This week has been all about making comfort food, nursing a sick baby boy, watching trees grow, and getting ready for baby boy’s second birthday! That’s an exclamation full of emotion, folks. I’m so proud of the adorable bundle of sugar my baby boy has become at two. I’m also completely devastated that two years has passed so quickly. Anyone invented a machine to pause time yet? I’m mean, it is 2017. We can order toilet paper and lion costumes for our pets on demand, but no time machine? Get with it, Amazon.

corey douglas

Corey says that almost two year olds don’t have to use utensils. Except apparently he says it in a pirate voice with an “Arrrgggg” following it.

{Side Note: poor baby boy has bronchiolitis. It’s a wicked nasty cough, but he’s still in good spirits. We’re praying he recovers quickly so he can enjoy his party this weekend!}

corey douglas

Anywho… I’ve been making some serious [EASY] comfort food to get in the mood for fall weather (and holy cow – Thanksgiving is next week). I hear Houston will be slightly chilly, so you better believe I’ll be wearing layered fall clothes like I was in an L.L. Bean catalogue. Here’s what I’ve made this week:

Barefoot Contessa’s “Spanish” Pea Soup + Crispy Ham 

This delicious bowl of sweet, salty, creamy goodness takes literally 10 minutes to make. Okay, 15 tops. I made it while I was simultaneously getting Corey’s lunch ready – yes, it’s that easy! I only spilled pea soup on myself about 12 times. And then went to the UPS Store with said spilled soup on my shirt without noticing. You know, Mom Life. If you don’t want to go the “Crispy Ham” route, you can always substitute some bacon bits. I think this would also be yummy topped with some crumbled Feta or goat cheese. BONUS: it’s only 245 calories per serving, 21g protein, and 7g fat.

barefoot contessas spanish pea soup with crispy ham

I also made a HUGE batch of Pasta e Fagioli because well… comfort food. It’s got pancetta (hello, basically bacon), beans that make the soup thick and hearty, and pasta to send it over the Comfort Food Cliff. To top it off, throw on some fresh basil + freshly grated Parmesan. Holy Italian Happiness.

pasta e fagioli

Another major comfort food staple is my sister-in-law’s famous meatloaf. I’ll share the recipe soon! The best part about her recipe is that it freezes perfectly! I always make a double batch and freeze the pieces individually. We had our meatloaf this week with Cauliflower Mash.

On Monday, we had some purty trees planted in our backyard. I don’t know about you, but nature is my JAM, y’all. If I’m surrounded by too much concrete, I tend to get a little cranky. The house we lived at in Dallas had gorgeous, tall, full trees. Tons of them. I hated their leaves, but boy did I love seeing all that fabulous green in our backyard. These trees are starting to add more of a “home” feel to our new home.

maple tree houston

These trees have more than just a need-to-make-Mama-get-over-concrete value. They’re planted in memory of my sweet brother, Jimmy. I love the idea of looking out the window and seeing something tangible that can memorialize him. I think about Jimbo every day – I don’t need a reminder of him. I wanted a special something that was my own, happy thing that could represent life after death. I’m not sure if that makes any sense, but that’s how my brain is working these days. Sometimes, you’ve got to actively seek your hope + joy.

Okay – enough sappy rambling. So, Jon Boy and I each chose the type of tree we wanted to plant. I went for a Maple tree that’s native to Houston because I think the leaves go “whishy-whishy” in the wind. Don’t know what I mean? Go watch a Maple tree’s leaves blowing around… they go “whishy-whishy”… I swear. It’s their official sound.

maple tree houston

Jon Boy opted for a Red Oak because that was his favorite tree from our home in Dallas. It’s sturdy, handsome, and full of colorful life (just like good ole Jon Boy himself).

red oak tree houston

I had to take a few pictures of our baby trees’ first birthday! I can’t wait to see how big they grow compared to the house. That’s like a botanist’s official version of a growth chart, right?

red oak tree houston

Here’s a Happy Monday for ya: I broke my stinkin’ Apple watch (had it for less than a year)!!! This is the punishment I get for doing dishes. As I was drying my hands, somehow my watch strap came undone and my whole piece of arm candy fell SMACK flat right onto the granite countertop. I told Jon Boy this was God’s way of saying dishes are solely a man’s job. He didn’t agree. Anyone have ideas for how to magically get this puppy back in working condition? Or should I try to get on the ‘Nice’ list this late in the Christmas game?

broken apple watch

And in honor of trying to get ready for a birthday party while having a sick toddler running around the house…

cleaning with toddlers

Happy Humpday, y’all!

