Cooking 101 - Old World Chicken Cacciatore


{prob'ly gives you bad breath, too, what with all the onion and garlic in it...so maybe you should hold your breath in.}

I have this old, rustic Italian cookbook that I got on a clearance rack somewhere and it inspired me.  There's something so grounding and wholesome about good, rustic Italian food.  This dish, however, is pretty universal - it's a chicken stew simmered in vegetables, which most countries have their own version of.  This version, though, it's my twist on the dish and it's now one of my family's ultimate favorite comfort food dishes!  The flavors were deep and rich, and the chicken just fell off the bone.  

{cacciatore means 'hunter' in Italian, so this is often referred to as a 'hunter's stew'}

You'll need:

olive oil
5-6 chicken thighs, bone in, skin off
5-6 chicken drumsticks, bone in, skin off (I didn't take the skin off of the drums...too much work)
1 c. flour, seasoned with salt & pepper, spread onto a pie plate
1 1/2 c. chopped, thick pancetta (I used a lean, smoked turkey bacon - about 6-7 slices, but regular bacon would work fine, too.  Just drain off the fat after you cook it)
3 x 14 oz. cans diced tomato
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, fine minced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. water
1/2 c. dry white wine (it cooks off...don't get fussy with me now)
1 T. chicken base (or 3 chicken bullion cubes--but chicken base is better)
1/2 tsp. brown sugar
1 1/4 tsp. dried oregano - or one sprig fresh
1 tsp. ground rosemary - or one sprig fresh

In a large dutch oven pot or stock pot, heat about 2 T. olive oil and sautee onion, garlic, and celery until the onion turns golden brown and a little translucent.  Add the chopped pancetta or bacon and cook for about 6 minutes or until the pancetta/bacon starts turning a golden brown color.  Spoon out onto a plate and set aside.

In the same pot, heat another 2 T olive oil.  Coat the chicken pieces in the flour mixture, brown on all sides, working in batches, using more olive oil as you need it.  Set the chicken aside on a large plate.  Then add the white wine and deglaze the pan. {those browned bits add a great flavor to the dish}  When all of the liquid is mostly evaporated, add the tomatoes, water, chicken base, brown sugar, oregano, and rosemary - stir to combine and bring to a simmer.  Add everything else back into the pot - the chicken, as well as the onion mixture.  Simmer on low heat for about 30-45 minutes, until the chicken is tender - almost falling off the bone.  (I cooked mine for an hour on a low simmer)

When you're ready to serve, add the heavy cream and stir to incorporate.  Season with salt or chicken base - sometimes if I'm missing some flavor, I'll add a little scoop of chicken base, which seems to be just the trick. 

Serve this with some pasta or a crusty loaf of bread.  


Cooking 101 - Cinnamon Roll Multigrain Waffle

So.....very.....good.  Perfect for a slow Sunday morning.  
Our church is later in the day, so we have some time in the mornings for a tasty Sunday breakfast.
{and I don't feel that guilty because of all of the protein-rich grains I used}

(makes 7-8 large waffles)

For the waffle: 
1 1/3 c. flour
2/3 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. quick cooking oats (or grind up some regular oats)
2 T. chia seed or 2 T. ground flax seed  (chia has a delicious, nutty flavor and adds the smallest amount of texture.  Plus, it's freakishly good for you with the antioxidants and protein)
1 1/2 T. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder

Whisk to combine.

In a separate bowl, combine
2 c. evaporated milk (canned milk)
1/2 c. milk (to thin the batter a little--use it however you want/need)
3 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla
2 T. canola oil

Whisk to combine - then add to the dry ingredients until everything is well incorporated.  Let sit for a minute while you make the sauces.  Original sauce recipes from:  Recipe Girl

Brown Sugar sauce:
1/2 c. butter, melted 
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 T. ground cinnamon
Whisk together in a small bowl.  You can drizzle from the bowl or pour it into a plastic baggie, clip the tip, and drizzle from the bag.  (I used a Wilton bottle)

Cream cheese sauce:
2 oz. cream cheese
4 T. butter
3/4 c. powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla
Combine everything together in a small heat-proof bowl; microwave, stirring every 30 seconds or so until melted.  Drizzle from the bowl, bottle, or plastic baggie as mentioned above.

