9/19/14

Cooking 101 - White Corn Tortilla Soup


Soup season is upon us, however this soup has no season - it's a year-round gourmet delicacy.
I LOVE ordering soup at my favorite restaurants, sampling various flavors and combinations, but THIS soup is better than most restaurant options - and you can make it at home!!  {air punch}

 And I'm not joking - this soup can rival *almost* anything.  Plus, it's super hearty so you don't need anything else besides a cheesey quesadilla.  It's a one-pot wonder.  And it's EASY!  


It kind of looks tomatoey, but it's not - don't be fooled.  That would be foolish.  
It's got this deep, rich flavor that comes from the corn tortillas, roasted chilies, and all of those veggies.



Like I said, the best way to eat it is paired with a good 'ol cheese quesadilla.  Buttered on one side, good cheddar cheese on the inside, cooked to a slight crisp on a seasoned cast iron griddle.  Perfection.



These little guys are the secret ingredient to most of my soups. (and pasta sauce)  Hatch green chilies.  

I get them on the side of the road here in my hometown, where they're roasted in this huge roaster.  They sit and sweat in a plastic bag and after FOUR excruciating HOURS of peeling the skin off chilies….

I have over 2 dozen baggies of chilies to put in the freezer.  We put these in everything and NOTHING, and I mean NOTHING can come close to the deep, rich flavor that these roasted Hatch chilies have.  (I get 'medium' because I'm not a fan of my mouth going numb, but they still have a lot of kick to them.)

This was my lunch….and I felt like I was eating at a gourmet restaurant.  It's easy, delicious, and if you make a double-batch (might as well, right?), you will have dinner in the freezer for those busy days.


WHITE CORN TORTILLA SOUP

Super easy - just a few steps and the work is done.

3 T. olive oil
1 ½ 7-inch white corn tortillas, cut into 1-inch squares
1 ½ T. minced garlic
½ of a medium onion, minced
2-3 roasted Hatch green chilies, diced (or two 4-oz. cans)
1 ½ T. minced jalapeno pepper (optional - I don't use these)
1 lb. white corn kernels, thawed or frozen - they both work
1 ½ lbs. chopped, ripe red tomatoes or 28 oz. diced tomatoes
⅓ c. tomato paste
2 ½ t. ground cumin
 1 T. salt
⅛ tsp. ground pepper
½ t. chili powder
1 ½ c. water
1 qt. chicken stock (or 4 c. water and 4 tsp. chicken base)
⅓ c. heavy cream

Garnish:  crushed tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, sour cream, chopped cilantro

Cheese Quesadillas:
Good flour tortillas, cheese, butter, and a griddle

Over medium high heat, fry tortilla squares in olive oil until they become crisp and turn a golden yellow.  Add garlic, onion, jalapeno, and green chilies; cook 1-2 minutes until onion becomes translucent.  Add half the corn along with all other ingredients (except garnishes), reserving the other half of the corn to be added at the end.  Bring the soup to a low, even boil; cook for about 20-30 minutes, or until all veggies are cooked and tender.  Remove soup from heat.  Using an imersion blender, puree the soup until smooth.  (You can also use a blender and work in batches).  Return the soup to the burner and add the reserved corn, bring to a boil, careful to avoid scorching.  Add heavy cream and use chicken base and/or salt to season.

Garnish and serve.

**Note:  If you're super busy and don't have time to babysit this soup, let it simmer on your lowest heat setting or put it all in the crockpot after you sautee your tortilla and veggies.  When you're ready to eat, just puree it and add the remaining corn and heavy cream.


Enjoy!!  Have a happy day!!




9/18/14

Organic Cloth Diapers

So I have this amazingly talented cousin, Tracy, and she can literally do anything.  She showed me her latest, greatest project and I absolutely LOVE these!!!!  They're built SO well and they'll last pretty much forever.  I looked into cloth diapers when I was expecting #4, but I was too cowardly to try them, and they weren't this cute.  Cost wise, it would have been cheaper for me to buy a few cloth diapers like these and reuse them over and over.  I have friends who swear by cloth diapers and won't EVER go back to buying disposable diapers again.  These are 100% reusable, organic, and easy to use.  

SO….if you're looking for an awesome baby shower gift or something fun to try with your own baby, come visit Tracy at her Etsy shop, Toot Sweets.  





