Chocolate M&M Sugar Cookies…

Chocolate M&M Sugar Cookies 2

There’s a joke (sort of funny, sort of not) in our family now that these are “tornado cookies”, because I baked them the day of the tornado last month. Chuckle. Sort of.

These are some seriously good cookies. It’s a marriage of two awesome cookies- chewy M&M cookies and rich chocolate sugar cookies. Yeah baby. I used Martha Stewart’s recipe for chocolate sugar cookies (which would’ve been awesome on their own), and since I was craving M&M cookies, threw some M&Ms in. I was verrrrry happy with the results! Chewy and deeply chocolaty with the nice crunch of M&Ms. I can’t wait to make these again; hopefully minus the tornado this time. ;)

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Chocolate M&M Sugar Cookies

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon corn starch
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, substitute 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups M&Ms

Preheat oven to 375. Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, and corn starch in a medium bowl; set aside.

Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in shortening (or additional butter). Add egg and vanilla; mix until creamy. Reduce speed to low. Gradually add flour mixture, and mix until just combined. Using a wooden spoon, stir in the M&Ms.

Drop dough by tablespoon-size scoops onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing about 2 inches apart. Bake until edges are firm, 9-11 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container up to 2 days. Makes approximately 36 cookies.

Recipe source: adapted from Martha Stewart’s Cookies cookbook

Chocolate M&M Sugar Cookies

Choc Sugar Cookies

Cassidy was obviously a fan. :)

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Sauteed Kale…

Sauteed Kale

Are you scared of greens? Does kale or spinach send you running in the opposite direction? Well, fear, be gone, because I have news for you- there’s nothing easier or tastier if you know how to prepare them! I know a plate of soggy kale might seem unappealing to those of you who aren’t big into greens, but I promise it’s just the opposite! Joel and I both love kale (even Cassidy loves it!); in fact, it’s just about our favorite green. I keep a giant bag of frozen, chopped kale in the freezer and put it in soups, casseroles, smoothies, and much more. But my favorite way to prepare it is simply sauteed. It’s amazing how much flavor is packed in these amazingly healthy greens.

A church friend and neighbor of ours is going through some health issues and he and his wife have decided to completely change their lifestyle. They’re exercising and eating healthy- no processed or refined foods. I recently talked with them about their new diets and found out they’re trying to eat as many healthy vegetables as possible. So of course, I asked them if they’d tried kale yet. Since they hadn’t, and seemed a little hesitant, I decided to post this recipe for them. Getting healthy is serious business and I want to help them find some recipes that are super good for you, yet delicious as well.

The kale is blanched, then simply sauteed with a little pancetta (which could absolutely be left out), garlic, and a little red pepper for some heat. Ready in 7 or 8 minutes, full of flavor, and packed with nutrition! Say yes to kale!

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Sauteed Kale

1 pound fresh kale, washed, ribs removed, and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon diced pancetta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
salt and pepper
pinch red pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop the kale in and cook for about 3 or 4 minutes, until it starts to wilt. Meanwhile, cook the pancetta in a skillet over medium heat for about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the olive oil. Add the garlic to the pan and cook for a minute or so.

Using a large slotted spoon, remove the kale from the boiling water and place directly in the skillet with the pancetta and garlic. Sautee for 3 or 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper. Serves 4 as a side dish.

Recipe source: Sing For Your Supper original

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Goulash…

Goulash

When I was growing up, I was sort of a picky eater. Ok, not sort of. I was a total brat. I hated Mexican food (gasp!), spaghetti sauce, onions, peppers, and lots of other random things. I mean, how is it possible that I hated Mexican food?! Especially when, now, I could eat it 5 days a week! Ugh. What a weird kid. If I smelled onions and peppers cooking, I automatically knew I’d be shunning dinner that night. So naturally, when my mom or anyone else would make goulash (not that my mom ever really made goulash all that often), I’d not-so-politely refuse.

