Monday, January 31, 2011

Called on to Feed the Family...Shepherd's Pie to the Rescue

Two of my three sisters are in the midst of moving "home" - not back in the my parents, but back to the family farm. This means we've all been called on to help. I've painted, packed, and babysat in the last several weeks all in the name of family!

On Saturday, my youngest nephew hung out with me while his mom (Did I mention she's 8+ months pregnant?), his paternal grandparents and his paternal great-grandma (Did I mention she's 80?) cleaned their new house in preparation for the big move on Sunday.

After a long day, I knew his mama wouldn't feel up to cooking so I decided to fix one of my all-time favorite dishes for all of my sisters and their families...well, one brother-in-law and two nephews were at Monster Jam.

This Shepherd's Pie recipe was given to me by a dear friend (who I totally owe an email or letter) many years ago and it's become a favorite of both me and my mom. There are some shortcuts you can do to speed along the process...I'll mention those below.

On Saturday, I had a 2-lb. package of ground beef in the freezer so I doubled the recipe. Good thing I did! Very little of this pie was left in the dish after supper!.

First, I fixed two pouches of instant mashed potatoes (the baby red kind) according to the instructions on the package and set those aside.

Then I cooked up my ground beef, drained and then added carrots. (Of course, I forgot to take pictures along the way.)

To that, I added a little bit of flour, salt 'n pepper and beef broth. I cooked that up until it thickened.

While the meat and carrots were cooking, I mixed a couple of eggs into the mashed potatoes. Then I put the meat mixture into a greased baking dish and spread the potatoes on top.

I baked it for about 25 minutes and then wrapped it up to take to my sister's. Once there I baked it for about 10 more minutes and then added cheese on top and baked for 5 more minutes.

I served it up with some broccoli (gotta love the Steamfresh frozen veggies) and followed the meal with some just out of the oven chocolate chip cookies (Toll House refrigerated, of course).

Totally forgot to take a photo of the finished dish...oh well!

If you have a meat and potatoes-loving family, this is a must try dish!

Shepherd's Pie

1 (22 oz.) package frozen mashed potatoes, or real ones (or ones from a box or refrigerated container)
1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1/2 c. sliced carrots
2 T. flour
2 t. salt, divided
1/2 t. pepper, divided
1 c. beef broth
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1/2 c. shredding Cheddar cheese
Garnish: chopped parsley (optional)

Cook potatoes according to package directions; set aside.

Brown beef and onion in skillet over med-high heat. Drain and return to skillet; add carrot. Stir in flour, 1 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper. Add broth and cook, stirring constantly, 3 minutes or until slightly thickened. Spoon mixture into lightly greased 11 x 7 baking dish.

Stir together potatoes, egg and remaining 1 t. salt and 1/4 t. pepper. Spoon over beef mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese and back for 5 more minutes. Garnish if desired.

Hunk of Meat Mondays

Thursday, January 27, 2011

How Stress Messes with My Mind...

It's been a stressful week...really stressful. The kind of week that has me leaving home at 6 a.m. and not getting home until 9 p.m. that last three nights.

This schedule has been messing with my mind. I think if I vent a bit on here, it'll make me feel better. Sorry to drag you into this...

I worried the entire 50 minute drive home last night that I wasn't going to be able to sleep because of all the thoughts of what lies ahead the next days. Instead I spent the night coughing so much and so hard that my abs fill like I actually did the crunches I'm always saying I'm going to do...

I worried for most of my drive in to work this morning about encountering a wreck along the Interstate that I heard about on the finally realize that I was drving WESTBOUND and the wreck happened EASTBOUND.

I worried endlessly about all of the things I may have forgotten to do for the big event on Friday only to totally space somethig very important that I needed to do for today!

My mind is tired. My body is tired.

Did I mention that I'm traveling three out of five work days next week too?

I keep reminding myself that I truly LOVE my my my job...

Maybe I'll stop by and grab a lottery ticket tonight!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Butler? Cincinnati? Happy Birthday Dad!

It's my dad's birthday!

I'm a true daddy's girl (though I could argue that I'm a mama's girl too) and I'm lucky to have a great dad who is not only supportive, helpful and encouraging but also smart, witty and loads of fun. Hey Dad...

