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

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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.

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.

Strawberry Pie

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Strawberry Pies are great summer desserts!

 

I got this recipe from a friend in my hometown.  She was constantly writing on her Facebook about these Strawberry Pies and I finally got the courage up to ask her for the recipe.  I always hesitate to ask people for recipes because some people don’t want to give away family recipes and I don’t like to be rejected – especially when it comes to food.  She didn’t seem to mind!  So I’m not going to hesitate sharing it here.

These pies make a great dessert in the summertime because they’re very light, yet still sweet enough to curb that after-supper sweet tooth.  As of this writing, I have two chilling in the refrigerator right now!  Oh so good!!!

 

Recipe (makes 2 pies):

  • 2 Pints Strawberries, cut and hulled (I like to cut mine into smallish pieces)
  • 3 oz Box Strawberry Jello
  • 1 1/4 Cups White Sugar
  • 1 1/2 Cups Water
  • 1/2 Cup Corn Starch
  • Dash of Salt
  • Cool Whip (if desired)
  • 2 prepared pie crusts (you can always make your own, but I just buy them)

Bake pie crusts as directed by manufacturer (or recipe) until golden brown.  You’ll want them to be done all the way, because this is all of the cooking involved in this recipe.  You’ll notice in the picture above that my crusts sort of shrank down into my pie plates.  This is not a desired effect, I think I needed to pull them up a little higher before I baked them.  If you buy pie crusts in the metal pans in the frozen section, there shouldn’t be any risk of this.

On the stove in a saucepan, heat water, sugar, corn starch, and salt until thick.  I’ve found using a whisk when first mixing in the corn starch gets it incorporated well.  Once the mixture is thick, remove from heat and add jello.  Mix well, then add strawberries and fold (or gently stir) them to coat them in the liquid.  Quickly pour mixture into cooled pie crusts and refrigerate 4 hours or you can place them in the freezer for about an hour if you’re in a hurry.

Serve with a dollop of Cool Whip, if desired.

Homemade Sloppy Joes

I love finding recipes for things that can be bought in the store!  So far, I seem to find that things that are mixed yourself are so much better than the store-bought mixes.  Honestly, I like sloppy joes, but I haven’t loved them in the past.  Then I found this recipe when looking for something different to cook.  And oh my goodness – they’re great!  I’m convinced that sloppy joes are one of those things that one must taylor to their own tastes, but I love this recipe just the way it is.

Homemade Sloppy Joes

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbs Butter
  • 2 1/2 lbs ground beef (or ground turkey)
  • Half of a large onion, diced (or a diced whole small onion, just dice some onion, ok?)
  • 1 large green bell pepper, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic minced (or canned minced garlic, see jar for substitution directions)
  • 1 1/2 cups ketchup
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 Tbs brown sugar
  • 2 tsp chili powder (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • Worcestershire Sauce (to taste)
  • 2 Tbs tomato paste
  • Tabasco sauce (optional; to taste)
  • Salt to taste
  • Ground black pepper to taste
  • Kaiser Rolls or Hamburger Buns

Directions:  Add butter to large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat.  Add ground beef and cook until brown.  Drain and discard fat.  Return meat to skillet/ dutch oven.  Add onions, green pepper, and garlic.  Cook for a few minutes or until vegetables begin to get soft.  Add ketchup, brown sugar, chili dry mustard, and water.  Stir to combine and simmer for 15 minutes, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Also add tomato paste, Worcestershire, and Tabasco if desired.  Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.  Spread rolls with butter and brown on griddle or skillet.  Spoonmeat mixture over the rolls or buns.  Enjoy!

 

 

Lava Cupcakes

I have been wanting to try my hand at cupcake decorating ever since my friend Stacy came to visit a little while ago.  I’ve tried it before and just wash’t successful.  I discovered that it turns out I’ve been missing a component for the icing bags in the past.  Which I discovered after I thought I had purchased everything I needed this time!  I still don’t have that component, but I made, filled, and iced the cupcakes anyway.  Ha!

