Cheesy Bacon Ranch Potato Soup

I came across a pin of Cooking Classy’s “30+ Potato Soup Recipes” on Pinterest and I’m so glad I did.  I’ve made two of the soups from this lady’s blog and loved them both.  The first one I made was the Cheesy Bacon Ranch Potato Soup and it is seriously the best potato soup I’ve ever had.  You read in her “about me” section that she hopes to have her own cooking show one day, well, I’d watch it — I hope she gets picked up for one!

This soup is flavorful and creamy, it’s everything I dream about when I think “potato soup.”  If you’re craving some comfort food or maybe it’s bitterly cold outside and you need something to warm you up, look no further.  I love food that is bursting with flavor, mild things just don’t appease my palate — at all.  That said, this recipe is honestly perfect.  It needs zero changes.  I will admit that I was too lazy to fry the bacon for the topping, but I know it would be perfect with it!  I tried making it without the sour cream and less mayo for my Dad when he was here visiting for Thanksgiving (he’s a health nut and I knew he wouldn’t want the mayo or sour cream) and it just wasn’t anywhere as good as it was when I followed the recipe to a “t.”

Note that this recipe makes a lot of soup!  I ate it for lunch every day for a week straight and still couldn’t eat it all before I was afraid it wasn’t good anymore.  So, if you’re not cooking for many people, you may consider cutting the recipe down.  Here is the recipe for your convenience, but I highly recommend you check out her other soup recipes as well.

Cheesy Bacon Ranch Potato Soup

Ingredients

3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 Tbsp dry ranch dressing mix
3 lbs Russet potatoes, peeled and diced into about 3/4-1″ cubes (about 8 medium potatoes)
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup diced yellow onion (about 1 small onion)
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 (14.5 oz) cans chicken broth*
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, divided (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 oz. finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 1/4 cup)
freshly ground black pepper to taste
10 slices bacon, cooked and chopped (or crumbled if you like it extra crispy)

Directions

In a mixing bowl, whisk together sour cream, mayonnaise, 1/4 cup milk and ranch seasoning mix. Cover bowl and refrigerate.
Heat olive oil a large cast iron dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onion and saute about 4 minutes until golden, add garlic and saute 1 more minute. Add chicken broth and diced potatoes and bring mixture just to a boil, then reduce heat to medium, cover pot and cook 15 – 20 minutes until potatoes are very tender.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together 2 cups milk with 1/4 cup flour (whisk very well to break up flour) and pour mixture into soup. Increase temperature to medium high heat, and bring mixture just to a boil, stirring constantly (stirring constantly will help break down the potatoes a bit). Once mixture reaches a boil, reduce heat to low, add ranch dressing mixture from refrigerator, 1 cup (4 oz) grated Cheddar cheese, grated Parmesan cheese and season with black pepper to taste. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring frequently (note, if you want smaller potato chunks in the soup you can simply mash the soup with a potato masher to break them down a bit more). Serve warm, sprinkle each serving with remaining 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, chopped bacon, and chopped green onions.

*you can use low sodium chicken broth if you prefer, for this recipe I just used regular and didn’t add any salt to the soup. If you use low sodium you may want to add additional salt to the soup.

Recipe Source: Cooking Classy

Chocolate Gravy and Biscuits

Chocolate gravy is delicious!  I remember the first time I had it.  A best friend of mine’s mother made it for us when we were having a sleep over at her house one weekend.  I’ve been a chocoholic since childhood you see and so having chocolate for breakfast was pretty much Heavenly.  If you haven’t tried it, you need to do so!  The following recipe was found on this blog.  Chocolate gravy isn’t overly sweet, so it’s not like a having a melted candy bar over biscuits in the morning.  If you find it’s too sweet for you in the morning, cut back on the sugar a little.

Chocolate Gravy

5 Tbsp unsalted butter

3 Tbsp flour

3 Tbsp cocoa powder

4 Tbsp sugar

1 cup milk

1-1/2 tsp vanilla

Melt butter in skillet. Stir in flour, cocoa powder and sugar and continue to cook over low heat for 2-3 minutes. Slowly add the milk a bit at a time, making sure to incorporate it fully. Once all the milk has been added, cook for another 2 minutes, until thick. Add vanilla off heat. Serve over biscuits, toast or if you really want to be decadent, toasted pound cake. Some people even serve it over eggs, but I’m not quite ready for that yet.