Butler? Cincinnati? (Sorry, inside joke.)

We had to celebrate his birthday a bit early this year (minus one sister) and right now he and my mom are enjoying the selection of gift cards we bestowed on him earlier this month.

I've been collecting the following photos to use in a blog post and today seemed appropriate to feature them. So here I go...

You see, my dad is a farmer.

Throughout my childhood, my dad got up every morning and headed out to the barn (either at our house or my grandparents) to take care of the hogs he raised in partnership with my grandpa and uncle. This was a seven-day-a-week, 365-day-a year job. On Christmas day, he'd go out to feed between us opening our presents very early in the morning, going to church and sitting down as a family for Christmas lunch.

Now, we were fortunate to have Grandpa and Uncle Sam on the farm with us. This meant that we could take a family vacation every summer - usually to one of the great state parks in Kentucky. But the hogs were a huge commitment in terms of time and effort, but they were also a reason that my parents could afford to send four daughters to college and still feed themselves!

When my dad had to make a decision on whether to upgrade his hog barns - barns like any other buildings need to be maintained and improved as the years progress - or quit raising hogs, he chose the latter. (I think at least two of the four girls were "on our own" by then.) On a side note: Want to see why it's important to keep hog barns up and running? Check out Heather's recent post at 3 Kids and Lots of Pigs.

Boy, this is a long-winded way to show you what he's been up to since he has some free time on his hands! (He still raises corn and soybeans and feeds out a few head of cattle, so he's still plenty busy but it's more seasonal now.) He's converted one of the hog barns into a wood shop and has taught himself (through lots of books, videos and trial and error) how to do some amazing woodworking.

Here's just a small sample of some of the wonderful things he's created for my mom, my sisters and others!

The photo below actually has three pieces that he built...the box, candle holder and coffee table!

He made me this gorgeous stationary box for Christmas this sits on my desk at work now.

Don't forget the wonderful barns he made for my nephews too...

Once he cut his teeth on boxes, plant stands and coffeetables, he decided he wanted to build a log cabin.

You heard me right, a log cabin! He had the help of a neighbor who also happens to be a master builder.

He also enlisted Uncle Sam (on the roof) to help.

 It turned out beautiful, complete with a loft for the little boys to spend the night in when they get a bit older. We've already had several bonfires at the cabin. I predict it will become a family gathering place in this summer.

Look...he does windows (don't tell Mom)!

I told you about the woodshop in the converted hog barn earlier, remember? It's also a FAVORITE place for my nephews to hang with Papaw. Especially when there's a pile of sawdust just waiting to be picked up!

Happy Birthday Dad! 
(Oh Dad, one more thing...if you looking for a new project I'd love a side table! Love ya!)

Monday, January 24, 2011

An Aunt's Obsession...Matching Outfits

I've been an aunt for just over nine years. It's probably my FAVORITE role EVER!

For the first nine years of aunthood (If there can be motherhood and fatherhood, I think there can be aunthood!), I was blessed with four nephews.

I wouldn't trade them for the world. Growing up in a house of girls (I'm the second of four) in NO way prepared me to be an aunt to four very active, very funny, very unique little boys. But it's been a fun ride and I cannot wait to see who they become as they grow older.

As an aunt, I've felt that it's my duty to provide, if not matching, then at least coordinating shirts at every opportunity.

Here they are on our Disney vacation last summer....

These next shirts were actually provided by another sister...

Notice something (or someone) different in the above picture? Very observant!

My niece, Jocelyn Jane (JJ), joined the family last October. She's adorable...

She will be joined by yet another NIECE in just a couple of weeks. Yes, that's TWO nieces in less than six months!!

When I learned that I would have two nieces so close in age, I'm afraid I went a little crazy with my "matching obsession." My sisters have already received matching onesies proclaiming each of the girls as "Papaw's Favorite."

Then I found THESE in the clearance section of Old Navy after Halloween...

How perfect...I love butterflies and I love my nieces. In these outfits I've combined both of my loves!

On that same shopping trip, I found these coordinating sun hats! How perfect for those summer afternoons by the pool with Aunt MeeMee!

Here are my latest purchases...perfect for next Christmas!

