Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Comfort

I teach a current events class at the high school where I work and, as a result, I'm forced to keep a very close eye on the atrocities that daily face this world. Some are the result of natural disasters, some the natural consequences of individual's exercise of their agency, which harms themselves as well as others. 

So often, I hear, "how could a loving God allow this to happen?" Innocent people all over the world suffer every day and, assuming this isn't a random biological experiment perpetuated by a sadistic universe, there is only one explanation that makes sense to me, and that is life within the context of the Plan of Salvation. We have a purpose here on earth. Justice exists. So does mercy. And all sorrows will be swallowed up in the atonement of Jesus Christ. 

The talk following is one of my favorite on the subject. It is especially appropriate as we mourn with those families in Connecticut, Portland, Israel and Gaza, Syria, and all over the world who are experiencing heartache, loss, and disappointment. 

God bless us all as we keep in mind the reason that we celebrate this time of year.

Christmas Comfort
Jeffrey R Holland
Ricks Devotional December 1, 1998

    ...My text is from the second chapter of Luke, and you’ll all recognize that as the text for the Christmas story. It is the text from which most of our Christmas messages are given. But the passage I am going to use from Luke 2 is not a verse we very often hear at this season of the year, nevertheless, I believe it is at the heart of the Christmas message. I speak of the beautiful moment, approximately 40 days after Mary’s delivery of the child, when she and Joseph took the baby named Jesus to the templewhere the infant was to be presented unto the Lord. It was desirable for all children to be so presented in the temple, but in the Israelite tradition, it was of particular importance to present the first born son; a rite stemming from the miraculous days of salvation in Egypt, when the first born of the Israelite families were spared destruction. In memorial, all first born sons, in all of Israel, were thereafter dedicated to the service of the Lord, including Levitical service in the temple itself. It was not practical for every first born son to be presented there, let alone to render service there. Nevertheless, the eldest son in a family was still claimed as the lord’s own in a special way and had to be formally exempted from his requirement by the pain of an offering, or a redemption. It’s here at this point of the story that we realize just how poor Joseph and Mary are. Think of Thanksgiving, think of Christmas, and think of these two. The standard offering on behalf of such a child was a yearling lamb and a pigeon, or a turtle dove. But in cases of severe poverty, the Law of Moses allowed the substitution of a second dove, in place of the more expensive lamb. Mary and Joseph presented their son to his true father that day with an offering of two pigeons; two turtle doves. This young couple and this son who would save us all knew what it was like to face economic privation at Christmastime.
    As they made their way toward the temple that day, the Holy Spirit was resting upon a beloved elderly man named Simeon, one who the scriptures describe as just and devout. It was revealed to this gentle and venerable man that he would not die before having seen the Messiah, the Lord’s Christ, as Luke phrases it. The spirit then led him to the temple where he saw a young carpenter, and his even younger wife, enter the sanctuary with a new born babe cradled in his mother’s arms. Simeon, who had waited all his life for the consolation of Israeltook that consolation in his arms, praised God, and said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to light the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel. And Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them and said unto Mary his mother, “behold this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel. For a sign which shall be spoken against, yea a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” I’m suggesting to you today in Rexburg, that there is a profound Christmas message in the one this dear old man gave to sweet and pure Mary in that first Christmas season. He was joyously happy. He had lived to see the son of God be born. He had held that child in his very arms. He could now die the happiest man in all of Jerusalem, maybe in all the world. But his joy was not of the superficial kind. It was not without its testing and it’s trying. In that sense, it didn't have much to do with toys, or trinkets, or new clothes, or tinsel, though these have their Christmas place. No, his joy had something to do with what he said was the fall and rising again of many in Israel and with this child’s life, or at least with his death, which would be like a sword piercing through his beloved mother’s soul, we might well ask, was such an ominous warning, such a fateful prophecy, appropriate in this season of birth and season of joy? Surely such was untimely, maybe even unseemly, at that particular moment, when the Son of God was so young and so tender and so safe and his mother so thrilled with his birth and with his beauty. Well, our answer is yes, it was appropriate and yes, it was important. I submit that unless we see all the meaning and the joy of Christmas, the way old Simeon saw it all and, in a sense, forced Joseph and Mary to see it, even if they didn't want to, the whole of Christ’s life, the profound mission, the end as well as the beginning, if we do not do that, then Christmas will be just another day off work: a little food a little fun a little football, a measure of personal loneliness and family sorrow for many others. The true meaning, the unique and lasting and joyous meaning, of the birth of this baby would be in the life he would lead, and especially in his death, in his triumphant atoning sacrifice (remember why Joseph and Mary are in the temple in the first place), it would be in his prison-bursting resurrection. It is life at the other end of the manger that gives this moment of nativity in Bethlehem its ultimate meaning. Special as this child was, and divine as was his conception, without that day of salvation, wherein he would gain an everlasting victory over death and hell on behalf of every man woman and child who would ever be born, you and me, until that day should come, this baby’s life and mission would not be complete. Worse yet, without that triumphant atonement and resurrection, he might have been remembered only as one born in abject poverty, scorned in his own native village, and tortured to death by a ruthless Roman regime that knew everything about torture and death. But wise old Simeon, who understood all of this (he is an old man) he understood that birth was ultimately for the death, and a death that he was soon to face, it thrilled his soul that salvation was come. Thus Christmas was sobering as well as sweet for him, and so too will most Christmases be for us. Lying among those gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh were also a crown of thorns, a makeshift royal robe, and a Roman spear.

