Creamy Spinach Bake

I just went into the kitchen and totally made up a recipe.  It ended up being quite a pleasant surprise.  So, want a quick, easy meal that will impress just about anyone?

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Figure you would.  You’ll only need a few ingredients for this one, so open your fridge and get ready:

1 bunch fresh spinach

2-4 oz. cream cheese (depending on the consistency/volume of sauce)

2 T. milk

1 clove garlic

2 chicken breasts, cooked and cubed

1 T. butter

First, wash your spinach thoroughly, pat it dry, and cut it up nice and small.  Melt the butter in a large skillet over low heat and throw the spinach in.

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Actually, what you probably want to do first is preheat your oven to 350.  Then do your spinach bit. 

Cook that for about as much time as it takes you to peel your clove of garlic, press it, and throw it in the skillet.  Stir your spinach at this point and add a bit of salt and pepper, if you wish. 

Once the spinach has a nice dark green color and smells like cooked spinach, add 2 T. milk and your cream cheese.  If you want a really creamy sauce, add 4 oz.  cream cheese.  If you are feeling a little bit guilty from recent scale readings, you can only add 2 oz.  cream cheese (maybe since cheese is used in almost every recipe I make, that darned scale keeps creeping up…).  Anyway, it’s best to use softened cream cheese, but I didn’t since I didn’t really know what I was doing.  So, cut your cream cheese into chunks, add it to the skillet, and add your milk.

Stir and stir and stir until your cream cheese looks nice and smooth and everything’s mixed all nice.  However tempted you may be, you do not want to crank up the heat and then burn your stuff.  It will take several minutes to achieve sauce consistency.  Here’s what a 2 oz. sauce will look like:

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Yum-o.  When that’s all done, remove the skillet from heat.  Take out a 1.5-qt. casserole dish and lightly spray it with Pam.  I’m not sure this step is necessary, but I didn’t really want to risk having any of this delicious sauce stick to my pan! Make sure this casserole dish has a lid. 

Put your cooked and cubed chicken into the casserole dish, then spread your sauce over the top, like so:

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Now here you can get creative.  You can add some panko to the top to give it a little crunch, slice some tomatoes and lay them over the top of the sauce, or you could sprinkle some feta over the top.  That sounds good, right? If you try it, you’ll have to let me know.  I just stuck with the plain-jane version. 

Cover your casserole dish and pop it in the oven for 27 minutes.  Uncover the casserole and put it under the broiler on hi for the remaining 3 minutes. 

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There you have it! A delicious meal that tastes like it took much more effort than it really did, and cooks up way fast (especially if you already have cooked chicken in the freezer)!

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Men’s Shirt Apron

We’re sewing today, folks. 

It’s been a long, long while since my last (and only) sewing post, so here’s another.  This tutorial, which turns a men’s dress shirt into a sweet apron, is awesome. 

did anyone see the photo on Pinterest with the apron out a men’s shirt, then click on it, then realize it was in some language other than English or Spanish? I did.  I thought my life was over, because I was not clever enough to look at the finished product and figure out how to get there.  Luckily, Gabriel’s Good Tidings is much more clever than I, and figure it out.  And it’s from her excellent instructions that I made this apron (and many others):

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Cute, no? Well, here’s how to make it!

First, you need a men’s shirt.  I’ve made all of mine from XL shirts. 

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Lay it our so it’s nice and flat.  You may want to press it so the shirt lays flat–at least the front.  The back doesn’t matter because you will be cutting the back off. 

Once your shirt is all pressed, cut the back and the arms off the shirt.  You’ll be left with the front of something you wish Kurt Russel in the ’80s would wear (and if you do this project while watching Overboard!, you will get to see ol’ Kurt in something similar–bonus!)

Next, you’re going to cut a diagonal line from the base of the armpit to the neckband.  The more slanted you make your line, the more narrow it will be at the neck.  If you have a rotary cutter and a mat, this step will be eay-peasy.  If not, you will have to go old-school and make a straight line with your tape measure and draw a little line for you to follow. 

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Take the back of the shirt and fold it over onto itself so you have two layers of fabric.  through both these layers, measure a piece 5 1/4″ x 22″ and cut it.  These will be your ties. 

Once you’ve cut that, go back to your ironing board.  You’re going to make a fold-over hem now!

I hate fold-over hems.  They’re a pain, especially with this crummy poplin-style shirt I used.  The best shirts are heavy-duty, not weird fabric.  Wrangler’s the best brand (WY–go figure).  Back to the subject at hand.  If you are new to sewing, here’s how to do a fold-over hem.  Step 1: turn the shirt on your ironing board so the inside of the shirt is facing up at you.  At your raw edges, fold the sides up 1/4″, like this:

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Iron it down so it stays, all the way around.  Begin at the edge closest to the neck band and work your way down.  Once that’s all ironed, you are going to fold over the folded part 3/8″, and iron that.  then pin it.  

