Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Soupy Science...Homemade Creamy Tomato Bisque

We shook things up a little at Jones Family Christian Academy yesterday. Jewell and one of her friends are working through the same Apologia General Science course together and have studied together in the past. The current chapter is about "Simple Machines" and is a little shorter than the others, so my friend, Sena, suggested that we get the girls together for the day and just knock it out. The girls were excited about the prospect of studying science ALL day! Wait, who am I kidding? They were just excited to spend the day together!

All this was decided about 7:45 yesterday morning with plans for them to arrive about 10:00. I ran around and cleaned bathrooms, dusted and swept like a wild woman! Nothing like a last minute plan for having guests to get the place clean! I think I did a week's worth of cleaning in about an hour! But it's all good! I'm done for the week and it's only Tuesday.

Yesterday was rainy and a little dreary, although we were glad to get the rain and are praying for more today! I thought soup would be the perfect thing for lunch, so I pulled out a few staples and got to making "Creamy Homemade Tomato Soup".

I first had this soup at a book club hosted by my friend, Melissa Lester. She served it with the most decadent grilled cheese sandwiches. It was divine! I have made it dozens of times since then. It is such a simple recipe, made from things you probably have on hand. I threw together some party pizzas and even pulled out my Friendly Village plates. It just felt like that kind of day! 

I had to modify the recipe a touch, but it still turned out delicious. I am giving you the original recipe, but don't hesitate to make it if you don't have the canned Italian-style tomatoes.

Creamy Tomato Soup with Sourdough Croutons

3 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cup chopped onion
2 (14 1/2 oz) cans diced tomatoes with Italian herbs
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups whipping cream
1 small can tomato paste
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp pepper
sourdough croutons
fresh thyme leaves

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute 3 to 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in diced tomatoes and chicken broth. Transfer half of mixture to container of an electric blender and process until smooth, stopping once to scrape down sides. Place in a bowl. Repeat for remaining half, then return all of pureed mixture to the saucepan. Add whipping cream, tomato paste, sugar and pepper. Stir well with a wire whisk. Cook over medium hear, stirring occasionally, until thoroughly heated. Ladle into soup bowls. Sprinkle with croutons and garnish with fresh thyme if desired.

My revised version - Here's what I had on hand...

I didn't have the cans of Italian herb style tomatoes, but I always have a can of crushed tomatoes on hand. BTW - I love this Cento brand of tomatoes. They're a little more expensive, but they are so fresh tasting, and the color is such a vibrant red. I use them for everything from spaghetti sauce to chili.

I sauteed my onion, and at the last minute, added about three cloves of finely chopped garlic.

Next, I added my tomato paste and dried herbs.
I added a small palm full of basil (maybe a tablespoon)
and a large palm full of oregano (1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons).

Yes, this is different from the original recipe, but I like to cook my dried spices a little instead of just dumping them in. I think it really brightens the flavor by letting them bloom. I also cook the tomato paste for a few minutes. It deepens the flavor and color and adds to the sweetness.

Next I added my canned tomatoes and chicken broth. The recipe calls for two cups of broth and the can is 14.4 oz. Close enough for government work. Then, instead of transferring it to a blender, I used my stick blender. The doorbell rang about this point, and I forgot to take a picture of the process. Sorry! But if you don't have a stick blender, get one! They're cheap and so easy. The trick is to keep the bottom of the stick flat against your pan. Don't lift it while it's running or you'll have tomato soup everywhere!

At this point, I let it simmer for a while.
Yesterday, it went for about an hour on low.
I stirred it occasionally, but it doesn't stick.

About 15 minutes before serving, I turned off the heat and added the heavy cream. OK - I didn't have any heavy cream, but I always have half and half, and usually substitute that anyway. Another confession. I didn't take out the recipe while making this, so I just added 1 cup of half and half when it actually called for two cups. Oh well. Just saved me a few calories, although even though it was really good, two cups would have been better!

I stirred in the half and half with a whisk and returned the lid to the pot. I didn't turn the heat back on but let the heat of the soup warm the half and half. Works perfectly every time and you don't have to worry about the cream separating in the heat.

While I was working on lunch, I also worked with Brack on his schoolwork and played with sweet little Nora. She loves to love on Possum Kitty. So far, he has been very patient!

Sena took responsibility for the big girls and worked with them on the chapter.

Who wouldn't want to "do science" on the couch while soup simmers in the kitchen?

The girls are performing an experiment to learn how a lever and fulcrum works.

We had a great time yesterday! It was nice to take a break from our regular schedule and have company, especially on such a dreary day. We also shaved several days off our calendar for science. Also a good thing!

I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

I HEART...Sausage and Kale Soup

Everybody loves Wednesday, right?
The week's half over.  The weekend is on the way.
What's not to love?
Each Wednesday, I want to share something with you
that I absolutely love and can't live without!

Guess what? It's FALL, y'all! OK - I know that it will probably reach 95 degrees around here at least once or twice more, but it is officially fall. Yesterday's high was 77, thanks to an overcast sky. Hey...I'll take it however I can get it.

