Friday, November 22, 2019

Savory Potato Soup

This is, by far, my favorite potato soup. I might be slightly addicted. It is definitely not boring. It's very savory and creamy and really awesome on a cold day. Serve with a hearty sandwich or some cornbread or use it as an appetizer before a nice meal.

8 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons chicken base (such as Better Than Bouillon)
8 large potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
6 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons dried chives OR fresh chopped chives
6 tablespoons flour
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into small cubes
1 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Bacon bits

Bring chicken broth, chicken base, and potatoes to a boil in a large pot and cook until potatoes are just tender.

While the potatoes are cooking, melt the butter in a small saucepan and stir in the minced garlic and the dried chives. Alternatively, you can use fresh chives instead of dried and add them at the end, but I don't usually keep fresh chives on hand.

Add the flour to the butter mixture and heat until bubbling. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. This mixture forms a roux which both thickens and flavors the soup. Once the potatoes are getting tender, add the roux to the soup, stirring as you pour. Continue boiling for a minute or two until it begins to thicken.

Add the cream cheese, sour cream, and pepper and stir until combined. Heat through. Serve with bacon bits on top.

This soup is really good served with grilled cheese or grilled ham and cheese sandwiches. I use sharp cheddar for the best combination with the soup. I lightly butter the outside of the bread, put the cheese in the middle, and heat on a griddle or pan until the bread is browned and toasty and the cheese is melted. These are great dipped in the soup. The sharp cheddar really complements the creamy soup. It makes for a warm and satisfying meal on a cold day.


Thursday, November 21, 2019

My (Rather Controversial) Advice for New Brides

There's lots of advice out there for newlyweds, some of which is helpful and some of which is not. A lot of it gets repeated many times. "Don't go to bed angry." "Happy wife, happy life." We've all heard these and others. I won't repeat the classic snippets of advice everyone tells new married couples, mostly because they're not always super helpful, but also because I don't need to. Yet there is some advice most people won't tell you because it's not politically correct and doesn't always produce warm fuzzies.

I give this advice specifically to women. There is advice that applies equally to both husbands and wives, and some of that is very good and necessary. For example, I recommend that both husbands and wives get in the habit of selflessly serving one another, even in the little things, and without keeping score. That applies equally both ways. But a lot of the best advice for the newly married is specific to their sex. Men and women are different. They have different strengths, different temptations, and different roles. Since I'm a woman, I speak to women. I will leave it to the men to advise their own.

So here is what I would recommend specifically to young brides. It applies to all married women, but a new marriage is a chance to start fresh and build a strong relationship from the ground up, and having a good foundation is vital. These are things that you can do to avoid some of the most common pitfalls that cause strife and unhappiness in a marriage.

Let him lead you.

Follow his lead, ladies. You will be happier. He will be happier. Everyone will be happier when you live according to the marriage roles God designed for us. Don't push for control. Step back and let your husband lead. This is a lot easier to learn if you practice it from the very beginning, when you're still in the honeymoon phase. Defer to his judgment. Don't manipulate. Just let him be the boss and look up to him. Make him your hero and follow his lead. It works out better all around.

Don't hold him hostage to your emotions.

We women tend to be emotional, but our emotions should not control us. We shouldn't make people walk on eggshells, afraid to make us upset if they tell us what we don't want to hear or do something we don't like. That is especially true when it comes to our husbands. Because they love us so much, it is easy for our husbands to avoid anything that upsets us, even if it's something that needs to be done. And it's easy to let our emotions become a tool to manipulate him into doing what we want. Don't let yourself do this. Control your emotions and don't try to punish him with your displeasure if he chooses a course of action you don't agree with. That means no sulking, no pouting, no silent treatment, no outbursts of anger, and no crying fits. Your emotions should not rule the home. It's an easy habit to get into, so make it a priority not to let it develop.

Don't argue with him. 

It takes two to argue. The cycle can stop with you. Simply don't argue with him. Arguing is the least productive way to handle a disagreement. You're going to have disagreements at some point or another in your marriage, but they don't have to be handled disagreeably. Discuss the matter calmly and without pushing for your way. Bite your tongue if you can't be kind and considerate. Make a decision together, if at all possible, but if you can't come to an agreement, let him make the final decision and support him in it. There's no reason you need to argue. Arguments are not a necessary part of marriage. I've been married almost 10 years now, and my husband and I have never had an argument. We have more productive ways of settling disagreements.

Stand by your man.

In a difficult world, you ought to be able to count on your spouse, of all people, to have your back. Be there for your husband. Be his biggest fan. Take his side against the world. Don't let in-laws or friends or kids or anyone else come between you. You're on the same team. Act like it. Every problem you face is the two of you together, working on a solution, not one of you against the other. Make that a habit from the start. Don't complain about him or air his faults to anyone (including, and especially, your mother). Don't do things behind his back. Don't compare him negatively to other men. He's your husband, and you need to be on his side.