    I do not want this to be an unhappy message; indeed, I intend it to be a supremely joyful message; a message of special comfort. But to make it that, I must speak of Christmases and other days in our individual and collective lives that, for whatever reason, may not be very happy or seem to be always the “season to be jolly.” For many people in many places, this year, this Christmas, this December, may not be an entirely happy Christmas; one not filled with complete joy because of the circumstances facing a spouse or a friend, a child or a grandchild. Or perhaps that was the case another Christmas in another year, but one which brings a painful annual memory every time the put the tree up. Or, and may Heaven bless us that this is not be so, perhaps this may be the case in some future Christmas, when unexpectedly, and seemingly undeservedly, something goes terribly wrong. When there is some public or very personal tragedy, in which it may seem, at least for a time that, “hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good will to men.”

    By way of illustration, let me share a few examples that I pray are not too painful or too personal for anyone in attendance today. I recall that some years ago, in the very heart of the holiday season, a fire broke out on a conveyor belt 5000 ft into the Wilburg Mine, near Orangeville, in Emery County, Utah. The story gripped the entire state and then drew national attention. One man miraculously escaped, but all 27 of the others had finally been found or were declared dead by Sunday, December 23rd, two days before Christmas. On Monday, December 24, an article in the Deseret News began, “Today, in church, watching his mother sob, Chris Pugalese knew that this Christmas time was going to be different. His mother, Cathy, lost no one in the Wilburg Mine fire, but she, like others, felt the pain of those who did. Chris may not quite understand that the sadness that dampened his family’s Christmas destroyed the holiday joy of 27 other families. Those families may never again celebrate Christmas without recalling the death of a father, a son, a daughter, or a brother.”

    More recently, tragedy struck even a little closer to our family. Exactly one week before Christmas in 1994, a Sunday morning, a freak accident on Hwy 128, nine miles northeast of Moab Utah, plunged four teenagers to their deaths in the frigid water of the Colorado River. They were magnificent young people by every standard: a student body president, a valedictorian, two Eagle Scouts, a Laurel class president, traveling that morning to sing at a missionary friend’s homecoming in nearby Castle Valley. Two of the four were brothers, Joseph and Gary Welling. Exemplary sons of our childhood friend and 20 year old St. George schoolmate, Elaine Faussa Welling. This Christmas won’t be as difficult for the Welling and Stewart and Adaire families as 1994 was, but it will be difficult because the memories will return. It will reopen a deep wound and every Christmas for the rest of their lives will undoubtedly carry some echo of that Sunday morning pain for those families.

    Now, may I be even a bit more personal, and in conclusion, leave you with something considerably more cheerful than all of this has been so far. On the evening of December 23rd, 1976, my father underwent surgery to relieve the effect of osteoarthritis in the vertebrae of his back, vertebrae which were beginning to impinge on his spinal cord. The surgery was successful, but near the conclusion of it, he suffered a major heart attack. 8 hours later, he suffered another one. From those two attacks, he sustained massive damage to a heart that was already defective from an illness suffered in his youth. By the time we finally got to see him, wired and tubed and gray and unconscious, it was mid-morning on December 24th, Christmas Eve. “Magnificent timing,” I muttered to the universe. Pat and I stayed at his side all day, as much for my mother’s sake as for my father’s. He was not going to live, and at age 60, she had never had to confront that possibility in their entire married life. As evening came along, we took her to our home. She needed calming and our three little children deserved some kind of Christmas Eve. Pat has created a wonderful world of holiday traditions in our family and we tried to do the Christmas Eve portion of those, but it was a pretty joyless exercise, I’ll be quick to admit. We tried to laugh and sing, but all that these children understood was that their grandmother was crying, that their dad was very sad, and that their grandfather was somewhere alone in a hospital, not free for the Christmas visit that had been planned. After hanging just a few of their mother’s annual Christmas Eve gingerbread men, they uncharacteristically suggested that perhaps they should just go to bed a little early this year, reassuring everyone that this was their choice and something that they really wanted to do. You can imagine how convincing they sounded; about as convincing as our caroling had been. I gave my mother a blessing, convinced her to try to get some sleep. I stayed with Pat for a while, putting out a Christmas gift or two, and then I told her to hold the family together, as she has done all of our married life, and that I was going back to the hospital. There was obviously nothing I could do there. She knew it and I knew it. But she also knew it was my Santa Clause who was lying there alone, with all those tubes and IVs and monitors, and she said not a word to try to get me to stay.

