Saturday, May 28, 2011

Tornadoes, Tomatoes, and Tigers - Oh My!

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I hate the sound of tornado sirens. First, they're really creepy. Second, they scare my son half to death, making for a very long night.

Some pretty bad storms passed through here a couple of nights ago. The sirens started going off just as my son was finally about to fall asleep. The news was warning us of softball-sized hail that was falling to the west and heading straight for us. My poor little car was sitting in the street, just waited to get pelted. Thankfully we only had a little marble-sized hail and my car escaped unscathed. All the tornadoes stayed away, despite more sirens over the next few hours.

You can always trust Texas weather to be crazy, and sure enough, Thursday was beautiful! It was the perfect day for a zoo trip. Unfortunately, it seemed like everyone else had the same thought! Super crowded, but still super fun!

Apparently my camera looked delicious.

My youngest niece and her new friend.

This really would have been appropriate for Turtle Day.

My favorite animal!

After a tiring day at the zoo, I was having a serious soup craving. So I made my absolute favorite (and the world's best) cream of tomato soup. I could literally eat the whole gallon. I always make the full amount, thinking I'll freeze most of it, but we all eat the leftovers before I get a chance to!

Cream of Tomato Soup
Partly courtesy of the CIA, modified by me.
(That stands for the Culinary Institute of America. I'm unfortunately not a spy. Although I've always wanted to be!)

Makes about 1 Gallon
Be sure to read the notes at the bottom!

  • 2 ounces bacon, diced (about 2 or 3 slices)
  • 6 tablespoons butter or oil (vegetable or canola)
  • 8 ounces carrots, small diced (about 3 carrots)
  • 4 ounces celery, small diced (about 2 stalks)
  • 4 ounces onions, small dices (about half an onion)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 ounces flour 
  • 2 quarts chicken stock or broth (homemade is best, but low sodium canned {4 cans} works well too)
  • 4 - 14.5 ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained
  • 2 - 15 ounce cans tomato sauce
  • 4 parsley stems (or if you're like me and realize you're out, about a teaspoon of dried)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 pint heavy cream
1. In a large soup pot, cook the bacon in the oil or butter until crisp.

2. Add the carrots, celery, onions, and garlic and cook over low to medium heat until tender, about 8-10 minutes.

3. Add the flour and stir well. Cook this for 12 minutes, stirring about every minute or so.

4. Blend in the chicken stock or broth. Add the diced tomatoes and tomato sauce and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.
When you're adding the chicken stock, add in about a cup first and scrape the bottom of the pot 
to get any stuck on bits. That's all amazing flavor, so don't leave it stuck there!

5. Tie up the parsley, bay leaves, and cloves in cheesecloth. Add to the soup and simmer another 30 minutes.

6. Remove the little package of parsley, bay leaves, and cloves. Puree the soup in batches, using either a blender or a food processor. 

My mind is going completely blank and I can't remember the name for the little thing you pull out of the lid of both machines to be able to add ingredients while it's running. But be sure to remove whatever that thing is called! Otherwise the heat will build up pressure and your kitchen will be covered in tomato soup. Use a towel to cover it and prevent splatters.

7. At this point, put whatever soup you want to freeze in containers. Put the soup you plan on eating into a pot and add the heavy cream. But not all of it! The pint is for the whole recipe. So if you freeze half and plan on eating the other half, add only 1 cup of heavy cream, etc. The soup doesn't freeze well with the heavy cream. It will keep as leftovers in the fridge fine with the heavy cream though.

8. Bring it back up to heat and season to taste with salt and pepper. Enjoy it with oyster crackers, grilled cheese, croutons, or more!

Thank you Martha Stewart - your photographers have more skill than me.

  • You probably noticed almost every ingredient is given by weight. It's the most accurate way of cooking. I gave the approximate amounts in case you don't have a kitchen scale handy. If you do though, measure everything by weight the first time through. Then you'll have an idea of how much 8 ounces of carrots actually looks like and so on. 4 ounces of flour is about .9 cup. So more than 3/4, but less than a whole cup.
  • Small dice means 1/4". But don't whip out your ruler (even though I had to at school. Ugh). Since everything is pureed, the size doesn't matter too much. Just try to be consistent. If you cut the carrots bigger, do the same with the onions and celery. You want everything to cook evenly, so aim for about the same size pieces.
  • The parsley, bay leaves, and cloves are optional, but really good! If you're missing one or two of those things, add whatever you do have. And if you're like me, you probably don't have cheesecloth around. Or you're even more like me and have some but can't find it anywhere! I always use a coffee filter and tie it up with butcher's twine. Any string will work fine though. Tying everything together makes it so easy to find and remove these items before pureeing the soup.

