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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Chicken Fajita Stuffed Peppers


I was never a fan of stuffed peppers when I was younger. Every stuffed pepper I ever tried was overcooked and under-seasoned. Bell peppers weren't my favorite food to begin with and it didn't help matters any to fill them with bland, grainy ground beef and mushy rice.

In recent years I've come to appreciate bell peppers more. Through Subway I learned that they're delicious on a turkey sandwich or a salad and thanks to Rachael Ray I can now enjoy them in a variety of soups and sauces. Bell peppers are one of Bailey's favorite snacks. She likes them raw and cut into chunks but she will also eat them whole with stem and seeds intact if I don't stop her in time.

Stuffed peppers were still high on my "never gonna make it, ever!" list until a few months ago when I discovered this recipe through one of the blogs I follow. It was as if a switch was flipped in my head and ideas just flooded in... or would that be out? I'm not sure, but either way I was struck by a tsunami of ideas.

The first was:

Look at that! They stuffed the peppers with chicken. I like chicken.

Followed by:

And if I used brown rice and cooked it just under done it wouldn't be as mushy.

And then:

Oh! If I can use chicken, why not substitute a little steak? Make it a steak fajita stuffed pepper! That would be so yummy!

Which of course led to these thoughts:

I bet that Philly steak stuffed pepper with the provolone would be amazing. I could leave out the onions.
Hey, while I'm at it I could do a Philly chicken pepper too.
And I could do them vegetarian too! I wonder if anyone has ever made a broccoli cheddar stuffed pepper...

You can see where this is going. It was like a blogging brainstorm party in my head. My final list totaled over twenty ideas for stuffed peppers, including a roast beef and gravy pepper (shepherd's pie style with mashed potatoes on top) and a chicken Parmesan pepper. Perhaps a few of my ideas were stretching it a bit, but they all sounded tasty to me. Who knows? I might have just thought up a new food trend.

This filling recipe is perfectly balanced. The chicken:rice:other ingredient ratio is just right. There's a little punch of heat from the green chilies in the tomatoes but it's not an overwhelming spiciness. Brown rice stands up nicely without turning mushy. The chicken is a much more pleasant texture than ground beef.

I did adjust a few things. First, I added another whole pepper. The filling recipe made more than enough for the five peppers. I also upped the cheese to two whole cups. There's nothing wrong with cutting down the amount of cheese to a tiny sprinkling on each pepper, but I like cheese... a lot! Especially on anything with chili powder.

I made these with all green peppers the first time but I preferred the flavor of the red, orange, and yellow peppers this time. Since the peppers are the expensive part of this meal I'd say just use what you can find on sale (or beg from your neighbor's garden... guilty!) and get cookin'! Cause these peppers are absolutely deeeee-lish!

Chicken Fajita Stuffed Peppers

Source: Cooking Classy

3/4 cup dry brown rice, cooked
6 medium bell peppers, any color
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb chicken, diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (10 oz) can diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice (optional)
3 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
2/3-2 cups monterrey jack or cheddar cheese, shredded (your choice how much you want to use)
sour cream and hot sauce to serve (also optional)


Begin by starting to cook the rice. You can follow the directions on the package but I like to use the pasta method. Just fill a 2-quart pot with water (far more water than the directions call for), bring it to a boil, add the rice and some salt and cook for 45-50 minutes. When the rice is done drain and rinse in a fine mesh strainer.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.


Take your peppers and slice them all in half.


Remove the ribs and seeds but leave the stem intact.


Place the pepper halves 3-4 at a time in the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes.


After five minutes use a pair of tongs to remove and drain the peppers. Place them on a baking sheet (lined with foil if you remember... I forgot this time).


Meanwhile in a small bowl combine the salt, chili powder, ground cumin, paprika, and pepper.


Once you've finished boiling the peppers pour the water out and place the pot back on the stove. Add the oil and heat on medium-high. Once the oil is hot add the chicken.


Add the seasoning mix and stir to combine.


Add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onion starts to turn translucent.


Once the onion is mostly cooked add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 1 minute.


Add the diced tomatoes and green chilies, black beans, and frozen corn.


Stir to combine and cook just until the ingredients are warmed through.


Once the rice is cooked and drained add it and the lime juice and cilantro to the chicken mixture and stir to combine.


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Fill each of your prepared peppers with the filling mixture to heaping full.


