A Comfort Food Concoction

Most Saturday mornings, the boys and I venture out to our neighborhood H-E-B for my weekly grocery run. Oftentimes, Liam is still in his pajamas and the boys enjoy breakfast in the shopping cart as I peruse the aisles stocking up on the essentials and the more wildcard items that end up on my weekend menu. The two of them indulge in fresh donuts with sprinkles or flaky blueberry muffins sprinkled with sugar. The trip probably takes longer than it should as I pause at almost every aisle to break off a piece of the muffin and hand it to Atticus. There are a lot of, “Oooo’s and mmmmm’s!” Two of Atticus’s most favorite phrases when enjoying good food. The easy exchange and back and forth banter between the three of us, makes the weekly grocery trip something I look forward to. The ease and simplicity of it makes grocery shopping seem like anything but a chore.

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This particular weekend, I was inspired by a sale on sausage at H-E-B. At two for $5, I added a pound of Italian and sage sausage to my cart. As I continued to shop, I happened upon their frozen Central Market demi baguettes. I usually like to keep these on hand for when I need them in a pinch to accompany a fresh pasta dish or pot of soup. This weekend, however, they became the brainchild for dinner. I consulted Pinterest for some ideas and found the perfect recipe for all of the ingredients I had on hand. With the help of yellowblissroad.com, I adapted the homemade Italian sausage meatballs to create a comfort food concoction that proved to be an ideal marriage of savory, spicy, and flavorful in each and every bite.

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So without further ado, I present to you marina meatball subs paired with Italian roasted potatoes. Buon appetito!

MEATBALL SUBS

Ingredients:

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  • 1 pound Italian sausage
  • 1/2 sweet yellow onion, diced
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 Italian style bread crumbs
  • 1 egg

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet and spray with non-stick cooking spray.

In a skillet on medium high heat, sauté the onions until translucent. Then add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Set aside and allow to cool.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sausage, breadcrumbs, egg, Parmesan cheese, and onions. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty as you mix all of the ingredients together. Be mindful that over mixing can lead to tough meatballs.

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Divide the meat mixture into 24 equal sized meatballs and place on the foil lined baking sheet.

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Bake for about 20 minutes. A good indicator that they are ready is when they no longer look pink.

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I made these on a Sunday afternoon and then added them to a pot with jarred tomato and basil to reheat them for dinner. I used demi baguettes as the base for my meatballs subs, but ciabatta bread would also be a great option. Spoon the meatballs and sauce onto your bread and top with grated mozzarella cheese.

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ITALIAN ROASTED POTATOES

Baby potatoes would be better suited for this dish, but I already had fresh Russet potatoes on hand so I opted for those instead. I sliced them all about the same size so that they would could more evenly. If you used baby potatoes, it would be best to cut them in half. This recipe was adapted from rasamalaysia.com. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound potatoes, cut evenly
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • sea salt to taste
  • 2 to 3 dashes of paprika depending on your preference for heat
  • 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Clean and rinse the potatoes before cutting.

In a cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil on medium high heat. Add the potatoes and cook until the potatoes begin to get crispy. Continue stirring to allow them to brown. Push the potatoes to one side and sauté the garlic. Then add the Italian seasoning, salt, and paprika. Combine well. Turn off the burner and sprinkle the grated cheese atop the potatoes. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes. Add the butter cubes to the top of the dish upon removal from the oven and allow the butter to melt into the crevices. Serve immediately for the best flavor outcome!

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“Break” is a Relative Term

For those of you who know me well, I very rarely slow down. Whether I’m running, working, or being a Mama Bear, I am a busy bee buzzing from one flower to the next. So naturally when Spring Break rolled around, the word “break” proved to be a relative term. Yes, I did enjoy a much needed break from work however I found many other projects, activities, and outings to keep me busy from the very beginning of the break to the very end.

The break kicked into gear on Monday morning with Liam and I hustling around the greater Houston area for plants. With our multiple freezes and snow days this winter, my potted plants bit the dust despite repeated efforts to cover them from the cold temperatures. We perused Target, Wal-Mart, H-E-B, Lowe’s, and Ikea for a multitude of different plants. Later in the week, I planted and rearranged our outdoor living space. My favorite takeaway from this project was repurposing Liam’s sandbox into an herb and vegetable garden.

