Ham and split pea soup

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In case you missed the numerous other times I have mentioned it on this blog….. I LOVE SOUP. It is probably one of the only things that makes winter even barely tolerable to me. I am NOT made for the cold. Alabama is about as mild a winter as you will get in North America, and yet every time the temperature dips below 4o degrees, I find myself longing to be back to the equator. Anyway… soup! AAhhhhh….. soup is my consolation in all of this. I could have soup every day of the week, but my sweet husband would be very, very unimpressed. Over our 8 years of marriage, many a compromise have been made. One of them is in regard to soup. Soup is only acceptable at our house as a main meal if it has a meat of some sort thrown in, and most importantly, is a thick and chunky soup (sorry, chicken noodle soup, you have been eliminated).

Thankfully, this is one soup that meets everyone’s approval at my house. It can be made without the ham bone, but if you happen to have a bone chilling in the fridge from the Thanksgiving, Easter or Christmas meal, this is the perfect use for it. I made this a couple weeks ago from the ham left over from Thanksgiving, and left overs never tasted so yummy. It was a good change from the overindulgent feast. You could also buy a ham hock and throw it in. The bone adds depth to the flavor of the soup. Serve with some warm toasted bread, and it is sheer bliss. You could also serve this with some steamed rice, or a side salad. Whatever you do… make it soon. You will be glad you did.

Recipe yields about 8 cups.
Ingredients:
1 pound green split peas
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
Ham bone (optional, but adds great flavor)
2 cups diced ham
7 cups broth (I used chicken) *** you could also use 7 cups water and crumbled bouillon cubes***
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper (more or less to your preference)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt to taste (You may not need any, depending on the sodium content in your ham and broth)

2 Tablespoon fresh parsley to garnish

Instructions:
1.Place the peas on a rimmed tray or baking sheet, and sort through, discarding any shriveled or broken peas, debris or stones. Rinse with cold water.

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2. In a stock pot, put in the split peas and enough water to cover the peas, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
3. In the same pot, heat the oil. Add the onions, carrots and celery. Cook for 5 minutes until veggies start to soften. Add garlic, and cook for a minute. Add the peas, ham, broth, black and red pepper, thyme and bay leaf. Check for salt and add more if needed. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low and simmer for about an hour. After an hour, check if the peas are done. They should be soft. If not, simmer for another 15 minutes.

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4. Once the soup is done, remove the bay leaves and discard. Remove the ham bone, and shred off any left over meat and return to pot. Discard bone. Add in the fresh parsley (it really brightens up the flavor) and enjoy!

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Devotion For The Day:

1st Peter 5:5-8

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. Humble yourselves, therefore under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift your up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. Be self controlled and alert. The enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering.

Balsamic Pot Roast

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I’m so excited that the fall is finally here. I love the changing colors of the leaves…. I love the perfectly comfortable weather… I love that I can pull out sweaters and my pumpkin recipes (Pumpkin spice cupcakes are my favorite)…. and I love that I can now justify making soups and casseroles. It just seems wrong to do this in the summer. Pot roast falls in the category of warm and comforting food in my book, and it will be making frequent appearances at my house in the coming months. I love braised meats, and if you missed the braised chicken cacciatore recipe I posted last, check it out. I make pot roast pretty often, but I decided to change it up this time, and I think I stumbled on a gold mine! This is MY new favorite way to make pot roast now. I had never used balsamic vinegar for pot roast before, and it make all the difference in the world.
If you have never tried pot roast before, I highly recommend it. The whole idea is to get a chunk of chuck roast and brown it in a pot, then add in liquid, and vegetables if you would like, and slow cook it for a long time, until the meat gets tender and shreds off. It is melt in your mouth good! As a personal preference, I like to load my roast up with a ton of vegetables and herbs. Carrots, potatoes and onions are most commonly used, but I changed it up and used mushrooms, parsnips, carrots, onion and celery. The beauty of the recipe is that you can change up the combination of vegetables to suite your taste, or leave them all off if you please.