Sprinkle the cheese over the peppers and bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes.


Remove from the oven when the cheese is brown and bubbly.


Serve warm with sour cream and hot sauce if desired.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Menu for 9/28/15-10/4/15

Way back in June I bought Admiral a Groupon to go ziplining as a father's day gift. It was a voucher for two that expired the Saturday after my brother's wedding so we kept trying to plan a day to go but it never quite worked out. We finally got to go the week after the wedding and guys, it was so much fun!

I was scared. I'm terrified of heights but it was also exciting. There were six lines, the first two were kind of like practice runs. The third they wanted us to let go and "fly like a birdie" which I was too scared to do but on the fourth line we got to hang upside down which was the most fun thing ever! They hooked us onto the line and then had us lie down on our back on the platform and put our feet up on the rope. Then they pushed us off and we could let go with our hands and just fly upside down for about 10 seconds. Of course we had to be upright by the end but the line was actually a lot longer than it looked so there was plenty of time to right ourselves and come in safely.

The fifth line was a tandem line and Dad and I got to go down together, then the last line actually had two lines and they told us to race. I threw myself off the platform as hard as I could and for awhile I was actually in the lead but then just before the end Dad shot ahead of me and won. Oh well. It was a super fun time.

We made a whole day of it. We drove up to Sevierville early, in Dad's convertible, stopped for lunch, and then after the ziplining we went shopping for cupcake decorating supplies. I would highly recommend going ziplining if you have a chance. It's an exhilarating experience.

Here's our menu this week.

Monday:
Breakfast- Hardee's with Aunt Margaret
Lunch- ham and cheddar melts and chips
Dinner- cluck! cluck! baked chicken, twice baked potatoes, and mixed vegetables

Tuesday:
Breakfast- ham and cheese omelets and toast
Lunch- leftover chicken and vegetables
Dinner- calzones and salad

Wednesday:
Breakfast- cereal and yogurt
Lunch- leftover calzones and salad
Dinner- spaghetti, salad, and garlic knots

Thursday:
Breakfast- sausage, egg, and cheese croissants
Lunch- leftover spaghetti and salad
Dinner- chicken fajita stuffed bell peppers

Friday:
Breakfast- cereal and yogurt
Lunch- leftover stuffed peppers
Dinner- chili dogs and doritos

Saturday:
Breakfast- chicken biscuits and hash browns
Lunch- leftover hot dogs
Dinner- zuppa toscana and breadsticks

Sunday:
Breakfast- pancakes, bacon, and eggs
Lunch- leftover zuppa toscana
Dinner- loaded potato and buffalo chicken casserole and salad at Admiral's house

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cheesy Chicken and Stuffing


Did you know that I don't eat dressing or stuffing at Thanksgiving? There's something about the soggy bread that just does not appeal to me. That being said, the stuffing mix that you buy at the store is pretty fantastic. You can make some awesome meals with it.

This recipe caught my eye on Pinterest because of its simplicity. You just layer all of the ingredients in the baking dish and bake it until it's done. I wanted to try it because I thought, Hey! Another easy meal for busy nights. Thankfully the recipe turned out spectacularly well. I've made it a total of three times and decided to keep the ingredients on hand for particularly hectic nights.

I had a moment while making this meal where I actually had nothing to do but wait for things to cook. That rarely happens. Usually I'm running around like a crazy person trying to get everything to finish cooking at the same time. I had the chicken in the oven, the potatoes were boiling, the water was coming to a boil for macaroni and cheese, and the green beans were bubbling away. I stood in the middle of Aaron's mother's kitchen wondering what did I do right?

What do you get with this recipe? How about tender, moist chicken with a creamy, cheesy sauce and a crispy bread topping. The extra sauce and stuffing make an excellent topping for mashed potatoes and the whole meal has a very country, home-cooking flavor.

Cheesy Chicken and Stuffing

Source: Or so she says...

3-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut in half as evenly as possible
6-8 slices cheese (I used cheddar but pretty much any cheese will work)
1 (10-oz) can cream of chicken soup
1/4 cup milk
1 box chicken stuffing mix (like Stovetop)
1/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9x13 baking dish with vegetable oil spray.


Place the chicken pieces in the bottom of the pan in an even layer.


Top the raw chicken with the cheese slices.


