Monday, December 15, 2014

Family Vacation Recap & New Recipe!

Family vacation 2014 was a hands-down, fun-filled, success! Three generations (11 of us!) and 3 dogs had the time of our lives. We led the caravan which included 2 trucks and my Hyundai, from Chandler, AZ to Durango, CO.  Shi and Jared (and Bear) were a few hours behind (they left from CA), and Ariel's boyfriend joined us on Friday. We all arrived safe and sound, and ready for fun. The cabin was as wonderful as described on VRBO, and the caretaker was fabulous – and got upgraded to a godsend on Sunday – more to come on that. When we arrived, he had the cabin all lit up, and the firepit blazing. What a welcome!
We spent our time driving all over the place, a quick spin in Pagosa Springs, a few quick visits to Durango – but the bulk of our vacation was right there in the cabin. We played games, made s’mores and drank wine by the firepit, celebrated Bethany’s birthday, the kids hung out in the (outdoor) hot tub, and we all had a quite memorable snowball fight when the storm came in on Saturday – even the dogs! What a great time!
Saturday’s storm did keep us from our shopping/dining plans in Durango, but we more than made up for it! The snow was stunning, and we all got out and enjoyed it. Bear even did his own form of sledding! That's him to the right, he'd run up the hill then drop and roll & scoot back down - which only got more hilarious as the snow deepened! We ended the day watching Meet the Parents and then Fast and Loud (Gas Monkey Garage) while sipping hot cocoa and chai tea, then we began the (sad) process of packing up.
Sunday dawned with a beautiful winter sun over sparkling snow, and we all had some time out in it before enjoying breakfast (GF biscuits and gravy - see recipe below!), then finishing up and loading. We had concerns about the road back to the main highway – it was well maintained for sure, but dirt, and there was a lot of snow and ice on a lot of S-curves. 2 of our trucks (by this time we had 4 trucks plus my car) had 4x4, so we slowly led everyone out one vehicle at a time. That’s where things went – sideways.
There are moments in life that sparkle, moments that shine, and moments that simply freeze your heart and lungs. Though our vacation was filled with the first two, it was the last that brought home just how fragile life is.
My husband had already lead out 2 of the trucks, and was now guiding Joey’s truck up the road to where the others were waiting. Jared rode shotgun, while Shiloh waited back at the house with my parents and I. As they climbed up and around the first S-curve, Bill watched helplessly as Joey and Jared spun, then went over a cliff. From the house, we heard Ariel’s boyfriend shout (he was riding with Bill), but we couldn’t see anything and didn’t know what was wrong. My husband quickly parked in the middle of the road and ran back to where the boys went over.  
It was an Aspen. 

I’ve always loved those trees, but never before with the intensity I do now. An Aspen broke their descent and tipped them back up, keeping the truck from rolling. The truck finally settled 3” from a building, having missed a shed already. Neither of the boys were injured. Everyone who saw the aftermath agreed - that tree saved their lives. I have no words to describe my gratitude that they are safe and unharmed. With the help of Ben (the caretaker, aka godsend), it took 2 ½ hours to bring the truck back up to the road then out to the main.
Thankfully, that was the last excitement of our trip. We all got safely on the road, no one truly breathing easy until we cleared the “icy roads” of Colorado. While we could have done without the last event, it did remind us how very precious our moments together are.
Here are some pics from the trip (I'll have a ton more to share, soon), just click on them to view larger - and keep reading because I've included the recipe for GF biscuits and gravy below! ;-) 










And here's the "scene of the accident"...

In the distance, you can see a house with a steep hill behind it.

That's not touching. Absolutely no property damage - except for
the Aspen tree - and the truck bed.

The photo doesn't really show how far down that is,
or that it's STRAIGHT down. So, so grateful they weren't hurt!!
Now as we head toward Christmas, there are countless tasks to be completed, recipes to be shared, gifts to be wrapped, and work to be done – my heart is full, my spirit bright. My family is happy, healthy, and safe – and in just a couple more weeks, will once again be all gathered together under one roof. As I return to “normal”, and move out of vacation-mode, I wish you all the brilliant joy of the season – and safety to you and yours.

Gluten-Free Biscuits & Gravy
This is the photo from the original recipe.
I didn't snap one of my own, but remember
that GF biscuits won't get golden like the
ones above, so use my tip below to test
yours for doneness. You can find the link
to the original recipe below.