I might need therapy...probably for more than just this though!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Gal's Guide to Bargain Shopping

I've always been a big believer (and user) of coupons. My love of getting a great deal has just grown since I've started using blogs, Twitter and Facebook to figure out how to stretch my dollars even more.

My family, friends and coworkers all tease me that I may have a "problem" when it comes to my deal-seeking, but they have all benefited from my "free or better than free" philosophy when it comes to shopping.

It's taken me a while to come up with a system that works for me when it comes to my weekly shopping trips. I think that anyone can benefit from shopping with coupons and shopping the weekly sales, but I understand that there are a lot of factors that go into why people do or do not take advantage of the deals that are out there.

For example, my older sister has said that she feels guilty when she sees the deals that I get and that she probably should be doing more. Well, I say that is silly. She is a working mother of THREE boys who seldom has time to sit down and eat breakfast, lunch or supper so for her to sit down and scan the weekly ads, cut out coupons, go online to see what the best deals are, is just not realistic. And, she has me to bring her over a bag of toothpaste, deodorant, body wash and shampoo once a month!

So, here are a few tips that I have to offer for those who may be thinking that they want to start using coupons and shopping the weekly sales.

Find an organizational system that works for you. I've had discussions with friends who said that they adopted a fancy system for their coupons because of a blog post or magazine article only to get frustrated by it and quit using their coupons altogether.

I'm gonna show you my very sophisticated system right now...are you ready?

Yes, that's a coupon organizer and a recycled envelope from a credit card offer!

My coupon organizer is set up to follow the flow of my local Kroger store...where I do most of my grocery shopping. The envelope is for my Register Rewards (Walgreens), Extra Care Bucks (CVS) and the coupons that correlate with the weekly deals of both stores.

I try to go through the coupon organizer at the end of each month and throw away the expired coupons and move the "soon to expire" coupons to the front of each section.

In regards to the envelope, every Saturday morning I grab my local newspaper (it's not published on Sunday so I get the weekly circulars a day earlier than some) and go through the ad and coupons. I find it easier to cut out the deals from the circular and put them in the envelope with any matching coupons. I'm visual so it helps to have the picture with me when I'm in the store. It also helps if I need to show the price to the cashier if it doesn't ring up correctly.

Pick the stores you shop at the most and concentrate on those. If you don't have a Rite Aid near by, there's no need to look at the ad. I concentrate on Walgreens and CVS when it comes to really looking at their weekly ads and finding the deals. I've found that if I try to do more than those two, I get overwhelmed. I'm not saying that if I see a great deal at Target or Meijer or elsewhere, that I won't go for it, I do!

Learn the rules. Each store has their own rules on coupons, number of items purchased, etc. For example, at Walgreens you have to have the same or more number of items as you have coupons. So, while you can use a Walgreens coupon (from their weekly ad or in-store monthly coupon book) AND a manufacturer's coupon AND a Register Reward on the same item, you have to have two more items in your cart to use all three coupons. It's a bit confusing, but once you learn the rules you can totally play the game.

There are some great blogs that actually have "how to" guides for different stores. I learned a lot from In Good Cents through her "101" tutorials.

Also, don't be afraid to ask for help in the store. The gals at my local Walgreens are wonderful. If you go to the cosmetic counter at Walgreens, they often have a binder of coupons that they will whip out if you ask them.
Be aware of expiration dates. Coupons have expiration dates, as do Register Rewards at Walgreens and Extra Care Bucks at CVS. The expiration dates for Register Rewards are usually just a week after you get them so make sure you know when they expire so you don't lose out on the great deal you got the week before!

Check with the experts. I am in no way an EXPERT when it comes to finding the best deals. I totally rely on some great bloggers out there who have to spend lots of time scouring the ads and online coupon sites! I tend to check my Twitter feed on Saturday and Sunday for these ladies' recommendations:

• @Thequeenoffree
• @ingoodcents
• @Hunt4Freebies

I also subscribe to some blog feeds that come right to my email inbox. I tend to like these better than having to go to individual blogs to find the information. Saving Dollars and Sense ( is probably my favorite. She does a great job of breaking the deals down and showing you how to maximize your coupons.
Free or Better than Free. I had institute this rule after about a year of working with sales. I'm not really brand loyal on much of anything so if there is toothpaste, shampoo, razor or body wash on sale and I can get it for free or better than free, I'm buying it. This has led me to have stockpiles of all of these in my bathroom closet.

