Friday, May 27, 2011

It's hard to be serious....






But I'll try....




Okay, enough of that!




Happy Friday, Y'all! I hope God's blessings wash over you!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Simple Southern Biscuits


Toss out your canned biscuits (ew!) because biscuit making isn't that difficult.  Really!

It's okay if you don't have buttermilk or White Lily flour.  Seriously! You can make tasty, flaky biscuits with just regular ol' flour.

Now, it'd be nice to have self-rising flour on hand, but I never do.  And, it'd be great to use buttermilk, but really... I find buying a jug of it is a waste since I don't use it enough.

So, regular all-purpose flour and regular milk will do (I use whole milk.)

To make your all-purpose flour into self-rising flour, you'll need to add a few things. For every cup of all-purpose flour, add 1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Since this recipe requires two cups of self-rising flour, you'll need to use two cups of all-purpose flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, and 1 teaspoon salt.  Mmkay? Great.

Southern Biscuits


2 cups self-rising flour (see note above if you do not have self-rising flour)
1/4 cup shortening.  (I've used butter, but shortening really does work best, in my opinion.)
2/3 cup to 3/4 cup milk (or buttermilk)


Preheat oven to 500 F.

Combine flour and shortening. Using a pastry cutter, or a fork if you don't have one of those, mix the cut in the shortening until the flour forms small little crumb-like balls.  This could take a few minutes if you are using a fork.

Slowly add milk- start with 2/3 cup, and mix by hand.  If you think you need a bit more, add a splash here and there, and continue stirring until it forms a ball and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

Some people knead their dough on the counter, I knead mine in the bowl. I knead 2-3 times, then turn it onto a floured mat on my counter to roll it out.  Roll out about 1/2 inch thick.

I use a small children's cup to cut out biscuit rounds.  This makes them about two inches across, maybe a bit more. You don't have to have a biscuit or cookie cutter to do this task. Use whatever you have on hand.

Lay them on a greased cookie sheet- nearly touching, unless you want them to have crispy sides (in which case, space them out a bit more).

Bake 8-10 minutes (at 500F)... and enjoy!


I made a white gravy using bacon grease.  Cook a couple slices of bacon in a pan and a couple tablespoons of butter. Add 2-3 TBSPs of flour to the grease and quickly stir in.  Then add 2 cups of whole milk.  Salt and pepper to taste (I also add a little garlic powder).  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  (If you don't keep stirring it, it will burn.)  Allow it to boil for a bit (keep stirring) until it is at desired thickness.

There are various ways to make a white gravy- but this one is simple and quick. You could leave out the bacon and just use butter if that's all you have.

I made three batches of these biscuits which produced 28 biscuits for me. (But, I think I made them a bit thicker, which is how we like them.)  They were flaky and delicious, and we had about a dozen leftover, which I am going to use for lunch- I'm making a chicken and dumplings sort of "soup" which I will pour over the biscuits (instead of using dumplings).  You could also make chicken pot pie filling and pour it over the biscuits.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sweet days of fellowship

I know I sound like one of my kids when I say this, but I've had the best week ever, really. (And it's only halfway through!)

Saturday afternoon we met with some new friends (for the first time), Terry and Nanci and two of their four children.  We enjoyed salads and sandwiches at Jason's Deli while unwinding our stories and testimonies, asking questions, and just getting to know one another.  I would say they are in their early 40's (although they look younger than that) and are very kind and outgoing folks.  Nanci is a short, beautiful woman with luxurious dark and wild curls, and Terry is a tall and thin man with strong facial features. He reminds me of my Uncle Tommy. I bet they have a similar sense of corny humor. We talked for about two hours and would have continued on except that they had somewhere to be, so we parted ways with promises that we would see them Sunday.

Sunday brought our good friends Kelly and James over for lunch with their three little ones in tow.  I couldn't want to get my arms around that little newborn of theirs. He's perfectly tiny and snugglely- not quite at that squishy stage, though. I made dinner with hubby's help, and we filled our bellies full while the kids romped and played outside.

Right before they left, little Shawn fell asleep in his carseat, and I couldn't resist snapping a couple shots of the overwhelming adorability.












*Sigh* I love baby feet!

