Wednesday, December 28, 2011

North Carolina Sunset

I took these pictures on Christmas Eve night off a shoreline in North Carolina while waiting for my son to arrive home from his deployment.  It was truly a magical sunset and the prettiest one I think I've ever seen.

Happy New Year to all and many thanks for visiting me over the past year.  I pray for good sense to prevail in our leaders as we struggle to keep the world balanced, safe and prosperous for all.  Blessings to all for love, good health, happiness and warm family time in this New Year.

My Son is Home!

Yes indeed...he arrived home safely late Christmas Eve Day and I cannot think of a finer Christmas present :)  He looks great!  And he is so very happy to be home with his family.  And so are we:)  Katie's brother was present at the actual homecoming and he took some wonderful photographs.  Katie was kind enough to let me share some of them.  Mike and Katie really are as happy as they look :)

Eagerly waiting...


Look at that little foot sticking out between them :) 

Michael...remember Daddy :) 

Ya, I do remember you :)

 The sweetest picture

 A beautiful family reunited :)

Many thanks to all of you for your good wishes and prayers for my son and his family during this deployment.  God answered them and brought Mike safely home.  For this and so many other blessings in my life, I am grateful.  

Sunday, December 25, 2011

December Sunrise

I was blessed to witness this amazing sunrise very early one morning last week and it literally took my breath away.  It seems appropriate to share this on Christmas Day with my sincere wishes to each and every one of you for a blessed Christmas filled with love, family and all things good.

Harry and I are in North Carolina helping to welcome my son home from his deployment to Afghanistan.  He arrived home late Christmas Eve and I can think of no greater gift than having Mike safely home with his loving wife and precious baby boy.

Merry Christmas to All!  

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mushroom, Barley & Leek Soup with Mini Chicken Meatballs's another one :)  I told you I was totally enamored with my new Soup CookBook!  This Mushroom/Barley soup is destined to become another of my go-to-favorites.  It's tasty and very hearty; perfect for a cool fall night; or if you're up North, a cold winter night :)  Do try this one.  This is a great soup to make with kids who will love rolling out the meatballs and they will also love eating the results :)  These meatballs are delicious served with pasta or couscous and marinara sauce or added to virtually any vegetable or grain soup.  And they can be made ahead and frozen.  The recipe is also easily doubled.  So for me, if I'm going to make 30 meatballs, I might as well make 60!

Mushroom, Barley & Leek Soup with Mini Chicken Meatballs

For the soup:
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large or 2 small leeks, white and pale green parts, thoroughly rinsed and chopped
3 cloves garlic, either mince or very thinly sliced; I prefer the latter as it seems to take some of the bite out of the garlic
1/2 lb cremini or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup dry white wine or chicken stock
1 cup pearl barley
4-5 cups chicken broth, plus more as needed

In a large, heavy pot, melt the butter with the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the leeks and garlic and sauté until very soft, about 5 minutes.   Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Add the tomato paste and wine, store to combine and cook for 4 minutes.  Add the barley and broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the barley is tender, about 45 minutes.  

Meanwhile, make the meatballs. 
1 lb ground chicken breast meat
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp minced flat leaf parsley, plus 1/2 cup chopped parsley for garnish
1 Tbsp tomato paste

Salt & freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375F.  Line a large baking sheet with heavy duty foil and lightly coat with oil.  In a bowl combine the Parmesan, egg, bread crumbs, tomato paste, 2 Tbsp parsley and 1 tsp salt & 1/2 tsp pepper.  Mix thoroughly.  Then add ground chicken and gently mix to combine.  The mixture will be very sticky.

Gently shape the mixture into small meatballs and transfer to baking sheet.  My own note here:  Be very gentle when forming meatballs (of any kind).  You don't want to "pack them" together.  As you can see here, mine are kind of gnarly shaped, but that's what makes them light, not tough.  Bake until the meatballs are cooked through and no longer pink in the center, about 10-12 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool.  

