Friday, January 31, 2014

Winter's Gracious Presence Has Arrived!

A friend of mine coined the phrase "whipped cream delight" when referring to the snow, and truly... the snow we just received over the past few days, is so beautiful, clean, sparkling, and delectable looking that you could almost eat it, it is so beautiful!  The dogs certainly don't mind eating the snow, and the kids have been known on occasion to grab a handful of snow.... there is something so irresistible about it!

I got out early this morning to take the dogs on a hike, and it was still overcast.  However, the snow was incredibly fluffy, soft, and dreamy looking! I couldn't wait a minute longer!

And neither could the dogs... the dogs as usual... began showing their excitement about the possibility of a hike by going crazy, and nipping, and chasing each other, and generally just being very rambunctious and excited!

It was overcast this morning when I left, but you could seek the clouds lifting.

The snow was coating the tree in huge clumps of silvery loveliness.

The skies are starting to part!  Oh sun, please come forth!!!

Our hike took us into the woods behind our home.  You can see the trail covered in deep white snow.

Annie is happiest when she is completely immersed in and covered with snow!

Oh the excitement and possibilities that snow brings to the day!

Most of the tree branches were laden down with their gorgeous burdens.  About 3-4" were on most of the tree limbs.

There were new arches or arbors of branches covering the trail.  The snow had created all kinds of amazing possibilities with the branches hanging low, all laden down with their snowy creations.

Incredible to see the scope of every single tree covered with the snow.  And they say that each snowflake is unique and no one of them is alike... well... that just boggles my noggin! Incredible to look at the innumerable snowflakes covering my world, and to know that the Creator of this Universe is so creative that HE made each one different.... I just stand in amazement at His Handiwork!

Every step I took was almost knee-deep in snow.  Approximately 9" of snow fell, with more falling or gathering in some places, and then others, the snow would be ankle deep.  What a workout it is to hike through the deep snow! But in this winter wonderland, I wasn't complaining!

Incredible how much snow had taken up residence on these trees!

The dogs never seemed to tire of digging their noses down deep in the snow...

Ahhh!!! The sun was shoving the clouds away, and ushering herself into this winter wonderland scene!

Every snowflake seemed to take on a drop of sunlight, as the sun spread wide her arms of love, and showered the world with her warmth, and beauty!

As the blue sky began to fade out the clouds, the trees just seemed to stand up straighter!

It was taking some effort, but the sun was making huge strides in order to let her rays shine forth...

The canopy of trees overshadowing the trail was simply divine...

Someone had come through the trail with their vehicle, making this part of the hike much easier on the 'ole calves!  I didn't have to step so deep with every step!

 The trail turned a bit, and this is my favorite part of the trail, where the trees have grown very close together, and an incredible canopy is showcased.

By the time I got to the end of the hike, the sun had really broken through the clouds, and the whole world had taken on the warmth of her appearance.

Normally when I walk on this trail, there are certain areas of canopies covering the trail, but today... it seemed all the trees were bowing with their beautiful burdens of snow, leaning over us as we walked through...

And interesting snow formation with these two small branches!

Towards the end of the walk, Annie would just lie down in the snow like she couldn't get enough of it!

She never stayed still very long though.... too many things to investigate, and report on!

What a cute little ragamuffin with his snowball face!!!

Sadly, it was time for the walk to end. I could have walked on forever, I think, in the glorious world out there today... but other duties were calling me.... Let's hope that tomorrow is as lovely as today! Looking forward to some more fun in the snow tomorrow.... I'm glad Winter finally decided to grace us with her presence!!!!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Homemade Cream of Mushroom Soup and Cheeseburger Casserole

I use a lot of cream soups in my cooking.  I probably should have bought stock in Campell's a long time ago, for all the money I've invested in their products!

Well, that's about to change! I've just discovered an excellent, inexpensive, and healthy alternative to cooking with dear 'ole Campbells!

I found a recipe for Homemade Cream Soup.  Since my plans for dinner included using two cans of Campbell's soup, and I had all the ingredients for homemade cream soup, today was the day to give it a whirl, and see for myself.

To begin cooking the soup, first you melt the butter and a dash of olive oil in a large skillet.

Let the butter melt, and slowly turn a golden color...

 Then it is time to add in your veggies...

First, I added a whole chopped onion... stir it around, and let it cook for 3-4 minutes...

Then add in the remainder of the veggies, which are celery, mushrooms, and 1 jalapeno (seeded & diced)...

Stir the veggies around, and simmer for another 4-5 minutes until they are nice and browned...

Now the next step is optional.  This wasn't in the recipe, but because onions are outlawed in my house (my husband can't stand the texture of onion... PERIOD!), so I knew that in my house, having large chunks of onions and mushrooms would not go over well.  My solution...

