Living, Learning & Loving La Vida Nueva

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Google Dinner

Unlike many of you who talk about recipes you've had for more years than I've been alive, which you found in old, worn out cookbooks, I fancy finding my recipes via my tried and true friend, Google.  Google and I are pretty tight; in fact, we keep up daily.  Whenever I don't know something, I pop it into my Google bar and see what it gives me.  I am also known to go to Google when I'm in need of an easy and yummy recipe.  By simply typing in "World's Best ____" I am bound to find a great recipe.  This time, I don't believe I used the "World's Best" trick.   I actually don't remember what I typed in to get this ham recipe.  But, it could easily pass for the World's Best Easy Ham. And the mac & cheese I found by Googling "crock pot mac & cheese."  Of course, when I saw that the recipe was from the queen of butter and fat herself, my Food network pal and role model (not really) Paula Deen, I knew this one would be great!

The macaroni and cheese isn't quite as easy as I like a crock pot recipe to be.  I prefer to dump, mix and go.  But, this one requires that you boil the macaroni for a few minutes first.  In the end, it makes the meal come together much quicker.  So, I guess it is worth it!

Begin by dropping your macaroni into boiling water.  It only needs to cook for six minutos, so don't forget about it back there.  The rest of the ingredients are, in fact, dump-and-goers and that makes a lazy crazy mama like me very happy.  So, while the noodles are cooking, into a bowl go the milk, cheese, butter, sour cream, eggs, soup, salt, pepper and ground mustard.  Lastly, drain your partially cooked noodles and pitch them in the cheese mixture.  Give it a good swirl around with a long handled spoon; drop it in the pot, park the lid on top, turn it on and let it go.

Paula Deen's Crock Pot Macaroni and Cheese

(Because I have edited the recipe slightly, I am not linking the original recipe here.  But, if you Google ;) Paula Deen Crock Pot Macaroni and Cheese, you can find it in less than a second.)

2 cups uncooked elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
3 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
1 (10 3/4 oz) can condensed cheddar cheese soup
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon dry ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Cook macaroni in boiling water for six minutes.  Mix all remaining ingredients together in a bowl.  When pasta has cooked for six minutes, drain and add to the bowl.  Combine and pour into a heavily greased crock pot and cook on high for two hours.

Contrary to typical crock pot rules, you will need to lift the lid and stir this occasionally so that it all gets incorporated and doesn't stick to the side of your crock pot.

Now for the ham.  This seriously couldn't get any easier, unless you want to fork out the dough for a ready to eat pig from Honey Baked Ham, which I don't.  So, try this instead.  Obviously, I am only cooking for two, so my ham is tiny.  In fact, today I am cooking 1/2 of a small pre-cooked ham.  So, you will likely do this a little differently if you are cooking for a larger crowd.

Bake ham, loosely covered, at 325 degrees for about fifteen minutes per pound.  About twenty minutes before cooking is finished, take the ham out and cover with glaze.  Replace in oven and finish cooking.

Balsamic Ham Glaze:

1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dry ground mustard

Mix thoroughly; pour over ham toward end of baking time.

Of course, if you are cooking a large ham, you can easily adjust these ingredients to fit the crowd you are serving.  Basically, you can't mess this up.   I've never actually measured it; I just pour some brown sugar in a bowl, add some vinegar until I get the consistency I want, then sprinkle the ground mustard on top and mix it all together.  It is yumm-o!  Even my not-so-ham-loving husband enjoys this meal.... At least, he doesn't complain about it.

Serve both super simple Google recipes with a little roasted broccoli (because I could almost exist solely on the stuff) and show your family you love them lotsa!


PS.  I don't know why the fonts sizes are wiggin' out on me.  Sorry.  I hope you have a microscope handy. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks and We Have a Winner!

True to my love for fall, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.  If I could chose where I would spend this day every year, it would be in the heart of New England.  Of course, my family would be there too, and we would be stuffing our faces with pie.  Even though I'm not in my perfect fall setting, I'm still spending turkey day with my family.  And pie is heavily involved.

This year I am especially thankful for my son.  Oftentimes I ponder how I could possibly love someone else like I love him.  He is a sweet treat throughout my day.  Truthfully, motherhood is more difficult than I expected it to be.  Understanding what he needs seems impossible at times.  He is teaching me patience;  I still have a long ways to go.  I am thankful for his smiles and giggles.  Daily he is changing before me and at times my eyes fill with tears as I watch him reach new milestones.  I love that he breathes heavily as he quickly crawls across the floor.  He is taking baby steps along the furniture now that he has learn to pull himself up and I can barely imagine him walking towards me.  It even melts me when he crawls up to me, yanks on my pants or slobbers on my leg as he wails, "Pick me up, Mommy!" in not so many words.

