Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In Anticipation of Fall: Cheese Tortellini Soup and a Bonus

I'm a Autumn girl. I simply love the season. I dream of changing leaves, beautiful fall boots, mornings that beg for a latte, and routine...I just love it. So if you are trying to hold on to the last bit of summer, please forgive me for this post.

The only thing I don't really care for is how busy fall can get. Just as the weather has turned just a bit this week, so has the feeling in the air. Meetings have started up, registration forms are all over the place, and we are entering back into the scheduled life :) So before it all really hits (for us..I know some of you are already there) we wanted to take a little time out for a date and Cheese Tortellini Soup and homemade bread sounded like the perfect choice to properly welcome fall!

Cheese Tortellini Soup


2 tbsp Olive Oil
1 large onion chopped
2 carrots chopped
2 stalks celery chopped
3 garlic cloves diced
8 cups chicken stock
1 bag fresh spinach
1 bag of frozen cheese tortellini
2 14 oz can diced tomatoes
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp honey
salt and pepper to taste

finish with Parmesan cheese if desired

How to:
Saute onions, carrots, and celery for 5-7 minutes or until onion is translucent. Add garlic and saute for another minute or so. Then add all of the other ingredients (starting with stock) and bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until tortellini is cooked through. Pour into bowls and finish with a generous portion of Parmesan and enjoy!

My little tips and tricks include:
1. I buy frozen chopped onion in the freezer section. Love this option for soups. Cheap and easy!
2. If you were going to add meat to this (which I think would be awesome) I would probably go with left over rotisserie chicken, chicken sausage, or real deal Italian sausage.
3. If you don't have stock on hand you can use canned stock (I like Swanson the best), if you don't have canned stock, bullion will do...but if using bullion by all means get it from the Hispanic section in the store. It is cheaper and has way more flavor...if you trust me on this one, you will thank me. :)
4. Garlic...this is the best tip EVER. I mean it. If you are using powder:stop. If you are using the kind in jars: I promise this is a superior option. If you are using fresh: go right ahead...but I have found something that tastes just as fresh, costs less, and takes all the work out of garlic! Trader Joe's sells Crushed Garlic in these amazing little frozen packages for $1.99 and each package contains the equivalent of 20 cloves of are definitely getting you're money's worth. You just pop one little portion into whatever you are cooking...and you are instantly a better cook. I am completely serious. These little beauties will take you from 4 stars to 5. My freezer is literally never without them.

Okay, now onto glorious homemade bread! This recipe is Annamarie Windham's and it is awesome for multiple reasons. It is quick, easy, half whole wheat, and yummy!


1 and 1/2 tbsp yeast
1 and 1/2 tbsp salt
3 cups warm water
6 and 1/2 cups flour ( I use half whole wheat and half white)

Mix all ingredients together in a big bowl like this.

...until it holds together like the picture above.
Then put saran wrap over it(with a few holes in the top for air) for 2-4 hours. It will then look a little something like this.
At this point I put mine into two medium-large loaf pans and let them rise for another 3o minutes. If you don't want to use all your dough, you could put the unused portion into an airtight container and put it in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. When you are ready to use your dough just pull it out and let it rise for 40 min- 1 hour before baking. When ready to bake: 450 degrees for 30 minutes will do the trick. I used one for dinner. I wrapped the second one in foil, placed it in a freezer bag and popped it in the freezer for future use.
Above is the final product! Yum! Annamarie's still turns out better then mine...her version is A-mazing... mine is still great. That's how I am assured you can do this too.
Here is the final product! Hot Cheese Tortellini Soup with Homemade Bread!

We finished off with a chocolate chip cookie (Damion's fav). No recipe to share..Betty Crocker Pouch is all you need :) After dinner we snuggled on the couch and laughed about nothing in particular. I love to see Damion laugh, makes it all worth it!

Okay, now to completely switch gears. I have chatted with some of you about chicken prep. We eat a lot of chicken around our house so it only makes sense to buy it in bulk. I have been purchasing my chicken from Zaycon Foods. The chicken comes in whole breasts straight from a local farm and is never frozen and it is a great deal, usually around $1.65lb. It comes in 40lb boxes so I have been splitting that with a friend. So when its chicken pick-up day...its also chicken prep day! 20lbs can be overwhelming if you don't have a plan. Thus, I came up with one and I am sharing it with you!

I am currently out of Zaycon chicken..and needed some more to tie us over until another sale. I bought 4.5 lbs for $1.99 per pound. I have found that my two favorite ways to freeze fresh chicken are: 1. to flash freeze whole breasts 2. To marinate bite size pieces in meal sized portions. So here it my process:
Straight from the butcher's block.

