Thursday, August 16, 2012

Parmesan Crusted Chicken Fingers

During TBS, Luke's schedule was not quite conducive to normal marriage. He had late nights and early mornings, getting home around 9 pm and leaving around 4 am sometimes. I did not envy his schedule, especially during FEXes when he was sleeping in the woods and not bathing for a week at a time. I do love my husband very much for showering before he came home from the FEXes. To help the FEXes pass, we often got together at different wives' houses each night and the creative wives (not me) had themes. One of the best and strangest was the bacon and parmesan party (shout out to Andrea!). Everyone brought dishes that contained either bacon, parmesan, or both. One of the strangest yet most delicious things was the bacon chocolate chip cookies. Don't knock it til you try it. For this particular party, I made these parmesan crusted chicken fingers. Being as my tastebuds have not matured since childhood, chicken fingers are still my second favorite food of all time, second only to mac and cheese. I thought these were a step in the right direction for maturing my taste by disguising chicken fingers with the words "parmesan crusted." Dipped in some marinara, they were really delicious! There were no leftovers for Luke when he got back from the field, so I am going to make these for dinner tomorrow.

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs
1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 lb chicken tenders
1 tbsp Italian seasoning
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup marinara, heated

Preheat the oven to 450. Spray cooking spray on your baking sheet to prep. Put the flour in a shallow dish, and lightly beat the eggs in another shallow dish. In a third and final shallow dish, mix the Parmesan and breadcrumbs. In a bowl, toss the chicken tenders with the Italian seasoning, garlic powder, and salt. Coat each tender in flour, shaking off the excess, and then dip it in the eggs, again shaking off the excess. Roll the tender in the breadcrumbs and then place it on the baking sheet. When done with all the tenders, spray the tops of the chicken with cooking spray as well. Bake the tenders for 10 minutes, and then turn them over to cook 10 more minutes. Serve them with marinara, and maybe some bacon chocolate chip cookies? 

One Month at Fort Sill

Today marks one month of living at Fort Sill, so I thought it'd be a good time to reflect on some general impressions. My overall impression is that I am thankful that these are TEMINS orders and we have another duty station within sight. Downsides of living in a hotel: mini fridge, and I miss my kitchen. Some perks of living in a hotel: free breakfast every day and free dinner on Wednesday, and someone else makes the bed and vacuums! One quarter of this is our home for the duration of artillery school (4 months and 3 days left!).

I think the sky in Oklahoma looks extra blue.
Fort Sill is in a pretty remote location, 45 miles from Wichita Falls and about an hour and half from Oklahoma City. Lawton attractions include some national parks, casinos, and Walmart (that's right, no Target). We haven't made it to the national parks/wildlife reserve yet, mainly because up until this week, it has been 105-115 degrees every day. Hopefully we'll make it out there soon since it's starting to cool off!

So, here's what we have done. Literally everyone we know who has been to Fort Sill for any amount of time told us we had to go to Meers. It's a restaurant in the middle of nowhere (a pretty nowhere) that's been around since 1901. The area used to be mining country, and the restaurant has been named "best burger in Oklahoma." They raise their own cattle, and the beef is really lean. It was definitely a great  burger, and it's so big that they cut it into quarters for you. Luke had a giant bowl of cobbler, and he said it was really good too.

This is some of the scenery on the way to Meers (with no filter!). It was a pretty drive.
Before Luke started artillery school and we had weekdays off, we went to the Lake Elmer Thomas Recreation Area, which is on post but about 12 miles from where we live. This place is slightly (extremely) larger than Quantico. At LETRA, they have boat rentals, a water park, cabins for rent, camping areas, etc. We rented a canoe and spent the afternoon on the lake, and I even helped row for about 70% of the time. It was a really relaxing afternoon!

About a week after arty school started, we went to a Welcome to Fort Sill reception. At said reception, we had about $3 worth of meatballs, cheese, and pineapple and then learned the following day that we had to pay $30 for this lavish spread of appetizers. This military tradition will never cease to annoy me. Despite this, the reception was a great excuse to buy a new dress because I conveniently forgot to pack one, and all of my formal dresses are sitting in storage in Hawaii. I am so jealous of them!! 

