Winter Comfort-Soup is On

I love to cook.  Being a part of Debbie Arnold’s food blog is always a special treat and privilege.  If you know anything about Debbie Arnold, you know she is an amazing cook and is full of great tips (which she shares on Arkansas KTHV 11 During Dining with Debbie).  It is always a little humbling to prepare a dish to share on her blog, but the other aspect of Debbie Arnold is her genuineness and love of gathering in the kitchen.   She is a down to earth home cook who inspires you to jump right in and share the kitchen.

Transitioning back to work full-time outside of the home has made cooking at home a little more difficult.  However, I still believe that relationships are most often built around the table.  We were created to need sustenance.  We were created to need relationship.  The table draws us together, allowing for two of our basic needs to be met. That belief, my desire to nurture my family physically and emotionally keeps me working to find ways to meal plan better, to slow down and let the cooking time also be bonding time, and letting go of some of my “perfectionist” expectations of myself.  Meals have become a little simpler.  The crock pot finds it way to my counter at least once a week.  My girls play a bigger role, getting something started as I am on my way home or taking on one of the dishes as we put a complete meal together.  I have also found I turn to some of our favorites more often, cooking less variety during the week.   It just helps keep things simple, and keeps us at home.

Today, I am sharing one of the few soup recipes my family can agree upon and devour in less than an hour.  Cajun Shrimp Chowder.  The recipe, originally passed along to me by a friend from Louisiana, has been given a few Chaplin tweaks. It was the perfect bowl of warmth and comfort after church today.

I hope you enjoy the recipe.  Spend a little extra time around the dinner table this week with family and/or friends.  In a world filled with sadness, turmoil, and busyness we all need the comfort of good food, good company, good fellowship.

cajun-shrimp-chowder

You Gotta Keep Cooking

Life is full right now.  I really want to say life is crazy right now, but isn’t it always?  After all, life is just a series of events, and it never stops.  As they say, time marches on.  So, even in the midst of all that is to be done, yet to come, not done… I must face the fact that everyone still wants to eat, and so I must keep cooking.  At the same time, lest I sound like I am complaining, I confess I find great comfort in cooking and sharing a meal with my family.  Maybe it’s because it brings us together in some uninterrupted time.  Maybe it’s because it brings a sense of normalcy.  Maybe it’s because there really is both physical and spiritual nourishment in breaking bread together.

One of my favorite “go to” comfort meals is Italian Sausage Tortellini Carbonnara.  I think I first found the recipe in a Southern Living magazine, but have long since lost it and rely upon memory and my own little “additions”.

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This dish can be doubled and freezes well.  It is to my family the ultimate comfort food and I must say is in high demand from friends and families when there is a new baby or illness.  Top it off, it’s easy!

Begin with 1 pound Italian Sausage.  I buy the sweet kind, but if you like heat, go for the spicy.  Brown the sausage and drain.  To the sausage add 1 TBSP minced garlic, 1 tsp dried basil, 1 tsp dried oregano and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes.  Pour over the sausage mixture 1 cup of heavy whipping cream (I did not say this was a healthy recipe, I said it was a really yummy recipe).  I have on occasion used fat free half and half (only 3/4 a cup)  Add 4 oz shredded or freshly grated Parmesan.  Heat this mixture over a low heat until it comes to a gentle bubble and the cheese begins to melt.

While preparing the Italian Sausage mixture, cook one package of cheese filled tortellini per package directions.  Drain the tortellini.  In a large skillet or bowl combine the Italian Sausage mixture and tortellini, gently coating the tortellini.   Pour into a lightly greased 9×13 pan.  Sprinkle with Italian Style breadcrumbs (optional) and 4 oz shredded/freshly grated Parmesan.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes-until top is slightly browned.  Serve with salad and garlic bread.

Gather your family around the table and create some normalcy.  Enjoy breaking bread together.  Breathe deeply and fellowship around the table.  Let meal-time be the time to pull away from the “crazy’ pace and events of the world and refresh, nourish, fellowship.