I clean my chicken in my colander under cold running water.I started chicken prep while the kids ate breakfast. My station includes my cutting board, awesome kitchen scissors, and large bowl for chopped chicken, and a small bowl for garbage.
Here are all the ingredients for the marinades.
The kids happily coloring as I am chopping! Look how happy my boy is :)

This is what the chicken breasts look like after trimming the fat.
Then I take my trusty scissors and cut the breasts into strips like so.
Meanwhile, coloring has turned into an under the table affair.
Which then turned into nap time (but you can see by my bowl we are making progress :)
And, in full disclosure, an under the table fit.

And finally a full bowl of bite sized chicken pieces.

Chili-Lime Marinade
2 tsp grated lime peel
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp chili powder

How To:

Just mix it all together!

I use my measuring cup so I can do all the measuring and then pouring out of the same container! Then I place all the chopped chicken into freezer bags and add the marinade. The marinade recipe above is for 1 lb of I doubled it. So now I have 4 bags of chopped and marinated chicken for meals. I did 2 chili-lime tacos and salads, 1 soyaki for stir-fry, and 1 lemon chicken for salad. Lastly, I label them and then lay them out flat on a baking sheet to freeze. Then once they are frozen I remove the baking sheet and have nice stack-able portions! From start to finish this took me just under and hour...but that includes, breakfast clean up, picture taking, putting Noah down for a nap, navigating through Ava's fit and a phone call :) Oh, the life of a momma! Hope this helps! I would love to hear any of your tips and tricks if ya want to share. Love you all!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Front Porch Living!

Summer is finally here! We are just about to head out on vacation to Black Butte in Oregon! We get to stay with family and see some of our favorite friends that we don't get to see all that often. We are looking forward to a week of Togetherness, Pool Time, Tennis Tournaments, Bike Riding, Family Dinners, More Pool Time, Reading, Early Morning Walks, Family Fued, and probably some more pool time! We can't wait! But before all that fun begins I wanted to leave you with an installment of our latest Dinner @ Eight!

During nap time I prepped our meal... super yummy Cape Cod Chopped Salad.
Look at those ingredients....some might call this a $10 salad :)

I knew Damion would love it because it had BACON in it. I am not really a bacon fan ( I know shocking...I am just happy that there is at least one fattening food that doesn't strike my fancy) Anyway... the above picture shows my set up for roasting the bacon. It is my preferred method of cooking bacon for multiple reasons 1. it stinks up the house less 2. if you bake it in a little foil pouch like this you can just remove the bacon, roll up the foil, grease inside, and throw it away just like that! 3. the pan stays clean!
Beautiful Ava woke up mid-prep so she got to help me! We brought furniture and plants and decor from inside to make the porch a little fancier then normal. I wish it looked more like this all the time! I added white twinkle lights and tea lights that somehow I didn't manage to get a good picture of so you'll just have to imagine :) I also wrote a little love note to Damion.
Our little date nook!
Our date started at just about 8...with only one small interruption from the kids :) We enjoyed our Cape Cod Chopped Salad and Potato Rosemary Bread and saved a little room for a slice of store bought cheesecake and fresh strawberries. We talked about our marriage and how far we have come in the last 7 years. The vacation that I mentioned above got us thinking. We took this same trip two years ago, and we were in a pretty rocky place. I was prego with Noah and Ava was 2. Damion was working tons of hours and going to night school and I was really worn through. We were both in high demand seasons and boy did it show. The season probably would have gone a bit better if we didn't fight when we did have time together, but that is not the story we lived. There were moments that were so painful that I actually considered the D word. I didn't actually want to get a divorce, but I sure didn't want to be married. The pain was too great. (0r so I thought) I felt like I was failing all the time. As the Lord worked in my heart I had many revelations. Just as an example, I realized that I was working really hard to please Damion in areas that I thought were important. As my eyes were opened, and I intentionally listened, I realized I needed to work less hard in those areas, and change my focus to the areas that really counted to Damion. I also needed to encourage my husband more about how hard he works and not complain about the long hours. After all, he is doing all this back breaking work because he loves me. I wanted to love to welcome him home instead of begrudgingly accept him after a long days work. As I obeyed day by day the Lord changed me. I used to have an arsenal of criticism for my hardworking husband...and today I am overwhelmed with praise. I married well. Damion is the hardest working, most compassionate and considerate husband and father. Talk about selfless..I could write a book on all the ways this man has served me, just this week. He loves well. Praise God he changed me so that I could see the gift in front of me.

