Easy and Healthy Mexican Casserole

As the person tasked with making dinner (only because I get home earlier), I’ve been learning how to cook on the job. I’ve always had a knack for baking, but cooking always seemed beyond my abilities. It’s no surprise that when I moved out on my own for the first time, I received quite a few cookbooks including two books titled Help! My Apartment has a Kitchen Cookbook and Where’s Mom Now that I Need Her? True story.

Mexican casserole is a staple in our house, mostly due to how easy it is.  It’s a great weeknight meal because little preparation is needed. Oh, and the best part? You can make this the night before, stick it in your fridge, then cook it for dinner when you’re running short on time.

Here’s what you need.

 

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This recipe was inspired by Eating Well’s Chilaquiles Casserole.
My modified recipe:
Ingredients:

2 cans hot Old El Paso enchilada sauce
1 can black beans (drained)
1 can corn (drained)
1 can green chiles
1 sweet onion (chopped)
1 zucchini (grated)
1 jalapeno pepper (chopped, can leave seeds in or can take them out)
12 corn tortillas (ripped into 4 pieces each)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
Cooking spray

Directions:

Pre-heat the over to 400 degrees. Take a 9×13 casserole dish and spray each side and the bottom with cooking spray. Take half the tortilla pieces and create a layer of them at the bottom of the pan. Set the pan aside.
 

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Heat a large pan on the stove. Spray with non-stick cooking spray. Cook the onion for about 5 minutes. Add in the black beans, corn, green chiles, zucchini, jalapeno pepper, cumin, cayenne pepper, and salt. Stir together until all the veggies have been heated, about 3-4 minutes. You may need to add more cooking spray. Turn the burner off.

 

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Put half of the veggie mixture on top of the bits of tortilla. Add half the cheese and one can of the enchilada sauce.Here’s the dish while assembling the first  layer.

 

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Create another tortilla layer, then top with the other half of the veggie mixture, the rest of the cheese, and the other can of enchilada sauce. Cover the casserole dish with foil.
 

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Bake the casserole for about 15 minutes. Remove the foil, then continue cooking for about 10 more minutes.

Note: I make this dish rather spicy. To cut down on the heat factor, leave out the jalapenos, green chiles, cumin, and chili powder. You can also use mild enchilada sauce instead.

I serve this dish with chips and salsa on the side.
 

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Mexican Casserole also tastes great as a leftover, maybe even better than it did the first time around because the sauce has a chance to really soak into the tortillas. I bring some of the leftovers to work the next day. Heat it in the microwave for about one minute and thirty seconds.
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Office Update: Let There Be Recycled Light

Here’s the lamp in our mood board for our office re-do. 
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It’s a steal for only $19.99 at Target.

I was ready to get into my car to pick one up when I remembered that my parents had an old wooden lamp from the ’60’s that would look quite similar if given a new lamp shade (I didn’t even know wicker could be used in a lamp) and a lick of green paint. I’ve really been trying to make an effort to be eco-friendly lately, so I knew the lamp would be a great way to reduce, re-use, and recycle. As an added bonus, I was glad to have an item that my grandparents bought and used, my parents used, and I would be using it too. Who doesn’t like a little history in their home furnishings?

Once my dad found the old lamp in his basement and gave it to us, we began the transformation. Here’s what we had to start.

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Retro, right?

 

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Especially the shade.

We bought some green spray paint from Wal-Mart. Dan sanded the wooden base of the lamp so the paint would stick to it better.

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A little painter’s tape to keep the electrical cord and the light bulb base from being turned green, and spray painting, here we go.

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I think my absolute favorite part of this lamp has to be the cute little ball on top. It kinda reminds me of the cherry on the top of a sundae. And who doesn’t think the cherry is the best part? Of course, Dan made sure to spray that guy till he was fully green too.

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We let the paint dry, and wow, it’s green.

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I next turned my attention to finding a lamp shade since Dan assured me there was no way to salvage the shade we already had.