    So at the hospital, I sat and walked and read and walked and looked in on my dad and walked. He would not, in fact, recover from all of this. I suppose everyone knew that. But the nursing staff were kind to me and gave me free access to them and to the entire hospital. A couple of the nurses wore Santa Clause hats and all the nursing stations were decorated for the season. During the course of the evening I think I checked them all out, every one, in every wing of the hospital, and sure enough on every floor and in every wing, it was Christmas. You’ll forgive me if I admit that somewhere in the early hours of the morning I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. “Why does it have to be like this?” I thought. “Why does it have to be on Christmas? Of all the times to lose your dad, did it have to be the night when dads are the greatest guys in the world? And gifts for little boys somehow appear, that in later years would be recognized to be well beyond the meager Holland budget? Lying under that oxygen tent was the most generous man I had ever known; a Kris Kringle to end all Kris Kringles, and by some seemingly cruel turn of cardiac fate, he was in the process of starting to die on Christmas morning.” In my self-pity, it did not seem right to me and I confess I was muttering something of that aloud as I walked what surely must have been every square inch of public, and a fair portion of private space in the hospital. Not really sure how many people I startled that morning.

    Then and there, 2 or 3 am, I guess, in a quiet hospital immersed as I was in some sorrow and too much selfishness, heaven sent me a small, personal, prepackaged revelation; a tiny Christmas declaration that was as powerful as any I have ever received. In the midst of mumbling about the very poor calendaring I thought the Lord had arranged in all of this, I heard the clear unbroken cry of a baby. It truly startled me. I had long since ceased paying attention to where I was wandering that night and only then did I realize I was in the maternity ward. Somewhere I suppose near the nursery. To this day, I do not know just where that baby was or exactly how I heard it. I like to think it was a brand new baby, taking that first breath and announcing that he or she had arrived in the world, the fact of which everyone was supposed to take note. It may have been just a baby saying it was time to eat and wondering where that comforting cuddle from a mother was. But wherever and whoever it was, God could not have sent me a more penetrating wake up call. I felt a little like another, who in reply to his questions heard the Lord declare, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” You’ll recognize that as God’s statement with some sternness to Job. It was as if the Lord were saying, “Listen, this is the happiest night in the whole wide world for some young couple, Jeff. Some couple who may otherwise be as poor as church mice. Maybe this is their first baby. Maybe he is their own personal 'consolation in Israel', perhaps the only consolation they have right now in what may be a very difficult economic life. In any case, they love him and he already loves them, and think of the calendaring, think of it; born on Christmas day. What a reminder that they have each other now and forever. Whatever happens, good times or bad, they have each other. Whatever pain may lie ahead, whatever sword may pierce their souls from time to time, they will be triumphant because the Prince of Peace was also born this same day once in Royal David’s city. Temporary separation at death and the other difficulties that attend us as we all move toward that end are part of the price we pay for love in this world. The price we pay for the joy of birth and of family ties and the fun of Christmas together. Old Simeon; weathered and tried and tested old Simeon had it right. And so did the Morning Stars and the shepherds and the angels who shouted for joy, praising God and singing Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men. Jeff, my boy,” he seemed to be saying with that baby’s cry, “I expected more from you. If you can’t remember why all of this matters, then your pitiful approach to Christmas is no more virtuous than the over-commercialization everyone laments these days. You need to shape up just a little. You need to put your theology where your Christmas carols are. You can’t separate Bethlehem from Gethsemane, or the hasty flight into Egypt from the slow journey to the summit of Calvary. It is of one piece. It is a single plan. It considers the fall and rising again of many in Israel, but always in that order. Christmas is joyful not because it is a season or decade or lifetime without pain or privation, but precisely because life does hold those moments for us. And that baby, my son, my own beloved and only begotten son in the flesh, born 'away in a manger with no crib for his bed', makes all the difference in the world, all the difference in time and eternity, all the difference everywhere, worlds without number, a lot farther than your feeble eye is apparently able to see.”