I'm not saying it's healthy, but it was a fun, slow start to a beautiful day.  I highly recommend doing this for yourself every now and then!


Cooking 101 - Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze

aaaaaaand....another huge hit from Pinterest!

I found another incredibly amazing foodie blog--"Lulu the Baker"--and that is where I first laid eyes on her Fresh Apple Cake with Brown Sugar Glaze.  {Lulu, I love you!}
We had this after our Sunday dinner and it was everything I could have ever imagined it would be.

I followed the original recipe {weird, I know} and I added 2 tsp. cinnamon and 1/4 t. nutmeg.  She suggested to add some. It's an option.  I like options.

Dense, rich, chunky, buttery.  
{your mouth is watering, isn't it?!}  

Talk about winter comfort food.  WOWSA!  The best part is that you can use applesauce instead of oil---especially because it's an apple cake!  

This is definitely going to be in our small list of dessert favorites.


Magical Mornings * Getting my Groove Back

{property of Disney's "Emperor's New Groove" movie...and all that proper photo reference protocol!}

I can relate, little buddy.....I can relate.

Mornings are the beginning of a brand new day - it's pretty important to kick-start ourselves early so that the rest of the day can flow together easier.  We have two choices in the morning:  1.) Cry about having to get out of bed, resist, and complain or 2.) Get up cheerfully and get moving.  I'm done fighting the morning groggs - I want to get moving! {jazz hands}  I want more purpose, I want to be more productive, and I want to have more time to do things I want to do instead of the constant housework.  The key to this?  Mornings.  How you treat your mornings can most definitely affect the rest of your day/week/month.  

SO...I came up with my own personal morning/day worksheet.  I've been testing my new methods all week and I am living proof that lazy people can be productive, have a clean house, and be more focused! haha.  There is hope out there for us, girls!  It's been interesting for me to see that I need two things to make my day productive:

I'm lost without them.
And, interestingly, I'm a happier person with them.

Now don't get me wrong---I don't LOVE being chained to a schedule.  I'm not a die-hard routine person - I thrive on spontaniety.  But as human beings, we need routine or some way to keep us from wandering too far from where we should to be.  I know this - I've got the attention span of a gnat and whenever there's the next big 'organizational productivity' idea, I pay attention for, like, a minute, and I'm over it.  

Knowing this about myself, I tailor-crafted something that is working marvelously. Wanna join me?!  

We're going to smooth out the mornings - who doesn't want more smoothness?  (my husband does, that's for sure...this 'no-leg-shaving-in-the-winter-thing must be annoying...)  And then we're going to share our successes with one another!!  Doesn't that sound like fun?  We'll get to know other women, share our stories, and make some morning magic.

As for my plan - here goes.  You don't have to use this, but I've made it available in the event that you want to try it out.  And FIRST THINGS FIRST:  You're going to have to go to bed earlier so you can wake up a little earlier.  This isn't hard.

This is the worksheet I created for myself.  Feel free to use it, adjust it, copy/tweak it - whatever helps you out the best.  You can even just keep a notebook and customize your morning that way.

(it takes a minute or two)

Here's what I've been using - it's a plastic 'report' file folder with a locking mechanism that holds everything in place.  (and you don't have to hole punch it! {gasp!} genius, I know)  Got it at Wal-Mart.  

About my list:
The idea is that you print ONE FOR EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK!  To go along with it, make sure to print off a grocery list too - they go hand-in-hand with staying organized.

