Casserole Creation: Chicken Cordon Bleu

I’ve finally tried a new recipe again for the first time in ages. I’ve been itching to try this one since a friend of a friend posted a link on Facebook a couple of weeks ago. I gathered up most of the ingredients, and then had the last one dropped in my lap this week, so it was time to try it. Are you ready? Chicken Cordon Bleu casserole. I guess it wasn’t a surprise; the title of this post probably gave it away.

Chicken cordon bleu was one of my favorite dishes growing up. My mom and aunt would both make it for me on special occasions, sometimes with fresh cut french fries. Excuse me while I wipe the drool from my keyboard. They’re both excellent cooks and I’ve adopted a number of their recipes. For my college graduation party they even made two hundred mini-chicken cordon bleus for me, because it was my favorite. No surprise, they were a big hit and disappeared pretty quickly. I don’t even want to know how many I ate. Mom, Auntie, if you’re reading this, I love you both. Chicken cordon bleu (made from scratch, NOT the nasty frozen kind) is delicious, but it’s a lot of work. Pound the breasts (or tenders if you’re making minis), coat them in egg, and bread crumbs. Roll them up with swiss cheese and ham inside, pin them shut with toothpicks, fry them, and then bake them in the oven. I’m exhausted just writing it, so as delicious as it is, it’s not something I make terribly often. When I saw this casserole recipe, I knew I had to try it.

Let me just say I have very little experience with casseroles. I had a vague notion that casseroles are a one pan meal, so it must be quick and easy to throw together. Quick and easy cordon bleu? Yes, please, and seconds. The only other time I’ve really attempted to make anything in a  casserole dish was the spinach and sweet potato gratin I made last year adapted from a recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen.

This wasn’t quick and easy, but it was well worth the effort. I filmed the cooking process tonight and will finally be updating my YouTube channel. I used Terri’s recipe I found on TastyKitchen and made a few modifications. I’ve learned to check out the comments on food blog posts before attempting the recipes I find and I’ve found some great advice, so I tried to incorporate it into my dish tonight.

I’m picky about meat and as anyone who has eaten with me will tell you, I don’t particularly relish the task of separating meat from bone and cartilage, so instead of stripping a rotisserie chicken, I baked several chicken breasts the night before with a little salt, pepper, and garlic, shredded them when they came out of the oven, and stuck the chicken in the fridge. For the ham, I used Easter dinner leftovers I’d been given, rather than a package of deli ham. It was delicious.

Shredded chicken

 

When I got home from work tonight I buttered my casserole dish, and piled in the chicken, then put a layer of ham on top. I used shredded swiss cheese instead of sliced because…well, I had it.


Ham and Chicken

I was actually really pleased with the sauce. Based on the comments on the original posting on the recipe I decided to use half the amount of salt, and significantly less milk. I used skim rather than whole milk, and only used 2 cups of milk instead of the 3.25 that the recipe called for. I also replaced the mustard with garlic. I loath mustard. My feelings towards mustard can only be rivaled by my feelings towards pickles–yuck. But garlic is a beautiful thing. As per the instructions, I melted 4 tablespoons of butter, slowly mixed in 4 tablespoons of flour to make a roux, added 2 cups of milk, and then my seasonings: lemon juice, paprika, salt, pepper, and garlic. I let it heat for a while until it thickened and poured it over my dish. I taste-tested it and it was beautiful. This picture came out a little orange, but it was actually slightly pink, from the paprika.

Let there be sauce!

After that, all that was left to do was make the crispy topping. The recipe called for a cup and a half of panko bread crumbs, 6 tablespoons of butter, parsley, and seasoning salt. I used half panko bread crumbs and half Italian bread crumbs, and swapped out the parsley for spring onions. I skipped the seasoning salt altogether. I tried to get away with 4 tablespoons of melted butter to mix with the bread crumbs, but it really needed 6 for that many crumbs. And a little grated parmesan, just because it was left over in the fridge from chicken francese the other night.

Casserole Topping

I popped it into the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes and sat down to wait. I’ll admit, by then I was pretty hungry. I was a little impatient and took it out 12 minutes early–it didn’t seem to suffer any harm from it except that maybe the topping wasn’t as crisp as it could be.

Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole

What would you have paired with it? I went with baked potatoes because they were easy, but I’m thinking I might go with something a little lighter tomorrow–I’m open to suggestions. Yes, tomorrow. No I’m not cooking it from scratch again, I’m looking forward to the joy of leftovers. I can’t wait.

Upcoming projects/updates:

  • I have majorly slacked off on the Flash Fiction challenge. We’ll see if I go back to it. I do like it as a writing exercise quite a bit, but I may be a spectator for a while.
  • I’ve posted chapter 27 of my Dramione story, Law and Marriage . Chapter 28 is nearly ready and will be going up soon.
  • I Tweet. I resisted Twitter for a long time, but I’m planning to apply for the AmtrakResidency for writing, because it looks awesome, and they want whoever gets it to Tweet about the experience. Therefore I shall Tweet, because I intend to be on one of those trains. You can find me at @ErinWritesOn . I’m a bit torn between that and HiIMakeStuff for a handle. What do you think?
  • I recorded my casserole project tonight, so hopefully I will sit down and get a YouTube video up in the relatively near future.
  • And–I went back to the gym on Wednesday. I don’t even want to tell you how long it had been since I’d been there, but I lifted weights, and did a few minutes of stationary bicycle (I hate cardio). It felt great to get back under the barbell again and know I could still do it but man am I sore. But I’m going back tomorrow. My coworker and I have pinky promised on it, and you know that’s sacred.

Until next time, keep making stuff!

Emerging on Twitter and Finding Time to Write

It’s been a while, but I promise, I’ve been writing. I’ve posted several new chapters of my in-progress fan fic, and I’m loving where it’s going. It’s been such a pleasure to write it, and I have to say, the response I’ve received from my friends at FanFiction.net has been overwhelming. Over four hundred people are following the story. I haven’t written Dramione before and hadn’t been sure how well I’d be able to pull it off. It’s definitely been an exercise in a different style of writing for me, but like I said, I’m pleased with the results.

I haven’t been doing quite so well with my desire to work on my flash fiction skills. I fell off of Thain in Vain‘s weekly flash fiction challenge back in February when I began working on a major project. I still can’t talk about the project yet, but give it a little more time. Any way, I’ve had a lot more free time available in March and didn’t make it back to my writing commitment and I’m sorry for that.

Did anybody hear about the #AmtrakResidency a few weeks ago? I saw that someone had suggested it, but then there was a wait while Amtrak hashed out whether they could or would put together a program for writers. Great news: They have! They’re giving away 24 “residencies” which will be 2-5 day trips long distance trips on a train for writers to write. Write anything you please.

I’m totally excited about this and plan to apply but I have no idea yet what I want to use for my writing sample. I love to write and I am excited at the prospect of applying for something that would give me a few days to jumpstart some writing while watching the world go by.

Now, for the application, I need a Twitter handle. For reasons I’m not entirely sure of, I’ve shied away from Twitter since it’s beginning. I’ve never had a Twitter account until last night. I can now be found on Twitter under the handle: ErinWritesOn. I had considered using the name of this blog for it. Which do you think sounds better: HiIMakeStuff, or ErinWritesOn? Decisions, decisions.

I’ve got a lot going on in the next couple of weeks, including going out of town for a week. I’m hoping during that time I’ll get some writing done, or maybe even some editing. A week more or less away from the internet might just do the trick.  I guess we’ll see what happens?

NaNoWriMo: Win! (A Reflection on Wins and Losses This Year)

I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am. I really needed this win. I had a slew of goals last January for things I wanted to accomplish this year: I wanted to get into the habit of making a Vlog and updating it regularly, I wanted to blog regularly, teach myself how to make new things, get into better shape, and write.

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I have had a few victories this year. For example, I have started Vlogging for the first time in my life, but I haven’t been updating my YouTube channel, ErinMakesStuff, very regularly. I also created this blog, and there have been some updates, but not as many as there could have been.

I did make some progress in the world of fan fiction. I finally finished a 100,000 word story I started 8 years ago about Neville Longbottom, wrote a short story I’m rather proud of about how Peter Pettigrew became the Potters’ secret keeper and betrayed them.

I made a hat in January, a really cool handbag this spring, and learned a bit more about 3D printing, even venturing a couple of prints on my own. But you know what? I haven’t touched my crocheting in probably six months now. I couldn’t tell you the last time I picked up my cross-stitch. And I’m disappointed by my lack of patience in trying to teach myself how to use Zbrush for 3D printing.