 

Biscuits

This was given to me by a friend, she referred to it as a 2, 1, 1/2 recipe:

 

2 Cups Self-Rising Flour

1 Cup Milk (I find I don’t need quite that much) (use buttermilk for buttermilk biscuits)

1/2 cup cold butter

Preheat oven to 350º F.  Cut butter into flour using a pastry cutter.  Work fast, you don’t want your butter to melt before you get the biscuits in the oven. Cut butter into flour until it there are no large chunks, will look a little “chunky” for the lack of a better word.  Add milk.  Biscuits should be moist, but if they’re sticking to your hands and the bowl, there’s too much milk, add more flour if you add to much milk.  You should be able to handle the dough without much sticking to your hands.  

You can either drop biscuits by the spoon full onto a baking sheet or roll them out on a floured surface (until about 1/2 inch thick) and cut with a biscuit cutter.  Place biscuits touching each other on a baking sheet.  Bake for approximately 10-15 minutes.  I use the toothpick test on biscuits, just like a cake!  

Chicken and Veggies with Balsamic Vinegar

Chicken and Peppers with Balsamic Vinegar Recipe – Allrecipes.com

I made this two nights  ago and it was amazing!  I love food with bold flavors and this dish lived up to my expectations.  Out of the blue, I’ve gotten on a balsamic vinegar kick, it started when I bought it.  I’ve used it a little before, but nothing major.  And oh my, I think I’ve definitely been missing out!

Changes I made:

  • Cut the recipe in half because I was only cooking for myself and I ate almost all of it.
  • Added broccoli because I had some that I needed to use up.  Honestly, the broccoli was the star veggie in this dish.  I wouldn’t say I would remove the peppers because I’m sure they add a layer of flavor, but next time I’ll cut down the peppers, add more onion and broccoli (because those two stood out the best to me).
  • Added the balsamic vinegar all at once.  I didn’t do this intentionally, I was talking with a friend on Skype while I was cooking and it just kind of happened.  I would like to think it turned out for the best as all of the basaltic vinegar caramelized and again, the flavor was amazing.  However, since I haven’t tried it as the directions state, I can’t say it was better than if I had added the last of the vinegar at the end (as the recipe calls for).

If you aren’t a fan of balsamic vinegar, I would encourage you to try this dish and allow the vinegar to caramelize — the taste is nothing like straight balsamic vinegar or even that of a balsamic vinaigrette.

Drip Beef, Two Ways | The Pioneer Woman Cooks | Ree Drummond

Drip Beef, Two Ways | The Pioneer Woman Cooks | Ree Drummond

I’m continuing my results with the recipes for this weeks menu that I listed in this previous post.  Last night’s supper was the Drip Beef Sandwich recipe listed above, along with these homemade deli rolls.

I mentioned in my menu plan that I was on the lookout for new crock pot recipes, so I decided to adapt this one for my crock pot — also, I don’t own a dutch oven as the recipe lists.

Adjustments I made:

  1. Used crock pot instead of Dutch oven.
  2. Only used 2 lb meat (I’m only cooking for 2).
  3. Cut some of the measurements to “scant” portions since I was using less meat.  The soy sauce (I used the second recipe) was very scant, I didn’t even have half a cup, so I added a little more Italian seasoning to help with the flavor.
  4. I substituted sherry for Brandy, because Brandy was what I already had on hand.
  5. Improvised on the directions to work with a crock pot:  I sautéed the onions and garlic in the butter, when the onions were browned (per the directions) I added the Brandy.  I heated that thoroughly and transferred to the crockpot.  I stabbed the meat all over with a knife, then placed in the crockpot with everything from the skillet.  Then I added the spices and water.  Before serving, I removed the meat from the pot and placed the juices in bowls for dipping the sandwiches into.

Verdict:  This was great!  I added a little extra salt at the end and I think if I had used more soy sauce (as the recipe calls for) it might’ve been a little more flavorful, but it was still pretty awesome.