Before we got here, we heard that Brad Paisley would be doing a free concert on post, so we had something to look forward to! The concert was last night, so I consider it a great close to our first month at Fort Sill. He opened with Camouflage, which was obviously perfect for a concert on an Army post. Despite sitting on the ground waiting for the concert to start for 3.5 hours, it was a lot of fun, and he put on a really good show! 

And here are some other random pictures I've taken since we've been here of nothing in particular. 

Powers Hall! Again, super blue sky

After a storm

Overall, Fort Sill is not great. Lawton is pretty boring, and I could understand alcoholism in this area. However, it's not all bad. There are some great gyms on post, the library is providing me with literary entertainment, and living on post close to everything is nice. We've really loved going to rodeos, and there's a frozen yogurt place here. Most importantly, my husband is home for dinner almost every night, so I am happy. We're going to keep looking for fun things to do here, even if it means playing Settlers of Catan in our hotel apartment.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Crock Pot Chicken and Biscuits

This is a little bit more healthy take on my Cheesecake Factory favorite. Luke must not have been too disappointed with the lack of fat in this recipe because he gave me the go-ahead to make it again. I am a big fan of all crock pot recipes right now because our hotel kitchen does not really have the space to support using several pots/pans/skillets, etc.

8 small red potatoes, diced
1 bag baby carrots (or 4 large chopped carrots)
3 celery stalks, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, chopped
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp sage
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 tbsp quick cooking tapioca
1 lb chicken breasts, cut into thick strips
1 cup chicken broth
1 bag frozen peas, prepared according to package.
2 oz Neufchatel cream cheese, cut into small pieces
1 can reduced fat biscuits (or made from Bisquick, or frozen - whatever you prefer)
gravy, optional

Combine the potatoes, carrots, celery, mushrooms, thyme, sage, salt, pepper, and tapioca in the crock pot. Lay chicken breasts/strips on top, and cover it to cook on low for 7 hours or high for 3.5 hours. After the 7 or 3.5 hours, remove chicken from the crock pot and shred it or cut it into smaller pieced. Put the chicken back in, and mix in the peas and cream cheese, stirring to mix all the contents. Recover and let it cook on low for 10-30 more minutes while the biscuits cook. Serve the chicken and veggies over biscuits, and top it with gravy if you want. I liked it just fine without the gravy, though.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Top 10 Reasons I Love the Rodeo

Since moving to Lawton, OK, we have been on the lookout for fun things to do. With tons of toll booths (that only take cash or exact change... really??) between us and all the big cities, we've tried to find things to do more locally, which has proved to be a challenge. After almost a month, our findings include movies on post ($3.50!!) and rodeos. My mom told me that several people she told about my visits to local rodeos were quite shocked that I would go to such a place, but the trust is that I am in fact capable of trading in my heels for cowboy boots from time to time. In the spirit of trying to love the place we've been planted, I have compiled a list of the reasons, in no particular order, why I truly love going to the rodeo, aside from the obvious tight jeans and boots.

  1. Teased hair is in style. All of my college friends know this is a big plus for me. 
  2. The announcer prays for the safety of the troops and for world peace before the events begin. This is a big plus in my book.
  3. The bigger the rhinestone cross on your boots/jeans/belt, the better. 
  4. Families go to the rodeo together, and I'm all about family-togetherness.
  5. There are many food-on-sticks options: BBQ chicken, fried chicken, and yes, even chocolate covered cheesecake.
  6. There is constant mention of Jesus, and we didn't even have to wait for Sunday!
  7. Beer is $2. No explanation needed.
  8. People actually sing the national anthem! Children even stand silently! Kudos to all these parents for their childrearing tactics. 
  9. There is politically incorrect humor, and people don't offended even if they don't agree with it. What a concept! 
  10. Finally, you can view and appreciate the artistic and individualistic creativity of many people in the form of tramp stamps. 
We have thoroughly enjoyed the 2 rodeos we have been to so far, and I'm sure we'll go to more. Now that we have new boots, we're good to go. And here is a photo montage of the events of last night's rodeo.