Nowadays, I love the smell of peppers and onions cooking together! Throw in some ground beef, tomatoes, and whole wheat macaroni and I’m more than thrilled to fill my plate with it! So is Cassidy! (SUCH a great eater!)

This is one of those meals that comes together really quickly and has that great comfort factor. You know, like, after surviving a tornado and your family could really use some good, comforting food? Yeah, it’s perfect for that. And chances are, you most likely have all of these ingredients in your fridge/pantry already! This is one of those perfect weeknight meals…

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Goulash

1 pound lean, ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 15oz. can diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
bay leaf
splash white vinegar
1 1/2 cups whole wheat macaroni pasta

In a large skillet, cook the ground beef, onions, and peppers over medium-high heat until soft. Drain any fat. Reduce heat to medium-low and add in tomatoes, tomato paste, chicken broth, salt, pepper, garlic powder, paprika, bay leaf, and vinegar. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente; about 8 minutes. Drain the pasta and stir it into the meat mixture. Simmer on low for another 5-10 minutes. Serves 4-6.

Recipe source: Sing For Your Supper original

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Crunchy Bean Tacos…

Crunchy Bean Tacos

Readers, meet my new favorite weeknight meal! I feel like I could eat this once a week for the next year (and Joel concurs!)!

A couple of months ago, we had dinner at our music minister and his wife’s house. She made us their family’s favorite bean tacos and we immediately fell in love. Corn tortillas filled with mashed up beans, then fried until golden and crispy. Super, super yummy. It didn’t take long for me to recreate the recipe in my own kitchen and we were just as enamored with them the second time! This is a great meatless option that requires little effort. Turn your Taco Night on its head this week and give these a try!

Crunchy Bean Tacos 2

Crunchy Bean Tacos

1 can black beans
12 corn tortillas
small handful chopped cilantro
1 1/2 tablespoons salsa
1/4 teaspoon salt
shredded cheddar cheese
vegetable oil

In a small bowl, mash the black beans with the back of a fork; stir in the cilantro, salsa, and salt. Set aside.

Wrap the tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave for 30 seconds or so, to make them more pliable. Spread a big spoonful of the bean mixture on one side of the tortilla, top with a sprinkle of cheese, then fold over to make a taco. Once all your tacos are assembled, heat a tablespoon or so of oil in a large skillet or griddle over medium-high heat. Place 2 or 3 tacos in the oil and cook for about a minute or two on each side, until crispy and slightly browned (if you undercook them, they’ll be chewy). Repeat with the rest of the tacos (you may need to add more oil in between batches). Serve with guacamole and salsa. Serves 3-4.

Recipe source: adapted from our friends’ family recipe

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I Will Praise You In This Storm…

“I will praise you in this storm and I will lift my hands; for you are who you are, no matter where I am. And every tear I’ve cried, you hold in your hand. You never left my side and though my heart is torn, I will praise you in this storm.”

Before I talk about what we witnessed 2 weeks ago, I’d like to let the people of Moore, OK know that my heart is absolutely broken for them, and we are all praying for them. What we went through pales in comparison to the devastation they’ve suffered.

The day after the May 15th tornado in Cleburne (that’s where I live, by the way. Now you know.), I wrote down my account of what happened, but since we had no internet for a week, then my blog was hacked (isn’t that lovely?), I haven’t been able to share it with you until now. Here’s the story of how the Cleburne tornado affected my family. All pictures were taken with my iphone and are unedited.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013.  I sat on my bed that morning, thinking about the weekend, and how we would spend it. Out in the backyard, probably. Maybe have the family over. I made spaghetti for dinner, then Joel and I went to church choir practice. While we were there, they said a hail storm was expected, so we all rushed home to put our cars in the garage.  Somehow, before I knew it, Joel, Cassidy, Izzy, Joel’s parents, and I were all huddled together in the bathroom. A tornado might be coming. I had hunkered in a bathroom or closet many times before and wasn’t too worried. In all honesty, I was a little annoyed at having to get Cassidy out of bed.

