Monday, January 26, 2015

Beef and Cabbage Soup

My mom recently retired and has been flexing her kitchen muscles for the first time in...decades? It's not that we didn't eat well when I was growing up - we ate very well, thanks to dear ole Daddy, who LOVES to cook and does it extremely well. Seeing this as a pretty sweet deal, my mom did not argue when Daddy took the reins in the kitchen - when polyester bellbottoms and wide white belts were in style - and he's been the head chef ever since. Now that she's retired, though, my mom's been spending more time in the kitchen. And lucky me - I now have two parents sharing recipes with me.

One that she shared a few weeks ago is this cabbage soup recipe. I'm posting it because A) it will be easier for me to find it later, and 2) it's really yummy. We all liked it - even the kiddos. And Stephen liked it even better when he realized it wasn't supposed to be chili. (Ha!) Plus, it froze and re-heated well - a definite bonus in my book.
When I make this again, I'll take a photo and put it here!
Beef and Cabbage Soup

  • 1 T butter
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced (My mom's recipe didn't include this or the carrots, but I thought that if it had celery, squeezing in these two extra veggies would probably good, too.)
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 3/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 16 oz. can kidney beans, including liquid
  • 1 28 oz. can tomatoes, including liquid (I used fire-roasted tomatoes.)
  • 1 tomato can full of water
  • 1/2 head cabbage, chopped
  • 2 cubes of beef bouillon
(The recipe my mom gave me called for 4 cubes of beef bouillon, which I put in the pot, but then I looked at the jar to see what is actually IN beef bouillon...and it included MSG. I'd never been too worried about MSG before - I try to avoid it as much as the next gal, but I'm not obsessed about it - but I had just watched a documentary about how nasty that stuff is AND I had just had Chinese food about a week before, which instantly gave me a headache and made me feel desperately tired - probably because of the MSG. So I fished out two of the bouillon cubes, and it still tasted delicious. Next time, I'll look for a beef bouillon or beef base that does not contain MSG.)
  1. In a large pot, over medium heat, sauté celery, carrots, and onion in butter until onions are translucent, stirring often.
  2. Add ground beef and brown. Drain.
  3. Add all other ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour. Enjoy!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Cookie Decorating Bliss

Mmmm… On Saturday, we baked my very favorite Christmas cookies—they’re buttery, not overly sweet, and have a light texture that just melts in your mouth. To see the recipe, click here.

Melt-in-your-Mouth Sugar Cookies

Which is just what I did to reference the recipe, and I saw that when I posted this a couple of years ago, it was in the wake of a cut-out Christmas cookie disaster. Since then, I have found much more user-friendly recipes and learned a few tricks for doing cut-out cookies, and the tradition has become not only a favorite of my now seven-year-olds, but a pleasure for me, as well.

Best Sugar Cookie RecipeFirst, my new go-to sugar cookie recipe: This one tastes delicious—buttery and sweet enough without frosting, but not so sweet with frosting that it makes your teeth hurt. Plus, it already calls for almond extract—one of my go-tos for making baked goods taste extra-special. {Always my number one priority in the kitchen—I have no use for pretty, but mediocre-tasting food.} I appreciate that this sugar cookie recipe does not require refrigerating before rolling and cutting—perfect for anxious cookie decorators—it rolls out nicely, and the dough keeps its shape well when baking. It did not yield a ton of cookies—maybe around two dozen large cut-outs—which is perfect if what you’re trying to accomplish is the experience of decorating Christmas cookies. If you want enough to share, you’ll want to double the recipe—especially if you have a large enough mixer to accommodate a double batch. One note—our cookie cutters are around 3-4”, and these cookies took quite a bit longer to bake than this recipe suggests. Another note—this dough is fairly stiff. If you don’t have a stand mixer, anticipate kneading by hand.

Tip: If you don’t have parchment paper, buy some. Use it for rolling out the dough, and sprinkle it generously with flour before putting the dough on it. Also, dust the top of the dough with flour to reduce its sticking to the rolling pin. Roll from the center-out, rather than back-and-forth across the dough, and the parchment paper won’t scoot around as much on the counter. {I’m considering buying one of those silicon mats for rolling out cookies and pie crusts and such, but until then, I’ll use parchment paper.} I’ve also become fond of lining cookie sheets with parchment paper—something people have been doing forever—to reduce sticking, and so I don’t have to clean cookie sheets. I don’t know why, but I loathe that particular clean-up chore.

