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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cheddar-Ale Soup

I don't care too much for beer.  But I do love to cook with it.

I found this recipe in an ad from Williams-Sonoma a few weeks ago.  And then I got an immersion blender for Christmas (trust me, I was extremely excited), and I knew my dream of eating this soup would come true.

You don't have to have an immersion blender.  I have let many a soup cool a bit, and then blended it in batches in the regular blender.  There's a fear of burning with the regular blender that I don't have with the immersion blender.

Celery, carrots and onion waiting to go into the soup pot.

Cheddar-Ale Soup
adapted from Williams-Sonoma

4 slices of thick-sliced bacon
2 tbsp. butter
1/2 large onion, diced (because Hub is an onion-hater; if you are normal, you could use a whole onion)
3 carrots, peeled & diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced (I only had one clove, so I also added some garlic powder)
1/3 c. flour
1 c. pale ale (I used Boddington's because Hub has to drink the leftovers; it's the milkshake of beers)
1 tbsp. worcestershire
2 c. milk
2 c. chicken broth
1 1/4 lb. sharp cheddar, shredded
salt & pepper to taste

W-S also suggested toasted croutons and olive oil for garnish.  I did neither.

In 4-5 quart pot, fry bacon until crisp.  Drain on paper towels.  Throw out all but 2 tbsp. of the bacon fat.  Over medium heat, add butter and melt.  Add onion, carrots and celery; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until veggies are softened (about 20 minutes).  Add garlic and cook 1 minute.  Add flour and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes.  Add the ale and cook, stirring constantly and scraping up all the bits on the bottom of the pan, for 2-3 minutes.  Add worcestershire, milk and broth.  Increase heat to medium-high and simmer.  Do not boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 10-12 minutes.  Remove pot from heat and blend with immersion blender (or regular blender--please let it cool a bit first!) until smooth.
Over medium-low heat, add cheese by the handful, stirring constantly.  Do not boil!  Season with salt and pepper.  Ladle the soup into bowls and top with crumbled bacon.

Soup, pre-blend.

Giant pile of cheese.

Finished soup.  Get in my belly!

Williams-Sonoma says this makes 6 servings.  We had it for lunch, and I would say it's more like 8 servings.  Well, unless everyone likes it as much as Hub and I did...  The Flour-Children mostly rejected this.  I think they don't like the beer taste.  Funny liked it, but she loves every soup I have ever given to her.  Silly also found it tolerable.  The boys...well, you'd think I'd given them something horrid.  Fools.  I cannot even begin to tell you how delicious this soup was.  I will definitely make it again, and just let those punky kids eat something else.  I hate to waste perfectly tasty soup on whiners.

That sounds a little harsh.  But I know all you parents out there know where I am coming from.

Beer + bacon + a mountain of cheese = LOVE.

Need more soup recipes?  Check out Finding Joy in My Kitchen.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I bake two different cookies that make people swoon: ginger cookies and chocolate chip cookies.  I didn't even make up this recipe for chocolate chips cookies, but everyone I know that tries them LOVES them.  I think it's because there isn't any vanilla in them, which frees you up to really taste the delicious combination of chocolate, butter and salt.

Try not to eat all the raw cookie dough.

Thanks again to one of my two favorite cookbooks, Betty Crocker's New Cookbook (the other being Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, 15th Edition (Better Homes & Gardens Plaid)), for the making and baking of basic foods.  If you are new to, or afraid of, cooking, I highly recommend either of these books.  They are like the blankie of cookery.

Many cookies were harmed during the photography process.
I had to eat this one.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Betty Crocker's New Cookbook

3/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
1 c. butter, softened
1 egg
2 1/2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 package (12 oz) chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli Bittersweet)

Mix sugars, butter and egg.  Stir in flour, soda and salt.  The dough will be stiff.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Drop by rounded teaspoons (I use a cookie scoop) about 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake 8-10 minutes at 375 until light brown.  Cool slightly and remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Do me, and everyone you love, a huge favor and DO NOT USE MARGARINE.  I am begging you.  And, I think today is the day you should splurge for a better quality chocolate, while you're at it.  You will taste the difference.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fall into Reading Wrap Up

Well, I did a so-so job at meeting my goals.  I really have a problem with distraction.  I am really good at setting a book aside and reading an entire other book.  I read Immanuel's Veins and Muppet Robin Hood (Muppet Graphic Novels), which were not on my list.  Oh, and Jane Austen Ruined My Life and Mr. Darcy Broke My Heart: A Novel (Modern Contemporary Fiction Po).  I started, but haven't yet completed, Jane Austen's Persuasion.  I feel like there might've been others, but they escape me at present.