Here’s the original recipe and directions, for your convenience:

Ingredients

  • 1 whole 2.5 To 4 Pound Chuck Roast
  • 1/4 cup Butter
  • 1 whole Large Onion, Sliced Thick
  • 3 cloves Garlic, Peeled
  • 1/2 cup Soy Sauce
  • 1 cup Sherry (cooking Sherry Is Fine)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 4 cups Water
  •  Toasted, Buttered Deli Rolls
  •  Rosemary, Thyme, Other Spices (optional)

Preparation Instructions

Heat butter in a heavy pot over medium-high heat. Saute the onions for a couple of minutes, or until starting to get brown.

Set chuck roast on top of the onions. Add all remaining ingredients. Cover pot and simmer (very low heat) on the stove for 6 hours, or until beef is fork-tender and falling apart. **If meat is not yet tender, return to oven for 30 minute intervals till it’s tender!** Shred meat with two forks until all large chunks are gone. Serve immediately or continue to simmer for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

*Mixture can be refrigerated overnight. Remove hardened fat from top of pan before reheating.

Serve on top of toasted, buttered deli rolls. Top with cheese and place under the broiler if desired.

Herbed Slow Cooker Chicken Recipe | Taste of Home

Herbed Slow Cooker Chicken Recipe | Taste of Home

In this post, I laid out a meal plan to work around the meat items I had in my freezer and listed this recipe on the menu for this week.

Our verdict:  It was pretty good!  I’m not going to say it would go down in the history books, but it was good and nice to have something different than our normal routine.

The flavor was good, but I definitely overcooked the chicken so it was a little dry (I didn’t even know you could overcook meat in a crockpot).  I took some of the suggestions in the reviews on the link’s page and stabbed the meat repeatedly with a knife.

Adjustments I made:

I used 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  I also just poured the olive oil and spices into the crock pot before I added the chicken broth and tossed and smushed the seasonings into/on the chicken (I didn’t see the need to dirty up a bowl just for tossing them in.  I also did not use the optional browning sauce.

My husband liked it even more than I did, so I would make it again!

Budget Meal Tip: Raid Your Pantry

I’ve set out to live within a budget, I’ve quickly realized that realistic expectations are necessary to do this.  The price of food is going up, up, up my friends, definitely not helping my grocery budget at all.   While I love to cook, I often look in my pantry that seems to be overflowing with stuff, but still think to myself, “There’s nothing to eat.”  Shame on me!  Isn’t part of being a good cook is that you can create a meal out of bits and pieces of what you have on hand?  Yes, the answer is yes.  I’m demoting myself — I’m no longer a good cook, I’m just a cook.

In order to earn my status back, I’ve challenged myself with this upcoming grocery run.  Instead of  cooking the same old thing and buying the same old ingredients, I’m raiding my pantry/fridge/freezer to see what’s on hand.  Having the energy or the time to plan new, exciting meals with a baby around seems dang near impossible.  How did I do it you ask?  I woke up at 5;30 am this morning, had my coffee, took note of what I had on hand, and found recipes to fit my ingredients instead of the other way around.  Admittedly, I’m  a morning person by nature and today, it has paid off!

STEP 1:  What meat do you have on hand?

Meat has gone up substantially I feel like.  So I looked in my freezer to see what I already had and here’s what I found:

  • A 2 lb bag of tilapia (that was bought on a day I was feeling energetic evidently)
  • Approximately 1/2 lb of shrimp
  • Approximately 1/2 lb of scallops
  • Tons of burger patties
  • 3 chicken breasts
  • Chicken wings

That’s at least 4 meals worth of meat and it’s already in my freezer — I HAVE to stop being lazy and work with what I’ve got!  Anyone with me?

STEP 2:  Find recipes that fit your meat

I love all recipes.com and Taste of Home websites.  I went to them and entered my meats into their search bar.  I’ve never made fish tacos and thought I might give them a try.  They usually have great recipes and I love that I can read tons of reviews before making my decision on  a recipe.  Who has time or money to waste on food?  No one, that’s who.