8/12/14

Getting cozy with nature

Once a year my Love Nugget and I get this inexplicable itch to camp.  In a tent.  With no bathrooms.  ???!!! ….  I know…I'm just as confused as you are.  

But...we have this killer-awesome tent and we like to pretend we're homeless for a couple of nights.  {I can be super rugged when I have to be.}
We don't like to camp with other campers unless they're friends, which means we have to find a secluded spot, usually a good distance from a restroom, but who doesn't like to do their business in nature?!  Nature has some pretty stunning restrooms with amazing views!!!  {It only gets awkward when a hiker wearing a red sweatshirt walks by with his dog.  You just say 'hello' at that point and pretend you're just sitting for a minute, so happy the sniffing dog is on a leash...}


I actually love camping, just not the setting-up and taking-down.  I have a love/hate relationship with camping.  I hate getting things ready and can never find any good reason why we're putting ourselves through this torture when we have perfectly good food and beds here at home. But then, when everything is all set up, and I get to wander around taking pictures of nature, I can't stop raving at how much I love camping and love nature and love our beautiful mountain!  And then our homeless adventure is over and we have to pack up and head home to the reality that everything  has to be cleaned off, aired out, and packed away again…. ugh!!!  

Coming home to my beautiful photos reminds me again how much I love being in the great outdoors!
There was this golden evening light in our camp because the sun was setting and reflecting off some huge rain clouds coming.  I LOVE evening light.

Evening light - the calm before the storm.  Literally.  We love rain, though, so it was fun.  

Oh, how I love this place!  It smells AMAZING, too - fresh mountain air, rain on the cusp, and that woodsy, earthy scent.  I love it.

This cute little guy let me get up close and personal.  I love all of his colors!! 


I know that mushroooms are the body part of a fungus, basically woodland warts, and some are lethal, but they're ADORABLE!!!  They come in all shapes, colors, and sizes!  I love little woodland things.

 Our mountain is covered with thse beautiful red flowers called Hummingbird Plant.  


I don't know what this plant is, but it's gorgeous!!  It was growing along the rocks on a cliff-side.  

Water is so scarce here, so it's always good to see a creek or stream.  They're often dry, so I get excited when I see running water up on the mountain!


Probably a weed, but I love these sweet little white daisies!




And that's enough camping for one year.  
Next year, when the aftermath of this campout has faded into pleasant memories, we will do this all over again.  I wish I could say that I'm excited, but I'm not.  If I'm going to be comfortable in the wilderness, I need a trailer with a shower, kitchen, Tempurpedic Cloud Luxe mattress, and flushing potty.  :)

Have a Happy Day!!!

8/7/14

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

WOO{hoo!!}  
Who doesn't get excited about good homemade bread?!  
If you don't, something is sad and unbalanced in your life.

Bread is one of the oldest, earthiest staples of the human diet and thank GOODNESS for the addition of butter to that diet because the combination is….literally….a little slice of heaven.


Thankfully, I'm not on the anti-grain, anti-gluten track right now….maybe I will be someday, but happily NOT today!!!  (although I should be…my love of homemade bread isn't healthy)  I got into the Paleo Diet thing and I definitely love aspects of it, but I really feel like God gave us all of the resources we need here on earth to be healthy, including grains, and I definitely believe in moderation in ALL things.  

I try to eat healthy, I really, really do.  My family eats SO much healthier than I ever did as a kid.  I'm not a total health-nut, but I'm a huge fan of being mindful and making good choices.  My new goal is to quit being lazy (yeah, right) and have healthy bread on hand to make school lunches with.    

In trying to be careful of what wheat I use for my bread, and came upon this brand on Amazon, which is a Non-GMO, organic wheat berry.  YES! 


Wheat has become controversial lately, but here are some of the researched health benefits to wheat:

*helps lower hazards of heart disease
*helps diabetes patients regulate blood glucose levels
*the nutrient value of wheat is maintained even after grinding it into flour
*energy booster
*controls obesity 
*improves body metabolism
*helps reduce chronic inflammation
*anti-carcinogenic 
well…the list goes on, but here is a great site if you're interested.



Obviously, making bread with butter, sugar, and other ingredients doesn't ensure a 'healthy' product, but overall, if you're going to eat bread, you might as well reap the benefits of whole wheat and grind some yourself.  


I don't have a heavy-duty wheat grinder like most people, but I do have this handy little Kitchenaid attachment that was WAY cheaper!  However, since I have experimented with this wheat and it's amazing flavor, I might have to get a better grinder.