In a small bowl combine the cream of chicken soup and milk. Mix until smooth and then pour the mixture over the cheese.


Sprinkle the stuffing mix evenly over the soup mixture (yes, dry) and drizzle the butter evenly over the stuffing mix.


Place the baking dish in the oven and bake for 45-60 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.


Serve warm with mashed potatoes or rice.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Creamy Chicken and Rice


In the summer, when our garden (or in our case our neighbor's garden) is rewarding hard work with the best homegrown vegetables available, I always seem to have a plethora of zucchini. We were brought an entire grocery bag of zucchini twice a week for nearly three weeks. We sauteed them with onions, added them to stir fry, and even turned a whole load of them into many loaves of zucchini bread, but this was probably my favorite use of all.

The recipe didn't call for zucchini, just carrots and onion in the way of vegetables. But I already had some extra zucchini already grated from the zucchini bread and thought, why not? It made a fantastic addition, but if you don't have any zucchini this dish would still be wonderful without it.

It's no secret how fond I am of rice. Perhaps because it's such a rare treat for me. I usually like rice on the side of Tex-Mex dishes and with Asian inspired meals but this is really more like an Italian risotto. It's a creamy mixture of chicken, vegetables, aromatic Jasmine rice, and Parmesan cheese. This is another one-pot meal, limiting clean up and coming together in less than an hour. I might not use chicken thighs next time as I found it difficult to remove the fat and I don't think the dish would lose any flavor if the thighs were swapped for breast meat. If you're looking for a bit more green you could add some fresh baby spinach leaves, chopped asparagus, or even some steamed broccoli.

I skipped the wine that the recipe calls for. I know it would have probably added some depth but I knew Nana would prefer it without so I just substituted extra chicken broth in place of the wine. Maybe next time I'll run by the liquor store and grab a bottle of good dry white.

The flavors of this dish are homey and fresh. It's sure to be a crowd pleaser in almost any home.

Creamy Chicken and Rice

Source: Natasha's Kitchen

1/4 cup olive oil
4 Tbsp butter, divided
1 medium onion, diced
2 large carrots, grated
1 medium zucchini, grated
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 bay leaves
1 cup dry white wine
5 cups chicken broth, heated
2 cups Jasmine or other medium-grain rice
1 head garlic
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated, plus more for serving

*If you have a dutch oven, use it. You'll get more flavor from all of the ingredients and the whole dish will cook more evenly.

I didn't have a dutch oven available so I used a large soup pot instead.

Begin by heating the olive oil and 2 Tbsp of the butter over medium-high heat.


When the butter has melted add the onion, carrots, zucchini, and 1 tsp of the salt. Cook until the vegetables have softened, stirring frequently to prevent sticking or burning. This will take about 8-10 minutes.


Once the vegetables are soft add the chicken pieces and season them with the remaining salt and pepper. Cook until the chicken is lightly browned on all sides. I'm sorry for all the steam in the picture, this was the best shot I got out of ten.

Add the bay leaves, increase the heat to high, and pour in your wine. Cook the wine down, scraping the delicious browned bits from the bottom of the pot as you go.


Cut the head of garlic so that all of the cloves are open but still attached. Set it aside for a minute.


Once the wine has mostly evaporated pour in the hot chicken broth and stir in the rice. Then place the head of garlic cut side down in the liquid.


Bring to a boil and then reduce to low. Cover and let it simmer for about 15 minutes, until the rice is fully cooked.


While it's cooking go outside and find a bunny. Okay, that's just me, but there were dozens of bunnies at Nana's house this summer and they weren't even afraid of us so we got pretty close to some of them. Can you find the bunny? He's kind of camouflaged here.


Once the rice is cooked remove the garlic. At this point you can either toss it in the trash or push a few of the cloves out, mash them up, and mix them into the rice. I chose to use about 4 cloves because I like garlic. Add the remaining butter and stir until it melts in. Now stir in the parsley and Parmesan until the dish is creamy.


Serve immediately to prevent the rice from turning to mush.


Add some extra fresh grated Parmesan or chopped parsley if desired.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Menu for 9/21/15-9/27/15

I decided to take the weekly menu from Wednesday-Tuesday back to a Monday-Sunday format. I kept forgetting when I was supposed to post the menu, and I was struggling to make it to the grocery store on Wednesdays. Hopefully this will get me back into the flow of the blog.

