Roasted tomato and mozzarella pasta

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Our kitchen table on any given night.

It has been another wild week at camp cajun mama. Obviously as I am a little behind on blogging. I got the cooking bug on Monday and literally spent all day in the kitchen. Yesterday I spent the school day helping out at the kiddos’ school in the library. Their librarian is the sweetest person and it is book fair time so I figured why not. I got to interact with so many of the sweet kiddos and see their little faces. I love it when they say “hey you are so and so’s mom!” And their face lights up. Not sure I have ever seen people that happy to see me so it’s a win win. Anyway, I apologize for once again falling behind, but I am here now and plan on getting several recipes in. Sometimes the mama part of Cajun mama takes over and I have to handle up on my mommy duties. I am writing this sitting in the parking lot at their school waiting for my son’s strings performance to start. A mama’s got to do what a mama’s got to do, right?
So, on to more important things…this pasta. Oh y’all…this pasta is so delicious. Full of flavor and easy to prepare and just so filling, it is a sure fire winner. I loved knowing that it was chock full of cherry tomatoes and all of the vitamins and good stuff they contain. Also, You can add chicken to this dish or you can leave it out making it a great meatless option. I saw this recipe on Pinterest and knew I would love it and had to make it ASAP. My friend came over for a visit and I decided to throw it together. She loved it. I loved it. Big Daddy…loved it. Even 2 of my kiddos gobbled it up. Yummy noises all around my friends. So grab yourself some cherry tomatoes and pasta and get to cookin. You will be so glad and the yummy noises will be yours!!

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Look at those lovely tomatoes ready for roasting…mouth watering

Roasted tomato and mozzarella pasta (adapted from http://www.scalingbackblog.com)

Serves about 6

stuff you need~

2 pints of cherry tomatoes (I used one pint of the cherry and one pint of the sunburst tomatoes…adds color which is pretty and good for you!)
3 cloves garlic, minced (or 1 1/2 teaspoons of the jarred stuff)
Olive oil
Good ole kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 box of whole wheat or regular pasta (I used angel hair and loved it)
1-8 ounce package of fresh mozzarella
1/4 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese
Fresh basil (I used the kind in the tube that most stores carry and it worked fabulously…herbs seem to go bad too quickly in my fridge and it is not as cost effective)
1 pound chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces (or you can omit this and go meatless…whatever works for you)

What to do with the stuff~
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. We are going to roast us some tomatoes. (See above pic) I covered a baking sheet with foil. Now lay your washed and dried tomatoes all out on the foil. Now sing to them and let them know they are going to be so delicious roasted and they need not worry. What? You don’t talk to your food as you cook it? You are missing out! (Don’t judge me…I am tired a lot of the time and drink too much coffee). Sprinkle the little darlings generously with the Olive oil. Don’t hold back now. Now sprinkle some kosher salt and pepper then using your hands give those little tomatoes a nice rub down. Lol. Add the garlic and basil. Do the same. You just want to make sure all the tomatoes get some of that flavor. your pasta. Pop them in your preheated oven and roast them until they are literally bursting with flavor. The smell alone coming from your oven will have you salivating. About 25 minutes give or take should do you good. While the tomatoes are doing their thing, go ahead and boil your pasta. Reserve the liquid for use in the dish later as it helps to thicken up the saucy sauce. Next, season the chicken with salt and pepper. in a skillet, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Add the chicken to the skillet and cook until browned on both sides and cooked throughout. Add those beautifully roasted tomatoes to the chicken and cook for 2 minutes. Pour the cooked pasta into the skillet with the tomato chicken mixture and add about 1/4 cup of the reserved water and cook over low heat until sauce is thickened. Stir in more reserved water as necessary to coat all the pasta. Cut the fresh mozzarella into 1/2″ chunks. Stir into the pasta and toss around until the cheese is slightly melted. Season to taste with extra kosher salt, pepper, and extra basil. Serve the pasta up in bowls and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese as desired. Y’all are going to flip!! This is one of my new favorite dishes. Manga!

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Heaven in a pasta bowl. It’s even good cold.