  • This can be made healthier by omitting the bacon and heavy cream. You could substitute evaporated milk or even regular milk in the heavy cream's place. It could even go vegan by omitting the bacon, using oil, using vegetable stock or water in place of the chicken stock, and replacing the heavy cream with unsweetened almond milk or soy milk. It's pretty versatile, so have fun with it!

I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Turtle Day!

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Did you know May 23rd is World Turtle Day?

Yeah, neither did I. But frankly, I'll use any excuse to celebrate by making cupcakes. Plus my mom's husband has a pet tortoise. Her name is Shelly. He's big on puns. So having a turtle in the household is a valid reason to celebrate, right?

My son was really into it. He put on a old pair of turtle pajamas and decorated with turtle drawings and every stuffed turtle he owns. He wanted to make something for dinner by himself, so I helped him dye canned pears green and he made them look like turtles.

He was so proud of what he "cooked."

But I was really just in it for the cupcakes.

Chocolate, caramel, and pecans? Yes, please!

Tiny turtle decorations for the cupcakes. 

I'm far too impatient to make tiny things like that. I had a little fan and light rigged up to dry them out more quickly. Even then, I refused to wait long enough and tried to remove them from the wax paper too early. There were a few casualties. But at least they were yummy!

My first thought for a Turtle Day entree was real turtle soup. But that just seemed so wrong. I couldn't exactly cook turtles on a day meant to protect and celebrate them. So I made a pizza in the shape of a turtle. 

I almost couldn't slice through him. Almost.

Now I just have to wait for another holiday to celebrate. Thankfully tomorrow is Hug Your Cat Day. And Wednesday is Towel Day. I'm really starting to wonder who comes up with these so-called holidays. But as long as I can make a cupcake to observe it, I'm in!

Happy early Hug Your Cat Day!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Only In Texas

I work in a steakhouse in Uptown Dallas. It's a really urban area - fancy restaurants, lofts, and clubs fill pretty much every inch. There's not much grass in sight, only beautifully manicured landscaping in front of outrageously expensive hotels. And yet, driving home from work tonight, I see this.

Can you see him? A lone cowboy riding his horse (literally) into the sunset.

Who rides a horse in the middle of a city? During rush hour traffic none the less? I thought horses were supposed to be ridden in the fresh air, not in exhaust fumes. Not to mention this seems pretty gross. He's on the sidewalk and I'm pretty sure horses aren't potty-trained... But I digress.

Happy Friday everyone!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Time Warp

My mom attended a surprise birthday and costume party for her friend this weekend. She could dress from any decade from the 20's to the 90's, so naturally she chose the tastefully refined and understated 80's. A prize would be awarded to the best costume.

She enlisted my help to go thrifting to find the perfect outfit. Sadly I recently donated a couple of outfits that would have made perfect costumes! Last summer our house became a donation center for a neighborhood family who lost everything in a fire. It was my job to sort through the bags of donations they didn't want and decide what to donate and what to toss. I can't imagine why they didn't want this green jacket...

I felt like Blanche from the Golden Girls when I put it on. Or a bat. It's a toss-up. 
The other clothes are also donations. 
Sorry for the horrible picture quality. And for the pink satin pants. They're really bad too.

And this red number with its MC Hammer pants and almost floor-length jacket was pretty priceless.

Actually, it wasn't priceless. It still had the tags on it. $24.99 was quite the steal. 
Again, horrible picture quality... oops.

In a side note, my brother would kill me if he saw that I posted this. My mom, aunt, and I convinced him to put this on months ago for a laugh. He finally agreed and we all immediately whipped out our cameras. Thankfully he doesn't know I have a blog. Hopefully when I become a wildly popular blogger (in other words, finally get more than one follower...) he won't mind the attention he's bound to get.

But these outfits were taking up valuable (and limited) storage space in my room. I figured I would never need them, so off to Goodwill they went! My timing was most unfortunate.

So my mom and I headed to Goodwill, hoping that one of these outfits had made it onto the rack. We didn't spot either one, but we did find the perfect dress for only $7.99.

The detailed beading was amazing.
As was the oh-so-flattering waist.

So she teased her curly hair sky high, 

piled on bright purple eye shadow and threw on as much jewelry as she could take. 

The purple bow in her hair and white shoes completed her look.
I wish the complete tackiness of the dress came through better, but you get the idea.

And did she win?

It was unanimous.

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