The kids are in taekwondo or dance three to four nights a week, and often, we find ourselves sitting down for supper about 8:30...sometimes later! So I have really been working on collecting some recipes that can either be made at the last minute, or can be prepared ahead and stand up to sitting in a crock pot or on the stove top.

When I think fall, I think soup. I like soup year round, but I love it during the cooler months. I can already think of several soup recipes that I plan to use for these later (and therefore lighter) meals. 

We discovered sausage and kale soup several years ago at Olive Garden, but they call it Zuppa Toscana. I found the copycat recipe years ago and my family loves it...even the kids! I have tweaked it a little over time, but it's basically the same as theirs. I made it last week, but tried something new - I made it in the crock pot! It worked well, and I'm probably going to continue to do it this way.

Sausage and Kale Soup

One pound Jimmy Dean regular ground sausage
Two medium russet potatoes, scrubbed with skin left on, and then diced
One large bunch or half a bag of kale, washed
Three cans low-sodium chicken broth
Red pepper flakes, to taste
One cup half and half

Dice potatoes and have them ready. This potato was a little weird shaped, so I took off a little more skin while trying to square it up for pretty dicing. But usually, I just scrub them and dice them.

In a large dutch oven, brown the sausage, breaking it up as you go. (However, I don't like it completely crumbled...I like a few bigger chunks.) 

Remove sausage but leave drippings in the bottom.

Add chicken broth and potatoes. bring to a boil and reduce. Allow the potatoes to cook about 10-15 minutes until softened, but not mushy.

A word about kale - when I started making this over 10 years ago, the only place to find kale was Fresh Market. Then I started seeing it at Publix, but only in the fall. Now, I can find it at the Tallassee Wal-Mart year round! Be sure to read your bag. Often, these bagged greens come pre-washed, but this time they didn't. I usually rinse them well no matter what.

As you rinse it, pull out any large, stemy pieces, like this one.

Add kale and red pepper flakes to taste. Cover and cook on low about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in half and half. Serve with breadsticks.

I've always thought this was better the day after, when it had time for flavors to really marry together. So, this last time, after I browned the sausage, I put everything (except the half and half) into the crock pot and cooked it on low for four hours. It was perfect! The kale held some of it's texture and the potatoes were just right. Plus, it tasted richer because it had sat together for those hours while cooking.

One more thing - I have also made it with turkey sausage. My family didn't like it quite as much because they were used to having it with pork sausage. But if you start your fam on turkey, they'll never know! Tip - if you use turkey, add about one teaspoon of EVOO to the pan and get it screaming hot before adding the turkey. Try to get some color on the turkey and crisp it up a little. Texture makes all the difference!

Give this a try. My whole family eats this one! I'll bet yours likes it, too.

I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Peace, Love, and Miss Manners!

Around here, September brings college football, changing leaves and a new season of Miss Manners! Several of our girls "graduated" or aged out of the program after the Very Merry Un-Birthday Party back in July. It's sad to lose some of our girls, especially since they have been in the program since the beginning, but in order to make room for more, we have to say goodbye to others.

Nancy hosted the first party of the season. She invited the older group (Miss Manners 4th - 6th grades) to her home for a fun 60's-themed party. As I've mentioned before, Jewell and my niece, Mary Reagan, are staying on as mentors. One of the perks of having Miss Manners in the family! Well, Jewell and I were really excited when we received our invitation in the mail. It was colorful and fun, and we knew Nancy would deliver on this theme.

The invitation came bundled as you can see above.
You can see the individual components below.

Early on, we talked to the girls about always dressing appropriately for a party.
Nancy included an extra card with directions on what they should wear.

The girls loved the chance to dress up! After all, what little girl doesn't?

When we arrived,
we were greeted with music as we walked through the door.

Nancy still has all her 45's from when she was a kid!
She borrowed a turntable from the education lab at Faulkner, and she was ready to rock!

There was lots of Beatles and Elvis, as well as others.
Nancy and I kept the music going throughout the party.

As usual, the decorations were colorful and spot on!

Coke, Root Beer and Orange Crush in bottles were iced down for our refreshment.
Cute little paper flowers were discretely taped to drinking straws for a fun accent.
She also fearlessly added words and flowers to her walls to add to the groovy atmosphere!

An old-fashioned rotary dial phone was a popular conversation piece.

 The girls even got a quick history lesson on what life was like with a party line!

I always like to show you how the chalkboard in the dining room is decorated. This was actually left over from a music-themed birthday party she had hosted recently for a friend, but this James Taylor song was not too far off from the 60's and served as a great backdrop for our theme. Nancy's daughter, Haley, decorates her board for her. I'm thinking about putting one up in my dining room, but only if Haley promises to keep mine looking just as good as Nancy's!

Meet Jeeves. Usually this little guy holds a guest book in the dining room, as you enter, but for this party, he got the full treatment as well! Better not stand still too long at Nancy's house. You'll get embellished!