This is by no means a comprehensive guide to a perfect marriage, but these are issues that I have seen handled poorly in many marriages, so I offer a better way. Marriage can be a wonderful oasis in a broken world where we build one another up and provide a safe haven for each other. But bad habits can destroy a relationship if we let them get established. Building a good marriage takes effort and intentionality. It doesn't happen automatically. Nobody ever drifted together. If they drift, they drift apart. So taking the time to identify good marriage habits and purposely develop them is worthwhile. May God bless your marriage.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Homemade Granola Bars

Granola bars are a popular snack around my house, but it's cheaper to make my own than to buy them, and I get to pick my favorite flavors. These are chewy, wholesome goodness and they disappear in a hurry. 

2-1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup nuts (whole almonds, sliced almonds, pecans, peanuts, or whatever you want)
1/4 cup corn syrup or honey (whichever you prefer)
1/3 cup brown sugar
5 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup add-ins (see below)

Line an 8x8 baking pan with foil or parchment paper and grease it lightly.

Spread the rolled oats and nuts on a cookie sheet and toast in the oven at 350 for 5-8 minutes or so.

While the oats are toasting, add butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup or honey to a 3 QT saucepan. Heat over medium heat until the butter is melted and the mixture just starts to boil. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and salt.

Stir the oats and nuts into the sugar mixture until all of them are coated well. Stir in the add-ins. If you are using any kind of chocolate chips, put them in the freezer for 10-15 minutes before adding them to the granola and let it cool a bit before stirring them in. Otherwise, they melt.

Press the granola mixture into the lined baking pan with a spoon or spatula or with wet hands. Chill the bars in the fridge for a couple of hours. Take the granola bar chunk out of the pan and cut into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for 5-7 days or freeze for longer storage.

Alright, so that's the basic recipe. What add-ins you use can vary, as can the nuts. Here are some options:

-Almonds and dried cranberries (pictured)
-Almond slices, white chocolate chips, and flaked coconut
-Peanuts and chocolate chips
-Chopped pecans and dried blueberries
-Dark chocolate chunks and dried cherries with almonds or pecans

You can also add some healthy additions like wheat germ, sunflower seeds, or flax meal.

Note that you only want up to 3/4 cup of total add-ins (not counting the nuts, which were already measured at 1/2 cup). So, for example, if you want to do almond white chocolate coconut bars, you use 1/2 cup of almond slices and toast them with the oats, then add in about 1/4 cup coconut and 1/2 cup white chocolate chips (totaling 3/4 cup of add-ins).

There are lots and lots of possibilities for these granola bars. Use your imagination and see which flavors you like best. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Make Your Own Homemade Yogurt

Yogurt is a healthy food that is useful, not only for protein and healthy fats, but as a probiotic because of the good bacteria it contains. But yogurt can be very expensive to buy and often contains fillers that are not so healthy. Making your own yogurt is a lot cheaper than buying it, and it's easy to make. Plus, you get to control what goes into it. Most store bought yogurt is low fat or even non-fat, so if you want a creamier version with healthy dairy fats, try homemade full fat yogurt. If you prefer organic foods or milk from grass-fed cows, you can turn your favorite milk into healthy yogurt.

The short version of making yogurt is super simple. You just heat milk to 180°F, cool it to about 110°F, mix in yogurt cultures, and keep it warm for about 8 hours. The bacteria do the rest. But I'll explain in a little more detail how I do it.

First, pick your milk. I like to make mine with whole milk and add a little cream so it's super creamy. It's mostly my kids who eat it, and they can use the fat. It's especially important for my baby, who needs a high calorie diet. But fat is healthy for all of us as long as we don't overdo the calories. So I recommend whole milk. It tastes a lot better too. However, you can use 2%, 1%, or even skim milk if you want to. The less fat there is, the thinner the yogurt will be. Some people add dry milk to skim or 1% milk before incubating to help it thicken better.

You will also need some source of the lactic acid producing bacteria. The easiest way to do this is just buy plain yogurt at the store to serve as a starter. It needs to be unsweetened and be sure it contains live and active cultures. You can also buy a powdered yogurt-making starter, but I haven't used those yet.

The proportion of ingredients is not all that important in making yogurt, but if you want a general rule of thumb, I use 2 quarts of whole milk, about 1/4 cup heavy cream, and 1/4 cup plain yogurt.

Place your milk (and cream, if using) into an appropriately sized pot on the stove and heat over medium heat to 180°F. Don't use a non-stick pan for this. I use stainless steel. Stir it frequently to prevent burning. The reason for this step is to kill any bacteria or fungi that might be lurking in the milk. You only want to grow the good bacteria when you start incubating. I find it helpful to use a candy thermometer during this step. Mine clips on the side of the pot and stays a little above the bottom so I get an accurate reading on the contents.