Then we heard a noise. Almost like the humming of an AC unit, but louder. Then it got louder and louder until it became a ferocious roar. Our ears popped and the air was sucked out of the room. It all happened so quickly, but it seemed as if everything was in slow motion. My mother-in-law held Cassidy. I had my arms around Joel’s neck and my cheek against his, frantically whispering prayers. The roar got louder and there were terrifying bangs on our roof. Cassidy got scared and cried so we sang ‘if you’re happy and you know it’ to distract her. I knew it was especially bad when Joel quietly whispered, “I love you” in my ear. He thought we would die that night. Then, silence. I mean, absolute quiet. No wind, no rain. Not. One. Sound. We wondered if it was over, and then the roar came again. More banging and howling. If possible, this time was even more terrifying than the last. Cassidy screamed as our ears kept popping. I prayed for God to protect us until at last, it was all over.

We grabbed lanterns and walked into the front yard. I couldn’t see anything except for my neighbors’ lanterns dancing in the darkness. I heard frantic voices, “everyone ok?!”.  I ran through the yard in bare feet looking for Joel. There were limbs and roof shingles and pieces of metal everywhere.  As I walked and took in all the damage, I thanked God for the miracle He worked in that tiny bathroom. We were all safe. My family was ok.  Praise God. We were missing some parts of our roof, our trees were ripped apart, and there was an enormous tree in our pool (along with our patio furniture), but all things considered, our damage was minimal.

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[our street]

My parents and grandparents were not so lucky. My parents’ living room ceiling collapsed, dumping insulation all over everything. Water seeped into every wall. My grandparents’ house of 41 years collapsed around them. They stood in a tiny hallway along with my parents as the ceilings fell in, windows shattered, and trees were ripped from the ground. By the grace of God, all four of them walked away without so much as a scratch.  The house was absolutely ruined. 41 years of memories gone in an instant. The playhouse my Grandaddy built for my sister and me was smashed against a tree. The carport was completely blown away. The tornado dumped sludge and murky water into their den, ruining treasured pictures, books, and keepsakes. All pictures below are of my grandparents’ house.

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[Doesn't look too bad from the outside, right?]

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[after my cousins had shoveled away all the soggy insulation]

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The next day, as my sister, mother, and I walked over to my grandparents’ house, my sister warned me to brace myself. I could handle it, I said. But one look at the battered shell of a house that was once my most treasured retreat, and I knew I couldn’t handle it. I hugged my grandparents, cried, and spoke to a few news reporters (they were hovering like flies), then walked to a secluded part of the front yard. I looked down and saw a bird wrapped around a tree branch and in that moment, something snapped and I came completely unhinged. I stood in the front yard and sobbed like a little girl. This was without a doubt, the worst thing my family has experienced.

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[the backyard. That's my playhouse.]

My cousins, aunt and uncle, sister, and mother and I all worked frantically to get Nana and Grandaddy’s belongings out of the house before any more roof caved in and more damage was done. A crew of volunteers from Home Depot (God bless them!) showed up in the front yard with water, gloves, shovels, and chainsaws and began sawing the fallen trees apart and moving them. Church groups drove around with food and water. The way the community came together during all this was truly touching. I’ve never been more proud of my town.

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Hundreds of others in Cleburne lost their homes. Over 600 homes were damaged and so many, like Nana and Grandaddy’s, were destroyed. Joel’s close friend lost his childhood home. Half of the people on my parents’ street were told their homes weren’t safe to live in. Even with destruction and despair all around us, all we could do was thank The Lord for keeping us safe. There were no fatalities that night.

Since the tornado, we’ve had several more storms (when will they stop?!) and I’d be lying if I said we haven’t been scared to death every time we see a little rain cloud. There are still tarps on every roof and small twigs, leaves, and debris line the streets. Every time we go outside, we’re reminded of that awful night. My grandparents have found a duplex to rent until their house can be rebuilt. Everyone is doing their best to move on. Every day I hug my husband and my baby girl tighter and remember that I could’ve lost them.  All there is left to do now is be thankful for family and the gift of life and “praise the God who gives and takes away.”