    Well, I felt reprimanded. I can’t fully describe to you what happened to me that morning, but it was one of the most revelatory Christmas experiences I have ever had or assume I ever will have. And it dawned on me that that could have been my young parents who were so happy that morning. I was a December baby and my mother never wearies of telling me that that was her happiest Christmas ever. Perhaps the joy they felt that day at my birth was to be inextricably, inseparably, eternally linked with my sorrow at their passing; that we could never expect to have the one without the other. It came to me in a profound way that in this life no one can have real love without eventually dealing with real loss. And we certainly can’t rejoice over one’s birth and the joy of living, unless we are prepared to understand and accommodate and accept with some grace, the inevitability including the untimeliness, on occasion, of difficulty and trouble and death. These are God’s gifts to us; birth and life, death and salvation, the whole divine experience in all its richness and complexity. So there lay my dad; the great gift giver, he who found bicycles and bb-guns and presents of every kind somewhere. Now he was making his way out of the world, starting that journey on Christmas day, on the wings of the greatest gift ever given. I thought of another father; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” True fathers and mothers were all alike, I realized, coming up with the best gifts imaginable, at what is often terrible personal cost. And I am obviously not speaking of material gifts or monetary costs. So I was mildly but firmly rebuked that night by the cry of a newborn baby. I got a little refresher course in the Plan of Salvation and a powerful reminder of why this is the season to be jolly and why any Christmas is a time of comfort, whatever our circumstances may be. In the same breath I was also reminded that life will not always be as cozy as chestnuts roasting on an open fire or an unending splendor while we stroll, walking in a winter wonderland. No, life will have its valleys and its peaks, its moments for the fall and moments for the rising in the lives of all of God’s children. So now it’s old Simeon’s joyful embrace of that little baby, just before his death that is one of the favorite images I try to remember at Christmas. I’ve repented since that night. In fact, I did some repenting there in the maternity ward. If you have to lose your dad, what more comforting time in all the world than Christmas? None of us would want those experiences for the Wilburg mine families or the Moab seminary students or a thousand other painful experiences some people have at Christmas, but even so, in the end, it is all right. It is OK. These are sad experiences, terribly wrenching experiences, with difficult moments for years and years to come. But because of the birth in Bethlehem and what it led to, these are not tragic experiences. They have a happy ending. There is a rising after the falling. There is life always; new births and rebirths and resurrection to eternal life. It is the joy of the stable, the joy of the maternity ward, forever.

    “If thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” Martha said to him once, probably in the same tone of voice I had been using up and down the hallways of that hospital, “if that arthritis just had not required surgery, there wouldn’t have been any strain on his heart. If that conveyer belt had just been shifted a little to the right or to the left, it wouldn’t have started on fire. If there just hadn’t been a small patch of ice on that particular stretch, so close to the Colorado River”and on and on and on. Jesus has one answer for all of us. One answer, for all the whys and what ifs and would haves and could haves and should haves of our mortal journey. Looking sweet Martha firmly in the eyes, he said for all in Rexburg and Orangeville and Moab to hear, “I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. Whoseover believeth in me shall never die.” Yes, for me, the most important Christmas visitor of all may have been old Simeon, who, not in the absence of hard days and long years, but because of them, would sing with us tonight at the top of his voice, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. No more will sin and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He will come and make the blessings flow, far as the curse was found.” Of this Christmas witness, I am a witness, in the sacred and holy name of the Lord Jesus Christ, amen.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Crockpot Chicken Chili Soup

So, you'll notice there is no picture for this post.  I didn't expect to post it, so I didn't document the process.  And then we ate it so fast, I didn't even get a picture of the end result.  It was gone and I was, like, "Whoa. That was awesome."  but I didn't have a recipe so I wanted to remember how I made it and it occurred to me that this is the place to do that.

Here's the deal: I work three part time jobs, was finishing a college class, have a one year old, and spend way too much time on Pinterest.  I'm busy, man.  I teach high school every other day, rotating days every week.  I also am the administrator for the Adult Ed program in our district, so I work every Tuesday and Thursday night.  That means that dinner on those days that I teach from 8-4 and then have to go back to the school from 5:45-8 or so is really tricky.  I needed something that would be ready to eat when I walked in the door.  So, I remembered that we had a bunch of frozen chicken breasts in our freezer and it is starting to get chilly, so chicken soup just seemed like a good idea.  I had also recently canned some chicken broth that I wanted to use.  The following is how it all came together.

On Monday night, I threw the following into a crock pot:

*Half an onion, diced
*Half a green pepper, diced
*Three cloves garlic, diced
*Two frozen chicken breasts (they were huge and we ended up giving quite a bit to Jon's mama and dad for dinner because there was so much)
*Two cups broth
*One can of Rotel (diced tomatoes with green chilis)
*One can of tomato sauce
*One can each of kidney and great northern white beans, drained
*Couple of tsps of salt
*Pepper to taste
*Palmful of ground cumin, paprika, marjoram, sage, parsley, oregano and basil
*Splash of Worcestershire sauce and chili sauce (I used Tampico)
*Handful of brown sugar (to taste)

After 8 hours on low, I removed the chicken breasts and shredded them and then returned them to the pot.  It didn't taste quite right though, so I added a bit more salt, Worcestershire sauce and that is when I added a handful of brown sugar.  Sweetening it just a touch made all the difference.  I ate it with a dollop of sour cream and it would have been great with tortilla chips, but it was great without them too.

