Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Unexpected surprises

The lilacs are blooming already. In fact, they're in full bloom and will be gone in a week or 2. Now, that's not really an unexpected surprise, but a day off today to enjoy them is. We needed to get our car into the shop to have it inspected/tuned up, so that left me with lots of quiet time to myself this morning.

Which was an unexpected thing. You see, I had an appointment scheduled, but the friend who I was supposed to meet is trying to get her little baby back to health. They found themselves in the hospital due to his illness. Hopefully he gets to come home today. Unexpected surprise, and not a very good one at that for them.

Seriously, is there anything worse than your kids being sick? or hurting? or floundering somehow? I can't think of anything. Of all the things that have caused Gary and I the most hurt and worry, it's our kids. Bumps on the foreheads needing stitches, broken arms, ear infections, weird rashes, calls in the middle of the night for pick ups...... from them, or the police..... yep, we've been through it all.

Where do you turn when life deals you an unexpected surprise?

RUN! Run to the arms of God, your Father. Tell Him your fears, worries, frustrations, and anger. Hold on to Him and His Word.

That's the only way I've gotten through any of my big unexpected surprises.

I got another unexpected surprise yesterday from Gary. He knows I love the Avila Beach area, so without asking, he just made reservations at a quaint little inn in the foothills over there for us during my Easter vacation week. What a lovely surprise! Ahhhhh, breathing in the fresh ocean air, taking long walks in the foothills, hot tubbin' it, walking on the pier, eating clam chowder, and time.... time to do nuthin'! and whatever we're wantin'. I am really looking forward to it.

So, back to the lilacs. I'm glad I got to enjoy my unexpected time with them this morning. But I do hope that my friend and her little Rusty are home and enjoying a long nap. In the meantime, I'm going to go see what else might be blooming out there. What else is God planting, fertilizing and watering for me to be surprised with?

Oops.... unexpected surprise #3. Mitchell just called and wants to know, if I'm not too busy can I bring him a soda and some crackers.... HA HA HA! I'm glad I'm home and can do this for him today.

Let me know how you were unexpectedly surprised lately. I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Italian Sausage and Pepper Pasta

Oh my YUM-A-LUM!

1 pound turkey italian sausage, remove casings
1 TB olive oil
1/2 yellow or orange pepper, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup red wine
28 oz. canned, diced tomatoes (I used the ones flavored with basil, oregano, and other herbs)
1 1/2 TB minced garlic
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or yes if you like it a little less spicy)
8 oz. uncooked whole wheat fusilli
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt or a teaspoon or 2 of chicken bullion. When water is boiling, add pasta and cook to desired doneness. Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, to make sauce, in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat, cook sausage, stirring and breaking up meat. When cooked through, remove to a plate.

Heat olive oil in same skillet. Add peppers, onions, and garlic. Cook till veggies are crisp-tender.
About 5-7 minutes.

Add wine, cook until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes, crushed red pepper, and sausage. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let cook for 5-7 minutes.

To assemble, add 1 cup pasta to a bowl, top with 3/4 cup meat and veggie sauce. Top with parmesan cheese if desired, and fresh basil. Serve with spoon to get all the juicy goodness in every bite.

We served it with red wine and freshly baked soft french bread. I thought I was in heaven!
This is an adapted Weight Watchers recipe and without the wine, cheese and bread, it is about 8 points.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Stir Fry Broccoli Beef

3 TB cornstarch divided

¼ tsp. garlic salt
¾ pound lean sirloin beef trimmed, raw, thinly sliced. (I also sometimes use chicken breast)
2 tsp oil
1 c. chicken broth
sliced mushrooms (I do about 2 cups) (you can do more or less to suit your tastes)
1 white onion cut into 8 wedges and broken apart
5 cups (don’t skimp) broccoli florets (or asparagus!) (or green beans!)
2 tsp minced garlic (I’ve been using the jarred minced garlic) (SO MUCH EASIER!)
⅛ tsp red pepper flakes (more if you like it HOT)
¼ cup lo sodium soy sauce