As we looked back, we realized how much we learned through the struggle. We have ALOT more grace for one another and ALOT more agreement. Although that season was emotionally and spiritually excruciating, the Lord was FAITHFUL to bring us through. Not only did he bring us through, but we are more in love than ever and we both got an upgrade in faith and character. Along the way we read a book called Sacred Marriage, the tag line is this: What if God designed marriage to make us holy more then to make us happy? Gary Thomas is the author. This book definitely helped us in the journey! Okay, now back to the date:
Damion read the note I wrote him and then we also looked back through the letters we wrote each other during our first year of marriage...the year he spent in Iraq. That season the Lord solidified many areas of our theology and our trust in Him- in life and in death. What a gift. It was so fun to read through those precious letters.

We ended the night feeling so blessed that the Lord put the two of us together! Love you all deeply! I am so enjoying dating my husband and hearing all your fun stories!

Here is the recipe for Cape Cod Chopped Salad (it won't disappoint):

6 pieces quality bacon
8 ounces baby arugula (I just used lettuce from the garden...but this would be fantastic with favorite lettuce (has a peppery taste to it)
1 large granny smith apple
1/2 cup toasted walnut halves ( I used pecans)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (I used cherries)
6 ounces crumbled blue cheese

For the Dressing: ( halved this and we had plenty)

3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp grated orange zest
2 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
2 1/2 tbsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp maple syrup
kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Place bacon on tin foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast the bacon for about 20 minutes, or until nicely browned. Allow to cool.

In a large bowl, toss together the arugula, apple, walnuts, cranberries, and blue cheese.

For the dressing, whisk together the vinegar, orange zest and juice, mustard, maple syrup, salt to taste and black pepper. slowly whisk in the olive oil.

Chop the bacon in large pieces and add to the salad. Toss the salad with just enough dressing to moisten. Sprinkle with a little salt and serve immediately. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Movie Night I need to start this post by anybody out there? There is a big fat "0" where there should be a whole bunch of comments!! My calmer self says...I know you're out there because many of you have said to me "I love your blog", or " I tried your recipe" or followed up with a story that would seriously bless us all! So if you have the time, please share your thoughts in the little comment box!!! I would love for you all to hear the great things I am getting the privilege of hearing!

Now onto the actual date! Let me warn was not the traditional "dinner @ eight". I just couldn't do it. No inspiration. Then I remembered there was a documentary Damion had been wanting to watch. So we decided to do that. Movie Night!!! Woo Hoo! It was just what the doctor ordered after having a really long week. Last Wednesday I had one of the worst days I have had in a looooooooooongg time...and quite frankly it made me appreciate all the great days I usually get to have. It started by getting up @ 5:45 to spend time with Jesus only to have my kids get up @ 6...and then a trip to Albertsons where the cashier yelled at me like I had committed a hit and run with my shopping was shocking...especially because I had no intent to do anything wrong (and I still maintain my innocence). Rule following is in my blood. And the day went downhill from there. I will spare you the details. It ended with a good night of prayer and coming home to find that my dad had vacuumed my floors. I almost cried...someone did something nice for me. :) Love him! Anyway...all that to say...I wasn't feeling date planning so movie night sounded AWESOME!

But...alas...I couldn't let it happen without making it feel I got my man his favorite...Raisinets! Okay you can now start laughing. Yep, we watched a documentary and ate Raisnets and we called it a date. Before you decide to stop following this blog which is supposed to be about "exciting" dates with your hubby at home...there is one more thing. We made the most delicious homemade gourmet popcorn together and I have the pictures and recipe to prove it!

Browned Butter, Rosemary, and Lemon Popcorn

What ya need:
Large Stockpot w/ a lid
Medium saute pan
Large Bowl


1 cup popcorn kernels
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary leaves
salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tbsp grated lemon zest


1. Heat the olive oil in the heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat and add the popcorn kernels. When the popcorn starts to pop, cover the pot tightly and continue to cook until all the popcorn pops, about 2-3 minutes, shaking the pot occasionally. Pour the popcorn into the large bowl.

2. While the popcorn pops, melt the butter in the saute pan over medium-high heat unil it is brown, shaking the pan occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat. Add the rosemary to the butter and let it sit for a minute or two to infuse the butter with flavor, then pour the butter mixture over the popcorn. Toss well. Add the salt and pepper and lemon zest and toss well.

I don't have one of those fancy micro-plane the small side of my cheese grater had to do...i think it may end up on my Christmas list though! :) The lemon zest "made" this popcorn in my opinion...feel free to add as much as your heart desires!
My hubby happy to receive his yummy treat (and ooops they are upside down)
Damion finely chopping rosemary... so fun to cook with your hubby...I think this may be foretelling of a dinner @ eight in the future!