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Crazy Crockpot Week in Cajun Mama’s Kitchen…

Now, the old groundhog said 6 more weeks of winter and I have not heard real positive reviews on him.  Ha ha!  He best hide for a while.  But, today as I experience this lovely sun on my skin and see how much more energetic I feel on a day when it is sunny and beautiful versus overcast and gloomy, I know that Spring is on it’s way.  It is inevitable.  Like so many things God promises us, hope, joy, renewal…the change of season will come.  The ground will melt and the flowers will bloom.  I will be sneezing and have an awesome allergy headache…oh wait, that is already happening.  The promise of longer days and the smell of fresh cut grass on the horizon has me feeling rejuvenated.  All of the fun Spring activities and the awesome mild weather has most of us wanting to be outside.  Working in the garden, throwing or kicking that ball around with the kiddos, taking awalk…anywhere but being cooped up in the kitchen.  How nice to have dinner ready when you get home so that as it stays light longer, you can enjoy that last hour or so of daylight outside.  So, in anticipation of the joys of Spring, I have decided to compile all of my recipes together in one spot and add in a few more too.  This will be a big ole hodge podge of slow cooker/ Crockpot recipes that can all be made in the crock pot and ready when you are!!  Enjoy the ride my friends and make sure you have supper going before you take that ride.  Life is so much better when supper is cooking while you are out enjoying your life!!~AMB

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Mr. Sun Sun Mr. Golden sun please shine down on me!

Some of my favorite crockpot recipes:  

https://cajunmamacookinblog.com/2013/08/28/crockpot-beef-burritos/

https://cajunmamacookinblog.com/2013/10/14/crockpot-itali…eef-sandwiches/

https://cajunmamacookinblog.com/2013/11/20/slow-cooker-french-onion-soup/

https://cajunmamacookinblog.com/2013/10/08/crock-pot-crea…sy-potato-soup/

https://cajunmamacookinblog.com/2013/10/09/crock-pot-beef-stroganoff/

https://cajunmamacookinblog.com/2013/10/10/crockpot-chicken-burritos/ ‎

Crockpot Craziness with Cajun Mama

I call her big Red and she is mama’s little helper.  

Now, those are some of my faves that I have posted before.  The next two are some of my favorites as well that I have never posted.  These crockpot chicken Caesar sandwiches are little savory bites of delight.  They are a perfect meal to have to after a late spring soccer or baseball game, after a long day of work, or to make for a group of friends at a Mardi Gras party or for a pre-parade meal.  If you are low carbing it right now or serving friends who are, this would be acceptable to most if served over a bed of romaine lettuce.  I had some that way and it was pretty terrific.  Just a suggestion for those who might have family or friends on a different diet.

Crockpot Chicken Caesar Sandwiches (adapted from http://www.tastebook.com/recipes/3312044-CrockPot-Chicken-Caesar-Sandwiches)

Stuff you need~

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, fat trimmed away

1 cup of your favorite Caesar dressing (I used the Marzetti’s brand made with olive oil and it is so tasty)

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

2 teaspoons dried parsley

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Romaine lettuce

12 slider buns or 6 regular hamburger buns

What to do with the stuff~

Place chicken in a 4.5 quart slow cooker with 1 1/2 cups of water.  Cover and cook on low for 4-6 hours.  When it is done, remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and drain water out of the slow cooker.  Now shred the chicken using 2 forks and place back in slow cooker. In a medium size bowl, whisk together dressing, cheese, parsley and pepper until combined.  Pour this mixture over the chicken.  Cover and cook on high for about 30 minutes or until heated all the way through.  Spoon some of the mixture onto bun.  Top with freshly washed Romaine lettuce and voila!  Chicken Caesar salad on a bun.  Oh yes!

Now, this following recipe is for Creamy Slow Cooker Tortellini soup and it is AWESOME.  Or as the kids (and me…despite swearing I would not) are saying…awesome sauce!!  Also, because I tend to cook for different groups of peeps and some of them are vegan, vegetarian, etc…I am always glad to have some meatless yet satisfying dishes on hand.  This one is meatless and full of super food veggies (spinach and mushrooms…jackpot!).   Yes, spring is on the horizon and I am thrilled, but there are a few cold nights left and this will hit the spot.  But to be honest, a nice soup that I don’t have to stand over the stove to cook is just fine in the summer time too!  Serve with a big side salad and supper is served.

Creamy Slow Cooker Tortellini Soup (adapted from http://myfavoritethings-miranda.blogspot.com/2012/03/creamy-slow-cooker-tortellini-soup.html?m=1)

Stuff you need~

1 envelope white sauce mix (I used white gravy mix from the package…same thing)

4 cups water

1014 ounce can vegetable broth

1 8 oz. container or 1 1/2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

1/2 cup chopped onion

3 cloves garlic, minced (1 1/2 teaspoons of the jarred stuff)

1/2 teaspoon dried basil, crushed

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt or sea salt

1/4 teaspoon, dried oregano, crushed (I did not crush mine.  It was fine)

