How to Keep Homemade Tomato Soup from Curdling

How to keep Homemade Tomato Soup from curdling

I make homemade tomato soup pretty frequently.  It’s quick, easy and so good!

Plus all the ingredients are things that are easily kept on hand.  I do have buy the tomato juice special, but it keeps in the pantry until I’m ready to use it.

But the last time I made this soup, it curdled.  I made sure not to boil it, but it still curdled.  Curdled tomato soup is still edible.  There’s nothing about it that will hurt you.  It’s just not as good, because the texture is off.

So last night I was determined to avoid curdling.  I went on an internet search and found a few tricks that might help.

There were several tips for stirring milk into the base or vice versa.  A couple of sites mentioned that the heat is part of what causes curdling.  One site mentioned using baking soda to help neutralize the acid.

I decided to tweak my recipe with some of these ideas.

I added 1/4 tsp. baking soda to the flour when making the roux.

I used cold milk instead of warmed, which my original recipe called for.

I whisked in the milk very, very slowly.  I’m pretty sure I’ve curdled the soup before, just by being impatient and pouring in the milk too fast.

And I heated the finished soup over low heat.  It took a few minutes longer, but it worked!

I’ve updated my recipe for Homemade Tomato Soup so it shows all of these steps now.

homemade tomato soup with grilled cheese croutons


Don’t miss the grilled cheese croutons to top it off!

I do admit that last night we just had regular grilled cheese with our soup.  Either way, this is an easy winter supper.


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How to make 6 slow cooker freezer meals in 1 hour – February (and a video)

February slow cooker freezer meals

Every month, as part of the Slow Cooker plan for Weekly Meal Plans, we do a freezer meals week.  The goal is to be able to assemble all 6 meals in just about 1 hour.

I stock these away to use on our really busy days.  I love having them in the freezer!  In fact, as I write this I can smell the Chicken Cacciatore cooking for our dinner tonight.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a video showing how I assemble the meals.  I’m not great at video.  I haven’t taken time to learn to edit.  And the storage on my phone is almost out (yes, I’m super high tech and record with my iPhone), so the video cuts out near the end.  But you don’t miss out on too much.

I hope you find the video helpful.  And if not, just skip it :)

All of the slow cooker freezer meal plans have downloadable, color-coded grocery lists.  I love shopping with these.  It makes it so easy to pick up what you need.

The February plans are all available in the member area now.  Members have access to all three plans – Traditional, Whole Food and Slow Cooker.

The recipes I make in this video are all available on the site.  But to get the printable grocery list, recipes and assembly instructions, you’ll need to be a member of Weekly Meal Plans.

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22 Slow Cooker Recipes That Can Handle Cooking All Day

22 Slow Cooker Recipes that can cook all day

A lot of times when we think of using the slow cooker, it’s because we’re leaving the house early and won’t be back until dinner. Slow cookers are great for those days, but not all recipes will work.

You need to use a recipe that can take the heat for that long and still hold up. Soups, stews, large pieces of meat (especially if it has a bone) all do well.

Another tip is to make sure you’re using a slow cooker size that’s right for the amount of food.  It should be about 3/4 full or more if you want to cook it all day.  Less than that, and the slow cooker will cook too hot, leading to overcooked food.

Here’s a list of recipes that you’ll have success with.

african pulled beef sandwich done

African Pulled Beef Sandwiches

beef stew done

All Day Beef Stew

bbq chicken sandwiches in slow cooker done

BBQ Chicken Sandwiches

beef and bean topped potatoes done

Beef and Bean Topped Baked Potatoes

beef shwarma in the slow cooker

Beef Shwarma

Calico Bean Soup with Smoked Sausage (aka Mixed Bean Soup)

chicken enchilada soup in slow cooker done

Chicken Enchilada Soup

Chicken Fiesta with Black Beans

Honey Mustard Chicken

Slow Cooker Thai Chicken Curry Soup

Thai Chicken Curry Soup

Easy Shredded Taco Beef

Garlic Chicken with More Garlic

pumpkin black bean chicken chili

Pumpkin Black Bean Chili

Pulled Pork

BBQ Peach Pulled Pork

slow cooker beans for the freezer done

Beans for the Freezer

Chicken Cock-a-leekie Soup

Chicken Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Chicken Minestrone in the Slow Cooker

Chicken Minestrone Soup

Chicken Vegetable Soup

Ham and Bean Soup in the Slow Cooker

Ham and Bean Soup

Slow Cooker Smoked Sausage and Sauerkraut Soup

Sauerkraut and Smoked Sausage Soup

Slow Cooker White Chicken Chili

White Chicken Chili


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How to Convert a Slow Cooker Recipe for Oven or Stove Top

how to convert slow cooker recipes to oven or stove top

One trick I use in the kitchen is to match my cooking appliance to the kind of day I’m having schedule-wise.

