Friday, June 18, 2010

From cooking to craigslist, this week's experiments

One thing I always challenge myself to do each week is try something new. I like to call these new things my "experiments." It could be something small, like testing out a new work-out video or trying a different dish at my favorite restaurant rather than opting for my recurring favorite. This week, my experiments included cooking a recipe that I made up myself and purchasing two things from craigslist for the first time!

Experiment #1: Chile Tortilla Chicken. If you know me well, you know that I am obsessed with Chicken tortilla soup, this delicious and incredibly easy-to-make dish that my mom picked up from one of her co-workers years ago. I love to make this for friends, whether it's Cinco de Mayo or a big football game. Well, I decided that with the proper alterations, the soup could be made into a yummy sauce that could be ladled over chicken breast, making it a healthier

version of my favorite dish! This is especially important in my family because my dad is working on making his goal weight (he has already lost 50 pounds! YAY DAD!) and since I am the designated cook (seeing as I have no job this summer - it's my lazy pre-grad school summer) I have to follow some guidelines when I cook. So, my lovely sister and I set about creating this chicken concoction Thursday night. I am proud to say that it was a hit! We prepared the meal for 5 people, but the recipe could easily be altered for any group! Here's all the info you need if you wanted to recreate it:

Ingredients: 1 can Campbell's Cream of Chicken Soup (I avoid the healthy version of the soup because it changes the taste...but if you like the healthy kind better, go for it!); 1 packet of McCormick Chicken Gravy; 1 can Rotel tomatoes, mild; 1 can chopped green chiles; 1 bag Tostitos tortilla chips (I love the hint of lime!)

CHICKEN: Thaw chicken and prepare for oven by cutting off excess fat; lay on pan covered in foil and add salt/pepper on each side for flavor; bake at 400 for 45 minutes.

SAUCE: In a saucepan, combine 1/2 can soup and gravy packet. Stir.

(If you are altering to make recipe for more/less diners - the gravy adds the thickness to the sauce, so try and keep the proportions the same. So for every 1/2 can of soup, you need a whole packet of gravy.) Add Rotel and chiles. Let simmer. When the chicken is done, let your diners ladle the desired amount of sauce over their meat! We garnished ours with hint of lime chips.

This is the perfect dish if you've had a long day and want to relax as you cook - just pop the chicken in the oven, mix up the sauce ingredients, and chill out as your meal cooks for you. I do love tackling complex recipes from time to time, but I know that I'll definitely be making this meal for Ryan and I after I've had long days on campus. (And he'll help me, too - he likes to cook!) My next culinary-related project: compiling our favorite recipes into a binder (especially the specialties of both of our mothers, since we'll be far from home and in need of comfort food). This will be so much better than hauling clunky cookbooks or ripped magazine pages to Montana!

Experiment #2: Bargain hunting and goods acquisition on craigslist! I had browsed the website many a time, just to see what goods were up for grabs or what digs were up for rent, but until yesterday I'd never bit the bullet and bid on anything! Now, let me tell you something about my shopping and spending habits: I am an extremely impulsive buyer. I see something like a movie or a dress or a picture frame and then the thing wheedles into my brain until I'm saying "Oh, that's not a bad price! Oh, I can just see that on my shelf..." and on and on. And I usually buy the thing and get instant gratification.

Well, I am trying very hard to stop this habit. I have been getting much better about it recently. I ask myself "Will I be using/wearing this in the next 5 years, or will it end up in my give away pile? Do I really need this? Do I have a place for this?" Then I buy accordingly. I also just had a major garage sale to get rid of old high school/college things, and I've always purged my stuff to give away to the Council of the Blind Thrift Store, which makes convenient pick-ups in my neighborhood.

Anyway, back to my point: though I've been slowly improving

on my spending/hoarding habits, I am still programmed to the instant gratification that most retail experiences offer me. Thus, craigslisting kinda freaked me out! I had to wait in agony for the owners of the media stand and bedside tables to email me back and affirm that their items were still available for purchase! It was a nail-biting experience for me, but I managed to snag both items for $35 combined - $25 for
the media stand (which will go oh-so-nicely with our dark wood futon and end table) and $10 for TWO bedside tables, one for me and one for Ryan! I will strip and re-paint the tables when I have my "Crafternoon" with my sister and her hubby, when we will paint my chairs, shelves, and now, the bedside tables!

My newfound thriftiness doesn't end with my craigslist gems....I also did some hunting with my sister and the bro-in-law and managed to snag two pieces of furniture - a dining room chair (also

to be painted, probably a sunshine yellow) and another end table for the living room (to be painted chocolate brown or, if I'm feeling bold, lime green or aqua to match the futon!)

The price tag for these used-but-totally-not-junky pieces?A meager $1.99 for the chair and $0.99 for the end table, both from our local
Goodwill. Seriously! I'm planning on swapping out the drawer pulls on the bedside tables and the end table, most likely with some fun knobs from Anthropologie - and it looks like the knobs will cost me more than the actual furniture itself! Gotta love a good deal. Even my mom, who keeps saying I
shouldn't buy more furniture before the 22-hour move, agreed that all the stuff I snatched up was too good to pass up.

Speaking of good deals, saving moolah, and purging stuff in preparation for my move: yesterday the sis, bro-in-law, and I also hit up Half-Price Books with three boxes of old books I wanted to sell. It was a good mix of hard and paperbacks, most teenage novels I'll never read again. I got $45 bucks for clearing out two whole shelves in my built-in - and I couldn't be happier! As someone who was just going to give them away, it's awesome to hear that I can actually get money! WOAH. They're smart, though - as they are sorting through your goods to determine an offering price (based on store needs, customer demands, etc.) they require that you stay on the store premises. That means that during your wait time (anywhere from 5 - 30 minutes, depending on how many other sellers are there) you are browsing their really large selection of books, magazines, CDs, and movies. Needless to say I found some awesome books and movies for - you guessed it - half-price (Funny Face! Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire - who couldn't love it?!) and these items were deducted from my $45. But as I said, I was planning on giving away the books for nada, so I felt as though the store had given me my books & movie for free, and given me some cash money to boot!

My favorite thing about selling all those books and a big chunk of my junk

in the garage sale: I used that cash to buy many of my thrifty furniture finds, including my dining room table (shown in the post below), the Goodwill end table and chair, AND my craigslisted media stand and bedside tables. So I got a major bang for my buck, essentially exchanging unnecessary clutter and silliness for the fun, functional, economical, quality (barely-looks-used!) furniture that will populate my new adult apartment!

In addition to Half-Price books, thrifting, and craigslist rendezvous, my sister, brother-in-law, and I spent the rest of our day eating yummy pizza at d'Bronx, seeing Shrek Forever After, and playing some favorite card games! All in all, I had fun with my latest experiments and now can't wait to add the chile tortilla chicken to my recipe binder, and to start breathing fresh life into my used furniture with some fun paint colors.

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