Thursday, December 28, 2017

Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup

My mom's pot roast is a recipe I can make in my sleep. A good chuck roast, topped with potatoes, onion, carrots, celery... A little bit of water in the bottom of the pan, and then topped with salt, pepper, and cream of mushroom soup - from a can. Slow roast it for a couple of hours and it will fall apart. The mushroom soup works as a gravy that coats every bite with a creamy richness. 

But I'm sure you know the deal with canned soups... as in the bazillion ingredients that you can't pronounce and therefore, are probably not good for you. I hate that about food that is otherwise convenient and tasty. But as it turns out, cream of mushroom soup is actually pretty easy to make from scratch. And it tastes better and fresher (obviously) than the gelatinous stuff that comes out of the can. 

I'll say upfront (because you're probably thinking it), that yes, you lose the convenience factor. I have read that it can actually be canned, but I haven't gotten that far yet. I make a fresh batch every time I need it. But in the event that you want to have this stocked up in your pantry, a Pinterest search will likely lead you to someone who can teach you how to do that. Another option is to freeze it. Something else that I have read about, but not yet tried. 

This recipe will make about 4 cups. If you don't need it all at once, you can store it in the fridge for up to 4 days. 

8 ounces chopped mushrooms (of your choice)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup (give or take) onions, diced
5 Tbsp butter, divided
1/3 cup flour
3 1/2 cups milk


Start by chopping your mushrooms.

And also your garlic and onions. Now is a good time to tell you that the onions and garlic are actually optional. I put them in just about everything, but it's possible that whatever you are making with your cream of mushroom soup already has onions and garlic in it. If that's the case, then maybe you'll want to leave them out of the soup.

Start by melting 2 Tbsp of butter in a large skillet. You'll want to use a skillet or pan large enough to hold 4 cups of soup.

Add in the onions and garlic and cook over medium low heat for just a couple of minutes.

After a couple of minutes, add in the mushrooms and stir. The mushrooms will shrink down as you cook them. Keep stirring until they are cooked through - several minutes.

Once they are cooked through, remove the mixture with a slotted spoon. Leave the drippings in the pan, and add the remaining butter to it. Cook over medium low heat until the butter is melted, then add in the flour. You get this pasty looking mixture which is the magic thickening agent for the soup.

Slowly pour in the milk, and start whisking away until there are no more flour clumps left. Continue stirring (whisking) over medium heat until it begins to thicken.

Once the cream mixture is smooth and thick, add the mushroom mixture back in and stir to incorporate it all together. Add salt and pepper to taste.

And then transfer it to your storage container or recipe!

Note: While this is a thick soup, it is not as condensed like the canned version.

And there you have it! No additives or preservatives. Just straight up Cream of Mushroom Soup.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

A Month of Traditions

Growing up in our family of 6, the passage of time was marked by the coming and going of seasonal traditions. The food, decorations, and family gatherings were predictable and cherished in every sense of the word. My parents constantly instilled the importance of traditions in our family. Now that I have 2 boys of my own, I love mixing in the traditions I grew up with and the traditions our family of four has created. With my own boys now 6 and 8, they seem to not only crave the traditions we have created, but also understand the importance of them. They really took the lead on a lot of holiday festivities, making sure we covered all of our favorites.

Here's a look back at December.

Buddy the Elf joined our family last December, and let me tell you that I am all in when it comes to this particular tradition. I resisted the elf for so long even though the boys desperately wanted one. Then last year, in a moment of clarity, it hit me that the boys would only be into this kind of Christmas magic for a few more years. Our elf arrived and we haven't looked back since. I actually get a little sad when he goes back to the North Pole for the year.

We made him some elf sized cookies on one of our many baking days.

And he left us a grocery list...

 During the month of December, Buddy also played with the boys' blocks, cars, stuffed animals. He played Checkers one night and played a game of Yahtzee, in which he apparently rolled all Yahtzees. He wrote letters back and forth to both boys and managed to not get chewed up by Kylo. He brought the boys some new pajamas on his last day with us on Christmas Eve and promised to tell Santa that the boys have good. I love this tradition!

The Magic Tree

We changed up this tradition this year. Normally, we go to the West side of Columbia to view the magic tree, but this year, they decorated a new one on the South side of town - much closer to us. We went right at dusk, so there weren't a ton of people there yet. No matter how many times we see this thing, it's always incredible and the boys absolutely love it.

Game Nights

Growing up, we always played games around the holidays. It's such an easy way to be with family, sans screens, and well let's face - it's just not the holidays without some healthy competition. Our games of choice of late have been Trash and Yahtzee.

Holiday Baking

Here's another tradition that came straight out of my childhood. We always had a day in our house to make sugar cookies and then decorate them. If my mom had any issue with the disaster we made of the kitchen in our mission to make festive plates of goodies, she never let on. The mess is half the fun, right? Sprinkles, and chocolate, and icing... AND you get the added bonus of eating sugar for weeks.

I have acquired quite the cookie cutter collection. The metal ones came from my mom, and that rolling pin was my Grandma's.

And Eli, like always, was right at my side, rolling cookie dough like a pro.

Music Programs - 
Lex participated in his piano studio's Harpsichord Recital for the third year. It's such an amazing event and the students all get to play Baroque songs on a new instrument. It's so much fun. I love hearing them play.

Other Things to Celebrate. While Christmas is the main event in our house, our boys learned about Hanukkah last year. I don't remember how, but they started asking questions, and since I'm not Jewish, I headed straight for the library and checked out some books for them. And just like that, we celebrated Hanukkah. We broke out the menorah again this year and lit it almost every night. I recently learned that there's actually an order in which you are supposed to light the candles. I'm going to have to remember that for next year, because we didn't do it the right way this year. Our intentions were good though.

