Sunday, March 29, 2015

Washington, D.C. - Jefferson Memorial and Mount Vernon

The 5 of us in front of Mount Vernon

Wow, these first few days in the great DC metro area have been fabulous,
to say the least. 

I'm excited to document and share our first 2 days of adventures with you!

Sister Barb and niece Lee touring us around for the day.

Despite it being a bit chilly on our first day, 
we still wanted to head out and do some sightseeing. 

Ryker, Jerry and the Great Falls.

It may have been a windchill in the 20s, 
but that didn't stop us. 

The sun was shining and we got to see quite a few deer 
as we drove to Great Falls, Maryland.  

Landon and Alayna, doing what they love...climbing!

And, there were rocks for the kids to climb on, 
so how could we go wrong, 
getting out, getting some fresh air and sunshine.  

My niece Lee and the 5 B's in front of the Jefferson Memorial.

Next stop, 
Jefferson Memorial. 

The 5 of us in front of Tommy. 
The view of the Washington Monument from the Jefferson Memorial.
Unfortunately, with such a cold winter, 
we are too early for the cherry blossoms. 

The kids with the bucket drummer. 
On our way to the Museum of Natural History
the kids wanted to give some money to a street performer. 

We watched for a while and then headed into the museum. 

Little did we know, that the performer
would be trying to get into our car the minute we walked away. 

Alayna, Landon and Ryker in front of Henry.
Henry is part of the greeting committee at 
the Museum of Natural History. 

Ryker went first.

Then Alayna.
Each of the kids taking turns holding a
Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. 
I wouldn't do it!  

The next day, 
we took advantage of the access to a car and no rush-hour traffic
and headed off on our own. 

First stop was Arlington National Cemetery. 
This was my first time there and I wasn't quite sure what to expect. 

We got there right at the top of the hour, 
which worked out great! 

It was a 10 minute walk to the Kennedy grave site,

JFK and his wife with an eternal flame. 
and then another 10 minutes to the 
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

We got to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 
about 20 minutes before the 
Changing of the Guard
and that worked out great!

Gave us a chance to get a good view of the ceremony. 

This tomb is guarded 24-hours a day, 
changing guard every hour from October to March
and every half hour from April to Sept. 
Even every 2 hours overnight,
when the cemetery is closed. 

The changing of the guard is a very precise ceremony. 
Every move it calculated, 
every step and every second is counted. 

There were certainly lots of questions to be answered on our way out of there. 

While the kids did enjoy the significance of the cemetery,
there is no doubt that they were looking forward to letting loose a little at our next stop,
Mount Vernon.

Alayna is getting in on the groupies. 
I pre-ordered our Mount Vernon tickets that morning,
which worked out great

Crowds are generally bigger in the morning, 
so showing up at 1 pm was perfect...
no line whatsoever. 

But, you would hate to show up at 1 pm and not be able to go through the mansion! 
That would be terrible. 

In general, I'm not too big on ordering tickets in advance,
I like to be able to fly by the seat of our pants while on vacation, 
but in this instance, it worked out great! 

Everything in Washington seems to be under construction this year! 
We did the welcome video about Mount Vernon 
and George Washington
and headed straight to our tour. 

No pictures allowed inside the mansion, 
but this is what we were able to get out back. 

That, and a groupie of us with the Potomac in the background. 

There is lots of green space to explore on the plantation. 
We saw sheep, pigs, cows and 

these adorable babies on the grounds. 

We also saw the 
Washington Tomb. 

The slave quarters were still intriguing, 
even on my 4th visit here. 

Loved watching the blacksmith
 make nails that are used by the carpenters on Mount Vernon. 

Also, got to listen to Martha Washington
speak so fondly as to how she met George and a bit about their life together. 

One last Groupie and it was time for us to hit the road. 

Four hours to wander around Mount Vernon
was the perfect amount of time.  

Come back later this week for the second half of this 
Washington DC Adventure. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Lori's Chicken Enchiladas and Handwritten Recipes

Today I have the honor and privilege of sharing with you
a handwritten family recipe.

Nope, not from my family, 
although I am thankful to have a box full of recipe cards from my 
bridal shower, 
the personality behind each of those cards speaks volumes,
even as I read them in silence. 

This recipe is the boys' mom's recipe,
and I'm honored to have been given a copy of the handwritten version. 