Watching Jonathan become a father this year has been one of the greatest joys of my life.  His patience puts mine to shame.  His adoration for his son is noticed by people everywhere - the grocery store, restaurants, gas stations to name a few.  He is a faithful leader, provider, husband and friend to me.  Plus, he's cute!  I couldn't be more thankful for him.

For the first time in our married life together, I have had a place of "my own" to make a home for my little family.  I am thankful for my little place to decorate, cook in and clean.

God has blessed me in more ways than I have space to write here.  He has grown me in my faith, love for Jesus and dependence on Him.  We thank Him daily for the life He has given us, the family and friends we share it with, and the opportunity to serve Him with it!

As promised, a winner has been selected for these Christmas coasters.  I am so excited about decorating for Christmas, I just might start this evening.  If my turkey slumber doesn't set in before I get to it, that is.  Oh yeah, the winner.  I put my pint-sized assistant (or is he quart-sized now?) to work after he woke up from his nap......

I handed him a basket holding the names of all you lovely ladies....

.....Which he eventually narrowed down to one.....

And the winner is......

Hannah Collins! Yours is the first one he pulled out!  I'll message you soon to get your mailing address!  I hope you have a fantastic holiday season full of love, joy and peace!

Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Corn Pudding and Autumn Cheer

This recipe for corn pudding comes from the Autumn cookbook by Susan Branch  which my sweet mama gave me for my birthday.  The book is as much a treat for your eyes as it is for your taste buds.   Peppered with art and stories, I have yet to tire of picking it up and nestling into my couch for a good look through.  During one of those times, I found this recipe and knew I had to give it a try.  It has a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper in it, which makes it uniquely spicy and ever so delicious!

Have you noticed this cookbook sitting on my bench of fall decorations?  I figured now is as good a time as any to show you my bit of fall decor before my home morphs into a Christmas wonderland (exaggeration) this weekend.

Kyle is rapidly expanding his ability to pull up on everything.

He loves to crawl up to this bench and yank all the decorations off.   He hasn't hurt anything yet, but I did have to move all my paraphernalia up a shelf on my bookcase.  I am trying to teach him what "no" means, but until then, I'd rather him not eat the wax out of this cute candle while I'm not watching.

(See that lone KitKat back there?  He needs to be gone before Christmas candy goes out Friday.  To ensure that he was, in fact, outa here, I choked him down after I took these photos. Y-u-m!) 

A few bunches of faux (Doesn't faux sound so much nicer than fake?) leaves spruced up my bookshelf with little effort on my part.

Sadly, the weather here hasn't been very chilly yet (80 degrees today - not cool for fall).  And if it had, I wouldn't have been home long enough to enjoy it anyhow.  So far, I've only had a couple opportunities to snuggle under this handmade quilt.  But, it can stay out after the rest of my fall decorations go into hiding because it is just that special to me.

My kitchen table boasts a cornucopia and these turkey and acorn salt and pepper shakers I found on sale.  Hanging from a knob beside my sink is the sweetly scented, clove covered, cinnamon dunked apple which my precious sisters made as a school project, exploding with festivity as I do the dishes.

Now that we've toured my house, let's get back to cooking.  Isn't that what we came here for in the first place?  Yes.  So, the recipe.  It's simple.  It's sweet.  It's scrumptious.  It's spicy.  It's just what you need to get you in the holiday spirit.

First, heat your oven, grease your prettiest pan and set it aside.  Then, mix the corn, butter, cornbread mix, sour cream, egg and cayenne in a festive bowl and pour into your casserole dish.  Sprinkle the top with paprika to make it perk up a bit and pop it in the oven.  Wait an hour, open the oven and sniff; then take it out and serve it.  Easy as that!

Corn Pudding
One 14oz can corn, drained
One 14 oz can creamed corn
One cup sour cream
One egg, beaten
One box Jiffy cornbread mix
One stick of butter, melted
One forth teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350*.  Combine first seven ingredients in a bowl.  Pour into a greased 9X9 baking dish and sprinkle with paprika.  Bake for one hour or until middle is set and edges are golden brown.  Serve with warmed maple syrup, if desired.  

In my house, there's almost always enough for leftovers.  Perfect, that means I get to sit back and relax tomorrow evening!

Sadly, I didn't photograph as I made this delicious dish.  Not that it matters much, we all know what a yellowish corn goop looks like in a bowl.  The real curiosity comes out as you wonder what it looks like on a plate, drizzled with syrup, ready to consumed in a matter of minutes over a cheery conversation with an eight month old.

Don't forget to enter to win these cozy coasters - the drawing is on Thursday! Simply leave me a comment with your favorite Christmas carol and maybe, just maybe, you'll win!  I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving full of family, fun and feasting!


