Category: kitchen

the go-to meal

When my friend Rick was here visiting from Chicago, we ate. And we talked about food. We tried new restaurants. And finally, we cooked together.

On a fun evening that included  two new friends as well as our visiting son and his girlfriend, we prepared one of Rick’s new specialities. I ate the leftovers – quite happily – for a week, even for breakfast a few days. This week, as I considered what to make for the last-hurrah of our marriage class, I knew what to do. And as I prepared it, I marveled at how easy it is and how this will become my “go to” meal for guests. It is simple, elegant, hearty, and delicious ~

Tarragon Beef Stew

adapted from


  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 pound beef stew meat
  • 4 cups chicken broth (I substituted Beef Consomme in a pinch)
  • 2 cups water (use your judgement here)
  • 1 1/2 cups sweet vermouth
    (this & the Worcestershire are the whole shebang here for me.
  • 2 cups new potatoes
  • 2 large carrots, quartered
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup fresh mushrooms
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper


  1. Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the beef stew meat, and fry for 2 to 3 minutes, or until evenly browned on the outside.
  2. Pour the chicken broth, water, and vermouth into the stock pot. Add the potatoes, carrots, and garlic. Season with tarragon, bay leaf, Worcestershire sauce, sugar, honey, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cover. Cook 2 1/2 hours to blend the flavors. Alternatively, let this simmer all the live long day in your slow cooker.
  3. Remove cover and continue cooking 20 minutes, or long enough to evaporate enough liquid to reach your desired thickness.

We served this alongside biscuits, homemade/warm applesauce, and white cheddar macaroni and cheese. It was a pretty wonderful combination.

Go ahead…throw it together and invite someone to share it!

bread alone

Ah. Today. I have big plans for you.

Spring is upon us, although it never much felt like winter here, thanks be to God and South Carolina. After 10 days of house guests, who are missed, I have some cleaning to do. I also have a plan: clean and declutter one room per day until done. There are many, many toys that need to go, and many, many boxes in the garage that probably should have gone to Goodwill a year ago, in Chicago.

I am feeling inspired by this article based on a book by Jen Hatmaker (a project I am seriously contemplating) and our very, very vague plans to move (calm down) closer to ‘town’ later this year. We have too much stuff. Even after a year of purging leading up to our move here, we have too much stuff! And I want simple.

I am feeling less inspired due to a little random condition I call “Sunday night insomnia,” which for whatever reason, included Charlie Horses and hot flashes last night.

Please tell me it’s too soon for those hot flashes…!

So, I started slow this morning: fixing a bug on Rod’s website, catching up on some mail I need to send, throwing an easy load of laundry in the washer, and finally, having a simple breakfast:

(That’s some slow cooker apple comfit and white cheddar toast) Since discovering this recipe for ‘Amish White Bread,’ I have finally convinced my dear husband that the preservative-filled, flimsy store bread is not the only way for him. I am 100% baking our bread these days. The recipe is easy and so yummy. This week I am going to try freezing some for a little road trip next week and see how that works out:

Chicagolina White Bread

2 cups warm water  (I use the hottest that comes out of my faucet)
– 2 tablespoons white sugar
– 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
– 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
– 1/4 cup oil (one part natural/unsweetened applesauce, 1 part oil works well)
– 6 cups all purpose flour

  1. In metal bowl, dissolve sugar in the warm water. Add yeast and allow it to proof (looks foamy).
  2. Add salt and oil/applesauce; mix.
  3. Mix in flour, one cup at a time. Mix salt and oil into the yeast. Mix in flour one cup at a time. Knead until smooth (about 5 minutes in a stand mixer).
  4. Place in oiled bowl, turning over once to coat. Cover and allow to rise for one hour.
  5. Punch dough down. Divide in half and place in oiled, standard load pans. Allow to rise about 30 minutes, more if you want the bread to rise above pans.
  6. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.
  7. Serve with butter, cheese, apple-something-or-other, jam, soup, stew, deli meat, garlic…um, you get my point…


Southern Cooking in a Chicagolina Kitchen

I have a new addiction.

