Archives for December 2011

12-24-2011

Child Like Magic

On Christmas Eve I am often surrounded by memories and I wonder what your memories are this evening.

My memories as a kid are simplistic…of a sleepless night anxiously awaiting Santa’s arrival, Christmas carols sung around a piano, the hilarious gift my ‘gran’ gave every year. And then I transition to memories more recent…the first Christmas spent with our son, to the now joy I experience as my two kids open up their Christmas Eve gift. But I also guess you may have some somber moments, like me, as the day passes…when you remember simpler times or remember people who are no longer by your side.

So what I wish for you and yours this Christmas is child like magic. The ability to see hope in our lives, to see the good in others, and to see the strength that comes from a warm embrace. I hope you look beyond a hectic day of going here and there to see the joy spent among friends and family. And as tomorrow dawns, I hope you are able to see all the blessings in your life and give thanks to God for the birth of His son. And if tomorrow dawns and it isn’t quite the situation you would ask for, I hope you are able to still give thanks to God for the wondrous reason we celebrate and to know that you are not alone. No matter your circumstances or where you are spending Christmas, you are forever in God’s loving embrace and I pray His peace will be with you tonight and tomorrow, as always.

May you have a joyous and memorable Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Love,
Jessica

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6

12-23-2011

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies for Santa

If the Santa and Elves in your household enjoy chocolate then this recipe is for you! Its got semi-sweet grated chocolate plus milk chocolate chips. And, if you love oatmeal in cookies, this recipe delivers on that too! This is one of my favorite cookies…I’ve been known to devour 2 dozen in 2 days, all by myself! So be careful…they are addictive!

Pure Chocolate Delight!

Mrs. Field’s Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies
If you Google this recipe you’ll find lots of different variations and an interesting story of how the recipe came to be. I’ll save the story telling for someone else but this variation came from a friend’s mom a few year’s back. The chocolate has been scaled back and the recipe is halved. Even with halving the recipe it still makes 4-5 dozen cookies. But that’s good right…the more for you to eat?

Ingredients

1 cup, 8 oz, unsalted butter, softened
1 cup organic cane sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 brown eggs, preferably farm raised, slightly beaten
1 to 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 cups organic all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups quick 1-minute oatmeal
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
12 oz bag milk chocolate chips
4 oz chocolate semi-sweet bars

Notes

To soften butter, leave out at room temperature for 30 – 45 minutes. You don’t want to microwave it as that messes with the make up of the molecules so the cookies don’t have the right texture. Also, organic flour (or at least the brand I use, King Arthur) has a higher protein make up of the flour which limits how much the cookies spread while baking. Also, I’ve found that if you use 1-minute oatmeal versus old fashioned you will have more moist cookies. And if you slightly beat the eggs before hand it ensures you get no shell in your dough and also distributes the egg more evenly into the dough, in my opinion!

Recipe
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper or Silpat liners.

Grate chocolate bars into a medium size bowl.

Measure oatmeal and blend in food processor.

Next, cream together butter and sugars. When I first started baking a lot, I would wonder “how do I know when it is ‘creamed'”. Well this is what I consider ‘creamed’ to look like and takes 3 to 5 minutes to achieve.

Add beaten eggs and vanilla. Next, add the flour and oatmeal mixture. Then mix in chips and grated chocolate.

Spoon the dough into tablespoon size and place on cookie sheet and bake for 6 minutes at 375 degrees. The few minutes pass quickly so set an oven timer for these cookies! Transfer to baking rack as soon as cookies are set enough. And ENJOY!

Now, the best part…Lick that bowl clean!

I’d love to know, what cookies do you bake at Christmas each year?

Jessica

12-20-2011

Homemade Gift Ideas

Do  you have all your gifts finished, wrapped, and sitting oh so pretty under your tree? If so, congratulations!!!

If not, you’re just like me! And you may need some last minute ideas for those hard to buy for people or you just want a little something special to add to someone’s gift or you have a party this weekend and need a fun gift for the hostess with the mostess. (Do I get an award for my rhyming???)

So here are some ideas for homemade gifts that truly do not take that much time to make and they aren’t expensive! And the recipient will love the thought you put into their gift.

Veggie Garden Stakes

I came up with this idea last week and am SO super excited about it. It is a fantastic gift for the gardener in your life and you could use it for a flower gardener as well. Any gardener would love to receive this, trust me – I know!

