Potluck Chicken

Some people call them basket dinners, others fellowship meals, but our church calls them potlucks and we have one the last Sunday of every month.

We love them!

But I’ve struggled through the years finding something to bring. The oven at church was always full – so it needed to be something in a crock pot.

It also needed to be fast, cheap, and easy to make.

And – after that one embarrassing potluck when my meatballs where raw in the center – it had to be fully cooked.

Enter – Potluck Chicken!

I developed this recipe one Saturday afternoon in desperation. It proved to be a big hit – especially with the kids – and has become my signature potluck dish.

The ingredients are simple – just thawed chicken legs and some Montreal seasoning (I use my homemade version which can be found here).

The secret is time management.

The night before, I line a sheet cake pan with aluminum foil. This helps with clean up.

Then I take the thawed chicken legs and sprinkle them liberally with the Montreal seasoning mix and lay them on the tray.

I cover the tray with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge overnight.

First thing the next morning, I remove the plastic and put the pan of chicken in the oven at 350 while I shower, eat breakfast, and get dressed.

Then – Just before I leave for church – I take the chicken from the oven and put the legs and any juice in my crock pot on warm. I throw away the aluminum foil and quickly wash the pan.

That’s it!

The chicken legs bake for about 90 minutes to 2 hours and are fall of the bone tender.

They could be eaten immediately, but will stay warm and wonderful for hours in the crock pot.

You could bake them immediately and skip the whole refrigerator step, but there’s something wonderful that happens when the spices sit on the chicken overnight!

Either way they are yummy!

Enjoy!

 

Upping My Coffee Game

It’s a well established fact that I am just not a coffee drinker.

The smell is heavenly – but the taste has always let me down.

My kids, however, all drink coffee.

And not just any coffee – but good coffee. That’s why they make their own when they are here.

The only time I make coffee is when my parents come to visit and I pull my little vintage percolator and attempt to brew a pot. They’ve always said it was “fine”.

To be honest. I never even think about coffee except to make sure I have some in the freezer and half & half in the fridge when the kids are home.

So when Peter brought a bunch of friends down to help tear down the hovel, coffee was the last thing on my mind. At least until they staggered in the kitchen Saturday morning with bleary eyes and mumbling “Coffee?”

I went into full on panic mode and grabbed my little vintage peculator which looked grossly undersized and frantically tried to remember how to make coffee.

I don’t think I succeeded by the number of mugs full of coffee that were left on the table when they went outside.

The next day I texted my oldest son – the one known in our family as the connoisseur of fine brew – and asked him to teach my how to make a good cup o’ joe.

He took the challenge seriously and began lessons the very next time he was home.

I will admit he looked uncertain when I pulled out my little vintage percolator but gamely tried it.

He immediately dumped the pot.

Lesson 1 – when coffee is boiled it becomes bitter. Bitter is not good.

He then introduced me to the French Press <insert heavenly music> which is the easiest and almost dummy-proof way to make coffee.

As he carefully measured the coffee grounds and started the water boiling, he began explaining the different kinds of coffee, pros and cons of coffee beans and already ground coffee and how to tell when your coffee is old and why nobody wants to drink the three year coffee in my freezer.

Lesson 2 – Nobody likes old coffee. Old coffee is not good.

I listened intently as I watched him take the boiling water off the burner, let it sit for a minute to bring the temp down (lesson number 1!) and poured it over the ground coffee.

He then told Siri to set a timer for three minutes, and continued my education on all things coffee. Did you know there’s a roast date on every package of coffee? And the lighter the roast the more caffeine?

My head was spinning by the time Siri told him his coffee was done.

He carefully poured his perfectly made brew into a mug and sat down satisfied with the look on his face that only the most serious coffee drinkers understand.

I sat across from him holding my massive cup of green tea and realized that my brain was about to burst with information.

So I grabbed a recipe card and started making notes.

I fully realize that I may be teased about this for the rest of my life – but I will confess hear and now that I actually have a recipe for coffee.

And I used it when my parents visited.

And they immediately noticed that my coffee had improved. Greatly.

This momma has upped her coffee game!

Next lesson – how to get Siri to set the timer for 3 minutes!

Okay – don’t hold your breath on that one!

 

Cake Wars Drop-Out

Buddy had a birthday this week.

This is the kid who is known for his over-the-top birthday cakes. (Who could forget his infamous M & M shooting catapult cake or his royal pika family surrounded by torches cake!) But this year he left the whole thing in my hands. He had no ideas, no requests, it was all up to me.

But don’t worry – I was ready! After all, I have watched every episode of Cake Wars. I’ve seen every mistakes ever made on cakes and besides, I had an idea.

I was going to make him an electric guitar cake!

Isn’t that an epic idea?! Mind-blowingly amazing!

This cake was going to be so awesome it would probably break Pinterest!

I started by mixing up my cake mix (yes – I cheated and used a cake mix!) but to bump up the flavor and keep it moist, I added sour cream. That was my first mistake.

There will be more.

While the cake baked, I measured Buddy’s guitar, sketched out my design so that everything would be proportional, and cut out a template. This was an amazing template – seriously – I even did fractions to make sure my sides were correct!

I actually thought to myself that I really should mass produce these things and sell them – because honestly – doesn’t every one need to make an electric guitar cake at some point in their life!

When the cake was cooled, I laid my template on top – anxious to get started on my masterpiece!

But the template was too big. What!! Wait, how could that have happened?! I even did the math!