Once the milk reaches 180°F, remove it from the heat, cover (to keep airborne bacteria out), and cool it to around 110°. You can just leave it out on the counter or you can set the pot in a pan of cold water to hurry it up. A candy thermometer tends to get in the way of the lid at this point, so I found it most helpful to switch to one of those meat thermometers that has a probe on a long wire and can be used inside the oven. Just put the end of the probe in the milk and put the lid over the wire. If you don't have that kind of thermometer, you can either leave the candy thermometer inside and wrap plastic wrap around the top of the pot or remove the thermometer and check the temperature only periodically.

Once the milk cools to around 110°F (it doesn't have to be exact), remove a cup or so of the milk and whisk it with your yogurt starter. Then add the milk and yogurt back into the pot with the milk and stir until well mixed. At this point, you just need to keep the milk warm and undisturbed while it incubates. The good bacteria multiply and convert the milk sugars to lactic acid by fermentation. You want to keep the temperature between about 100° and 110° for 6-10 hours.

An oven works well for incubating yogurt because it is insulated and you can warm it up. What I did with my old oven is turn the oven on for just 2 minutes or so when the milk is almost cooled. Once I add the yogurt starter, I wrap the pot and lid in a clean towel and set it in the warm (not hot) oven. A thermometer probe is super helpful at this point because I can keep an eye on the temperature without opening the oven or disturbing the milk. (However, if your probe falls all the way into the milk, the moisture may get into the probe and make it stop working. I went through 3 probes this way.)

If you don't have a probe to use in the oven, you can just check the yogurt every couple of hours. If the milk is getting below 100°, turn on the oven for a minute or two to warm it back up. I find it most useful to start a batch of yogurt first thing in the morning and just leave it all day. I check it periodically when I'm in the kitchen, but mostly I ignore it. When it is getting toward evening and I need the oven for making supper, I take the yogurt out. You can also prepare it in the evening and leave the yogurt in the oven all night, but you may want to start it a little extra warm (~115°F) and insulate it well with a thick towel to keep it warm enough all night.

I recently got a new oven that has a dehydrate feature. It allows me to set the oven temperature much lower than most ovens go and the thermostat keeps it that temperature for me. That is perfect for making yogurt. I set the thermostat for 110° and then I don't even have to check it until the time is up.

Some people also make yogurt in a slow cooker. Just put the yogurt in small containers and fill the empty space in the crockpot with water. Then turn it on low periodically to keep it warm enough.

The time period you leave the yogurt to incubate will affect the yogurt in two ways. The longer you incubate, the thicker the yogurt will be. And the longer you incubate, the more tangy it will be. I usually shoot for about 8 hours, but you can do it longer or shorter as you prefer. You can get a little out with a clean spoon to check it periodically if you want, but keep in mind that it will not be sweet and be sure not to stir up the pot or contaminate it with a dirty spoon.

After your yogurt is done, you have an important decision to make. You can either leave the yogurt in this state or drain out the whey to make a thicker, Greek-style yogurt. Or you can divide it and do some of both. If you want to use the yogurt as is, stir it to make it smooth and chill in the fridge. You can add sweeteners or fruit or other flavors later.

If you want a Greek-style yogurt, do not stir it. Instead, line a strainer or colander with several layers of cheesecloth or a thin, clean, flour-sack towel and set it over a bowl or pan that will collect the liquid. Carefully spoon the yogurt into the cloth without disturbing the curds any more than necessary. Let the whey drain out for a couple hours or more, until the yogurt is the thickness you desire. Since I usually incubate my yogurt all day, when I make Greek-style yogurt, I just put the draining yogurt in the fridge all night. In the morning, it is super thick, almost like cream cheese. You can always stir a little of the whey back in if you want it thinner. You can use the whey in smoothies or other recipes for extra protein. Just be aware that the whey is very sour. That means when you drain the whey out, it makes the yogurt less tangy and more creamy.

Now, for the fun part. There are lots of ways to use your new yogurt. You can simply add a little sugar (or other sweetener) and vanilla. However, I like it best with sweetened fruit. Blueberries are our current favorite. I mix blueberries (frozen or fresh) with some sugar and a little water and bring it to a boil, then add a small amount of corn starch in water to thicken it to a thick syrup. Once it thickens, cool it in the fridge. This blueberry compote can be stirred into yogurt, put on pancakes, spooned onto cheesecake, or various other uses. You can do much the same thing with strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries. These kinds of fruit compotes are great mixed into yogurt. If you're trying to reduce sugar, try just the fruit - either fresh or cooked. You can also use yogurt in smoothies or as ingredients in various recipes. The possibilities are endless. Enjoy!