Add the meatballs to the soup and stir gently.  If the soup is too thick, add more broth and heat through.  Season with salt and pepper, garnish with the 1/2 cup chopped parsley and serve.  

I hope you enjoy this soup as much as my husband and I do :)
Buon Appetito!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lemony Red Lentil Soup

I just can't seem to get enough of that new Soup Cookbook I bought recently!  Here is another soup I tried that is too good not so share.  In keeping with how I like to cook~~It's easy to make, comes together very quickly, uses seasonal, on-hand ingredients (one of my lemons :), and is hearty enough for dinner served with either cheddar biscuits or a green salad.

I like red lentils better than green or brown, although I do like them too.  According to this book, An ancient preparation~~this is the biblical "mess of pottage" for which Esau sold his birthright~~red lentil soup remains common today in Egypt and Lebanon Red lentils cook more quickly than other varieties and to me, are easier to digest.  I really like this soup.  Let me know if you do too!

Lemony Red Lentil Soup
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, finely diced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 cup split red lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 can cannellini beans, drained and well rinsed
1/4 cup canned, diced tomatoes
4 cups of vegetable or chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of one small lemon or 1/2 of a large lemon
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped.

Combine the cumin, coriander and red pepper flakes and set aside.

Chop the onion and carrots and set aside.

Zest the lemon and freeze zest for later use.  Squeeze juice from lemon.  You should have about 2 Tbsp.

Measure out 1/4 cup diced tomatoes; refrigerate or freeze remainder for another use.

In a large heavy pot, warm the olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the onion and saute until soft, about 5-7 minutes.  Add the spice mixture and cook, stirring, until the spices are fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add the lentils, carrots, tomatoes and broth.  Season with 1 tsp of salt and a few grinds of black pepper.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer until the lentils fall apart and the carrots are soft, about 15 minutes.  Add the beans and heat through on low, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Using a potato masher or fork, mash the soup to your desired consistency.  I don't like this soup too well pureed, so I leave it kind of chunky.

Add the lemon juice and warm through over medium heat, stirring occasionally.  Serve, garnished with chopped fresh parsley.

This soup has now been added to my repertoire for quick weeknight suppers.  I hope it makes its way into your kitchen as well :)

Buon Appetito! 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Roasted Lemon Chutney

You all know how prolific my lemon tree is this year and I'm on a constant hunt for ways to use fresh lemons.  My good friend Linda suggested I try this Roasted Lemon Chutney recipe she found on the website, 101 Cookbooks.  It just so happens I have the cookbook that contains this recipe!  The book is All About Roasting by Molly Stevens and it is wonderful!  I have one of Molly's other books, All About Braising, that lives on my counter top during the fall and winter.  It's one of my favorite cookbooks.   So I thought I'd give this recipe a try.  A bit unusual, but it is delicious!

Roasted Lemon Chutney
Adapted from All About Roasting
1/4 cup (1 oz) finely chopped shallots
3 small lemons, washed, and preferably organic; but if not, wash them in warm soapy water to remove any waxy residue.
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 tablespoon honey, plus more to taste
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped bail or mint

Heat oven to 400F with a rack in the center.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat.

Soak the shallots in a small bowl of cold water to reduce their strength a bit.

Set one of the lemons aside to use later.  Slice about 1/4 inch off both ends of the remaining lemons and discard.  This part is mostly pith which can make the chutney too bitter.  Slice the lemon into 1/2 inch rounds and use the tip of a knife to remove any seeds.  Arrange the lemons on the baking sheet and brush with a bit of olive oil.  Turn and coat the second side with oil.

Roast the lemons, turning every 10 minutes, until they are very tender with just a few spots of brown, 20 to 25 minutes.  Don't let the lemons crisp and keep and eye on the bottoms, which tend to brown before the tops.  Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Transfer the lemons to a food processor fitted with the chopping blade.  If there are any juices (not burned or blackened) on the baking sheet, add these.  But there may not be any.  Drain the shallots, shaking off any excess water, and add to the food processor.  Add the honey and pulse several times until the lemons are coarsely chopped.