My mom drove in midday on Monday, so the two of us enjoyed some much needed mother- daughter time shopping, eating out, and catching up. Liam and Sean ventured out on Tuesday afternoon for a father-son snowboarding trip in Colorado. Between the shopping and late night conversations with my mom, Atticus enjoyed quality time with his DeeDee (my mom’s grandma name) and also enjoyed walking just about everywhere his little legs would take him.

After my mom headed back to the Valley on Thursday morning, I enjoyed some extremely long lunches catching up with good friends. The food was great but naturally the quality time in good company was even better. In the afternoons, Atticus and I enjoyed some quality time exploring the neighborhood playgrounds, and I also mixed in a little work by reorganizing my closet. Purging and donating several bags worth of clothing to Goodwill proved to be cathartic. With some of my new finds from my shopping excursions with my mom, it also felt good to make room for the new and pass on some of my clothes for someone else to enjoy.

While at lunch on Friday with my friend Anna, she convinced me to run the 5K at the Bayou City Classic if I could find a babysitter. Thankfully, one of my go-to babysitters who works at Atticus’s daycare was willing to babysit starting at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Exactly a month out from my Steps for Students win, I toed the line again with a goal of improving my 18:40 time. I was incredibly happy to better my time by 20 seconds and cinch the overall female win. The icing on the cake was catching up with my favorite Bayou City Road Runners and savoring my victory with an amazing iced coffee compliments of Katz coffee. I rounded out a wonderful day catching up with a dear friend of mine and enjoying a glass of wine and a charcuterie plate of amazing olives, cheeses, and prosciutto.

As if I didn’t squeeze enough into my “break”, I also devoured another great psychological thriller (Trespassing by Brandi Reeds). An absolute page turner I stayed up way past my bedtime reading on multiple occasions because I was desperate to see how the book ended.  I also made time to cook because it always brings me so much joy. One of my favorite dishes from the week included a savory white chicken chili with white beans, white corn, and fire roasted tomatoes and a fresh batch of homemade cornbread.

All in all, my Spring Break was anything but a break but proved to offer bountiful opportunities to enjoy some of my favorite past times, catch up with some of my favorite people, organize and declutter, and feel productive and proud of my accomplishments. With a few hours remaining of break, I plan to enjoy a glass of wine with my husband, try a new creamy chicken soup recipe for dinner, bond with my boys, and sneak in a little quiet time reading a new book. For me, the word “break” truly is a relative term!

A League of Their Own

Last week while we were in Las Vegas, my parents left fresh Brussel sprouts and asparagus in our fridge. After a four day weekend away, this week was perpetually a game of catch up. Every day when I opened the bottom shelf for blueberries for the boys, these fresh veggies looked up at me wondering the fate of their existence. This morning after my weekly run to the grocery store, I knew I needed to do something with these vegetables before they spoiled.

Roasted vegetables have been a go to of mine for quite some time. They can be great with scrambled eggs and cheese tucked into a tortilla for a great soft taco option. They are a wonderful side paired with macaroni and pork chops. Paired or as a stand alone, roasted vegetables rarely disappoint.

Traditionally I use olive oil and sea salt when I roast veggies. With fresh bacon from my grocery run, I decided to shake things up and let the veggies swim in the natural salt and fat of thick cut bacon. The end result was a cacophony of flavors that lingered on the tongue long after the last bite. Rest assured, roasting your vegetables with bacon puts them in a flavor league all of their own!

Let me just say the simplicity of this dish makes it an easy midday meal with minimal effort. It would be delicious with sweet or Russet potatoes, butternut squash, broccoli, cauliflower, or zucchini too. Follow the same method regardless of the vegetables you have on hand. The more the merrier especially when it comes to color and texture. The most important thing is chopping everything to about the same size so that it cooks evenly in the oven.

INGREDIENTS

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  • Brussel sprouts, stems cut & halved
  • carrots, peeled & halved
  • 1 medium sweet onion, peeled & sliced
  • 1 bunch of asparagus, ends cut
  • 1 garlic, whole
  • 4 slices of thick cut bacon
  • sea salt

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On a cookie sheet, place the bacon evenly on the bottom and then layer with chopped vegetables. Sprinkle with sea salt to taste.

Cook for 15 minutes. Then toss the vegetables and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Tossing the vegetables ensures that the veggies cook evenly. Allow the vegetables to brown and crisp slightly before removing them. Oftentimes after 30 minutes in the oven, I simply turn the oven off and leave the vegetables in a little longer to reach the perfect level of browned edges.