FIRST: Your To-Do list.  Start out simple.  Don't fill up your to-do list with very many things.  Sometimes over-planning can be counterproductive---and that's not what we're trying for here.  Only list the critical items on your to-do list than can reasonably be done in one day.  I also made a little space for dinner that day.  For me, it seems like that is always the big question, so if I know ahead of time what I'm doing, it's easier to move forward.

SECOND:  Goals by the end of the week.  What is one or two things you want to have accomplished within this week?  When you see this list, and if you have some spare time, you can start working on these things and have it all done by the end of the week. You don't always have to have this filled out, but it can help you get more stuff done.

THIRD:  Room Tackle.  Pick one room each day to completely clean/detail.  If that room is small, pick two small rooms or some kind of combination that you can handle easily.

FOURTH: Daily items.  These are just suggestions - you can always customize this.  If you're not very religious, then maybe you could have some meditating or journal time to yourself briefly each morning.  As for the physical activity, this is a must.  Whether you just need to do some stretching to wake yourself up, or whether you have a specific time to go to the gym like I do, make sure to fit it in somewhere.  It's proven that people who exercise in the mornings tend to actually make it happen as opposed to people who put it off until evenings.  Good intentions don't help you at all.

FIFTH:  Treat yourself!  I don't mean with food - but with little happy things.  Treats can be a few minutes on the computer, some yoga, a good book, some music, or whatever else makes you happy.  

MOST IMPORTANTLY:  Work hard at it, but don't push yourself too hard---you'll be exhausted and burn out quickly.  Like I said before, if you go to bed earlier, you can wake up earlier and get a big kick-start before the rest of the world has time to catch up to you.

By following my list, I've accomplished more of the "little things" than I would have otherwise.  I have stayed on-task better, and, most importantly, I wake up to a clean kitchen every single day!!  It's pretty awesome!

So I want to hear from you!  Whether you follow my format, or whether you have your own, I'd love to share it with everyone else.  {abbywelker(at)yahoo(dot)com}  Don't forget some photos and a brief bio!


Sunrise through the trees...

This was my sunrise this morning--looking out the window from my kitchen.  Blazing reds and oranges!  It was one of those moments where I was feeding kids, wiping goop, and doing dishes--then I looked up and saw the blazing reds on the horizon and...everything stopped for a few minutes.  Everything got quiet and we all looked outside for a while.

I've got a lot of trees in the way, but I think that's what makes my winter sunrises so special.  In the summertime, I don't get to see the sunrise from my windows because the leaves block the view, so I have to wait until winter to catch glimpses like this.

I was tempted to get in my car and drive to a clearing where I could see the entire sunrise unobstructed....but the toddler with sticky cereal spilled all over the floor kind of deterred me a little.

ahhhhhh.  I LOVE mornings!  Sunrise is one of the most magical times of the day---especially if nobody is crying at me.  I'm loving how the colors go from blazing red to oranges, to a soft purple.  Seriously---it was so pretty.  

Anyhoo---more to come about mornings - I've got a fun little project in the works for all of us.  {yesssssss.}  Here's a glimpse...

...needless to say, my morning sunrise was very inspirational!  I think we're going to have fun with this project!


Embroidered Heart

Right on time for Valentine's Day!  Just for you - here is a big hunk of love from me to you!

I don't get into the whole lovey-dovey thing for Valentine's Day - my husband and I do little things every day, all year long, for each other that go beyond a commercial holiday.  So that's not why I love Valentine's Day.  I love it because it's fun, whimsical, bright, and makes winter a little more pleasant!  I love me a good, simple, beautiful piece of decor, too.

Is anything better than something you made with your own hands?!  
I think not.  

Don't stress out about this one - you can do this.  Practice your stitches with some felt or something and then move on to a piece of linen like this.

This sweet little heart is basically several rows of different border stitches repeated.  
I used DMC floss #712 and a piece of tan, earthy linen.

This would also be so pretty with soft pinks, bright raspberries, rich purples or even some gray.  hmmmm....

