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September 27, 2012

Mini Me Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

Baby food is really fun to make... For the first couple of weeks.  Then it becomes one of those, "Um, what is Emma going to have for dinner tonight... pureed pears it is.  Again!"  I would make big batches of pureed fruits and vegetables (ok, basically just pears and sweet potatoes) and freeze them in ice cube trays.  We'd be good for a couple of weeks, then I'd run out.  

The truth is, making your own baby food can be really easy if you are organized and have a little extra time.  Which I was and did.  Until we moved.  During the transition, we resorted to store-bought baby food.  I found myself only wanting to buy the fruits, knowing that she would like those and not being sure how good the vegetables would taste to her... or me. 

Now that Emma is a little older, it is now my goal to be able to feed her from what I've fixed for our own dinner.  Modified of course.  I think this will help her to be an adventurous eater, and so I'm not cooking macaroni and cheese or chicken strips along with every meal in the future.

She had a little cold over the weekend - we all have.  So this week I made us chicken noodle soup.  I found it to be the perfect combination for her - vegetables she can eat (cooked carrots and peas, cut up), tiny bits of chicken and noodles.  I made her her own version with diluted chicken broth, as I though our broth would be too seasoned.  I cut her vegetables up extra small and over cooked them.  I even used smaller egg noodles that I cut up to make it easier for her to chew.  While I did actually make two separate batches of soup for us, it was easy and done at the same time.  I made a big batch for her (and us) and put them in individual freezer containers to get out next time we have something not so Emma friendly for dinner.

In this recipe, I start by making the broth from scratch, but if you'd prefer, you can just use store-bought chicken stock.  Starting from scratch is a lot easier and quicker than you might think - it is just boiling chicken in water with a bunch of vegetables for about 20 minutes.  The entire thing can be made in 30 minutes.

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

3 split chicken breast halves, bone-in (about 3 pounds)

For the stock :
8 cups of water
1 small white onion, quartered
1 carrot cut into chunks
1 head of garlic, cut in half exposing the cloves
1 small bunch of fresh parsley
2 tablespoons of sea salt (more or less, per your taste)
1/2 teaspoon of pepper (more or less, per your taste)

4 carrots, diced
2 tablespoons of fresh parsley
1 cup of frozen peas
1/2 bag of egg noodles
salt and pepper to taste

Begin by placing the bone-in chicken breasts in a large stock pot with 8 cups of water.  Add onion, 1 carrot cut into large chunks, garlic head, parsley, salt and pepper.  Cook for 20 minutes on medium until the chicken breasts are fully cooked.  

Remove the chicken breasts and put them in a bowl while the stock continues to simmer.  

Let the chicken set until they are cool enough to handle, then remove the chicken meat from the bone and skin, then shred it with a fork.  Put the chicken bones and skin back into the stock and let it continue to simmer for 15-30 more minutes, or until you're ready to make the soup. 

If you're making the stock in advance, strain and discard the bones, skin, vegetables and herbs, then put the stock in freezer containers. 
The mini version and the big version cooking away at the same time.
If you are ready to make the soup, strain and discard the bones, skin, vegetables and herbs.  Add in diced carrots and bring the soup to a boil.  Then add noodles and cook for 5-8 minutes until the noodles are tender.  Reduce the heat and add in chicken, peas and fresh parsley.  Season with more salt and pepper, if necessary. 

September 26, 2012

House Tour | A Work in Progress, Progressing

Welcome to our house!

Here are some of the latest and greatest photos of our house progress.  Slowly but surely we're putting our touch on everything. Here is a link to the tour from about three weeks ago, if you'd like to see more.

In the living room, we have a new area rug that was a steal and a half that I'm obsessed with.  Another great find is the chunky turned leg end tables.  We have one that we took home from the showroom and have the other one on order... I hate having to wait for furniture. 

As you know from my post about the living room design inspiration, we are also waiting on two grey wingback chairs and a linen tufted ottoman.

We're starting to get some artwork on the walls... or at least frames.   Or at least trying to decide where to put what frames.  I'm refinishing most of my frames to give them a new look based on the artwork we saw hanging in the hotel we stayed at in Florence on our honeymoon.   There is a lot of antique gold spray paint involved...

I'm really liking how this nook in the living room is coming together - cable knit throw, cashmere grey pillow, and cozy leather chair... now I need a table of sorts and maybe a little needlepoint top foot stool?  I also want to order new legs for the chair... something less shiny.