Shortly after they left, we had to take off for the fellowship gathering- our first time to visit this group of Christians who regularly gather together for food and fellowship.  Our friends left at four and the gathering started at five, leaving us little time for naps (which the kids desperately needed).  Dinner wouldn't be ready until six, so we decided to be fashionably late, allowing the crankster (Keagan) to catch a few winks.  Besides, we are usually early, and I did not want to be among the first to arrive, and I especially did not want to arrive before Terry and Nanci since they were the only people we knew and they were the ones who had invited us!  It would have felt a bit strange to show up at someone's house whom we did not know without anyone to introduce us.  I'm sure it wouldn't have been too strange for them, but I would have felt awkward.

Everyone was very nice- definitely a range of characters. Some families are King James only, some of the women only wear skirts while others wear shorts, pants, or capris. Some women don't wear make-up, some do.  Some look squeaky clean, and others, I bet, have quite a story to tell.  I don't think you'd guess this bunch of people would be in such a close-knit fellowship.  This is a place where no one judges a man for having tattoos down his arm.  They are there to celebrate and worship Christ together.

It's a variety of people from different backgrounds and different personal beliefs, but all united in Christ and united on the foundational doctrines.  It was very refreshing.  The host had the gathering catered with Brazilian barbecue.  It was absolutely delicious- tender steak tips, juicy chicken, cheesy muffins, and a variety of sides.  When I say catered, I mean a personal chef from the restaurant showed up and prepared everything in the kitchen. I hear I am not to expect that too often. Nanci laughed and said, "When we host, expect hot dogs!"  (Good thing I love hot dogs just as much as steak tips!)

After eating and chatting for a while, everyone settled into the livingroom, pulling in chairs or plopping on the floor.  Terry started everything off strumming his guitar, and we all joined in singing.  I loved the simplicity of it all- no big churchy musical production, just simple, heart-felt singing and music-making for the Lord.  After a couple songs, one of the men prayed. Someone handed out some folders with a few songs written by a man whose last name is Whitman, also a member of the church.  Terry passed the guitar to another fellow- Whitman, I presume- and we continued singing.  In between songs, there would be a bit of a pause in case anyone wanted to speak and sometimes someone would read a verse or two or exclaim a phrase of praise to God.  After about fifteen or twenty minutes, Terry brought up a few verses from Romans (I forget exactly what).  He spoke about these verses a bit, and then asked a question- something like, "As you go through your day, how to you stay in Christ?"  His wife was first to answer the question, and then several of the men continued the conversation. I think it got a bit off subject, but it was definitely encouraging.  Some shared their struggles and others encouraged.  The focus seemed to be on what you "think" on, and that verse in Philippians came to mind- 4:8 (Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence, whatever is worthy of praise—dwell on these things.)   I definitely believe it is important to dwell and focus on the things of God often.  I truly believe that when we allow ourselves to dwell on things that are not uplifting and encouraging, convicting and honorable, that we find ourselves struggling with things like depression and even moral decay.  Some people believe "you are what you eat", but I believe "you are what you think on".  At least, I have seen this in my own life.  I found that when I was watching certain shows and listening to certain music, I seemed to be more depressed, more angry, etc.  This is one reason why I play hymns and Christian music in our home a lot.  And, I know when I skip reading my bible or praying in the morning, the whole day turns into a battle.  As someone who struggles with anxiety and depression, I know I have to lean on the Lord and be in the Word in order to survive the day without a breakdown.

Anyway.... I really enjoyed it.  I enjoyed the discussion, the openness of the group, and just that it seemed the people really allowed the Spirit to flow rather rather than trying to stick to a certain time table and form. It seems these people are living out 1 Corinthians 14:26.  I felt like I belonged there.  Everyone was so kind.  It is clear that these people are seeking to be the church, not just "go to church".

Once home, we tucked Keagan into bed and set about tidying the house- cleaning the pots and pans from supper and loading up the dishwasher.  My cousin, Mikey, was on his way to Houston from Dallas where he had been visiting family from his Dad's side.  Mikey is a Marine stationed in Okinawa.  He's twenty but seems so much older than his years, to me. Either it's because he's mature, or I'm immature. (Ha!)  He has such a love for the Lord- it just radiates from him.