Lastly, Damion snapped this picture and I think it aptly describes how I feel about being married to him, eating gourmet popcorn, popping raisinets, and watching documentaries together: pure joy. I have the best husband in the world, I am thoroughly convinced!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mexican Feast

Dinner @ Eight Menu

Mexican Feast


Chips and Guacamole & Pico Di Gallo


Santa Cruz Mango Lemonade

Main Course:

Tortilla Soup

Mexican Coleslaw

Corn on the Cob


Mexican Hot Chocolate Mocha's (Decaf) with Whip Cream

I could hardly wait to get to prepare this date for Damion and I! We had so much fun last time, so we were both really looking forward to some concentrated time together! Plus, the menu is A-mazing if I do say so myself :) The Tortilla soup is a family recipe that we all love so much...I dare say that it is the best Tortilla soup that you will ever have. You have no right to argue with me unless you are actually Mexican...and even then...I really believe this is THE way Tortilla Soup should taste! Now, for you ladies who have husbands who love meat, I realize this menu may leave a little left to desire! Add in some grilled flank steak or chicken and you are good to go!

The How to:

1. I planned on Sunday, grocery shopped on Monday as well as cleaned up the house a bit.

2. Date Day: Early morning wake up for a quiet time, with emphasis on preparing my heart for tonight's date and a shower!

3. 8am began with cleaning the kitchen (My plan was to wake up to a clean kitchen…but it didn’t happen that way) I love to cook in a clean kitchen, just helps the creativity flow! I cleaned while my kids ate their breakfast…and then I cleaned it again after they ate…anyone know what I am talking about?

4. At lunch time I started cooking while my kids were eating:

Noah loves watching his sister, look how he is laughing at her! Love this!

While they were having fun...I got down to business setting out tortilla strips to dry.

and starting the soup base....

The beginning of awesome-ness :)

Here is the recipe:
6-8 Corn Tortillas
2 Very Large Ripe Tomatoes
3/4 cup coarsely chopped white onion
1 large clove of garlic
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
7 cups of chicken broth
4 sprigs of fresh coriander (i use dried)
3 sprigs of fresh mint ( i omitted this)
1/2-1 tsp salt
4-5 dried pasilla chiles( I also omitted these)
5 ounces Monterey Jack cheese cut into small cubes
fresh cilantro

1. Cut tortillas into strips and set out on a rack to dry for 1-2hours.
2. Blend Tomatoes, Onion and Garlic in blender until very smooth. In a stockpot put 2-3 tbsp EVOO and heat on medium high. Add soup base and cook for 10 minutes.
3. Add stock and coriander springs. Heat to boiling and then reduce to simmer for 20 minutes. Add mint and salt and simmer 10 minutes longer. Remove coriander and mint sprigs.
4. Put 2-3 tbsp EVOO in a pan to fry the tortilla strips. Remove from pan when they turn a nice color of brown and place on paper towels.
5. Fry chilis the same way and place on paper towels until cool. Then break into small pieces.
6. To Serve: Serve soup very hot. Set out cheese cubes, tortilla strips, cilantro, and chilis to add to individual bowls. Enjoy!

Mexican Coleslaw
shredded cabbage
3-4 radishes
sliced green onion
Dressing (I made this up)
2 tbsp EVOO
2 tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
1/2 tsp Cumin

Mexican Mocha's
Abuelita's Mexican Hot Chocolate Mix prepared as directed
1/2 shot decaf espresso or extra strong brewed drip in each cup
whip cream and cinnamon sprinkles on top

Super Yummy Juice! I love the :) Oooh..and the white stuff is Mexican sour cream...not the lightest stuff in the world...but definitely a step up from the usual stuff!

This was a nice light salad..after enjoying chips and guac!
A little time to enjoy the atmosphere...

Soup toppings.. tortilla strips, cheese cubes and cilantro...can you feel the anticipation?

And there she is in all her glory: Authentic Tortilla Soup!! At this point we were thoroughly enjoying the meal and our conversation. Ava came down to "go potty" once and then left us in peace for the rest of the night. Her little face was so sweet...she just had to see what was going on in the kitchen. Ooh...which reminds me. I wanted to tell you all what I wore...this adorable little black dress with white embroidery. It was beautiful, and a perfect pick for the night, it did make me dream of a Mexican Vacation though :) I used my triple barrel curling iron and put a flower in my hair. I am confident that Damion was impressed! :)

To finish off the evening we enjoyed our Mexican Mocha's...although we were so full we only made it through about half! We are both loving our "dinners @ eight". It has been so special to lavish on Damion this way. After just two weeks I see the results of this concentrated time. We are communicating more, resolving conflicts more easily, and are just enjoying each other more. Can't wait to see where this road will lead!