Here’s what’s on my menu for this upcoming week:

  1. Blackened Tilapia Baja Tacos, but replace the jalepeno peppers for chipotle peppers.  I got the adobo pepper replacement idea from this recipe for Grilled Fish Tacos.  I’m also going to play around with the sauce a little.  Maybe I’ll see if I can recreate a little Chipotle-style medium salsa!  I’m also going to try my hand at making homemade tortillas.
  2. Baked Seasoned Tilapia with rice and a veggie, I’ve made this before and all it requires is some Creole Seasoning (which I already have on hand).  I love it because it is delicious and easy!
  3. Herbed Slow Cooker Chicken.  I’ve been looking for a good crock pot recipe for chicken.  I love my crock pot, but the truth is that I don’t have hardly any recipes for it at all.
  4. Drip Beef, again this is a new recipe, but Ree Drummond hasn’t steered me wrong yet, so I’m sure this will be amazing.  Will also be making my own deli rolls, using this recipe.  If you haven’t learned to make your own bread, give it a try!  Making homemade bread is actually really easy, just remember — bread needs tlc, you can’t rush it.
  5. Slow Cooker Carnitas, I had so wanted to make these, but in the spirit of sticking with my budget, I passed on picking up this meat once I got to the grocery store.  There wasn’t a piece the size that I needed and I would’ve had to buy way too much.  It’ll have to wait for another day… maybe next trip, I’ll plan for a “expensive” meal.
  6. Burgers with fries (I already have the fries).
  7. “Finger Food Night”:  In addition to the chicken wings, I also found some fries  and other finger foods that I’m going to whip up when the day feels right.

For all of this, the only meat I purchased was some extra chicken (I was afraid the 3 pieces I had wouldn’t be enough) and the chuck roast.

Other purchases I had to make or complete these meals:

  • Lettuce (for tacos and hamburgers)
  • Broccoli (for seasoned tilapia dish)
  • Minced garlic (I sub this in place of fresh garlic or garlic powder)
  • Onion (several recipes)
  • Hamburger Buns
  • Bay Leaves

I think that was all the necessary food purchases I had to make!

I’ll be posting my results and “tweaks” of the above recipes, so stay tuned!

Pizza Boats

This is how your Pizza Boats should look once assembled (minus any extra toppings you choose).

This is how your Pizza Boats should look once assembled (minus any extra toppings you choose).

When my sister and I were in school, we had to take our own lunches.  Stouffer’s came out with these frozen french bread pizzas that we just loved.  They looked like boats to us so we called them, “Pizza Boats.”  I’ve been wanting to make some of these homemade for a while now, but am just now getting round to it.  I saw an episode of The Pioneer Woman here recently where she whipped up a bunch of these French Bread Pizzas with different toppings.  I saw how easy it was and decided it was time to give it a try myself.  I chose to just do a regular ‘ole pepperoni topping because I’m creative like that.  Ok, ok, I was being lazy.  Cut a girl some slack!

Pepperoni Pizza Boats

Ingredients:

  • Deli rolls or small baguettes (I actually used a really huge roll of French Bread that I cut in half down the middle)
  • Your favorite Pizza Sauce (I used the same Hunt’s Pizza Sauce that I use for my Pizza Casserole)
  • Mozzarella (The recipe I followed called for fresh, sliced mozzarella, but after having done it,I think I could’ve just as easily used the shredded bagged stuff)
  • Pepperonis
  • Other Pizza toppings of your choice

Directions:  Preheat oven to 375º F.  Slice rolls in half long ways (so you separate the top and the bottom).  If you are using a large french bread roll like I did, cut them in half the other way also, so that there’s now two pieces of the top and two pieces of the bottom.  Place them on a cookie sheet with the flat sides up and add the pizza sauce, followed by the cheese, then finish with the pepperonis.  Turn oven temperature up to 400º F.  Place on oven rack that is below center (see note below) for approximately 8 minutes.  If your cheese isn’t melted enough, you may need to move them up to the middle of the oven.

*The recipe in the link above directs you to place on lowest rack in the oven.  Mine was placed one slot below the middle and it worked great for me.  If I had placed it on the lowest slot for the amount of time directed, I would’ve burnt them.  The crusts on these are supposed to be nice and crunchy, however, if you don’t care much for a crunchy crust, cook them more towards the center of the oven at 375º F.

Baby Schedules Are Important!

I offered on a previous post to help people with their babies’ sleep for free.  I received a few responses from that.  But what has really just blown me away is the number of responses that I received from the same offer I posted on a What to Expect forum.  In 3 days, I’ve had 7 people from that website alone contact me!  I’m busy with my pro bono work and while it would be great to make some extra cash doing something that was so helpful to people and that I actually enjoy, I’m having a good time helping folks out.