I never knew Lori, 
but I know the emotions that I feel when I see the hand-writing of someone I love, 
especially who is no longer with us…
my grandma, for example. 

So, when I come across Lori's hand-writing, 
I am sure to point it out to the boys so that they can see and remember 
the unique beauty of their mom,
even if just through her eloquent hand-writing. 

Perhaps it is a good reminder to us, 
in this day of text messages, emails and emoticons,
to take the time to treasure 
what our individual God-given hand-writing says about each of us
and, at the very least, 
take a snapshot of it to conjure up all of those memories 
in something oh-so simple, 
that has been all but taken for granted in this day and age. 

In this spirit of tradition,
I made very few adaptations to this recipe,
other than to omit black olives,
I am NOT a fan.
Feel free to use them…
I'm surprised that Jerry didn't call me out on that, actually.  

Just start with 3 chicken breasts, chopped into bite-sized cubes and cooked up
in 2 tbsp of olive oil along with 1 tbsp of minced garlic and some season salt.

While the chicken was plugging along, 
2 cup of chicken broth and 1 tbsp of corn starch 
were whisked up over high heat, to get the base of the sauce started. 

**Remember that corn starch is cold-water soluble, 
so be sure to add it to the broth before it is heated.**

It starts out cloudy, or opaque as in the picture above.

And then becomes translucent, or clear-ish, 
as the starch begins to gelatinize.  

Next 1/2 cup of sour cream and 2 tbsp of mayo were added.

Finally, 1 - 4 oz can of green chilies and 1 cup of shredded monterey jack cheese
were incorporated to finish off the sauce. 
(This is where you can add some black olives, should you desire!)

The chicken was removed from the pan and 
1 cup of the cheese sauce is added to complete the filling. 

The enchiladas were made by filling
small flour tortillas with about 1/2 cup of the chicken mixture. 

Roll them up and place them into the pan
before topping with the rest of the cheese sauce. 

Top them with another cup of shredded cheese, 
then pop into the oven at 375 F for 30 minutes. 

This made about 6 servings of 2 enchiladas each. 

Next time I will make more!

(You think I would have learned that by now!)

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Bake Time: 30 minutes
Serves : 6

3 chicken breasts - cut into bite-sized pieces
2 tbsp of olive oil
1 tbsp of minced garlic
Seasoning salt - to taste
2 cup of chicken broth
1 tbsp of corn starch 
1/2 cup of sour cream
2 tbsp of mayo 
1 - 4 oz can of green chilies
2 cups of shredded monterey jack cheese - divided
1 package of small flour tortillas

  • Preheat oven to 375F.
  • Cook chicken over medium heat in olive oil along with minced garlic. Sprinkle with salt. 
  • Whisk up corn starch into chicken broth and bring to a boil. 
  • Add sour cream, mayo, chilies and 1 cup of cheese, stir until smooth. 
  • Pour 1 cup of cheese mixture over cooked chicken bites. 
  • Fill tortillas with about 1/2 cup of chicken, adjust accordingly. 
  • Place into pan, top with sauce and shredded cheese. 
  • Bake for 30 minutes.
  • Serve with beans and rice for authentic Mexican meal. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Pot Roast and Beef Gravy in a Slow Cooker

Here is an easy and hearty meal to put on the table for your family
any day of the week! 

Just start with your traditional root vegetables,
carrots, onions and potatoes
chopped and layered into the slow cooker. 
Some celery can also be added for good measure. 

Then, a 3# Chuck Roast was placed on top and seasoned with 
1 tbsp of Steak Seasoning
and sprinkled with some Crushed Rosemary, to taste. 

Some people would perhaps advise to pre-sear the roast in a pan on the stove to seal in the moisture. 

I have found that it isn't worth the hassle.  

I just top the roast with 1-2 tbsp of olive oil
which helps to keep the roast from getting too dry. 

Finally one cup of beef broth was added.

Set it AND forget it!

This roast was left on low for 8 hours and 
I came home to an amazing aroma throughout the house 
and this delectable roast ready for dinner. 

Now, for the gravy!

Depending on how much gravy your family likes, 
feel free to adjust the recipe accordingly. 

I happen to have some gravy lovers of my own, 
who don't get gravy very often, 
so I splurged and made 2 cups.  
(Crazy, I know, right!)