I got the stakes at our local ACE Hardware where they only cost $.49 a piece. So this whole set of 10 stakes cost me $5! I recommend using wood and a sharpie but there are plastic veggie label stake sets at the hardware & gardening stores if you prefer that. I just don’t think it looks quite as nice as these, but that’s just me!

Items Needed: Wooden Stakes, A sharpie, and Wikipedia to look up the Latin vegetable name
Helpful Hints: I wrote on the stakes with a charcoal pencil since I didn’t think that would be as permanent should I make a mistake. Then I went over that with a black sharpie. Set aside and let dry for at least 5 minutes before writing on the opposite side. I wrote the common and Latin names on each side.  For a more festive gift, you could place these in a nice galvanized or copper watering tin.

Homemade Vinaigrette 

Last weekend I had fun at a girlfriends’ house where we (or really they) made homemade gifts, including this recipe and the following one. I was the lucky recipient of a bottle of vinaigrette so I can tell you firsthand how great this tastes! It’s very versatile, I have used it in a veggie salad, pasta salad, and a marinade. And once again, not expensive! All the ingredients are probably in your pantry. So the only cost will be the bottles which can be found at Michael’s for about $.99 a piece. (Don’t you need yet another reason to go to Michael’s this week??? I’ve been three times already!) Click here for the vinaigrette recipe.

Five-Spice Pecans

Once again, this gift is pretty cost effective. One batch should make at least 2 gifts and besides the pecans and five spice blend you probably have everything on hand already. And you may already have the spice blend in your pantry. If not, you should be able to find at your local grocer without a trip to a specialty store. (See, I know you have no extra time to make it to the specialty store!) Click here for the pecan recipe.

I hope these homemade gift ideas help you in your last minute rush to get it all done. And just remember, if you can’t get it all done…don’t worry. A genuine smile and a warm hug are also fantastic presents to receive.

Enjoy your afternoon! Jessica

PS…thank you Colleen & Lauren for including me on your homemade gift making day just so I could write this post!

12-18-2011

Pasta e Fagioli Soup

If you’re anything like me, you are really beginning to feel overwhelmed with the thought that Christmas is only 1 week away! You are asking yourself…why did I sign myself up for so many activities and responsibilities this week?? Note to self for next year…say no to every invitation the week before Christmas!

So in case you are like me, you will probably appreciate an easy and affordable meal that is delicious and quick. The best part is you probably have most of the ingredients on hand so no need for another trip to the grocery store. Serve this with crusty french bread & a spicy Malbec, and you have a nice meal to calm your nerves during this hectic week.

This recipe is a variation of Giada De Laurentiis’ recipe…primarily, I added heirloom tomatoes I had canned this summer and increased the amount of bacon…because really, shouldn’t we all eat more bacon? I think so!!!

Price Note: This recipe serves 4-6 and if using homemade stock and canned tomatoes, the price per serving is less than $1 a person.

Ingredients
2 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup chopped onion
6-8 ozs bacon, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups homemade chicken stock
1 pint canned tomatoes or 1 can (14.5 ozs) diced tomatoes with Italian seasonings
2 cans (14.5 ozs) red kidney beans, rinsed and drained well
1 cup small to medium sized macaroni shells
kosher salt
fresh ground black pepper

Recipe
Heat the olive oil & butter in a dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and saute approximately 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add the chopped bacon and saute until pieces begin to crisp up, approximately 7 minutes. (Don’t fret if all the pieces don’t crisp up…only about 1/2 of mine were crisp by the end). Stir in the garlic and saute 1 more minute. Add the chopped rosemary, bay leaf, stock, tomatoes, beans, a dash of salt, and approximately 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In a blender or food processor, puree 1 1/2 cup of the soup mixture until smooth, then return the puree to the dutch oven. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Add in pasta then reduce heat to medium high. Stir occasionally and allow to boil for approximately 8 minutes, until pasta is tender but still firm to bit.

Season with fresh ground pepper and remove the bay leaf. I doubt you’ll need more salt since this has bacon.

Ladle up & Enjoy!

And good luck this week with your hectic schedule. I hope you make time for refreshing moments with deep breaths.