So in the interest of not being the subject of the show Hoarders, I don't buy any of the above items unless I can get them for free or better than free! Even if it will only cost me a quarter for a tube of Crest, I don't buy it.

This rule can also cause me to have items in my closet that I have absolutely NO use for, like men's body wash and men's razors. At one time, I had at least a half dozen bottles of men's body wash and a handful of men's razors in my bathroom closet because of some great deals at Walgreens/CVS (BETTER than free). Let's just say that my brothers-in-law all got some extra treats in the Chrismas gift bags that year!

If it gets too out-of-control, remember that your local food pantries and shelters are always in need of toiletry and food items. During a tour of a local food bank last year, I learned that folks on public assistance cannot use food stamps to buy toiletry items so they are in high demand at local food pantries.

Don't have the time? Ask a friend. I have a coworker who has four or five items (face wash, hair product, laundry detergent) that she is brand loyal to but she doesn't have a subscription to the local newspaper so she misses out on coupons. So, I told her to send me a list of those items and I keep an eye out for coupons or even really good deals at my fav stores. Then I let her know when there is a deal she should go for. She often finds coupons on her desk come Monday morning!

For me - and probably others like me - part of the draw of bargain shopping is the thrill of a good deal. And if I can help my friends and family get a deal, I'm all for it. So, don't be afraid to ask a deal-seeking friend to keep her eye out for deals that you might be interested in.

Savings Dollars and Sense often has links in her email about free codes, coupons and samples on stuff that I don't care about, but sometimes I know people who would be interested, so I forward the email with a note telling them why I'm sending it their way. For example, I don't collect the Disney Movie Rewards points, but a good friend does so I try and forward the emails with those codes to her when I see them.

Shop early. Lots of times the sale items are in limited quantity - especially at the drugstores - so if you really want the deal, go on Sunday. I waited until Saturday to head to Walgreens this week and couldn't find the mac 'n cheese I wanted because it was a great deal and they probably only had a few packages for the whole week!

Have fun. If clipping coupons, looking at circulars and shopping for deals becomes too stressful for you, then don't do it! Sometimes the money you save isn't enough to equal the time you put into it. If that is the case, forget it.

I hope these tips are helpful. I know that I appreciate reading about what others have learned as they navigate through the couponing and bargain shopping waters.

If you have other tips, let me know!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

These Kept Catching My Eye...

I have been doing some housekeeping...well, at least on my laptop!

Since I started this blog more than eight months ago (Can you believe it's been eight months?), the photos have gotten out of control. For every photo that shows up on this blog, there's probably another five that didn't make the cut!

Some of the non-blog shots are keepers because they are of my family and friends but many of them are random shots. I don't really need five photos of a bowl of mac 'n cheese or a pile of toothpaste (it was free, you know) or the candy my nephews left in my couch.

So, I have spent a few minutes each evening deleting the extra photos. Not too hard, just takes time.

However, I kept coming back to the two photos below. I took them on July 4th on my parents' back porch.

The subject is my parents' dog - Molly. She's a high energy, loveable farm dog. She spends most of her time roaming the yard, protecting her territory from imagined (and sometimes real) threats.

I just love the expressions on her face.

She's looking across the yard, always vigilant.

She's caught sight of something.

Unfortunately it's probably a baby bird.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Where, Oh Where, Did My Voice Go?

Back on December 20, 2010, I wrote a letter to Winter and signed it "Tired of Winter Already and It Hasn't Even Begun Yet."

Well, it's a month later and I'm officially SICK and tired of winter.

Seriously, I'm sick. As in stuffy head, runny nose and scratchy throat. My throat isn't so much sore as my voice is totally gone and everytime I try to talk, I get short of breath. It sucks...big time.

I've learned a few things with the loss of my voice, including:

I must be at death's door. I swear that every time I opened my mouth someone would tell me how bad I sounded and how sick I must be. In reality, I don't feel good but I don't feel THAT bad.