I lost numerous inches from my waist and hips. I got stronger and faster. I dropped a couple of minutes from my rather terrible best 1 mile time, and managed to improve my military press to 70 pounds and deadlift to 135 at my best (my squats are still rather pathetic). I cut down significantly on my sugar content (for a time). It wasn’t until I tried to cut out sugar and found myself with carb flu that I realized how much of it I was consuming.

Well, it’s pretty much all come back. My goal was a healthier me and it still is; I’m just not there yet. I have a good understanding now of what it takes for me to be healthy, and the knowledge that I can make progress. I also know in the past year and a half, I’ve yo-yoed 40 pounds total and ended up about where I started. At my best, I was down 20 pounds. It definitely feels bitter to be relosing the same weight, and knowing how much farther I’d be if I exercised better self-control.

I tried to commit myself to a 4 week, 8 session self-defense class in October, saying, “This is it, this is where I get back on track.” I only made it to the first 4 sessions.

I’ve been a temp worker at my current place of employment for 14 months. I like it there, but I’m still waiting for a permanent position to open up. I know I’ve learned a lot, but it’s discouraging sometimes to have worked full-time for so long and not be considered permanent.

And while I’ve written quite a lot of fan fiction this year, up until November snuck up on me, I hadn’t spent any time this year writing original fiction.

So, by the time I started seeing people talking about NaNoWriMo, I really needed a win. And I was so on my game for the first to weeks. Every day except for one, I was on track to finish on time. I was sitting pretty happily at Day 15.

And then I didn’t write, for most of a week. And I just couldn’t catch up. I disliked my story. I felt frustrated at the inconsistencies I knew where there because I didn’t have time to go back and fix them, not if I was going to catch up. And I couldn’t seem to make decisions about how certain things in the story were supposed to go (as if I couldn’t fix it later). Last weekend, on the 23rd and 24th, I wrote about 10,000 words. It still wasn’t enough to catch me up, not nearly. Yesterday, with the day off for Thanksgiving, and not being responsible for much cooking, I managed to write 5000 words. I was on track for the first time since November 15th. It felt good. Today, I managed to knock out the last 3000 words. And here I am. I needed this win. I’m glad I made it. I couldn’t have done it without all the support and encouragement from my boyfriend–he really was amazing, all the times I thought I couldn’t do it, knowing when to tell me it was okay if the words just weren’t coming that night, and reminding me that I could do this.

Here’s my current NaNo stats if you want to see what my progress looked like:
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As you can see, I was going slow and steady up until the midpoint, and then yeah.

Now that I’ve met my goal, I’ve got a few things in mind. I do want to go back and fix this story, and finish writing it. It’s far from complete. I’m guessing it will be a 200,000 word story if I had to hazard a guess, though I’m not sure I’ve written that much. Most of my novel length fan fictions have been around 100,000 words, some of them 136,000. I may need to not look at this story for at least a week though. The story and I need some time apart–the title is still my favorite part.

I’m still kind of boggled by the sheer number of words I’ve written this month. The tally stands:

  • 50327 words for NaNoWriMo
  • 22437 words for Law and Marriage, my Harry Potter fan fiction
  • 4093 words on this blog

Grand total? I’ve written 76,857 words in the past 29 days. I feel pretty good about that. I wanted to keep up with my fan fiction since it was gaining steam while writing my NaNoWrIMo novel. I also wanted to keep writing it because it was a good release when I felt like my novel wasn’t going anywhere. I’m proud of some of my fan fiction. And I certainly feel like my current story is more polished than my novel is at this point. That being said, I was able to keep up with it for the first 2 weeks and a bit–my last update was November 18th, and I wrote like the wind on the 17th and 18th to make that happen. I haven’t written on it since, but I promise, it’s on the list.

My next step is basically to follow up with pretty much everything. Without a looming deadline now, I can keep working on my fan fic again, and let it bring a little joy into my creative process. I’ll be able to go back and do some serious revision on my novel and see if it’s worth salvaging. And reading.

