Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pumpkin, Bean, and Chicken Enchiladas

Yes, it's only September 5th and it's still hot outside in Tennessee, but I'm pretty ready for fall. Ready to pull out the colorful leaf wreaths and buy some funky pumpkins and drink some chai tea. Oh, and try new pumpkin recipes! Yes, please.

This is a different sort of pumpkin recipe than I usually try - it's a savory one. And I loved it! It messed with my husband's mind a bit ("I keep wanting it to be sweet!") but it was a total win for me. It's a pretty healthy recipe, too, though I added a bit more cheese and salt than the original recipe called for. I mean, you want it to taste good, right? ;)

Oh, and don't be looking for "pumpkin beans" at your farmer's market like my mom's cousin was going to do. It's pumpkin comma bean. =)

Pumpkin, Bean, and Chicken Enchiladas
Adapted from Ladies' Home Journal Family Favorites Volume 6
Makes 4 servings
Print-friendly version

2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 c. chopped onion (1 medium onion)
1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped (optional - I left this out and added more chili powder)
1 15-oz. can pumpkin
1 1/2 to 1 3/4 c. water
1 tsp. chili powder (use more if not using jalapeno)
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt (may need to taste and add more)
1 c. red kidney beans, drained
1 1/2 c. chopped or shredded cooked chicken breast
1 c. shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
8 6-in white corn tortillas, softened
Pico de gallo or salsa (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 9x13 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil on medium high heat. Add onion and jalapeno, if using; saute' until tender, about 5 minutes.

Stir in pumpkin and add 1 1/2 c. of water. Cook and stir in chili powder, cumin, and salt. If needed, add more water to reach desired consistency.

Soften tortillas in the microwave between paper towels - or heat them individually in a nonstick pan. My tortillas were already soft and extremely pliable, which made them become too soft when the enchiladas were cooked, so I found it necessary to heat them a pan to crisp them up slightly.

In a large bowl, slightly mash the beans. Stir in half of the pumpkin mixture, the cooked chicken, and 1/2 c. of the cheese. Spoon a generous 1/3 c. of the bean mixture onto each tortilla. Roll them up and place them seam side down in the prepared dish. Pour the remaining pumpkin mixture over the tortilla roll-ups.

Bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 c. cheese. Bake 10 more minutes, making sure that cheese is melted. If desired, serve with pico de gallo. (A quick pico de gallo is made with equal parts chopped tomatoes and onions - I used green onions for this recipe. Add jalapeno, or not - I didn't this time. Throw in some chopped cilantro and sprinkle with salt and lime juice. Easy and flavorful!)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Christmas Wedding

I was honored to design some decor for my friend Jen's Christmasy wedding this past Friday evening. The day was busy-busy-busy, but I made myself take a few minutes to photograph the auditorium and reception table decor...or I knew I'd be kicking myself afterward. =)

Everything we did was pretty simple but very festive - and it suited the couple perfectly. Both Jen and her new husband Jonathan love to read, so we brought some books in as part of the design.

We borrowed these hardback books and created dust jackets from tone-on-tone metallic wrapping paper.

I also used the wrapped books in the centerpieces for the reception tables. Instead of a poinsettia atop the stack of books, though, I filled glass bowls with coordinating Christmas balls and silver tinsel. Could it get any easier??

The auditorium pew markers also contained an element of the reading love theme. 

Using plain white (previously ugly) shatterproof ornaments, I modpodged strips of text from an old book (The Amy Vanderbilt Book of Etiquette, if you must know - and I totally enjoyed reading snippets of it while I was working on this project! Pretty hilarious.) onto them and then sprinkled clear and silver glitter to finish it off. It only took a bit of time - it wasn't difficult at all - but it was a great little touch, I think. Plus, they can be used for Christmas ornaments afterwards. I love that whole two birds/one stone thing. =)

Here's what the stage looked like. We taped icicle lights to the glass in front of the baptistry and covered them with white sheer curtains. I arranged a little semi-circle of poinsettias for Jen and Jonathan to stand in front of. I cannot wait to see the wedding photographer's pictures of the ceremony! The wedding was at 5:00pm, so the lighting was completely different than when I was snapping these pics. 

And here's one sneak peek shot from Starla Photography (she's fantastic - she shot our wedding, too!) I seriously cannot wait to see the rest of the pictures!

(Yes, I made that bouquet and boutonniere. Yay!)

Oh, and hey, here's another shot from Starla - I loved how the wedding colors turned out!

My friend Ashley made the wedding cake and it was both beautiful and so delicious. Yum! (Plus, she took this lovely picture of it.)