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

First Ever Blog Give-Away

Can you believe I've been doing this blog for nearly two years and have yet to give anything away? I've thought about it, but I never knew what to give!  So, the other day a light bulb flipped on.  Actually, it flipped for my mom so you can thank her if you win.

On my coffee table, which I found at the Goodwill for $8 (it is solid maple *proud*), sit four fabric coasters.  Begging for a warm mug of something sweet or a glass of iced water with lemon, they remind me of a place I am very fond of visiting.  I found them in one of my favorite shops to browse, Parson's General Store in Morehead City, NC.  Never been there?  I bet most people haven't.  But, it is a quaint ocean side town I've visited often.  My grandparents vacation there and we are always happy to join them.  The general store is an old, two-story home filled with country goodies.  There is a whole room of candles, and we've already established how much I love candles.  For the littles, there is a room of toys, trinkets, games, candy..... They sell hand dipped ice cream, local chocolates, homemade sauces, muffin and scone mixes, hand towels made of plaids and ginghams, Beanie Babies.....  Upstairs is a room filled with Christmas decorations year round.  Another room offers beachy trinkets, dishes, signs, bags and towels.  There are tons of signs with witty quotes, and in a bin nearby, I found these coasters.  I loved visiting this century old home turned country gift shop a couple weeks ago when we went to NC to play beach bums for a few days.  Picking up a few Christmas things was one of the highlights of my time there.

Oh yeah, I should show you the coasters, shouldn't I?

In case you missed my last sewing post, I have taken on learning to sew as my newest hobby.  So far, I have hemmed a few things, made some mini-aprons, smocked an insert for an outfit Lollee made for Kyle and now....

....With Christmas lurking just around the corner, I thought I'd make a few of these coasters in festive fabrics.  I sewed a set for me and a set for someone special out there.   Wouldn't these look nice in your home?  I hope so.

In leu of sassy sayings, I decided to write lyrics from my favorite Christmas carols.  On both sets, I wrote my very favorite carol stanza:

Yea, Lord, we greet Thee,
Born this happy morning...

 If you want a chance at winning the give-away, leave me a comment on here, on Facebook, in my email... and tell me your favorite line from a Christmas song.  I'll draw on Thanksgiving so you'll have ample time to enjoy them during the holiday season!

I hope you win!

And in case you don't, you can make a couple for your own coffee table like this:

To begin, cut a 4.5 inch square of patterned fabric, batting and a coordinating piece of backing fabric.  I obviously used a creamy white so I could write on mine.  But, if you want to skip the writing, you can just use two pieces of colorful fabric and switch them up a bit!

Before you begin sewing, make sure your three pieces are stacked with the white on the bottom, batting in the middle and the patterned piece UPSIDE DOWN on the top.  Then, just sew around all four sides 1/4 inch from the edge, leaving yourself an inch and a half or so in the middle of your forth side.

 Try not to get distracted by the adorable baby sitting at your feet playing with a measuring tape.

Your square should end up looking something like this, with the opening at the top.  Simply cut the edges off the corners, which will make the fabric lay smoother on the inside once you pull it through.

Turn your coaster right-side out.  Iron it flat, tuck the edge in where you left it unstitched, and sew around the the whole thing again a little less than 1/4 inch from the edge.

And there you have it, my friends, a cozy Christmas coaster.  But, you don't have to go to all that trouble.  Just enter to win the giveaway and you might just have four of these on your coffee table before the Christmas tree is up!


Saturday, November 12, 2011

California Chicken Salad

This is my all time favorite salad.  Combining sweet fruit, savory chicken and the fresh crunch of romaine lettuce, it creates the ultimate blend of flavors.  The whole thing is complimented perfectly by the balsamic vinaigrette dressing.  If the name sounds familiar to you, you have likely seen it on the menu at O'Charley's.  I've only copied the components and done my best to replicate the chicken.  Easy peasy and decadently delicious, you simply must try it.

You'll need:

Hearts of romaine lettuce
Boneless/skinless chicken breasts
Fresh strawberries
Craisins (dried cranberries)
Canned mandarin oranges
Candied pecans
Bleu cheese crumbles, if it strikes your fancy
Balsamic Vinaigrette

Making the pecans is easiest if you do it ahead of time.  They are simple but require a little attention so they don't over toast.  You can find the recipe here.  I made them exactly the way she did, but they were a bit soggy.  So, the next time, I popped them in the oven for about four minutes (whilst something else was baking; I hate to heat the whole oven just to do something for a couple minutes [not because I'm green; because I'm cheap!]) and they came out perfectly.  Don't forget about them in there though, or they'll be charred before you know it.

Season the chicken with a good blackening seasoning, like Chef Paul's, and cook thoroughly in olive oil on your stove top.