He arrived late Sunday night, but we stayed up until one in the morning chatting about the bible.  Brandon and I love talking about God's word, so it was a special treat to have someone else to discuss it with!

The kids absolutely adore Mikey. They stuck to him like glue! Brandon had to go out of town overnight, but before he left, he picked up Chick-fil-A at my request since it's one of Mikey's favorite places (mine too), and I didn't want him to go back to Japan without indulging!  Later, we watched kids play outside (they wanted to show off their bike-riding skills).  Mikey bought a Nikon not too long ago so I got to test it out and snapped a lot of photos. We talked about editing programs and lighting and whatnot. Not that I'm super good with it, but I know a few things.

I encouraged him to try to get in a little time with my brother, Chip.  I was trying to explain what a transformation there has been in his life, and I knew that Mikey would really enjoy hearing Chip's testimony.  I think they were able to spend an hour or two together before we all met up (with my parents) at Guadalajara, a Mexican restaurant near the Houston medical center.  I love me some hot, crunchy chips and salsa! :)  It's one of those places where you fill up on chips, salsa, and queso and then your food arrives.... so you unbutton your pants and keep shoveling food down the hatch.



(Mikey, my Mom, and little Keagan!)

I was glad to have Mikey home with us, especially since it gets rather lonely and boring when Brandon is gone.  We had a wonderful time of fellowship that night.  Keagan conked out on the living room floor as soon as we got home from the restaurant, but Merikalyn and Nolyn stayed up eager for attention from their cousin.  They wrestled and played with him for a bit- at one point, Nolyn took off his shirt, threw it to the ground, and declared war. It was cute.  Mikey read a few books to them, and then each of them read a book to him.  I was surprised at how well Nolyn's reading is coming along!  Then they all piled in the homeschool room, where I had pulled in the fold out couch for Mikey to sleep on.  Mikey said Nolyn wanted him to read "the story of the spies!"  (in the bible book of Joshua, speaking of the city of Jericho and the woman, Rahab).  Several times during his stay, Mikey commented, "I just love your kids. They are so awesome!"  (Ah, that makes this mama feel good!)






It was great to have someone to share my "Coffee and the Good Book" time with in the morning. We sipped on our coffee and read through various parts of the bible over the kitchen table.  Then we moved to the livingroom where Mikey tuned the ol' electric guitar and played a few worship and praise songs.  That eventually led to us sharing some songs we had written, and he helped me put music to a song I titled, "Beauty of the Cross".





I was glad Nolyn got to spend some time with him. He rode home with him from the restaurant and also had a "sleepover" with him.  Nolyn told him he wanted to travel around and tell people about the gospel.   "He's such a cool little dude!" Mikey exclaimed. (I think so too. *Smile*) Several years ago, when Mikey visited and Nolyn was still in diapers, I snapped a photo of a chubby little Nolyn quite mesmerized by Mikey who was singing and strumming away on his guitar. I wish I could find it....

We prayed together before he left, and waved good-bye as his car disappeared around the corner.  My heart ached to see him go, but was so filled with joy because of the sweet time we'd had together.  I can't even describe how awesome it was. I just kept thinking, "This is how it should be!"

I mean, that's how it should be when Christian friends and family get together- we should be encouraging each other and lifting up worship and praise. We don't have to wait until Sunday to do that. It should just be part of our every day lives!

Friday, May 20, 2011

I sure have some sweet children! (photos)


I whipped up this diaper for my sweet Evie.  Fleece diapers are so easy to make, and seem to be super cozy! If I was a baby, I'd want one!

My little Keagan fell asleep after bible study with the blanket pulled over his head. 
Guess who woke up all sweaty!

 You know what totally warms my heart?  When my children take to studying the bible and writing out verses on their own!

I love how they pulled up little tables, just like I do.

Nothing on the window sill is safe!

 Peeeeekaboo, Momma!

Where could she be??

Brotherly love!

 Someone's not too happy that I'm restraining her hands from tugging at my hair!

SQUISHY!!!



Close of a day- Chamomile tea, yummy smells, and my prayer journal. God is good!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Mandy's Buffalo Chicken Pizza


 There are a variety of ways to make mix up a Buffalo Chicken Pizza.  We had an abundance of grilled chicken and a few ingredients on hand, so this is how we made it.