So far, I’ve recognized one common issue among the people I’m speaking with – their babies’ sleep schedules are all off to some degree or another.  Some need to regulate nap schedules, others need to be consistent with the “awake for the day” and bedtime times.  it’s truly amazing how much these consistencies affect a baby sleeping well.

I really wanted to write a post with nap schedules and things detailed, but instead of reinventing the wheel, I’m recommending you sign up for the Baby Sleep Site’s free download of 5 Ways to SSTN.  If you decide you don’t want their e-mails and and  things, you can easily opt out of the e-mails later on.  I hope to get some detailed posts on naps soon.

If you have any questions about baby sleep, including naps, please feel free to ask them in the comments.

“The Circle” of Naps and Bedtime Sleep

After writing this post about my experience with a sleep consultant and offering to help other families get their babies to sleep well for free, I quickly received two requests.  Honestly, I was a little amazed that it happened so quickly, but mostly excited to help these two families.  I hope they are finding the information I’m offering them helpful.  It also became immediately apparent that there is a lot I would like to write about to help families who may really be able to quickly find answers without even needing me directly!

I began to write this post and it became so extensive (because there is so much that changes with age), that I decided to break it down into multiple posts by age.  0-3 months (newborns), 3-6 months, 6-9 months, and 9-12 months.

To get started, here are some things you should know about sleep for babies 3 months and older:

  • Good naps equal good night time sleep and vice versa (it’s a circle)
  • Overtired babies sleep worse (both at naps and nighttime)
  • Keeping your baby awake for longer periods of time will not result in a longer/better nap, it will actually worsen it
  • Your baby’s sleep environment can play a major factor on quality of sleep.  Here are some ideas/tips for creating a sleep-inducing environment:
    • Block out the sun by covering windows with black-out curtains or black trash bags.  I have personally used industrial strength clean-up bags (trash bags) and they work great.  This is an especially helpful tip during the summer when the sun is up when your baby is being put down to bed or when the sun is coming up before your baby should be awake.
    • Use white noise.  This helps recreate the sounds of the womb and is also very great at drowning out the rest of the house.  Sound machines (available for purchase at many baby stores and online) and CDs with ocean noises and the like are popular white noise sources.  *When purchasing a sound machine look for one that will not turn off after a set amount of time, lights are optional or nonexistent, and can be battery operated or plugged in.
    • Most babies sleep well with the room temperature between 68-72 ºF.  Keeping the room too warm is a SIDS contributor.  Dr. Sears recommends 70º F (see link below).
    • Use cozy sheets, such as flannel.  Plain cotton sheets are not very cozy and are cool to the touch, which can contribute to baby awakening when you lay him/her down.
    • Nap time and bed time routines are very helpful.  Elizabeth Pantley suggests beginning your baby’s wind down period an hour before you would like him/her to be asleep.  That’s not to say that bedtime routine has to begin an hour before, but you can begin to set the stage for sleep an hour before.  Around 30 minutes before bed, try a warm bath, followed by fresh diaper, lotion, pi’s and nursing/bottle (unless you’re trying to break a nursing/ bottle to sleep association).  Complete the after bath routine in the room baby will be sleeping in with low lights, fading to dark during the last step.  Nap time routines can be as short as 5 -10 minutes – simply turning on white noise, shutting blinds, etc. is enough of a nap routine.
    • When beginning to correct any sleep issues, charting your baby’s tired times (before bed and naps) may be helpful.  Elizabeth Pantley’s printable nap time and bed time routine logs may be of interest to you.  *When I was searching for sleep issue help, I took some of her ideas and made my own spreadsheet that made a little better since to me and had some different info on it.  For example, these two logs don’t have a place for you to write when you noticed baby’s tired signs and I really wanted that on my chart).
    • Speaking of baby’s tired signs.  Learn them!!
    • When baby shows signs of tiredness, try to get him/her to bed within 10 minutes.  You should already have completed your bedtime/nap time routine before his/ her tired signs.  *This is where charting comes in handy.  When you learn baby’s tired time, you can plan on completing sleep routine right before.

Other resources for best sleep:

 

The more I read forums and talk to other parents, it’s apparent to me that there are a lot of misconceptions about baby sleep and honestly a lot of fairly simple solutions.  Not that all are simple and maybe even less simply applied!  Feel free to contact me, I will get back to you as soon as I can.  I love helping families get better rest and am loving learning more and more every day about baby sleep.