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  Take your long pieces and fold them in thirds, like this:

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Press that, then fold each end piece in about 3/8″.  Fold your tie in half hot-dog style (who learned how to fold paper like that in elementary school?) and press it.  Pin it, then take the whole bit to your sewing machine. 

Give yourself a 1/4″ seam allowance.  On my machine, that’s the edge of my foot. 

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Sew your ties in the same way.  Once you’re done with that, there’s only a couple steps left!

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Next, attach your ties like so:

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This way, when you go to tie your apron, your tie will sit nice and flush against the body of your apron.  To secure the tie straps, sew back and forth on the same seam allowance until it’s nice and sturdy.  Simply stitch forward to the edge of your tie, then press the backstitch button and back stitch until you reach the opposite edge, and so on and so forth.  I did mine about 6 times. 

Next trim your threads. 

Finally, take a small pair of scissors and trim the neck band.  There’s no need to sew this part, just trim nice and close to the neck band. 

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You’re all done! Now get to cookin’ in your new apron!

 

Spicy Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Holy enormous yam, Batman!

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Let me give you some insight into how monstrous this sweet potato really is:

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Here’s my dilemma: I don’t particularly like sweet potatoes.  I don’t do the whole roasted-with-marshmallows bit, I don’t like to just pop them in the microwave and just eat them…but I do like cajun sweet potato fries.  Those are delicious. 

Well, if I don’t like sweet potatoes, what am I doing with one? That’s the thing about Bountiful Baskets.  You may not love love LOVE every item you get.  The good news is that you can make some pretty tasty stuff with things you don’t necessarily drool over.

Back to the story.  I wanted to make something new, different.  So I found this recipe for potato-yam chipotle mash.  It’s amazing.  I didn’t have the chipotle things this recipe calls for, so I changed it up a bit. 

I still used two regular potatoes and then 1/2 of the yam (since it’s so humongo).  The ration worked out about the same I think.  Anywho, boil ’em, drain ’em, toss ’em in a bowl, and if you don’t have the chipotles or are lazy like me, add the following:

1 can diced green chiles

Dash paprika

Dash red pepper

Dash cumin

Dash season salt

Add more until it smells about right.  Then add your milk and whip them up. 

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Ta-dah! Now mine are not nearly as pretty as the one in the other blog, but they are totally delicious. 

While they don’t pair particularly well with the caprese-style chicken I made, the whole thing was a pretty nice Valentine’s Day dinner.  Well, that and the cherry cobbler we had for dessert. 

Toe-mae-toes

Guess what I did today?

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Turned all this fresh deliciousness into canned deliciousness, that’s what.

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Know what else? I’m going to teach you how to, too! Here’s what you will need:

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  • A jar funnel (not completely necessary, but makes life much, much easier)
  • A small saucepan
  • A canning pot with a canning rack in it
  • a jar lifter/jar tongs (again, not necessary, but save yourself tears and burned hands and get some)
  • lids
  • rings

There’s something else, but what is it? Hmmmm…..oh yeah.  Jars.  Quarts work best because you usually need that many tomatoes for a recipe, but pints are alright too.  Ok, let’s get crackin’.  First things first–wash your jars.  A canner holds 7 jars at a time, so you can wash 7 at a time, or wash in multiples of 7.  There are several ways to go about this.  One, you can find a small child and make him or her wash them for you.  Two, you can squeeze your teeny little hand in those jars and scrub-a-dub, or you can use the ‘sanitize’ feature on your dishwasher.

Has someone ever gotten sick off your canned goodies, or has it happened to you? Well, it’s never happened to me and I’ve never been that person who has made other sick.  Follow these directions and it won’t happen to you either.  First, if you wash the jars by hand, follow these important directions:

  1. Inspect all your jars for chips and the like–best case, chipped jars won’t seal. Worst case, chipped jars break and you’ve lost a jar of stuff and have glass all over your water.  And, if you used a non-reusable lid, you’ve lost a lid, too! So inspect them and don’t use any that look like this: Image
  2. Wash all your other dishes first, or get them out of your sink.  No clutter!
  3. Clean out your sink.  Get in there real nice and deep like and get your sink sparkling clean.  Then you can think about starting to wash your jars. 
  4. Fill your sink with hot water.  HOT water.  As hot as you can stand it.  Use rubber gloves if you have to, but that water had better be dangerously close to scalding.  Know why? Hot kills germs.  Warm lets germs grow.  So make it hot, hot, hot! Then, wash your jars.  If you have read ahead and are thinking at this point, “well I can just whip up my dishes then do my jars–easy peasy.” 

NO.

You can’t do that.  Know what else helps germs grow? leftover food from this morning’s cereal bowl.  Start clean, start fresh.  Back to it. 

5.  Give your rings a little dip, then set them out to dry with your oh-so-clean jars.  This part is so very important, it’s not even funny: do not touch the lids of the jars from here on out.  Very important.  I think I made that clear already. 