After removing the roast from the slow cooker, 
I just poured the juice into the measuring cup and into the sauce pan. 

Now, making gravy is pretty easy, 
as long as you remember one IMPORTANT step. 

Pre-hydrate the corn starch! 

Unmodified corn starch is NOT hot water soluble, 
which means if you add it directly to the hot broth, 
it won't dissolve and there will be all of these little balls (or eyes) 
in your gravy. 

I'm pretty sure you don't want that! 

So, for 2 cups of broth, 
2 tbsp of corn starch are needed. 

This should be whisked up in a small about of cool/room temperature water to start with,
then added to the beef broth.

You can thank me later!

Bring the broth to a boil, 
which is what activates the starch,
or more correctly, 
denatures the starch in order to absorb the water

Simmer for just a few minutes, 
while stirring. 

Then, it will continue to thicken as it cools.  

Here is the roast on the platter, just before serving. 

And, here it is with the gravy! 

The gravy could probably use some salt, 
but since my guys will add salt to everything anyway, 
I didn't bother…

Cook Time: 5 hours on high or 8 hours on low
Serves: at least 6, (thankfully we finally had some leftovers!)

2 cups Carrots
1 medium Onion- chopped
4 Potatoes - cubed
3 Stalks of Celery
1 tbsp Steak Seasoning
Crushed Rosemary - to taste
1 tbsp Olive Oil
1 cup of Beef Broth
2 tbsp Corn Starch

  • Chop vegetables and layer into slow cooker. 
  • Place roast on top of vegetables. 
  • Season with Steak Seasoning and Crushed Rosemary, rub in with olive oil. 
  • Cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 5 hours. 
  • Measure out 2 cups of broth, add to sauce pan for gravy. 
  • Whisk 2 tbsp of corn starch into water, then add to broth. 
  • Bring to a boil and simmer for less than 5 minutes until begins to thicken. 
  • Top roast with gravy and serve. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Creamy Reuben Soup

**Don't forget to Pin and Share**

Patty's Day countdown is on!   

It has to be one of my favorite food holidays, 
as I attempt to Americanize an Irish dish that holds a special place in my heart. 

I love all of the complimentary and contrasting flavors of a Reuben;
creamy, tart and tangy with some nutty cheesiness and meatiness,
slathered between two slices of rye.  

Why not bring all of those flavors together in a slightly different delivery, 
which is much less messy! 

Creamy Reuben Soup

The  2# corned beef brisket cooked in the crock pot all day until it was perfectly tender
and then set aside until needed. 

Nothing says "Irish food "like leeks do,
they look like giant scallions and have a nice mild onion flavor. 

One leek was sliced up and added to the dutch oven with 2 tbsp butter, 
1 tbsp minced garlic and 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
for an initial browning.

Next 1/4 cup flour (I used soy) was added to start the build the body of the soup. 

Six cups of broth were added, 
I used chicken but I suppose beef would have been a logical choice.

Logic escaped me, apparently.  

The corned beef was chopped/shredded, 
yielding about 2 cups. 

The beef and 2 cups of cabbage were added…

now the soup is really starting to come together! 

Final addition, 
was 3 cubed potatoes
because it really isn't Irish if there aren't potatoes in it! 

Cover and simmer for about 20 minutes, 
or until the potatoes are fully cooked. 

Finish with 1 cup of whole milk 
And it is ready to be served! 

Top with some shredded Swiss cheese, Thousand Island dressing and serve with Rye bread

Even my non-Swiss-cheese-fan husband 
couldn't deny that this was a pretty amazing combination! 

Cook Time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4-6

2# corned beef brisket or 2 cups of cooked corned beef
One leek - sliced
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/4 cup flour
6 cups of broth
2 cups of shredded cabbage
3 potatoes - cubed
1 cup of whole milk
Shredded Swiss cheese
Thousand Island dressing
Rye bread

  • Cook brisket according to package. 
  • Brown leek, garlic and crushed red pepper in melted butter over medium heat. 
  • Next add flour and allow to cook for 3-5 minutes before adding broth. 
  • Next add the corned beef, cabbage and potato, cover and simmer until potato is done. 
  • Add 1 cup of milk. 
  • Top with cheese and dressing and serve with bread, for the full Reuben effect.