Beg, Borrow, Steal Recipes! Easy Fajitas

As organized as I am, I struggle with menu planning.  I love to cook.  I love good food.  I collect cookbooks like some collect antique dishes, or shoes (yet, confess I have a little issue there too).  Home is the smell of fresh baked cookies.  Friends should be gathered ’round the table.  Fellowship is centered on a beautifully set table with a savory meal.  Maybe it’s a Southern thing.  I don’t know, but I love food, I love cooking and I love serving.  So, one would think this menu planning thing would be a breeze.  WRONG!  I struggle.  I have decided, like so many things in life, I just get overwhelmed by the array of choices, I like change, and well, to be real honest, my expectations are just way too high.  I’m not satisfied with serving leftovers, frozen meals or chicken nuggets.  I fall into bed feeling disgruntled and disappointed.  I know I shouldn’t, and by no means am I judging those who can throw Stouffer’s in the oven or heat up some nuggets and go merrily on their way.  I’ve tried the on-line meal planning services, I have printed off at least 12 different, adorable menu planning sheets, heck, I’ve even purchased some!  All to no avail.  I give.  I have decided I’ll never be the mom that has a year worth of menus, or rotates weekly or monthly dishes.  Just isn’t going to happen.  It’s just not me.  I am embracing me.  The best I can come up with is a monthly plan, kind of sort of.

I print off a plain old ugly blank monthly calendar.  I spend an evening going through recipes, write down the recipe book and the recipe page number and add the ingredients to my grocery list.  Then there is this whole coupon thing I do, but I’ll post about that next week.  I do everything in my power to do one BIG grocery trip per month, but usually end up doing two middle sized.  I don’t stockpile.  No purpose.  I rarely cook the same things.  I do keep on hand a few staples, and yes, in reality I do have about 5 “go to” recipes.  In the end though, as said, I am embracing who I am.  My creative outlet is cooking.  I am giving myself room to experiment, print off those yummy posts from Pinterest and see what the family says is a keeper.  AND, when my friends treat us to a scrumptious meal my gang won’t quit talking about, I beg for the recipe.  Today’s recipe is just such a recipe.  It’s from my dear friend Lisa Blake, who also happens to be my girls’ god-mother (and the coolest one ever in their eyes.)  She and her husband live on a “mini” ranch in TX, so only fitting that on our last visit she treated us to THE BEST fajitas.  Of course, everything tastes better in Texas, right?!

Easy Chicken Fajitas

4-6 Skinless, boneless chicken breasts

equal parts Italian Dressing and Soy Sauce (we both used the light, low sodium in both products)

I added 2 Tbsp minced garlic, 1 tsp dried red pepper and 1 tsp cumin

Mix the Italian Dressing, Soy Sauce and spices.  Pour over the chicken.  Wrap tightly.  Let marinate overnight.  Cook the chicken breasts on the grill.  Mix up one half cup of the Italian Dressing and Soy Sauce (equal parts).  Saute sliced onion and bell peppers in a little bit of olive oil.  Pour the Italian Dressing/Soy Sauce mixture over the onions and peppers and cook on low in a skillet.

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Serve with white or whole wheat tortillas and condiments (avacado, salsa, cheddar cheese, sour cream).  Add a side salad and you have a great, easy to prepare, quick dinner.  I promise, this marinade will have you hooked.  Who knew-soy sauce in your Mexican food!

I’m gonna keep working on my menu planning, but don’t get your hopes up.  I’m learning to let myself off the hook for some things, but more importantly, learning to embrace the me I am and love living life.

Southern Hospitality: It Ain’t About You

I love to host events.  I have the Spiritual Gift of hospitality and come from a long line of Southern cooks, most of whom loved to entertain.  There’s just nothing better than good food, a cool beverage, some flowers and a host of friends.  Every time I entertain, I am reminded thought “It ain’t about me!”

It saddens me that as our houses have grown in size and Viking Ranges have gained in popularity, fewer and fewer people entertain.  I am hopeful though as I follow blogs and spend too much time on Pinterest, that the next generation is bringing good old fashioned hospitality back.  That’s exactly as it should be.  I also notice though that the houses are a little smaller, the tables set with restraint, and what is old is new again.  How fun!

As I mentioned, I come from a long line of great cooks and hostesses.  Each with their own style, but each made certain their home was ready for guests and the very best of what they had to offer was prepared with love for those visiting.  I pray the gift of hospitality is something I will pass on to my girls.  Hosting others in your home can be one of the most fulfilling tasks.  Especially if done right.  And, the only way to ensure you do it right, is to remember, “It ain’t about you.”  Too often we get more concerned with what people will think of our home, our place settings, our choice of attire, etc… and we fail to think about the person(s) we have invited into our home.  To entertain well, one must make your guest comfortable.  And that can mean different things for different folks.  But what it always means is placing our attention on them.