Blend them into a pulp.  I plunked all the veggies, plus the 1 cup milk into my blender...

And gave it a whirl!!!

Not really that appetizing looking, to be sure... BUT... at least I've got my bases covered with the picky eaters in my family!

Now, in a large skillet (I rinsed out the one I just used for the veggies), melt the butter until it is bubbly, and then add the flour.

Let the butter and flour brown a bit, and then add in the chicken broth...

You are basically creating a homemade gravy here.  Whisk the gravy mixture until creamy, and all chunks of flour have disappeared, and you have a beautiful brown gravy.

Now it is time to add the blended veggie mix...

Whisk until you have a beautiful gravy/soup mixture.

Now it is time to pour up the soup into a large canning jar.  I will be using this homemade soup mix throughout the week, and it can be stored in the refrigerator for several days.

I found that this recipe makes about 4 cups of cream soup.

Now that I had the cream soup all ready to go, it was time to move on to putting together the casserole on my menu for this evening's meal.  It is a favorite recipe of our family, and honestly, it is so simple that it sounds too good to be true, but I'll promise you that its got a comforting taste that has you going back for seconds!  I'll post both recipes below...

To get started, brown up the hamburger meat, seasoning with salt, pepper and a couple of fresh squeezed garlic cloves.

While the meat is browning, peel, and dice up your potatoes, and place in a large oven roaster. My Pampered Chef stoneware roaster is my go-to pot.  Love it!

Peel and dice carrots, and add those to the pot.

Dump in the browned, drained hamburger meat...

Pour in about 1-1/2 cups of the homemade cream soup, and add a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce.

Stir it all together, and salt and pepper to taste. Pop this into the oven for 1-1/2 hours to 2 hours at 300 degrees . If you are in a hurry for dinner, you can cook it at 350 for an hour.  I find that cooking it slow keeps the potatoes more tender, and not so mushy.

Pull out of the oven, and give it a good stir. Taste, and adjust seasonings if necessary. Sometimes you might need more salt.  Potatoes absorb a lot of salt, and it is always a good idea to check for seasoning before serving.

Then take some grated Pepper Jack cheese, and sprinkle liberally over top of hamburger mix, and cover with lid.  Let sit for 10 minutes or so, and then its ready to serve!

To go along with my Cheeseburger Casserole, I baked up a loaf of Honey Oatmeal bread in the bread machine.  Ohh, the house smelled heavenly while it was all baking.

Supper time was ready in a cinch when the kids got home from school, and we enjoyed sitting around the table together visiting.  I shared with them how I had made the soup for the casserole from scratch, and they definitely thought that the taste was much better with the homemade than the bought canned brand.

Give it a whirl sometime... it takes a few minutes to make, but you can have the soup handy for the rest of the week's cooking, knowing you made it yourself, and save yourself all the effort of opening up all those pesky soup cans when its time to cook dinner again!

Here are the recipes below for the Homemade Cream Soup and the Cheeseburger Casserole.

3/4 cup butter, divided
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
1-2 stalks celery, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded, diced
1 cup fresh mushrooms
1/2 cup flour
1 cup milk
2 cups chicken broth
3 Tbsp chicken bouillon
1 Tbsp salt

Melt ¼ cup butter and oil in large skillet. Add onions, and cook on medium heat for three to four minutes until lightly browned.  Add in remainder of veggies, and cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until all lightly browned, and soft.  Optional: Blend veggies and milk in blender, or remove veggies from skillet.  Melt 1/2 cup butter in skillet, and add 1/2 cup flour.  Whisk together until flour is lightly brown.  Stir in chicken broth, bouillon, and salt, and stir until a light brown gravy forms.  Mix back in veggies and stir all together.  Ladle soup into glass canning jar.  Makes about 4 cups of soup that can be used in any recipe calling for a cream soup.  

1-1/2 pounds hamburger meat, cooked, drained
4 cups potatoes, peeled, diced (about 4-6 potatoes)
1 cup carrots, peeled, diced (about 2-3 carrots)
1-1/2 cups (or so) homemade cream soup (or 2 cans cream mushroom soup)
2-3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Garlic, salt, pepper to taste
1-1/2 cups grated Pepper Jack Cheese

Using a large oven roaster, mix potatoes, carrots, and hamburger meat together.  Stir in the cream soup and Worcestershire sauce.  Season with salt, and pepper. Bake in 300 oven for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until potatoes are tender.  Remove from oven, and sprinkle grated cheese on top.  Replace lid, and let casserole sit for 10 minutes.  Serve.