To frost cookies, I like to use a thinned-out version of Wilton’s buttercream frosting recipe  It doesn’t dry quite as hard as royal icing, but I think it tastes better. {I make mine with almond extract instead of vanilla, of course, and with water rather than milk. And I generally double the recipe when I'm baking a cake—that way, there's enough leftover to put in the freezer and save for things like cookie decorating.} Add extra water to it to get it thin, but not runny, and pipe it through a piping bag. {I like the 12” plastic piping bags that you can buy at Hobby Lobby, Michael’s, and Walmart, to name a few places.} Outline the cookie first, and then fill it in. There’s also premade cookie frosting that can be purchased at most grocery stores—not as tasty as homemade, but sometimes you have to put your sanity first. Let your cookies sit out all day or overnight to dry—they can wait that long to go in an airtight container and still taste perfectly wonderful.
Wilton also makes these super-handy premade frosting tubes that work with all of my Wilton icing tips—a product I just discovered last month when decorating the girls’ birthday cake. To get really rich colors, it takes so much food coloring…it’s just not worth the work when you can buy these instead. I like that these are in a "bag," so they have more of a piping bag feel than some other ready-made icing products, if you're used to that sort of thing. Plus, you can swap out the icing tips, which is something you can’t do when using traditional piping bags. I found these at Target.
The final key to cookie decorating bliss is to have seven-year-olds. There are several magical ages, and I’m finding that seven is one of them. The girls are finally old enough to be actually helpful in the kitchen {not the “You can help by watching” kind of helpful that my mom always asked to me to do as a kid—which I completely sympathize with, now that I am a mom. My personal opinion is that they don't learn much from "helping" in the kitchen when they're little, except maybe that flour all over the place is not good for Mommy's sanity, but I digress...} My babies are old enough now to pipe the frosting themselves, add sprinkles to the cookies more than to the floor, and be trusted not to sneeze on the cookies. Still, we ate these ourselves rather than sharing this particular batch of sweets with others—not so much because these weren’t worthy of sharing, but simply because we enjoyed them, ourselves.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

My Problem with Christmas

Two unexpected things happened to my week yesterday:

1. The heat went out.

2. I found out that the girls have a half day of school on Friday. (Their school usually communicates this information in about eight different ways - I'm not sure how I missed this one.)

I don't know about everyone else, but this week has just about been my undoing.

Following my birthday and Stephen's last week, this week has included an after-school birthday party, 2 school Christmas parties, 14 teacher gifts to prep and deliver, trying to go get my hair done before Christmas, a doctor's appointment, a beloved dog who has not been putting weight on her back-right leg for 10 days and needs to see the vet, 2 car airbags that have been recalled and should be replaced before we travel for Christmas, Christmas cards that I'm stressed out about not getting out sooner - especially with a new address this year - presents to wrap, packages to ship... Sound familiar?

I have a love-hate relationship with this time of year. I love, love, love Christmas, but...

Additionally, I have wrestled this season with Christmas - our Savior's birthday - versus Christmas - parties and presents and decorations galore. What has irked me even more than usual this year is the way that we're made to feel that it's wrong to talk about what Christmas is really all about, as Linus would say. I can't imagine deciding to celebrate Hanukkah because the parties and presents sounded fun to me, only to pull the "politically correct" card on anyone who dared to wish me a "Happy Hanukkah" instead of "Happy Holidays" or talk about the miracle of the oil when all I wanted to do was decorate my house with a menorah and enjoy eight days of gifts. How could I get in a huff about that if I were the one deciding to celebrate their holiday??? Grrr...

Last Sunday, however, our pastor preached one of the best Christmas - or any season - sermons I've ever heard. He opened by talking about not trying to reconcile the commercial Christmas with the real Christmas - attempting to do so will only drive us crazy - they are two different celebrations, and there's nothing wrong with Christians enjoying both. More importantly, he talked about why we need Christmas - the real one - explaining our need for a Savior in a way that brought the Old Testament and the New together with our lives today, touching hearts and minds alike. If you'd care to give it a listen, here's the link:


And so I left church on Sunday, feeling oh-so-Christmassy. Monday was mostly good, but then there was Tuesday. Frantic city. By Wednesday, I was nursing a 48-hour headache, snapping at Stephen, and thinking "I know that this is not what Christmas is all about."

And then our heat went out.

And I found out that the girls will be dismissed from school early on Friday.

And you know what I thought? "Thank you, God, that I am being forced to cancel the rest of my appointments for the week."

So I am sitting at the house, waiting for the repair man to arrive. My hair is not going to get cut today (or at all between now and Christmas). Oh, well.

I will not have time to leave the van at the dealership for four hours on Friday, so we'll have to get that taken care of on Monday.

Which means that while I'm stuck at home, I can finish addressing Christmas cards and wrapping presents (and write this blog post). And I can take our dog to the vet on Friday.

The girls' vacation from school will start sooner than I expected, and I am quite happy to have that much-needed break start a few hours earlier.

My epiphany for the day: The sin is not in enjoying all of the other stuff that goes along with this season; the sin is in not enjoying the season at all. When I'm cranky about doing things that should bring me joy - things that I do truly love to do for others, but are becoming stressful to-dos as the December calendar ticks on - that's when something has really gone wrong with this season. The problem with Christmas is not that others are spending billions of dollars in retail and don't know the point of the season (although I do pray for others to know Christ, too) - my problem with Christmas this week is me.

If there are things on our to-do lists that bring more stress than joy (for us and for our loved ones), may we cross them off - finished or not - and enjoy this season. In our home, we will bake some more cookies, put together wintry puzzles, watch Christmas specials, and read Christmas stories - including those about Santa Claus and the Nutcracker, as well as what happened that night in the manger more than 2000 years ago. May we rest, may we play, may we bring cheer. And may we remember what CHRISTmas really is all about.