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Serve over basmati rice and enjoy!

WEEKLY MEAL PREP

Use the leftover rice and vegetables for quick and fuss free lunches. My leftovers are prepped and stored in Tupperware for the week.

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Fat Tuesday

Today commemorates Fat Tuesday, a day of indulgence before the somberness of Lent sets in tomorrow with Ash Wednesday. In our den, we’ve been celebrating Fat Tuesday for the last few years. Typically Liam and I enjoy a feast of sorts that includes take out, a lavish dessert, and a sprinkling of other junk food items throughout the day like glazed donuts, waffle fries, and something carbonated and sugary to wash it all down.

This year we kicked things off a few days early with a King’s Cake.Atticus, Liam, and I savored it’s subtle sweetness and gooey cinnamon. However Liam and I were disappointed that our cake didn’t include a plastic baby Jesus tucked away between the layers of pastry and icing.

Yesterday on the eve of Fat Tuesday as we sat around the dinner table, Liam looked at me with his bright blue eyes and a mischievous grin and said, “So Mom, since tomorrow is Fat Tuesday that means I can have cake for dinner and then pick a dessert too!” His wittiness practically brought me to tears I was laughing so hard as I imagined how a dinner that started with cake might end.

Last night I suggested Domino’s delivery to start off our Fat Tuesday because Liam lives for two things in life: pepperoni pizza and dessert. I figured this would be a must on our Fat Tuesday menu. So his response actually caught me by surprise. “Mom, we have pizza all the time. It’s not special enough for Fat Tuesday.” This kid was setting the bar high, and I worried I’d disappoint him if I didn’t deliver at least on the dessert side of things.

Fast forward almost twenty-four hours later, as track practice started to wind down I realized I needed to lock down our Fat Tuesday treat. My lightbulb, “aha” moment hit as I was exiting 290 en route to pick up the boys from daycare. A frozen yogurt cake from Orange Leaf! I walked into the store on a mission as I perused the delicate cakes adorned with fluffy whipped cream. My shining star was a birthday confetti round cake with rainbow sprinkles. Mama Bear for the win!

As we walked out of daycare towards the car, I told Liam I found the perfect treat for our Fat Tuesday dinner. I watched his eyes get as big as saucers and his lips turn up in a perfectly gigantic grin as I described the frozen yogurt cake that lay carefully tucked on the floorboard on the passenger side of the car.

After a long day at work topped off with track practice, I settled on leftovers, which I hoped wouldn’t be too disappointing for Liam. Thankfully we both enjoyed the coconut curry soup I’d prepared earlier in the week. As Liam and Atticus finished their meal, I paraded the cake across the kitchen and gently set it down in front of them. Their reaction was priceless- two boys all to eager to indulge in the frozen wonder that lay before them.

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Dinner ended on a high note with lots of smiles, whipped cream mustaches, and a lot of baby requests for, “more, more, more!” The littlest things in life really can be incredibly powerful ways of connecting with the people you love most in life. Liam clearly touched by the simple gesture even made me a handmade Valentine before bed. My cup runneth over!

 

Souper Bowl Sunday

An important part of healthy eating is meal prep. Having healthy options readily at your disposal to avoid reaching for the pint of Ben and Jerry’s or the bag of nacho cheese Doritos. It requires forward planning and fresh, quality ingredients, but with a little practice it can evolve into a healthy habit.

Since our ten day green smoothie cleanse, I started making a pot of homemade soup every Sunday afternoon. The prep side of things is undoubtedly the most labor intensive part of cooking. Let’s be honest, peeling, chopping, mincing, and dicing takes time. But fresh ingredients are key to any delicious soup. To save time and be more efficient, canned and frozen vegetables can also take some of the work out of meal prep. Today’s soup, however, required a lot of knife handling as all of the vegetable ingredients were fresh.

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The greater Houston area has experienced an unseasonably cold winter, which has created the ideal type of weather for savory soups and crusty breads. Yesterday afternoon a cold front blew in that dropped today’s temperatures into the high 30s; weather conditions perfectly suited to make today a souper bowl Sunday.