Combine 2 TB cornstarch and garlic salt. Add prepared meat and toss to coat. Stir fry meat in hot pan in small amount oil about 5 minutes or till lightly browned. Don’t over cook. Remove to plate and set aside. Add ½ c chicken broth to pan to loosen bits. Add veggies, starting with the crisper veggies that take longer to cook. toss occasionally, cooking till crisp-tender. Add 1 TB water or chicken broth if needed. Add garlic and pepper flakes - stir all till fragrant - a minute or 2. In a cup, stir together soy sauce, remaining ½ cup chicken broth, 1 TB cornstarch, and 2 TB water till blended. Stir into pan - bring to simmer and allow to thicken. Return meat, allow to heat through. Test veggies, serve when veggies are soft the way you like them. (I like them crisp-tender)

Serve over white rice, noodles, or just as is for a low-carb meal. YUM-A-LUM!

Approx 6 Weight Watchers points per 1⅓ cup serving

Creamy Lemon Shrimp (or chicken!)

A light creamy lemony sauce mingles with jumbo shrimp and fresh veggies of your choice ( I use asparagus and mushrooms). Serve over your favorite pasta, or alongside rice pilaaf. Good with chicken too.

1 pound uncooked shrimp, peeled (I like the jumbo ones.... about 6 pieces per person) or 4-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts cut into bite sized pieces.
1 TB olive oil
1 TB butter
2 cups sliced mushrooms
2 cups asparagus spear pieces
1 clove minced garlic
zest of 1 lemon
14 oz. marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

2 cans cream of celery soup
juice of 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
1 cup milk
1/2 tsp. dry mustard

Cook favorite pasta and set aside. (Try bow tie, fettucini, or angel hair)

Melt butter and olive oil in large non stick pan. Add peeled shrimp to pan along with the mushrooms, the asparagus, the garlic, and the lemon zest. Stir fry 5-7 minutes or until shrimp is firm and pink and veggies are crisp-tender. If you are using chicken, cook the chicken 2-3 minutes, then add veggies, garlic, and lemon zest. Cook till chicken is cooked through and veggies are crisp tender.

In a separate bowl or measuring cup, mix the cans of soup, the milk, the dry mustard, and the lemon juice.

Add to shrimp (or chicken) and veggie mixture. Stir in artichoke hearts and heat through.
Serve over pasta.
Serves 6-8

* I'd love your feedback if you try it!*
Weight Watchers points looks to be about 12 depending on how much of this you use as a serving.

Monday, March 21, 2011

As promised, here is the Greek Chicken recipe!

Greek Chicken
A Rachael Ray recipe

I like this recipe because it is a good dish to fix for company or a crowd. I love the creamy texture and taste of the feta with the bite and strength of the kalamata olives and pepperoncini.
Let me know what your favorite thing is about it!

4 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
2 lemons
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
2 sprigs fresh oregano, finely chopped
4-6 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breasts or 2 pounds jumbo shrimp
salt and coarse black pepper
1/2 pound orzo pasta
1 red onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, coarsely chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 pound feta, crumbled
3 TB banana pepper rings, chopped (pepperoncini)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for orzo pasta.
Crush 2 cloves of garlic and place in shallow dish with about 1/4 cup olive oil and 1 thinly sliced sliced lemon, red pepper flakes, oregano, chicken or shrimp. Season with salt and pepper, then toss to combine. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. When meat or shrimp has marinated for 10 minutes, (up to 30 minutes is OK), and pan is screaming hot, add chicken or shrimp and lemons. Cook chicken 10-12 minutes, turning occasionally or cook shrimp 6-8 minutes or until pink and firm, tossing with tongs frequently. When you add chicken to pan, drop orzo in boiling water and start vegetables, see below. If you're cooking shrimp, start orzo then start vegetables and then throw shrimp in hot pan.
Meanwhile, heat a second skillet with 2 TB olive oil, over medium high heat. Add red onions and bell peppers and season with salt and pepper, cook 5 minutes. Add 2 cloves chopped garlic and toss a minute, then add olive and tomatoes to the pan and cook a couple of minutes more. Drain orzo and toss in serving dish with vegetables, parsley, feta, and pepperoncini. Place chicken atop, squeeze with juice of lemon if desired, and serve.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Oh My!