Our first purchase was this lamp shade from Target. It was the right size, right shape, right color, but when we got it home we realized it would not work. The ring that you use to connect the shade to the lamp didn’t fit. Apparently, if you have a cute little ball on the top of your lamp, you need a special kind of lamp shade. Good to know.

While out on some errands one night, I asked Dan to pull over so we could stop at Homegoods. We were in luck! We found a white lamp shade and it had a bit of a twist. The shade had pleating, but instead of the vertical pleating you usually see, this pleating went horizontally. Love it.

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The shade fit! Pretty good deal for $12.99.

Here’s the finished product. What do you think? Is it pretty close to the original lamp?

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I do worry a bit about the color. It might be too emerald green and not lime green enough. I’ll see how the room progresses and if this lamp sticks out like a sore thumb, we’ll just repaint it.

While refinishing the lamp didn’t save us much money (because the lamp we liked was so cheap to start with), it makes me happy to have taken something old, and turned it into something new.

Easter Deviled Eggs

Nothing says Easter like dyed eggs. As a kid, I made a ton. One for each member of the family. I was so excited every year to choose the Easter egg coloring kit I would be using. Some years, glitter was involved. Some years, I did the old stand-by, with a white crayon and a cup of dye. Some years, I used those little shrink wrappers that snugly wrapped itself around the egg when you put it in hot water. Those were hardest to find in stores.

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Memories.

Now, I leave the Easter egg dying to the little kids. I do keep the egg tradition alive by making the deviled eggs for my family’s Easter meal. It’s super simple. And my mother-in-law taught me how to make them.

Start by boiling eggs. I usually make a dozen at a time, giving me 24 deviled eggs.

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Once the eggs are hard boiled, let them sit in the water until it cools down. They will be easier to handle when they aren’t scalding hot, and I’ve found that letting them cool gradually seems to make the eggs easier to peel. When the eggs are cooler to the touch, begin peeling them, being careful not to break the egg white.
 

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Once you’ve peeled them all, give them a rinse to be sure to get rid of all the shell.

Next, cut each egg in half length-wise.

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Scoop out the yolks with a spoon, set the egg white aside for later, and put all the yolks together in a bowl.
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Mash the yolks with a fork until they get to be the consistency of a fine dust.

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Add Miracle Whip (or mayonnaise), mustard, and salt. Stir to combine. This step is kind of difficult, because I usually don’t measure what I’m putting in. I do it by taste. If I had to make a guess, it would be about 1/4 cup of the Miracle Whip, 2 teaspoons of regular mustard (not Dijon) and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  After I stir everything together, I taste the mixture. Sometimes I need to put more of one of the ingredients in.

Once the egg yolk mixture tastes how you want it, begin spooning it into the egg whites. Overfill them because remember, you added ingredients to the yolks, so you should have plenty of the mixture.

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Top with a sprinkling of paprika.
 

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Keep refrigerated until the deviled eggs are served. These can be made as early as the night before, if you’re in a time crunch.

I also made this Poppy Seed Cake with Blueberry Glaze from Joy the Baker. She gives  great step by step directions if you’re interested. Here’s what mine looked like on the family’s Easter dessert table. My glaze wasn’t quite as blueberry as Joy’s was. I think it was because the recipe calls for thawed frozen blueberries and I used fresh blueberries instead. Mine was still quite tasty though.
 

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Also, fun fact for you. As I was getting ready to make the glaze (at 11pm) which calls for 1 1/2 cups of powdered sugar Dan realized there was no powdered sugar in the house. Not wanting to go to the 24 hour Jewel, Dan googled “making powdered sugar from granulated sugar” to see if it was possible. He told me he saw this in a late night Magic Bullet infomercial. Lo and behold, it works! We measured 1 1/2 cups of regular sugar, put it in our blender on high and voila – powdered sugar! Here’s a photo of the blender in action.
 

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Hope you had a fantastic Easter!

The Power of the To-Do List

What a wonderful feeling it is when you can cross a ton off stuff of your to-do list. I always have a handwritten to-do list scrawled in my planner. It usually contains 10-20 items, and I have a feeling of satisfaction when I can take a red pen and cross out something I’ve accomplished.

