Don’t Cry Over Uncooked Chicken

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Bad days. We all have them. Even me – the chick who’s always talking about happiness. And this past week has been filled with them. One, especially, was a doozy! It began badly and escalated into something even worse. By the time I made it home after work that day, all I wanted to do was vent to my husband and curl up in my bed. But one of my husband’s co-workers was at the house. Venting was out of the question. So I ended up in the kitchen with a new recipe in front of me and a determination to cook away my problems.

I’ve said this before: it is so very strange that I find solace in cooking since I have no idea what I’m doing! It could be that the challenge of learning (and conquering!) something new creates a distraction from the worries of life. Or the appeal may be the creativity involved – gathering all the separate ingredients and putting everything together to produce something wonderful in the end. No matter the reason, cooking has become my emotional outlet.

So with the weight of the day on my shoulders, I set out to cook a chicken, bacon and ranch casserole. I prepared the ingredients as instructed – cut up the chicken into cubes, cut up the broccoli, cooked and crumbled the bacon and mixed it all together with cream cheese, ranch dressing and shredded cheddar. Then I checked the last bit of instructions to see how long the casserole was to cook:

“Bake until hot about 35 minutes.”

Until hot? Wait. That seemed like very strange wording for cooking instructions. I scrolled back to the top of the recipe to see if I had missed something. And there it was – the very first ingredient on the list:

“1.5 lb. cooked chicken, cubed”

COOKED? Really?

I looked at my casserole dish filled with the gooey combination of raw cubes of chicken, ranch dressing, cream cheese and all the other fixings. I almost lost it. I had just spent over an hour thawing out the chicken (cause I never remember to take the meat out of the freezer), cutting the raw chicken into small chunks (which really grosses me out and almost causes me to never eat chicken again), thawing and cooking the bacon (cause I like crispy bacon) and figuring out if I could substitute ranch dressing for the mayo and spices the recipe called for (Why not just call for ranch dressing in a chicken, bacon and ranch casserole?). It was all I could do to hold back the tears.

This cooking therapy session was doing me no good at all!

My initial response was to throw the whole thing out and order a pizza. Actually, throwing it across the room was my first impulse but then I would’ve had to clean up the mess. I certainly didn’t want to do that! So I decided to fish out all the pieces of uncooked chicken and brown them in a skillet. (I may have been able to cook the casserole as it was but I didn’t want to take any chances with chicken.) After the chicken was cooked, I mixed up the casserole a second time and put it in the oven. The finished product was delicious.

We ate. The family was satisfied. My bad day still loomed.

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(Photo Credit: Pinterest)

It bothers me to stress over my bad days. I know that there are so many who have worse problems than I. But there are times when the bad seems to latch on and not let go. I went to bed troubled and praying.

The next morning I awoke with a song in my heart:

“Oh, my soul,
You are not alone.
There’s a place where fear has to face the God you know.
One more day, He will make a way.
Let Him show you how, you can lay this down
‘Cause you’re not alone.”¹

God is good, isn’t He? He is always with us, even on the bad days. He walks right beside us and He’ll even carry our burdens – if we let Him. He is big enough to handle every problem, every worry, every sorrow, every question, every fear, everything.

You see, God is pretty creative, too. And just like gathering all the ingredients of a recipe and combining them into something wonderfully delicious, He has no problem gathering all the pieces of our lives, the good days and bad, the triumphs and failures, the joys and sorrows, and fashioning these pieces into something wonderful. It may take some adjustments to the recipe – fishing out what is wrong, reworking it or even throwing it out altogether – but in the end, the results of God’s handiwork are always beyond compare.

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Have you found yourself crying over uncooked chicken lately? Have you experienced any bad days? Maybe you’re experiencing a string of bad days. If you are, please remember, you don’t walk through these bad days alone. God is with you and He is waiting for you to hand Him your burdens. So, go ahead, hand ’em over and watch God’s creativity at work.

¹”Oh, My Soul” by Casting Crowns

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The Power of a Breakfast Casserole

Wouldn’t you know it! As soon as I write a “How To” on maintaining happiness (Check out Happiness Is… A Keeper), the devil begins his attack. (That’s his M.O., though.) My focus has been the target and as I mentioned in my previous post, focus has a huge effect on our happiness.

Focus, KJ. Focus.

So, what do we do when our focus becomes a little blurry? I find it helpful to spend time doing something I love. It gets my mind off the negativity and boosts my spirits which always helps me tune in to the important things of life. Oddly enough, cooking has become one of my go-to refocusing tools. (Yeah. Completely surprised me, too!)

Okay, devil! I’ve got a skillet and I know how to use it!