1/8 teaspoons or a nice dash of cayenne pepper

1 -8 ounce package or 2 cups of dried cheese tortellini

1-12 ounce can PET milk (evaporated milk)

6 cups fresh baby spinach leaves

dash of ground pepper

shredded Parmesan cheese for serving, optional

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The cast of characters in this scrumptious dish

What to do with the stuff~

Sprinkle dry white sauce/gravy mix in the bottom of your 3.5-4 quart slow cooker.  Gradually whisk in the water to combine with the gravy mix, until smooth.  Stir in broth, mushrooms, onion, garlic and spices.  Cover and cook on low for 5 1/2 hours, depending on your slow cooker or on high for 2 1/2 hours.  Stir in dried tortellini.  Cover and cook on low for another hour or so.  Stir in evaporated milk and spinach leaves.  That’s it.  Now ladle some into individual bowls.  If you are so inclined, sprinkle each bowl with some black pepper and shredded Parm.  Makes about 4 nice size servings.

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Mouth watering…oh I love you!

Kayla and Lulu

Dear God…thank you for beautiful days like this.  And for soup.

 And my crockpot.  Amen

photo courtesy of Cammie Engle

Crockpot chicken and stuffing and cajun mama gets stuck in the mud

So I am a day late with this post and I am so sorry. I feel obligated to post when I say I will, especially when I have taunted some of you with my Facebook pictures. But…silver lining is that you all will get a funny cajun mama story. Sigh. Yes. Yesterday would have been the day that I needed dinner happily simmering away in the crockpot. Crazy crockpot week in Cajun mama’s kitchen is whole lot of crazy so far and little crockpot. Double sigh. I am nothing if not open to whatever life holds…also I am nothing but a big baby over the littlest things. You know how you just toodle right along through life, taking what comes, not really fazed by the big stuff and then whammo you encounter something small but so frustrating and you just dissolve into tears. Yeah that was me yesterday afternoon.
The day started out ok. I had a friend who will begin hosting my blog soon over for brunch to talk a little business and a lot of mommy talk (she is pregnant with her third and I have lots of wisdom to offer). I tried several new brunch recipes and they were fabulous and definitely blog worthy so that is great. Then she left and that’s when it took an ugly turn. I get in my car to go get the kids. Left early enough to get there fine. Except I never actually left. I was backing out of our driveway which is a little long and decide for fun I would “turn around in the yard.” I lived in the country long enough to know all about turning around in the yard. It had been a while since it rained so I thought no problem it won’t be wet. Yeah. Wrong. It hit me when I put it drive to go forward…stuck. But no matter, I thought, I’ve got this. Let me put it in overdrive. BD (big daddy) used to mud ride for a hobby so I knew I needed to back up and try again. Difference is when you are mud riding you have someone there with a winch and you can easily get pulled out. Now, normally I would have dialed BD up and made him come home and pull me out. But he left for NOLA that morning for a business trip. Yeah, that is not good. So I call my friend Cammie and sob into the phone. She tells me to get cat litter and that I have so got this. She will get the kids. I was so frustrated. And mad at myself! How stupid! And to make it worse, I kept trying to back up and go in a new direction until my car would back up anymore. So now two ruts have turned to many and it is getting worse. I get my yoga mat and try to get some traction. No. Cat litter was a no go. I tried to put it in neutral and push it. Yes by myself. (Didn’t y’all know I think I am superwoman?) Shockingly, that didn’t work. A neighbor and the garbage man tried to help. No dice. They leave. I sit in my van and cry. Feeling helpless. Then I remembered I have friends and they have husbands (also friends) who could help. So about the same time, the Calvary arrived. Here comes my friend Trey with his aptly named truck, Beast, and pulls me out. About the same time, Cammie got there with my kids. All safe and sound and excited because they got to walk home with Lulu and Kate. So we all had a laugh and all was well. Except for the huge ruts in the yard and the mud in my hair…it was ok. Oh and my yoga mat didn’t fair so well. Most of all, BD was not mad. Nope. He was laughing and asking me to send him pictures. Nice.
So now y’all know why I didn’t post yesterday (if anyone noticed lol) and why it is always, always good to have dinner going in the crockpot because you never know when you will get stuck in the mud. So my kids had to eat “brupper” which is our name for breakfast for supper last night, which is what you do when you fail to plan ahead and get dinner going in the crockpot. So this recipe is a tasty little dish. It is comfort food ready when you are. You will love it. Not all my kids loved it, but 2 out of 4 did so that is always good odds. I have a few tips I will add to help you avoid the pitfalls I did when I made this Tuesday night but all in all this was a winner!!!