So without further ado, I give you one of my all time favorite soups, chicken coconut curry. Enjoy this soup over jasmine rice and top with a drizzle of Sriracha sauce. It could very easily be made vegetarian by substituting the chicken for tofu and swapping the chicken broth for vegetable broth.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 medium white potatoes, halved and chopped
  • 3 to 4 portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 handful of cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2 limes, halved
  • 1 1/2 cartons of chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cans of coconut milk (I typically use lite)
  • 4 to 5 tbsp of red curry paste (Adjust to your liking)
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, skin removed and roughly chopped

DIRECTIONS:

In a large soup pot on medium low heat, sauté the onions in the olive oil for ten minutes until softened. Add the garlic and sauté the garlic for 2 to 3 minutes. Next add the carrots, mushrooms, potatoes, chicken broth, and curry paste. Allow to simmer on low heat for 2 to 3 hours until the potatoes and carrots are soft.

Because I usually make my soup while Atticus is napping, I turned off the heat and let the soup rest until about 45 minutes before I was ready to serve dinner. I added the chicken, coconut milk, lime juice, and cilantro and turned the heat back on to low to medium low. It truly depends on your range setting. The goal at this point is to allow all of the ingredients to simmer but never allow the coconut milk to boil. You’ll have to monitor it to determine the best setting on your stove.

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Serve over jasmine rice and enjoy. This soup hits all of the key flavor notes, spicy with the curry, sweet with the coconut milk, and the vegetables all compliment each other perfectly. Cilantro always adds that extra level of flavor too. This soup reheats well making it an ideal option for lunch during the week and at least one leftover meal for dinner during the week. It’s exotic flavors offer a great change of pace to more traditional soups like chicken noodle. Even Liam gave it his seal of approval- a smile and an empty bowl.

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Some of the other highlights of our weekend included Liam wrapping up his first basketball season with his final game on Saturday, Sunday morning shenanigans before breakfast, and catching up with family over ridiculously amazing fried chicken donut sandwiches. All in all, it was a great weekend!

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Good Things Come in Threes

In the last month, we’ve enjoyed some savory homemade soups, spectated at a few sporting events, and smiled almost every step of the way. True to the adage, “good things come in threes”, tonight’s blog post highlights three of my recent favorites- soup, spectating, and smiles!

TUSCAN CHICKEN SOUP

Since Christmas, I’ve been on a soup kick- chicken tortilla, chicken detox soup, vegetable beef, and now a simple Tuscan chicken soup. Most Sundays, I make a pot of soup that starts the week off on a great foot with a delicious dinner option that also makes for some amazing workday lunches.

This soup was adapted from a recipe I found on Nicky’s Kitchen Sanctuary (www.kitchensanctuary.com). It could also very easily be a delightful vegetarian option by substituting the chicken for cannellini or white beans.

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Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled & chopped
  • 2 medium white potatoes, diced
  • 2 cartons chicken broth
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 rotisserie chicken, skin removed; deboned & shredded
  • 4 handfuls fresh kale

Directions:

In a large soup pot, sauté the onions on medium heat in one tablespoon olive oil for ten minutes until soft and translucent. Stir occasionally.

Add the garlic and thyme and sauté until fragrant (2 to 3 minutes).

Next add the carrots, celery, potatoes, chicken broth, and spices. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes.

Add the shredded chicken and kale and heat through for up to five minutes until the kale is wilted. Garnish with fresh grated parmesan cheese and serve with a crusty bread. We enjoyed ours with some delicious rosemary focaccia.

SPECTATING

Atticus and I joined our friends Gabe and Miriam and their sweet son, Milo, to cheer on our friends along the Chevron Houston Marathon course. It was beautiful, cold, sunny day- a trifecta for perfect racing conditions. We cheered loudly and encouraged our fellow Bayou City Road Runners along the course as they zoomed by us a mile 22 in Memorial Park. Despite the cold temperatures, Atticus and I enjoyed spectating, spending time with good friends, and offering smiles to the fearless runners on their journey to the finish line.

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One evening a few weeks ago while Sean was in Dallas for work, I threw a little spontaneity into our week when I took the boys to the girls’ varsity soccer game at my school. Both boys enjoyed cheering on the Lady Lions as they savored Chick-fil-a kids meals in the bleachers. In my favorite picture of the evening, Liam moved to the railing for a close up view of the action, and Atticus turned just in time to smile for the camera.

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Every Saturday for the last month, Atticus and I have cheered on the Liam and his fellow Heat teammates. Sean has earned a special place in heaven for the amount of patience it requires to coach a team of kindergarten basketball playing boys. Every week, we’ve seen Liam make great strides on the court as his dribbling and passing skills have improved. Go, Liam, go!

