Vegetable Drawer Soup

SP356JEvery once in a while, I notice that my fridge has an abundance of ingredient leftovers. Half a bag of carrots here, the celery leaves in the middle of the stalk, some small potatoes, and all the small amounts of vegetables that didn’t make it into one recipe or another. Instead of letting them go bad, and having to throw them away, I use my Grandma’s method of making soup: start with the basics (carrots, celery, potatoes, onions, and garlic) and add zucchini, yellow squash, broccoli, green beans, corn kernels, and anything that sounds good mixed all together. This is an excellent time to look through your freezer and pantry to see if there are any things there you want to add (such as beans and tomatoes.) This makes for a different soup each time. Since you’ll be using ingredients you have available, they should be items you already like. Win-Win!

I start by chopping all the vegetables to about the same size. I like a small-bite size (think little kid size), so that the soup cooks evenly. For ease, use a slicer on as many veggies as possible. There will be differences, like corn nibblets and flat slices, but that just adds some different textures to the dish. Frankly, having some of the veggies melt in your mouth, is a goal of mine with this soup.

Once all the veggies are cut and ready, I heat a couple of tablespoons of butter or olive oil in a pan and add the minced garlic and chopped onions. To be fair, you really don’t have to cook the onions (especially if they are sweet onions) but it does help them get a rich flavor. After a few minutes, when the onions are translucent, add some tomato paste. I learned a long time ago that tomato paste loses that sour bite when you cook it for a few minutes. If you didn’t know about this trick already, it works with all recipes requiring paste. My twist on this procedure, is to push the garlic and onions to the sides and place the paste directly on the pan in the middle; don’t be afraid to let it sizzle on the pan. Stir the paste a bit so that all of it gets cooked evenly and the color changes slightly. Stir the garlic and onions into the cooked paste and set aside.

Now, let’s talk spices. Salt and pepper, obviously, are basic staples; but a person could get lost in the many varieties of herbs and spices available. The best part about this soup is that you can adapt it to what you have on hand. Need to use up some of that fancy paprika you once bought? Toss some in there. Parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme? Why not! Often, I will use poultry seasoning. Yup, you heard me right…poultry seasoning! It has a good blend of spices that can add a mellow, unifying flow to the vegetables. As for me, I like to experiment. I added a bit of allspice to the last batch. Another thing I learned about tomato sauce and soup recipes, is that you should add a bit of sugar to counter the acidity.

When you’re ready begin building your crock pot of soup, I suggest starting with the potatoes and other chunks of dense veggies. You’ll want these to be closer to the heat source so that they cook more thoroughly. Next, add the other raw vegetables by thickness, the warm paste mix, a can of diced tomatoes (if not adding raw) and any other canned items, finally ending with any frozen pieces.

To go full veggie, use a vegetable stock or broth as your liquid. Personally, I like to use chicken as my base. Next time, I might even throw some chicken in there to shred before serving. You can even use plain water. Whatever you decide to use, add enough liquid to fill the slow cooker so that most of the vegetables are submerged. The amounts used in this dish are flexible, so you will have to experiment a bit to see what works for you. For us, that’s all part of the fun…experimenting!

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Now, once again, the hard part. Waiting while it cooks. I suggest at least 8 hours on low, but it can easily cook all day or all night. Trust me, you can be gone all day, and it will just be more melt-in-your-mouth delicious! Last time the potatoes didn’t quite get cooked enough, so I put it back on the heat overnight and it was perfect by morning. Of course, my Grandma used to cook it in a pot on the stove…and you can too! Just be sure to stir often, as this is an all-day dish that is well worth the effort.


Ever wish you could make candy? Sounds like a dream, huh? Well, you can. I’m going to show you how.

There are many kinds of candy. Just before the holidays last year, I was looking around for something different to give out as gifts. After wallowing in the sea of recipes available online, I settled on an almond toffee. Purported to be like the golf foil wrapped sweets that your Grandma always had a pink tub of, and I loved, I couldn’t wait to try it. This recipe won’t get you the little cubed rectangles, but the taste is so delicious that you won’t mind…and neither will anyone else!

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Also known as “Better Than Almond Roca Toffee”

Before you begin the actual cooking process, do yourself a favor and gather all the equipment and prepared ingredients you need. Trust me, this simple step is important to getting any recipe right. If you don’t have a jellyroll pan, candy thermometer, or sauce pan with high sides (like these examples*), I suggest you wait until you have these items available before you attempt to make this treat. Another thing I like to use when cooking and baking are silicone spatulas. They stand up well to high heat, move the food around efficiently, and are easy to scrape excess candy and chocolate off of in a hurry.