I haven’t allowed myself to really spend any time in November reading any novels, because, really, I don’t just read one novel. I’ll read the series. I haven’t seen Catching Fire yet for that reason–I wanted to reread the series first. I didn’t get around to it before November (the books are so emotionally draining), and once November hit, there just wasn’t time. I have so many books I want to read at the moment. I’ve also decided that now that I don’t have a midnight deadline of how many words I need every day, I’ve lost my excuse to stop working out. Even if I don’t make it to the gym, I’m bringing the dumbbells out into the living room, where they will be looking at me if I get off the couch without paying them a visit.

So, here’s to 2013, it’s not over yet, and the fight to improve myself and create awesome things still going.

Is anyone planning on making any cool crafts for Christmas?

NaNoWriMo, Day 23 Check-In

Hey, folks,

This is just a quick check-in about how my NaNoWriMo is going. The good news is I’ve written 54,534 words this month (not counting blogposts). The bad news is only 33,510 of those words have been on my NaNoWriMo project. You might say, 33k is a lot! That’s great. Well, keep in mind that it’s already November 23 (the Day of the Doctor!). That means I’m about 6,000 words behind still, and that’s after having written 4000 words today before and after the Day of the Doctor aired–I did not write while I was watching it.

I’m pretty pleased with the 4000 I’ve written today, but the fact is, this has not been a good week for writing. I was so thrilled to reach the halfway point this month and be exactly on target, which is where I was during my last blog post. That was followed up with me writing absolutely nothing on my NaNoWriMo story for the next three days. I was off sick from work one day and didn’t even write anything that day–I was just too miserable. I did write several thousand words that Sunday, but only on my fan fiction. Still, I made my Monday update deadline, despite not having worked on my fan fic since the previous week. I shoot for between 5000 and 10,000 words per chapter on that story.

I managed to get back into writing again on the 19th, and 20th. The 21st was a rather exhausting and late day at work, and not much happened.

So I’ve had a fairly off-kilter week. It’s put me behind. I’m doing my best to catch up. I’m still determined to get through my 50,000 words for this story this month. I know I can write a fan fic–I enjoy writing fan fic–I want to know I can write a novel. That I can set a goal and stick to it.

On the fan fiction front, the results came back on the blog award I was nominated for–I received second place. Thank you, to anyone who voted, or anyone who read the story and enjoyed it.

Anyway, I still have terribly mixed feelings about my story, which isn’t really helping the creative process. On the days when I desperately want someone to read it and give me feedback, it’s almost easy to write. On the days when I just want to hide it under a mattress and never let it see the light of day….well those are the days when the writing just doesn’t seem to happen.

I’ve still got about 40 minutes ’til midnight, and no time I have to get up in the morning. I’m hoping to get another 500-1000 words tonight, and hopefully enough words tomorrow to be nearly caught up. If at all possible…I still need to write most of a chapter for my fan fiction tomorrow or I won’t make my Monday night update goal.

How do you stay focused when you’re not sure you like your story anymore? What do you do when your story begins to look far different than what you were anticipating? I know this story will be far from complete at 50,000 words–there’s simply too much story to tell. But 50,000 and a good start is my goal.

‘Til the next timey-whimey.

P.S. Do you think if time went Wibbly-Wobbly I might have a bit more of it to finish my story?

(Please forgive the lame Doctor jokes. Accept this picture of my kitten as my apology.)

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Half-Way Through NaNoWriMo

Good evening, everybody. First, let me take a minute to introduce you to the newest member of the family: Spice.

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Well, it’s a couple hours until midnight, and today’s date is November 15th. That’s right, folks. NaNoWriMo is nearly half over, and guess what? I’m halfway to my NaNoWriMo goal. I’ve written 25,112 words on my novel Making of a Beast: The Fall From Beauty. I’m not going to lie, some days, I don’t even want to look at it, let alone keep writing it. Other days, I’m on a roll and I don’t even really want to stop. As I noted earlier in one of the NaNoWriMo groups I’m in, I’m torn between begging someone to read it so I can get some feedback and maybe fix some of the problems I see emerging, and wanting to bury the darn thing underneath 25 mattresses so it never see the light of day again.

I’m sure I’m not the only one having a love/hate relationship with my novel, but you know what, for at least the next 15 days, I’m committed to it, ’til December parts us.

