Monday, January 22, 2018

BEST SOUP YET

For the last two weeks, we've been having bitter cold weather, and I was suffering from my post-Holiday-Hamilton Funk.

At some point, I decided to just hunker down and make soup....

AND I'VE BEEN GOING STIR-SOUP-CRAZY. Holy Cow...

I've made Chicken Tortilla soup, Italian Wedding Soup, Chicken Noodle soup, Chili, Sausage and cabbage soup, and yesterday -- a gigantic pot of French Onion Soup. Which was, quite possibly, the BEST SOUP YET...

Here's the thing...my brother-in-law (Dean, married to my sister Ronda) is an avid gardener. Every summer, he has a big truck garden.  Selling produce at the summer Farmer Markets is his retirement hobby. (one of his many)

The other day, Ronda and Dean invited us over for lunch (venison burgers)...and, as we were leaving, Dean gave us a huge bag of his onions...which have been carefully wrapped and stored since harvest -- but they are starting to sprout.

Given my current soupy state of mind -- the minute I got home, I started to peel and slice the onions...

French Onion Soup is never going to be the quickest soup to make...but, if you get it right, it really is a SPECTACULAR, elegant dish...

French Onion Soup

Peel and slice 12 onions (I'm not kidding -- it takes a LOT of onions). Put 2 tbl butter and 1 tbl. veg oil in a heavy pan...and start to saute the onions. After they get going, turn the heat down to medium low...and just let them cook...you will pay attention, and stir and turn the onions...until they cook down to 1/3 their original volume, and have turned a beautiful, sweet, caramelized golden brown...

Yes, that takes some time. But it's not HARD to do, y'know? You just have to stay in the kitchen area and pay attention...but cooking down the onions is the step that cannot be rushed. There is no shortcut to caramelized onions...and that's what gives the soup the deep sweet flavor...

But, now -- hey -- YOUR WORK IS DONE...

I had about two cups of caramelized onions...so I added 5 cups of beef stock (I used soup base), and let the soup simmer and get hot.

Meanwhile -- prepare your cheesy toppers!! I had some stale Italian bread in the freezer...so I sliced four thick slices, and buttered both sides of the bread. Then, I GRILLED the bread (you can use your iron skillet to do this)...I wanted a brown crust on both sides of the bread.

Here's the thing I JUST FIGURED OUT...

Heat the soup in it's pan, on top of the stove...
Put ONLY THE BREAD into the oven, topped with loads of shredded cheese (I used Gouda, Pepper Jack and Mozzarella)...broil until the cheese is melted and gooey...

THEN...to serve, you simply ladle the soup into the bowls, and float the cheesy toast on top!!

OH MY GOD...

Really?? Really, Rita? That's news to you? Heating the soup and the bread separately? That took you 30 years to figure out??

Yep. And that's the truth. Every other time I tried to make this dish, I put the soup into the bowls, then the bread on top, then the cheese -- and put the bowls on a cookie sheet, and stuck the whole pan into my oven...

WHAT A MESS...and before the cheese got melted, the bread was soggy...

Yep. I have figured this thing out...and it was SO DELICIOUS, I DIDN'T TAKE A SINGLE PICTURE..

John said it was the best French Onion Soup he ever ate!

This internet photo is pretty close...but my dish had WAY MORE CHEESE....


Saturday, January 20, 2018

Frozen Soup

When I'm making soup, I make a HUGE batch...and freeze some.

Frozen soup has been a lifesaver on many occasions...soup might hit the spot, or it can turn into chicken and dumplings...or chicken pot pie...

But freezing soup is tricky. For one thing, if you find a container big enough, you have to set it in the freezer so it's level -- otherwise the soup will leak and make a big mess.

I hate Tupperware, and Rubbermaid, and all those plastic containers that take up so much room in the cupboards, and they always get separated from their matching lids.

The other problem is that when you decide to eat your freezer soup, you must deal with a gigantic ice cube that doesn't fit into your pot, and isn't that easy to thaw....

Here's how I freeze soup:
Find a bowl that fits inside your soup pot.
Place a freezer bag into that bowl.
Label the bag -- then FREEZE. The soup will, of course, take on the shape of the bowl it's sitting in...
The next day, I remove the bowl (or, two weeks later...whenever I realize all my bowls are sitting in the freezer)...

To  reheat the frozen soup -- you just get the bag out of the freezer, place the whole thing it in the pot (with some hot water)...the bag will melt right off.  THEN, you just put the lid on your pot, turn the heat on low and let the ice-cube-that-will-be-soup melt down...
Sometimes, I freeze soup in individual bowls.
Same procedure...label...freeze in bowl...
At a later date -- just nuke it -- and YOU'VE GOT SOUP...!!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Italian Wedding Soup

In the winter -- I love to make soups. It just feels like home to me...I love the process, the warmth...the soup spoons...well, you get the idea. And EVERYBODY should have at least one soup they're really confident about making...