Panera Mac & Cheese

I've seen several "Panera mac & cheese copycat" recipes and being as I love Panera m&c, I was intrigued. But a .003 second Google search showed me that, lo and behold, Panera actually put the recipe for the mac and cheese on their website! No copycat recipe needed! Here's the link to their post:

I tried this last night, and it was great! It was evident to me, however, that while the recipe offers a choice between using 2% reduced fat milk or cream, Panera actually uses cream in their recipe. Mine was good, but it was not as creamy and delicious as Panera's. Also, I could just never bring myself to mix 2 1/2 cups of cream with cheese. I guess I'll save that waistline sin for times when I actually drive 90 miles to Oklahoma City and go to Panera. We had it with some leftover pulled pork, BBQ chicken, and sausage, and some roasted okra.

The strange lighting in our kitchen make it look more yellow than it actually was.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Chicken Zucchini Pasta with Mushroom White Wine Sauce

I made this for dinner last night, and we really loved it. It made 4 servings, and I think if I had given him the okay, Luke would have eaten 3. It was really flavorful and filling, and it smelled so good cooking. I'll definitely make this again.

4 boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup of butter
1 package dry Italian salad dressing mix
1 cup white wine (or white cooking wine)
1 can condensed mushroom and roasted garlic soup
1/2 lb mushrooms
4 oz Neufchatel cream cheese
1 box capellini pasta
1/2 zucchini, diced

In a pan, melt the butter and mix in the Italian dressing mix. Add the white wine (I used white cooking wine because I had a ton, and let's be honest, I'd rather drink the real stuff), soup, and mushrooms, mixing until smooth. Add the cream cheese, stirring until melted and smooth. Heat it thoroughly, but don't let it boil.

In a baking dish, place the chicken in a single layer, and pour the sauce over the chicken. Bake at 325 for one hour.

With about 15 minutes remaining on the chicken, prepare the pasta and steam the zucchini (I used my beloved Pasta Boat for both!). On a bed of pasta, serve the chicken with sauce and zucchini.

Fried Rice

I found this on pinterest and was allured by the "no yucky MSG" caption. I've made fried rice many times but never thought it tasted exactly like I wished it would. I always thought it was the lack of MSG that I was missing, but it turns out it was sesame seed oil! We loved this recipe and are looking forward to eating the leftovers tonight.

2 cups (uncooked) rice
1 lb chicken breasts
1 10 oz bag frozen peas and carrots
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 eggs
5 tbsp sesame seed oil
1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce

I used Minute brown rice because it only takes 7 minutes and we were hungry. 2 cups uncooked rice magically turns into about 4 cups of cooked rice (1/2 cup cooked rice is considered a serving). Dice the chicken and cook in a skillet with whatever you like - I used a little bit of teriyaki seasoning. Prepare the veggies according to the directions on the bag. In a really big skillet, heat the sesame seed oil, and add the vegetables and garlic. Cook them until they're tender, and then add the eggs, scrambling and mixing them through the vegetables. Add the chicken and soy sauce, mixing with the vegetables. Add the rice last, and mix coating the rice with soy sauce.

Ham & Vegetable Mornay

This is my mom's recipe, and it usually makes an appearance sometime after Christmas and Easter because it's the perfect way to use all of the leftover ham. This is one of my favorite comfort foods. When I made it after Easter, it smelled like home and made me feel happy.

2 1/4 lb potatoes, peeled, diced
1 beaten egg
1 10 ox pack of frozen mixed vegetables
3 tbsp margarine
3 tbsp all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp white pepper
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups cooked ham, cubed
1 tbsp margarine, melted
paprika to taste

Cook the potatoes until they're tender and mash them. Sit in the beaten egg and season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread the potatoes on the bottom and sides of a 2 quart casserole dish, creating a crater in the middle. Sprinkle the top edges of the potatoes with paprika to taste. Cook and drain the vegetables according to the instructions on the package. In a large saucepan, melt 3 tbsp margarine, and blend in the flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the milk all at once, and cook and stir until it's bubbly. Add the cheeses and stir until they're melted. Stir in ham and vegetables into flour/milk/cheese mixture. Spoon this into the potato shell, and keep it below the top because it will run over. Brush the top of the potatoes with melted butter. Bake it at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes. I baked it in a cookie sheet just in case there was run-over - anything to avoid cleaning the oven.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes

I made these for my sister's surprise 30th birthday party back in May. I told Cayden about the cupcakes and he promised to keep the secret. The secret lasted at least 8 hours, but in the 10 minute drive to the restaurant, Cayden announced there was a secret mommy couldn't know and then whispered, "Look at the cupcakes, mom!" It was really cute.

