Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Year in Review...and Smoky Chicken Chili

I know that I cannot include every bit of my past year on these pages here, but I do want to share a glimpse of that year between graduation and this new phase. 

Our traditional summer trip to the gulf followed my graduation.  That trip, though a welcome respite, was overshadowed by job applications, transcript requests and updated résumés.  My husband had a final year of seminary, and I was the designated (and slightly reluctant) primary breadwinner while he finished. 

At the end of my second month of searching, I was interviewed by a preschool and day care facility director.  She assured me that working with two-year-olds would be in many ways very similar to my previous experience working with middle schoolers.  Assured by her confidence that I could handle the job, I accepted.  And so began one of the most challenging and humbling years of my life.  

My position was as assistant teacher, which translated to changing diapers, assisting toileting, monitoring sink usage, wiping runny noses, staffing the “thinking chair,” disinfecting tables, sweeping floors, etc.  The calmest time of my day was, of course, naptime, but contrary to popular belief, even naptime could be distressing if one of my 12 lambs refused to nap or woke up fussy.  Two-year olds can push your buttons faster than all get out, but they can be incredibly sweet, too.  Despite how difficult the job was, I love those little ones and find myself wondering how they are doing these days.  I learned so much and I hope that I will be just a little more prepared, should we be blessed with little lambs of our own.

While my year with the two-year olds was anything but restful, this year has come with fits and starts.  I am enjoying the busy times, while cherishing the quiet, restful days, knowing that they will not always be so abundant.  Today was one of those days.  A late winter snowy mix has kept us indoors, and we’re not complaining.  It was a perfect day to enjoy some warming smoky chicken chili, before spring brings its lighter fare.  

Smoky Chicken Chili

Adapted from Southern Living

2 poblano chile peppers, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large Vidalia onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 10 ounce can tomatoes with green chilies
5-6 cups shredded smoked chicken
1 15 ounce can navy beans, drained
1 15 ounce can black beans, drained
1 quart chicken broth
1 pound frozen whole-kernel corn
1 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons hot Mexican chili powder
1 teaspoon chipotle chili
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the chilies, pepper, and onion and sauté for 7 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté for one more minute. Add the two cans of tomatoes, chicken, beans, corn, broth and spices.*  Bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 ½ hours. 

Serve with cheese, sour cream, lime wedges, sliced green onions, and corn bread.

*Chili can be prepared up to this point in advance, transferred to a crock-pot and cooked on low for 8-10 hours, or refrigerated and finished later.     

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

New Beginnings...and Curried Sweet Potato Butternut Squash Soup

I realize that I have this blog, and that I have not written here for two years.  In fact, for the past two years, my husband has reminded me frequently and indirectly of this little space by telling others, proudly, of “The Belle.”  Other sweet friends, those who knew about the blog, would also ask me “…when are you going to blog?”  And so here I am, starting again. 

Graduation Day

So much has happened since I was last here.  Twelve months ago, my husband was entering into his last semester of seminary and was spending any free time contacting churches, talking to references, writing application essays and mailing resumes.  Nine months ago and over 100 contacts later, we celebrated my husband’s graduation from seminary, but still anxiously awaited a call to a church.  Eight months ago we were encouraged to know that my husband was one of the final candidates over ten times, but were still waiting for the one.  Seven months ago we found ourselves eating dinner in a small town in rural Pennsylvania, discussing a possible call to a church in that town.  Six months ago we were introduced to that church, my husband the new pastor of discipleship on staff.  And so, our new beginning.  

Please be patient with me, y'all.  It's been a while.  Even this blog will be new in many ways for me.  But I would love to hear from you, too!  What have you been missing from the Belle?

 Our Backyard

I’ll fill in more details soon, but for now, let’s move to the food.  While our groundhog predicted an early spring, we have had a regular dusting of snow the past few weeks and so I’m not quite ready to give up my soups and stews and winter comfort foods.  This sweet potato butternut squash soup has been a favorite of ours this year, and has certainly kept us warm and comfortable even on the chilliest night. 

Curried Sweet Potato Butternut Squash Soup

Inspired by Screen Doors and Sweet Tea by Martha Hall Foose

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 ½ pounds sweet potatoes, unpeeled, diced
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced
2 leeks, white and light green parts, chopped and rinsed well
1 ½ tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced lemongrass
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoon curry powder (I use 2 teaspoons regular and 2 teaspoons garam masala)
7 cups chicken broth
12 ounce frozen sweet white corn, divided
1 (14.5-ounce) can lite coconut milk

Pomegranate seeds or crumbled bacon, for garnish

In a large dutch oven, heat butter over medium heat.  Add the sweet potatoes and squash.  Cook for about six minutes.  Add the leeks, ginger and lemongrass.  Cook for about five minutes.  Add the garlic and curry and cook for one minute.  Stir in the broth and one cup of corn and stir well, using a wooden spoon to incorporate any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, stirring often. 

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup.  Stir in the remainder of the corn and the coconut milk.  Heat until warm through, but do not return to a simmer. 

Serve with pomegranate seeds or crumbled bacon.  

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Happy graduation, birthday, anniversary, independence, vacation day...and orzo salad with lemon, feta and pine nuts.

Well, you know I have a lot of catching up to do.  So, after friendly nudges, sweet "we miss you" e-mails, comments from my mom and husband, and straightforward "when are you going to start blogging again?," I am finally going to give up my blogging hiatus and get things back in gear.  I have no excuse, but that I work better on a schedule, and have been largely schedule-less since May. 

Here's a quick re-cap, in pictures.  

Summer Starts with a Graduation Celebration!

We celebrate our 6th Anniversary in Chattanooga, TN with a stay at Chanticleer Inn, great food, hiking, and city-exploring.  

Visits with family include a trip to Arrington Vineyards near Nashville, the Naval Museum in Pensacola, pre-Independence day celebrations, family meals, and time with friends.

 Independence day celebration in Philadelphia include a picnic near the Philadelphia Museum and a fireworks show over the Schuylkill River.  
Since returning from our Southern tour, my days have been relatively unhurried.  Window units notwithstanding, the heat still seems to slow things down to a molasses speed.  The job search, household chores, cooking (and apparently blogging) have all responded in kind, following snaillike paces of their own.

While I've occasionally turned on my oven for an occasion (pulled pork for Independence day, cookies for Bible study, brownies for my husband's guy-weekend retreat), it has been largely avoided on account of it's kitchen-stifling tendencies.  So, we've enjoyed our fill of grilled fare, sandwiches, and dishes which require minimal heat, like this delicious orzo salad.  

This has to be one of my favorite summer sides, one that I make often in warmer weather, and always elicits recipe requests.  The flavors just work so well together, it can be served cold or at room temperature, and goes well with almost anything you could throw on a grill.  

Orzo Salad with Lemon, Feta and Pine Nuts

Barely adapted from Bride & Groom First and Forever Cookbook

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup orzo
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons chopped kalamata olives 
1/4 finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup basil, julienned 
2 ounces good quality feta cheese, crumbled

In a medium pot, cook the orzo to al dente in salted water.  Drain pasta.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper and sugar.  Pour over the warm pasta, and let the pasta cool to room temperature.  

Add the pine nuts, raisins, olives, onion, basil and feta to the pasta, stir well.  Store Orzo salad in the refrigerator.  

This salad can be made up to two days in advance.  Salad is best at room temperature, but can be served cold.  

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