Cozy Comforts – Easy Tomato Bisque

The temperatures are cooling off here in NC as we head into fall. Our ten-day forecast doesn’t have a single day over eighty degrees–a big change from the sweltering heat of summer.

The refreshing change in weather and the lovely apples and fall vegetables at the Farmers’ Market have me thinking of one of my favorite meals for a chilly day (or even a hot summer day): a rich, creamy Tomato Bisque. 🙂IMG_4332

I used to use a lot of fresh ingredients in this, but I have tweaked it over the years so I can make it almost completely out of my pantry.  I keep a storage baggie of Mirepoix in my freezer, and add any extra chopped onion, celery, or carrots from other recipes.  This way,  I always have some mirepoix in the freezer (though the ratio of carrots to onions to celery is sometimes off) and I don’t have to chop anything for a quick meal like this.

Pantry-friendly ingredients

Pantry-friendly ingredients

Just a note: I have subbed in pureed tomatoes or a can of tomato sauce for the crushed tomatoes, and it still turns out great!

Sauté the Veggies

Sauté the Veggies

Add the tomatoes

Add the tomatoes

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add rice or pasta (optional)

Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add rice or pasta (optional)

Stir in some cheese and cream.

Stir in some cheese and cream.

Serve with some crusty bread. I used this recipe, and added some herbs and garlic to one loaf.

Serve with some crusty bread. I used this recipe, and added some herbs and garlic to one loaf.

Easy Tomato Bisque

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Print

Ingredients

1/2 Cup Mirepoix (Fresh or Frozen)
1-2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 Tablespoon Dried Basil
1 Can (14-15 oz.) Crushed Tomatoes
1 Can (14-15 oz.) Diced Tomatoes
1 Cup Chicken Stock
1/4 Cup Cream or Half & Half
1/4 Cup Shredded Parmesan Cheese

 

Optional (for Tomato Orzo Soup)

1 cup Chicken Stock
1/2 Cup Uncooked Orzo or White Rice

Instructions

  1.  Sauté Mirepoix (chopped Carrots, Onions, and Celery) in Olive Oil over Medium Heat until vegetables start to tenderize (about five minutes).
  2. Stir in Basil and cook an additional 30 seconds, stirring.
  3. Add tomatoes and stock. (If using Pasta or Rice, add all of the stock.) Bump temperature to medium-high, and bring to a slow boil.
  4. Add Pasta or Rice (if using).
  5. Drop the temp and simmer for 10-15 minutes (if using pasta or rice, simmer until it is cooked through).
  6. Remove from the heat. Add cheese and cream, and stir until combined.
  7. Enjoy!

This soup is great topped with an extra drizzle of cream or with some croutons.

Tomato Orzo Bisque

Tomato Orzo Bisque

I tend to add the rice or pasta for dinner, but leave them out for lunch. I almost always double the recipe, then freeze half in individual portions for a quick weekday lunch. Perfect with some crusty bread or a fresh salad! 🙂

An old Instagram shot of this soup without the orzo. Still awesome! <3

A really old Instagram shot of this soup without the orzo. Still awesome! ❤

What is your favorite soup? Do you have any cooking shortcuts to help cut tome on your favorite recipes? Any pantry-only recipe favorites? Please share! ❤


Where Did We Get All This Stuff?

Our move from Pennsylvania to North Carolina last year was fast–less than three weeks after the job offer came in, we had escaped the frozen tundra of the northeast for the more temperate south. It was a whirlwind of figuring out what needed to go in the car with us, making sure the house was ready to go on the market, and visiting family and friends.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Luckily, our relocation package included having a moving company to pack all of our stuff, which was one less thing for us to worry about. The downside is that everything we owned came with us on the trip south. We had no opportunity to clean out anything.
Our house in North Carolina is a bit smaller than the one in Pennsylvania, so we ended up with a lot of boxes in our attic and garage that we have ignored for the past eighteen months. We said we would get to them eventually, but they were out of sight, out of mind.
This weekend, we decided to tackle the attic as we prepare to (hopefully) move in the next year or so. Hubby told me he refuses to move it all again, so until we go through everything, we can’t move. Visions of bigger kitchens danced through my head, and were all the motivation I needed to keep moving this weekend. 😉

mage courtesy of Iamnee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Iamnee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


We sorted through twenty-six totes and four boxes–for two people! By the time we were done, we kept four totes of stuff–mostly extra dishes that don’t fit in our tiny kitchen and decorations that get switched out seasonally.
It took three full carloads to get everything else over to the donation center. The biggest culprit of our attic clutter? Clothing.
Every time I gain or lose a few pounds, I go buy new clothing, but keep the old stuff, in case I need it. How often do you think I go in the attic to get the old clothing out? Hint: not often. And, I’m not the only one. Hubby had quite a bit of clothing up there, too.