Some frames going up in the dining room.  

We're in the process of doing a little DIY kitchen update.  We plan to do an addition in the next year or two, adding a big brand new kitchen and hearth room.  So, in the meantime, we're doing a DIY, budget creative update on the current kitchen.

So far we've removed the upper cabinets and stone tile on the main wall and replaced it with wooden paneling.  We plan to cover the countertops (in fact I'm working on it today!) with white subway tile and add open shelving and a range hood.  I'm debating on whether or not to go ahead and order the new range that we'll use in the big, brand new kitchen... or if I can live with this one for the moment.

We've also replaced the light fixtures with these antique brushed brass pendents from Home Depot.  Another steal at just $54!   I LOVE them.   We have one over the sink, and one over the kitchen table.

This is the little table in the kitchen - it has a great feel and really good light for my food photography.  I am starting to warm up to the cozy (small) little kitchen.

Continuing the antique brass theme (that matches the house's original brass and glass door knobs), we've hung drapes in our bedroom.

And working on hanging artwork... don't you like the frames?!  I did a DIY finish on them with gold paint and wood stain.  A comeplete post about my method is coming later this week.

Emma's room is coming together - polka-dot drapes, her lamb mobile and vintage prints are hanging.

September 25, 2012

Chorizo & Vegetable Cream Soup & Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil Grilled Cheese

My most popular post of all time is "The Best Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup."  I get serious traffic from it all year long.  But I've noticed a big upswing in traffic going to that post this past week... it must be soup season!  I decided to revisit my Best Grilled Cheese & Tomato Soup recipes and (as the Barefoot Contessa would say) "turn up the volume."

To the soup, I started with spicy chorizo and added carrots, onions and spinach along with canned whole peeled tomatoes to give it a little more nutritional value.  Did I mention the chorizo?

For the sandwich, I stuck with simple and fresh flavors - a fresh tomato, fresh mozzarella and fresh basil.  All grilled together then, just as I do with toasted bread for bruschetta, I rubbed the toasted sandwich with a clove of garlic.  It does all the right things for a really simple and classic sandwich.  When you dip the grilled cheese in the hot soup, the mozzarella melts just a little more, making it gooey and delicious.  

Chorizo & Vegetable Cream Soup | Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato & Basil Grilled Cheese

1 pound of chorizo sausage
3 carrots, diced
1 cup of mushrooms, sliced
1/2 small white onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, diced
1 large can of whole peeled tomatoes, hand crushed with juice
4 cups of chicken broth
1/2 cup of cream
4 cups of fresh spinach

fresh mozzarella
tomato, sliced
fresh basil
baguette, sliced
olive oil
1 clove of garlic, whole

Remove the sausage from its casing and break it up into small/medium pieces.  Cook it in a saute pan on a medium/high heat, rendering some of the fat.  Add the carrot, mushrooms and onion and cook until soft, approx 5-7 minutes.  Add garlic.  Cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add the tomatoes by squeezing them in one at a time.  Continue to break them into bite size pieces with the spoon.  Add the juice from the can of tomatoes.

Add the chicken broth and cream.  Add spinach.  Simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Slice the baguette, pile with mozzarella, tomato and basil and top with a second piece of bread.  In a skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Cook sandwiches for 3-4 minutes just until they start to brown.  Flip and repeat.  Rub a raw clove of garlic on the crusty sides of bread.  

September 24, 2012

The Great Rug Debate... is over! | Living Room Rug

As you may recall, about a month ago, I dedicated a post to my search for a living room rug.  It needed to be big - really big.  I wanted it to be wool, neutral in color, soft and comfy for Emma and within a reasonable budget.  I was even willing to be a little flexible on the budget for the right rug... but a "budget" can really run wild in the rug department.

At some point along the way I found myself at a store looking at rugs that were $6,000+... then Mike says, "Jenny, you do realize that you have a 9-month-old baby and a dog, right?  And people are going to be walking on this thing.  With shoes."  Humph.

I looked back at my original "The Great Rug Debate" post and read the comments that you had left - I noticed a reoccurring theme...  And so I went.

And I found!  I had originally thought I wanted a grey rug, but after searching there and not finding anything I was in love with, I broadened my search to include "neutral." 

I'm in love.  When I saw this rug, I assumed that it was priced similarly to other large (9x12) rugs I had seen on the site - probably around $1,200-1,800.  Perfect.  But guess what...