Well, I'm NOT going to give you a recipe every night. That would just be too much! For you, and for me! But, I was just wondering if any of you have any questions about cooking.... or anything else. I'll come up with an answer. It may not be the one you want, but it will be honest. So, post away, and check back for answers, and, tell your friends! Mama Mona is here!

BTW, have any of you ever taken a road trip with a bestie? I don't mean a one day trip to the coast or the mountains... although, if you haven't done that ... GET IN THE CAR NOW and GO!!!! I can give you some suggestions of day trips if you need some....

No, I mean a loooooooooooooooong road trip! Think Thelma and Louise here..... at least a tame version of it.... like G rated! I had the pleasure of going from Fresno, California to Chicago, Illinois with one of my besties, Jodie, last summer. From the painted rocks of New Mexico to the Art Museum of Chicago and every antique red barn in between, it was FANTASTIC! We saw bison in Yellowstone, the faces of Mt. Rushmore, and the beauty and grandeur of the Grand Tetons rising above wildflower filled meadows. I ate Chicago Style Pizza, Papa John's Pancakes, and tons of snacks (mmmmmm, humus!) in the car. I was licked by a cow! (very slimy! but everyone should do it at least once!), slept in a different bed almost every night, and excitedly saw fireflies flickering along the roadside in rural Iowa. America is a grand country! EVERYONE should travel cross country by car at least once in their life. I was so glad I did! In fact, hubby Gary and I are planning on driving north this summer. Why don't you try it? You'll probably like it!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Toscano Soup

This is the very first recipe I ever made totally on my own. I took inspiration from a recipe Gary brought home from a staff luncheon (Thank you, Kari Stacey) and from Rachael Ray.

1 pound Italian sausage
2 fennel bulbs (also known as anise) (You could also use 2 yellow onions, or 1 onion and 1 fennel bulb) The fennel has a VERY mild flavor. Don't be afraid of it! Embrace it! Something new!
2-3 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 large potato, peeled and chopped into medium sized chunks
2-3 tsp minced garlic
1 and 1/2 c heavy cream
1 can tomato sauce
2-3 cups chopped kale. (Don't include the chewy stalk. Remove the leaf from the stalk and chop)
4-6 cups chicken broth (You can used canned chicken broth, or make your own using chicken bullion)
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 can kidney beans - drain and rinse

Fry sausage till cooked through
Add onion and/or fennel and garlic. Let cook/sweat with the sausage for about 7 minutes.
Add potatoes and carrots. Cook/sweat for about 4-5 minutes.
Add chicken broth, tomato sauce, pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste - bring to boil
Add beans - bring back to boil
Add kale - bring back to boil
Stir in heavy cream. Turn off. Let sit for about 10-15 minutes.

I like to serve this with hot crusty rolls. We find the Tahoe Joe's brand of rolls to work great. You'll find your favorite.

Bowser Style Goulash

2 cups egg noodles (cooked, or not)
1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes (I use the kind that are canned and flavored, like with basil, herbs, etc.)
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 14 oz. can corn
1/2 c sliced black olives
1 small can sliced olives (or you can use fresh, about 1/2 cup)
1 lb. ground beef, browned and drained
2 cups grated cheese (we use the marbled colby/jack)

Mix all together in big bowl. Top with about another 1/2 cup of cheese. Pour into a 13x9 pan that has been sprayed with PAM. Cover with foil and bake in a 325 oven till bubbly and hot. (about 45 mins. or so) Gary's mom always served this with canned pears and slices of sourdough toast. You'll find your own way to make it your favorite.