Image courtesy of Keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Keerati at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


You should have seen the face of the guy at the donation center. The first load, he commented that we had a lot of stuff, but was very appreciative. When we came back with the second car, his eyes bugged out. By the third, he just shook his head.
I have to say, it feels good knowing all our clothing is now in our room, either in a closet, a dresser, or an under-the-bed tote (for cold-weather clothing like sweaters. Which we can wear soon, because fall is coming!)
Out of all the clothing in the attic, do you have any guesses how many pieces we kept?
Five.
Hubby kept one; I kept four. In total, out of the six lawn and leaf bags worth of clothing that we donated, we found five pieces that we would want to wear again. I may need to reevaluate how much clothing I am buying. Seriously.
So, our attic is mostly empty. Now we just have to tackle the garage. And we may want to find a new donation center, since this one seems to already think we are crazy. 😉

Do you fall into the trap of storing stuff you don’t need, or do you get rid of old items (donate or trash) as soon as you are done with them? Do you have any great organizing tips for us? Anyone want to help us clean out a garage? 😉


Summer Comforts: Meatloaf with Mushroom Gravy

Over the weekend, Hubby and I were discussing the end of summer and the rapid approach of autumn (my favorite season). He commented that the thing he was most looking forward to about the cooler weather was the hearty comfort foods.

In particular, he was really hungry for meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie.Pie

Pumpkin Pie? Sold!

I was planning on steaks for dinner (filet mignon, at that), but I popped them in the freezer in favor of meatloaf mix. Not normally a tradeoff I would make, but we cooked steak almost every weekend for months, and I was up for a change.

We usually do bigger Sunday dinners, and Hubby’s favorite part is that Sunday dinners always come with dessert. When I was on my baking hiatus, that was typically ice cream, but the homemade desserts are so much better.

I zipped up a pie after lunch, and popped it in the oven. Yum! (If you haven’t seen my pumpkin pie recipe, there is a thin layer of cheesecake hidden under the pumpkin. Heavenly!)2015-08-16 19.28.16

By the time dinner was done, my house smelled amazing! Meatloaf, Redskin Mashed Potatoes with Caramelized Onions, Sautéed Carrots, and Corn.

I have to be honest, I was never a big fan of meatloaf, but I experimented with different versions over the years and have a couple of recipes I like. This one is my husband’s favorite. It has caramelized onions and mushrooms mixed right in with the meat making it extra moist, although it is really good without the mushrooms, too, if you prefer it without.

Meatloaf and Mushroom Gravy

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Print

Ingredients

1 lb Meatloaf Mix (usually  a mix of Ground Beef, Veal, and Pork)
½ Cup Panko Breadcrumbs
¼ Cup Standard Breadcrumbs
1 Egg
½ Cup Milk
3 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1 Tbsp. Heinz 57 sauce or BBQ Sauce
2 Tbsp. Stone Ground Mustard
2-3 Tbsp. Ketchup
1 Tbsp. Italian Seasoning
10-12 oz. Mushrooms, Chopped, Sautéed, and Cooled
1 Large Onion, Diced, Sautéed, and Cooled
3 Tbsp. Butter
3 Tbsp. Flour
2 Cups Chicken or Beef Stock
¾ Cup Red Wine or Beer
Salt and Pepper to taste
Olive oil (to sauté)

Instructions

    1. Sauté Mushrooms and Onions in Olive Oil. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
    2. Preheat oven to 375 Degrees.
    3. Mix Meat, Breadcrumbs, Egg, Milk, approx. 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire Sauce, Heinz 57 sauce, 1 tablespoon of Stone Ground mustard, Ketchup, and Italian Seasoning in a large bowl.
    4. Add in 2/3 of the mushrooms and onions, and mix.
      1. If the mixture is too wet (it won’t hold its shape), add more bread crumbs.
        **I almost always have to do this.
      2. If the mixture seems dry, add a bit more milk.
      3. Optional: Make a small (approximately 1-inch) patty of the meat mixture, and cook it in a small skillet to taste seasoning. Add salt and pepper as desired.
    5. Form the Meat mixture into a loaf-shape and place on a baking sheet or place meat in a loaf pan. If desired, more ketchup can be spread on top to caramelize. Bake for 1 hour.
    6. Remove from oven. Use a meat thermometer to make sure meat is at least 165 degrees. Let meat rest on a platter while you make the gravy. (It will firm up a bit in this time, making it easier to cut).
    7. Add remaining mushrooms and onions and the butter to a large skillet over medium-high heat.
    8. When the butter is melted, add the flour. Cook one minute.
    9. Add the wine or beer and stir. Cook until thickened (1-2 minutes).
    10. Add the stock and the remaining tablespoon of Worcestershire Sauce and Stone Ground Mustard. Whisk until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, five minutes.
    11. Slice the meatloaf into 8-12 slices. Serve with gravy.
    12. Enjoy!

2015-08-16 19.28.00This was a hearty, yummy dinner that gave Hubby a night off from grilling (with enough leftovers to give us both a night off of cooking later in the week). 🙂 Not normal summer fare, but a nice change of pace.

Don’t forget desert! I served it with a bit (or a lot) of fresh whipped cream. Perfect end to a yummy Sunday dinner!

2015-08-16 21.14.11

Do you make Sunday Dinners? Have another tradition for a day of the week with a bigger, special meal? What is your favorite comfort meal? Please share! 🙂


Did I Say That…Out Loud?