One of my "go to" soups is an Italian Wedding Soup. It starts like ALL MY SOUPS...I chop onions, celery and carrots... saute them...

Then add 10 c. of chicken stock (I usually use soup base).

My meatballs are very simple...

1/2 lb. hamburger
1/2 lb. hot sausage
1 small diced onion
1/2 c. instant rice

Drop the meatballs into the simmering soup. They poach in about 15 minutes...but, of course, if your soup is on low, or in a crockpot, they just get better and better.

The LAST thing you add to the soup before serving is a box of chopped frozen spinach. The spinach cooks in just 10 minutes -- and if you put it in sooner -- it disintegrates...

The meatballs are soft and yummy...


If I'm putting noodles, or in the case of this soup, a small Orzo pasta, I always cook it separately..and add it to the bowl as I'm serving it.

John also likes to add Parmesan cheese to this soup -- or a few drops of Tobasco -- and some crusty garlic bread is always a good idea...

And a REALLY SPECIAL MUG!!

THANKS, RHONDA!!
I LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT...It has become my favorite new thing...and it is almost big enough to be a soup mug!!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Soup, and the spoons we love...

I collect many things. One of my FAVORITE THINGS is soup spoons. The first time I actually bought soup spoons was during our sisters trip to Ireland. Since then, I have been a sucker for soup spoons.

I look for them at antique malls and flea markets, bid on them at auctions, I buy spooners to put them in -- and I get a strange thrill out of polishing old silver-plated soup spoons...here's a picture of my beautiful soup spoons -- in a classy spooner -- my holiday fabric napkins -- AND DEENA'S HOMEMADE CREAM PUFFS. oH mY gOD...THEY ARE every bit as delicious as they look, people!!


My family and friends use these soup spoons to eat soup, stew, chicken & dumplings, cereal....

After we decided soup would be the main menu for Kelcy's baby shower -- there was NO QUESTION I'd provide the soup spoons...and, well -- the cloth napkins!! And the broccoli-cheese soup, the bean soup, the veggie pizza...

Anyway -- the day before the shower, as I was polishing my very best, most beautiful 35 soup spoons -- I said to John, "there are not many people who could deliver 35 beautiful silver-plated soup spoons."

With his usual enthusiasm, he said, "yes, Rita. you are changing lives..."

Hummm?? I think that calls for a sarcasm penalty....

Here's a picture of some of the young Mom's in our family -- Becky (sans her two girls, Maddie and Avery -- our Emily and Lillian -- Kelcy and Mason and Brenda and Clayton. (these young Moms have had SIX more babies since this picture was taken!)
Lilly is going to be 9 years old...and those tiny baby boys just turned 8!!

Me and Lilly, 2009
And -- here we are -- two weeks ago -- at Hamilton!!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

TWO Good WINTER Things!!

When I think about WINTER (and it's hard NOT to nowadays) -- I think about soup. 

For me,  making soup is more of an art than a science.  When I stopped to think about it, I realized I'd made five different kinds of soup since  Christmas.  Chili, Bean Soup, Chicken tortilla soup, Sausage and cabbage soup and Italian Wedding soup...

So -- this week -- IT'S ALL ABOUT THE SOUP, PEOPLE..!!

**************

Two years ago....it was the weekend after Thanksgiving.  My cousin Linda brought her crew out for a visit.  We enjoyed TWO of my favorite winter things.  Soup and Puzzles...!! 
Ross took a picture...
Linda (LK) and her Mom -- my Aunt Ada.
Linda's son, Danny, visiting from California -- and his daughter Ally, from Atlanta.
John and Karl always share their "I-was-in-the-Navy-on-submarines-stories"...
The ladies adjourned to the puzzle table...
Aunt Ada putting in THE LAST PIECE!! (she was bizarrely thrilled)
Frankie thought they did a great job!
I got a bag of bean soup out of the freezer -- and extended it with some extra ham, a can of beans and a jar of salsa. Then, I made a big pot of Italian Wedding soup. Along with some crusty Italian Garlic bread...it was a cold day, and soup was the perfect thing.

Everybody doctor's up soup to their own taste -- WHICH IS REALLY THE BEST THING ABOUT SOUP....here's a link to a great Italian Wedding soup recipe to start with: Italian Wedding Soup From The Food Network

But I always start the soup by sauteing some onions and celery, which is not part of this recipe...feel free to put your own spin on it!!  Giada stirs in some egg, right at the end...and that can be good, too.

I LOVE this soup because when the little meatballs are poached, they are very soft...and the spinach and orzo are the perfect combination.

 Don't forget to have Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top!!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Winter Funk

This winter is soul-sucking. Although I think I SAY THIS EVERY YEAR AT THIS TIME. But, holy cow, this year has been especially terrible. The temperatures have been below zero -- for what feels like weeks now. Our roads are snow-covered, with spots of ice everywhere. Ugh. It is hard to keep the house warm, and we watch television, covered with our heavy double-fleece blankets. More ugh.