I am very susceptible to suggestion. After being told that I MUST feel awful a few times, I actually start feeling worse. Now, if only people would start telling me I'm a millionaire...

It's really hard to talk to yourself with no voice. I keep opening my mouth to tell myself something important and nothing comes out. How annoying...maybe I'll start writing myself notes or maybe even send myself an email or two.

I should just let my phone go to voicemail and call them back later. It takes me two or three tries to just say hello.

I should try out for American Idol. Seriously, my sick voice is right up there with some of those folks who were on the show last night. I didn't watch but I heard some clips on the radio this morning. Yikes!

Hopefully, my voice decides to come back soon. I may have to resort to bringing a dry erase board and marker with me to my meetings tomorrow!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sincerely? Cordially? Affectionately?

When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.

-Maria, Sound of Music, 1965

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

San Antonio: What a Lovely View...Not So Much

I spent last week in San Antonio for work. I stayed at the Omni (which was once a school so very cool building) on the River Walk. Now, before you get all jealous let me show you my view of the River Walk from the hotel...

Not what you remember the River Walk looking like, right? Well, for about 12 days each year they drain the River Walk to clean it up and dredge some of the dirt, trash and rocks that settle in it throughout the year. Nothing like strolling down the scenic River Walk to the sound of heavy machinery, smell of diesel fuel and the worry that you might trip over a large blue hose full of San Antonio river water!

I think the River Walk being empty is a great visual - perhaps a metaphor - for business travel. You go to a great city expecting to see the sights (not really but that's what everyone else thinks you do when you travel for work) and instead you sit in a meeting room for 8-plus hours a day for two days and then fly home. Empty River Walk equals drab meeting room! See how I linked were worried, huh?

Now, I'm not saying that I didn't get out and see anything while I was in San Antonio (more on that in a bit), I did and there was a Starbucks right across the street so it was a good trip for me. I also met 12 women who really inspired me (really 14, but I already knew two of them before I went) during the trip.

I was at a meeting with a group of farm women. That is such an insignificant description of these women.

They are wives, mothers, daughters, sisters, teachers, business women, and so, so much more! They are intelligent, passionate, compassionate, funny, witty, engaging and just downright FUN.

Though they are from five different states and had never met before, by the end of the two days you could tell that some wonderful friendships had been formed.

I just sat back and listened (OK, I talked a bit too) to the stories about why they farm; how they met their husbands (at the lake one summer for one gal and online for another); how they adopted not one but three beautiful boys from Russia - the last one right before Putin stopped adoptions to Americans; how they asked their teenage children what they liked and didn't like about the farm (liked living in the country, disliked living in the country...teenagers!); how their husbands promised them they could take vacations WHENEVER because they don’t have livestock but forgot to mention planting in spring and harvest in the fall; how their lives revolve around their animals because it doesn't matter if it's Christmas, the cows need fed and milked; and how they couldn't imagine living and raising their families any other way.

I'm privileged that while I no longer live on my family farm, I get to work in the presence of farmers, like these women, and do my small part in helping them (and their families) continue to do what they love to do - grow stuff, whether it's plants (corn and soybeans here in Indiana) or animals. Getting to know these women really made the trip for me.

I did manage to snap a few more photos on my trusty Blackberry while I was down in Texas and they even turned out OK since I solved the mystery of the blurry photos. I mainly took these pictures to post to Twitter during my trip. I don't know why, but I really immersed myself in the Twitterverse last week!

So here's a "snapshot" of my San Antonio trip.

OK, maybe this isn't what you expected but that's just part of my caffeine consumption during Day 2 of the meeting. I truly appreciated the Coke Zero in the meeting room. It was a great chaser to the Venti Starbucks I consumed that morning! There might have been a few other bottles of Coke Zero that didn't make the shot.

What did you expect to see? The Alamo? Mariachi Bands?

Oh, you did expect to see those. OK, here we go...

Only in Texas (and maybe Mexico) can you see this on the side of a building!

Unfortunately this next establishment was closed...really could have gone for a plate of pasta served by a belly dancing jazz musician!