Golly!  I feel like the Little Red Hen…which means that I get to eat all of the bread myself.


Okay, so I'm NOT a bread whiz.  I'm not that "Bread Queen" that everybody knows.  I just like making my own bread and here is something I learned while doing it:
It needs to be MOIST.  This is what my bread dough looks like AFTER I am done adding flour.  It's a little mushy, but after kneading it for 15 minutes (below)….

It starts to become more elastic and cling to the bowl a little more.  This is the texture I'm after because it produces such a light, fluffy, moist bread.  If you have too much flour to start with, your bread can get heavy. 


At the end of kneading, roughly 15-20 minutes depending on your dough, It should be a little stretchy and sticky.  Mine is particularly sticky because I used honey.  

and now the waiting begins…..

recipe is below, but this is my bread rising…isn't it beautiful?!  Even the dough tastes yummy - there is no bitter flavor from these wheat berries.



 In the meantime…while I'm waiting…
check out my newest, most adorable little plant!!!!
{gasp!!}  She's so tiny, beautiful, and I call her Flora.
It was love at first sight - I was at Safeway purchasing fruit and she was sitting all by herself on a plant stand.  I really think she needed me.  I had to do the right thing and bring her home.

Flora likes her new home on my window sill.  My teenage son tries to tell her mean things like how I'm horrible with plants, how nothing ever survives in my care, but I told her not to listen to that nonsense.  We're going to be good friends, Flora and I.  


 Oh, and while the Kitchenaid was just sitting there….on the counter doing nothing…the only natural thing to do while waiting for bread to rise was to make Kadie's coconut chocolate chip cookies.  Hey - it made sense.
Like I said, I'm not a health nut.



Okay….imagine the most amazing homemade bread smell…
Everything seems right in the world when the house smells like fresh homemade bread that was JUST pulled out of the oven.  


…and here come the little people.  This poor bread sat and cooled for all of 5 minutes before my littles were hovering all over it.
This, friends, is evidence of a wonderful, happy childhood.

This bread is so light, fluffy, moist, and OH SO GOOD!!!!  



Honey Whole Wheat Bread
(makes 2 loaves)

1 c. warm water
4 ½ tsp. active dry yeast (2 packets)
1 c. scalded milk
½ c. good, local honey (we have mesquite honey and it's AMAZING)
⅓ c. melted butter
⅓ c. melted organic extra virgin coconut oil
2 tsp. salt
2 eggs
4 c. fine ground whole wheat flour
2 c. unbleached white flour (or fine white wheat flour)

*note: you could use 6 c. fine whole wheat flour, but I added a little bit of white flour in order to keep the bread from being too heavy.  

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water; set aside.  In a large Kitchenaid mixing bowl with wire whisk attachment, mix milk, honey, butter, coconut oil, salt, and eggs.  Add 2 c. flour and mix until smooth.  Add the rest of the flour and mix until combined.  Switch attachments to the bread kneading tool and knead dough for 15-20 minutes, or until it starts pulling away from the bowl and develops an elasticity.

Place in well-greased bowl; cover and let rise until doubled in size, usually 1 ½ hours.  

When doubled in size, punch down dough.  Roll into 2 loaves and place each loaf in a well greased bread pan.  Set aside and let rise again for another hour or until it's doubled in size again.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20-30 minutes.  Bread is done when it is brown on top and hollow-sounding in the center when you tap on it, or reaches 200 degrees on a meat thermometer.  The more you bake bread, the better you'll know when your bread is done.  Have FUN and enjoy your amazing bread!!!  









8/6/14

Fun Summer Reading

Okay - some people call it "summer reading" but I'm always reading something, so I guess techinically I should call it "what I've been reading lately"

I'm not what you would call a SUPER book nerd, but I'm definitely a book nerd.  For me, there is a special kind of magic that comes with getting lost inside a good book.  I get to visit a place, often fantastical, and quite often, I'm so sad when the book is over.   

Here's a list of my accomplished summer reading.  For full reviews, feel free to go to my Goodreads page.  I'll always let you know if there's bad language, inappropriate content for young readers, etc.  

In order:

Loved this story, love the author, and I'm looking foward to reading Book #2
I had to work around the whole cliche idea of falling for the boy next door, but for whatever reason, this one worked its magic and I couldn't put it down.