Chocolate Lava Cupcakes

For the cupcakes, I actually just used one of my favorite chocolate cake recipes.  I didn’t want a ton of cupcakes, so I halved the recipe – I used half for the cupcakes I made and mixed the other half of the dry ingredients and placed them in a zip lock back to use later (since I was already measuring out the same ingredients I thought I would save myself some time in the future with a “ready mix”).  The following cupcake recipe can also be used for a 13 x 9 cake (or about 30 cupcakes).

Cupcake Ingredients:

  • 2 cups White Sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups Self-rising Flour
  • 3/4 cup Cocoa Powder
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/2 cup Vegetable Oil (you can sub other oils, such as Olive Oil, if you want)
  • 2 tsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 cup Boiling Water

Directions (for cupcakes):  Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease and flour baking cups OR use cupcake liners.  Mix dry ingredients.  Add rest of ingredients, EXCEPT WATER, and mix.  Add boiling water – batter will be very thin!  Pour into prepared cupcake pan.  Do not fill cups more than 3/4 full.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean.  *This recipe is also not my own.  I’m not certain where I found it, but I think it was on All Recipes.

Lava Fudge Filling

This recipe was something I found in a Paula Deen cooking magazine I have from a few years ago.  Unfortunately, I could not find it on her website to give you an exact link, but I want to give her credit just the same.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate (so 3 ounces total)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 

Directions:  In medium saucepan, combine butter and chocolate.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth.  Stir in sugars.  Add cream; bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  You can let this cool a little before putting it in the cupcakes if you don’t want to be handling piping hot sauce!

 Once cupcakes have cooled, core them – a lot of the pros use an apple corer.  Watch this video for further instruction on how to core and fill cupcakes.  I could not find the squeeze bottles they had in that video for filling my cupcakes.  So, I improvised by using a squeeze bottle from a condiment I had (threw out the condiment, washed and filled with cupcake filling) – it worked out great!  It wasn’t very good at adding the last drizzle over the icing though, but that may have been due to the fudge I was using or the fact that I wasn’t using the correct tool to drizzle it on.  I just wanted to eat a cupcake at that point!  After filling them, you can top them with your favorite icing.  Honestly, you could eat them just as they are without any icing!  Maybe with a little ice cream?  Yum!

Below is a picture of what the cupcake should look like after it has been cored and filled with the sauce.  You’ll notice that I’m not over-filling this blog with food photos.  I’m trying to add only necessary photos – ones that I think may help explain something.  Seriously, I’m growing weary of blogs’ recipes showing them doing things like adding spices or boiling water… some things just don’t need explanation and instead of taking time to enjoy their photos, I find myself annoyed and scrolling to the bottom for the recipe and going back to the photos if I need a visual clarification on something.  Which is why you aren’t even getting a picture of an iced cupcake.  You now what an iced cupcake looks like, you don’t need me to show you.

 

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Delicious Apple Oatmeal

I couldn’t help but share this today… Yesterday I was wanting some oatmeal and in an effort to be more healthy, I stopped buying the flavored packets.  I was at a loss though, because I love oatmeal, but plain oatmeal is disgusting to me.  I’m a fan of bold flavor and let’s face it, plain oatmeal is like the opposite of bold flavor.  

Then something dawned on me.  Make it with apple juice instead of water – like I’ve been doing with the baby’s oatmeal.  It was DELICIOUS, seriously it tasted like apple pie! I see why she loves it so much 😉  I also added a little cinnamon and brown sugar.  The brown sugar actually made it too sweet, which is a hard thing for me to do to any food.  Next time I’ll try just the cinnamon.

Just heat oats (I had whole rolled oats) as directed on package, but use apple juice in place of the water.  Note that I had juice that was NOT from concentrate.  If you use concentrated juice, I would assume the flavor may be less intense.

Enjoy!