I'm trying to think of a bright spot I could write about...but I just keep thinking about HOW WONDERFUL IT WOULD BE TO BE A SNOWBIRD??  My friends who go to places like Florida, Texas or Arizona.  THEY ARE SO SMART...and I AM SO ENVIOUS...

Well, there are some good things.   About living in Iowa in the dead of winter.

Let me think...

I'm going to blog about winter activities I enjoy, and will look back fondly...

Just a minute...

It's coming to me....

Monday, January 15, 2018

Taking A Look Back...

Recently, my friend Val did a search for her name on my blog...and she was surprised by how often I wrote about her. THIS particular post was published in May, 2011.  As I was re-reading it, I got a jolt by the mention of both Donald Trump and Oprah Winfrey...in the same blog post....OMG...I may have ESP, people...


*****************   

This is my world. I live in the middle of a cornfield in the State of Iowa...

Most days, I sit in my living room, in my Lazy-Boy, with the foot rest cranked up. I usually have a rice bag positioned behind my neck...(otherwise, with all the hours I spend on the computer, I'd have a terrible neck ache.)

My laptop is sitting right where it belongs. On my lap. So, this is how I work.

AND -- as you know -- the television is ALWAYS ON.


(in this case, a rerun of Gunsmoke...which is our 6:00 PM habit nowadays...old westerns...)

You name the show and I probably watch it. I start with the TODAY show...then move on to the View, All My Children, Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, Rachael Ray, Oprah, Dr. Phil, all-things-HGTV, any season of the Real Housewives, Project Runway, DWTS, Americal Idol, SYTYCD, The Voice, Celebrity Apprentice, American Pickers, every Law and Order...well -- you get the idea.

And I just want to say that this week has been THE BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OF MY TELEVISION LIFE.

Really.

Starting with the Celebrity Apprentice "FINALE" on Sunday night. Of course I knew John Rich was going to win. For crying out loud -- he designed a ZEBRA SODA CAN...!!

But -- can any of you tell me who won that final challenge? Was it Marlee? John? Did the 7-Up executives pick the basketball game or the concert as the winning event???

YOU DON'T KNOW, DO YOU??? Because they forgot to announce that little detail...

Terrible editing...just awful...somebody ought to fire Donald Trump for turning his own big "Finale" into such a phoney snoozefest...

Here's another problem this week...American Idol. It's the big 'FINALE"...I've been watching for months. They made me fall in love with Stephen Tyler. I was thrilled when they used the judge's save to bring Casey back...and I managed to get over my Pia disappointment...

Even though I was not excited about a match-up with Scotty/Lauren -- the two 16 year olds -- I'm still a fan of the show. I do exactly what they've programmed me to do. I tune in every single Wednesday...

HOWEVER...for the first time all season -- some genius executive decided to run the big AMERICAN IDOL FINALE on TUESDAY instead of WEDNESDAY?? WHA???

Like millions of other people -- I missed the first half hour. WHAT?

But MY BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT of this disappointing week of over-hyped FINALES happened on Wednesday. The day of the final episode of the Oprah show.

After 25 years, Oprah is saying goodbye...

I cannot imagine my life without my daily fix of Oprah....

It seemed fitting that I should watch the final Oprah show with the only person in the world who watches as much television as me -- my friend Valerie.

We settled in with our Kleenex and braced ourselves for this momentous occasion...and a moving, memorable hour of historic television...

Turns out, we didn't need the Kleenex...we should have stocked up on No-Doze....

Really.

It was an "Oprah-lecture". She walked on to the stage and pontificated about how she always wanted to be a teacher, and ended up with the biggest classroom in the world, how this show is for US -- her audience -- and she wants us to know that we always had the power...and because she WAS OPRAH...we all learned to be our best selves...blah, blah, blah...

About ten minutes into the show, her boring pink dress starts to annoy me. She's really too short-waisted to wear a belt...if she ever sits down, it's going to flip right up into her boobs...I'm starting to nod off on Val's sofa....

Then, in that loud, I'm-about-to-say-something-profound-voice -- Oprah booms, "here it is....the meaning of life....what I've learned after 25 years....."

Val squealed: Rita -- wake up! Oprah is about to tell us the meaning of life...

I sat up so fast I almost fell off the sofa....the moment we've been waiting for...here it comes...

Oprah: (after a long pause)... "Energy".

I looked at Val and said, "are you writing this down?"

Val: I'm not sure exactly when it happened...

Me: what?

Val: Oprah thinks she's Jesus...

It must be tough to be Oprah. Because it took a lot of restraint for her to choose that pink dress. Clearly, she was tempted to walk out on that stage in a long white robe, with a 3-D halo over her head...and a million-watt light shining down from above....