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I included a picture of the parsnips for those who haven’t worked with them before. I love them! They look like a white or cream colored carrot, and taste great!( I like to roast them in the oven with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, onions and carrots as a side dish). They are available in most stores now. If you do not have fresh rosemary or thyme, feel free to substitute with dried. A couple teaspoons of each should work fine. I will say as a last note that the key to making this dish a home run is the extra step to thicken the gravy with the cornstarch and water mixture. I contemplated skipping this step, and I assure you I would have regretted it greatly. I tried the gravy before and after, and I was amazed at the difference those extra few minutes made. The only thing that would have made this meal more perfect was serving it over some garlic and herb mashed potatoes, but sensibility got the better of me, and I went with riced cauliflower instead. It was still awesome, but mashed potatoes would make it over the top yummy!
Ok.. as a last.. last note ūüôā Just so this isn’t confusing to anyone, I doubled my recipe so that I could cover a few days worth of meals. The recipe as written is for one roast. If you decide to double the recipe as I did, just double all the ingredients. I used two roasts, that added up to 5 1/2 pounds of meat.

Enough talking. Let’s get to work here. Try this as soon as humanly possible ūüôā

Recipe adapted from Taste of Home
Ingredients:
1 boneless beef chuck roast (about 3 pounds)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into large chunks
3 celery ribs, cut into large chunks
3 parsnips, peeled and chopped into large chunks
2 cups mushrooms, quartered
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 cups beef broth
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 bunch fresh thyme sprigs
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 Degrees F. Sprinkle the roast on both sides with the salt and pepper. In an oven proof pot or dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Brown the meat on all sides, then remove from pan and set aside.

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2. Add the onions, carrots, celery,parsnips and mushrooms into the same pan. Cook for 5 minutes until they start to soften up. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute.
3. Add the broth, balsamic vinegar, thyme and rosemary. Return the roast to the pot,and bring to a boil. Cover the pot, transfer to oven, and bake for 21/2 to 3 hours, until the meat is fork tender.

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4. With a slotted spoon, transfer the beef and vegetables to a container. Discard any large stems from the herbs, and skim off any excess fat that rises to the surface.
5. Transfer the pot to stove top, and simmer over medium heat. In a small bowl, mix together cornstarch and cold water. Add mixture into the pot with the gravy, stirring constantly. Keep stirring, bring to a boil, and cook for about 2 minutes, until it thickens. Serve the gravy over the pot roast and the vegetables.
Enjoy!

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Devotion For The Day:

I attended a women’s conference this past weekend, and one of the resounding themes was about how much Jesus cares for each and every one of us. Like really personally! He cares about the big stuff and the little stuff that happens to us, even when we are not sure if He is aware. Yesterday I was reading from Luke 15, and it followed along with what I had taken away from the conference. The whole chapter 15 is about how much Jesus cares for the lost. It made me think of moments when I was trying to find something I had lost. My car keys, at that moment I needed to bolt out the door, my glasses, or some money that I had kept so “safely” I couldn’t remember where. It made me think of the frustration of losing that item, but even more so, the relief when I finally found it. Jesus uses 3 parables in Luke 15 to illustrate his feelings about the lost and the hurting. He used the example of a shepherd who loses one of his sheep, a woman who loses a coin, and the story of the prodigal son. In all three parables, Jesus showed how the people were willing to leave that which they still had in their possession to look for and find that which was lost, and the rejoicing that followed when they found the lost item or person.
Luke 15:3-7. Then Jesus told them this parable: “suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep’. I tell you that in the same way, there is rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
For the 3 years of ministry that Jesus had here on earth, His focus was on finding and saving the lost, and His focus remains the same. Jesus is searching for us because we are so incredibly valuable to him. Each one of us! I visualize the rejoicing that goes on when one of His children is found, and it humbles me to know that He cares so deeply about me and you. Never for a minute believe that you are worthless, or uncared for. Jesus values you, and is seeking you out so that you can be reconciled with the Father. He paid the ultimate price to make this happen, without any guarantee of what your response to Him would be. One of my favorite verses is Romans 5:8 : But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While were still sinners. Christ died for us.