YEP!  I know.
And I read it before the movie came out, which made it even more special.  I was determined not to get caught up in it, but I couldn't help it.  For me, it was just a good, sweet story with a tender heartbreak in it.

 Ugh.  One of my favorite authors….and I was completely let down with this book.  I couldn't bring myself to finish it.



And now….The Gracelilng Series…

I was doubtful…but ended up LOVING it!!  
{This is where I admit my total nerdiness, which is awkward because it conflicts with my 'cool' persona} 
I'm super picky with my sci-fi/fantasy fiction, but when I find something I like, I totally get lost in it. {Harry Potter.  Yep.}  The places, characters, and situations become real to me and when the book is over, I get sad because reality hits me and somebody inevitably wants me to cook dinner.  Or wash the crusty laundry that has accumulated over several weeks.  Whatever.

SO…after reading Graceling #1, I couldn't wait for #2.  There were some disappointing aspects for me, but overall, I LOVED reading this series!!



Love Kristin Cashore.  She's now one of my favorite authors.  I hope she writes another fantastic series!


…Now to find something else to read…

It's so hard for me to switch gears when a series is over.  It's like sending off a good friend after a fun time.  It usually takes me a LONG time to find something else I can't put down.  Most books are just okay and I feel like I have to finish them in order to find the next big thing.

Comment below and share your favorite books!!!  I'm always on the hunt!!
OR come over to Goodreads and be my friend so we can swap book ideas!!




8/4/14

Summertime coming to a close...

…but don't get me wrong, it's still going to be blistering hot.


As usual, we had a memorable summer - we definitely have our fair share of fun!! I'm just going to come right out and say it - my family is super rad.  It's a good thing, too, because we've spent a load of time together.  

The annual trip to Colorado didn't disappoint - more beautiful than ever!!  




Made a pitstop in Moab and loved exploring this gorgeous desert terrain.  AND…discovered Love Muffin Cafe.  (best breakfast. EVER.)

Dinner at the Beaumont with the coolest people on the planet.  Missing my soul-sister, Kristine, so technically this isn't the complete group of coolest people, but she was in our hearts and that's kind of like having her there, but without her beauty and perfectly inappropriate behavior. ;)  I miss her on so many levels.

Six jeeps, twelve adults, 18 ½ children, hoards of food, and beautiful Colorado rockies.  
Perfection!!!

Don't hate me, but this was our view every single day.  We rented a house with panoramic views and it never got old. 
 Can't wait to do it again next year!!!


AND NOW SOME MORE SUMMER HIGHLIGHTS:

Our favorite summertime pastime.  Life makes sense during the summer - that's all.


Good times - almost lost MY ENTIRE FINGER.
"Let's sharpen the knives!" they say…"cooking is safer with sharp knives", they say.
Yes. 
**sorry so gross…but I want you to experience this with me…**

We played, "Let's Find Mommy's Finger In the Soup!" 
Nobody found it….nobody won…


4th of July nail painting with my girlies
(notice that most of my nail is back….all is well)


Like the Little Red Hen, I ground my own wheat, made my own bread, and ate it all myself!  It was SO blasted good!!!  I'll post my recipe later.  


My  little girl wanted to make a skirt - here's the start of something great!!  
Our school no longer offers Home Economics, so it's up to us moms to teach our girls how to sew.  
It wasn't that bad!  She's a natural!!

Thankfully, my mom was here to help teach her how to hand-hem a skirt.  The skirt was adult-sized, the length was too long, and since we didn't want to do the sensible thing and cut the extra fabric off, we hand-hemmed it and learned a few fun tricks!

I hope that she didn't get too freaked out by sewing.  It can be pretty intense at times!  She did GREAT!!


AND now she has something adorable that she made herself!!!!  
{woohooo!!!}

 Complete with adorable matching flower clip….for skirt or hair.
Fun tutorial here for the rosette.  Great little video!



 And this is what happens when the big girls are busy sewing….poor kid!!!  At least she wasn't being destructive.  Seriously, though, I think she's seen WAY too many Disney movies because….who sleeps like that?!  



And now….we are in our last week of summer before the waking up early, moaning, groaning, and the hatred of homework & routine starts back up.  And that's just ME!  The kids, on the other hand, are going to be giddy to start school in order to escape my never-ending thirst for assigning them housework.  I think that they're at the point of welcoming homework over housework.  

Until next time - have a HAPPY day!!!