Jessica

12-15-2011

Eating Crow

NOTE…this venting post is about stomach bugs…you may not want to read it! :)

There are lots of things I’ve judged others on and said, oh so naively, “That’ll never be me”.  But this one tops the cake… having a child who is a picky eater. I know, I know…you’re probably thinking…. ha ha, or every kid goes through this or ha ha…

I always thought if you fed them good food and ate healthy in front of them, that they’d like their veggies too. Not so much! My daughter’s so picky that the only thing she wants is MILK and she won’t eat any food that isn’t processed! It’s miserable because we’ve been quarantined in our house for the past 4+ days with a stomach bug. I’m sure you can imagine what happens when you mix milk with an empty upset stomach. It isn’t pretty!

So now I am trying to think of something, anything, she might eat tomorrow for me.

If you are at home with healthy happy kids who enjoy eating I am SO happy for you. For myself, I would just like to go through 24 hours without anyone regurgitating and to find something my 21 month old will eat besides chips and fries.

I know I can’t be the only parent out there like this, any suggestions???

Thanks for reading – Jessica

12-12-2011

Mmm…the taste of fresh mowed grass

So last Friday after a long day of taking care of the kids, cleaning up the kitchen countless times, and stepping onto matchbox cars with their rough edges on the soles of my bare feet, I decided I just had to have a break. And what would be nicer than a romantic meal at home with my husband….a glass or two of wine, a meal made from local ingredients, and a quiet house with sleeping kids.

Well, before you try to make your man a romantic dinner, you should make sure he likes the ingredients you’re using! Because apparently I forgot that my husband doesn’t like arugula.

And, he doesn’t just not like it. He detests it. So I make this really nice meal of fresh flounder, locally made pasta, and you bet….arugula lightly sauteed and mixed in with the pasta.

The worst meal of the decade…according to my husband!

I thought it tasted pretty good but after one bite, my husband promptly announced…this tastes like fresh mowed grass. WHAT??? How would someone know what that tastes like and really, how could I think this tasted good and he very much hated it?  He explained that if I had been as lucky as him to have been a boy, that around the age of 10 I would have been pounded into the dirt and grass during a scuffle and would know first hand what fresh mowed grass tastes like.

So in case you were wondering what fresh mowed grass tastes like…just saute some arugula and you’ll know! At least, according to my husband you will.

I hope ya’ll enjoyed this funny story at my attempt at a romantic meal at home. Coming later this week I’ll be sharing Christmas cookie recipes from an annual cookie exchange and also, some ideas on making homemade goodies to give as Christmas presents.

Enjoy today,

Jessica

12-09-2011

Advent…this wonderful time of year

So I have to admit, until I became a Sunday School teacher 3 years ago, I had no idea what Advent meant. I grew up in a deeply rooted Christian household (think Southern Baptist mixed with Penticost/Holiness churches! Imagine the stories I could share on just that topic!) but the word Advent never came up.

I’ve since learned that Advent means “arrival” or “coming” and the purpose of Advent is to focus on two things…the celebration of Jesus’ birth and the anticipation of his coming return. Now, I’m not going to get into his coming return…I’ll save that for some Southern Baptist ministers…but I did want to share some ideas on how to keep this Christmas season focused on the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

Idea #1…An Advent Calendar that encourages children to do missional work…

Missional work doesn’t have to be grand to make a difference, it just needs to be done in love. Each day include a note for your child such as…”Give a hug to someone you love”, “Share a toy with your sister”, or “Thank your teachers for being so great”. If kids are older, the notes could be to complete little jobs for neighbors and friends such as sweeping someone’s porch or taking our their trash.

Here’s a picture of our Advent calendar that my 3 year old son and I created with old Christmas cards, paper bags, numbers cut out from magazines, and Christmas tree stamps that my son wanted to place on every surface in the house!

Idea #2…Spend less and Give more…

Do you ever buy a Christmas gift in obligation for someone without really wanting to and just marking their name off the list because you feel like ‘you have to’?  Or you get so tired of all the commercialism surrounding Christmas and some years you just want to throw in the towel for all gifts? Well what if, this year, you bought one less gift and had more time and thought for the gifts you do give? I know this idea may seem crazy but sometimes I think its so easy to get caught up in giving gifts that we buy just because we think we have to. So here are some ideas on ways to spend less money but give more with the thought you put into your gifts.

Photo courtesy of Lindsay Strannigan of Rosemarried.com

What if you made at least one homemade gift this year? Homemade gifts are so nice to receive and they are a lot of fun to make! You can have a creative crafty day with your kids painting ornaments for grandparents or spend the afternoon with girlfriends making preserves and sugar scrubs.