Happy Wedding, Jen and Jonathan! May God bless you guys with a long and very, very happy marriage! =)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Cranberry Pecan Pie

I haven't blogged in sooo long, but I just had to put this very excellent recipe out into the universe on this day before Thanksgiving. Those of you who are last-minute internet recipe gatherers need look no further. ;) But truly, it's a great Christmas recipe, too. Great for gifts, great for freezing! Honestly, it's super easy, just like a traditional pecan pie...except there's something better here. It's prettied up by the addition of fresh cranberries, becoming ever-so-festive - and the tartness is perfect. Because isn't regular pecan pie a little too sweet anyway? This adaptation just *works.*

I've made this pie many, many times over the last few years (I've even sold some) - and given out the recipe many, many times, too. Make it. You're gonna love it.

P.S. I always make a homemade pie crust, except for this one time last week when I was a little under the weather and decided to buy a pre-made one, as evidenced by the pictures in this post. But, seriously, my pie crust recipe is super easy and totally worth about 15 extra minutes of time to make it. I'm sharing it below, too.

Cranberry Pecan Pie
Slightly adapted from Taste of Home magazine
Print-friendly version

3 eggs
1 c. corn syrup
2/3 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. fresh (or frozen) cranberries
1 c. halved (or chopped) pecans
pinch of salt
deep-dish unbaked pie crust (recipe below)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Melt the butter and set aside to cool. Wash the cranberries and pat them dry. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, corn syrup, sugar, and vanilla - add the melted butter. Stir in the cranberries and pecans and pour into an unbaked pie crust. Bake at 425 F for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees; bake 30-40 minutes longer or until filling is *almost* set. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight before slicing.

Easy Oil Pastry
Adapted from Betty Crocker's Cookbook
Makes one deep-dish pie crust
Print-friendly version

2 2/3 c. all-purpose flour*
1 1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 c. canola oil
4-5 Tbsp. cold water

Measure flour and salt into a medium bowl. Add oil and mix until particles are the size of small peas. Sprinkle in the cold water one tablespoon at a time, mixing until flour is moistened and dough almost cleans the side of the bowl. Press dough into a ball.

I don't roll out this dough - I just press it into the pie plate. (If you're using this dough for a different recipe that calls for a baked pie crust, just prick the crust all over with a fork and bake it at 475 degrees F for 12-15 minutes.) For this cranberry pecan pie, though, just press (or roll out, if you prefer) the dough, then pour the filling into it, and continue following the baking instructions above.

*From years of testing, I have decided that I prefer to use a mixture of White Lily flour and King Arthur flour (about half and half). I adore the lightness and taste of White Lily (it's my favorite flour) but the crust will be extremely crumbly. King Arthur gives it some needed togetherness. If this conversation seems somewhat fussy to you, I give you full permission to use whatever all-purpose flour you desire. ;)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Literary Ladies: Her Mother's Hope

Bonnie, Sandy, and Ashley

Last fall, my friend Becky and I were excited to begin a women's book club at our congregation. Both of us enjoy reading to an absurdly enormous degree - and many of our friends do, too...and there were always the usual conversations among book lovers...exclamations over books that the others *need* to read!! And questions of what one should read next. And so, well-loved books traveled from household to household and back again. It was already an unofficial book club, really.

Becky and I have a blogging friend - Melissa, over at A Little Loveliness, and we got to spend some time with her last summer. One of the things we quizzed her about was the ladies book club at her own congregation. Her book club posts had inspired many conversations beginning, "Oh, we really need to start that book club!" (And then, sadly, going no farther.) She graciously answered all of our questions and encouraged us to begin. And so we did. And there was much excitement in the land. Besides the fun that a book club brings, we also are thrilled that it encourages fellowship with Christian ladies of all ages and also it can serve as an outreach tool. We love when any of our members invites a friend from the community!

As the slacker blogger than sometimes I am, this is only my first post about our own group, the Literary Ladies. (I kind of just love that name - the alliteration, the exact meaning of what we do and who is included. Though we were kind of tickled that Becky's grandfather responded to the first Facebook event that he could not come. So cute.) But Becky has posted about the previous two meetings, so I invite you to visit her blog to see how it all began...(P.S. Becky has also started another book club for her daughter and her friends. You can see posts about that on her blog also!)

At our latest meeting on March 1st, we discussed the book Her Mother's Hope by Francine Rivers. We had about 17 ladies in attendance (sadly, Becky couldn't come to this one because of a bout with strep throat). Even though many of us were up in arms about the actions of a certain Marta toward her daughter Hildemara, I knew that the book was now on almost everyone's well-loved list for one simple reason: the majority of the members had sought out the sequel, Her Daughter's Dream, and had already read it also.