This being the first menu post in over three months I thought I should let any new readers know how it works.

So, at the beginning of each week (usually either Sunday night or Monday morning) I will post my entire menu for the week. I use sales ads and a list of available pantry items to decide what goes on the menu and then use the menu to make my grocery list. This helps keep the grocery budget low and cuts down on extra trips to the store because, since I know which recipes I'm using for every meal, I rarely have a chance to forget anything.

Though I sometimes forget, I try to add links to the recipes I'm using for the week where they're available. If something on my menu sounds tasty you can almost always find it on my blog somewhere and if not it's probably on Pinterest.

One day a week is new recipe night. It used to be Thursdays but I've changed it to Tuesdays because I cook dinner at Nana's house on Thursdays and I try to only use recipes I've already tested at least once. I choose my new recipe each week based on which proteins are on sale at the grocery store, the predicted weather (because who wants soup when it's 90 degrees outside?), and which recipe tickles my fancy on Pinterest.

Speaking of Pinterest, you can follow Working Through Naptime on Pinterest. To find me just go to the search bar and type in Working Through Naptime, click search, and then click the "pinners" button.

I've thought about including more of the budget aspects of menu planning in the future because I've really been enjoying some of the budget minded blogs I follow lately. I love Budget Bytes. It's one of my favorite blogs and there are a boatload of high protein vegetarian recipes on there that I've been wanting to incorporate into our lunch routine. Anyway, if you're interested in hearing what I'm spending on food and how I'm stretching my dollar just let me know in the comments!

And to get us started, here's this week's menu. It's a little Italian-heavy because I'm in a pasta mood this week... plus, pasta is pretty inexpensive. So here ya go guys! Enjoy!

Monday:
Breakfast- scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast
Lunch- spicy sausage rice skillet
Dinner- crescent chicken, mashed potatoes, and roasted broccoli and brussels sprouts

Tuesday:
Breakfast- scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast
Lunch- leftover crescent chicken and vegetables
Dinner- macaroni and cheese soup with chicken and bacon

Wednesday:
Breakfast- scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast
Lunch- leftover macaroni and cheese soup
Dinner- cheeseburger macaroni and salad

Thursday:
Breakfast- scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast
Lunch- leftover cheeseburger macaroni and salad
Dinner- pizza lasagna roll-ups, salad, and garlic toast

Friday:
Breakfast- scrambled eggs, sausage, and toast
Lunch- leftover pizza lasagna and salad
Dinner- cajun roasted chicken, lazy Alfredo pasta, and steamed broccoli

Saturday:
Breakfast- chicken and cheese bagels and hash browns
Lunch- leftover Alfredo pasta and chicken
Dinner- skillet baked ziti, salad, and garlic ciabatta bread

Sunday:
Breakfast- cranberry apple granola french toast, bacon, and scrambled eggs
Lunch- leftover baked ziti and salad
Dinner- Admiral will provide dinner

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Season for Weddings, I Suppose...


It has been a crazy three months. With my best friend and my brother both getting married within 8 days of each other I've been swamped with wedding work and too busy to keep up with the blog.

Photo Credit: Co-D Photography

I had the privilege to be Maid of Honor for my bestest friend. Most of my duties included doing online pricing research, helping locate some hard-to-find "detail" items, and wrangling bridesmaids.
She had 6 bridesmaids who are some of the coolest people I've met. I got to spend some time with them at both the lingerie shower and her bachelorette party.

When I say wrangling, there wasn't much actual wrangling involved but I did take over answering the thousands of questions they had during the last week before the wedding, especially questions like:

What time do I need to show up?
Where are we meeting?
Are the dresses ready yet?

Our dresses turned out to be kind of a fiasco. We hired a seamstress to make our dresses. We chose a pattern and had a meeting with the seamstress to be measured way back in April. The seamstress received the fabric in May which left her with almost 4 months to work on the dresses, 6 for the bridesmaids and 1 for the junior bridesmaid, the groom's little half sister.