I have been blessed to have a husband and children that love having others in our home.  That being said, we have hosted a LOT of stuff.  I am always so blessed when my guests tell me how comfortable they were at my home or have someone take the moment to tell me how “homey” my home is.  Now, I realize that in some “southern” talk that can mean my home is cute, not the top in vogue design style etc… but, if someone felt at ease, enjoyed good conversation and wanted to linger, then “homey” I’ll take!  This point was driven home a few years ago when a dear friend called and asked if I would take the lead in hosting a bridal shower for her son’s bride elect.  Her reasoning for calling me was simply this, “I know you will think about her and make it comfortable.  She likes simple things, doesn’t have expensive taste and would much prefer that money be spent on a cause than on cakes or silver.”  Yes, entertaining is ALL about your guests.  Of course, I hosted the bridal shower and I do believe it was a success, meaning the bride elect was at home and felt welcomed.  In reality, I got a few raised eye-brows as I recommended we use a few paper products, have rustic decor and serve mini cupcakes instead of a large bridal shower cake, which in the South can come close to looking like a mini version of the wedding cake!  We served on white porcelain trays, no silver, no crystal.  Oh my…  But, you see, that was this bride-to-be.  She loved color and simplicity.  Her heart was tender and she was a giver.  A lot of fluff and sparkle would have seemed a waste to her, almost even an offense.  Lesson learned, yet once again.  Entertaining ain’t about me, it’s all about my guests.

Here are a few tips, followed by some pictures of various hostessing moments.  Enjoy.  I hope you will be encouraged to open your home.  Plan a party.  Plan dinner with friends.  Keep it simple and make it ALL about them.

Hosting 101:

  1. A clean home is more important than a decorated home.  I know, we all hate it, but mop, vacuum and scrub the toilets.  It’ll go a long way.
  2. No need for crystal and china-although if you have it USE it!
  3. Set the table the day before.   Include placing serving pieces on the table.
  4. Be creative in your centerpieces:  A few potted plans sitting on some burlap running the center of the table.  (Your guests can take them as party favors or you can plant them the next day.)  A grouping of candles is always fun.  Fresh fruit gathered among-st some grapevine or set upon a wreath.
  5. Keep the food simple.  A meat, a starch, and a veggie or salad.  Make dessert the night before or have something mixed up ready to pop in the oven.  I love chocolate chip cookie dough in ramekins.  Serve hot with a scoop of ice cream.
  6. Be creative with napkins:  Use bar towels, bandannas, and yes, even paper
  7. Don’t stress over the details and by all means don’t snap and yell at your family.  (This is the voice of experience.)  Your guests will notice the tension more than they will notice the missing centerpiece or toys under the coffee table.
  8. Let the dirty dishes wait.  Your guests came to see you.  Be seen.  Sit and visit.

 

She made it herself.

She made it herself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yep-plastic cloths, plastic dishes ...  But lots of fun

Yep-plastic cloths, plastic dishes … But lots of fun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was all about him and GOLF

It was all about him and GOLF

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple, Yet Elegant for the Mom

Simple, Yet Elegant for the Mom

 

 

Soups On! Winter in the South

It has been a cold winter.  And for those of us in the South, we just ain’t used to this white stuff called snow.  We have a love hate relationship with it.  We love it for about a day.  Then, all our power lines begin to fall, electricity may or may not go off and stay off, the streets are iced, we have no real means of getting our streets ready or cleared, etc… One thing for sure though, we have food.  First inclination of bad weather and off to Kroger we go!  It’s a battle for Wonder White Bread and Milk.  Go figure.  This year, apparently bananas were also in high demand, and LORD HAVE MERCY there was a Rotel and Velveeta shortage.  Now that, dear friends, is a SIN, with a capitol S!  We love our food, especially when “snowed in”.  After all, isn’t that what every good Southerner does when stuck inside?  Cook and eat.

I myself love a good pot of soup.  Slow cooked soup with some rolls or crackers and cheese.  Better yet, a little cheese dip and some tortilla chips!  Two of my go to soups are:  Taco Soup and a new favorite Tortellini Soup.  The latter is actually quite healthy and vegetarian.  The Taco Soup, well, kind of healthy until we sprinkle on the avocado, add a dollop of sour cream, and a cup of shredded cheddar cheese.  It’s the South-no apologies.

I thought I’d share my go to recipes.  Both are easy to make and both are great for taking to sickly friends.

Taco Soup:                                                                                                                                                                              

2 lbs ground beef, browned and drained

2 pckgs ranch dressing mix (powder)

2 pckgs taco seasoning

3 cans mixed beans (I like Kroger Simply Organic:  kidney, black and pinto beans)

1 can chick peas

2 cans Ro-Tel

Tortellini Soup

42 oz vegetable broth

2 (9oz) packages spinach tortellini

1 can diced tomatoes with garlic

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup light whipping cream

Both soups:  Just dump it all into a slow cooker.  Let simmer for 3-4 hours.  Top Taco with the above mentioned.  Top Tortellini with shredded Parmesan.

Taco SoupTortellini Soup