Sadly, sweet hubby doesn't eat salad.  He won't even touch the stuff.  So, since I am already making the chicken for my salad, I always make him his favorite meal, blackened chicken pasta.  This creates an absolutely chaotic kitchen mess, but everyone has got to eat....

While the chicken is cooking, you can prepare the fresh ingredients by chopping the lettuce and slicing the strawberries.  Then add the mandarin oranges, Craisins, and pecans.  When the chicken is finished doing its thing, slice it and arrange it atop the bed of colorful goodness you just created.  If you like bleu cheese, which I don't at all, then you can sprinkle that on top of the warm chicken.

Lastly, drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette.  After looking online and learning that O'Charley's balsamic vinaigrette is sold in some stores, I searched high and low for it and finally found it at Kroger.  Actually, it wasn't even on the shelf with the other refrigerated dressings; I asked the produce guy and he found it in the back.  Who knows why it was back there and not where people can buy it?  Nevertheless, I found it.  However, if you can't, certainly you can substitute another brand.  I bought Marie's before I found O'Charley's and it was good.  But, the O'Charley's is so gloriously tangy, it's really the best.

That's it, you ask?  Yep.  That's it.  Now just open your mouth, shovel it in and enjoy!  Oh, and in case you were wondering how dear husband's dinner turned out....

Always a big hit with him.  Brownie points.....


Monday, November 7, 2011

8 Months

No, I didn't forget about my baby's eighth month birthday.  I just haven't had a chance to sit down for more than a few minutes over the past week unless whilst consoling a cranky baby.  What was supposed to be a relaxing long weekend at the beach visiting my grandparents has turned into a long fuss session with a side of miserable teething.  While I hate to see my sweet boy in such pain, I am thankful it seems to be more tooth cutting than temper.  Although, he most certainly has a temper and doesn't get that from his mama ;) (maybe just a bit....)  My arms ache and my hips are well worn but, all in all it has been a fun few days.

Mr. Baby, who turned eight months old last Tuesday, has grown up a lot since last month.  He has now cut his bottom two teeth, his top two eye teeth and he's working on his two front teeth.  Yes, he has spent the past few weeks looking like a vampire.  Yes, we thought it was irresistibly adorable.  Perfect for the halloweeny season, right?  During this month he ditched rolling around for crawling backwards for a few weeks.  He is extremely impressed with himself for figuring out how to get into a sitting position on his own.  Sometimes he'll be on all fours and twist around to sit himself up only to get back on all fours and do it over again.  He doesn't get very far doing this, but it sure is funny to watch.  This week, he has really taken off with crawling forward all over the place; I can't take my eye off of him for more than a few seconds before I find him reaching for shoes or chewing the electrical cords.

Notice the shoes on the coffee table.

My granddad decided after observing him for less than 24 hours that he may have a future as an electrician, if he doesn't electrocute himself first.  I must get some outlet protectors as soon as I get back home.  I am stumped as to what to do about his cord obsession.  Any tips welcome.

He thinks he's big stuff when he pulls up onto his knees and gives me that "Hey, Mom, do you see this?!" look nearly every time.

This morning I turned around to find him climbing on the furniture..... 

Sticky situations are his specialty and he often finds himself needing a rescuer.

Lollee is happy to oblige.

He is still very cheap entertainment, as we have purchased no diapers, few wipes, mainly re-sale clothes and a whole three jars of baby food (emergency situations, I assure you).  I think we have at least another months worth of diapers left in his closet.  He is still nursing for most of his meals and for that I am thankful.  I love those sweet snuggle times with my boy and know I'll cherish them as long as I live.  He weighs in at a whopping 18.4 lbs fully clothed and my arms tell me so.  What a lug!  Chunky thighs are the best for squeezing and his feet are almost as thick as they are long.  We love it!

Today, during a teething lull, we went to play at the park with Aunt Maggie and Uncle Caleb.  Diverting his attention is the only way to keep him happy, and even then it doesn't always work.  Nevertheless, he seemed to very much enjoy swinging with the big kids.

Is that a crooked smile, or what?

And that scrunched up nose gets me every time.

After we left the park, we walked down the boardwalk to the beach and played in the sand a while.

He was too interested in the sand to look at me for a picture, but at least you can see how much hair he has.  Despite many suggestions that his hair is going to be red, I think it'll likely stay some shade of light brown.  In the right light, however, it will put on a strawberry tint and is it ever so adorable!  I thoroughly enjoy running my fingers through it and turning it into a mohawk in the bathtub.

Complete with strategically placed Fall Ducky.  

Sometimes I sit and hold him and ponder in disbelief that he is really my son.  I can hardly get my mind around it.  He gets more precious with every passing day.  <3