Sausage and Potato Soup

Nothing is better on a cold winter night than a hot bowl of soup! Soup isn’t usually the main course unless it’s eaten for lunch, but a hearty stew-like soup can be filling on it’s own.
I like recipes that are easy to follow and use ingredients that can be found in most kitchens. It’s disappointing to see a delicious looking dish but be unable to try it because you don’t have all the specialty ingredients on hand. In general, I will only post recipes that are easy and require basic/common ingredients so that you can try it right away. I also think it’s great when you find a recipe that isn’t too strict and allows you to easily play around with measurements and other ingredients. I love crock pot recipes but sometimes I can’t decide on a recipe until it’s almost dinner time. This is a stovetop recipe and should only take about 45 minutes from start to finish. If you’re like me, you’ll love my recipe for sausage and potato soup!

What you’ll need:

-1 lb of ground sausage (this can be breakfast sausage or Italian. You can even use links and peel them open to get the ground sausage out, or slice them into small pieces. I have even used frozen boxed breakfast sausage links- not quite as good, but it totally works!)
-5 or 6 potatoes (more or less depending on size- you’ll want it to be about the same amount as the sausage)
-about 2 cups of chicken or vegetable broth or bouillon (I haven’t tried it but you could probably use beef too)
-about 2 cups of water
-kosher salt (amount depends on preference and you could substitute regular salt)
-black pepper (as peppery as you like)
-a pinch of onion powder
-a pinch of garlic powder
-a pinch of seasoned salt
-a pinch of parsley (optional)
-large stock pot
-frying pan

Step One:
Pour the stock into the stock pot and add the water. Bring to a boil.

Step Two:
Fry the sausage.

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Step Three:
While the sausage is frying, peel the potatoes. Dice them up into approximately 1/4″ chunks.

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Step Four:
Add potatoes to stock pot. Allow them to boil for 5-10 minutes until they are reasonably soft. Reduce temperature to medium low.

Step Five:
Add sausage, salt, pepper, onion, garlic, seasoned salt and parsley to the stock pot. Allow to simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring frequently. If soup becomes too thick, add more broth/water.

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If you want some vegetables in your meal, add diced carrots or celery.
Feel free to play around with the amounts! Only have a 1/2 lb of sausage? Just make sure to chop it up small with your spatula to spread it through the soup better. It’s delicious even with just potato as the main ingredient!
This soup pairs well with a thick slice of hearty grain bread or a grilled cheese- although it will probably fill you up on it’s own!

Preparing Your Home For Thanksgiving: The Third Stage

When the day finally arrives, you’ll be racing around trying to get everything done in time. With so much to do, you wouldn’t want to forget anything.

The best way to keep track of what you need to do is to make a list. When it comes to cooking the food, it would be easier to make some sort of time chart.

Figure out how long each item on the menu will take to cook and try to make your best guess of how long it will take you to prepare it for the oven. You can do some of the prep work first thing in the morning or the night before to save time. Write down the time you will have to start each dish in order to have it ready on time for dinner. Your times may vary if you have a way to keep the dishes warm until the meal. Keep the time chart on hand during the day so you don’t fall behind. You could even set an alarm on your cell phone to remind you when to start each dish.

There are a few other things to do besides the meal, including touch-up cleaning, before your guests arrive. If you have help, decide on a job for each person. I made a check list in case you are worried you might forget.

-sweep the porch
-make sure no toys, shoes etc. have been left out from the night before
-fluff and straighten out any pillows on the couch
-take out the garbage(check every bin)
-put out your guest towels
-do a quick once over with the vacuum
-double check that the toilets and sinks are still clean
-spot mop any floors that need it
-empty the cat litter pan if you have one
-spray an air freshener or fabric refresher any where it’s needed
-make ice
-put wine in the fridge the night before or first thing in the morning

You may want to keep a broom and dust pan handy so you can clean up any messes you make while cooking, without disturbing your guests.

If you have pets, don’t forget about them! Make sure you take the dog out before your guests arrive so he’s not waiting at the door while you’re trying to enjoy your dinner. If your pets are skittish, make sure they have a comfortable spot to go to get away from all the activity. If your dog tends to beg at the table while you are eating, put him in another room or put up a pet gate to block the dining area. Remember, as much as you love your pets, you want to make sure your guests are comfortable and you don’t want them to feel annoyed by your pet. You can give your dog a special treat or toy so he doesn’t feel like he’s missing out on the fun.

You’ll be pinched for time so save some of that time by trying some cooking shortcuts.

Instead of peeling and boiling potatoes whole (which can take forever), peel them the night before or early in the morning. Chop them into small pieces of similar size to save at least ten minutes on the stove. I’ve seen shortcuts telling you to boil whole potatoes first, then just wipe the skin off. This does save time on peeling (though you could peel them several hours earlier) but may take thirty minutes to boil through and won’t boil your potatoes as evenly, which may result in lumpy mashed potatoes.

