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!