I’m talking about fitting the dinner cooking schedule with all the other daily activities.  If I have more time to prep a meal in the morning, I’ll choose the slow cooker.

If I find myself at 5 o’clock having done no dinner prep, then it’s too late for crock-potting.  But some of my favorite recipes are slow cooker recipes.

No worries.  Almost all slow cooker recipes can be converted for making in the oven or on the stove.  Most of them started out with these traditional cooking methods anyway.

I’ve already talked about how to convert recipes into slow cooker recipes.  Here are a few tips for going the other way and using the oven and stove top.

1.  Soups

If it’s a soup, it can be made on top of the stove.  It will take a fraction of the time that the slow cooker calls for.  You’ll still want to follow the order given in a slow cooker recipe.  Meats go in first.  Creams, milks and cheeses are often added at the end of cooking time because you don’t want those to boil.

2.  Try using a Dutch oven.

A Dutch oven is a cooking pot with a tight fitting lid.  Many pots and pans sets come with a dutch oven.  Cast iron Dutch ovens are popular, especially those with enamel interiors.

Assemble the slow cooker recipe just as it calls for, but put the ingredients in a Dutch oven.  Bake at 350 degrees for for an hour or 1 1/2 hours.  Add time if it’s a large piece of meat.

3.  Casserole type recipes

Most crockpot casserole recipes started out as oven recipes.  Generally, baking in a casserole dish at 350 degrees for about 1 hour will work.

4.  Determine what the cooking time is accomplishing.

Is the time in the crockpot meant to cook meat from raw?  Or is it just for bringing something to a near boil, such as a sauce?  Answers to these questions will help you determine how much time the recipe will need on the stove or in the oven.


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Resources to Get Organized for Eating at Home

January is almost here with its clean-slate outlook and fresh-start feel.  If cooking at home is one of your goals, I’ve got two resources for you.

12 slow cooker freezer meal plans


First up is this bundle of 12 Slow Cooker Freezer Meal Plans that can be assembled in about 1 hour each.  Each of these plans comes with a color-coded grocery list, recipes and instructions.  You can find out more here.

And now through the end of January, you can save $2 by entering the code: January when you check out.

The other resource is our Eat at Home Weekly Meal Plans.  I use these all the time!  It’s so convenient to print the list, buy what’s on it and have a plan for the week all laid out.

eah weekly meal plans 3And if I want to veer from the plan, I still have all the ingredients to make other meals, because each plan uses common pantry ingredients.

The Weekly Meal Plans save me so much planning time!  When you become a member, you have access to all three plans.

Normally, we only leave up one month of plans at a time, but  I’ve added our January plans a few days early.  Get a jump start on the new year!

Find out more about Weekly Meal Plans and how to become a member here.


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80/20 Rule of Christmas Baking (The Law of the Vital Few)

8020 rule of Christmas baking

Do you ever think about all the things you have to do to get ready for Christmas and begin to feel overwhelmed?  Some years I’m excited and ready to get started with all the holiday fun.

And other years are more of a struggle.  Whether it’s because of sickness in the family (mine or a child’s) or some other reason, the holiday season can get overwhelming.

I’m a big believer in the 80/20 rule.  This principle states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

It’s also been called The Law of the Vital Few.

About 20% of the things we do are vital for moving our goal forward.  The rest may be important, but 20% of the effort is going to create 80% of the results.

What’s your family’s “vital few” when it comes to Christmas baking?  When you think of the memories you’re building in your family, which foods are the most important?

If you find yourself in a place where you just can’t do everything this year, focus on the vital few.  For my family, that includes Peanut Butter Balls, Fudge, and Frozen Fruit Cups (I left these out last year and I heard about it!).