So, if you are looking for a minimum effort dinner that is perfect for the onset of autumn, here you go.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Country Platter: Dinner #6 -- Chicken Fried Steak


The glorious thing about Chicken Fried Steak is that you can whip it up quickly, not to mention men LOVE it. 

It's an All-American, traditional country meal that fills the belly. You can't get much better than that. 

What You'll Need: 
1-2 lbs ground beef (This is different than traditional chicken fried steak, which calls for tenderized round steak... we don't like round steak in our house. Too chewy. And ground beef is cheaper. And we love the taste of the ground beef with the breading I use, so tada!! Cheap, quick, and easy chicken fried steak!) 
1 cup flour (plus 3 T flour for gravy)
Seasoned Salt
Garlic Salt
Black Pepper
1/2 cup Milk (plus 2 cups milk for gravy)
1 egg
1/8 cup frying oil (canola, vegetable, coconut - whatever you choose) 


First, defrost your meat. I use about 1/3 lb ground beef for each steak. You can vary the size for your eaters. Next, prep the breading ingredients. I use the Pioneer Woman method of breading. And her pictures are MUCH prettier, so stop by her site.

I put some flour in a pie pan, add some seasoned salt, some garlic salt, and some black pepper. Mix that all up, and prep the wet ingredients.

Put 1/2 cup milk and 1 egg in another pie pan. Whisk it up with a fork.

Form your ground beef into "steaks" -- essentially elongated hamburger patties. Dip each patty in the milk, then the flour, then the milk again, then the flour again.

Heat up your frying oil on medium-high heat, and when it's ready (throw a pinch of flour in there - if it bubbles well, it's ready) place your "steaks" in the oil.

 Let those bad boys fry in your oil until they're golden brown and cooked through. I flip them several times - very carefully - and when they're ready, pull them out and place them on a plate, lined with a paper towel.

Drain the grease into a cup, and then pour 1/4 c of the grease back into the pan. Add enough flour that the mix starts to "pull" off the bottom of the pan. Keep whisking and cooking that flour and oil for about three minutes, or until it turns golden brown and starts to smell reeeeaaalllly good.

At this point, whisk in the 2 cups milk. Keep whisking as the gravy thickens, If you need to add more milk, go for it. Add salt to taste, and tada! You have your gravy. I obviously forgot to take a picture of this part of the process.....

So this is what you get instead...

Empty gravy pan...

 Full gravy boat!!

This is a picture of my plate tonight. The steak's really small and the lighting was terrible, but I promise - it was delicious!!!!

As you can see, I served this with mashed potatoes, more gravy, and corn that we just put up a week ago. Mmmmmm.

Ground Beef
Seasoned Salt
Garlic Salt
Black Pepper
Frying oil (canola, vegetable, coconut)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Country Platter: Dinner #5 White Chicken Enchiladas


It was May of 2009. 

I was shoveling these bad boys in my mouth and drooling at the same time. 

And I was on a date. 

No dish in the world triggers memories of my courting days with D more than these enchiladas. 

This was the first dinner he ever made me. 

I was convinced then that I would keep him. Forever. And nothing would stop me!! 


These enchiladas are kid-friendly, easy-peasy, and scream 'comfort food'. 

And the best part? There's no rolling involved. There's just something I hate about rolling enchiladas. A lot. 

What You'll Need: 
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 can shredded chicken
1 can green chilies
½ cup sour cream
1 cup cheddar cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese
corn tortillas (around 10)

NOTE: This recipe list will fill one 9x9 pan. If you're working with a 9x13, go ahead and double the ingredients. Also, when I made these tonight, I was making enough for a 9x13 plus another family who just had babies. So don't be freaked out by the quantity of filling in my bowl. I quadrupled this recipe tonight.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine the cream of chicken, shredded chicken, green chilies, and sour cream in a bowl like so. 

Mix it all up nice a purdy. 

Now take a spatula, and cover the bottom of your pan like ziss... 

Throw some cheese on there.

Then add a layer of corn tortillas. They can be yellow. They can be white. Whatever tickles your fancy. I break them in half, and put them around the edges, then fill in the middle. It's rocket science. Really. 

Repeat the chicken mix, cheese, tortilla layering until you run out of chicken mix. You do want to make sure you end with the chicken mix. Generally, my goal is to get three layers of tortilla in there. That's usually perfect. 

Top with more cheese and get ready to throw this bad boy in the oven. At this point, you can also cover and freeze if you feel so inclined. These freeze really well, and since everything is already cooked, you don't have to worry about how they'll heat up later. They do great! Just make sure they're nice and sealed so's you's don'ts haves any freezer burn. 

Don't ask. It's late and I'm tired. 

Okay it's 7:30pm and I'm tired. 

I'm tired. 

Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the dish is bubbling. There's a fine balance between gooey, melty, delicious cheese and over-cooked rubber cheese. So watch it. 

Let those bad boys rest for 5 minutes before serving. 