Chicken Cacciatore

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I’m back! It feels so good to be back in the game. It has been quite a summer, and I am still in recovery mode. It’s been two long months since I have blogged, and I feel like the time has just flown by. My parents visited for 6 weeks this summer, and I’m still trying to get over them being gone. If I could move Kenya next door, I totally would! I don’t get to see them as often as I would like, and it makes me want to savor every second they are here, knowing our time is limited.

I’m excited that this is my return to blogging recipe. Chicken cacciatore is one of those dishes that sounds way more fancy than it really is. Cacciatore is Italian for “hunter” and a meal cooked “alla cacciatore” means it’s cooked hunter style. It usually involves braising chicken or rabbit, and then adding tomatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, often bell peppers, and sometimes wine. I learned how to make it about 10 years ago, and for a long time I was like a one trick pony.¬† It was the meal I prepared whenever we had company. I guess I made it so much that it got old for me, and as soon as I found other recipes, I shelved it. My hubby reminded me the other day that I hadn’t made it in ages, so I decided to revisit my old faithful recipe. I’ll tell you what… it was like meeting up with an old friend you haven’t seen in a while ūüôā It’s comfort food at it’s best. I lightened it up a little to fit¬† our new lifestyle where we’re more watchful of what we eat, but it did not take away from the flavor a bit! It’s loaded with veggies and flavorful sauce, and you will be so glad to serve this to your gang. My version incorporates mushrooms, which does darken the sauce color a tad, but I love the depth it adds to the sauce.

You can totally play with this recipe to suit your taste. I used skinless chicken thighs to make¬† the recipe lighter, but you can leave the skin on if you would like. You can also use a whole cut up chicken instead of just using thighs, Do leave the bone in the chicken though, and DO brown your meat (dusted with some flour). It makes all the difference in the flavor of the sauce. You can pick and choose your combo of veggies too. I went more traditional with the onion, mushroom, peppers and garlic. I skipped the wine and used chicken broth instead. We like things a little spicy at my house, so I added crushed red pepper. Feel free to adjust the amount, or omit all together to suite your taste. The same goes for the capers. They are totally optional. I had some in my fridge, and I love the briny, salty flavor that they add to slow cooked dishes. If you don’t have any, don’t sweat it. I served the cacciatore with whole wheat pasta, but any pasta would work just fine, or some egg noddles. Now that I think about it, rice or mashed potatoes would work here too. It would take away from the whole Italian theme, but I promise not to tell anyone if you choose to go that route ūüôā

Enjoy!

Ingredients:
8 skinless chicken thighs
2 teaspoons salt, divided
2 teaspoons black pepper, divided
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup chicken broth
1 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
3 Tablespoons capers (optional, but yummy)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
Directions:
1. Sprinkle the chicken pieces with a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of black pepper. Dredge the chicken in flour to coat lightly.
2. In a heavy bottomed pot (I used a cast-iron pot), heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the chicken pieces and brown for about 5 minutes per side. Do this in batches to avoid crowding the pan, which keeps the chicken from browning up. Transfer the chicken to a plate, and set aside.

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3. Add the onions, mushrooms and green pepper to the pot, and saute until the veggies start to soften up (about 5 minutes). Add garlic and saute for another minute. Season with the remaining teaspoon of salt and black pepper.
4. Add the chicken broth, and let the liquid simmer and reduce (about 3-4 minutes). Add the tomatoes, oregano, capers and crushed red pepper. (If you are not using capers, check for seasoning. You may need to add more salt. Capers are salty, so I didn’ t need to add more). Bring the sauce to a simmer, cover with a lid and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 35-40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