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Smothered Pork Chops…

Smothered Pork Chops

For some reason pork chops always get neglected at my house. I really like them (and so does Joel!) but for whatever reason, I just don’t think about them when I’m menu planning. Poor pork chops. Too bad, too, because pork chops are GOOD! I love them cooked this way, and especially this way. But now I have a new favorite way to prepare them- smothered! Brown them on each side until they’re nicely seared, make a yummy gravy with the drippings, then pour it over the chops and bake them in the oven for about 30 minutes. Fast, easy, and super tasty.

Smothered Pork Chops 2

Smothered Pork Chops

4 center cut pork chops, about an inch thick or so
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup white wine (preferably one that’s not too sweet, like pino grigio or chardonnay)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup Italian salad dressing (I like Newman’s Own Family Italian)
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Melt the butter in a large pan over medium-high heat. Brown the pork chops for about 5 minutes on each side, until they have a nice sear (depending on the size of your skillet, you may have to do this in two batches). Remove from pan and place in a greased baking dish.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and sprinkle the flour into the drippings and stir for about 30 seconds, so the flour taste can cook out. Slowly whisk in the white wine, water, and salad dressing. Whisk until there are no lumps and gravy starts to thicken, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the gravy over the pork chops. Cover with foil and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. Serves 4.

Recipe source: Sing For Your Supper original

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Mother’s Day…

dedication2

Yesterday was a special day. Obviously, because of Mother’s Day, but also because our baby girl, Cassidy was dedicated at church. For those of you who aren’t familiar, in some churches, after a baby is born, the parents will have them dedicated. Basically, it’s a ceremony where all new parents line up in front of the congregation, and dedicate their new baby to God, promising to love them, pray for them, and raise them to be followers of Christ. In turn, the church also promises to keep the new parents in their prayers and help them in any way they can. It’s a sweet little ceremony that is meaningful and special to the parents. Our whole family was there, which made it even more special to us! Joel and I were so happy to take part in this and will remember it always!

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It was especially meaningful for me, because I was asked to sing. Here’s a little tip: don’t ever agree to sing a song about watching your baby grow up ON Mother’s Day, and ON the day your own baby is being dedicated. Yikes. I may have had a teensy meltdown in the middle of my song. Luckily, every mom in that room understood completely.

My whole Mother’s Day weekend was wonderful. I have the most thoughtful, sweet husband who cherishes me and makes me feel like the world’s greatest mother, even when I don’t deserve it.

I hope all the moms out there had a wonderful Mother’s Day and felt as appreciated and loved as I did!

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Beefy Noodle Bake…

Beefy Noodle Bake

I like to set goals. It’s my thing. Even if it’s tiny and insignificant, I’ll still try my hardest and do everything I can to achieve it. I’ve done it all my life, and I’m sure I’ll do it the rest of my days. Some big (really big!) goals I’ve set for myself over the years have been college (private school isn’t cheap, and my goal was to get as many scholarships as I could to help out), grad school, singing with Fort Worth Opera, Joel (probably the greatest achievement of my life!), and so many more! Nowadays, my goals tend to be more family-related, such as putting healthy, homemade meals on the table at least 5 nights a week. It’s a challenge, but it’s definitely doable! Especially with quick and easy meals like this one!

This is actually an old recipe from a few years back, but since it’s one of our favorites, I thought it could use some updating. This is as simple a dish as they come and comforting and hearty to boot. Like I said, it’s a family favorite and I make it all. the. time. Cassidy loves it.

Beefy Noodle Bake 2

Beefy Noodle Bake

1 1/2 pounds lean, ground beef
1 can diced tomatoes (14 1/2 ounces)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups non-fat Greek yogurt or low-fat sour cream
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup onion, chopped
8 ounces egg noodles
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Meanwhile, brown the beef and onion in a large skillet over medium heat; drain fat. Add tomatoes, salt, sugar and black pepper; reduce to low heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Combine Greek yogurt (or sour cream) and cream cheese in a bowl; mix well and stir into the beef mixture.