Maybe for you it’s your grandma’s Nut Bread recipe.  Or the country ham dinner.  Or the evening of cookie decorating.  Focus on those memory filled dishes and keep everything else simple.

And if you’re just now building traditions for your young family, consider making a couple of them super simple.  One of our vital few Christmas breakfast items is canned Grand’s cinnamon rolls.  The only time we have these is at Christmas, so they stay special.  It doesn’t get easier than popping open a can.  On difficult years, we add scrambled eggs and Frozen Fruit Cups.  On years with more energy we add something like Western Omelette Casserole and homemade hot cocoa.

I’d love to hear about your vital few recipes in the comments.

And I know we’ve been talking about Christmas baking, since this is a food blog.  But you can adapt this line of thinking to any type of holiday tradition.  Focus on the vital few and add in other things as time, budget and energy allow.

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10 Recipes to Use Costco Rotisserie Chicken (or Leftover Turkey)

One of the best things I do to keep weeknight meal prep easy, is to have chicken cooked and frozen. Having the meat ready to go is such a time saver!

If you’ve got leftover turkey, count your blessings! Then package it in plastic freezer bags and stash it away. You can use cooked turkey just like you would chicken.

10 Recipes to Use Costco Rotisserie Chicken

Lately, I’ve been buying Costco rotisserie chicken to keep in the freezer. But sometimes I cook it myself.

The main thing is to get some cooked chicken or turkey ready for use in recipes. Many of the recipes below are 15 minute meals. Some take a little bit longer, but they’re all easily doable on a busy weeknight.

Here are 10 recipes to get you started.   [Read more…]

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24 Ways to Make Dinner Cleanup Better – From the Practical to the Sublime

24 Ways to Make Dinner Cleanup Better from the Practical to the Sublime

Dinner dishes are a fact of life. And since it comes at the end of a busy day, pretty much no one looks forward to it. At least I don’t look forward to it.

Here are some ways to make the process easier and more enjoyable. The practical and the sublime. I’ll let you decide which is which.

1.  Work with your spouse.

Tag teaming dish duty not only makes it faster, but gives you a chance to catch up with each other.  Kids tend to clear out when it’s clean up time, leaving you to have nearly uninterrupted conversation.

2. Make the kids do it.

Then go read a book or watch a favorite show.

3. Try to start dinner with an empty dishwasher.

Easier said than done sometimes, but having the dishwasher ready to load is a huge help.

4. Wash as you cook.

Start dinner prep by running a sink of hot, soapy water.  Then quickly wash things as you go.

5. Use all cotton towels for drying dishes.

They absorb better than other materials.

6. Knit your own dishcloths.

Patterns can be found on MomAdvice.  Or buy some pretty ones off Etsy.

7. Get a good scrubby.

My favorite is this yellow smiley face scrubby from Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Make Dinner Cleanup Easier

8. Buy a pot scraper.

Pampered Chef sells these little gems, but you can also get them on Amazon.

9. Consider using a crockpot liner.

Scrub free slow cooking is pretty nice.

10. Buy nice smelling dish soap.

I love Mrs. Meyers for scent.

11.  Use hard working dish soap.

But you can’t beat the way Dawn works.

12. Put on some happy music.

If you don’t own much music, try Pandora or Spotify.

13. Listen to a podcast.

My current favorites:
The Art of Simple Podcast
How They Blog Podcast

14. Listen to an audiobook.

15. Call a friend.

Use a headset with your phone or some other kind of hands-free device.

16. Buy a cushioned mat for in front of your sink.

This one’s nice.

17. Use a nice smelling counter spray to finish up.

Mrs. Meyer’s in Lemon Verbena is my favorite. It makes the counters shine and smell good too.

18. Enjoy the process.

This might sound a bit crazy, but when I stop and think about what I’m doing and take time to enjoy the warm water and good smelling suds, the dishes aren’t so bad.

19. Relish the quiet time.

Think over your day. Ponder at least three things you’re grateful for today.  Think of things you’re looking forward to tomorrow.

How to Make Dinner Dishes Easier Work

20. Pray

As you clean up and load the dishwasher, pray for each person who ate at the table that night.  I do this with laundry sometimes, praying for each family member as I fold their clothes.