This past weekend, my red pen got quite the workout. Here’s what it looked like:

Hang curtains (office and dining room)

Bedroom storage baskets

Bamboo

I’ll elaborate further.

We bought curtains for both rooms over the past few weeks. The office ones are the Home Chesapeake curtains from Target in green and the dining room ones are the Matilda curtains from Ikea. But, in order to hang curtains, you need curtain rods. That was the problem. We didn’t have any.

Hello Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Here’s my curtain rod routine. We head to the clearance section first thing. You can usually find some great deals there. We did. We found 2 matching curtain rods (for the living room) for $9.99 each. Add in my $5 off a $15 purchase coupon, and we got both rods for a little over $17. We didn’t have as much luck with finding a rod for the office. Instead, we splurged for a (gasp) $19.99 rod, then used another $5 off $15 coupon.
 

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Here are new curtains are in all their glory:

Office.

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Dining Room. Don’t the curtains soften up the room?
 

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I know the dining room curtains are wrinkly and yes, it bothers me. Dan installed the curtain rod while I was in the shower and put the curtains up without consulting me. Those babies are going to have to come down soon so I can give them a proper ironing.

Moving along now to solving the bedroom nightstand clutter problem. We have these wonderful Pottery Barn Valencia nightstands. Yes, they were an amazing craigslist find.
 

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I seem to need everything I own next to me in order to sleep at night. On my nightstand: lamp, alarm clock, ring holder, hand cream, eucalyptus linen spray, candle, book I’m currently reading, a Cosmo, a Food Network magazine, pen, paper, the list goes on. I needed a storage solution. I recently realized the bottom shelf of my nightstand is the perfect place for a storage basket. We found 2 on clearance from Michael’s for only $4.99 a piece.
 

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The final project was a quick and easy one. I had 3 pieces of bamboo from that same Ikea run when I got the curtains. I thought the office was a great place for the bamboo since it’s supposed to bring peacefulness and a wise energy to the home. The problem? These cute Toni Green Bud Vases we got for the bamboo from Crate & Barrel were just a bit wider than the bamboo, so the bamboo tilted to the side.
 

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This probably wouldn’t bother most people, but it bothered me. While at Michael’s looking for storage baskets, I bought some natural looking river stones for only $1.50 (with a coupon) and poured them into the vases.

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Success!

 

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Am I the only one bothered by things like wrinkled curtains and leaning bamboo? What’s your home-related pet peeve?

Office Update: Got it Covered

I looked far and wide to get a good deal on a fun yellow rug for our office. A rug is a great way to add a pop of color to a room, without having to paint. I loved this Surya area rug from Macy’s, but I couldn’t stomach the $549 price. Way out of our budget.

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After some research, I was able to find this much less expensive version from Home Decorators. Pretty similar, right?
 

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We ordered the less expensive doppleganger of the Macy’s rug and it arrived at the store for pick up. Woohoo!

Home Decorators is owned by the same company as Home Depot. They don’t have physical stores everywhere, so they are mostly an online store. However, as we found out, if you find something you like from their online store, they will ship it to any of their stores for free, and all you have to do is go get your purchase. Luckily, there’s a Home Decorators in Chicago. Saved us $20 in shipping. Yeah!

We ordered the yellow Argonne rug in a 5×8 size, which I originally thought would be too big for the space, but now I’m glad we ordered that size. It fills up the room and is visually pleasing. Have a look.
 

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I’m glad we spent a little more money for a nice rug, instead of buying the more expensive curtains we were both drooling over.
 

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While I loved the fun pattern of these mimosa panel curtains in apple green from ZGallerie, they are quite a pretty penny. Add to that the fact that when we do eventually buy a place of our own, we may have 2 or even 3 windows in our new office. What are the odds of finding these curtains a couple years from now? So, we reasoned that the rug was the better investment for us right now. And because we don’t want the room to look pattern crazy, we’ll definitely be purchasing some solid green curtains because we have a patterned rug. We always knew we’d get either a patterned rug or patterned curtains. Never both!