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Serve over pasta, and sprinkle with basil.
Devotion for the day:
The last few days have been a roller coaster of emotions watching the news after this past weekend’s terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. My heart grieves for the families and friends who have lost their loved ones. My heart is sad for the city and country that I love. I’m angry at the terrorists who walked into that building and rocked our confidence and security. Through all the tragedy and grief, I’m reminded that I have to dig deep and find hope. Not a false sense of hope, but a deep hope in the ONE who never changes. Even when my world is rocked to the core, God is my rock, and my refuge.
The last night before my Mom left for Kenya a few weeks ago, she shared Psalms 62 with me. It has been the chapter that has returned to my mind multiple times over the last few days, and it is my prayer as the healing begins, and as Kenyans begin to try to make sense of the tragedy, and rebuild. Let us hope in God and God alone. He is our refuge and our strength.
Psalms 62: 5-8
Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Sausage, spinach and white bean soup

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I love soup. I just wanted to put it out there. As ridiculous as it is to be wanting soup in the summer, there is something about a nice filling bowl of soup that makes me want to have it all year round. The struggle for me is usually to find a filling soup that is also not laden in enough calories to have me running on the treadmill for a week straight. My neighbor and I are always trading recipes, and he happened to recommend to me a white bean and spinach soup that he found on pinterest. I tried it, and we loved it, but my hubby who is not a huge fan of soup commented that he might have liked it a little more if it had some meat in it. This is a spin off from the recipe I tried, and we all enjoyed it greatly. I used sweet Italian sausage since it is what I had on hand this time, but I am curious to try a spicy turkey sausage to make it even healthier next time. All in all, it made for a really good dinner. I wanted a good balance on the ingredients, so I decided to go with ¬†3 links of sausage. I wanted just enough to add some meaty texture, but not too much to take over the lovely bean and spinach flavor. The recipe calls for 7 cups of fresh spinach added in towards the end of the cook time. No… it’s not a typo. Trust me. I was starting to doubt myself as I was adding it in, but it wilts down to almost nothing! I would almost consider increasing the amount, on days I’m wanting more of a veggie soup.

I can’t say enough good things about this soup. It was pretty easy to throw together, and would make a great week night meal. It would be just as good as a starter but is fulling enough to hold it’s own as a main meal. Just add a salad or a buttered crusty piece of bread for a stress free dinner. It also reheats very well, so make a double batch and you can have lunches for the week covered as well. I might do this next time and freeze individual portions for quick and yummy lunches.

Enjoy!

Ingredients:

3 link sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon sun-dried tomatoes(optional)
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 15-ounce cans cannellini or great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can tomato puree
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning(or just dried basil)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
4 cups chicken broth
7 cups fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste.
Heat a stock pot over medium high heat. Crumble the sausage and brown for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add in the onion, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes and cook for 2-3 minutes until the onions start to soften up.
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Add the beans, tomato puree, Italian seasoning, crushed red pepper and broth to the pot. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer over medium heat for 35-40 minutes. (You want the beans to soften up a little more, and the flavors to marry together).
Add the chopped spinach (I had small leaves and skipped the chopping part) and the Parmesan. cook uncovered for a minute or two until the spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper if needed. (I do this at the very end to avoid over-salting since depending on the broth and Parmesan used, the saltiness may vary).
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Devotion For The Day:
I was reading from Joshua 10, and I’m amazed at how God has a way of bringing to me exactly what I need at just the right moment. I have had a roller coaster week, and I really needed to be reminded that God is more than capable of handling even the situations that seem impossible to man. In Joshua 10, the Israelites had already entered their promised land of Canaan, and people in the neighboring regions were fearful of the Israelites after they heard of the defeat of the Canaanites. The Gibeonites who occupied the land close to the Israelites had made a treaty with Israel to ensure their survival, and this made the other nearby kings angry and they decided to attack Gibeon. When the Gibeonites learned of this, they approached the Israelites to help save them. So, Joshua and his entire army went to battle. I verse 8, the Lord said to Joshua,¬†“do not be afraid of them, for I have given them into your hand. Not one of them will be able to withstand you”.¬†
The Israelites surprised the opposing armies and defeated them in Gibeon, and the armies were thrown into great confusion. As they tried to flee, the Israelites pursued them and killed some by the sword, and as they fled, the Lord hurled large hailstones that killed even more of the army. During the battle, Joshua prayed a prayer to God asking him to make the sun stand still over Gibeon, and the moon over the Valley of Aijalon until the battle was completed. This is the part of the story that I love the most. Verse 14 says, the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down for a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since. a day that the Lord listened to a man. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!
I was so encouraged when I read of this encounter. It was a reminder to me that my Daddy is more than able to take care of me, and fight for me. Nothing is impossible.