On my second morning in San Antonio, I got up early (Central time kills me) and took a walk along the River Walk (after hitting Starbucks) but had to detour because of the work being done so I took to the streets and realized that my hotel was just about 4-5 blocks from the Alamo! So after dinner that night, I walked back to see it lit up at night. Very cool.

We ate at a barbecue joint along the River Walk just before my walk to the Alamo and this sign made me feel right at home. Shout out to all the other 10-year 4-Hers out there!

At this same restaurant we were served these...

Do you know what went through my head when I saw these...the opening to the Flintstones cartoon when they brought out the huge dinosaur (assuming they were dinosaur) ribs to Fred's car - that and the Jetsons theme song, not sure why the Jetsons...Meet George Jetson, his son Elroy! The ribs were huge and I have to admit that these were almost too big to enjoy...though the BBQ chicken was yummy.

I think I have an obsession with food...took another photo of another meal. This time it was beef brisket and it was quite yummy.

Now you know why I got up and took that morning walk, huh?
Here's a shot of the beautiful pool at the hotel that was actually warm enough to swim in, though no one did while we were there!

Since the hotel used to be a school, it's shaped kind of funny with all of these nooks and crannies. There was this cute courtyard close to my room and I snapped a shot of the two Hoosier farm wives that were at the meeting with me. They are such fun!

And thank goodness the lady in blue above was with me...we had a 5:40 AM flight home and if she didn't call my room at 4:15 AM and ask me if I was joining her in the cab, I'd still be in San Antonio!

So, maybe I should add helpful to that list of adjectives describing the farm women I was with in San Antonio!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Venturing into the Tasty Kitchen

I've been reading lots of posts about setting New Year's resolutions or choosing NOT to set any. Now, I'm not a big believer in NYRs. I'm not saying that others shouldn't set them. I just know myself...I won't keep them.

However, I have decided to make some changes in my life and they just so happen to coincide with the New Year, so maybe I am a believer. I won't go into detail on why I've set these as my 2011 goals, but here they are:

1.  Go to Mass regularly (maybe not weekly, but more than just Easter and Christmas).

2.  Go to the gym at least twice a week. (It annoys me to see my gym membership payment on the credit card statement and know that I NEVER go.)

3.  Eat at home regularly (unless Mom it should read: Eat at home or Mom's regularly). Try to cut out the drive-thru runs on the way home from work.

So, I did go to Mass this morning. The band was playing and it reminded me of my days at Purdue and the band that played at St. Tom's...of course the band members this morning were about 20-30 years older, but they were still great. Sorry, I digress.

I really wanted to talk about the third "goal" on my list. I've gotten lazy over the last year (I guess "lazy" is the reason behind all 3 goals, huh?) and not really cooked much at all. I've relied on Steak 'n Shake way too much for my evening meal...but they have Coke Zero so I felt justified!

I'm determined to keep more "easy meal" options on hand, like bread for sandwiches and carrots and grapes for quick and healthy side options. Sometimes I don't get home from the office until after 7 p.m. and that's way too late (at least for me) to be doing a lot of cookin' in the kitchen!

I also want to start using my crockpot more regularly and fixing meals on the weekend so I can have leftovers throughout the week. I did the latter this weekend.

I had a craving for macaroni and cheese but I never really make it myself. I'm not a confident enough cook (usually) to just throw some ingredients in a pot and hope for the best. My mom makes macaroni and cheese this way and it comes out just fine, but I wanted a recipe!

So, I headed over to a website that I stalk read regularly, The Pioneer Woman. If you haven't visited, I dare you to go to her blog and spend just 5 minutes. Trust me. You will go over and start to poke around and the next thing you know, it's been an hour and you just want to read more!

Well, the Pioneer Woman also has a cooking blog - really a community - where cooks come together and share recipes. I have to admit that The Tasty Kitchen has been the section on her site that I've spent the least amount of time exploring. I've gone there a time or two looking for recipe ideas but I never "joined" until this weekend.

I went there for a simple macaroni and cheese recipe and came away with an amazing one!

Doesn't this look awesome?

It's called Chicken Bacon Ranch Macaroni and Cheese.
Now, I admit I made some substitutions and I'll let you know what they were as we go through the recipe.