I really suffer from book ADD.

See my comments after each title, below.

Visit the wrap up post on Callapidder Days here.

I'm participating in Callapidder Day's Fall into Reading challenge.  Some of these are books I need to finish, and others are books I want to read.

I started this book about two weeks ago, and just need to finish it up.  I love that he is helping to remind me why I want to remain faithful to the call to homeschool.
I really liked this book.  I could definitely see why some people wouldn't like it.  I don't think it would change my mind if I wasn't already committed to homeschooling.  But I did like it; it worked for me.

This book describes ways that parents (whether homeschoolers, public or private schoolers) can help their children become leaders.
This book is full of great ideas, and offers a different way of looking at what constitutes a quality education.  It also includes a few book lists, which I always like, and some tips for leading book discussions.  One thing I took away from this was that I need to be reading more challenging books and exercising my brain.  Darn.  I started Persuasion because I read this book.  If I finish it and then find someone to discuss it with me, I will be so proud of myself.

This is a very short book.  No excuses for not getting this one done!
Pretty funny that I wrote I had no excuse for not getting this done, as I didn't finish it!  I lost it for quite some time.  I will finish it, and I find a lot of what Wesley says to be helpful.  There are some good nuggets of wisdom in here.

This is a fictional story of 3 sisters during WWII.  I am really enjoying this series.
Hey, I finished this book!  When I started this series, I hoped it would be free of the typical traps of Christian romance (ie, someone has to become Christian for the plot to resolve).  Yeah, that didn't work out.  I enjoyed it anyway and it helped me remember how much I love Russia.

Really, I am going to finish the whole series.
Yep, see above.

I've read it before.  We're studying it in Sunday school.  It kind of makes my head want to explode.
I quit Sunday school.  Man, I'm lame.

Okay, I am going to just stop there.  I think this is a manageable list.  Yay for books!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ginger cookies

This is my favorite Christmas cookie, for a couple reasons.  I only make them at Christmas.  I only make one batch.  And if Christmas had a taste (besides pine, I guess), then this would be it.

I find that this recipe is just perfect.  I might add a little more cloves than they call for, but that's because I am all about the cloves.  They are definitely ginger-y and molasses-y.  And yumm-y.

Giant Ginger Cookies
from Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook

4 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
4 tsp. ground ginger
2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. shortening (I know, I know, it's not butter.  Shhh.)
2 c. sugar
2 eggs
1/2 c. molasses
sugar to roll the cookies in (1/2-3/4 c.)

In bowl, combine flour, ginger, soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt.  Set aside.  In mixer, beat shortening for 30 second.  Add 2 c. sugar; beat until combined.  Beat in eggs and molasses until combined.  Beat in flour mixture.  Shape dough into 2 inch balls (they are called "giant" cookies, after all!) and roll in sugar.  Place 2-2 1/2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet.  Bake at 350 for 11-13 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned and tops are puffed.  They will look undone, but they are done.  Don't overbake them!  Cool on cookie sheet 2 minutes, then transfer to rack to cool completely.  Log onto this blog and thank me.

I've tried these with butter instead of shortening.  Yes, switch to butter, because they are FABULOUS with the butter.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Traditions

Christmas is nearly upon us.  Hooray!

I had a little meltdown this weekend over the stress of the Christmas season.  I hate when that happens to me.  I fully admit that I am super good at being self-centered, and I took my eyes off the real point of Christmas.

What was that again?

Presents?  Cookies?  Trees?

Well, anyway.  I certainly hope you know why you are Christmas-ing, and I also hope you are smarter than I am, and finding joy in each moment.

I had a little moment of clarity, post-meltdown, where I just stopped and looked around.  Some of the kids were watching Barbie's Nutcracker.  Funny was setting out her 900 gifts that she has been crafting.  Hub was playing with the train set, trying to get things to work.  I was sipping a cup of super tasty hot chocolate.  And I was just....


