Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Creamy Tomato Soup

I've never really cared for tomato soup.

Oh, it was fine if mixed into another more substantial soup or chili, but alone? No thanks.

It was just so.......boring. And plain. And tomatoey. (yes, that is an official word.)

Well, that might have been because the only tomato soup I had eaten was from a can.

So recently when Corban asked if I would make grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch sometime, I decided to try my best to oblige him. But it had to be homemade - my stipulation, not his.

This was the first recipe I found, and since it sounded really good and simple, it was an easy choice.

It starts with a quick saute of onions and garlic in butter and olive oil, followed by the addition of a can of whole peeled tomatoes and a few spices. A bit of vegetable broth adds some volume and flavor as well. After being pureed in the blender, the finishing touch is a bit of heavy cream, adding some depth of richness and texture.

Delicious by itself, but even better with a grilled cheese sandwich dipped in, this soup pleased the whole family.  You can't ask for much more than that.

And compared to that soup from a can? This blows that out of the water. No joke. This is the real deal.

Creamy Tomato Soup

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
1 small onion, diced finely
Kosher salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)
1 (28 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes in their juices
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth - or water
1/3 cup heavy cream
Pepper, to taste

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat butter and oil. Add onion and a big pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, but not browned. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes if desired and cook a couple of minutes more. 
  2. Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pan. Roughly crush the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon and cook until they're hot and beginning to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the broth or water and bring to a simmer. Cook at a medium simmer until tomatoes begin to fall apart. 
  3. Remove the soup from heat and cool a few minutes. Puree the soup in a blender (or use an immersion blender if you have one) in a couple of batches until smooth,
  4. Return to pan over low heat and stir in the cream. Add pepper and additional salt to taste. 

Source: Adapted slightly from Chowhound

Monday, February 1, 2016

Mexican Rice

Everyone needs a good, classic rice recipe to serve with any number of Mexican themed meals. This version has become a favorite with my family. While I am far from the master rice cooker, I love that this turns out well for me consistently.

It's flavorful without being overwhelming and makes a fantastic accompaniment to dishes like Spicy Pulled Pork, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, or pretty much any other similar meals. 

One of the things that makes it popular with my kids is that there aren't any extra chunks, like pieces of onions or tomato to pick out. Other versions that I've made that included salsa weren't received nearly as well as this one. Here we have the flavors of tomato and onion, but only the rice to eat. Win/win. 

Use it as a side dish. 

Stuff it with beans and meat into a tortilla. 

Make it the base for a burrito bowl. 

You can't go wrong. You could even toss a little fresh cilantro on top if that floats your boat. I bet that would be scrumptious. 

Mexican Rice

6 Tablespoons oil (I use expeller-pressed coconut oil)
2 cups uncooked rice (I use Jasmine or Basmati)
2 teaspoons garlic salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
3-1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth

Using a fine mesh sieve, rinse rice with cold water until the water runs clear. Set aside. 
In a large skillet with a lid, heat oil until hot. 
Pour in rice and stir around until slightly toasted and beginning to turn golden brown. Add garlic salt, cumin, onion powder, tomato sauce, and broth. 
Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover with lid, and cook for 15 minutes, or until all the liquid has absorbed. 

Source: adapted slightly from allrecipes

Friday, January 8, 2016

Family Trip - 2015 (Part 8: the Grand Canyon)

Day 15: (October 29)

After viewing this beautiful sunrise right from our trailer, it was time to pack up again. Randall paid us a quick visit at the trailer before he headed off to work - and brought breakfast for everyone with him, purchased from one of his favorite local restaurants. Enormous burritos stuffed with eggs, refried beans, thick-cut bacon, and I don't know what else - but they were fantastic.

Well, I only sampled a tiny taste, since I can't eat much egg without getting stomach aches. 

Fortunately for me, Randall had also picked up a bundle of tamales from the same restaurant to take home for later and shared one with me.
Best tamale I've ever had. 

So off we headed, driving through the outskirts of LA. We did have to make a grocery stop to stock up on perishables for the last few days of the trip. 

Of course, once again, the drive was LONG. 
Our destination: Trailer Village RV Park - the only full-hook-up RV park actually inside the national park. (We were so fortunate to get a spot there - it's the perfect location for convenience and seeing the park).  
When we arrived at Grand Canyon National Park, it was around 10:00 pm and pitch black everywhere. Of course all the check-in offices were closed, so we grabbed our info packet that was taped to the door and made our way to our campsite. 

Once again, we got the delight of setting up camp in the dark (and cold) with crying children in the car. Oh, and we hadn't even stopped for dinner. Yes, we had eaten plenty of snacks along the way, but no real dinner. So once we had power, I grabbed some cans of chili to heat up on the stove and made some frito pies. Weird thing to eat at 10:30, but whatever. Most of the kids were happy with that, and frankly, so was I. 

Day 16: (October 30)

Since we were staying 2 full days at the Grand Canyon, we weren't in a huge rush to get out the door in the morning. We slept in a bit and had a relaxed breakfast before exploring our campground a little in the daylight. We were pleasantly surprised at the huge sites, generous space between campers, and our close location to the bathrooms (which were nice, but had no showers). 

We packed up backpacks full of water bottles and hearty snacks to sustain us through our hike of the day and took a short walk to the edge of the RV park to the free shuttle pick up. The shuttles take you right to the different trail heads, which is really nice.  