Another celebration of light this time of year is Winter Solstice. For 3 years now, we have headed to one of our favorite trails, had a camp fire with friends, and put out food for the wildlife. It is one of my favorite holiday traditions because it's a celebration of the days getting longer and let's face it, by the time Solstice rolls around, we are all ready for some longer days.

This year we hung cranberries and bird seed covered bagels.

Christmas Eve

I heard a news story recently about a report that more than half of people prefer Christmas Eve to Christmas Day. You know, because of all the build up, traditions, and general party atmosphere. Personally, I don't think I can pick a favorite. I love everything about the Christmas season, including the days after Christmas, when the pressure is all off and you can stay in your pajamas for days.

We were lucky to get snow this Christmas Eve which set a beautiful scene for our holiday. We couldn't believe our luck since often in Missouri, even when they do call for snow, it doesn't come through for us. And then it did come through just in time for Christmas.

Eli and Kylo both licking snow off the door. Gross.

Christmas Eve evening Eli read us "Night Before Christmas."

We made some food for the reindeer. Oatmeal, carrots, marshmallows, and glitter. We also set out eggnog and cookies for Santa and left a pillow in the fireplace for his soft landing (got that idea from my big brother's family).

And just like that, we were ready for Christmas.

Whatever, however, and wherever you celebrate, I hope your holidays were magical and full of tradition!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Winter Hiking Season

"Now I see the secret of making the best person, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth."
-Walt Whitman

When the forecaster said we would be having more seasonable weather later in the week, meaning full winter gear is on the horizon, we headed for the trails. It may possibly be the last fare-weather hike we take in a while - or maybe not - Missouri weather can be fickle. But any excuse to hike, right? 

This is the third time we've been to this location, on the south side of Mark Twain National Forest. We were here first when we were scouting a location for our family pictures. We came back a second time to take our family pictures. It was on that trip that Eli spotted a trail head and we immediately made a mental note to come back. Which brings us today, our third visit. 

This is seriously the third abandoned metal frame bridge we've come across in this area, while exploring a new area. 

The beautiful view of Cedar Creek, to the West.

And to the East.

Wonder what this bridge will be in another 20 years.

The trail was clearly blazed in white diamonds.

Horses and hikers are welcome. Apparently, so are bicycles... but I wouldn't recommend them on this trail.

The trail was heavily blanketed in leaves hiding all the trip hazards beneath them.

We've seen this on two other trails, both in the Mark Twain trails. There's a gate because at certain times of the year, cows graze beyond this point. You can still hike it, but you have to close this gate behind you if it's closed when you get to it. One time on another trail, the trail took us within feet of the cow's watering hole, and they just stood and stared at us as we passed by.

But we didn't see any cows today.

Just on the other side of the woods, the trail opened up to this field. The weather was absolutely perfect for an open air hike. The sun wasn't blazing hot and it wasn't too windy, or wet.

The ground was beaten down by the feet of hikers.

It seemed like the most perfect place in the country to have a picnic. And what an easy hike to get there!

 At the bottom of the hill was this little watering hole, probably the result of a sinkhole which are common around here.

 There were lots of birds out today. I was surprised we didn't see more wildlife. I guess at this point in the year, they are probably settling into shelters somewhere.

Pretty soon, we backtracked and headed back into the woods. When we got home, we looked at the overhead map of this area and figured out that this trail does go in a loop, although part of the hike would be on gravel road and it's probably about 6-7 miles all the around. Maybe a spring hike?

 This is Eli saying, "I found you a walking stick!"

Back across a footbridge...

And then to the old abandoned metal bridge with a view of Cedar Creek

And the country road to take us home.

We got our hiking fix today! Bring on the cold weather. We're ready for it!

For more information on this trail system, visit the link here. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Garlic Parmesan Steak Fries

After a Thanksgiving weekend with family in town and lots of food, games, and football, we are ready to be done with holiday leftovers. Fortunately for us, my parents delivered a cooler of delicious marinated porkchops, steaks, and roasts from the local meat market back home in Ohio. We could not wait to feast on them. 

This past weekend, we spent an unseasonably warm day (close to 70, I think?) in the yard, raking every corner, garden bed, and edge and picking up sticks and toys and anything else that Kylo had drug outside. We were exhausted. I wanted something easy to go with pork chops so I went for this easy old favorite - Garlic Parmesan Steak Fries. You really can't mess these up. There are a ton of different flavor variations based on what your main dish is. 

Before you get going, preheat the oven to 400 degrees, F. Also, use oil or butter to grease a baking sheet.

I started with 6 small Russet potatoes. If you have medium size, you could use fewer.

Cut your potatoes into wedges. I cut mine in half lengthwise, and then in half 2 more times for a total of 8 wedges per potato.

Meanwhile, pour a quarter cup of vegetable oil (or canola or olive oil...)

Mix in 1 1/2  tsp. of salt and 2 tsp. of Italian seasoning. Chop up 2 cloves of garlic and throw that in too. Stir it all together.

Pour the seasoning mixture over the potato wedges.

And then mix it so the potatoes are all coated.

Stir in 1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese. Of course the real stuff is the best, but if you only have the Parmesan that comes in the container with a green lid (like I did), well then by all means, use that.

Lay all your wedges out on the baking tray in a single layer.

Bake for 25-35 minutes (depending on the size of the wedges), until they are fork tender. Flip once during baking to get them browned on all sides.

And serve them up with your favorite meat main dish. This is so easy, and so versatile. The possibilities of flavor combinations are endless.