The cupcake is Guinness chocolate, there's a Jameson ganache filling, and the icing is Bailey's. It's everything I love all wrapped into one. This was a sort of involved process, exacerbated by the fact that I bought the wrong kind of chocolate, which resulted in a frantic attempt to rectify the ganache. But with all of these flavors and ingredients, it turned out fine.

Guinness Chocolate Cupcakes
1 cup  Guinness
2 sticks unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder 
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
2/3 cup sour cream

Jameson Ganache
8 ounces semisweet chocolate (or chocolate chips)
2/3 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons Jameson Irish whiskey

Baileys Frosting
4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
6 tablespoons Baileys Irish Cream
little bit of salt

Boil the Guinness and butter in a big sauce pan over medium heat. Add the cocoa, whisk until smooth, and let it cool. In a bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. In another bowl (I used my stand mixer), beat the eggs, sugar, and sour cream. Add the Guinness mixture to the egg mixture and blend, and then add the flour mixture and beat it on a low speed. Put the batter into cupcake liners, and bake at 350 for about 17 minutes. Cool the cupcakes completely on a rack.

To make the ganache filling, chop the chocolate (or just use chocolate chips) and put it in a microwaveable bowl. Heat the cream in a sauce pan until it simmers and then pour it over the chocolate. Let this sit for a minute or 2, and then stir it until it's smooth. Add in the butter and Jameson and stir until smooth. Let this cool until it thickens, but it needs to be soft enough to pipe.

To cut holes in the cupcakes for the ganache, I used a  1-inch round cookie cutter (that was my great grandmother's!!). I tried to cut it about half of the way down. Put the ganache into a piping bag (or you can just use a spoon and finger), and fill the cupcake holes.

To make the icing, whip the butter using a mixer for a couple of minutes, and then add the salt. Add the powdered sugar a little bit at a time, continuing to mix. Finally, add the Bailey's until the icing until it's a consistency you're happy with. Frost the cupcakes and eat a ton of them!

Spaghetti Baked in Garlic Bread

I made this back in January and started the post, but I guess I forgot to actually post it. By now, it's probably been repinned in pinterest about 4855489675876 times by carb lovers like me. This is seriously the best I-don't-care-how-many-carbs-are-in-this-because-I'll-fool-myself-and-say-I'll-run-8-miles-tomorrow meal ever. So many carbs. So glorious. It was pretty easy to make once I got the hang of cutting the dough and crossing it.

1 Pillsbury refrigerated pizza crust
6 oz spaghetti, cooked
1 cup thick spaghetti sauce
1/4 lb ground beef, browned
8 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 –inch cubes
1 egg white
Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup butter, melted
minced garlic - desired amount

The first time I made this, I used one of those Pillsbury refrigerated pizza crusts, and I'm glad I started with that. Put the pizza crust on a greased baking sheet. I melted some butter and mixed in some minced garlic to brush over the inside of the crust and the top once I was finished. Think of the crust in vertical thirds. Place the cooked spaghetti in the middle third of the crust. We like a lot of cheese, so I did 2 layers of cheese with the first being on top of the spaghetti. I mixed the ground beef with the sauce I bought - can't remember what brand I bought, but it was something that had mushrooms in it. Pour the sauce/meat on top of the noodles and cheese, and top this with more mozzarella. Next, cut 1 inch strips on the outer 2 thirds. Fold the strips across diagonally trying to cover as much area as possible so the sauce and such to leak out. Brush the top of the crust with the egg white and more garlic butter. Sprinkle the top with parmesan cheese and any herbs you like. I used a garlic/parsley mixture. Bake it at 350 for 30 minutes.