Place the noodles in a greased 9×13 baking dish and top with the beef mixture. Top with cheese and bake for 20-25 minutes, until bubbling. Serves 6.

Recipe source: heavily adapted from Gooseberry Patch ‘Best Ever Casseroles’

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Classic Blueberry Muffins…

Classic Blueberry Muffins

So…May is here. I don’t know how it happened but suddenly, out of nowhere, it’s almost mid-May. Which means…Mother’s Day is almost here! Yay! This holiday has a whole new life to it now that it applies to me and not just my mom and grandmothers (not that I didn’t love celebrating Mother’s Day before I had Cassidy…it’s just more fun now.) ;) Now that I’m on “Team Mom” (golly, that just sounds lame, doesn’t it?), I realize just how important it is for mothers everywhere to have an entire day dedicated to them. A day to feel special and well-rested, pampered and praised, and tended TO instead of being the one doing all the tending. Moms are the hardest working people on the planet- we get spit-up on, pooped on, poked at, toes stomped on, pinched, bitten, screamed at, sat on, and food thrown on us all before 8 in the morning. I think we deserve a day of recognition for that, don’t you? ;)

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And maybe a lovely batch of muffins to wake up to with a hot cup of coffee…sipped in silence and peace. Really, that’s all I could ever ask for for Mother’s Day. A little rest, some peace and quiet, and maybe a muffin or two. Sounds heavenly to me. These muffins are no-frills, quick and easy, and taste absolutely perfect warm out of the oven with a cup of coffee. I’ve tried lots of blueberry muffin recipes, but frankly, these are my favorite. They’re everything a blueberry muffin should be. Tender, slightly sweet, and full of juicy blueberries.

I certainly wouldn’t mind if someone were to make these for me on Mother’s Day weekend… (wink, wink!) ;)

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Classic Blueberry Muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for muffin tops
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. and line 8 standard-size muffin cups with paper liners. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water to any empty muffin cups (this helps to make sure the muffins bake evenly).

Whisk together the flour, 3/4 cup of the sugar, baking powder and the salt in a large bowl. In a large measuring cup, whisk the vegetable oil, egg, milk, and vanilla extract until combined. Add milk mixture to the bowl with flour and sugar then use a fork to combine. Do not over mix. Batter will be thick. Carefully fold in blueberries with a wooden spoon.

Divide the batter between the 8 muffin cups and sprinkle the tops with the reserved tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes until muffins are golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Makes 8 muffins.

Recipe source: Inspired Taste

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Cassidy liked them, too. :)

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Baked Oatmeal…

Baked Oatmeal

I’ve been wanting to make this baked oatmeal for SO long now! Almost every morning, I would pull the recipe up on my iPad and get ready to make it, only to have something interrupt me! Finally, I was able to spend a little uninterrupted time in my kitchen and make this for my family’s breakfast last week. Yay! We all loved it- it’s not too sweet, full of juicy strawberries and blueberries, and the texture is great. I’m dying to make it again this week! Breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day, and this recipe will start it off right!

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Baked Oatmeal

1 cup steel cut oats (feel free to use old fashioned oats)
¼ cup chopped walnuts or pecans, lightly toasted, divided
½ teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup fresh strawberries, hulled and cut in quarters, divided
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen), divided

Preheat the oven to 375˚ F.  Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish.  In a medium bowl, combine the oats, nuts, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, and brown sugar.  Stir with a fork to combine.  In a liquid measuring cup, combine the milk, egg, butter, and vanilla.  Spread half of the strawberries and blueberries in a single layer over the bottom of the baking dish. Sprinkle the dry oat mixture over the fruit in an even layer.  Pour the liquid ingredients evenly over the oats. Sprinkle the remaining berries over the top.

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top is browned and the oats have set.  Let cool 10 minutes before serving. Serves 4-5.

Recipe source: adapted from Annie’s Eats

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