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Yeah, yeah, y’all are laughing with me not at me.

CROCKPOT CHICKEN AND STUFFING (adapted from http://www.isavea2z.com/crockpot-chicken-stuffing-recipe/)

stuff you need~
4 chicken breasts, fat trimmed away
2 cans or 1 big can of cream of chicken soup
1-12 oz package of frozen green beans
2 boxes Stove Top Stuffing (I used cornbread flavor)
1 cup sour cream

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Ya’ll with me so far? Ok.

What to do with the stuff~
First of all, do not forget this…spray your crockpot with cooking spray. I forgot this part and now my crockpot is still soaking because so much stuff was stuck on it. Yuck. So yes, spray away friends. Next, lay your chicken breasts at the bottom of the crockpot. Now, sprinkle the two boxes of stuffing (dry) all over the chicken. Now, layer your still frozen green beans over the stuffing. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sour cream and soup. Pour this on top of green beans. Now take about a 1/2 cup of water and pour this over it all. Cook on low for about 6 hours. Halfway through, I gave the stuffing a nice fluff with a fork as suggested. This will over cook easily and your chicken will be a little dry so just kind of watch it. It was yummy and so warm and comforting!

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Yummmm

Chicken Parmesan and embracing the past

So lately I have been having the envie (said “ah-vee”) or as some say, craving, for chicken Parmesan.  MMMM…I love chicken parm.   Growing up in a double Cajun household, both parents from Marksville, Blue Town and Broulliette respectively, that is a phrase I heard frequently.  My dad would say “Hey Bern, I’ve got an envie for pork stew”….or it might have been “a mess of grillades”.  Funny how those phrases sound so familiar to me but to someone else, it sounds strange.  In the house I grew up in, I was never lucky enough for one of my parents to crave chicken parmesan.  Ha ha!  That would have been too normal.  Red beans and rice or spaghetti and meatballs was about as normal as it got.  When I was younger, I was never embarrassed of our Cajun roots, but I did not cling to them like I do now.  Maybe it is being a Cajun Catholic transplant among all these North Louisianians or as they call them in Alex. or below…rednecks.  (sorry guys, but it is true…and I am one now and it is all good.  My dad calls my kids little coon necks.  Mix between coonass and rednecks.  He is a clever guy, my dad.)   The things that I cling to and recall now with extreme pride now are things that were commonplace growing up.  They didn’t seem strange until someone else said it was.  For instance, when I was probably in 2nd grade, my family was going to a boucherie at my grandparents’ house.  That was a normal occurrence in our family.  My parents got really excited about it.  For those who do not know, this is the event where they kill a pig that has been raised specifically for this purpose and then have a big get together and make boudin, cracklins, grillades, hog head cheese, and so on.  A friend from school had spent the night with me and she came along.  We walk in my grandfather’s shop, where they were making the boudin, and she screams.  Loudly.  I am pretty sure she mentioned something about the movie Carrie…I can’t be sure.  7 year old girls can be brutal. Both of my grandmother’s, Momou and Momee, were in there making boudin.  Now, I apologize for being graphic and this may gross some of ya’ll out, but both of their hands were elbow deep in a bowl of pig blood.  That is what they do to make the red boudin.  That’s right.  It has blood in it.  I only eat the white, but many of my family members love the red.  It is considered a delicacy.  Now, see, had I had a set of grandparents that did not live in Avoyelles or were not so similar in ways to the other set, I might have realized this was different.  But that was all I knew.  It was completely normal to me.  I found that little incident a little embarrassing at that time, but it did not take long for me to embrace my Cajun roots with pride.  I love everything about it.  Even the not so pretty.  Another story…I distinctly remember Momou making chicken fricassee  or smothered chicken with the chicken feet in the pot.  I remember it striking me as kind of off, but not really, and I never asked.  That is just what we do.  I didn’t always  appreciate all that I was privvy to growing up in a double Cajun household, but now, oh now, I feel lucky.  I feel those traditions and nuances steeped deep into my bones and find so much joy in being different.  It is what makes us who we are.  I named my youngest baby Lucas Mayeux…his middle name is my maiden name.  Of course, people name their kids after their maiden names all the time, but for me, it about more than a name.  It is what that name represents.  What it carries on.  I am no longer Aimee Marie Mayeux.  I am Aimee Mayeux Bowlin…I say it with pride.