Yesterday was an awesome writing day. My main character, Hope, stumbled across a dead body. Of course, it was someone she knew, and she may not have taken it well. 😉

In addition to writing almost three thousand words, I took the dog to the groomers, taking advantage of the time she was gone to clean the entire house without a twenty-pound puff-ball under foot.

As my husband was about to leave work, I sent him a text.

2857 words and a dead body, plus a clean house. Not a bad day! 😉

2857 words and a dead body, plus a clean house. Not a bad day! 😉

My first thought after I hit send was I hope no one is standing close enough to be able to read that. Which, of course, I tweeted.

I find myself having that thought more and more often lately. Whether it is a text to my husband or a conversation about poisons over breakfast in a crowded restaurant, I seem to forget that not everyone kills people off — only on paper (or screen), of course — on a regular basis.

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The looks I have gotten in restaurants, stores, and other public places. Of course, it is not like I am quiet, either. My voice carries.  Hubby is convinced that someone is going to call the cops one day.

As long as they don’t check my internet search history, I should be OK. 😉

 

Do you have a tendency to forget where you are when engrossed in conversation as I do? Send someone a text, then think I hope their boss isn’t standing right next to them? Please share! 🙂


Broccoli Cheddar Stuffed Potatoes

Years ago, one of my favorite lunches was a fast-food baked potato topped with broccoli, cheese sauce, and bacon bits.  I gave up the bright-yellow cheese sauce and the salty bacon substitute, but I still love the flavors of bacon, broccoli, and cheese.

I didn't even make it halfway through the steak or the potato! Hubby was thankful for the steak when he got steak and eggs for breakfast the next morning! ;-)

I didn’t even make it halfway through the steak or the potato! Hubby was thankful for the steak when he got steak and eggs for breakfast the next morning! 😉

Enter these twice baked potatoes stuffed with chopped broccoli, crumbled bacon, sour cream, and cheddar cheese. Yum! 🙂

Almost ready for the oven!

Almost ready for the oven!

These are the perfect side dish to a nice, juicy steak, or all on their own as a hearty lunch.

Ready to cook!

Ready to cook!

Broccoli Cheddar Stuffed Potatoes

  • Servings: 3-6
  • Print

Ingredients

3 Russet potatoes
1 head Fresh Broccoli, finely chopped
4 slices Bacon
1/2 cup Sour Cream
1 cup Shredded Cheddar
1/4 cup Shredded Parmesan Cheese
Salt and Pepper to taste

 Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Scrub Potatoes. Puncture with fork, and wrap each potato tightly in foil.
  3. Bake for approximately 1 hour, until tender.
  4. Meanwhile, place bacon on a baking tray. Bake for 10-15 minutes until crisp.
  5. Cool bacon and potatoes for about a half hour.
  6. Slice the top off of the baked potatoes. Using a spoon, scoop out most of the potato into a large bowl, taking care not to tear the skin.
  7. Using a potato masher, mash the potatoes. Add the sour cream, and continue mashing until smooth. Add more sour cream if needed.
  8. Crumble the bacon. Add bacon, broccoli, and cheddar cheese to the potatoes, and mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste. (I used the masher to make sure everything was incorporated).
  9. Stuff the potato mixture back into the potato skins. This will be heaped on top.
  10. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese on top.
  11. Bake for 30-45 minutes until warmed through and cheese is browned.
  12. Enjoy! 🙂

I like a half potato as a side, or a whole potato as a meal. To rewarm, I just pop it in the oven for about a half hour until it is hot. Enjoy!

Cheese, bacony goodness!

Cheese, bacony goodness!

Do you have a favorite potato dish? A yummy side dish that takes you back to childhood? Please share! ❤

Blog Signature


Finding Christmas in July

July in North Carolina does not embody Christmas in my mind, but I have been trying to trick my mind into the Christmas spirit anyway.  As heat-indices soar into triple-digits, I am  working on a Christmas-themes cozy mystery, which means I need to get in the holiday spirit just a bit early this year. 😉

This was our Christmas card a few years ago. Cami loves to lounge under the tree!

This was our Christmas card a few years ago. Cami loves to lounge under the tree!

Christmas music, cinnamon candles, and forty two recorded Christmas movies from the Hallmark Channel’s Christmas in July week have all helped to set the mood.

Oh, and cookies help, too. 😉

After watching several Christmas movies, I broke down and made Oatmeal Cookies (Hubby’s favorite). I added in raisins, dates, walnuts, and some extra cinnamon, and my house smelled amazing! They are tasty, too! 🙂

Mmm, cookies! Just about to come out of the oven...

Mmm, cookies! Just about to come out of the oven…

Of course, the issue with all of this is that I am getting weird looks as I hum Christmas music in the aisles of Target in the middle of summer. And my poor husband is already tired of coming home from work to Christmas music. That usually doesn’t happen until mid-November sometime.

But, the story is flowing, and the Christmas theme is apparent throughout. In the long run, that’s all that matters. Even if our neighbor’s do think I have major issues. 😉

Do you have any sure-fire ways to get in the Christmas spirit? Favorite Christmas Traditions? What are your favorite Christmas carols?

Blog Signature