Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Creamy Broccoli Potato Soup

I made up this recipe last week on a whim - I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. Unfortunately, hubby was sick so he couldn't really taste it, but he said I could make it again when he was better.

This is actually a healthy recipe. The creaminess is more in the texture ... this soup is NOT loaded with creams and milk and cheeses. Or cream of anything soups. As much as I love those things. You could double the cheese in this recipe and you'd still be coming out ahead compared to most "creamy" soups!

3-4 cups cut up potatoes (I left skins on for added nutrients, your call)
12 oz broccoli (I used frozen)
2 carrots, cut into small pieces
1.5 oz cream or neufchatel cheese (can double, if desired)
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
oregano, optional
milk, optional


Cover potatoes and one cut up carrot with water in saucepan, add salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, put butter, onion, garlic, broccoli, and other carrot in skillet. Season with salt, pepper, generous amount of basil, and a dash of oregano, if desired. Cook until just tender then add to saucepan. Add cream cheese. Turn heat down and keep it barely at a simmer (or just keep warm) well - I let mine simmer/stay warm for hours. But you don't have to if you aren't thinking that you want to go ahead and get making supper out of the way in the early afternoon. *grin*

Add milk whenever you want, if you want. Just a splash or more if you don't want your soup to be super thick and chowder like and you don't want to deal with blending a third to half the soup to liquefy it.

Whenever you want, if you desire a soupier consistency, use an immersion blender or transfer a portion of the soup into a blender to liquefy it. Return blended portion to saucepan and bring back up to a simmer before serving.

The soup does not have an intense flavor, but a mild one. Mild doesn't mean bland though - I thought the soup had a pretty good flavor. If you have someone in your family who won't eat without meat in a dish, I bet you could add some ground beef and it would be pretty good. And buttery Ritz are a great table addition for this soup!

What soups do you enjoy?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book Review: Redwall

Ok, ok, so I'm behind the times. Redwall came out in 1986. But I only just got around to reading it a couple of weeks ago. I read it in one sitting in one night.

Interesting book + fast reader = well, I didn't get to bed until after 11, but I finished the book!

I've been skeptical of the Redwall series for years. My younger brothers enjoyed them, but I was grown by the time they discovered them and they were just kids. I had tried getting into another series they liked (Wally McDoogle) but it just wasn't for me. (Admittedly a very different series, but I was too busy to pick up a book I might not enjoy at the time.)

Another turnoff was that I had heard Redwall described as C.S. Lewis's Narnia meets Tolkien meets King Arthur. I don't particularly like it when books are described in terms of other books. In this case, I think it was a case of well intentions gone astray.

They say it's like Narnia because the animals talk and have their own land. Let us all take a moment to realize that Lewis is not the only person to have thought of that.

They say Tolkien because there's a battle between good and evil (at least, that's pretty much the only connection I could come up with).

They say Arthur because ... well, Arthur is quite a legitimate comparison.

But really, I think Redwall stands on it's own. There's no need to compare it to the greats. It's its own land, story, and time. I think children would understand it entirely and enjoy it, but it is not just for children. I rather enjoyed reading it myself. Actually, I enjoyed it so much that I'm going to ask my brothers what books they have from the series laying around that I can borrow from them.

Tales of good versus evil never go out of style. Neither do tales of heroism and bravery. Everyone has a part to play, and though you know how the story will broadly end - the book is worth the journey.

I, for one, look forward to traveling the seasons of Redwall.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Cheesy Tomato Pasta

My recipe used the skillet four-cheese "baked" pasta as a base and inspiration, but of course I changed it up and made it my own. =)


  • 1 pound pasta - I used elbow macaroni as it is what I has on hand.
  • 1 lb chicken breast, give or take, cubed into small pieces
  • 2 bell peppers - I had a yellow and a green on hand
  • 1 large onion - I had a medium so I used it and a couple shakes onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 jar Prego sauce (24 oz), your choice - I used Fresh Mushroom
  • Blue Cheese Dressing
  • 2 cups shredded cheese - I mixed mozerella and extra sharp cheddar
  • 6 slices American cheese (this would probably be better if you just used additional shredded cheese in its stead, but I was for ease at this point)
  • Rib seasoning
  • Garlic powder
  • Oregano
  • Basil

Use an oven-proof skillet. Anolon (my favorite) is only oven safe to 400, so I used my largest iron skillet


  • Heat oven to 450. Cook pasta and drain when it is finished cooking.