I am excited to hear from all of you. Some of you have already told me about your dates...I would love if you would post along with me so others could hear what you did!

All my love!


Italian Night

Hi Friends!!

Warning: this is a really long post! This is the original "Dinner @ Eight" email I sent out, I included as many of you as I had emails for, but I missed so many that are dear to my heart, so I hope this blog finds you although I missed you on email. Here it is:

I am about to take a fun adventure and wanted to offer you the opportunity to join me (and Damion:)

I want to give you a little back story before I deliver the invitation :)

Damion and I recently celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary! One trip to Iraq, a new job, two kids (and two c-sections) later and we find ourselves so blessed and honestly so "in the thick of it" :) We love each other deeply and so desire to live our lives as best friends and to parent our kids from that place and for ministry to naturally flow out of that. I firmly believe that Jesus uses our marriages to help us not just become servants of Jesus, but to actually become like Jesus.

With that said, I wanted to share what Jesus is doing in my heart. Over this past weekend my heart and eyes were truly opened in a new way to my husband and our marriage. He was becoming a priority in my life rather than my top priority (only second to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ). I love him deeply, but I have also taken him for granted. The simple truth is that I am really I am sure many of you are. Oh, my heart is so grieved. Praise Jesus, Damion looks at me with gracious eyes. So how did I end up here? I believe it is because I wasn't being intentional. He would speak to me, but did I intentionally listen? No, I missed it, and it is a big thing to miss. So what does repentance look like? Intentional focus on Damion and our marriage relationship! My heart is in a place of repentance, and I have a few action steps to walk out my repentance. I am talking to you as my sisters. I know you may not be in the same place as me, but I am assured I am not alone in this. It is so easy for kids, and girlfriends, and family and ministry, and can I just say couponing:)...all good take up so much space that our marriage relationship starts to feel more like a business relationship than that of two lovers.

There is much more to the story as we are starting an exciting journey in our marriage as well as one of discipline for me. This includes learning to say the word "no" more often as led by the Holy Spirit, responding to what Damion says and asks for with much more intention likened unto my heart to serve Jesus as my Lord, and focusing on building our marriage in this summer season!

This is where the fun adventure part begins! I want to DATE my husband..... and I bet you want to DATE yours!

How can we date our husbands when money is tight, babysitters are scarce, and we have to spend another night in at home?

I read on a blog a while back about an idea called "dinners @ eight"

The basic idea is that you put your kids to bed early (or just on time) and have dinner at home. I am talking tea lights and cute little dresses and yummy food...right at home! We are going to have "dinner at eight" every other week for the summer months. Our kids are going to be disciples as to what it looks like for a mommy and a daddy to treasure one another as they help me prepare for our dates. I am really excited because this is a way I can be intentional and purposeful in my season of life.

Maybe this is really resonates with some of you...maybe not...but if it does I would love for you to join us in this adventure.

I am going to be planning my "dinner at eight" nights and would love to share them with you so that you could share my ideas. I have included pictures and the menu of our first "dinner at eight" It was really simple and so relaxing and wonderful! This is definitely not about being perfect...more about being intentional :) And now the much anticipated first date :)

Dinner @ Eight

A Night in Italy


Artichoke with Garlic Aioli

Bread with Olive Oil and Vinegar

Main Course:

Garden Salad

Linguine with Chicken Sausage and Red Sauce


Starbucks Coffee Ice Cream


Simple white and Blue Table Cloth with Tea lights

and a vase of lilacs from the yard


Artichoke: trim 1 inch of top and discard and trim stem even with base. Rinse with cold water. Place in 4 cup glass measuring cup. Add ¼ cup of water and cover with vented plastic wrap. Microwave for 7-10 minutes or until leaves pull out easily.

Garlic Aioli: mix 2-3 tbsp of mayo with 1 clove of smashed garlic (I love Trader Joe's cubed garlic in the freezer section-these will change your life!) and a smidge of lemon juice.

Chicken Sausage: grilled for 15 on Cuisinart indoor grill

How to: I prepped everything I could early on in the day…made the salad, prepped the artichoke, made the salad, assembled the decorations. We told the kids what we were doing and had some good family play time before we put them to bed. We started about 15 minutes earlier than normal just to make sure we didn’t get a late start. Damion took the kids up to bed while I did the last minute prep which took about 10 minutes since I had most of it done!

We had a really enjoyable time. It was super relaxing to just sit across from one another in our own home, without even the distractions of a restaurant. Damion left me a sweet note in the morning telling me how much he enjoyed the evening! How did your evening go?