So, maybe I was never lucky enough to have my parents crave Chicken Parm and cook it for me.  That is something I do now for myself.  What I crave even more is making sure that as many of those traditions and strange little things, words, details, that I grew up taking for granted are things that my children will come to know as second nature.  It may not happen in Avoyelles very often, but I determine if it is kept alive.  So around here, I get an envie for chicken Parm.  My kids don’t even ask what that means.  They know.  So it goes…bringing the past into the present and shaping it into something brand new to form what will be the future.  I better call my mama to see if she can cook me a mess of grillades when we go to Alex. I have an envie.  But for now, in case any of you get a craving for Chicken Parmesan, really good, not hard, not awfully bad for you, chicken Parm I have a great recipe right here for you.  Note:  I did not pick the recipe because it is a “skinny” version..it isn’t that skinny when you eat 2 helpings…lol!  I picked it because it looked like what I wanted.  Though…nothing wrong with a healthy version whenever possible, especially when it tastes AWESOME!!!  My kids…well 3 out of 4…loved it!  My oldest is a hard sell, tried it and said no thanks..he is not a big fan of cheese topped meals…with the exception of a burger or pizza.  But 3 out of 4 Cajun Kiddos cannot be wrong.

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Baked Chicken Parmesan to satisfy the strongest of envies

Baked Chicken Parmesan (adapted from http://www.skinnytaste.com)

Stuff you need~

4 chicken breasts, cut in half long ways (into strips or you can use 8 tenderloins)

3/4 cup seasoned breadcrumbs (I used Progresso garlic and herb breadcrumbs)

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2 Tablespoons butter, melted (or olive oil…I used the butter this time)

3/4 Mozzarella cheese (I used the Kraft Italian 5 cheese blend with a touch of Philadelphia cream cheese in it…it is good stuff ya’ll)

1 cup marinara sauce (ya’ll…I used Ragu. That is what I had on hand.  My family does love Robert Newman’s marinara though)

Cooking spray

What to do with the stuff~

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Spray a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray.  Combine breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan in a plate together.  Using a basting brush, spread melted butter lightly over each side of the chicken pieces.  Now, press each chicken piece into the plate of breadcrumbs and flip it over to do the other side.  Do this with each piece individually.  When you are done, place each piece in greased baking dish.  Lightly spray a little more oil on top of the chicken and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.  Turn chicken over and bake for another 5 minutes.  Remove the baking dish from the oven.  Spoon the marinara or spaghetti sauce over the chicken.  Top with shredded cheese.  Return this to the oven and bake for another 5 minutes or so until cheese is nice and bubbly.  I served this on the side of some boiled angel hair pasta topped with some of the Ragu (this way my oldest pickier kid would not starve.  He was down with that.  A nice salad goes well on the side as does some garlic bread, if you really want to do it up!)  Enjoy!!

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Having a Cajun grandmother literally rocks 

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Momee and Momou (aka Beulah Mae and Narcille) were good friends.  How cool is that?  

Carmelitas and lovely simplicity

My friend Barb introduced to me to caramelitas a while back.  I have been meaning to make a batch but ya know…life and other recipes kept getting in the way.  Yesterday I decided it was time.  Mission accomplished and these babies turned out just right. Sometimes, I find that if I make it my mission to accomplish the simple tasks without getting all fussy and over complicating things, life is so sweet.  And simple.  Along the same lines…I love to take pictures.  I have a really nice camera that Big Daddy won for me through the company he works for…the wonderful Farm Bureau Insurance…and I love to take pictures of my kids. I get that baby out and click away.  When I remember to bring it along.  I don’t keep it in the car at all times and sometimes I miss some great moments….or I would if I didn’t have my phone.  Many of the pics I take for my blog are taken on my phone.  I have some terrific picture editing apps and I am working on getting better at using them.  My phone allows me to take those every day shots that you cannot plan for.  You know…we call that life.  I started following a page on facebook called Click it up a notch.  I love her.  Them?  Anyway, she has some awesome photography tips for amateurs like me.  She initiated a #28lovelydays challenge on Instagram and I am loving it!  It challenges me to find the lovely in everyday.  And everyday life is quite lovely.  So much of what we do everyday can be lovely.  Beautiful. We just have to recognize it.  These caramelitas are the same exact way.  A bunch of fairly common ingredients blended together to make one heck of a dessert.  I am working on letting myself embrace what is already there.  Instead of searching for things out of reach, or adding to or complicating things…I am making something beautiful out of what is in front of me.  Simple can be lovely.  Bake up some carmelitas as soon as possible and tell me I’m wrong. ~AMB

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The view after dropping my babies off at their school…one of my #28lovelydays

Carmelitas (recipe adapted from http://www.thebakerupstairs.com)