Let’s get to the fun part.  While canning, especially things like tomatoes, is much easier and much more fun with someone, you can totally tackle this alone.  Fill your canning pot with water.  You’ll need lots of water.  Put that on the stove, but don’t turn it on quite yet.  Just be prepared.  Then, fill a smaller ( like a soup crock) pot with water.  You do turn this one on.  Fill a large bowl with ice water.  Finally, fill another pot with water…if you are doing more than one batch of tomatoes.  If you aren’t, then the pot of water you just turned on should suffice. 

Your boiling water is to take the skin off the tomatoes, and so is the ice water.  First, drop your tomatoes in the boiling water–but only for 45 seconds-1 minute.  Leave stubborn maters in for a bit longer, but not too long–you’re taking the skin off, not cooking them.  You’ll know they’re ready when the skin starts to split when you poke them.  Then drop them in the ice water.  The skin should come off nice and easy, like this!

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The skin should come off so easily, you should be able to hold it one hand and take a picture of it, while you are peeling (want to know another clean kitchen hint? Look at my fingernails.  Notice how they’re not painted or dirty? There’s “how not to get other people sick off your cooking” tip #2 for today). 

Next, you are going to want to cut your tomatoes.  Romas are really conducive to canning whole, but not necessarily these.  I cut them into sixes, then changed my mind and cut to nines.  But here’s how you cut them efficiently:

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Cut in half cross-ways (stem to the side)

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This photo shows six pieces, but nine is better, and here’s why: to cut sixes, cut twice across, turn a quarter turn, then cut once.  Then you have to cut the core out of two pieces (see where the stem and core is? You don’t want that).  Now, if you do eights (two cuts on either side), then you pull out the middle core and viola! Make sense? Good.  Now, many people do not like seeds in their canned tomatoes, but I am too lazy and don’t like waste, so I leave the seeds in.  It’s up to you.  Let’s move on.  

Fill your jars with tomatoes.  Try not to touch the rim as much as possible.  You can use your funnel if you want.  Turn your canning water on and your other water.  Then, take the small saucepan I said you needed wayyyyyy at the beginning and put your lids in it.  Put one more lid than jars, in case you mess up.  It’s quite common–don’t plan on being perfect.  Fill your small saucepan with enough water to cover the lids, then bring it to a boil. 

Once your tomatoes are filled to the of your jar, you will be filling the empty space with the water you just boiled! Now, pickyourown recommends adding 2 Tbs. lemon juice to each quart, so you should probably do it.  This site is my canning bible, people.  It’s amazing.  If you have any canning question, they’ll help you out with it. 

Anywho…

I didn’t have a funnel for a long time, but then I got this cool one from Mom and Dad, because they’re pretty cool cats.  I love it because it tells me where my head space is.  Head space is the distance from the top of the jar which you fill with liquid.  Tomatoes require 1/2 inch. 

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So, fill your liquid to about a 1/2 inch.  Then remove your funnel and take a clean rag, wet a corner in some boiling water, and carefully wipe the rim.  Never wipe the rim with a used portion of rag.  Keep rotating to new pieces of the rag. 

Now here’s the tricky part. 

Very carefully, lift your lids, one at a time (using metal tongs), and place them on your jars.  if your lid slips and falls to the counter, get a new one.  Same for if it touches anything but the rim of the jar.  Once your lid is on, screw a ring on it and hand-tighten.  Not too tight now! Place each jar in the raised canning rack.

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Your jars should not be touching.  If they do, one may break.  And that’s bad.  So, once everything is situated, GENTLY drop the canning rack into the pot and process.  There should be enough water to cover each jar by appx. 1 inch.  Processing times vary by food and altitude, so be sure to check out the website I already gave you or the Ball Blue Book for processing times.  I’m at high altitude, so these took about 55 minutes. 

Once they’re all done, take them out with your jar tongs and gently set them on a towel on a level surface. 

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If you are using regular lids (metal), you will hear if they seal…they will make a popping sort of noise anywhere from 5 minutes-24 hours after being taken out of the water bath.  Reusable lids are a different story.  I don’t recommend reusable lids for beginners.  However, if you’ve been canning a bit with a high success rate, make the investment.  I use Tattler lids.  If you can a lot (like me and the Hub-dubs), these are a great investment.  You only have to use them three times and they’ve paid for themselves.  And they last a really long time.  Anyway, if you are using reusable lids, you will have to wait a long time to see if they’ve sealed.  Immediately after they come out of the water bath, you need to tighten the ring again, because it loosens during processing.  Then, once they’re cool enough to handle, gently unscrew the ring and pick up on the lid a bit (there’s just a touch of overhang).  Don’t jerk it, but lift the jar up enough to know it’s sealed.  That’s how you know. 

There, you’ve done it! Now, some of you may be thinking, “gee that was fun, but I feel like I wasted a lot of that tomato.”  Well, our family motto is waste not want not, so here’s what we did:

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Yup, that’s a huge bowl of pureed skins and cores.  I made spaghetti sauce with it:

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Now, ignore the terrible lighting and bit of olive oil floating on top, and it looks good, no? It was delicious.  So there you have it.  Sauce and canned tomatoes.  Now you’re a pro.