Perfect for chilly mornings, this breakfast is comforting, filling and flavorful! Great holiday treat! I doubled it to feed our big group :-)

Preparation Time: 20 minutes Total time: 1 hour
Adapted by , December 14, 2014
Serves 6

1 lb (clean) breakfast sausage (like this),
2 cups milk (I used 2%),
1/2 cup GF all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur),
1/2 tsp sea-salt,
1 tsp black pepper, divided,
4.5 cups GF Baking Mix (I used King Arthur),
1 1/3 cup milk (I used 2%),
**optional: 1 Tbsp bacon grease - see note below,
2 whole eggs,
1/2 cup shredded cheddar,

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook sausage*, chopping into crumbles as it cooks. Drain grease, place meat in greased (I used olive oil cooking spray) 8x8 baking dish.
To the skillet, add milk, flour, salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Heat over medium, and whisk constantly. Continue to whisk smooth until mixture begins to thicken. Pour over meat in dish.
In a large bowl, mix Baking Mix with 2 eggs, 1 1/3 cup milk, 1/2 cup shredded cheddar, and 1/2 tsp pepper, and mix well, adding more baking mix if needed.
Pull off chunks of dough and roughly form "biscuits", flattening them, then placing them over the sausage/gravy mix. Use bits of dough to fill in gaps.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes*.

*NOTE: GF biscuits won't brown the same way regular ones do, so carefully touch the tops of them to test for doneness. You want them to be firm and flaky.
**NOTE: I saved the bacon grease from the previous morning's breakfast (uncured bacon - I used Hormel's, scroll down page on link to view), and cooked the sausage in 1 Tbsp of the reserved grease. It added a ton of great flavor!

Recipe adapted from this.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Family, Fun, and Food... Plus a New Recipe! Slowcooker Bean and Bacon Soup!

How was everyone's Thanksgiving? Ours was absolutely fabulous! I ended up with all my chicks back in the nest ;-) It was wonderful!! We had so much fun, cooking, playing, eating... truly awesome! We also celebrated Grandma Goldie's 93rd birthday! Food was plentiful with my brined turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, brussel sprouts with cranberries, pecans and bleu cheese, homemade rolls, green bean casserole, homemade cranberry sauce (Grandma's), sweet potato casserole, salad, cucumber dip, mushroom puffs, carmelized onion puffs, raw veggies... the list went on, lol. There was a LOT of food. And, I got to use ALL my outlets in the island! Hehehe!
There are another 2 smaller crockpots behind the big ones.
How was my eating? Honestly, I really didn't eat that much. Between food prep and visiting, I just sort of forgot to eat. Oops! I did however enjoy my turkey breast and my cucumber dip. Those are the two things I absolutely love. The rest is just "meh". And I drank ;-) Yes, yes I did. hehehe. This made Friday pretty much a recovery day, lol, Saturday was fun, visiting, and decorating the house.

Sleepy Winnie!

A little fun while shopping. 
Sunday, Shiloh and Jared went with Bill and I to pick out our trees (one for in the house, one for the front patio) and get lights and a wide variety of christmas stuff. So much fun! Then they had to head home to California, so the next night the rest of the kids came over and we trimmed the tree, drank eggnog and cider, and ate amazing Bean and Bacon Soup! ;-) I'll share the recipe below.

I swear it's not leaning, lol!

There's also an inflatable Frosty the Snowman, but we don't
have it set up yet. 
Major fail on the frosting. Lol!

Tuesday was back to normal with getting my butt kicked by Kayla ;-) Tried another new recipe - it was great, but really more time than I wanted it to take. Tweaks ahead, lol. More holiday decorating, and a celebratory glass of pinot noir by the fire to finish off the night.

Today was Pilates (my abs are screaming!), then some shopping for the upcoming Colorado trip, and then more holiday decorating. It's a sickness! I'm loving it!!
Dex, waiting for the sleigh to arrive!
The rest of this week I've got my workouts, and my prep for the trip. So much to do! So excited! Wooohooo! There are 10 of us, plus 3 dogs going on this trip! Snow!!! Woot! Seriously, cannot wait! I've been busy gathering fuzzy socks, sweat pants, hoodies, beanies, jackets, boots... you know, all those items that we NEVER need here in AZ? Lol! I have a growing pile of "stuff" that's taking over the bedroom. This weekend it'll relocate to the living room so that I can get it organized. :-)

Ok... and now the recipe you've been waiting for! This took several rounds to get it just right, but finally it's ready! And let me tell you, it's incredible! The house smelled like glory all day while it cooked, and the taste did not disappoint! The only downside was that I forgot to get a photo of it in the bowl - and it disappeared FAST!

The Campbell's Bean and Bacon soup that we grew up with has per 1 cup: 320 calories, 16g protein, 50g carbs, 6g fat, 16g fiber, 8g sugar, and 1720 mg sodium. It also has a scary ingredient list with a ton of nasty additives, including MSG!

My recipe has per 1 cup: 201 calories, 16g protein, 28g carbs, 3g fat, 10g fiber, 4g sugar, and 664 mg sodium. The ingredient list is clean and wholesome.