Baked Ranchero Eggs with blistered Cheese and Avocado-Lime Cream

Yesterday was one of those days I was really floundering around trying to decide what to make for dinner. As I mentioned earlier, taking meat off our diet for 21 days has really thrown a kink in my meal ideas. I casually picked up a cook book I had borrowed from the library, and then…. IT HAPPENED! Dinner hit me right across my face, in form of a mouth watering picture. Now we really had a problem. It was only 3.30, but I was ready to have dinner! What was I going to do for the next two and a half hours? After I wiped the drool of my face and talked myself out of adjusting all my clocks a couple hours forward and making my family eat a REALLY early dinner, I settled down and twiddled my thumbs till 5 PM.

The cook book I had picked up from the library is one that I have been waiting on for over a month, and I am so excited to have my hands on it. It is the new cookbook:¬†the Smitten Kitchen cookbook by Deb Perelman from the Smitten Kitchen blog. She has a fantastic blog, and I could not wait to see what the book had to offer. I quickly went to work putting sticky notes on all the must try recipes. Conclusion: Her book did not disappoint! I’m not big into buying cookbooks, especially ones that I can borrow from the library. I find that I usually will borrow a book, but can only find 2 or 3 recipes that are compelling enough for me to try. This one is totally different. I have at least 10 sticky notes. I am going to HAVE to buy this book. The pictures are beautiful, and the ingredients are easily accessible, and the combinations fun and exciting, yet unfussy. I highly recommend it.

Back to dinner. I’m really loving the idea of breakfast for dinner these days. I used to be all hard core against doing that, but truth be told, I love brunch. Now I can get away with having brunch food for dinner, which works great for my kids, who never met an egg they didn’t like. I tried to stay pretty true to Deb’s recipe, but I did make a couple substitutions based on what I had on hand. I used pickled jalapeno, which are much milder, since that was all I had. I also used colby-jack cheese instead of all jack. The last thing I did different was to mix my lime and sour cream with a smashed avocado, since I had one on hand that I wanted to use up. It all came together without a hitch, and dinner was delicious. We used 9 eggs, which was enough for dinner, and packed lunches. Please don’t let the break down of the cooking steps discourage you. Start to finish, it took me no more than 35 minutes.

Enjoy. I can’t wait to blog about some of the other recipes in the book.

Recipe from The Smitten Kitchen cookbook by Deb Perelman

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Ingredients

Ranchero sauce:
1¬†Jalape√Īo
3 cups (28 OZ can) whole Tomatoes- I used 2 14 oz fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 medium white onion, roughly chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed and peeled
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
15 oz can ( or 1 3/4 cups) cooked black beans (optional)
Crispy Tortilla Strips:
2 Tablespoons olive oil
4 small (6-inch) corn tortillas
Salt, to taste
12 large eggs
1 1/4 cup shredded Jack cheese РI used a Colby-Jack mix
Garnishes
2 Tablespoons lime juice (from 1 lime)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 Avocado (my addition. She used a 1 cup sour cream in original recipe)
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 Tablespoons green onions
Make the ranchero sauce:
Preheat oven to 450 Degrees F. Taste your¬†jalape√Īo¬†for heat. Some are hotter than others. Based on that, determine what amount to put in your sauce.
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Toss the jalapeno, tomatoes, onion, garlic, some salt and pepper in the blender. Blend until smooth. Pour into a 12-inch oven proof skillet and add beans (if using them). Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, or until it has reduced slightly.
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Make the tortilla strips:
While the sauce simmers. brush a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cut the tortillas into 1/2 inch wide strips, and arrange them on the oiled tray. Brush the tops of the strips with the other tablespoon of oil, and sprinkle with salt. Bake for 3-6 minutes, or until they are brown and crisp, turning over once if needed. Remove the strips from oven.
Turn the oven dial to broil to preheat.
(Please don’t be like me.. I totally forgot about my strips, thus the charred deep brown).
Make the cream:
Mash up an avocado. Add half cup of sour cream, and the lime juice. Add salt to taste.
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Cook eggs:
Once the sauce has thickened slightly, remove the pan from the heat, and break the eggs across the surface of the sauce. distributing them as evenly as possible. Return to the heat, cover the pan, and simmer eggs gently in the sauce for about 10-12 minutes, until the whites are nearly but not completely opaque (you will finish cooking them in the oven). Sprinkle the surface of the tomato-egg mixture with cheese, and broil until the cheese is bubbly and a bit blistered- just a few minutes.
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To serve:
Garnish with a dollop of the avocado-lime cream, broken-up pieces of tortilla strips, and cilantro (I threw in green onions too). Serve immediately.
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Devotion For The Day:

Reading from Proverbs this morning made me think of this verse. 2nd Timothy 3:16 says “all scripture is God-breathed, and is useful for teaching, correcting, rebuking and training in righteousness“. I can’t help but think of Proverbs as a book written by my loving coach to instruct me on how to live a free, fulfilling, purpose driven life. My Heavenly Father and Coach is trying to teach me how to avoid the common pit falls that lie waiting ahead of me. I think of it as a loving instruction letter, and boy is it packed with wisdom as practical today as it was the very day that it was penned. Thousands of years later, this advice is solid, having been tested by many before me. God’s word is alive, and active. I truly believe that.

Here was my Proverb for the Day. It was Proverbs 19. I would recommend that you read them all if you have time, but this were the ones that really stood out for me today.

Proverbs 19:23 A foolish child is a father’s ruin,
    and a quarrelsome wife is like
    the constant dripping of a leaky roof.

Proverbs 19:19  A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty;
    rescue them, and you will have to do it again.

Proverbs 19:20 Listen to advice and accept discipline,
    and at the end you will be counted among the wise.

Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
    but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

Proverbs 19:23 The fear of the Lord leads to life;
    then one rests content, untouched by trouble.

Curried Coconut Lentils

Curried Coconut Lentils

Last week was Thanksgiving, which means it’s officially the holiday season. I have mixed feelings about this, and a few rants come to mind. I will share a few, just so you can see what’s running through my crazy mind. There’s the “are we really playing Christmas music in November” one, and the “I will be spending half my life in traffic since I live by the mall” one. I will discuss those at a later time….or not ūüôā For now, I will focus on the issue at hand. Christmas is a month away, and I have decided that despite the fact that it is the time for parties and all things food… I would like to be a few pounds lighter for Christmas. That being said, sensible meals are now gracing our table. The good news is, healthy does not have to be bland. I was looking for a way to make use of some lentils that have been sitting in my pantry for a few months now. I was trying to think up a tasty meatless meal that would win over my meat loving family. (Last week, we had a big HONKING ham that we re-purposed for days, and we are definitely in need of some meatless meals to compensate). This recipe kind of evolved as I was cooking, so I apologize for the lack of step by step pictures. I had not planned on using the coconut milk, but when I got to the end and tasted it, it was OK… but something was missing. I found a can of Coconut milk in the pantry and figured it couldn’t hurt. JACKPOT! It totally transformed it. That and the cilantro at the end are key.
Just a few thoughts before we begin. First, I added about a 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper. I could have done with more since my kids are OK with spice. It wasn’t overly spicy, so if you like spicier food, add more. You could also leave it out all together. The other thing to mention is that I used chicken broth. To make it truly vegetarian, you could use vegetable broth. If you have no broth, just dissolve some bouillon cubes in water. The last thing is the cooking time for the lentils. I cooked mine for an hour after adding them into the pot, and stirred them every few minutes since I wanted them to have some bite to them, not totally mushy. I started with 4 cups of broth and in the last 15 minutes added about another 1/2 cup as needed. I didn’t want to have too much liquid in them.
Let’s get started on these lentils. They are tasty and comforting, and perfect for a cold day. They definitely will not be winning any “best looking dish” award, but trust me… the flavor by far makes up for that. It’s a big plus that they are high on the nutrition scale. I served mine with some homemade wheat chapatis (an Indian flat bread), but rice would go really well with this dish too. Here we go!