My cake must have shrunk! In a panic I started to whittle sides off, then the top and the bottom. Cake was flying! Forget the proportions of neck to guitar – I barely had enough cake to make a neck!img_0251

Not only that – it was such a moist cake that it kept breaking when I tried to move it from the cooling rack to the serving tray.

I finally had it positioned – a guitar with a neck – and started spreading my buttercream as a crumb coat.

Crumb coat is right. I just kept pulling up cake with each swipe of frosting. This guitar was getting smaller and more messy with each knife stroke. I used up my entire batch of buttercream.

What a disaster! There were cake crumbs and frosting and powdered sugar all over my kitchen and myself.

img_0253I had to mix up another batch of buttercream to hide all the crumbs. More powdered sugar everywhere. My kitchen looked like a winter storm.

So did I.

At this point his amazing electric guitar cake looked more like a fuzzy dwarf electric ukulele.

This did not look Cake Wars worthy. Then I remembered that all the cakes on Cake Wars look so smooth because they are covered with fondant. Yeah – that wasn’t happening.

I considered briefly going with the fuzzy theme and just throwing coconut all over it and calling it a day – but Buddy doesn’t like coconut. So I kept working until my frosting was somewhat smooth – abandoning all thoughts of a piping bag and details.

Instead I turned to an old birthday cake stand-by, a friend that has never failed me, my go-to birthday cake rescue – M & M’s!

img_0255We now had a rainbow dwarf electric ukulele.

And Buddy loved it!

We put 16 re-lighting candles on it, sang Happy Birthday, and watched him try to blow them out over and over again!

It was awesome!

Another birthday cake done.

I’m hanging up my apron now. My dreams of ever winning Cake Wars completely destroyed.

Trust me people – they make it look easy on TV.

But boy was that cake moist!

 

Wedding Dip

One thing both Laura and Steven wanted for their wedding was a relaxed and informal reception.

They didn’t want a cake.

They didn’t want a bridal table.

They didn’t want a big meal.

They didn’t want speeches.

All they wanted was ice cream, dancing under twinkle lights, and a sparkler send off surrounded by their family and close friends.

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And they got it!

The dancing under the twinkle lights and the sparkler send-off’s we’re pretty straight forward! (Hint – the key to a successful sparkler send-off at a wedding is to put a pyromaniac brother and brothers-in-law in charge of lighting them with propane torches just ahead of the bridal couple – then taking a series of pictures as they walk through!)

But the food had me stymied for awhile.

The ice cream and toppings were easy – but not enough. We added veggies and my homemade ranch dip, but we still needed more.

We finally settled on queso dip and chips.

Yes, I know it sounds odd – queso and weddings just don’t seem to go together. I knew we needed a step up from the typical Velveeta cheese and salsa dip – a little fancier version without the vivid yellow color.

And we found it – a simple queso dip without processed foods that was a beautiful wedding white color with small specks of the deep red tomatoes! We made it fancy by served it from a large chafing dish with the chips in a large basket beside it.

It helped make the reception relaxed, fun and more of a party!

And since so many guests have asked for the recipe – here it is!

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Wedding Dip

1 can Rotel tomatoes and green chilies
8 ounces cream cheese, full fat
1 pound pepper jack cheese
8 ounces sour cream, full fat
3/4 cup whole milk (or half & half)

Melt together, stirring well and serve warm with tortilla chips or crackers.

We made it ahead of time in large batches on the stove, stirring and stirring, thinking it was always going to be a big stringy, gooey mess and and then there was a magical moment when it all came together into amazing dip!

Then we stored it in the fridge and reheated in crock pots.

You could probably dump all the ingredients in the crock pot and let it heat on low until melted or zap it in the microwave to melt, just remember that stirring is your friend.

It refrigerates well and can be frozen (although it does get just slightly grainy in the freezer).

Enjoy!

Kale Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing

kale saladWe love kale.

Love, love, love, love it!

Not only is it a super food – packed with a whole slew of vitamins and minerals, it also tastes good.

I tried to grow my own kale last year, but  I planted it too late. It struggled all season, barely giving me enough kale to make myself a salad once a week.

So this year I planted early and abundantly. Four different varieties – just in case one didn’t work I would have a back-up.

And they all came up! All four varieties – Russian red, Blue Curled Scotch, Dwarf Siberian and my favorite – Scarlet Kale (cause it’s so pretty!)

We have kale by the dishpan full!

Kale for lunch. Kale for supper. Kale to share.

And kale to make this delicious salad frequently! Which is a very happy thing – since I absolutely adore it!

You need four basic components –

Kale – any variety, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces and placed in a serving bowl. If it’s not baby kale, you might want to pull out the tough stalk and ribs.

Add some fruit for sweetness.  Strawberries are our go-to favorite, but blueberries, raspberries and even dried cranberries are yummy. Put in as much or as little as you want – no judgement here!

Then throw on something for a crunch factor – like roasted nuts, or sunflower seeds. Personally I like to toast some slivered almonds with a little butter in my cast iron skillet, then sprinkle with a touch of salt when they are golden brown and delicious!

And finally – toss the entire salad with this yummy poppy seed dressing. (Which can be made in advance and kept in the fridge.)

Poppy Seed Dressing

1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sugar (5 teaspoons Truvia)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
2 teaspoons dried minced onion
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Place all the ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake.

Refrigerate.

Boom! That’s it! So easy and so yummy!

Just pour that goodness right over those healthy leafy greens and enjoy!