I have to say, I’m blown away by the sheer volume of words I’ve written in the past fifteen days. I’ve written 25,112 words on my novel, and 13,525 words of fan fiction, bringing me to a whopping total of 38,637 words (not counting blog posts and other incidental writing that crops up in my life of course). For the first week, it was pretty much par for par that I was writing as much fan fiction as I was my novel. Since I wasn’t liking my novel much at that point, writing a good bit of fan fiction helped keep me sane, because I was enjoying that. I love writing fan fiction. I’ve had some great discussions on topics I enjoy with some fantastic people I wouldn’t have met otherwise. I do feel like it’s helped me become a better writer in many ways, though I know I still have a long way to go. I was really touched this past week when I received a message from someone saying that my current work in progress was nominated for a fan fiction award on that person’s blog. It’s not exactly a Newberry Medal or a Nebula Award, but it felt pretty cool to be appreciated. If you want to check out my fan fiction, the person who runs the Energize W.I.P. Awards posted the link on her blog here where you can vote until November 20th. If you want to see my story (and I’ll admit I’m kind of hesitant to post the link here), Law and Marriage is located here. I’m not going to call it brilliant literature, and there’s certainly a number of things I need to go back and fix, but it was new territory for me when I started writing it, and for that, I am proud of it.

I’m also proud of the fact that by and large, I’ve managed to stay on track with my novel this month, no matter how many times I wanted to throw in the towel. I didn’t manage 1666 words every day–on days when things were really flowing I wrote more because I knew there would be days when I felt stuck. I was on par for my total word count every day but the 12th. As sick as I’ve been the past week or so, I can live with that.

I thought I’d mention a few of the problems that have cropped up for me while making myself work on my novel:

1. I killed off my villain on page 2 when she unleashed her vengeance on the main character for something he did before the story starts.

  • This was kind of stupid. How do you move the plot forward when your villain is gone?
  • Actually, this wasn’t as stupid as it could have been. Several of my favorite books (Ella Enchanted, Howl’s Moving Castle, Beauty) revolve around the fact that the main person is in a bad situation, without there necessarily needing to be a showdown between good and evil. Admittedly, Howl’s Moving Castle does have a pretty nasty villain, but she hovers around the edges of things once her task of putting Sophie into a situation is accomplished. Given that I enjoy these sorts of books, I shouldn’t be surprised that that’s how I wrote this.

2. I don’t have a full idea of who all of these characters are yet or what I want to do with them. I need a fuller understanding of their personalities, and then their actions and motives will speak to me, which is closer to how I normally write.

  • That was one of the advantages of fan fiction, I’ll admit. Some people minutely plot out their stories far in advance. I’ve never written that way. A situation will cross my mind, and I’ll say, “That’s interesting. I wonder how X would respond to that.” And it goes from there. The things that feel like the natural action the character would take are the things I write. I let their personalities tell me where the story is going. That has worked pretty well for the 1.4 million words of fan fiction I’ve written since middle school. It’s a whole lot less effective when I don’t really know who my characters are yet.
  • On the bright side, I am learning who my characters are, and deciding what does and doesn’t feel natural for them, what makes them tick. It’s just going to be a slow process.

3. I don’t really have any concept of how long this novel is going to be or how long I need to spend on the different sections of it. I’ve rather imagined this story taking place over the course of several hundred years–long enough for a kingdom to stop missing its king.  In the beginning I felt like I needed to get to the later things quickly, and I was frustrated with how long it was taking to get there. Well, that’s ridiculous. The first part of the story does need a reasonable amount of time spent on it, and I’ll give it what it needs.

The first 2 things on this list were my two biggest problems, though I’m sure I’ll think of more as soon as I’ve hit “publish post”. That’s always the way of things, isn’t it?

Anyway, I’m halfway done. I’ve got another couple of hours before midnight, and today’s goal has been met. Now, it’s time for me to work on my secondary goal: getting the next chapter of my fan fic written and ready to be posted on Monday.

Are you involved in NaNoWriMo? How is your storying going? Have you written yourself into a corner? Does it look like smooth sailing?

Are there any new recipes you think I should try when it’s time to take a break from writing? I plan to post a YouTube video soonish of my favorite quiche recipe. And because you have sat through a long and rambling post as I procrastinate on the writing I promised myself I’d do, I thought you deserved another picture of our adorable kitten.

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Well, Spice says it’s time to get to work!