I have so many great memories of going to Olive Garden after church with my girl friends in middle and high school. Sometimes one of our church sponsors would join us, too. We’d eat ridiculous amounts of breadsticks with Alfredo sauce [wish I could still do that w/o gaining 438 lbs.]. We’d laugh way too loudly. We’d eat some of their yummy-in-the-tummy Paste e Fagioli soup. Well, sorry, Olive Garden, but I’ve graduated to a better version. This one.

pasta e fagioli

The great part about this soup is you can freeze it if you’re not ready to eat the whole batch. I’d just recommend not cooking the pasta (or at least just keep it separated) until you’re ready to eat. You can thaw the soup overnight in the fridge, boil some pasta, and voila – dinner is served.

pasta e fagioli
Any “16 Bean Soup” dry mix will do just fine for this recipe. I couldn’t find the Goya one Ina mentions in hers, but this one was perfect. Just keep the seasoning packet for another day if you want. I chunked mine because the last thing I need is another bag of spices in my pantry.

pasta e fagioli

Pancetta is delish, y’all! It’s a great way to add some pork flavor + salt to you dish. I only used half of what the original recipe called for, and it was still yummy. Pancetta is one of the pricer ingredients on this list, so I thought leaving a little out wouldn’t hurt. You can find it near the deli at your grocery store.

pasta e fagioli

Like I said before, I didn’t want to add the pasta and freeze it with the soup. Nobody likes mushy pasta. Unless you do, then you just do you. I decided to cook a small portion and refrigerate it separately until it was time to eat. I found this box of “small shells” at HEB. They did the job just fine, but any small little pasta would do.

pasta e fagioli

Adding the Parm and basil throws this soup over-the-top… I’m thinking I may have some for breakfast. And lunch. And maybe dinner, too. It’s that good.

pasta e fagioli

One thing I did differently was to use an immersion blender to mash up some of the beans + tomatoes. You can definitely use a regular blender if you don’t have an immersion one, but I’d recommend investing in one of these guys at some point. Less to clean and way easier than pouring hot soup into a blender w/o burning yourself.

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pasta e fagioli

Pasta E Fagioli

For the soup
1 1-lb. bag 16 Bean Soup Mix
2 tbs. EVOO
3 oz. pancetta, diced
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes (San Marzano work best)
1 cup dry red wine
4 cups unsalted chicken stock
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For serving
Small pasta shells
Basil leaves, julienned
Freshly grated Parmesan

To make the soup

The night before you make the soup, soak the beans (discard the seasoning packet) in a large plastic or glass bowl in cold water. Make sure to leave about 1 1/2” of extra water above the beans because they will soak up the water. Cover with a cloth and leave on your counter overnight.

The next morning, drain and rinse the beans. Add them to a large pot filled with 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 1 1/2 hours or until the beans are tender. It’s okay if the beans lose their skin during this process. Occasionally skim off any foam that floats to the top.

About 20 minutes before the beans are finished, heat the oil in a large Dutch oven (big enough for all the soup eventually) over medium-high heat. Sauté pancetta and onion for about 15 minutes, or until both are browned. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes; sauté 1 minute. Carefully crush the tomatoes by hand into the pot and add their juices. Add the red wine, chicken stock, and (to start – you can add more later) 1 tbs. Kosher salt and 1 tsp. black pepper. Stir to combine, lower the heat to medium-low, and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes.

Drain the beans and add them to the soup. Stir to combine and continue to simmer for 15 minutes. Using an immersion blender* blend until soup is your desired consistency. Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

To serve

Bring a pot of water to a boil, and add a heaping tablespoon of Kosher salt. Boil the pasta (about a half a handful per person) until al dente (usually about 8 minutes). Drain pasta. (You can also boil pasta ahead, store in airtight container in fridge, then warm with soup). Ladle the soup into bowls, top with pasta, then basil, then Parmesan.

*Or carefully ladle about 1/3 of the soup into a blender. Leave the top off the blender, cover with a dish towel, and blend until smooth. Add mixture back to pot.

Click Here for Printable Recipe: Pasta e Fagioli

Recipe Adapted from Ina Garten on Food Network

If you’ve never heard of the Pioneer Woman, let me sum her up for you in two words: Bad Ass. I’m sure you’ve at least heard of her though. You’d be doing yourself a favor to read her blog, too. She’s got some pretty great poetry skills that will bring a chuckle or a tear to you.

I saw her make this recipe on one of her Food Network episodes a couple of months ago, and I couldn’t get to the store to cook this fast enough. I made it for lunch one day and then froze the leftovers. They held up really well (I just finished my last bowl this week – gotta make more).

hearty white chili
You definitely want to garnish with your fave Mexican toppings. I went for, of course, the undisputed King of Condiments – Señor Avocado. I threw on tortilla chips for good measure, too.
hearty white chili
This version of the recipe gave me about 6 servings and came in at about 270 calories w/o condiments. Tons of flavor. Tons of protein. Little fat + carbs. Winner, winner, chili dinner.
hearty white chili

PW’s Hearty White Chili

3 cups cooked, shredded chicken (buy it already like this at the store, or throw some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the Crock Pot with some chicken broth and cook until they’re done – low for 4 hours or high for 8 hours)
2 tbs. EVOO
1 yellow onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cans mild green chiles, chopped (leave this out if you don’t like spice)
1 lb. dried Great Northern Beans, rinsed and drained
8 cups chicken stock
1 jalapeño, sliced (removed seeds/membranes if you don’t like spice)
1 1/2 tbs. ground cumin
White ground pepper, to taste (I use about 1 tsp.)
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Kosher salt, to taste
1 cup whole milk
2 tbs. masa (corn flour) or cornmeal
Garnish with shredded Monterey Jack cheese, sour cream, cilantro, avocado, tortilla chips, or pico de gallo

In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until simmering. Add the onion and cook until softened (about 5 minutes). Add the garlic and cook an additional minute, stirring occasionally. Add the green chiles, beans, chicken stock, and jalapeños, stirring to combine.  Season with cumin, white pepper, paprika, and cayenne. Cover and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender (about 2 hours). About an hour into the cooking, add the chicken to the pot and stir to combine.