Crust:

1 cup warm water (105 F)
1 pkg dry yeast
1/3 cup milk (105 F)
1 TBSP salt
1 TBSP sugar
4 cups flour
2 TBSP oil
Oil Spray

Toppings:

1-2 chicken breasts (cooked) chopped in small pieces. (We ended up using one and a half breasts, grilled.)
1 cup hot wing sauce, divided (We chose a mild sauce so the kids could enjoy it.)
Oil spray
Garlic powder
Italian or Greek herbs
1/4 cup Ranch or Blue Cheese dressing
2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup onions sliced
1/8 cup diced celery or bellpepper (We didn't have any celery, so I used bellpepper. I think celery works better since it's the usual side to hot wings! I also tossed in some banana peppers)

Crust Directions:

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add warm milk, salt, and sugar. Stir and allow to sit for 2 minutes.  Stir in oil.  Mix in flour until dough forms and becomes elastic.

Knead dough on lightly floured surface for about 5-6 minutes.  Divide dough into 2 balls if making 2 large pizzas (16-18 inch pizzas), or 3 balls if you intend to make smaller pizzas.  (Ours were 16 inch pizzas.)

Note: See directions at bottom if making a deep dish pizza.

Spray dough balls with oil, cover with plastic wrap, and place in warm area to rise for at least one hour.  (If in a hurry, 30 minutes will do.  We place ours in the unheated oven. In the winter, I warm the oven, then turn it off 5 minutes before putting the dough in.)

Place dough on flat, lightly floured surface. Roll out to fit your pan. Spray your pan with oil before laying in the pizza dough.  Set aside and prepare toppings. You do not need to bake the crust before laying on the toppings.

Topping Directions:
Heat over to 400 F

Toss chicken and 1/4 cup hot wing sauce together in a bowl.  Set aside.
Spray the pizza crust (which is not cooked yet!) generously with oil (we use olive oil spray), especially around the edges.

Sprinkle edges of pizza with garlic powder and herbs.

Spread dressing (Ranch or Blue Cheese dressing) evenly over pizza.  Then top with remainder of the hot wing sauce, also spreading evenly across pizza.

Top with cheese.  I usually reserve about a 1/4 cup to sprinkle over the toppings right before I put it in the oven.  Evenly sprinkle on remainder of ingredients, including chicken.  Don't skimp on the chicken!!!

Bake at 400 F.  I'd give you a time, but every pizza is different.  The crust will be tan, and the cheese will be bubbling.  Check at 12 minutes, and keep checking every 2-3 minutes.

Note: If you are making a deep dish pizza, roll your dough out to fit a 9-inch pan (a round cake pan works).  Add 1/8th cup oil to the pan before placing in the dough.  Allow dough to rise in the pan for an hour.  After it has risen, gently press down to spread dough in pan (as it will have pulled away from the sides a bit). I emphasize gently!!!  Top as desired and bake at 475 F until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly.

Enjoy!!   (Try dipping in Ranch or Blue Cheese dressing! Yum!)

Ideally, I would have liked to have some feta and other kinds of cheeses for this pizza, but we only had mozzarella, and it worked nicely.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Best Chicken Tenders Ever!

 
So, hubby and I don't really measure things out when we cook, so it can be a difficult task to give someone a recipe for most of the dishes we make. However, since some of my friends kept pestering me for the recipe, I decided I would take the time to measure everything out.  

You'll need:

3 lbs of chicken breast meat
2 & 1/8 cups all-purpose flour (divided)
Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning (or some other kind of cajun seasoning)
Salt Garlic Powder (we use granulated garlic)
Onion Powder
3 eggs
1/8 cup milk
1 TBSP vegetable oil
Oil for frying

And, I recommend having a helper! This task goes much quicker and easier when two people work together. My husband was my helper. Sorry, you can't borrow him. :)


Get out a cutting mat and two bowls or containers (see photo above). Go ahead and get out all the ingredients and tools you'll need- like a sharp knife, a fork or two, and a towel to wipe your hands on.


Slice chicken breasts into tenders. You'll have to decide how big you want the strips.  I think we tend to make 4 or so strips per breast. Try to make them similar in size.