Add the juice from 1/2 the remaining lemon and the 1/4 cup olive oil.  Continue pulsing until the chutney is fairly smooth and creamy, with just a few lemon chunks.  Season generously with salt and freshly ground black pepper and more lemon juice or honey to taste.

Taste and correct seasonings until it tastes really great to you.  Transfer to a small bowl and let sit for at least two hours to meld flavors.  Just before serving, stir in the mint or basil, making any final tweaks, and serve at room temperature.

Heidi Swanson of the 101 Cookbooks blog suggests these ways to use the chutney:  "A dollop stirred into brown rice, chopped sautéed spinach, topped with a fried or poached egg with a touch of soy sauce"; oe inside a savory crepe.   One of my ideas is to toss it with hot, cooked pasta with lots of fresh herbs and tiny, halved cherry tomatoes.  Another way I've used it is to spread it on a piece of toasted ciabatta bread, topped with a sunny-side up egg.  But probably my favorite way to use this chutney is to stir a little into that Linguine with Tuna and Lemon dish I blogged about a few months ago.  It ups the Yummi factor in this dish tenfold!  Although this recipe is, as I said, a bit unusual, if you are a lover of lemons, I guarantee you'll like this :)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Puppies Then and Now - One Year Later

I can hardly believe it's been one year since my sister and I found these two tiny puppies starving by the side of the road.  I know this is an overused cliché, but what a difference a year makes.

The first minutes after I found them and brought them home.  They were as scared as I was!

When I first brought these puppies home, I had no idea what I was going to do with them.  I already had two big, aging dogs at home.  A puppy (never mind two puppies) was not on my radar screen in any way. But the Good Lord works in mysterious ways.  It only took a few hours for me to realize that there was no way on God's green earth that I was going to give these pups up.  Never mind take them to a shelter.  Wasn't gonna happen.  I promised myself and my husband that since I decided to keep them,  I would do everything in my power to work with and train them to become obedient, loving, well trained members of my family; pleasant to be around not only for me and Harry, but for the rest of my family and all who came to visit.  

Well, these pups exceeded my expectations, tenfold.  Thanks to a phenomenal dog trainer who has become a dear, dear friend, Destiny of Harmony Canines, who showed me what to do, how to do it and why, and a lot of hard work and dedication on my part, Gretchen and Laci are beautiful, strong, healthy, fun, obedient, loving dogs who would do anything in the world for me, as long as they know what I want.

Gretchen and Laci are an integral, very important part of my life and my family and I cannot imagine life without them.  As Destiny will confirm, I am ridiculously in love with these pups and I am not ashamed to admit it.

I thought, on my one-year anniversary of finding and rescuing the pups, it would be fun to post some pictures of "then and now".   In researching my "then", I can hardly believe the change.  So here you have it, Gretchen and Laci then:

 Laci...before she was Laci, so tiny and skinny and very scared.

 Even back then, (this picture was taken the day after I found her) she was so cute and sweet...this is when I fell for  her. was probably the night before...

And Gretchen...always with that worried look on her face.  She still has that look today.

Look how skinny she was :/  And she, too, was pretty scared.

And Now look at them...

My sentinels :)

These are a few photographs Destiny took just a couple of days ago.  We have started training the pups on Agility Training and Destiny was laying the groundwork with me to work with the pups.  She (Destiny) brought a young girl, Zoey, with her to help with getting the pups socialized around young kids; something Gretchen especially needs.  It was amazing (and heartwarming) to me and Destiny to see Gretchen so comfortable around Zoey.

This past year has been an incredible amount of work for me getting the pups to where they are today.  But it's been an amazing journey and I wouldn't trade it for anything.  There has not been one day that I regret keeping Gretchen and Laci and everyday I am grateful they came into my life.  Because of them, and so many other wonderful things in my life, I am truly blessed.