Once you’ve gotten your equipment together (including a microwavable safe bowl, teaspoon, and heavy duty aluminum foil,) you’ll want to make sure you have all your ingredients on hand and ready to use. Why is this so important, you ask? Well, not only does it ensure you have all the ingredients you need, but you will be able to move from step to step without stopping to look for or prepare the next item. I cannot tell you how many recipes I have nearly, or completely, ruined by not being fully prepared before beginning.


2-3 cups chopped almonds (about 16 ounces whole almonds, roasted and chopped)

16 oz. light brown sugar (small package)

1 pound butter (4 sticks)

24 oz. chocolate chips (2 bags)

Let me pause for a moment to talk about the almonds. When I was shopping for the ingredients that first time, I couldn’t find package of unsalted, roasted almonds available at the store (this was during the holidays, after all) and didn’t want to wait until the farmer’s market day in our area. I refused to use salted ones, and the only other type I could find were raw almonds. “How hard could roasting almonds be?” I thought and threw the bag in my cart. Boy was I right! Not only that, but roasting the almonds yourself is an amazing experience! This is the method I used for roasting:

As for chopping, I just whirled them around in my blender. Yes, much of it pulverized into dust, but that worked out for the best. The chunks give it some grip, but the tiniest particles created a coating for all the nook and crannies in the chocolate.

Now, to get cooking! Take your jellyroll pan and cover it in foil. You’ll want a big enough piece to completely cover the pan, including the sides. Carefully smooth the foil over the bottom of the pan, into the corners, and up over the sides. Scoop out about 3/4 to 1 cup of the almonds and spread them evenly in the prepared pan.

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Place the butter in the saucepan, and clip the candy thermometer to the side. When the butter has melted over a med-high heat, add the brown sugar and stir, stir, stir! I’m not kidding, you can leave it alone for a second or two, but realistically you should treat it like an infant. Don’t take your eyes, or hands, off it for a second! The reason you want the high sides on the saucepan is because this boiling candy is HOT and you need to be stirring it constantly. No matter how careful you are, the excess oil from the butter will splash around. My candy thermometer is glass and also gets hot. It also moves around a lot while I am stirring and that can lead to problems getting a correct reading. Ideally, you want the tip to be near the bottom of the pan, but not touching. The solution I came up with is to use a pot holder to keep ahold of the top of the thermometer to keep it in place. Make sure you can see the indicator and numbers!


Guess what? It’s caramel!

After about 10-15 minutes of boiling and stirring, your thermometer should read 280 and your toffee should look like this:

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At this point, turn off the heat and continue stirring until the it reaches the golden 290 mark. Quickly unclip the candy thermometer and set aside. I like to scrape the bulk of the molten candy off as I can back into the pan and place the thermometer in a tall, heavy glass filled with hot water. However you do it, you must do it quickly, as the candy will continue cooking while in the pan and start to harden as it cools. Pour the candy the almonds in the pan. The goal is to get the toffee on the pan, don’t worry about spreading it out at this point. Take a second here to really scrape as much of the mixture out of the sauce pan as possible. You won’t get another chance before it hardens. Now you want to smooth it out over the nut pieces and all the way to the edges. Make sure it’s even and fills in each corner. It doesn’t have to be precise and can show bits of almond, as long as it covers the entire bottom of the pan.

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You can now set the pan aside, and put the bowl of chocolate chips and oil into the microwave. Start with 30 seconds, stir, zap another 30 seconds, stir again. Repeat until the chocolate is almost completely melted and stir until totally smooth. Scrape the chocolate into the top of the toffee layer and spread evenly over the candy.

  Chalky chocolate will come out smooth and silky

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Take the rest of the almonds and sprinkle over the chocolate layer. Don’t hold back, pour that stuff on like pixie dust as you will get some back for the next batch when you break it up.

I will admit that this next step is the hardest part; waiting a few hours for the layers to cool and set so you can break it up into bite sized chunks. Place the pan on a very large or a couple smaller cooling racks for at least 3-4 hours or until the pan is cool, then break into pieces. The foil becomes very handy here as you can lift the whole piece out of the pan and bend to break (the foil will come away when broken) or use a knife to break into small shapes. Personally, I like using my hands as the chocolate may want to break away from the candy. Go slow and press, rather than break.

This recipe makes about 2 pounds of candy, which will keep for a couple weeks in an airtight container…if left alone that long. Not that we know what that’s like around here. Don’t take my word for it though, try making the candy that people who hate Almond Roca love, for yourself.


*Not endorsed by any particular brand or service.

Taxpayers Beware!

I just got off the phone with another annoying call. The “IRS” called to say that they were filing a lawsuit against my husband for lack of proper payment. I think. To be honest it was very hard to understand what he was saying due to his thick accent. He also mispronounced the words Internal Revenue Service. I know this because he stopped mid-word and restarted. It was quite obvious from his monotonous, robotic tone, that he was reading from a script he’d read a million times and, with the volume of office noises in the background, it was surprising he heard me at all.