The 9x12 was only around $500.  What?!  So, feeling like I had just found an extra bag of gold, I went ahead and ordered the next size up - a whopping 10.5 x 14 for around $650, delivered.

I really owe you all for the recommendation - like an extra $1000! 

Rug Source : "Handmade Treasured Sand" Area Rug

September 18, 2012

Make-Ahead Meal | Rustic Penne Shrimp Pasta in a Parmesan & Red Pepper Cream Sauce

After spending the last year and a half in New England on our little 'life vacation,' and a couple of weeks bouncing between our parents' homes, then living out of boxes in our new house (before photo tour!) for the last couple of weeks, I finally feel a little settled.  A little.  Furthermore,  Emma is at her Mother's Day Out program today (she goes twice a week) and all I have on my list today is to make dinner for Mike and me tonight.  That's right, Mr. Darcy and I have the house to ourselves for the day, it is (for the most part) unpacked and organized and we get to cook, set the table, take photos and blog without juggling my Miss Emma.

I don't feel guilty one bit for being excited about it.  Well, ok, I feel a little guilty.  But, for a Mom who hasn't had a baby sitter for 9 months and has never spent any substantial time away from her little girl, I have to admit it does feel good to be back in my grove again.  Even if it is only a few of hours a couple of days a week - she goes to "school" from 8:30 - 2:30 - I highly recommend it.  And when it is time to pick her up, I get so excited I almost run inside to get her, like I can't get there fast enough.  Ahhh, the power of a little break from Mommyhood.
While I used to be the type to go to the store around 5 o'clock everyday to get ingredients for dinner, with our new schedule I plan to cook dinner while Emma's at school and then reheat  it or finish the cooking when Mike gets home and we've put Emma to bed.  So, I'm beginning to build my repertoire of make-ahead meals and modifying my recipes to work with our new schedule. Of course, planning menus that can be made completely ahead of time is one of my entertaining rules. So, I'm starting to think about planning our weekday dinners as I do a dinner party. I'm going to make everything ahead of time then do the finishing just before we're ready to eat.

For these nights, Mike and I have been having our own dinners after Emma's gone to bed.  I try to make these dinners a little more special - a little like date night.  I try to have something pretty on the table, but not fussy.  This pewter bowl of apples and a pitcher of honeysuckle (from our backyard!) is my idea of a great centerpiece for a casual dinner.

If you do some research online for make-ahead meals you'll find a lot of casseroles.  Casseroles are great, but they don't always feel like the most sophisticated thing to make.  I have a dirty little trick. Instead of making the casserole in one baking dish, I divide it up into individual bowls.  For some reason, just putting it into a beautiful single serving bowl and baking it turns it into something special - even entertaining-worthy (think : Lobster Mac 'N Cheese).
This recipe, Rustic Penne & Shrimp Pasta in a Parmesan & Red Pepper Cream Sauce, is one of my new favorites.  It is a great pasta dish for fall. It is hearty and decadent, but couldn't be easier to make.  You can make it completely ahead of time, then reheat just before serving.  It is perfect for a special weeknight dinner or would be great for a dinner party.

For an emailed, printable version of this recipe, sign-up here.

Rustic Penne & Shrimp Pasta in a Parmesan & Red Pepper Cream Sauce

an entertaining worthy make-ahead meal

New! Printable Recipes, here.

1 pound of penne pasta
2 tablespoons of sea salt
1/4 pound of pancetta, thickly sliced & diced into cubes
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 pound of shrimp, peeled
6 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of rosemary
1/4 cup of roasted red peppers, sliced
1/4 cup of white wine
2 cups of cream
1 cup of parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon of cracked pepper
parmesan cheese
fresh thyme or rosemary
Add sea salt to a large pot of water and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, brown the pancetta.
Cook for 4-5 minutes on medium high until brown, then add olive oil and shrimp.  Cook for 1 minute, then add garlic.  Turn down heat to a low simmer.

Deglaze the pan by pouring in the white wine and stirring to bring off the browning on the pan.  This will add great flavor to the sauce.

Add cream, red peppers and rosemary.  Simmer on medium low until the cream thickens slightly, about 5-6 minutes.  At this point, add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until just al dente - undercooking just slightly it so when it continues to cook in the sauce and then bakes it will not be too done.  After sauce has simmered, remove it from the heat and add parmesan cheese.