The trail we had decided on was the South Kaibab Trail. It's a 6-mile hike down to the bottom of the canyon, but obviously we had no desire or ability to do a 12-mile round trip hike. As the signs speckled around the park say, "Going down is Optional - coming up is Mandatory". 
We figured we'd attempt the hike to Cedar Ridge, which is about 3 miles round trip. A little ambitious, considering that half of that hike would be uphill....and our youngest two were barely 4 and almost 6 years old at the time.....but we thought it was worth a shot. 

As soon as we saw the Canyon, the kids were blown away. 

I lost count throughout the day of how many times Corban said, "Thank you soooooo much for bringing us here. This is the best day ever." 

The Ooh Ahh Point was about a mile into the hike. We briefly considered turning around here after our rest but ultimately decided to plunge ahead. 

Somebody got a little grumpy about photos. 

We encountered two mule trains while on the trail. Miranda made sure to say "Hi" to every person who rode past. 

Another perspective of the trail - near the top where you see a cluster of people near some rocks is the Ooh Ahh point (we hadn't reached it yet), and you can see the trail continuing to wind down the canyon side towards Cedar Ridge (not visible in the photo).

At the Ooh Ahh Point.

We're about to make it to Cedar Ridge here. It was a large level area with pit toilets, several cool trees, and phenomenal panoramic views into the Canyon.  

After a snack, the girls decided to rest awhile. 

As a side note, I just have to tell you about a little device that turned out to be one of the best preparations I could have made for the trip. 
The pStyle. 
Basically, it's a plastic device that allows you to pee standing up without undressing. 

Yes, it may sound a little weird - but I'm telling you, it's a lifesaver. Or at least a clothes and dignity saver. If you're going to be spending any amount of time hiking or away from bathroom facilities, and you don't like dropping your pants and squatting, doing everything in your power to keep your pants and shoes dry and fervently hoping nobody sees you, you need one

There are other brands and styles of devices as well, but the pStyle is what I chose and it worked out perfectly. It's super easy to use, easy to rinse off, and if you buy a carrying case, super convenient and discreet to just clip to your camera bag or backpack and nobody will even know what it is.

It turned out even more useful for us, since my two youngest are particularly terrified of using public toilets, especially pit toilets such as are found at the Grand Canyon.   
So the pStyle was used there as well. 

See that man in the black shirt? That's Grant. :) 

Time to head back up. 

Pretty little bird near us on a water break. 

The trail was pretty rugged in places - probably due to the mule traffic. We had to avoid piles and puddles left by the mules in various places as well. 

We decided to let Miranda take the lead, since she's the smallest and theoretically, the weakest of the group. Let me just say that she set a heck of a pace. Being in the lead seemed to give her unbounded energy and determination and she would only stop very briefly for water breaks before insisting that we move on. :)  When we made it back to the top. other hikers were amazed that we had done so well with young children. 

Here's a look at the trail near the beginning - it was pretty steep. Let's just say that I was a bit "on edge" the entire day, worrying about kids getting too close to the drop-offs. 

Tired but happy kids riding the shuttle back to the Visitor Center. 

That night we got to celebrate Marissa's 10th birthday. Hurrah for cake!

Day 17: (October 31)

The next day we opted to do a slightly easier route and walk parts of the Rim Trail. 
The Rim Trail is mostly paved and extends for about 13 miles total. There are numerous look-out points where shuttles will stop to let off and pick up people, so you can walk some sections and ride between others. We chose to start near the Bright Angel Lodge and head west for a couple of miles before getting on a shuttle and riding to the other stops we wanted to see. 

Silly girls. The kids all loved riding the shuttles. 

The reddish rock extends out in the shape of an alligator's head - this was the only lookout point where you could see it properly. We also got our first look at the very muddy Colorado River. 

On our last shuttle ride back to our starting point, we saw a herd of elk crossing the road right in front of the shuttle. They didn't look like they had a care in the world and were oblivious to the people around them. This Bull Elk was really impressive!

It's always fun to end a hiking day with ice cream. :) 

At my insistence, we took another shuttle back out with hordes of other tourists to attempt to get some photos of the sunset. Unfortunately, it was a very clear sky and we were a bit underwhelmed with the experience. Especially since it was freezing and we were famished. But everyone was a good sport about it and at least we can say we did it. 

Day 18: (November 1)

We're in the home stretch. Two days of driving and we're home. I could hardly wait. My own bathroom and kitchen were what I missed the most. Besides some personal time, that is. 

As an introvert, I was struggling to be a happy person with the constant contact with everyone and precious little time to be alone and re-charge. Great character development opportunity. I've got character coming out my ears. HA. 

Elk-crossing sign. Grant had to stop and get a photo. 

We made it to Amarillo, TX that day - more than half-way so that our last day would be shorter. 
Long day, nothing too much exciting. Most of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas aren't super thrilling to just drive through. 
We did notice the distinct odor of cows in Amarillo at our campsite. Yep, we're in Texas! 

Day 19: (November 2)

Another day of driving - so excited to be headed home. 

One of the happiest moments of the day. Welcome to Arkansas! We were just 45 minutes from home! Well, we made a brief stop at my parents' house to pick up our dogs on the way. 

Home sweet home.....and the joys of unpacking the trailer and doing mountains of laundry. :) 

19 days, 11 states, 9 campgrounds/rv parks, 1 hotel, 2 national parks, 1 wedding, 2 birthdays, an ocean, mountains, deserts, farms, vineyards, plains, 80 degree weather and 29 degree weather, and nearly 5,000 miles towing a trailer. Whew! What an adventure!

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