Don't forget, these are layered enchiladas, not rolled, so you don't have to go fishing for the seam. Just cut into them and serve! Yet another reason why rolled enchiladas are inferior. Just sayin'. 

SIDES: I serve this with the most amazing corn chips on Planet Earth, and black beans. The chips are Juanita's, and I'm serious... once you buy these, nothing else will ever be good enough. Ever. I buy ours from Winco. Eight bags at a time!

As for the black beans, I grab a can, I open it, I dump the entire contents ("sauce" included) into a small saucepan, I add garlic salt, and I boil/simmer those suckers for about 20 minutes. They thicken up and become really tender, and the garlic salt adds such a beautiful touch. I don't even like beans, per say, and I eat these. Yum.

cream of chicken soup
shredded chicken
green chilies
sour cream
cheddar cheese
mozzarella cheese
corn tortillas

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Country Platter: Dinner #4 -- Spinach & Artichoke French Bread Pizza


Long name, amazing meal. 

That should be the subtitle of this post!

This is probably the most shocking meal of my list. I say so because it's the one that, when I tell people about it, solicits the response, "And D eats that?!"

Yep. D eats it, alright. And he loves it! 

I came across this recipe originally in a magazine. Rachael  Ray's magazine baby!! 

You can view the original recipe online here.

Now onto business... 

What You'll Need:
1 loaf french bread, cut in half long ways (think Elementary School... hotdog style!) 
2 tablespoons butter 
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped 
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Salt and pepper 
3 tablespoons flour 
1 1/2 cups milk 
1 pinch nutmeg 
(2) 10 ounce boxes  frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry (or 1 can spinach, drained)
(1) 9 ounce box  frozen artichoke hearts, thawed (or 1 can artichoke hearts, drained)
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese (if I'm not feeling fancy, I just use shredded parmesan)
2 cups shredded mozzarella
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F . Put the bread on a baking sheet, soft side up. 

In a medium skillet, melt the butter with the olive oil, over medium heat. 

Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. 

Whisk in the flour for 1 minute, then whisk in the milk and season with the nutmeg. 

Cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. 

Pull the spinach apart, then add to the sauce. 

Fold in the artichokes and cook until heated through. 

Stir in the parmigiano-reggiano, season with salt and remove from the heat. 

Spread the spinach and artichoke mixture on the bread and top with the mozzarella. Bake until the cheese is melted, 10 to 12 minutes. 

NOTE: You'll notice in my pictures the presence of another glorious food, namely, bacon. Sometimes I get a wild hair and spinach/artichoke pizza just isn't good enough. So I add things like bacon. D never complains. This is your right as a cook, and it is what will make you a good one. Reading recipes is fine and dandy, but someday you will be comfortable enough in the kitchen to add your own flare to dishes. That's when you REALLY begin to enjoy cooking!! 


french bread
olive oil
frozen or canned spinach
frozen or canned artichoke hearts
parmigiano-reggiano cheese (or just shredded parmesan)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Country Platter: Dinner #3 -- Pulled Pork

This is what our freezer looks like each February. Now ain't that a beautiful sight? That is homegrown pork right there. Low-stress, belly-rubbed, leftovers-eating, fresh-water-drinking, and pasture-grazing pigs made that meat. They fulfilled their ultimate purpose on this Earth, and for that I will always be grateful.

We ask for simple cuts when we slaughter our pigs.

Bacon, pork chops, pork steaks, roasts, and grind. That's it.

This recipe calls for pork steaks or roasts, and you can buy them at any local grocer. A shoulder roast or "butt" is most flavorful. No giggling.

There are few things in this world which smell as heavenly as bbq in the crockpot. Gracious. It's a wonderful smell to come home to.

My favorite day of the week for this meal is Sunday. The recipe is so simple. You throw it together in the morning, and when you step in the door from church meetings, you are overwhelmed with a sense of h-o-m-e. Mmmmmmmm. I love home.

What You'll Need:

2 pork steaks (or 1 pork roast) <--- They really turn out about the same. Shredded, they taste and look very similar.
1 bottle bbq sauce (Our personal favorite is Sweet Baby Ray's. Holy moly.)
1 small onion
Buns or Tortillas

Place your pork cut in the crock pot. NOTE: It does not need to be thawed. You may need to add an hour to cooking time, but it won't hurt anything if the pork is still frozen. Yay! 

Dice your onion. Add your onion and 1 cup water or chicken broth to the crock pot and set it on LOW.

Cook on LOW for 8-10 hours.

Drain the water/juice from the meat, shred with your hands (let is rest awhile because it is H-O-T!) or a fork, and add a generous amount of your favorite bbq sauce. Take a little taste and add salt, pepper, seasoned salt, and any other favorite herbs as necessary.

Now you just need to decide whether you want to eat this lovely creation burrito style, or on rolls. I prefer rolls, personally, but that's because I enjoy baking bread.

Like this...