  • Cut up your chicken, onion, and bell peppers. Season chicken with rib rub. Dice or slice the peppers and onion, your choice. Heat oil in skillet and add chicken, onion, and bell peppers. Cook till chicken is not pink, and onions and peppers are tender. 

  • Add Prego, add several shakes garlic powder and a nice sprinkling of oregano and basil. Stir. Put a nice swirl of blue cheese dressing on top and incorporate (this helps make it creamy). Add drained pasta (Sadly, I lost a good cup or so of pasta to the garbage disposal when I was draining. *sniff*), stir. Add in 2 cups of shredded cheese. 

  • I removed from the heat when I was adding in the cheese. Next top with your slices of American cheese, or with additional shredded cheese. Transfer skillet into the oven and cook for 8 minutes. When cheese is melted and the dish is bubbling it is done. Set on a trivet or hot pad for 5 minutes to allow it to cool a little.

Bon appetit!

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Why I Gift-Shop Year Round

Last week I bought my first gift for Christmas this year. Yes, Christmas. I guess you could call me an over-achiever, that's what most people do when they find out I usually have my Christmas shopping finished by Thanksgiving.

I don't think it's over-achieving, I think it's a time, money, and stress saver. Here's why.

It's two days before Christmas and you don't have your final gift yet (or any gift, but I'll give you some credit) so you dash madly off to store after store (if you don't cave and get a gift card) trying to find "the perfect gift" ... when you do finally find it, it's probably not "perfect", it probably cost more than you were hoping to pay, and you're (likely) most definitely stressed.

Wouldn't it be nicer to spend that evening relaxing at home with a nice cup of tea in front of your lovely tree with your family or friends around you? It is possible.

Buying year round allows you to keep an eye for everyone you need a gift for, for whatever the occasion (birthday, anniversary, Christmas...) I keep a list in a small spiral notebook, I'll probably start keeping a list on my phone since I just got my first smart phone (thanks, Republic Wireless) - each person gets one page where I can write down whatever I have for them (that way I don't forget and end up with lots and lots of gifts for one person -- that doesn't save money!) and I have a page for miscellaneous gifts I keep on hand. I'll get to misc. gifts in a minute.

Some people are super easy to buy for - for me that's usually my mom, sister, grandmother ... well, most of the females in my life. The men are the hard ones. All they seem to want are gift cards and tools! Tools are usually out of my price range, and I try to avoid giving gift cards as they just seem impersonal to me.

When I spot a gift that has a person's name written all over it during the year, I have 2 options: 1. Is it on a good sale right now and within my budget? If the answer is yes, I buy it. If the answer is no, I move on to the other option. 2.a. keep an eye out for sales for the item 2.b. scour the internet, particularly Amazon and Ebay, for identical or similar items and price compare. If I find one that meets my aforesaid criteria, I buy it.

Shopping year round allows me to look for sales and check the internet over. This saves me money and sanity. Also, I get to do on my time, instead of having to drop everything to rush madly about.

I find a lot of like-new and unique items for a great price at thrift stores. If it needs cleaning, I clean it. If it needs washing, I wash it - and I have time to do both of those things by not waiting until the last minute.

I'll tell you what, I sure feel real accomplished when I find something for one of my "problem buys" early in the year, especially since I know that means I'll be less stressed later.

And while I technically just bought the first gift of the year, I actually have some in my gift trunk (my designated spot to put all purchased or handmade gifts) that I bought previously that are just waiting to be given this year. That's a good feeling.

Oh, the misc. gifts? Those are gifts that are not bought with a specific person in mind, but were really good deals on items that will make good gifts. These are the gifts you look over first when you are invited to a friends birthday party, or find out that someone is in need of a particular item you already have on hand, etc.

No, you won't always have a gift on hand for everyone in every occasion, but it still helps.

A question I sometimes get asked is, "but what about gift lists? If you're buying year round you can't get someone what they really want!" I get the point, but I also think that pay attention to what they say and keep your own list of things they have communicated that they want throughout the year. You can also you can know someone well enough to find something that you know they will love, but would never have thought to put on their list. It's thoughtful, frugal, and doesn't cause any panic attacks.

Is this over-achieving? I don't think so. It just takes a little bit of planning to allow you to live generously within your means, even on a very tight budget.

What are your gift-buying tips?

original image source

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Movie Review - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Happy birthday, Mr. Tolkien!

In honor of his memory, here are 14 points, for the fourteen companions, for a review of the movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (based on Mr. Tolkien's book The Hobbit or There and Back Again).