Here is a neat rule for buying family members’ a present…spend no more than $20 on the gift, it must be purchased from a local store, and it cannot be made in China! How is that for staying local and giving a gift that someone would probably be thrilled to receive.

For additional ideas on how to put more thought into your gift giving and find cool homemade gifts to make, check out this blog post from Lindsay Strannigan of Rosemarried.com.  I’ve just recently found this blog and thought this post perfectly summarized how commercialism for Christmas gets so out of hand and shares ideas for making gifts with lots of heart.

Idea #3…Make a donation in honor of someone…and if possible, make it a charity that has special meaning to that person

So in the past I’ve made donations in honor of people as gifts but I’ve never really picked a charity that would perhaps have a special meaning to that person. So this year, I am trying to do that…. to give a gift to the VA Hospital for a retired veteran …. give a gift of school supplies and uniforms in honor of someone who lacked those when they were a kid.

Or instead of buying gifts for family members, go in together and ‘adopt’ a family in your community for Christmas.

Another idea a friend shared with me today that I think is wonderful…make a donation in honor of your child. If you begin this when they are a child they will grow up with the experience and hopefully pass it along to their children. What a wonderful tradition to begin. You could choose a child related organization when they are infants and as children get older they can choose the charity they’d like the gift to go towards.

I hope these ideas help you enjoy this wonderful season as we celebrate the birth of Christ and share His love with others.

Merry Christmas,

Jessica

12-08-2011

2 Strikes for Greens

So my quest to be adventuresome and try new greens hasn’t resulted in the home run I was hoping for.

This past weekend, I tried making a swiss chard and cheese frittata which probably would have been fine if I hadn’t substituted kale for chard! I used my ‘not sure what this is’ green but yesterday I found out it was definitely kale. My wonderful husband said it tasted good but when I suggested giving some to the neighbors to try (maybe their taste buds are different than mine and they would enjoy it?) my husband promptly said, “let’s just leave it here”. So obviously, he just tries out my concoctions to humor me!

Now we know this is kale!

My not so great kale and cheddar frittata

I wasn’t about to let one strike keep me down though. I cleaned up my counters, retied my apron, and tried again with a Bok choy stir fry…but once more, another strike!

I don’t know why but I CANNOT find a good stir fry recipe. I am just not good at making that type food, even when I have a recipe. It simply lacks something, some type of secret pizzazz that I can’t figure out.

The stir fry had pork, mushrooms, Bok choy and lots of minced garlic and ginger. But it needed something more in the sauce. Maybe I should have started with some onions or used fish sauce (which I detest) or did a little Asian dance??? Simply put, it was bland. However, the Bok choy was delicious and I will 100% definitely use it again…in my next attempt at making a not mediocre stir fry!

The gorgeous Bok choy was the shining star in this unfortunately bland stir fry

I haven’t given up hope yet though! My next attempts with greens are to make kale chips and a soup of Cabbage, White Bean, and Kielbasa. I’ll let ya’ll know how they turn out….wish me luck! Jess

PS…thanks for humoring my baseball wording throughout this post. I’m not really much of a baseball fan but today it just kept coming up in my head so thought I’d include! Have a great afternoon!

12-01-2011

Greens, Greens, and MORE Greens

So, if you’ve read today’s earlier post, you’ll find that I have 4 different types of greens on hand at the moment!!!!! Think that is just a little too much? Well, I do! So I need your help – I’m not sure what all the different types of greens are – and am hoping someone out there might. I know I’ve got some Bok Choy in there but have never cooked with it and would love a recipe for that too.

Any takers on what this is?

I really want to figure out what the above green is…I am hoping you can cook it just like spinach or arugula. The leaves are more tender than traditional greens, such as collards, kale, etc.

On that note… During our winters in Charleston, we have greens in abundance but Southern Style collard greens are quickly becoming BORING! So, imagine what a glorious sight this book was at the library tonight!

Hopefully, I can find some good recipes in this book to share with you. And if you have any creative ways to use greens, please pass them along.

Your Faithful Greens Eater,
Jessica

12-01-2011

Greens for the land of Husker’s

Hello!!! I hope all of you had wonderful Thanksgivings and ate lots of healthy foods! My family and I went on a week long trip to visit extended family in the land of cornfields, pivots, and cows….aka…Nebraska. And oh yes, the land of Huskers!