This is just my bread recipe again, but instead of forming loaves, I form dough balls and you wind up with beautiful buns instead!!! Mmmmm hmmmmm. Don't mind that missing bun there on the right. Ha!

Sides: Grain/Starch - rolls or tortillas
            Vegetable - broccoli
            Fruit - pineapple or grapes

pork roast
bbq sauce
baking powder  
wheat gluten
olive or vegetable oil

Enjoy peoples!!!! Sorry I don't have any photos of this dish. If I make it soon, I'll add them later!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Country Platter: Dinner #2 -- Homemade Pizza

We are a pizza loving family in this house. 

We love pizza so much, we have a night each week dedicated to it's goodness. 

Saturday night is Pizza Night. 

I look forward to Saturday every day of the week!!!! 

Now I'll warn you, my pizza is serious business. The crust is thick. The cheese is thick. And I make two of them every week because D loves pepperoni (no bueno) and I love many other varieties. Once again, D is a loyalist. I am a lover of change. I make several different pizzas to keep myself interested. Dirty rotten lover of change. 

Now I'll let you in on a little secret... 

My pizza dough recipe may look extremely familiar to some of you. 

That's because my pizza dough recipe is my bread recipe. 


I have tried many different recipes for pizza dough over the years. One of my favorites comes from my sister, Leah, and my brother-in-law, Jon. (<----- He's John the Baptist if you ask my son. Hehe. Another story for another time.) 

Leah and Jon also have pizza night. They were our inspiration. The wind beneath our wings. 

Anyways... I have a husband who LOVES a soft, thick crust. He also loves my bread, so one week I decided to try using my bread recipe and removing the second rising time so it didn't get TOO fluffy. I didn't tell him. I just let him dig in. It was one of those glorious moments in my life wherein I felt like Wonder Woman. He loved it. A lot.

What You'll Need: 

For Dough:
5-6 cups flour 
1/4 cup sugar  
1 Tablespoon baking powder  
1 Tablespoon salt 
2 Tablespoons yeast
1/4 cup wheat gluten
2 1/4 cup milk  
1/4 cup oil
1 egg

Mix together 2 cups flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, yeast, and gluten. 

In another bowl, combine the milk and the oil and heat until very warm (around 2 minutes in the microwave) - you should be able to stick your finger in it comfortably, but barely.

Add liquid to flour mixture. 

Mix with a whisk for 3 minutes. (I mix my breads by hand as I do not have a mixer - if you want to use one just mix for 1 minute low and 3 minutes medium speed.) 

Add the egg. 

Stir in 3-4 cups flour, and fold flour into the dough until it is thoroughly incorporated. 

**This dough is a tad darker than usual because this was for bread and I added flax and wheat germ to the mix**

Oil a large bowl and put your dough ball into the bowl with a little oil on it so it doesn't dry out. Cover and let rise 40 minutes. It does need to be warm. In the summer it's fine, but in the winter I turn my oven on for just a moment and then put the bread bowl in the oven, still covered, with the oven off. The residual heat helps it rise beautifully!

***NOTICE: If you're familiar with my bread recipe, this next part is the only difference... I skip the second rising time (once dough is formed into loaves) and I go straight to making the pizza***

Split the dough into two parts (for two pizzas) and roll onto your pizza pan. My sister uses a stone because they like their crust crispy on the bottom. My husband likes his pizza crust super soft so I use a metal pizza pan with holes in it. 

Continue to work the dough out towards the edge of your pizza pan. Press out from the middle with your fingers until the dough reaches the outer edge with ease. Then poke holes all over the dough with a fork. It's kinda fun!! 

Now for your sauce and toppings... 

First, let's talk about pizza sauce. I like to be able to tell it's there, but barely. We use a simple sauce. Canned tomato sauce, a little basil, and garlic salt. That's it. Combine the three, and then spread a small amount of sauce onto your pizza dough. Seriously... don't go overboard. You'll thank me later. 

Next, a layer of cheese. We use shredded mozzarella and cheddar. I buy it in bricks and shred my own because pre-shredded cheese is coated in potato flour or other "anti-binding agents" to keep it from sticking together, and it never melts as well once it's had that crap on it. 

Then I add my toppings. 

(At this point you'll want to preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.)

There's always a classic pepperoni for my pizza purist. 

For me? 

BBQ Chicken (Canned chicken, bbq sauce, top with fresh cilantro. Heaven.)

Canadian Bacon & Pineapple (Pretty self-explanatory.)

Taco (Corn chips, black beans, taco meat, tomatoes, lettuce. Yum!)

BLT (Bacon. Lettuce. Tomato. Overeat.) 

And sometimes I go crazy and make one of these little numbers... 

Spinach & Artichoke Pizza. I've got a post coming later on this bad boy. Holy canoly ravioli. 

Once you have your toppings just the way you like them, make sure you top each of them off with a layer of shredded cheese, and bake @ 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes.

