January 26, 2011

Tomato Soup - I Think I've Got it!

Safeway Tuscan Tomato & Basil Soup
 Hot tomato soup and buttery, cheesy grilled cheese sandwiches, a perfect cold weather dinner combo. I love tomato soup done right and Safeway has a delicious Tuscan Tomato/Basil Soup with just the right amount of "kick". It's so good and a definite winner in our house. But I like homemade soup where I can add my favorite ingredients and more moderate amounts of cream (this soup from Safeway is very creamy). Anyway, I have been adjusting my tomato soup recipe for a while now and I think I've got it! Better than Safeways!

I  hope you enjoy it as much as we do:

3/4 cup of dry tiny star pasta
1T olive oil
1 T butter
1 large carrot, chopped
1 celery stock, chopped
1 med onion finely chopped
1 can tomato sauce
1 can Italian style diced tomatoes
2 - 3 cups chicken broth
dash of cayenne pepper
dash of white pepper
additional fresh basil leaves (optional)
Heavy Cream

1. Melt butter with olive oil over med heat, once foamy, add carrot, celery and onion. Cook on med. heat for 5-7 min. stirring often, until soft. (Don't brown the veggies).
2. Empty Italian Style diced tomatoes into a bowl. Using a cuisinart or blending wand, break down the size of the tomatoes until they are just slightly chunky. This is to your preference. We like a little bit of tomato texture in the soup.
3. Add both the tomato sauce, the slightly pureed Italian tomatoes and approx 2 cups of chicken broth. Stir soup, turn heat to low, cover partially and let simmer for 45 min. Check and stir every 15 min. or so.
4. In a separate small pot, bring water to boil. Once boiling, add some salt and the tiny star pastas. Cook the pastas for 3 min. Drain and set aside. You are trying to slightly undercook the pasta stars.
5. Turn heat off under the soup. Add dash(es) of cayenne and white pepper according to taste. You may also want to add more broth at this point too.
6. Let the soup cool for approx. 20 min. We are letting the soup cool so that when we add the cream and half-n-half, they won't curdle when met with the piping hot soup. (I have learned this the hard way, many pots of curdly looking soup). 
7. Once the soup is cool, ladle some of the soup into a bowl. Add 1/4 cup of cream and 1/4 cup of half-n-half. Stir this mixture and then add to pot of soup.  (Sounds like an unnecessary step, but it's worthwhile. Goal is to slowly introduce cream products to the soup without curdling). Also, you can adjust amounts of cream/half-n-half to your taste.
8. Finally add your pasta stars and turn heat to low on a low burner.

Enjoy with crunchy bread or soft, chewy grilled cheese sandwiches.
Let me know if you try it and how it tasted!

January 25, 2011

New Recycling - CFL and Bottle Caps

This subject isn't necessarily glamorous or design worthy, but it does add to a conscientious home philosophy.

I feel so fortunate to live in an area with great advancements in recycling and composting. Through the efforts of our city and within our home, our weekly garbage pick-up is minimal.  And as is typical in our home, it's become a competition to lessen the amount of trash each week. We are able to compost kitchen scraps, pizza boxes, meat and fish bones, and more in the yard waste container. Cardboard, plastics, paper, glass, etc. all go in our recycling bin.

Recently I've found 2 more ways to recycle:

1. Many Bartell locations have free CFL (compact flourescents) recycling. CFL bulbs should not be placed in your regular trash due to the mercury in the bulbs. My bulb bin in the garage usually awaits the quarterly "hazardous waste dump days". Now these items can be taken directly to Bartells.  For more info:


Or google "CFL recycling in your area".

2. Aveda will recycle plastic caps!  Now I know it seems that we need a set of instructions for mindful recycling these days. And one of the rules of recycling is that plastic lids on items need to be removed. Many of those lids now have a place to go:  AVEDA!

For more info:


Be sure to print the cap collection guide for easy reference.

And if competitiveness doesn't inspire you to ramp up your recycling, simply envision "THE VORTEX":

Do you have any other recycling tips? Does your community offer great ways to recycle? I would love to hear more!  Thanks for stopping by.

January 23, 2011

High Gloss

Ceramic Elephant Before


Krylon High Gloss Paint (I used white)

Wendy recently turned me on to a great blog:  Three Men and a Lady.  Check it out! And in particular, tour her home. Are you drawn to the high gloss painted knick knacks tucked away here and there? Now, I am not much for knick knacks. Streamlined, clean and simple is my usual arrangement. But every now and then, a shelf, a stack of books or the coffee table, need some new life. Vignettes can be updated, changed or rearranged. 

A can of high gloss white spray paint (or color of choice), a couple of thrift store finds, and you are ready to go.  I found this awfully awesome ceramic elephant for $2. Doesn't it look great in white?

Just a couple of major tips:
  • Clean and dry your items thoroughly
  • Wait until it is at least 50 degrees out, cold paint and / or cold items do not take paint well
  • A cardboard box is the perfect work station for spray painting
  • Invest the $2.50 in the snap on handle that makes the job easier
I'll soon post before / afters of the 2 brass quail that I found. They are awaiting another coat or two and it's too cold today.

Hope you enjoy and have a great day!

January 8, 2011

Cheese Paper

Dark winter nights in the NW have me regularly rustling up a small appetizer plate prior to dinner. My current favorite pre dinner nosh is English Blue Stilton and Pinot Noir salami slices from Trader Joes.  The stilton cheese is creamy, slightly sharp and absolutely delicious.

Storing this cheese for optimal taste has always been an issue for me. It hardly works to dump leftovers in a plastic baggie. Tupperware containers leave too much air around the cheese, possibly drying it out. Cheese papers to the rescue!

I may be the last to know about these papers, but I will still share.  A local kitchen shop sells Formaticum Cheese Papers for 6.95 pack (12 sheets and stickers). Each sheet can wrap 2 wedges of cheese. You can note the type(s) of cheese with the adhesive labels that are included. I enjoy a variety of cheeses, especially during these darker winter days, and I'm glad to find a way to store them appropriately.

What's your favorite cheese? Where do you shop for your favorites?