It started two weeks ago, when I went here:

(I go there a lot less in my current life, because unlike in my Chicago life, there isn’t one every 2 miles I drive. Anyway…)

And instead of ordering a donut (because seriously, they don’t compare to the ones at Donut Man), a bagel, or the little breakfast wrap I would normally choose, I, quite to my own surprise, ordered this:

(except with a coffee).

And it was love.

Now, I have loved biscuits for awhile, ever since I got Trisha Yearwood‘s first cookbook:

and started making them myself. But the chicken biscuit never really occurred to me until I started hanging around with Southern Gospel singers, and then moved to the south.

They are so good, y’all!

So the other night when I had, ahem, a hankerin’ for one, I knew what to make for dinner. It went something like this:

1. See a “pinteresting” and easy recipe:

(click the picture to go to the recipe)

2. Realize I have all the ingredients

3. Realize my children are playing nicely

4. Thaw some chicken in the microwave and get started on the recipe.

5. Make some tea. This is essential. Since it was just going to be me drinking it (when we have company, I make a Bunch), I made it this way:
– bring a pot of water to almost boiling, remove from heat
– let 4 standard tea bags steep ‘for awhile’
– pour into pitcher, stir in 1 cup of sugar and a bunch of ice
– say, Aaaaaahhh

6. Boiled another pot of water for corn on the cob, the one vegetable that both my girls will eat.

7. Decide we will have green beans, too.

8. Set the table with the essentials:

9. Make the biscuits. And here is how I do it (adapted from the Trisha Yearwood version):

2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix these ingredients together

3/4 cup of milk (buttermilk would be great. I make the fake version using 1 tablespoon of white vinegar)
3 tablespoons of softened butter
Knead with the flour

Drop biscuits on to baking sheet or stone. Bake 8-11 minutes on 450. Restrain yourself.

This is how our finished dinner went:

Biscuits make KK excited.

Miss Picky ate everything but the green beans…

She celebrated (mostly) cleaning a plate that didn’t contain any macaroni.

My homemade chicken biscuit and I saluted her.

10. Always Have Dessert
They had ice cream sundaes.

I had another glass of sweet tea.

Can a girl from South Chicago Heights cook southern? It’s on, friends!

Whatever’s cookin’ for you this weekend, I hope it’s great.

Our Paige will be home for spring break~Smiles all around!

a Target kind of love

This post is neither sponsored by or affiliated with Target, though I think that would be awesome.

How do you make Valentine’s Day festive for your family when:
– your littles have already overdosed on treats from school, church, and their (generous) grandparents?
– you are no longer newlyweds but parents of a kid in college and preschoolers (broke and tired)?

For us, it was a snowballing idea. It started with me having a few project-less days this week to make big homemaking kind of plans, like a steakhouse-ish dinner and fancy dessert: (actually, all this stuff was really simple):

baked potato toppings

iron skillet broiled steak

my plate…yummy!

almost 9 months here…I unpacked the good candlestick holders!

guacamole didn’t go with everything else, but it’s KK’s favorite…

randa asked for seconds!

Rod said it was “THE best ever!” steak. Woohoo!

Fancy dinner, check.

We’d also decided to *finally* take the girls to Target to spend their Christmas gift card from Uncle Rick (pictured from his visit in June)

We were in the door no more than two minutes when Daddy had to take Kaity to the bathroom…because she was misbehaving. With her birthday coming, she has a big case of the Gimmes combined with symptoms of The Whopping Whine, so Daddy needed to get her attention and remind her to Just. Be. Grateful.

(to be fair, he’s had to remind me of that a few times lately as well).

I perused the dollar bins and limited myself to one package of cards. I love sending mail. Have I mentioned that?

Then Randa and I strode down the party aisle to look, in vain, for Spider Man party plates for KK’s fiesta. I think it needs to be a combo year. Spider Man Cake? Auntie Rona is all over that. Spider Man pinata? Mamaw and Grandpa are on it. But Toy Story cake plates and accessories will be present as well. Our Kaity…she is nothing if not diverse.