Was I scared and confused? No, not at all. I rolled my eyes and asked him to repeat as much info as possible, while I wrote it all down. Why was I not more scared? Well, I had already been through this when they called for me a few weeks ago. At that time, I was panicked when hearing the words IRS and lawsuit; but did some research and quickly found that it was nothing but a way for these horrible criminals to fool people into giving them money. Luckily, while on that first phone call, I realized that they were attempting to collect only on me. Since I file jointly with my husband, I immediately got an inkling that something fishy was going on. With this niggling feeling of something being not-quite-right, I told them that I had to check into how I could pay the amount they wanted (they conveniently take credit over the phone!) and got a reference number and contact info.

The next thing I did was go to the IRS website. Funny enough, they were already aware. They have a tab, right in the middle of the page, where you get links to tax scams and consumer alerts.

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When you are ready to file a complaint, you will want to have as much of the following as possible:

Name, phone number you were contacted from, date of incident, method of contact (phone or email), numbers you may have been directed to call, any financial loss you may have occurred, method of payment, if you revealed any sensitive information, and any other information you can gather. All of which will be helpful to report these scammers to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

To submit a complaint via the online form, you will be asked for the following:

Please enter your name, address, city, state of residence, ZIP code, e-mail address, and/or your telephone number below. This will assist us if we need to get in touch with you for additional information.

You will also be asked to create a 5-digit pin code before being able to submit a claim, and their reasoning is sound:

In the event a TIGTA Special Agent contacts you about your complaint, please request the personalized PIN for confirmation. Please take caution if the person does not know the PIN.

Another wonderful feature of this simple reporting page, is this informational link regarding these scams:

Unless you missed it, there has been a YouTube video posted by a fed-up woman who got a couple of calls from these jerks. She cleverly turned the tables on them by playing along and then running a bit of a scam on them. Why not watch it…just for fun!

*edited for tagging and categorizing maintenance

Breaking Fast


I love breakfast food. We’ve known many a weekend brunch around here, and even have breakfast for dinner sometimes. German pancakes, all puffy and golden with sliced apples sautéed in butter, sugar, and cinnamon and zesty orange popovers with creamy orange flavored sweet butter are just some of the many amazing things that have sprung forth from my kitchen to the delight of my family.

But, trying to cook first thing in the morning when I’m sleepy is hard. I’m one of those people who need to wake up slowly…with coffee. When I was in my 20s, I was able to roll out of bed, get ready, and be at work in about an hour. Now, I need to be up for an hour before I have any kind of a meaningful conversation. Or at least one I’m likely to remember.

Therefore, I needed to come up with something easy that is both delicious and homemade. While looking at the book for my bread machine (I call it my dough maker) I decided to try combining the recipe for ‘cheese and bacon bread’ with the technique for making rolls.



1 Cup, 2 Tablespoons Water

2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt

1 1/2 Tablespoons Sugar

1/2 Cup Finely Grated Cheese (I use Sharp Cheddar)

3 Cups Flour (All-Purpose)

2 Teaspoons Dry Active Yeast

*3 Tablespoons Minced Bacon (Turkey Bacon)

*Melted Butter (Optional)

  1. Add ingredients to the bread pan in order, except the bacon and butter. Set the bread maker to the ‘dough’ setting.
  2. After 35 minutes, add the bacon to the pan so that it gets incorporated into the dough during one of the kneading cycles (my maker has an hour and a half dough making process.)
  3. Remove dough from pan with a spatula, onto a floured surface.
  4. Divide dough into 12-15 portions. Roll into balls, and place on a greased baking sheet.
  5. Cover with a kitchen towel, and let rise for 45 minutes – or until doubled in size.
  6. Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes, or until browned.
  7. Immediately after removing from the oven, brush with melted butter.

Cut in half, add a zapped egg, and you have a meal that is quick and portable. Grab a mug that roughly matches the size of the biscuits, lightly spray the inside with oil, add an egg (either scrambled or whole with a pierced yolk-to prevent explosion,) cover with a small plate, and cook at half-power for about 2 minutes, What you actually want is for the egg to be almost done. Remove the mug from the microwave (careful of the hot handle and all), and let stand with the plate on for about a minute and the whites are solid. I like to add some spices to the egg (while scrambling or just before cooking) such as salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, poultry seasoning, cayenne pepper, or anything that sounds good.

The other day I went to get some biscuits out to heat up, and realized that we were out. Knowing it takes hours to make more, I decided to improvise using a pop-open buttermilk biscuit tin. I pulled each biscuit apart, until they were mostly in halves, added a pinch of a mixture of grated cheese and bacon bits spread evenly in the middle (not touching the edges, and sealed the dough back into a biscuit shape. I brushed the tops in a couple of tablespoons of melted butter (with a pinch of garlic and onion powders) and baked as directed on the package. Got asked to make those again.