Now you're going to make what we call a "dredge".  Combine 3 eggs, 1/8 cup milk, 1 TSP oil and 1/8 cup flour and wisk together until there are no more lumps.  If you need to use substitutes for egg and milk, go ahead. Whatever works for you.


Next, you're going to make your flour mixture.  Combine 2 cups flour, 1 TBSP Tony's, 1 heaping TBSP salt (we like our tenders salty, so you may want to use a smidge less than a TBSP), and 1/2 TBSP garlic powder. Blend together well with a fork. 


In order to make these tenders really flavorful, we also season the chicken.  Season liberally with Tony's, garlic powder, and onion powder.  Tony's already has salt in it, so you won't need to add anymore. However, if you are not using Tony's or a general seasoning with salt in it, you may want to add some.  We season them liberally on one side, them toss them together. Now is a good time to begin heating your oil.  Pour plenty of oil in the pot so your tenders will be fully submerged. If you dont have enough oil to do that, you'll just have to flip the tenders half way through. No biggie. Heat at about medium-high, or approximately 350 F. (My husband gave me the temperature- we actually don't test the temp, so I'm not sure exactly how correct that is.)


Now that you have everything seasoned and prepared, you're ready to begin the process.  Dunk chicken in egg mixture (this is called dredging), and then toss them in the flour mixture so they are well coated.  You'll have to do this in batches, so while you fry one batch, you can dredge and flour another.  If you get the first batched dredged and floured, and the oil isn't hot enough, do some tidying.  I like to clean as I go so I don't have a huge mess to contend with at the end.


Now it's time to stick them suckers in the bubble bath.  Do so gently, because you don't want to start a grease fire. You may need to adjust the heat as you fry- sometimes turning up the heat when you put in cold chicken, and then turning it down a bit if you notice things are browning too quickly. Each batch will probably need to fry for about 5 minutes. We don't really time ours, though... so this is an estimate.


Remove chicken and place on a plate with a paper towel to drain. Or, you may want to put them on a rack so they don't sit in the grease.


You'll notice the little "legs" on these tenders. That's what makes them so crisp and tasty, in my opinion. These are created through the dredging and flouring process. When the tenders are placed in the hot oil, the moisture in the dredge mixture seeks to escape, but is sealed in by the flour.


Go ahead, since you're having chicken tenders, fry up some frenchies.  I like mine extra crunchy and sprinkled with cayenne pepper along with a few squirts of ketchup. Okay, have some carrots in ranch too... so you can say you had something that wasn't fried.

Now you may be wondering what to do with all that oil. That's a lot of oil to just dump out!




I recommend filtering your oil so you can use it again.  Get out a strainer and a paper towel.  Place (or hold) the strainer over a bowl, and put the paper towel on top.  This method reminds me of brewing coffee, although I wouldn't want to drink oil!  In fact, you can even use a coffee filter, if you so choose. Pour the oil into the strainer.  Do it slowly, so you don't make a mess or overflow!  The fried left-overs may be a thick sludge on the bottom of your pan- don't try to scrape it. Just get out as much oil as you can, and then wash out the pot. We usually keep our oil in our big pot (covered, of course) to use again. If I just need a small amount of oil to fry something, I'll take a tablespoon or two of the oil from the big pot and put it in my skillet. We usually get quite a few uses out of the oil before we dump it.  Save yourself some money, and strain it!


Tips:
Many people don't season their flour, or they season the flour but don't season the meat.  Season both, especially when you're going to be dredging.  When you season the flour, taste a bit of it (yes, taste the flour) to see if it is salty and seasoned enough for your tastes.

If you prefer, purchase pre-cut tenders. This makes the whole process much quicker.

How much did this meal cost?  The chicken cost about $6.00 (with tax) because we got it on sale. The oil was reused (so, I tend to think that means it's free, since I've already put the cost of it in another meal), and the we already had the seasonings and flour and such on hand.

This meal fed 2 adults and 3 children and we still had leftovers.  I would say that this recipe could feed 4-6 adults, especially if you prepared more sides.

Try making milk gravy for dipping.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Evangeline: 8 months

Her chubby cheeks are absolutely delicious. Her lips always glisten with drool (or "baby juice" as we call it). She has the smoothest skin, the sweetest coo and chirp, and the most adorable baby rolls.










Doesn't she make your womb ache? :)