Stuff you need~

32 caramel squares, unwrapped (I used the new fabulously ingenious caramel bits and I used a whole bag and then another cup full)

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 teaspoon sea salt , optional (I used fleur de sel which is a little thicker and more coarse than regular sea salt but sea salt is fine)

3/4 cup butter, melted (that is one and half sticks)

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1 cup flour

1 cup rolled oats

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

What to do with the stuff~

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare an 8 x 8 inch baking dish by rubbing the bottom and sides with a stick of butter.  (not the whole stick ya’ll…just get some on the bottom and sides.  To be clear.  lol) Combine the heavy cream and caramel bits in a small saucepan over low heat.  Stir frequently until the caramels are completely melted and the mixture is completely smooth.  I stirred in the salt at this point.  Set aside (I kept the saucepan on my warming element on my stove to ensure it didn’t cool and get thick).  In a medium bowl, melt butter.  Next, stir in the brown sugar, flour, oats, and baking soda.  Press half of this mixture into your prepared baking dish.  Bake this for 10 minutes.  When you pull it out, sprinkle the chocolate chips over the baked layer.  Next, pour the warmed caramel sauce over the chocolate chips.  Finally, add dollops of the remaining butter/flour/oatmeal mixture on top of the caramel. It is hard to spread it.  I just kind of let it spread over the warm caramel naturally.  Then I flattened it as much as I could with a silicon spatula.  Pop this luscious concoction back into the oven.  Your kitchen will smell like heaven.  Let it bake for about 25 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool completely.   Cut into squares and serve.  If you really want to be naughty (who doesn’t?) serve topped with some vanilla ice cream and a little drizzle of caramel topping.  Yeah…I said it.  I only mean if it is your birthday, your dog’s birthday, your aunt’s birthday, or if you made it through the day without cursing anyone out…only for occasions that call for a little celebrations.  I am all about celebrating small victories, ya’ll.  Or I am all about caramel sauce?  Either way.  You can address your thank you notes and notes of praise to Cajun Mama Cooks.  Just saying.

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Ooey, gooey, sweet, salty, chewy carmelitas….

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So many lovely things can be found in our days…

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Our lovely fur babies…Idaho and Toby

Creamy grape salad and unexpected joy

Wow!!  I came across this recipe for grape salad on Pinterest a few weeks ago.  I was really hungry at the time I think, or it might not have appealed to me at the time.  I am so glad I was open to something unexpected and new, because this salad is a flavorful explosion of textures and sweetness in your mouth.  A virtual party.  One you weren’t sure you really wanted to go to, but felt obligated to attend and then enjoyed staying far too long and having a blast.  Yes, just like that.  It is creamy, slightly nutty, sweet with a little tang from the green grapes and it is just so fabulous.

There is just something about being surprised.  Trying something new, breaking out of your typical role and testing your limits.  For example, this morning was Muffins with Mom at my kids’ school.  I will be really honest and say, I really thought I could do without waking up an hour earlier and corralling the kiddos into getting dressed super early, especially when it is freezing cold outside.  2 of kiddos were on the fence, one flat out did not want to go, and one was insistent that we go.  My oldest.  I really tried to talk him out of it.  I offered McDonald’s for breakfast on the way to school. No dice.  He was definite.  “We’re going mama, it is your special day!!”.  He melted my heart.  10 years old and he still truly, genuinely likes me.  Well…most days.  I could not be happier.  But still, I was reluctant.  This morning, hoping he would sleep in, he woke up and said “mama don’t forget we have to get up early today!”  Deep down I knew that would not work and he would stay the course.  Indeed he did and we ended up going.  I had muffins with my babies.  I am so happy that we went and I rose to the challenge.  To break out of my routine and shake things up.  Same thing could be said for having 4 kids.  I never expected to have 4 kids, much less 4 kids back to back.  To relish the chaos that comes with raising 4 kiddos.  I never expected to start a blog or write a food column.  Yet, wow, here I am.  So many things in life take me by surprise.  I just  have to accept that the unexpected can be fun, delightful, sweet, nutty, enjoyable, and wonderful.  Joy can be in the unexpected places.  You just have to be willing to be open to it.  Just like this grape salad.  ~AMB

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Me and my sweeties…so much of life is unexpected joy.  