We had such a fantastic time but I do have to say, eating healthy wasn’t #1 on my priority list. (Imagine at every meal….blueberry pie, pecan pie, cherry pie, not to mention – everyone’s favorite…pumpkin pie! And oh yes, in the land of Husker’s they categorize corn and potatoes as vegetables. Ha!) When I haven’t had greens in a while my body begins to crave them and sometimes that makes me go just a tad overboard. Hence, I now have 4 heads of various greens in my fridge, 10 tangerines on the counter, and a smothering of other fall veggies and fruits in my crisper!

Today’s recipe takes advantage of fall greens, creamy blue cheese grits, and very flavorful pork!

I am definitely not a photo genius but today’s pictures are on the very poor side. The grits came out a little runny when I made the recipe tonight (blaming husband for throwing away the recipe). I also hope that when you sit down to enjoy this meal you’ll have on lovely serenading music in the background. The background noise my husband and I enjoyed was our son yelling that it wasn’t time to eat but time for more FOOTBALL! Obviously, he still wishes to be back in Husker country.

 

I made the same recipe a few weeks ago with local greens and think the picture is a little better than tonight's.

All of the ingredients, except for the greens (because I was too impatient to wait a day), were local. Here are prices on how to serve up this winter goodness on a budget.

1 lb Local Pork Tenderloin: $10
20 ozs Fresh Spinach: $6
4 ozs Local Blue Cheese: $4
1 cup Local Milk: $1 (way overestimated)
1 1/2 cups Local Grits: $1
2 cups Homemade Chicken Stock: Free

Total Cost: $22/4 servings = $5.50 a person

Recipe

Ingredients for Pork Tenderloin
1 lb local pork tenderloin
1/2 cup lemon juice (2 lemons)
grated lemon zest from 1 to 2 lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp fresh tarragon, chopped
3 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
2 tsp dijon mustard

Recipe for Pork Tenderloin
In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients except for the tenderloin. Pour marinade into a gallon sized Ziploc bag and add tenderloin. Place in refrigerator for 4 – 8 hours.

When ready to cook, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Next, coat a shallow baking dish with olive oil and remove the tenderloin from the marinade. Throw marinade away and place tenderloin in baking dish. Bake in preheated oven for 15 – 20 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees. Remove from oven and place on a rectangle of aluminum foil, folding tightly all around to allow the pork to rest and become really juicy. Allow to sit for 10 minutes. When you cut into the pork, it will still be pink inside but is safe to eat. (Please disregard my pictures of my pork – my meat thermometer needed to be thrown away years ago – so I ended up overcooking mine. But even overcooked, it was still really flavorful. This marinade is my go-to marinade for pork tenderloin. You can really taste the lemon, mustard, and herbs in each bite.)

Ingredients for Grits
1 1/4 cups local grits
1 1/2 – 2 cups homemade chicken stock
1/2 – 1 cup water
1/2 cup local milk or cream
4 ozs local blue cheese

Recipe for Grits
Over medium heat, bring 1 1/2 cups stock and 1/2 cup water to a rapid boil. VERY SLOWLY whisk in the grits while stirring constantly. (This slow process and the constant stir is important to having no lumps in your grits). Lower the heat to medium low and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Add in additional stock and/or water if consistency is not looking creamy enough. After those 20 minutes, you will add in 1/2 cup of the milk/cream and simmer for another 10 – 15 minutes. Once desired consistency is reached, remove from heat and stir in blue cheese. Season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper as needed. (When cooking grits, don’t be afraid to add in additional liquid if your grits look a little too dry before they are finished cooking).

Ingredients for Greens
20 ozs fresh greens – spinach or arugula (see below)
2 garlic cloves, minced
olive oil

Recipe for Greens
Over medium heat, saute minced garlic in olive oil for 1 minute. Add fresh greens and a few drops of water. Allow to cook for approximately 5 minutes, until almost wilted through. Season with kosher salt and fresh ground pepper as needed.

(I tried this last week with collard greens and even though I sauteed for about 15 minutes they were still not tender enough, in my opinion. However, I think that if I had left out more of the ‘rib’ of the collards they would have been just fine. So you may want to give collard or kale a try in this recipe. If so, let me know how it turns out!)

Now serve up & ENJOY!!!

Jessica