This morning, I hit the kitchen around 9:15. I had my heart set on a breakfast casserole but first, I had to find a recipe. That always takes some time. Pinterest has way too many choices. I finally settled on Fully Loaded Cheesy Breakfast Casserole from “The Slow Roasted Italian”. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that this recipe was my inspiration. I didn’t quite follow it. (It’s amazing I ended up with something edible. I really have no idea what I’m doing! 😉 )

 Breakfast Casserole by KJ

First, I gathered all the ingredients – well, almost all. I kinda grabbed stuff as I went along. But here is a list of the ingredients I used:

1 lb. ground mild sausage
Half bag of frozen diced hash brown potatoes (it’s all I had in the freezer)
12 eggs
1/2 cup milk
2 green peppers
1 medium onion
2 cups of shredded Colby & Monterey Jack cheese (almost 2 cups – again, I used what I had)
1 tbsp. Minced garlic
Salt and Pepper

How to (and how not to, in some instances) prepare:

Preheat oven to 350º. The recipe called for a temp of 375º. I have no idea where I came up with 350º but it turned out fine.

Spray a 9 x 13 casserole dish with cooking oil and set to the side.

Defrost ground sausage. So, I didn’t plan ahead and the sausage was in the freezer. On top of that, it turned out to be 2 pounds of sausage. I only needed one but had to defrost all of it. I guess I’ll find something to cook with the remaining sausage tomorrow.

Pour yourself a cup of coffee. This is going to take a while!

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While waiting for the sausage to defrost, chop the onion and peppers. One of my peppers was a hybrid – half green, half orange. (Genetic engineering? Hmmm…) I only chopped the orange side so really I only used one and a half peppers.

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Once sausage is defrosted, add to a skillet along with the chopped onions, peppers and minced garlic. Cook until sausage is no longer pink.

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Scoop out meat and vegetable mixture, allowing the grease to drain back into the skillet, and spread into the casserole dish. You can use a slotted spoon or one of these handy scoops: (I’m not gonna tell you what I think this scoop looks like. You may lose your appetite. But, I promise, I bought it in the kitchen department!)

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Drain some of the grease from the skillet until there is about 3 tablespoons remaining. (Just eyeball it, I guess. ??)

Return skillet to stove and add hash browns. Cook according to the package instructions: spread in single layer in pan, cover and allow to brown for 4 – 7 minutes on each side on medium-high heat.

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While hash browns are browning, combine eggs, milk, salt and pepper in large bowl. I repeat, LARGE bowl. It’s hard to whisk when you’re worried about sloshing egg all over your counter like I was!

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Switch to whisking with a fork because plastic whisk ain’t cuttin’ it. (Note to self: Find metal whisk! Where is that thing?)

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Check stove for cause of burning smell. Ugh! This is why I can’t do two things at once while cooking.

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Salvage the non-burnt potatoes and spread over the sausage and vegetables in the casserole dish. (Oops, I missed a burnt one or two!)

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Spend five minutes or more scraping out skillet while it’s still hot. (I learned that at the Japanese steak house where you not only get a fun show and great meal, you get a kitchen clean up lesson, as well!) Now, where was I… Oh, yeah.

Next, pour egg mixtu- – No, wait. That’s not right. I’m forgetting something. The cheese!

Next, sprinkle cheese on the casserole.

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Now pour the egg mixture as evenly as possible into the casserole.

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Bake for 35-40 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when you stick a knife in the middle and it comes out clean. (I actually knew that before I started all this cooking nonsense. 😉 )

Use baking time to clean up your mess.

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Reheat coffee for the third, maybe fourth, time and then wait.

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Beep, beep, beep. Look at this beautiful casserole! It was yummy, too!

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It took me 2 and a half hours to make (I told you I don’t know what I’m doing!) but by the time I was done, the thing that was stealing my attention no longer mattered. In fact, my only distraction at the moment was the rumbling of my tummy.

But that was quickly remedied. 🙂

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A Year of Smiles – Day 322: Thanksgiving Countdown

Reason to SMILE and BE THANKFUL #322: PUMPKIN PIE

The only food God intended to be made from pumpkins!

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Just knowing it will be cooling on my mom’s kitchen counter when I arrive at her house on Thanksgiving Day is enough to bring a SMILE to my face.

Mmm. Mmm. Good!

A Year of Smiles – Day 321: Thanksgiving Countdown

Reason to SMILE and BE THANKFUL #321: THE MENU

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In my family, traditions are sacred. Maybe that’s just part of being a family. We all have our own ways of celebrating the holidays and as we get older and have families of our own, we like to continue those traditions that we hold near and dear. And God forbid we stray from those traditions! You think I’m kidding?

One year, a chunk of my family decided to go to the mountains for Thanksgiving. Those of us who couldn’t afford the trip were left to celebrate on our own. I’ve never felt so abandoned in all of my life! 😉 What in the world was I supposed to do without my family on Thanksgiving! My crew ended up at Cracker Barrel eating with a restaurant full of strangers at a table not nearly big enough to hold our food and no one to share our family stories with. It was sad. I was sad. It was not a Happy Thanksgiving. I do have to admit the food was pretty good (Nothing like mom’s, though!) but I absolutely hated not being able to celebrate Thanksgiving the way it was supposed to be celebrated!