Don’t worry though. I have a great idea that will add in a playful green pattern to the room. Just wait and see.

Hey, Smalls, you want a s’more?

I can bake with the best of them. I’ve made apple tarts, mac and cheese bites, gingerbread biscotti, and chocolate lava cakes – all from scratch. Sometimes, you need something that’s tasty and quick. Quick being the operative word. Like when your husband calls you and tells you he just got a big promotion and it’s raining outside and it’s rush hour and there is no way you’re getting to the store. This dessert is perfect for such an occasion. What is it? S’more brownies.

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They are beyond easy to make, and you probably already have everything you need in your pantry. Here’s all that you need:

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Start by making brownies from a mix. Just follow the directions on the box. I only had to add water, 2 eggs, and vegetable oil. I used a family sized mix, but used a smaller pan. That way, the brownies would be thicker and more substantial. I baked them at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes.

I stuck the brownies with a toothpick, and when it came out clean I took the pan out of the oven and let it hang out on my stovetop to cool. You don’t have to let the brownies cool completely, but I had some time before I was serving them, so I just let them sit there.

About 5 minutes before you serve them, pour marshmallows over the top of the baked brownies. I haven’t cut them into individual squares yet. Put enough so you can’t see the brownies underneath. Next, take 4-6 graham crackers and break them apart in your hands. Put the grahams on top of the brownies.

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Turn on your oven broiler. Put  the brownie pan in the oven, on the rack closest to the heat. Only leave the pan in there for a short time. I leave the oven light on so I can see the marshmallows roasting. This step is basically the equivalent of roasting the marshmallow over the campfire when making s’mores. Some like their marshmallows a little toasty, while others like them almost burned. It’s personal preference.

Once your marshmallows are just the way you like them, take the pan out of the oven. Cut the brownies into pieces and serve immediately. Note: just like s’mores, these brownies can be quite messy. But they are super yummy. For extra yumminess, add some chocolate ice cream on top. Enjoy!

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The Office

When we moved in to our apartment last year, the room we planned to use an office had been a nursery for the people who had lived there before us. How did they make it a nursery? Well, they painted these large, unattractive yellow stripes on the far wall for one.
 

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Needless to say, the room with the yellow stripes, or “Braydon’s room,” as we called it, hardly ever got used. It didn’t feel like us, and we sure didn’t enjoy spending time in there.

Back long ago when Dan and I began our apartment hunt together, having a spare room was super important on my list. It is a place to do work away from the temptations of the TV in the living room. It can double as a guest bedroom when any of our out-of-town guests come for a visit. It allowed space for me to work out to my exercise DVDs. It provides an extra closet, because let’s be honest, I was not going to have a healthy marriage if I was forced to share my closet with the hubby. But how useful is an office if it’s full of junk?

When we decided to extend our lease, I knew the office needed major work to be able to use as a living space. Operation office make-over, here we go!

Our landlord didn’t want to paint over the truly ugly stripes (don’t get me started), so we were left to our own devices. As a quick fix, we painted the entire room a flat, baked scone color with paint that we already had. I emphasize that we used flat paint because the paint was previously semi-gloss in there. Hello hospital walls! Here’s an after photo of the room once we said goodbye to those stripes.
 

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After that mini-makeover of just a paint job, all the junk went back into the room, and the room was unused once more. Perhaps the spring cleaning bug bit me because I am making over this room in full force.

I decided to create some mood boards for the room, to get a feel for how different colors would play off each other. We decided not to paint again, so we’d infuse color through our decor. We had already bought a Pottery Barn Bedford desk off of craigslist months ago, and it is staying. We also have a cheap bookshelf that got me through law school, a fancy desk chair from Dan’s earlier apartment, and a high boy dresser from my old bedroom set.

Based on that furniture, our need for extra storage, and wanting to make the room feel fresh, clean, inviting, and energizing, we came up with a green and yellow color scheme. Here are some of the mood boards I created:

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We decided to go with the last option. Unfortunately, that’s about as far as we’ve gotten at this point. I’ll provide updates as the room comes along. Stay tuned!