NOTE: I do bake two pizzas at once in our oven. Let them bake for about 10 minutes and then swap their positions so each gets golden on the bottom and top. If I have one pizza that's thicker than the other (say I have a pepperoni and a thick bbq chicken) I always let the thick pizza finish baking on top so the upper portion gets nice and done.

Now take them out, slice them up, say a little prayer, and stuff your face!! 

Oh and if you've never tried it, drizzle your pizza slice with ranch dressing, and top with a sliced tomato. Then eat it with a fork and knife. It is pure goodness. Magic, I tell you.

baking powder  
wheat gluten
olive or vegetable oil
tomato sauce
garlic salt
mozzarella cheese
cheddar cheese
*your choice of toppings

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Country Platter: Dinner #1 -- Porkchops

Because we raise our own pigs each year, we enjoy some of the most amazing chops on the planet. There is something to be said about a chop that comes from a pig who ate chocolate cake and got it's belly scratched on a regular basis during it's tenure on this Earth. We love our pigs. We take good care of them. We name them. We thank them for their sacrifice. And we kiss them.

Okay I kiss them. They're cute!!

I digress...

Porch chops are a wonderful, traditional dinner, and you can enjoy them even when you don't raise your own pigs.

Confession time.

Last week we fed the Elders, and we ran out of pork chops back in March.

I bought Winco chops.

And they were delicious.

Now, I am not condoning supporting the "dirty meat market" as I like to call it. We MUCH prefer homegrown, grass fed (and sometimes chocolate cake fed) meat. But I'm also practical.

Sometimes you have to eat Winco meat.

I love SPAM so I can say that. Ha!

I digress yet again.

In the winter, I throw these bad boys in the crock pot with a roux/gravy base/cream of mushroom sauce and cook them on low until they reach Heaven. They quite literally fall apart.

In the summer, we bbq them, because all meat should have some fire put to it's arse at some point. It brings out the Mr. Hyde in all meat.

Whatever way you choose, here's the info:

What You Need: 

Pork Chops - bone in (there is great truth in: "nearer the bone, sweeter the meat")
Olive Oil
Garlic Salt
Seasoned Salt
(2 small cans) Cream of Mushroom Soup/Roux Base (only if these are going in the crockpot)

If the chops are frozen, thaw them.

Once thawed, brush each side with olive oil. This is a rule I use for all meats - especially in they're being fried or bbq'd. It really locks in the flavor, and helps the meat brown without sticking to your pan/grill.

Sprinkle each side with garlic salt, and seasoned salt. If I'm feeling crazy, I may follow it up with sea salt. Hey - I said variably healthy!!

If they're going in the crockpot: Place enough undiluted Cream of Mushroom soup in the crockpot to cover the bottom. Place your chops on top. If you are feeding enough people to warrant stacking, place a layer of Cream of Mushroom between the chops. Cover with the remaining Cream of Mushroom and cook on Low all day. This needs to be at least 6 hours, or you can do on High for around 3. But they're best if they're cooked on Low for 6-8. You can also add veggies, onions, etc to your crock pot if you so choose.

**Please Note: I have been trying lately to move away from "Cream of" soups. I don't like things with MSG in them. You can always buy this Cream Soup Base Mix from Augason Farms. It costs $13.19 for over 3 lbs of the stuff and it will last you forever!! MSG-free, and delish. You just add water and you have an incredible "cream of soup" style base. If you're feeling really zealous, you can always make a roux/gravy base yuorself!

When these chops are ready, they should literally fall off the bone. Just stick a fork in them. If they remain intact, they need more time. When you're ready to serve, you'll probably need to do so with a ladle. And watch for the bones. You don't want guest unknowingly biting into one of those. :) Not that it's EVER happened to me!!!

If they're going on the BBQ: Preheat your bbq on medium.You want heat. For sure. But you don't want the juices from the chops to cause the flames to shoot up and burn the meat either.

Place the meat diagonally on the hottest part of your grill, and don't mess with it for at least 6 minutes. People oftentimes touch meat on the grill too much because they get nervous. Leave it the heck alone for a few and let it do it's thing. Shut the lid so the heat gets trapped in there, and only check on it to make sure the flames aren't blackening the chops. We generally bbq chops for around 8 minutes one side, 8 minutes the other side, and then D opens the lid and watches them for the last few minutes.

Cut into one to see if it's done. Just a little bit so you don't lose all the juice. When they're ready, put them on a platter, cover them loosely with foil, and again - leave them alone for five minutes. It takes that much time for the juices to re-distribute throughout the meat. This is the best way to ensure a juicy cut. Let it rest a little. You'll have just enough time to get people seated and say a prayer!

Sides: Grain/Starch - baked potato, garlic pasta, stuffing, rice or garlic bread
           Veg - broccoli, green beans, or peas
           Fruit - Grapes or Watermelon (I'm stuck on these right now because it's Summer!!!)