SMILES

In a house full of laughter and light, smiles and happiness are plentiful. Between the squeals, giggles, and screams of a 15 month old and a six year old, it is often a constant cacophony of  sounds. Beautiful smiles almost always accompany the noises and sounds that reverberate off of the walls in our den. Below are some of my most favorite smiles from the last month.

As I reflect back on the memories shared around a kitchen table, the happiness accomplished through sportsmanship, and the simplicity and beauty of a child’s smile, I am reminded time and time again of how infinitely blessed I am. Here’s to many more moments of joy. May they continue to come in threes, fours, or any other numerical combination of greatness!

When All Else Fails…

This afternoon as my workday came to a close, I catalogued through my mental Rolodex of dinner ideas. I thought about the kitchen staples I had on hand and decided that Caprese chicken with fresh basil and sundried tomatoes sounded amazing. I knew I had two chicken breasts in the fridge but would need to stop at H-E-B for a few key ingredients: smoked provolone and fresh basil.

On Thursdays the dinner table is pretty quiet. Liam has gymnastics and his grandparents usually take him to dinner afterwards. Sean rarely eats with us during the week because he’s either still at work or at the gym. With half of the bears in our den missing for dinner tonight, I knew I’d enjoy the leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

With Atticus underfoot playing with an assortment of bowls and lids, I started gathering the ingredients on the island in preparation for dinner. I preheated the oven to 400 degrees and a drizzled olive oil in a Pyrex baking dish. Then I opened up the chicken breast to start prepping the meat and immediately realized something was amiss. An icky stench filled my nostrils and my heart sank. In the few days since I’d purchased the chicken, it had spoiled. The sell by date clearly stated 1/25, and yet it was clear the poultry was past it’s prime.

I quickly tried to recover as I considered other potential dinner options. But with my muse past her prime, I decided on the next best thing. When all else fails, order takeout. I called our neighborhood Chinese food restaurant and ordered vegetable Lo Mein, an order of General Tso’s chicken, and chicken with mixed vegetables. Less than thirty minutes later, the doorbell rang and just like that my dinner dilemma was remedied. Sometimes fixing a problem, really is that simple.

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Atticus absolutely loves Lo Mein. It truly is a sight to see watching an adorable 14 month old picking up the slimy noodles and slurping them up with gusto and joy. Over all, he’s a pretty good eater. He especially loves the broccoli included in the Lo Mein and is quite a fan of the peas and carrots in fried rice too.

Another perk of Chinese takeout comes from an insightful fortune. Opening our fortune cookies provided exactly the right amount of wisdom for this Mama Bear to consider as I cleaned up and boxed the leftovers.

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Appropriately, Atticus’s fortune cookie stated, “Be yourself and you’ll feel at home anywhere.” Truer words were never spoken especially when you reflect on its meaning through the eyes of a child. In their naivety, they lack the ability to be self-conscious. If only we were all so lucky to never have to outgrow this one. To be able to let our hair down and not fixate on what others think about us.

Although our self-awareness as adults is significantly different than that of our little ones, we can just as easily circle back to being ourselves. True to the adage, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken,” maybe we need to worry less about what others think. In the end, it really isn’t worth the stress. If someone doesn’t like us for who we are, then they probably don’t really need to be a part of our inner circle anyway.

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For a Mama Bear, nothing could be more poignant or telling than, “Love yourself first and everything else falls into line.” How often do we forget this one as we put the needs of our spouse or children before our own? While we carry out these selfless acts of love day in and day out, we need to remember how important self-care is for our own well-being and ultimately the well-being of everyone else in our family. This is why I honed in on doing one thing every day for yourself in my last post.

In these quiet, little moments for ourselves, we’re making the time to love ourselves first. You know as well as I do that we don’t have more than a few minutes of quiet in any given day, especially when you have young children. But remember that quality traditionally outweighs quantity. If we allow ourselves just a few moments every day, over time the pay off will be exponential. Carve out time for solitude even if that solitude can only be achieved when you lock yourself in the bathroom briefly and close your eyes and slowly count to twenty. Cherish these small moments of “you” time. When our children graduate from high school and head off to college, we’ll have more time than we know what to do with. But those moments can take their time. I’m certainly not ready for that anytime soon. In the meantime, I’ll take what I can get when I can get it and trust that less is more, at least for now!