Creamy grape salad (adapted from http://www.allrecipes.com)

Stuff you need~

4 pounds green seedless grapes

1-8 ounce block of cream cheese

1-8 ounce container sour cream

1/2 cup white sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 ounces chopped pecans (plus more for sprinkling on top)

2 Tablespoons brown sugar (plus more for sprinkling on top)

What to do with the stuff~

Wash and dry the grapes, In a large bowl, combine the cream cheese, sour cream, white sugar and vanilla.  Add grapes and mix until the grapes are well mixed with the other ingredients.  Mix in brown sugar and pecans gently.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  I sprinkled a little more brown sugar and chopped pecans on top before serving.  Holy moly…get ready for the explosion. mmmmmmmmmmm….

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Unexpected joy indeed.  Oh my the sweet creaminess of it all!!

Chocolate Pie and layers of goodness

Today I am writing about chocolate pie.  But ya’ll know me…I cannot leave it at that.  There is more to say.  So I must say it.  I have so many thoughts rattling/whirling around in my head all the time and some times I manage to corral them into some sort of cohesive statement.  Or I give it my best shot anyway.  Lately, I have become very conscious of the pressure on our social media networks to  be the best parent ever in the whole world.  The parent who does enough, but not too much.  The parent who knows the right thing to say, always.  The parent who is calm, rational, soft spoken yet firm, attentive always…you know what I mean…titles that get posted to our news feed like..”Awesome…you just broke your child” or “hands free mama…how to be one?”  or “enjoying the moments because you are lucky dammit to have these kids”.  Now, I am not saying that this is unnecessary, but I am saying I feel it is a bit too much.  It is getting nauseating.  I find myself reluctant to click and read the post because since I am not the perfect parent, I might see proof of this in what must be the Bible of parenting.  Now, I believe in good doses of self awareness from time to time.  There is always room to step up our game.  As parents, teachers, office administrators, doctors, grocery store clerks…whatever your vocation, nothing wrong with doing your best.  These little blurbs that bombard my news feed are about doing the impossible.  Being the perfect parent.  Sure, there is room for us to put the iphone down and be in the moment more.  There is room for us to yell less and use our calm voices more.  But as a mom of 4 kids, some days that is more feasible than others.  Most of these theories only work if you parent in a bubble.  And your child is perfect.  And you are starring in a sitcom where conversations are scripted.  And it will all work out nicely in 30 minutes.  That, my friends, is not life.  That is a television show.  Parenting in real life is like a comedy mixed with a horror movie with just a little fantasy thrown in.  Parenting has many faces.  Childhood has many faces.  Some of them are picture perfect and others are hide that picture ugly.  Some moments, days, nights, weeks are easier than others.    It is not all homogeneous, it has layers.  Kind of like this pie.  To dissect this chocolate pie and look at it layer by layer, would be unfair.  Because it takes all the layers to make this luscious chocolate pie the delicious delight (say that 3 times fast!!!) that it is.  Same thing with being a parent or child.  No parent is all good or all bad.  No child is either.  And sometimes the good parent and good child come together to make a lovely parenting moment.  I love those.  But on the flip side, sometimes, more than any of us care to admit, the less than good parent and less than good child come together to make one hot mess.  Or one rough morning.  Or evening.  I do not love those.  You cannot look at those moments as making up the whole of the parent or child.  You have to look at the entire pie.  ALLLLL the layers, ya’ll.  That is where the goodness is.  That is where it all comes together.  Lately, my youngest has been giving me fits.  I will admit it.  He is 5 and his own person.  I am working on adjusting my parenting style to suit who he is as a person.  But heaven help me, I am having to pray my way through it.  We have had some less than stellar moments lately.  Some of which I am not proud of.  But I know that this is not all there is to it.  He is a wonderful, scrumptious, precious little boy.  With one heck of a wild streak.  And I am a loving, devoted, involved mommy…who is just feeling a little overwhelmed lately.  That does not make me good or bad.  That does not make him good or bad.  We are probably somewhere in between.  But the love is there.  Not every moment can be whipped cream on top perfect.  And that, sweet friends, is just the way it is.  This does not make the pie any less sweet or delicious.  Thanks for hearing me out.  I really want to share the pie recipe with you, but I also wanted to say let’s be real.  Stop expecting so much of ourselves as parents.  Stop reading those things that dissect our parenting and pick it apart…that is only a little bitty small part…not the whole pie.  I, for one, am working on accepting the layers of my baby boy.  His sweet tender soft side, his fierce proud side, his wild side and so on.  They all make up who my precious boy is.  And I love that. ~AMB

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His determined, stubborn side

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His wild silly side

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His sweet delicious side…

Chocolate Pie (from the kitchen of my friend Betsy)

Stuff You Need~

1 graham cracker pie crust or Oreo cookie pie crust (the ready made kind)

1-8 ounce tub of Cool-Whip

2 (3 ounce) boxes of  INSTANT chocolate pudding

3 ounces of semi-sweetened bakers chocolate

1/4 cup sweetened condensed milk

2 cups cold milk

What to do with the Stuff~

Melt the 3 oz. of chocolate in the microwave (in a microwave safe bowl).  When it is melted, stir in the 1/4 cup condensed milk.  Pour this into the bottom of the pie crust.