Three arrangements of bright blooms dotted the center of the table. Their vases were unusual and were filled with shreds of pretty pastel paper. Fresh or not? I'll let you decide. But I tell you this, it's hard to tell! The pretty cloth underneath is new, made just for this party. Nancy found the fabric on the clearance table for about $4 a yard. She needed two yards. When they rang it up, it came to a whopping $1.33! I love it when that happens!

Colorful square paper plates served as chargers underneath her clear glass luncheon plates. Bright bandannas doubled as napkins (and later headbands!). Each girl also took home a peace sign and a favor bag above which contained vintage candies. (The candy wasn't old, but the brands were. Each of them was available in the 1960's!)

As you can imagine, the girls loved the candy! It was mostly gone before they even left the party!

For lunch, we dined on pigs-in-a-blanket, chips and dip and fruit kabobs. Iced sugar cookies wearing a smiley face made the perfect dessert!

I shared with you the dining room decorations and told you about all the yummy food we had, but we actually began the party by working on our craft, and you'll soon see why. Nancy set up for crafting at her kitchen table. She covered it with craft paper and had everything ready when the girls arrived. 

Each Miss Manners party consists of refreshments, a lesson and a craft. In true 60's fashion, we decoupaged! Our theme was "friendship" and we used Proverbs 17:17 - "A friend loves at all times...".

Nancy explained the process to the girls before turning them loose. She had lots of color and paper options for them to choose from, so each girl's project was different.

The girls loved being able to customize their projects.

Even though they began with the same materials, the projects all ended up looking very different!

While everyone used the same Bible verse and flowers, they could choose from birds or bicycles to complete their projects. I thought this was such a cute way to display the dainty bicycle paper cutouts.

While their projects dried, we had our lesson. I talked about "fads vs. classics", and encouraged them to develop "classic" friendships that never go out of style, like mine and Nancy's, which has been around for over 30 years!

After our lesson, we had lunch. The girls chatted away while the music played!

We did the twist...
and Haley even taught them to hand jive!

Old friends had fun...

and new friends were made!

Haley and Nancy...
Like (groovy) mother, like (groovy) daughter!

After the Mod Podge had dried, we glued twine on the top back for hangers and embellished with some pretty burlap ribbon and a tiny wooden peace sign. The girls all loved the party. One of my nieces said it was her "favorite Miss Nancy party EVER!". Well, there you have it!

I hope you enjoyed this quick trip back to the 1960's!

In a couple of weeks, I'll be hosting the younger girls at my house. It's gonna be a sweet party! You'll have to check back in to see why!

I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Chalk Painted Mason Jars

Last week I shared with you the decorations from a recent baby shower I helped to host. The theme was "What are little girls made of?". If you missed that post, you can catch up here. I'm tickled to say the decorations for the shower cost me $5.00 for a piece of lace-stamped burlap, and then my mother spent about $10.00 on fresh white mums and baby's breath. I also spent $3.00 on a bottle of paint, but I ended up with three blue jars for flower vases. Not bad, huh? 

Mason jars and burlap helped add to the Southern feel of the shower. I pulled three jars from my stash and used a little paint to make these. It was really simple and I like them a lot. Today I'll show you how to make them.

All it takes is three things - clean mason jars, nail polish remover and glass paint.

OK - I have to admit that what I bought is not what I intended to buy. Not sure why I didn't see that this is actually a CHALK FINISH. I guess I was looking so closely for the words "glass paint", that I somehow missed the other part! There are other glass paints that actually make it look more like colored glass. That was what I was going for, but I'm actually very happy with the way it turned out.

I picked this up at Hobby Lobby and actually paid full price for it.
I was using my 40% off coupon for something else that day!

Begin by mixing equal parts paint and nail polish remover. I mixed it in a plastic cup with a straw so I could easily throw them both away. No cleanup! I used about a quarter of the bottle for each jar, and mixed them individually as I went. That way, I didn't waste any paint.

Pour the paint into clean Mason jars. Be sure that they have been wiped clean. Any dirt or fingerprints will catch the paint and show up.

Slowly turn the jar, swirling the paint up the sides of the jar toward the top.

When you get to the top, slowly pool the paint in the rim and turn slowly so it will coat without spilling. I should have poured my excess back into the plastic cup for reuse. I figured that out on my second jar!

I turned them upside down on a paper plate for about 15 minutes to drain and evenly coat the sides.

Then I carefully wiped the rim and set them right side up on a clean paper plate to dry.

The directions on the paint say to let them dry for four days before baking them. I made them on Friday and read the directions on Saturday. Oh well. I baked them Sunday morning and then let them cool while I got ready for church. They did fine!

When they are dry, place them in a cold oven and heat to 325. Bake for 20 minutes, and then turn off the oven and crack the door. Allow them to cool completely.

Here's one last look at them. They did great! Baking them sets the paint and it didn't come off when I put water in them. I used them for a few days at home until the flowers died, and then washed them and put them away for another day!

Such a simple and inexpensive craft! You could paint anything really...pickle jars, jelly jars or simple vases from the Dollar Tree! What will you paint?

I'm so glad you stopped by my neck of the woods!
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