Ingredients:
3 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 Onion, diced
2 Stalks Celery, diced
2 large Carrots, diced
1 Green Pepper, diced
2 Large Tomatoes, diced
3 Cloves Garlic, minced
2 Tbsp Ginger root, grated
3 tsp Curry Powder
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Ground Coriander
1/4 tsp Cayenne Pepper
11/2 tsp Salt
1 Pound Green Lentils, washed and rinsed (about 2 Cups)
5 Cups Chicken Broth (plus more if needed)
1 Bay Leaf
1 (13.5 oz) Can Coconut Milk (about 11/2 cups) You can use Fat Free
1/4 cup Cilantro, chopped

1. In a pot over medium high heat, heat the olive oil and add the onion, celery, carrots and green peppers. Cook for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally until veggies start to soften up. Add in the tomatoes and continue to cook for about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes start to break down. Add the ginger and garlic and fry for a minute stirring constantly. Add in the curry powder, cumin, coriander, cayenne and salt. Stir and cook for about 3 minutes to allow the spices to start to smell nice and fragrant.
2. Now add in the lentils, broth and the bay leaf. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Cook until the lentils soften, and the liquid is reduced

3.At the very end, once the lentils are to the desired softness (add more broth if needed during the cooking process), add in the coconut milk and the cilantro, and cook for a minute. Taste for salt. Depending on the salt content in your broth, you may need more salt. Discard the bay leaf.

Discard bay leaf and add coconut milk and cilantro

Serve with Chapatis (or naan), rice or a toasty slice of bread. Enjoy!

Devotion For The Day:

Compassionate Lord:

My devotion reading today was from John 11, on the death of Lazarus. It is a story we have all heard before, so I will just highlight the parts of the story that really jumped out at me today. I remember in Sunday School having memory verse competitions, and one of the top 5 quoted verses was always John 11: 35, Jesus wept. I knew the verse, but I could not have told you the context of the verse. I had no idea why he wept. Well… Jesus was a good friend of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. Jesus received word that Lazarus was gravely ill, but he did not go to see him then, he waited a two days before he returned to Judea. By this point, he already knew that Lazarus was dead.

First Martha, then Mary run to meet Jesus before he reached the village. They both had the same thing to say to Jesus. Verse 21 and 32: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died”. Jesus response to the grieving family and friends is what was most striking to me today. Verse 33-35: When Jesus saw her (Mary) weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord”, they replied. Jesus wept.¬†We know the rest of the story.. Jesus went to the tomb, asked Lazarus to rise up, and he raised from the dead. He had been dead 4 days.

What struck me the most was thinking about WHY Jesus wept. The sisters and the crowd were weeping because of the sadness that they felt because they had lost a beloved brother or friend. Even though Jesus loved Lazarus, he already knew that he was going to raise him from the dead. It was why he waited to come until Lazarus was already dead and buried (read Verse 4). He knew that he would raise him from the dead so that the people seeing would believe in him, and so that it would glorify God. The reason he wept was one that I had not understood. Simply, it was COMPASSION. He saw the deep sadness of the people, and he was moved. Jesus, who was all knowing and knew how this would end was still moved by the suffering of his friends, to the point that he wept.

It really encourages me today, and I hope it encourages you. The same Jesus who wept for his friends more than 2,000 years ago is still the same Jesus I know and love today.I’m humbled and encouraged to know that when I approach God’s Throne in my weakness, Jesus ¬†my intercessor is filled with compassion. He sees our deepest feelings, and he understands them. How amazing is that!