Now, in a medium size bowl, whisk together the pudding mix and the milk.  Spoon 1 1/2 cups of this mixture into the pie crust.  Now, mix 1/2  of the tub of Cool Whip with the rest of the pudding mixture.  Stir to combine.  Smooth this on top of the other layer.  Top the pie with the remainder of the Cool Whip.  Let this cool in the fridge for several hours or overnight.  Enjoy the layers of lusciousness, my friends.  And a shout to my good friend Betsy B. for this wonderful recipe she got from her cousin’s wife, Mandy!! Gotta love how good recipes get around!!

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Layer number one..

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Layer number 2…we are getting there…gotta love some  layers…

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It all comes together nicely doesn’t it?  YUMMMMM

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Only 1 layer would be so boring!!!  

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Me and my sweet, rough, wild, loving little boy…this sums it up.  lol!

Wheezie’s easy mac and cheese

I have told ya’ll before that I am the oldest of 4 girls.  There is me, then Jenny, Lisa and Claire.  I am considerably older than all of them but as we have gotten older that has mattered less and less.  They have all grown up to be beautiful, smart, talented and great women.  For a few, all too short years, my sister Lisa aka Wheezie and her hubby lived in Shreveport.  It was during the time that I was having babies and she was in grad school, but our love of finding yummy recipes and trying them out is something that we shared.  It was a time when I didn’t have much time to cook as I was in survival mode, just trying to keep my head above water, but she would try new recipes and sometimes have us over or bring over something for me to try.  She actually started blogging long before I did.  She is a teacher but is an excellent blogger…check her out at http://www.makeitlikemomou.blogspot.com!!  This recipe I am giving you today is one of those. Though we all love Momou’s mac and cheese, Wheezie is probably the biggest fan.  She is a notorious mac and cheese fanatic.  This past Friday evening, Big Daddy was dead set on grilling steaks.  I didn’t get to the grocery store, so decided to make do with what I had.  The fantastic thing about this mac and cheese recipe is that it uses ingredients that you most likely have at home already.  Plus, this is a kid friendly recipe.  That is always a bonus.  Since now I am past the baby hanging off of me stage (consequently, Lisa is in her baby stage with a one year old.  My sweet niece CC…ahh the circle of life), I am experimenting more and unafraid to try new things.  I am out of survival mode and in thrive mode.  It feels pretty dang good!!!  I called Lisa all excited that I had dubbed this Wheezie’s mac and cheese and about the changes I had made.  I left her a message and I am sure she will hear it and think I am nuts.    Anyway, I dusted this recipe off and kind of gave it a Cajun Mama twist and boy was it good!!!  I am pretty sure ya’ll will LOVE this one.  It would be fantabulous with barbecue in the summer time and be great along side a recipe I am blogging tomorrow…grape salad.  So, if you are looking for a quick and easy mac and cheese, give this one a go!!!~AMB

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My mermaid with her Godmother…Wheezie.  Fellow mac and cheese lovers!

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She is a great cook and obviously very funny…she is cracking Pappy up!

Wheezie’s easy mac and cheese (adapted from the kitchen of Lisa Welch…www.makeitlikemomou.blogspot.com)

Stuff you need:

12 ounces farfalle pasta (that is bowtie pasta)

1 1/2 can cream of mushroom soup

1 cup of mayo

1 tsp.  smoked paprika 

salt and pepper

2 cups shredded cheese blend (I used half cheddar jack blend and half italian cheese blend with cream cheese in it and it was awesome!!!)

What to do with the stuff:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly spray a 9 x 13 inch dish or 11 x 7 dish with cooking spray.  Boil your pasta according to package directions and drain.  Return pasta back to the pot.  Stir in the cream of mushroom, mayo, paprika, good ole salt and pepper to taste, and 1 1/2 cups of the cheese into the pasta.  Stir to combine.  Pour this into the prepared baking dish.  Sprinkle with the remaining cheese (plus a little extra..go on…I won’t tell).  Cover with foil and pop into preheated oven.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes.  Remove foil and inhale that wonderful smell.  Spoon into a bowl and devour accordingly.  YUM!!!  Thank you Wheezie!!!

 

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Oh devilishly good concoction…please get in my belly.  Wheezie would approve!!