For you newbies, I have a stitch guide HERE with most of the basic stitches.  I've included a couple in this post that aren't on the guide....yet.

To start you need:
Embroidery hoop
Floss (cream color is DMC 712)
Fabric marker
Heart outline - on cardstock if possible
(Here's one from the internet I found. Just save it and open it in a document and stretch it to your desired size)

Trace your heart using a disappearing or washable fabric marker.  Make sure you trace BEFORE you stretch your fabric onto the hoop.

Attach the hoop gently - you don't need to get the fabric too tight.  With the stretching, the image will distort a little bit and that's totally okay.  As long as your lines are there, your image will turn out fine.  Just try to adjust it a little bit so that it looks as normal as possible with the heart outline as your guide.

Now you're ready to go!  Put in a good movie or some relaxing music, and stitch away!!

Start off with a knot - see the stitch guide above for the easy knot tutorial.  I LOVE it!


Here's what I did:
{one strand of DMC floss has six tiny strands within--I used all six strands in all of my rows with the exception of the leaves around the stem.  I only used three strands out of the six.}

 1.) split stitch as my anchor row - the first one I did
2.) scallops around the split stitch
3.) Straight stitch or running stitch
4.) French knots
5.) stem stitch
6.) leaves around stem stitch with lazy daisy (scallop stitch but skinnier)
using only 3 strands of the floss instead of six
7.) back stitch
8.) split stitch right up against the back stitch
9.) French knots

FEEL FREE TO USE YOUR MARKER AND TRACE ALONG THE MIDDLE AS YOU START EACH NEW ROW.  You can easily freehand more hearts inside your original heart just to keep your rows straight and on-track.  I had to pick out an entire row because I was off just a little bit.  That wasn't fun.

Here are a couple of stitches not on my guide.  The only one missing is the stem stitch.  If I get some time later on, I can show you how to do that one. Otherwise, here is a great diagram of the stem stitch

come up from the bottom, go down through the top 
Come right back up through the middle of the stitch.  Try to come right between the threads, too - it's easy to catch the threads unevenly.  Repeat over and over again and you'll get a nice, pretty row of stitches.

Up from the bottom, down again, making a loop...pull gently until you get the size you want

Come up at the underside of the loop and go back down just above the outside of the loop, securing it down with just a tiny stitch.

this is in my guide, but I called it a 'running' stitch.
Easy...needs no explanation.  Up from the bottom, and in and out of the fabric in even stitches.  Try to keep them the same size.

You can either frame this in something sweet and simple, or leave it on the hoop and fabric glue the hoop to your creation.  I think either option is pretty.

Don't forget that I want to see your creations!!!  Email me and let me know if you need some help or have questions!

Love to all of you!!


A Little Sumthin'

January is SO awesome!!!  I love January because it's a well-deserved fresh start, a big, fat break from the festivities.  For me, the craziness hits when summer break ends-- the whole back-to-school frenzy in September (for us), then on to Halloween costumes and parties a month later, then on to Thanksgiving festivities a month after that, and then straight into Christmas and the exciting Holiday season for a month solid.  January is a big, huge sigh of {ahhhhhh} relief.  January says, "Well done, my friend, and now you get to send the kiddies back to school, curl up with some hot cocoa, grab a project or a new book, and enjoy some peace before Valentine's Day sneaks up on you."  {gasp!} Oh, January, you're so good to me!  

So it's the end of a beautiful, fun chapter and the start of a new one.  {exciting, isn't it?!}

During the New Year celebration, I always contemplate what new thing I'm going to do now that I don't have to focus so much time and energy on Christmas.  Naturally, I turn to Pinterest.  And, like a miracle, out comes the thread and the creative juices flow.