Yep, nailed it! ;-)

And so, I give you.... The best Bean and Bacon Soup you'll ever have. You're welcome. ;-)

Slow Cooker Bean and Bacon Soup

Perfect for chilly days, this soup is comforting, filling, flavorful, and HEALTHY! Slow Cooker Bean and Bacon Soup
Preparation Time: 30 minutes Total time: 10 hours
By , December 3, 2014
Serves 12

1 lb dry navy beans,
5 cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth (I like Imagine brand),
1 15-oz can Fire Roasted Diced or Crushed tomatoes,
1/2 large white onion ,
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced,
2 cloves garlic, minced,
1/2 tsp dried thyme,
1/2 tsp black pepper,
1 package uncured thick cut bacon (I like Applegate Farms),
8 oz ham, diced,
2 ham hocks (ask your butcher if you don't see them in the meat case),

Soak beans in water overnight (place beans in large pot, add water until beans are covered by about 4 inches, cover and let sit - I let mine sit on cool stovetop).
In the morning, drain water, removing any funky beans.
Cook bacon, then chop it into small pieces (use a papertowel to absorb any excess fab)
Place beans in slowcooker, add 5 cups broth, diced ham, halved onion*, diced tomatoes (including juice), diced carrots, thyme, pepper, and cooked & chopped bacon. Stir.
Add 2 ham hocks.
Cover and cook on low 8-10 hours.
Remove onion* and discard.
Remove ham hocks and shred the meat off. Add meat back to slowcooker. Stir.

*Note:  My husband hates the texture of onion, so I leave the onion as a whole half (wow, that sounds weird, lol), and discard it after cooking - we get the great onion flavor, but he doesn't have to deal with the texture. If you enjoy onions, then go ahead and dice it up and just leave it in.

Nutrition facts per serving: 201 calories | 16 grams protein | 28 grams carbs (net 12g carbs) | 3 grams fat | 10 grams fiber | 664mg.

You can reduce the sodium further by eliminating the 8 oz of diced ham, but you'll also reduce the protein - just fyi.

NOTE: When you reheat this, you do NOT need to add more liquid - it will solidify as it chills, but when you heat it up, it re-liquifies. 

You might also be interested in my other Main Dish recipes.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Catching up... In the Kitchen!

They say home is where the heart is, I've been living the truth of that. Since my show training ended, I've been in pretty much 1 of 3 places at any given time: home, grocery store, and gym. And loving it. I've been cooking up a storm, and in the process I have become fairly certain that my oven runs hot. In fact, I finally just ordered a cheapy oven thermometer today to find out once and for all.

In addition to cooking, I've been feathering the nest, so to speak. Here's what I've been working on...

Ready for Thanksgiving! :-)

Wiring in for the lights! Woot! So I finally got to decorate it!

Candles, books, movies... my knick-knacks of choice ;-)

Little fun touches here and there

More fun little things, and there's my sassy girl
holding my aprons!

I still haven't done my window seat cushion yet, but in the meantime
it's all ready for Fall!
And back to cooking... I started a new pinterest board called Tried it, where I'm pinning the ones I've tested and my results.
Follow Chelle Stafford's board Tried It, and here are the results... on Pinterest.
Over the weekend, we threw a little dinner party where my friends graciously let me test recipes on them. ;-) Thankfully, each one was a winner! From the appetizers to the main dish to the dessert. Yay! You read about the dessert here, and can view the recipe. If you decide to try out the other recipes (on the board above), be sure to note my comments on the pins to see the changes I made.

Today I tried the Chorizo Stuffed Plantains... and again, my oven ran hot. Even with the slightly overcooked plantains (lol) the flavors were fabulous! I use my own chorizo (recipe here), and the dish was awesome! Next up with plantains is a cuban lasagna, but don't know when I'll get to it.

Right now, in my crockpot is yet another batch of the slow-cooker Chicken Marsala (also in the pinterest board above), with a couple more tweaks to the original recipe. The smell - I wish I could share that with you because it's just magical! And I'm fine-tuning the next round of my battle to create a clean, low sodium, tasty bacon-bean soup. That should happen this week.
Chicken Marsala

Apart from all this cooking, I'm also sculpting my menu for thanksgiving. Can't believe it's nearly here! We'll do the traditional turkey (oh crap! I better buy one!) that's brined (hopefully I'll win this year - you know it's been 50/50 in years past in my battle with the bird - darn brine bucket!), plus mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green beans, rolls... it's all pretty much, well, traditional. Our family doesn't permit much tinkering with the main components, but I do get to have a free hand with stuff like appetizers and desserts. One day, I swear, I'll do something other than a turkey, stuffing, etc. One day (I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!). My day will come. ;-)   All that to say, this year's desserts I'm planning on doing minis... bite-size pies, cakes, etc. That way, we can all enjoy a little bit of everything without going into a sugar coma.

What do you do for Thanksgiving dinner? Do you get to choose the menu or are you bound my family tradition? Which traditional foods are your favorite? Your least? Use the comment section below to tell me!