While we waited for KK and Daddy, we glanced over at a huge empty section of floor. Our Myrtle Beach Target is preparing for something our Homewood Target accomplished about a year and a half ago: fresh groceries. Hoorah for MB Target! And horrah for Miranda, who decided to dance:

…and was almost immediately joined by a sweet new “friend”~

who said: “I want to spin, too” and called Randa her friend. That little girl has one awesome future ahead of her!


One of the things that makes me smile in a big, heart-burst-with-love kind of way is when my girls talk, well, like me. KK, for example, properly uses adverbs more than many adults. “I want it badly!” “I’ll do it quickly!” Have I mentioned she’ll be four next week? She rocks my English-degree world.

When we caught up with each other and walked to the movie section, the girls’ conversation with each other included the words “disappointed” and “several.” I just love the way they talk!

When we reached the movies, we began the delicate negotiation. the movie *I* wanted them to pick was Lady and The Tramp, released from its cell, er, the Disney vault, for a short time. The girls have seen and enjoyed it, but weren’t showing much interest. AND, Target’s price was 32.99. Nuh-uh. Not when I can get it $10 cheaper on Amazon, gift card or no.

As the dance of “let them pick whatever crap they want” versus “guide them lovingly and manipulatively toward something cheaper/higher quality/less annoying” commenced, (let us all note here that there is not much MORE annoying than a Barbie movie, and Randa wants them all) this was the scene:

KK: Look! Look what I found! (proudly holds out the original Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the enthusiasm for which we have Paige to blame. I kind of hate it myself).

Randa: I don’t really care for that movie. The boat scene freaks me out!

KK: Then close your eyes!

– commence Mommy and Daddy cracking up in the aisle, while KK threw her choice in the cart along side Barbie: Mermaid Tale.

Regarding our Valentine’s plans, one of my best friends paid me a super-lovely compliment:

And for the record, you ROCK at making any and every occasion festive!

She likely has no idea just how much that compliment means to me. I worry so much about making things special for my kids because I am still feeling the stress and emptiness of having moved so far from all that was dear and familiar to them. And in spite of most people telling me “They’re kids! They’re resilient!” and in spite of them having so much fun with the lives they currently have, including preschool and occasional impromptu trips to the beach, they feel their losses. In particular, they miss their brother and sister, their Gramma and Papa, their little (and big) cousins, their aunts and uncles, and their friends. They miss their old house and the places we used to go, whether it’s the library or our church or the park across the street. Do they experience the loss like I do? Perhaps not. But when they ask to Skype their friends or to fly and go see them, this mama’s heart knows they are feeling it.

So I strive to create joy even as I am striving to choose joy for myself. A little fancier dinner than usual…a few more sweets than usual… a trip to Target at the end of the day…taking the scenic route down Ocean Boulevard instead of the easier Kings Highway… posing for photos to send in thank you cards…

We don’t have to go somewhere fancy to celebrate love. We can celebrate it at Target, in the car, or at home. The most important thing is the love.

Kitchen Sink Beef Soup

Kitchen Sink Beef Soup

Last week I made a beef roast in the slow cooker. I saved all the broth and carrots in a pot until I was ready for soup, which was this week. You can add whatever you want to soup, which is what I love about it. This particular version was really yummy to me, though it was a bit peppery for my little soup eater, KK. Experiment with what you like best. Bonus: Refrigerating the broth, at least over night, means all the grease hardens on top. Gross? Yes. But that meant I could easily skim it off and throw it away, outta my soup.

1. Spray the bottom of your slow cooker. Add 1/2 up of uncooked rice.

2. Then add to slow cooker:

– beef broth
– 6 carrots, sliced
– 1 medium onion, chopped
– 1 cup of chopped broccoli (I pre-cooked mine to ensure it wasn’t anything but soft, but you probably don’t have to. Also, I chop it super tiny so my kids don’t notice what it is…)
– 1/2 cup of tomato sauce
– spices to taste: onion salt, black pepper, garlic powder, 1-2 bay leaves

3. Allow to cook 4-6 hours or until rice is cooked thoroughly.
*unrelated note: I have never been able to spell the word “thorough.” It’s not even hard, right? I missed it on *2* spelling tests in fifth grade and to this day, it causes the red squiggles when I type it.

4. Mangia! (especially good with a toasted leftover hamburger bun on the side!)