When the beans are cooked, season to taste with salt.  Then, whisk the milk and masa together. Pour into the chili, stir, and cook until thickened (about 10 minutes). Check seasonings to taste. Garnish with your desired toppings.

Chili freezes well for up to 6 months.

We had so much fun over the holidays, but to be honest, my favorite part was getting to cook allllllll day long on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. I got to hang with my two favorite men and drink some champs along the way. Not the worst, if I do say so myself!
We got to spend some time with some family turned friends, and they asked if we had tried making gumbo with our leftover turkey. Whhhhaaaaa!?! Gumbo? Okay… why didn’t I think of that? Combining leftovers and my favorite kind of food? Deal. Sold. Done.
Thank you, Papa Dave!
Turkey Gumbo
I’m still trying to master this whole new hairdo thing. Not the best, but not the worst I guess!

new hairdo


I hate that this picture didn’t turn out clearly! Look at those eyes. Those lips. Those cheeks! Aghh! Also, a cute sweater thanks to his sweet Noni.
corey douglas
corey douglas

Turkey Gumbo
1 cup plus 2 tbs. vegetable oil
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 yellow onions, diced
4 stalks celery, chopped
2 green bell peppers, chopped
6 links Applegate Andouille Chicken and Turkey Sausage, sliced into 1/2” pieces
5 bay leaves
8 cups chicken stock
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
1 1/2 lbs. leftover turkey breast, shredded or chopped
4 tbs. flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1/2 cup green onions, chopped
In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, combine the oil and flour. Stir slowly and constantly to combine. Cook, stirring frequently, for 15 minutes until a dark roux forms (think the color of a light chocolate – be patient… it’s worth it). Cook longer if color is not achieved. (It’s okay if the mixture seems liquidy; once you add the veggies, it will thicken quickly.)
Add the onions, celery, and bell peppers. Cook and stir often until vegetables are softened (about 5 minutes). Add the sausage and bay leaves. Stir to combine and cook 3 minutes. Add the stock; whisking until roux has dissolved. Add salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste (remember the sausage has a lot of sodium already). Using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pot to get up all of the fond (yummy brown stuff). This is where all the flavor is.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon for 1 hour.
Add the turkey breast; stir to combine. Simmer for an additional 2 hours, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon. Skim off any fat that rises to the surface. Remove bay leaves and remove from heat.
Just before serving, add the parsley and green onions. Serve over rice with crusty bread and hot sauce.
The gumbo (minus fresh herbs and rice) keeps very well in the freezer. Allow to cool, then pour into plastic soup containers and freeze up to six months. Keep in mind that the longer it’s in the freezer, the spicier it will get.

So, it’s winter. And in some parts of the world, it’s actually cold. Here in Texas, we’re flirting with 60 most days, and our poor plants are so confused because of it. (Sorry to Mom’s tulips!)

But – this chili is the perfect cure for the “I don’t know what temperature it really is” blues. It’s got just enough heat to warm you up and some serious protein to keep you full for a while.

It’s so perfect when paired with THE Cornbread.

The best two things about this recipe are:
#1: it’s super easy to make
#2: it freezes very, very well so you can make it now and eat it later

Poblano and Jalapeño Chili

Poblano and Jalapeño Chili
1½ pounds 85/15 ground beef
2 jalapeño peppers, diced (leave the seeds and membranes of 1/2 of one pepper)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 poblano chile, chopped (seeds and membranes removed)
8 garlic cloves, minced
1 12-ounce Mexican beer (such as Corona)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
1 25-oz. jar marinara sauce
1 cup fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
2 (15-ounce) cans no-salt-added white kidney (cannellini) beans, rinsed and drained
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained
Garnish – sour cream, cilantro, cheddar
Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add beef; cook 10 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Remove beef from pan with a slotted spoon, leaving browned bits and fat in pan.
Toss in jalapeños, onion, and poblano; sauté 10 minutes or until onion is tender. Add garlic; sauté one minute or until fragrant. Add beer; scrape pan to loosen browned bits. Cook 12 minutes or until half of liquid evaporates. Add chili powder, cumin, and salt; cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Stir in beef, marinara, broth, beans, and tomatoes; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, slightly covered, for 30 minutes or until slightly thickened.
Garnish with sour cream, cilantro, and/or cheddar.