I wanted desperately to cling onto that, but it was gone so quickly.  *sigh*

Until that great day comes, when I am completely consumed by praise for our amazing God, I have to keep looking for these little blessings.  It is so easy to lose them amongst sales, wrapping, and untangling lights.

And so, I want to share some of our Christmas traditions, because there is something so comforting about them.  Obviously, Christmas is a celebration of the birth of our savior, and I think tradition is a nice way to express that hope that comes with Christ.

We always take a night to go look at the tackiest light displays we can find.  There are few great ones around here, but by far the greatest is in Granby in Norfolk, VA.  I miss those crazy people.  When my parents lived in Virginia Beach, we would drive to see the lights.  It was just a few people, and they decorated their whole cul-de-sac.  We'd also head over to the Navy base and check out the ships all decked out with their lights.  This is something I did with my parents, and now Hub and I do it with our kids (well, minus the ships).

I always baked cookies with my mom and sister and then decorated them.  We have continued that tradition as well.  We always spend Christmas eve with Hub's parents.  He always spent Christmas eve with his paternal grandparents growing up.  The kids don't get to open anything besides their stockings until after breakfast on Christmas.  That is thanks to my dad's parents, and he passed it along to us.

I love how tradition helps me feel connected to all those who have come before me, and connects me to those who are yet to come.  I pray that I remember that during this month, and that I don't get caught up in the "have tos" and "should haves."  Just being is enough.

It doesn't have to be fancy.  After all, Mary and Joseph didn't have to have a 6 foot pre-lit tree with 50 presents under it, right?

What are some of your traditions?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Weeks in Review -- who knows!?

I have really been slacking here lately.  I don't know if Thanksgiving threw me off, or what.  I might be the only person who loves Mondays because it's a new start and a new attempt at being organized-ish and productive.

This is definitely going to be short, because I barely know what we've been doing, besides eating copious amounts of sweets and watching Christmas movies.

We did 1/3 of the Thanksgiving lap book from Journey Through Learning.  We couldn't seem to finish it before Thanksgiving, and rather than freak over getting it done, I put it away in my "Thanksgiving" file folder (yes, I have one) for next year.  Maybe we'll finish it next year.  Maybe not.  If they would just know that the Pilgrims weren't giving thanks to the American Indians, then I'll be happy.

We've been reading a bunch of books.  Some of our books were:  Twister on Tuesday (Magic Tree House, No. 23)The Hallelujah Flight, and Rain School.  Funny and Goofy have been reading all kinds of books this week.  It's so wonderful to see them wanting to read.  I'm still working on instilling that love of reading in Scrappy.  I just have to find the right book.

I hope next week to have a real post about our week!

Until then, read about how others are homeschooling at Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I probably should take my own advice

I have a terrible habit of turning to my friends for advice.  I'm not saying that it's bad to ask for advice.  Or that it's bad to ask your friends for help.  I do think these things are important.  My problem is I go to them before I go to God.  That is a bad habit to be in.

I have to think out loud.  I'm an "outward processor."  Hence, this trusty blog that helps me figure things out.  That's a big part of why I talk through things with others.  But I realized, I was never talking about these things with God.  I've been whining all week to everyone about how long my to-do list is (why I am psycho over the list is another post!) and how I can't get anything accomplished.  I'm recovering from a cold.  The house is extra messy.  I'm tired.  Blah blah blah blah complain complain blah blah.

Then it hit me this morning.

Why don't I stop and pray about all this craziness?

Well, duh.

And so I did.  I specifically prayed for strength and self-discipline in accomplishing my tasks for the day.  And then I went a step further, and prayed that I would accomplish what God wanted me to accomplish.  (Scary!)

I definitely kept procrastinating.  I am really lacking in the self-discipline department.  But even amongst my Facebooking and wandering in circles, I managed to cross a number of things off the list.


And even better, I made a delicious, healthy dinner for my family.  I talked to two of my closest friends on the phone (while doing items on the list).  I watched two beautiful girls show me their Christmas dances.  I laughed hysterically with my husband.

I am so thankful that I had my perspective adjusted today.  I still want to accomplish my list.  I just do.  I have issues, okay?  But I am trying.  The dishes were still dirty 10 minutes after dinner, after my custom dance show.  No one combusted.  Rats didn't come to my kitchen.  And I didn't have a panic attack.

You know what's nice about God?  He loves me even though I am a work in progress, and He's always helping me grow into who I am meant to be.