*Edit: Picture added for fun.

Eating Out

Dinner out is always an exciting prospect for me. I won’t lie, a big part of it is because I don’t have to do prep or clean up. Honestly though, most of the time it also feels kinda disappointing. I’m a pretty good cook and baker, so I love trying new recipes. Like any good cook, I tend to make changes to suit the particular tastes of my family. In fact, I’ve gotten so good at it that when eating out, I end up feeling that we just wasted money…hence the disappointment.

There are some exceptions, of course. Certain ingredients or tools are too pricey for casual use or something that only I like. Some things I just haven’t mastered yet. I used to put steak in that impossible category, until I found the secrets to making a resturant quality steak at home…and it doesn’t involve a grill. Yup, that’s right, I said it. No grill.

Laugh if you will, but have you actually seen the inside of a restaurant’s kitchen? They don’t usually have a BBQ to throw the steaks on.

The method I like using now is all thanks to this:

Life’s pretty good when you learn how to cook a really good steak. In fact, this method works great on pork chops too. Plus, you don’t have to stand outside.

Though, let’s face it, it’s fun to go out and enjoy company and atmosphere. Getting to exchange drab every day duds for that new outfit is an uplifting experience. Trying new foods and beverages, gives me inspiration. Hanging out with family and friends, talking, laughing, dancing, are the things that make life worth living. Cheers!

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A New Year, A New Blog

All inclusive buffet, Drink and Disco_ Happy-new-year

Another New Year’s has come and gone. With the stress of the holidays, I never really put much thought into making resolutions this year. Okay, being honest, I haven’t for quite a while. This year, however, my newly minted teenager asked me what my New Year’s Resolutions were. Instead of spouting platitudes or trying to make some up on the spot, I eloquently said, “Uh, I don’t really do that.”

“Why?” He asked. Oh how the tables have turned!

“Well, because I try to see personal growth as an ongoing process. Something you should recognize all the time, not just once a year.”

Not that there is anything wrong with making resolutions; they just don’t work for me. I’ve tried so many times in the past to keep the resolutions I’ve made. Some stuck, but most were things that I, probably like you, had heard about and thought might be helpful. Turns out, in most cases, I was wrong. Sometimes with disastrous results; sometimes the activity just faded away. Always I felt guilty about it.

Initially, I stopped making resolutions because I was in my 20s and was too busy partying. Just like everyone else. Then I became a mom and got sucked back into it. Conformity and all. Then, of course, after realizing that I had lagged in my commitments to my resolutions, feeling guilt. Very common, I know. Sorta seems like self-torture though, doesn’t it? We fully intend to lose weight, get more organized, eat a healthier diet, get more exercise, blah, blah, blah…but somewhere along the line that fabulous diet that everyone swears by and the amazing organizational system you were promised would change your life forever, just stopped being a plan and started becoming a chore. This is when, realistically, we know that this new thing we tried isn’t working for us. Some of us stubbornly try to stick to it, forcing ourselves to do things we really don’t want to do.

Of course, there are plenty of things we don’t want to do, but have to. Dishes, laundry, cooking, dusting, vacuuming, mowing the lawn, grocery shopping, paying bills…well, you get my point. Chores. When you’re a kid, chores are things you have to do before you can relax and have fun. Perhaps you also get an allowance. In most cases, it is more because your parents make you do them. This is normal in the realm of parenting and there are, in fact, several sites dedicated to this practice.

Chores are not only a great way to get needed tasks completed, but teaches kids how to become comfortable with housework and other jobs that will help them throughout their lives. Let’s face it, most of us don’t really LOVE cleaning up after other people (or even ourselves!) but these things don’t do themselves. The closest we have is getting someone else to do them for us. Frankly, all this makes me wonder about the message we’re sending, when we talk about how you should “never bribe children.” When my son was little we had a chore chart that had things like ‘brush teeth’ and ‘put away toys’ on it. If he did all his chores, every day, then we would go out for ice cream. Or maybe he could get a new toy. Is that a bribe or a reward system? How about getting an allowance? How about getting a paycheck for working? My son doesn’t see a difference. Neither do I.

What we really need to do is strive for constant improvement. If something sounds great, by all means try it. If, however, you find that this new method becomes a hassle, it’s okay to let it go. After all, we’re trying to improve ourselves. If it’s not an enjoyable experience, why do you think it’s truly helping? Even if it’s the healthiest thing you could possibly do for yourself, why bother if you hate it? You’ll really only be prolonging the experience.

As for me, I’ll continue to try to be my best self; making changes as I go.

Oh! Hey! My chores are done! I’m going to go play a couple of hours of Xbox with my son.