When pasta is done, strain it from the water and add it to the pan without rinsing.  Toss together with the sauce and season with pepper.  Cook on a low simmer in the sauce for 2-3 minutes to help the pasta thicken the cream and absorb the flavor.

Ladle into individual oven-safe bowls.  Top with parmesan cheese.  Cool, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate, if making ahead of time.
If you're ready to serve it immediately, place the bowls on a baking sheet and place them in the oven under the broiler on high for 2-3 minutes until the cheese has melted.   Garnish with fresh rosemary or thyme.

If you've made it ahead of time, remove plastic wrap, place the bowls on a baking sheet and place them in the oven and bake at 400 for 20-30 minutes until bubbling.  To brown the top, turn on the broiler on high for 1-2 minutes until the cheese has browned.   Garnish with fresh rosemary or thyme.

For an emailed, printable version of this recipe, sign-up here.

September 17, 2012

An Ode to Granny | Cream of Morel Mushroom Soup

When I was about ten, I would sometimes spend the night at Granny's on a weekend night, just because.  When I think of Granny's house, I think of going to bed in the "Pink Room" (vs. the blue room, that was for boys...) smelling like Dove soap, putting on one of her silk night gowns and using a silk pillow case.  She always used a silk pillow case because she said it kept her hair looking nice.  When we got up in the morning, she would make homemade biscuit donuts that we drizzled in glaze or roll in cinnamon and sugar.

I am not sure why this is the memory that I go back to when I think of her.  Maybe because it is one of those times that it was just the two of us at her house.  Most of my time there was spent with my brother, sister or our cousins - we always had fun at Granny's.  I can hardly ever remember her getting mad, I don't remember many rules.  There were always plenty of cookies in the cookie tins, push-pops in the freezer and boxes of macaroni and cheese in the pantry.  We loved playing dress-up with her trunk that was filled with my Mom's and Aunt's old dresses.  At Christmas time she would let us put up the tree a few weeks before it was necessary (which was very exiting) and decorate it however we liked, so long as her collection of strawberry ornaments were on display.

I think my appreciation for the changing seasons stemmed from Granny.  She loved seeing the vibrant leaves of fall, or the first blooming magnolia trees in the spring.  When she drove us around town she would always point out a favorite burning bush that was in full flame on Franklin Street or a cherry tree covered in blossoms... that she couldn't wait to get her hands on when it was full of fruit.   She loved the changing of the seasons.

As most anyone can tell you, Granny loved no other season more than "Mushroom Season."  For those of us in the know, "Mushroom Season" refers to Morel Mushroom Season.  For a few prime weeks just as Spring begins to slightly warm (usually around April) and after a really good rain, mushroom hunters go in search of the prized Morel that grows wild.  Granny was a Morel fanatic, to say the least.  She had a pair of fabulous cowboy boots and a special stick that she deemed her hunting gear.  Every spring you could be certain that she'd be out checking her secret spots.  She had a keen trained eye for hunting them.

After a long battle, our Granny passed away last week.  Though we are sad she's no longer going to be with us, we are all relieved that she is no longer spending her days in pain.  In honor of Granny, I made this Cream of Morel Soup to share with my family this weekend as we celebrated her life.

Though it is exactly the opposite of "Mushroom Season" right now, but I was able to find dehydrated morels at the Brookside Market.  They were a little pricey, but a little goes a long way in this creamy soup.

Cream of Morel Mushroom Soup
serves 4, 2 cup servings

1 cup of dehydrated morel mushrooms
4 tablespoons of butter
1/2 of a small white onions, minced diced

2 cups of baby portobello mushrooms, minced
1/4 cup of flour
6 cups of half and half
sea salt
cracked pepper
1 tablespoon of fresh thyme
good olive oil

In a small bowl, rehydrate morel mushrooms by soaking them in warm water for 30 minutes.

In a sauce pan, cook onion in butter on medium for 4-5 minutes.  Add minced portobellos and cook for 4-5 minutes until they begin to soften.

Drain morels from water and slice in half lengthwise.  Add them to the portobello and onion, cooking on medium for 1-2 minutes.  Add flour and cook for 1-2 minutes until it is hot and bubbly.  Add half-and-half.  Stir until smooth.  Bring to a simmer.  Add fresh thyme and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve drizzled with really good olive oil.

Another thing Granny was known for... she would say, "You know me, I love anything lemon." 

In her recipe box, I found about 10 different recipes for lemon desserts.  And Dump Cake - one of her old favorites, for sure.

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