Okay. Maybe I should rephrase my earlier statement. I forbid we stray from traditions. I really like them! 🙂

When it comes to the Thanksgiving menu, it’s no different. The traditional American Thanksgiving meal will do just fine. Turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, green bean casserole, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce (I could actually do without the cranberry sauce!), rolls and pecan and pumpkin pies complete the Thanksgiving spread. There are usually a few other dishes depending on what mood some of us are in but for the most part, the meal is quite typical – as it should be. 😉

And every year, the responsibility to prepare each dish is doled out to different family members. Mom takes the big stuff and the rest of us take the side dishes. For the longest time, I was responsible for the rolls and the drinks – nothing that had to be cooked. (If you’ve read any of my posts on cooking, you’d completely understand the wisdom of this choice.) In recent years, however, I’ve been upgraded to the green bean casserole. The added responsibility had nothing to do with improvement in my cooking skills. It was only given to me because my sister, who usually prepared that dish, moved away. (My family has such faith in me! 😉 ) After ten years, I can proudly say that I am now a master at preparing green bean casserole. I can almost make it without looking at the recipe! Hahahaha!

Well, I don’t know about you but our Thanksgiving menu always makes me SMILE. I look forward to the sights, the smells, the tastes and the feeling of misery after stuffing my face with way too much food. Oh, hurry up, Thanksgiving! I can hardly wait!

 

 

A Year of Smiles – Day 320: The Thanksgiving Countdown Begins

Reason to SMILE and BE THANKFUL #320: MOM’S COOKING

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There’s nothing better! Give me a choice between the best dish from the best restaurant anywhere in the world and my mom’s fried pork chops, rice, black-eyed peas and gravy and you better believe I’m choosing my momma’s cookin’! I don’t know how she does it. Any meal she prepares is the best meal in the world as far as I’m concerned. You can’t beat her roast beef, carrots and potatoes, her lemon-pepper chicken or her meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Heck! Even her rice and canned soup is amazing!

Of course, when Thanksgiving rolls around, my taste buds begin their annual protest. No food can satisfy. Nothing tastes good because all they want is Thanksgiving Dinner at mom’s. Now, my mom doesn’t do all the cooking. There’s too many of us to feed and that’s too much to ask. (Although, is it really? Hahahaha! I’m just kidding, Mom! 🙂 ) But I always know who has prepared what and my mom’s dishes are what fills my belly first! (Yes, when it comes to food, I do discriminate!)

You know, I have tried to cook as well as my mom but I never really paid much attention in the kitchen when I was a child. I’ve made her meatloaf, her lemon-pepper chicken and just last night, I made her chili. Guess what. Nothing I prepare tastes anything like the dishes prepared by my mom! Nothing!

That’s the key, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter what the meal is. If it’s prepared by mom, it’s the best food you’ve ever tasted and it always brings a SMILE. Well…

… unless you’re my kids.

It’s a good thing they have their Mamaw!

A Year of Smiles – Day 235

Reason to SMILE #235: COOKING DISASTERS (Might as well SMILE, right?)

I’m trying to hone my cooking skills. Normally, it takes me forever to prepare a meal. If the recipe calls for a preparation time of 30 minutes, it’s guaranteed to take me at least an hour – sometimes longer. 

The evening of the solar eclipse, I decided I’d try to cut down my cooking time by doing two things at once. Cooking rice on the stovetop was one of those things. Now, I must tell you that I’ve always done well with cooking rice. It was one of the first things my mother taught me to cook and I’ve always been able to get it just right until…

I think I’ll stick with preparing one item at a time! I was so upset with myself until I looked into the pot after throwing out the burnt rice and discovered…

… an eclipse!! It has the diamond ring and everything! 😉

My cooking disaster turned into a SMILE and I couldn’t help but share it with my Facebook friends:


Yeah. God’s display in the heavens was so much more impressive, wasn’t it? <giggle, giggle> 😁

A Year of Smiles – Day 163

Reason to SMILE #163: THE 5 SECOND RULE


I was cooking.

Yes, I was cooking.

This has been a year for cooking for me.  I’ve cooked more this year than I’ve ever cooked in my life! It’s strange since the cooking in my house is usually done by someone other than me. But I’ll let you in on a secret.

Are you ready?

Come close because I can’t speak this too loudly…

I really do enjoy cooking!

It’s relaxing and it gives me a sense of accomplishment. Who knew!

I digress.

Tonight, I was bagging a few unneeded cobs of corn to put in the freezer. One slipped from my hand and fell to the kitchen floor. I immediately picked it up and just did catch myself trying to put it in the bag with all the rest. Ewww! I couldn’t help but laugh at myself, though, for the only thing going through my mind at the time was the voice of one of my church kids screaming, “Five second rule!”

It’s times like these when I know I’ve been in children’s ministry entirely too long! But what can I do? It’s my calling and it makes me SMILE – but not when it almost ruins my supper!!