In deep discussion...probably about grandchildren??

Trina and Dani

Visiting before the meeting began

Pretending to be all candid...

In keeping with a color scheme from the book, my friends Jen, Ashli, and Ashley helped decorate the tables with blue and yellow plates and napkins. We arranged daffodils in mason jars for the center of each table, which was really very perfect for our spring meeting. Also on each table, we placed some ceramic birds and a birds' nest and a yellow teacup, all of which symbolized different themes from the book. To complete the look, Ashley had brought handfuls of wonderful black and white pictures of her mother and grandmother, and she scattered those on the table also.

Since the book took place in various countries, we had quite a bit of freedom with what foods the ladies might bring to share. And if someone didn't have a specific Swiss/English/Canadian/American dish (!) they wanted to bring, they were asked to bring a dish that their mother or grandmother had taught them to make. My decorating committee had made little blue, yellow, black, and white tags for people to write the name of the dish and its significance to display on the food tables. Ladies also brought recipes to share, as one of the main characters had kept a journal of foods that other people had taught her to cook.

After we ate, we sang a few songs, and then one of our elder's wives gave a very good devotional to tie in with Her Mother's Hope. Since Becky was sick, Ashley stepped in to lead the book discussion, which was pretty lively. I guess there's just something about this type of family saga that inspires passionate commentary. ;)

We also discussed having some mini-meetings between our big, three-months-apart ones. We might start meeting here and there to have dessert, coffee, and book conversation. We also talked about the Literary Ladies assisting our congregation's Haiti book drive since we all support the value of books, obviously.

Before we adjourned, I announced the next Literary Ladies' "assignment" - A Lasting Impression by Tamera Alexander. I have actually not read this book yet, but Becky highly recommended it. The author attended Harding University in Arkansas and actually went to school with one of the members of our congregation. I very much look forward to reading it because it takes place in Nashville, Tennessee and the Belmont Mansion figures prominently into the story. Becky did a little scouting and found out that the mansion is having a special 195th birthday party on March 17th in honor of the lady of the house, Adelicia Acklen, who was real - and also a character in our book. There will be all sorts of fun and games and food and free self-guided tours of the mansion. So...the Literary Ladies will be taking their first field trip! The grandest thing, though, is that Becky wrote Tamera Alexander, the author of A Lasting Impression, and told her what we were doing...and she said she'd meet us at the mansion that day! How fun is that?? Well, verrrry. =)

Are you in a book club? Do you have any recommendations for us to read and discuss??

Monday, February 13, 2012

My Funny Valentine

Unless you know me in real life, you wouldn't know that something big has happened in the Hicks household...

We got a dog.

I've never had an inside dog, but since we had dogsat our friends' maltipoo, Lily, multiple times and loved it, we finally decided to adopt a puppy of our own. Auggie is about 5 1/2 months old and he's in the process of getting housetrained. He has just learned how to sit and is now mastering "stay." He looooves his rawhide bones and ALL of his toys - and lives for playing fetch. It's his favorite thing. Besides napping. And being rightnext to us.

Auggie is adorably precious and such a good snuggler. He's actually curled up right next to me on the couch as I write this post. He's a great addition to our household and everybody loves him. (Even if I have used more potty words in the last two months than I ever have in my adult life. Is this like being the mother of a toddler??)

But this post isn't totally about him. It's about my other Valentine - my first Valentine, my husband. Who cracks me UP. (He's also a great addition to our household and everybody loves him.) He and I had the following conversation this morning (a continuation in the *previously* ongoing search for Auggie's middle name):

Jeremy: What about Emerson?

Kristen: Auggie Emerson Hicks. I kind of like it. Like Ralph Waldo?

Jeremy: (Pause) Ralph Waldo who?

Kristen: Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was a poet.

Jeremy: (Quickly) Well, I didn't know it...(Laughter from both of us.) You set that up perfectly.

Kristen: Yeah, yeah. Well, Emerson after who, then? I want it to mean something.

Jeremy: It's the brand of our microwave.

And that, my friends, is how Auggie (probably) ended up with his middle name. As Jeremy says, "The microwave has lasted for sixteen years, so maybe Auggie will live that long, too." Here's hoping!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Cheer: Salted Chocolate Toffee Squares

Ahem! Attention please. I've decided to magically create three more weeks before Christmas Day. I mean, I'm totally ready to see my family and (magically) I actually have all of my shopping done. But I've done a total of ONE Christmas Cheer post so far and I had BIG plans of blogging really often during December. There is just not enough time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. There's just NOT. (Hence the argument for blending holidays.) Even though I've listened to Christmas music since August and made ornament wreaths for the last six months, I should have heeded my own advice and decorated my tree two weeks before Thanksgiving. I didn't fully get the tree and mantel exactly how I wanted them until, oh, last week. (But now I do really, really love them.) And I finally made a mailbox topper, well, yesterday. And somehow during all this rain, I'm totally going to put up wreaths on our front windows because they make me happy. And they will keep on making me happy until at least mid-January. Unless I can come up with a Harry Potter spell to give me some time. Wait, I need Hermione's Time Turner...! Who's with me??

