam, add half the bread.  Layer half the spinach skillet mixture, then half the bacon pieces.  Top with half the cheese.  Layer the remaining bread, the remaining spinach, the remaining bacon, and the remaining cheese.  Dump the entire egg mix over top - it should come just about to the middle of the top bread layer.  If it doesn't, go ahead and whip up a few more eggs with more half n half and add that.  Cover with foil and set in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, preheat the oven to 350.  Uncover the strata, and bake for about 1 hour.  Slice and eat!

OK folks! That's all the time I've got, but hopefully that catches up the recipe train a bit and the news feed somewhat. :)  For now, there's a little boy just dying to watch the Polar Express again (he loves the train!!!) with his Mommy, and I am so ready for some snuggles. :)


  1. Congratulations on Brian's new job! Enjoy your holidays off, you deserve it. And I, your loyal customer, will be waiting when you decide to pick up the business cooking again. In the meantime, we won't starve. I'm thinking we might try that enchilada recipe, it looks fantastic!

  2. white eggs! You should have asked me and I would have brought you some pretty ones :P

    Congrats to Brian for the new job! That should make things much nicer all around :)

  3. @Melody - you're so sweet! :) I couldn't make you drive an hour to deliver me eggs, though they are very very tasty. I will, however, take some chickens off your hands come Spring if you like. ;)

    @Andrea - that enchilada recipe was so simple and you can prepare it in stages which would work really well for you. On a weekend, poach the chicken and freeze it, stick it in the marinade before bed, and before work prep it in the casserole to bake when you get home. Or something like that. :) Yes, it struck me as a really good "make-ahead" meal for busy nights.

  4. Or freeze it in the marinade. Now there's a thought!