...unfortunately, when the thread magically appears, so does a curious toddler, and before you know it, the well-organized, labeled, tagged, color-synchronized scheme of your threads become a jumbled mess like this.  #$@#%!  
We don't really need to know the color/numbers of the thread, do we?!  I mean, you can eyeball match them up or something, right?!  I mean, what is the difference between DMC 724 and DMC 726...just a tiny shade, right?!  ....right?!   {Did I mention that my color schemes are very organized?}

ahhhh....here we go.  I want a creamy color - going with a monochromatic thing here....rare for me since I'm pretty much a color spaz.

...but not this time.  Just wait and see!  It's going to be simplistic and pretty--I can't wait to finish!
{sunlight coming in through my windows - this is so very rare for me and I just want to soak this all up.}

Until Next Time...

SAYONARA to the Christmas clutter!  The next time I dig this stuff out, I'll be settled in a new home in my warm, sunny, beautiful hometown in Arizona surrounded by beautiful mountains and desert.  ahhhhhh....  I wasn't just excited for the new year to begin, I was ELATED!!!   After living away from home for 10 years, we're finally moving back to AZ this summer and we couldn't be more excited.  It's taking all of my willpower not to pack up the whole house, along with the Christmas crap, and load up a moving truck right now!!  {aaaakkk}

...but anyway...I can't get myself too worked up...I need to exercise control.  I do have six months left to enjoy the most beautiful place in the world.

My baby...my pride and joy...my beautiful Advent Calendar...being packed away into storage.  On account of the crazy toddler living amongst us, I can't really use the pockets, but it was fun to hang this up and admire it for a few weeks.  It has been my MOST fun project so far!  {you really should make one...}
Do you really have to go back into storage?  Yes, little friend, you do.  Because if we see you all of the time, we'll get bored of you.  {sigh}  We never want to get bored of you.
Until next time, my little lovey...

Down, down, down it all goes.  Did I mention that I had everything down, cleaned up, and back to normal BEFORE the New Year even struck?!  It's not that I didn't enjoy having Christmas splendor all around me...but I have been SO ready for 2011 to end and I thought that maybe I could speed up time a little bit by un-decorating quickly.  
Do you know what it's like to clean / un-decorate, and organize a fairly large space with a baby chimpanzee running around creating chaos and confusion?  I can honestly say that I do.  I do know what that is like.  

You can almost feel her chaotic energy through all of the debris.

I don't even have to tell you what's going on here.  You can see it.  She's challenging me here.  Can you believe that?!  Can you see that on her face?!  Blatantly challenging me.  

But then she turns on that whole 'cute face' garbage and I just cuddle and love on her like some kind of gullible fool.  I am her fool
 {but oh how I love, love, love that little precious, face with snot and dried food on it! kissykissykissy}

ahhhh.....normal again.  Feels good.  And what could be better to offset the horrifically depressing winter blahs than a precious little lemon tree?!  It's precious!!!  
  {cute story about this...}  So last year I was hunting and hunting for a dwarf lemon tree, but to no avail.  I began my hunt too late in the season {rats!} and couldn't stand the thought of paying $75 for the tree plus shipping from like Georgia or somewhere down that way.  Anyhoo--my BFF Kadie has this really cool, supernatural power of finding the most random, specific objects at yard sales...and after hearing me blab on and on about how bad I want to find a dwarf lemon tree, she finds THIS LITTLE BABY....at a yard sale....for $1.00.  {WHA'?!}  I told you.  supernatural.

You CAN buy happiness - and for me it was a $1.00 lemon tree!  I wake up in the morning, look at my precious little lemon tree (it's fake, but don't tell my kids...) and feel joy, energy, and excitement coursing through my veins! Okay, it's not that dramatic, but I sure do feel joyful and happy when I look at it.  Even a little bit sunny....

And now, with not even a shred of Christmas left behind, I feel renewed hope that I can get through this winter without going insane.  Light is visible through the end of my long tunnel, and I'm so happy about that!

...and....I know what you're thinking, and yes - I moved all of Brooke's toys and junk over to a different space so as to keep my living room as bare as humanly possible.  I LOVE it.  Clean, bright, and no clutter.  yesssssss.