If you're also running short on time and need an easy, quick recipe that still promises marvelous results, I can definitely help you out today. (Because why would you want to spend any amount of time making something that's not marvelous?) I've made four recipes of this in the past two weeks. Two for a catering event, one for a birthday party, and one for Christmas presents. And it was marvelous every time. You don't even have to use a candy thermometer. Bonus.

It's just slightly adapted from a recipe my mother used to make often when I was little. She called them Butter Pecan Turtle Cookies, but somehow, I felt like changing the name. They're chewy and crunchy at the same time, with a layer of toffee that is so super good. Mmmm!

Let's commence with the actual recipe, shall we?

Salted Chocolate Toffee Squares
Makes one 9x13 pan

Crust layer:
2 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 c. butter, softened (*I recommend using an unsalted butter and adding a flaky sea salt between the toffee and chocolate layers)
1 c. whole pecan halves

Toffee layer:
2/3 c. butter (*see note above)
1/2 c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
flaky sea salt, to taste

Chocolate layer:
1 c. milk chocolate chips (or use half milk chocolate and half dark or semi-sweet)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the crust ingredients with an electric mixer until particles are fine. Pat firmly into a lightly greased 9x13 pan. Arrange pecans evenly, top side up, onto the crust, pressing them into it slightly. Set aside.

To prepare the toffee layer, combine butter and brown sugar in a heavy, medium-sized saucepan. (I recommend a non-stick pan.) Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until entire surface begins to boil. (The mixture will start looking light - almost "fluffy.") Boil the mixture about 30-40 seconds, still stirring constantly. Immediately remove from heat and pour the hot toffee over the pecans and crust. You may need to turn the pan a few times to coat the edges of the crust. Place the pan in the oven for about 10-20 minutes, watching for the entire surface to become bubbly and the crust to become light golden brown. (My oven takes about 15-16 minutes.)

Remove from the oven, sprinkle evenly with sea salt, and immediately follow with the chocolate chips. (I won't tell if you decide to use a little more than one cup.) After a minute or so, they will have melted - slightly swirl the chocolate for a pretty finish. Cool on the counter for about 30 minutes and then in the fridge for about an hour. I recommend storing these at room temperature after letting them set up in the refrigerator. They can be *very* difficult to cut otherwise!

P.S. I would imagine that these would be perfectly fine with salted butter and no addition of sea salt. I just had a TON of unsalted butter that I got on a recent sale - so, of course, I used that.

This is what happens when your camera needs an extreme closeup.
You catch a whiff of chocolate and start thinking, 
"Um, yeah, that'd make a cute picture with a bite out of it..."

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas Cheer: $10 off Shutterfly Cards!

I've done only two photo Christmas cards in my life...scratch that - the first one I was thinking of actually ended up to be a "Happy New Year!" card with our wedding photos on it three years ago. (And what's wrong with that? Nothing, I tell you.) So, last year's photo card (see below) was our first actual photo Christmas card. And I loved it. And I loved receiving everyone else's photo cards. So much so that I keep them on our refrigerator year-round. Yes...I do. (And what's wrong with that? Nothing, I tell you.)

We got two photo cards in the mail yesterday and I was excited to trade out last year's pictures for the newer ones. But I'll always keep the old fact, I keep them *all* in a box and I go through them each year and reminisce. True story.

If you're a returning Shutterfly customer, (and I know a bunch of us were last year!) here's an opportunity for you to receive $10 off your order. So easy!

1. Sign in to Shutterfly.
2. Click on "My Shutterfly" in the top menu.
3. Under "My Projects," click on "View All Projects."
4. Click the selection button underneath the project you want to share.
5. Click "Share Project" on the right hand side of the screen.
6. Give the project a title and description and press "Next."
7. This page will show you the details for the $10 off promo, including the code (to embed on your site) and where to send the email.
8. Embed your code on your blog or website.
9. Send an email to the given address. You should receive an auto-response back - and then receive your $10 off code within 10 days.

Seasonal Chic 2010 Christmas Card
Turn family photos into personalized Christmas cards.
View the entire collection of cards.