8 ounces, weight Uncooked Elbow Macaroni (I used a penne pasta and probably used 10 oz.)
4 slices Applewood Smoked Bacon (I cooked my bacon in the microwave - less mess, so I skipped the second paragraph below and the onion & garlic powders too.)
8 ounces, weight Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast, Cut Into 1/2-inch Pieces (I had some breaded chicken breasts in the freezer so I just heated those up instead...reminded me of Noodles & Co.'s mac 'n cheese with Parmesan-crusted chicken breast.)
½ teaspoons Onion Powder
½ teaspoons Garlic Powder
½ teaspoons Salt
1 Tablespoon Butter
1 Tablespoon Flour
1-½ cup Fat Free Milk
½ cans Condensed Cream Of Chicken Soup, 10 Ounce Can
¼ cups BOTTLED RANCH DRESSING (I might have added just a bit more dressing - definitely a great addition.)
¾ cups Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese, Shredded (I used regular Colby Jack instead.)
½ cups French Fried Onions (I didn't have these, probably would have been good though.)
½ cups Reduced Fat Cheddar Cheese, Shredded

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain.

[Cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan, reserving drippings in pan. Finely chop bacon; set aside. Increase heat to medium-high. Season chicken with onion powder, garlic powder and salt. Add chicken to drippings in pan; sauté 6 minutes or until done.] I didn't do this step as noted above...I just cooked my bacon in the microwave (such an easy way to do it) and heated up some pre-cooked breaded chicken breasts.

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat; sprinkle flour evenly into pan. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a whisk. Combine milk and soup, stirring with a whisk; then gradually add milk mixture to saucepan, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a boil; cook 2 minutes or until thick. Add ranch dressing and 3/4 cups of cheese, stirring until cheese melts. Stir in pasta and chicken.

Preheat broiler.

Spoon pasta mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle evenly with reserved bacon, fried onions and 1/2 cup of cheese. Broil 3 minutes or until cheese melts.

Take another look...

...notice the brownies in the background? Another super-easy "recipe" but this one was from Hoosier Homemade - a great blog from right here in my home state (be sure to check out her awesome cupcakes). Just whip up a box of brownies, sprinkle some peanut butter chips on top once they are in the pan, bake for 5 minutes and then swirl the melted chips into the brownies with a knife, and finish baking. YUMMY...I used a box of Ghiradelli Double Chocolate brownies and that made them THAT much better!

I have to admit this wasn't my ONLY bowl of mac 'n cheese last night...or today!

I heated up a bowl under the broiler for lunch today and I think it was even better than it was last night. Notice the bottle of wine in the background? The mac 'n cheese with great with a glass of Pinot Grigio from Easley Wineries in Indianapolis...check out for more info on Indiana wines and wineries.

I'll definitely be returning the Tasty Kitchen to hunt up some other recipes and maybe someday I'll add one of my own!

Since, I've already tackled 2 of my 3 goals maybe I should head to the gym...maybe tomorrow! Who wants another brownie?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Farm Animals and a Bling Ring

Remember when I told you that I went Christmas shopping at a gas station? No...check out the post here.

Well, the exchange was a huge hit with my coworkers! All but one of my coworkers participated - and even the one who didn't buy a gift enjoyed the hilarity that ensued.

Here's the pile of goods...notice that we "wrapped" them very elegantly.

I didn't get a shot of each gift...I didn't even get a shot of the gift I bought! My contribution included a bag of dill pickle flavored sunflower seeds, Lee Greenwood Christmas CD and a small snow globe featuring an Indiana farm scene.

Several of the gifts included lottery tickets and those were stolen multiple times...this one was not stolen - not even once...

I totally stole this gift. My sister really wanted to get my 2-year-old nephew some little farm animals but couldn't find them anywhere. Well, Aunt MeeMee came to the rescue!

Now, I felt a bit bad about stealing them away from a coworker who also has a 2-year-old son...but only for a second!

My nephew is in love with the box of farm animals at Grandma and Papaw's house. He always gets them out right after he pulls out the John Deere tractors and New Holland combine so he can farm like Papaw. So he HAD to have a set at home, right?

I've already been told that this type of gift swap is a must for next year's staff Christmas to think of a way to top the gas station idea...


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