Jambalaya

This year for my birthday, my sweetie bought me an enameled cast iron pot. It’s several months later, and I’m still beaming. Many girls want diamonds. Me…. shiny red cookware. Suddenly, I had to find new recipes to showcase my new friend.¬†Jambalaya was one of those recipes that fit the bill. The inspiration to cook jambalaya came from a Cajun party at my church. Our senior pastor being from Louisiana, they went crazy with the theme. It was a blast. One of my favorite things was the Jambalaya that they served. That evening, it became my new goal to find a way to make a good jambalaya at home. I have tried it on the stove top, and using a slow cooker, and have played around with it to suite our tastes. I might get a lecture about it not being totally authentic, but seeing as I did not grow up in Louisiana, it does not hurt my feelings at all ūüôā I have tried it with shrimp and it’s great, but today I have none. I am also using a pretty spicy andouille, but there are some not so spicy ones available. If you can’t find andouille, or do not like a lot of spice, just use any smoked sausage.
For those of you who have not had jambalaya before, here’s¬†a little history. Creole Jambalaya originated in the French Quarter in New Orleans. It came about as a variation of Spanish Paella blended with¬†Caribbean¬†influences. It usually consists of celery, onions, green pepper (referred to as the “holy trinity” ), meat (typically chicken and andouille or some kind of smoked sausage), seafood (often shrimp), vegetables (tomatoes and sometimes okra),rice and stock. And lastly, it is delicious. History class dismissed. Let’s get to cooking.
Ingredients:
3 Tablespoons Oil
14 Ounces Andouille Sausage
3 boneless, skinless Chicken Breast, cubed
1 large Onion, diced
1 Cup Celery, diced
1 Green Pepper, seeded and diced
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
2 (14 Ounce) Cans Crushed Tomato (or Petite Diced) I used a 28 oz can this time.
2 Teaspoons Cajun Seasoning
4 Cups Chicken Broth
3 Bay Leaves
2 Cups uncooked Rice
1. Heat oil in a large stock pot, or cast iron pot. On medium high heat,brown the sausage. Take out and set aside on a plate. Add a little oil if needed, then brown the chicken. Set aside with the sausage. (The intent is not to cook the meat all the way, just to brown it for flavor).
2. Using the same pan, saute the onion, celery and green pepper until they start to soften. Add in the garlic, and stir for about a minute. Add the tomato, Cajun seasoning, the chicken broth and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil.
3. Add in the rice. Stir a few times. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to medium. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Now add in the sausage and chicken. Stir then cover and simmer for 10 more minutes until the rice is tender.
Enjoy.
I also included a recipe by Emeril Lagasse for a creole seasoning, if you can’t find one:

Emeril’s ESSENCE Creole Seasoning¬†(also referred to as Bayou Blast):

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
Combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Yield: 2/3 cup
Devotion For the Day:
The Value of Relationships:

A while back, our Pastor Chris Hodges preached on the topic of relationships. I came across my notes, and thought I would share what stuck with me. His title: We are better together. Well anyone who reads this is probably going… Duh! I know that! The truth is that we all know that it is true that we are not an island and we need people. The problem is that what we know in our heads does not always translate to how we live out our lives. Do we really have friends around us that know us well enough and love us enough that we can be real and vulnerable? Are we that kind of friend? One of my hubby’s favorite verses is¬†Proverbs 27:17 ¬†“As¬†iron¬†sharpens¬†iron, so one person¬†sharpens¬†another”.¬†That is what real friends do. They sharpen us and enrich our lives, as we do the same in theirs. Pastor Chris loves to make the statement “we are all one step away from stupid”. We laugh.. but it’s so true! A good friend can spot the pit you are about to walk right into and stop you in your tracks. Alternatively, they could pull you out of a pit and dust you off when you need a hand.It was just a reminder for me this week to take the time to invest in meaningful.. authentic relationships. This is where real life change occurs. This was God’s vision for the church. I was reminded that church is not what we do for an hour or two on¬†Sunday morning, it is the fellowship and relationships we build day to day that are the foundation for REAL Christian living.¬†