1. I will try not to spoil the movie for you. If you don't want to take that chance, stop reading now.

2. I believe that if you use source material and claim the same name, that you should be accurate in your interpretation. I give allowance for abridgment, as is necessary. Just bear that in mind too.

3. I went into The Hobbit expecting little resemblance to the book at all. In that, thankfully, I was not entirely correct, and so was a little relieved.

4. I disagree with Jackson making The Hobbit into 3 movies. If Lord of the Rings gets 3 movies, The Hobbit ought to get 1. Que sera sera.

5. The Hobbit is NOT a prequel to the Lord of the Rings. It is a prelude. Jackson apparently doesn't understand that difference, and is bent on making The Hobbit trilogy a prequel to Lord of the Rings. That means forcing information from the LotR appendices into The Hobbit movies. Don't agree, but I understand.

6. The Hobbit (book) is not an epic like the LotR books are. The Hobbit (book) is a lark. It's an adventure. Its focus is on Bilbo. While there is a point to his and the dwarves journeying, it is not a quest in the way LotR was. It was not intended to be that. It was a small band of homeless dwarves attempting the impossible ... the fate of the world did not change if they succeeded or failed.

Not so in the movie. Yes, there are adventures along the way of the adventure, BUT the book was light-hearted. The movie is serious. The movie thinks it is LotR. The movie feels like it is supposed to be LotR. Maybe it does feel that way, but to me it felt off because it felt epic. Because it's not supposed to be epic.

In the very beginning of the movie they come really close to the feel of the book, but then they decidedly do not continue in that light-hearted vein. A pity, really. Thankfully, the scene of the meeting of the dwarves and Bilbo is pretty accurate, for a movie.

7. I do wish all the dwarves had been properly introduced at the beginning of the film. All of their names are thrown out there attached to them at some point during the movie (I think), but it's really hard to keep them separated in the mind. Maybe I'll have it figured by the third movie.

8. The movie is NOT about Bilbo. It should not be named The Hobbit. I think a better suited titled would be "Thorin: Azog's Prey" or "Thorin: The Homeless King" or "Thorin: The Journey Home", as the movie is obviously about the Dwarf King.

9. Since Azog came up, what's he doing in the movie? He has a passing mention in the book. One time. In ancient history. He is not supposed to be pursuing them and it adds nothing to the movie. The movie would flow just find without his presence. Besides, he's horribly CG - distractingly so.

10. Speaking of horribly CG ... was it just me, or did more things in The Hobbit seem CG than in the LotR? Azog. The goblins. The Wargs (or maybe they just looked less real because their mounts looked less real... namely Azog). I mean, in LotR they used a lot of masks. Masks that were not CG, which means they were made and had to therefore look real. Why couldn't they have done that again?

The eagles didn't look terrific (though my husband thinks they look better than in LotR. Maybe they do, I'm not sure. But I didn't look at them in LotR and go "oh they're obviously CG", even though I knew they were.)

The trolls. Deeper voices might have helped them look more realistic. The high voices coming out of the big trolls just wasn't working for me.

Some of the landscape. I don't know if they used more CG for where the company traveled for not. I'm inclined to say they did because...

11. of the unnatural zooming that took place. In Dale, for instance. When we're zooming through the town overhead and then in the middle of and then back to the rooftops it didn't feel like something you could do with a camera, but it felt like something easily done in a 3-D model. That doesn't help with realism. It happened a few other times in the movie too. ... And some of the time I felt that everything was out of focus and I didn't know where to look.

Thankfully, those times didn't last long, but they did happen. That's unfortunate.

12. Why the deep-seated hatred against Elves by Thorin? Totally not there in the book. At all. Can't find it. They explain it in the movie, but it's completely fabricated.

13. As is the harshness against Bilbo by the dwarves, particularly Thorin. Ok, so the dwarves grumble about Bilbo after they escape from the goblins under the mountain (in the book) it is waaaayyy drummed up throughout the whole movie.

14. I believe they lifted more lines straight out of the book this movie than they did in LotR, even if the wrong person said them in the movie. I appreciated that, and hope that is something that continues in the remaining two movies.

So there you have it. What do I think? I think there were several things they got right in the movie, which was more than I expected. There was a lot I would've done differently, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy the movie. I did. And I am curious as to how the remaining two movies turn out.

And in spite of the things I've pointed out about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (and I haven't said all I good, for good or ill), and the skepticism I bring to the remaining two movies, I am looking forward to seeing them. After all, when you expect the worst, you can really only be pleasantly surprised when things don't turn out quite so bad. And maybe, just maybe I'll keep learning how to separate books and movies in my mind.

2 out of 5 stars.

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