21. Rinse dishes with hot water, but rinse the suds down the sink with cold water.

A hot water rinse will help your dishes dry better, whether you towel dry or air dry.

But when you’re all done and trying to rinse the suds down the drain, switch to cold water.  Detergents are designed to suds up in hot water, so cold will help them deflate and rinse away.

22. Find a dish drainer or drying mat you like.

Whether it’s a dish drainer that sits on the counter next to the sink, a small one that sits in the sink or a cloth drying mat, make some kind of place to put the dishes after you wash and rinse them.  As much as we’d like for everything to go in the dishwasher, the reality is that some things have to be hand washed.

Currently, we use a dish drying mat that hangs on a hook under the sink when not in use.

23. Store silverware, plates and glasses near the dishwasher and sink.

This makes putting away clean dishes much easier.

24.  Keep your counters clear.

Counter top triage is a constant in our house and we have one spot that seems to catch everything. But try keeping the counters clear of small appliances, pretty decor and other things.  You’ll have more work space.  And it’s a lot easier to clean when you don’t have to clean around things.


What’s your favorite way to make dinner cleanup easier?

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Our Menu for a Weekend Family Gathering (including our “Fakes-giving” menu)

Tomorrow my sister and her kids and my parents are all coming to our house!  We’ll be celebrating Peter’s 20th birthday (how am I old enough to have two kids in their 20s??).

We’ll also be having and early Thanksgiving dinner (dubbed “Fakes-giving” by the kids), because my nephew is headed to Marine bootcamp in mid-November.  This is the last time we’ll all be together for a long while.

Enchilada Dinner

Peter requested enchiladas for his birthday. That seems easy enough for 13 people, because some of it can be made ahead of time.

white enchiladas

I’ll be making a double batch of these White Chicken Enchiladas.

grilled chicken and cream cheese enchiladas done

I’m also making Enchiladas with Chili-Tomato Sauce. The photo above is actually Grilled Chicken and Cream Cheese Enchiladas, but it’s so, so much better than the photos of the Chili-Tomato Enchiladas, I thought I’d spare you a little bit.

Of course we’ll have chips, guacamole and salsa. And a big salad to combat the cake and candy.

Speaking of cake, Peter requested Pudding Cake. It’s not the most beautiful (and the photo is pretty bad), but it tastes great!  It’s chocolate cake that makes it’s own pudding-like sauce.

Not that anyone needs cake with all the candy that will be around, since it’s Halloween, but that’s what happens when you’re born on October 31.

Early Thanksgiving Meal

My mom is making most of this meal. She’s baking a chicken or a turkey breast. Here’s a recipe for an easy Turkey Breast in the Slow cooker.

turkey breast in slow cooker

And of course we have to have Chicken and Dumplings (or turkey and dumplings).  Mom has already made the dumplings and frozen them. We’ll cook them up on Saturday.

chicken and dumplings done

Cornbread Dressing is a must have for us.

apple cornbread dressing done

We make homemade Cornbread Dressing, but the photo above is Apple Cornbread Dressing that starts with a box mix.

We’ll also be having some vegetables and cranberry sauce.

gingerbread with lemon sauce

And for dessert instead of pie, we’re having Gingerbread with Lemon Sauce.

Another good option would be these Gingerbread Bars with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting.

gingerbread bars with orange cream cheese frosting done

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!  I know we will.  We’re definitely going to be eating good!

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Freezing Single Servings for Teenage Boys and Other Hungry People

Freezing Single servings


A reader asked the other day about what types of foods are good for freezing in single servings.  She’s got a hungry teenage boy to fill up. (I can relate to that!)

Short of keeping the kitchen open all the time, with a cook waiting on hand, filling the freezer with single serving foods is the best way to keep those boys filled up.  And it works for others in the family too, who need to eat at off hours.

If you’re trying to feed boys, there are a few things to keep in mind:

1.  Include protein.  They like foods that will stick with them.

2.  Make it easy.  Hand-held is good.

3.  Keep a list on the freezer so they know what’s in there and where to find it. Or is it just my boys who forget what I’ve told them?

Here’s a list of recipes that will keep all kinds of  hungry people happy:   [Read more…]

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