First we found out that there was no way to modify the dress pattern to fit the junior bridesmaid so we had to go find a children's pattern to match our pattern. Then, around the beginning of August we were told that there might be some problems with our pattern because the pattern was for Misses sizes and most of the bridesmaids were Juniors sizes. (It sounded like a bunch of excuses to me but since I know so little about sewing I didn't say anything at the time.) We were asked to meet again to re-measure and fit the pieces that she had already started sewing, but the woman didn't show up when we had scheduled. It took a whole extra week for all of us to meet with her. I was quite upset when I found out she had only made a small piece of the bodice for each dress. This was just 2 weeks before the wedding! We should have been trying on fully made dresses and being fitted for alterations. I mean, the whole reason we decided to have our dresses made was so they would fit us better.

I know every bridesmaid complains about the dress. Bridesmaid dresses are expensive and rarely can be worn more than once. They're notoriously ugly, frilly monstrosities that no woman would ever want to wear again. With this being an outdoor summer wedding we tried to choose a dress that would be cool and comfortable. I think the choice of dress was a wise one. It had a layer of satin with a sweetheart neckline overlayed with lace that came all the way to the neck. The lace was super breezy and as long as the wind was blowing at least a little we weren't super hot. The only problem was that no one's dress fit properly. Some were too tight around the waist, others had areas where the lace was a different size than the satin leaving lace sagging in places, and most of them had uneven hems. The seamstress felt the need to add an extra layer of fabric beneath the satin skirts so that we were roasting from waist to knees, but the most infuriating thing was that she delivered the dresses only 4 hours before the wedding was scheduled to begin! See, I told you it was a fiasco.

Luckily we only had to wear the dresses for a few hours and you can't see the imperfections in the photographs. We all look beautiful in the pictures, especially the girls that managed to get their hair into beautiful updos.


My hair was too short for an updo but one of the other girls helped me curl my little bob and it turned out quite well. For all the complaints I have about the dresses, the wedding was really beautiful. I mean, my bestest friend is gorgeous anyway but when I saw her in her dress I wanted to cry. She looked like an angel!

Photo Credit: Co-D Photography

Bailey was a flower girl and one of the cutest little flower girls I've ever seen. She made sure she covered the entire aisle with petals (unlike most flower girls who just sprinkle a handful every couple of steps) and when she ran out she tipped her bucket upside down and gave a cute little look of disappointment at its emptiness. Then she sat quietly with the bride's mother for the entire length of the ceremony. I was so proud!

Bailey made friends with the bridesmaids as well.

This was the highlight of the reception for me.

video

Bailey loves to dance and she's not too shy to get out on the dance floor all by herself.

So that's my bestest friend's wedding but it wasn't the only one.

Photo Credit: Sullivan Photography

My brother married the most amazing, wonderful woman this past Sunday. The whole thing happened in Nana's back yard. They wrote their own beautiful vows. I had heard the bride's vows beforehand but my brother's brought tears to my eyes. (He's a writer after all and one of the most eloquent speakers I've heard.) They took dancing lessons and blew the crowd away with their first dance. Yaya and my brother's dance was equally adorable and my new sister-in-law looked so beautiful dancing with her father. I even got to do the cupid shuffle later on in the reception.

The bride and groom's cake.

I was asked to make cupcakes for the wedding and they turned out so perfect! I spread the work out over three days to allow for sleeping time but I still had a couple of hours of work to do when I arrived at Nana's. I chose to frost and decorate them on site to avoid damaging them while transporting them. My brother asked for pumpkin spice cupcakes and raspberry white chocolate cupcakes so I made


a pumpkin spice cupcake with spiced cream cheese frosting and


a raspberry cupcake filled with white chocolate ganache and topped with white chocolate buttercream frosting, a raspberry, and raspberry syrup drizzle. The bride's cupcake choices were strawberry and banana cream so we had


strawberry cupcakes with strawberry buttercream frosting and a sliced strawberry flower on top and


vanilla cupcakes filled with banana pudding and topped with whipped cream, sliced bananas, and Nilla wafers.

video

And of course Bailey got a chance to show off her moves again, this time with Li'l P.

It's been a long few months with lots of work. I'm glad it's over but I'm so excited for both of the newlywed couples! (And also a little jealous as my bestie just returned from her honeymoon in Savannah, GA and my brother and his wife are living it up in Hawaii this week.)

Now that all of the wedding stuff is over I hope to get back on a normal blogging schedule, starting with some of the recipes that I managed to make and photograph during my break. I'll be returning to my weekly menu updates as well as the Wishlist Wednesday posts. I can't wait to get started! Keep an eye out this week for at least two more posts.