Italian Sausage and Peppers

My friend Megan and I went undergrad and were in the band at Southwest Texas State University together. Through our sisterhood in Tau Beta Sigma, we got to know each other quite well and are still friends to this day. There was one winter that was particularly cold and we spent a bunch of time at Megan’s apartment. One day, she decided to make Italian sausage and peppers and I’ll never forget how much I loved it. This recipe isn’t exactly what she made that day but I make it as an homage to our friendship.

Italian Sausage and Peppers

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1 package of Italian Sausage (I’ve used both mild & hot before but today, I used mild), 4 or 5 links come to a package.
  • 4 bell peppers – 2 green, 2 red, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced and quartered
  • mushrooms, quartered
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • salt
  • 1 Tbs dried oregano
  • 1 Tbs dried basil
  • olive oil
  • pasta sauce
  • pasta
  • parmesan or similar cheese

I start by mincing the garlic and slicing the onions and sweating down in some olive oil and salt. I add the oregano and basil and cover.

Next, I slice and halve the bell peppers (after seeding). They go in the pot as well to sweat down. Stir regularly.

In a separate pan, I brown the sausage on two sides. Just let them sit in the pan for a while then turn and do the same to the other side. They won’t brown nearly as well if you’re moving them around the pan.

  

I then quarter the mushrooms and add them to the pot.

Once the sausage is browned on both sides, pull them to rest then cut them into 1 1/2″ pieces. I use a touch of the sauce or sometimes red wine to deglaze the pan.

So in the ingredients, I list “pasta sauce”. Often, I make it from scratch but because I’m in grad school, always have a ton of homework and little time to cook, I used store bought sauce today. I won’t name brands but my favorite is one that donates all its proceeds to charity in roasted garlic flavor. Let simmer about 15-25 minutes.

Cook the pasta of your choice (I like capellini) to the doneness of your choice and serve. Shave some cheese on top.

Enjoy!

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Easy Chicken Pot Pie

I try to decide my weekend cooking project sometime the week before, actually, something during the week tends to inspire me, but this week was tough with a Thursday game and TONS of study for my midterm next week. So, I polled Facebook and the first suggestion was chicken pot pie. It wasn’t quite this recipe but it also included rotisserie chicken and as much as I like that, this is my recipe for easy chicken pot pie.

Easy Chicken Pot Pie

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs Boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Poultry seasoning
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 package Frozen Mixed Veggies
  • 1 can Cream of Chicken soup
  • Water
  • 1/2 package of Frozen Puff Pastry

Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces.

Sauté in your pot with the poultry seasoning, salt & pepper and minced garlic until chicken is cooked through.

I even like to make the outside a little browned. Stir in frozen veggies, cream of chicken soup and water to cover all the ingredients (or even a little more).

Let simmer for about an hour and a half.

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Cut puff pastry into thirds (fold lines) then those into halves. Bake for 15-18 minutes at 400 degrees until they puff up and are golden brown.

Fill bowl with soup and top with a puff pastry rectangle. Enjoy!

Red Beans & Rice

A while back, I decided I was going to make red beans and rice today. I scoured the interwebs to find just the right recipe and nothing quite looked right. So, I asked Carol R., who works in the UH Band office and is from Louisiana and this is the recipe she gave me. Enjoy!
~C

Ms. Carol's Crock Pot Red Beans and Rice

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • garlic to taste (I used 5 large cloves)
  • 1 Cup celery, sliced
  • 1 bag small red beans
  • 4 Cups chicken broth
  • 3 Cups water
  • 1 package (~14 oz) Andouille sausage (look at where it’s made – it needs to be in Louisiana or Beaumont, Tx)
  • Salt, Pepper, Cajun seasonings to taste

Dice and slice the veggies.

Sauté the onion, bell pepper and garlic, adding a little salt, pepper and cajun seasoning. I tend to not sauté celery unless a recipe calls for that flavor.

Cut sausage into thin slices.

Add all ingredients into crock pot. Let cook on high for 7 hours.

Cook rice to package directions.

Pour beans into bowl with a spoonful of rice on top. Many folks also eat with cornbread but I’m not a fan of cornbread in general (I know, *gasp*). Regardless of how you eat it – Enjoy!
~C 

You might have noticed the name (not URL) of this blog has changed. That’s because I’ve decided to start a new business called The Big Benford Show. Like an old fashioned variety show, it encompasses a few things that can relate to each other but aren’t exclusive of each other. The main portion (for now) is photography with a specialization in marching bands but it also includes organizing musicians for hire as well as officiating weddings.

Because it’s a variety show that I’m “hosting”, I can offer other services such as program administration, educational consulting and student leadership training. I’m promoting my renaissance woman-ness, I guess. 🙂 I’m really excited about the possibilities and opportunities this could create.

Help me celebrate the beginnings of this new business by visiting my website, liking my Facebook page and following me on Twitter.

Love you, mean it!
~C

Back to the ATX

Yes, I’ve moved back to Austin. It was both an easy and difficult decision to make but it had to be made. I loved the kids I worked with and we were making progress towards high quality music making. Leaving them was the hard decision I had to make.

My parents are older, some may say elderly. Both our parents have had some health issues in the recent years, mostly minor things, but watching and hearing about these little things add up from 8 hours away has been one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do in my adult life. Moving back to be near them was the easy decision.

So, with a leap of faith that the right opportunities would come along at the right time for the right reasons, I quit my job at Tascosa and moved back to Austin. Not only am I now closer to my parents, I’m living in their house! 😮 It’s been nice, actually. Already, I’ve had wonderful chats with them about random things and helped them start getting organized and rid of stuff that’s been lingering around the house, in boxes after their fire incident a few years ago. I think in the first week back, I went through almost 25 book sized boxes of random papers and stuff they didn’t need anymore.

I figured I’d either find a teaching job or make connections to teach private lessons, masterclasses and clinics while at Summer Convention. Two days before I left for San Antonio, I got an email from a friend and mentor asking if I might be interested in a job at a charter school. It’s only part time but they’re looking for someone enthusiastic, energetic and ready to build a program. “Like you” were the words in the email. “Sounds great”, I emailed back. That same afternoon, I got a call from the principal and I almost feel like I was hired before we ended our call setting up my interview for the next morning. “Oh, by the way, we start school next Monday. Can you start right away?” was how we ended our call. So there ya go – if you’re patient, the right thing comes along at the right time.

I’m now teaching 6th-12th grade band and orchestra and the entire program is just over 100 kids. My orchestra class (6th-12th grade in one class) doesn’t really fit in the classroom I’m assigned but we’ll make it work. I think right now, we’re all just happy that we get to work together. I’m also working at the desk at The Yoga Room in Round Rock as well as working on some video editing, photography and web editing projects for them. They’re a wonderful yoga studio and just sitting at the desk during classes is a calming and relaxing environment. Once I get my schedule settled, I’ll be coming up to get back into my yoga practice here. I’ll also be helping a friend with office administration stuff for his business. Ya know, back of my hand stuff. I guess I don’t know how to just work part time….

As quickly as the school is growing (it’s in its third year of existence), I’m sure we’ll be moving to a building that’s purposed for a secondary school and my position will become full time before I know it. It’s exciting to be a part of new growth. It’s also a little frustrating because we have very little equipment but the administration is extremely supportive, nothing like I’ve experienced before, so I know that won’t hinder our success. The families are also understanding and willing to do whatever it takes to make the school and its programs successful for their kids. Again, like nothing I’ve ever experienced before from an entire campus view. An example of extreme support – the school asked for donations of community supplies such as paper (both copy and lined), tissues, cleaning wipes, pencils, etc. for our campus. From around 400 student families, they almost filled a classroom, both on the floor and on folding tables, with their donations. Then asked what else we needed. It’s like having a school full of the best band boosters you could ask for!

Me: “Kids, you need to rent your own instruments because we don’t really have a working inventory here.”
Them: “Okay, can I get mine this weekend?”
Me: “Um, not yet, we’re doing instrument testing on Monday so you don’t know what you need to get yet.”
Them: “Oh yeah. Monday night then?”

They’re all willing to get on the same page so they’re eating up counting basic rhythms (Count-Tap-Clap) and Masters of the Alphabet. I’m cramming string pedagogy as fast as I can absorb it and local music stores are more than willing to help however they can. I also had a friend at Yamaha walk with me at convention so he could introduce me to his friends to collect donations of items. I have a lot of Thank You emails to send out still. It’s going to be another wonderful year!

So, you want to be a music performance major?

I’ve had a few students who have recently come to me, wanting to be music performance majors when they get to college. Students I’ve talked to about becoming a music major have all been interested in one day becoming a band director so this was a bit of a new thought process. The most recent student is mid-way through sophomore year so I feel like it’s critical to get everything on the right track now. So, here are some things I’ve come up with. If I’ve left anything out, please add in the comments.

  • Start private lessons with a college professor.
  • Skype lessons with as many professional musicians as I can connect with them.
  • Summer programs like Tanglewood or Interlochen.
  • Find as many performance gigs as possible.
  • Figure out where professional performers went to school and look into the current procedures of auditioning at those locations.

What else?

Thanks for any input in advance.

Finding Balance

Recently, I was part of a nice “conversation” on Facebook about New Years Resolutions. I haven’t set any New Years resolutions for quite a few years now – I realized a while back that when I try to make resolutions because of a special occasion, they weren’t authentic resolutions so I didn’t stick to them. Don’t get me wrong, I still set personal goals as I need them, I just don’t feel the need to set any JUST because it’s a New Year.

Anywho, my friend mentioned he was looking to find more balance in his life this year. What a wonderful resolution! It got me to thinking about my own life and the balance that exists (or not) within. How does one find balance? Before a person can start finding balance, maybe a few questions must be asked.

  • What does one try to find balance between?
  • What’s weighing one down?
  • What in one’s life is unimportant and can be discarded or released?
  • What’s missing in one’s life?

I’m sure there are quite a few more questions that can be asked but they’re probably more personal to each person trying to find that balance. What are some ways you’ve found balance in your life? Or, if you’re willing to share, what are some of the answers to the questions above for you? What other questions could we ask in finding balance?

I think it is very important that we all try to keep balance in our lives. Of course, “balance” means something different to each and every person so the process will look different for every person. I’d love to hear what you’d like to share about it!

Love you, mean it!
~C