Peel and chop your vegetables the night before. Put them in an airtight container so they stay fresh. This could save you another ten minutes on the day of.

Make your stuffing the day before. Just mix everything together and put it in the fridge to keep it fresh. The next day you’ll just stuff it in the turkey and pop it in the oven. This is especially helpful if you are waking up super early just to start the turkey.

Set the kitchen up the night before so you don’t have to waste time looking for pots and pans or utensils. Keep the sink filled with hot soapy water throughout the day so you can wash dishes quickly if you’ll need to reuse them.

Make sure you keep your cell phone charged and on hand throughout the day so guests can get in touch with you. It’s easy to get so busy you forget where you left your phone, but a guest may call if they get lost, are running late, or need to be picked up from the airport, train or bus station.

I hope these little reminders help you to have a stress-free holiday. Relax and try not to worry too much. Enjoy your company and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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Preparing Your Home For Thanksgiving: The Second Stage

If you’ve managed to get the majority of your cleaning and organizing done then you’re ready to start making your house look festive.

Each holiday has different decorating needs. For the Fourth of July you’d be celebrating in the backyard, for Christmas you’d be in the living room, and for Thanksgiving you’ll be in the kitchen/dining room.

It’s important to be aware of the space you’ll be entertaining in when buying or crafting decorations.
Now I did say that for Thanksgiving the main celebration will be in the kitchen/dining room, but your guests, especially overnight guests, will be spending time in other areas also. If you don’t have the time to do complete house decorating, try to focus on the dining area, and make sure the other areas are neat and clean (you can refer to The First Stage if you need help). For anyone who is able to find time to expand their decorated areas, we can also focus on the living room, hallways/stairways, entryways and front porch. I excluded the bathroom and guest room(s) as these are private areas and they should be left as accessible as possible for your guests’ comfort.

There is no need to do every decoration I’m going to mention. You can pick and choose which things work for you. I just want to cover as much as possible so there are many options, and ideas for things that you couldn’t figure out what to do with.
For the dining area, we’ll save the table decor for last as you may wish to set that up at last minute.

For the walls (and this could be used in any room) you can hang leaf garland from corner to corner. The Dollar Tree has a 5 foot strand of leaf garland for $1. You can also replace any pictures with harvest themed pictures or decor.

For a practically free wall decoration, you can make your own customized word art. I made a simple FALL letter decoration using only cardboard, a black sharpie, and masking tape. I cut out four squares of cardboard, framed them out with the masking tape and then wrote a letter on each square with the sharpie. Pick whatever word you’d like to fit your space accordingly and cut out a square for each letter. You could even use colored tape and a colored sharpie for a more festive design.

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For the the kitchen, you could use the same leaf garland to string under your countertops. Tack or tape it tightly so it doesn’t block the cabinet doors. You can find seasonal towels and potholders in most any store (including the Dollar Tree) to add a little pop of festive flair. Remember not to crowd your countertops with too many decorations or you won’t have room to cook!

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For the living room you can also hang garland at the top of the walls (I like garland a lot because it is so easy to decorate with), and switch out pictures for more seasonally themed pictures or decorations. If you don’t want to buy new pictures, you can google whatever image(s) you would like to use and print them off. You can find affordable frames at several discount stores to complete the look. If you are looking to cover a larger area where a big painting was hung, you can print off several simple images of a similar style, frame them, and stagger them across the space.

You can put small ceramic turkeys, pumpkins, gourds, etc. on the side tables and any shelving (try to clear a spot on the shelf first so the decoration isn’t crowded).

For the coffee table, it’s best to pick one larger piece so there is still room to set a mug or magazine. A giant pine cone with glittered tips (glitter glue 3 packs are $1 at the Dollar Tree and include red, gold, and silver in convenient squeeze bottles) would make an elegant centerpiece and could also be used at the dining table. This could be an easy project for kids of all ages!

If you have a mantle, there are beautiful pine cone and leaf candle sets sold especially for this purpose. You could also make your own piece with a clear vase filled with leaves, pine cones, and small foam gourds, flanked by candles and pumpkins.

For hallways, the best bet is to keep them neat and consider getting or making small wreaths for each door. This will give your guests a bit of holiday cheer as they walk from room to room, without needing to clutter your hallway.

For stair ways, you could place a pumpkin on each stair (or every other if that works better for you) and even paint a letter on each to spell out your own greeting. Make sure that you leave enough space for guests to pass through and they can still reach the railing as they go up and down the stairs. Garlands could be woven through the spindles for an extra touch.

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For the entryway it might be nice to have a welcome sign to let your guests know how happy you are that they have arrived. Since this area will probably only be viewed by your guests upon arriving and leaving, this is a great spot to allow younger children to decorate as they wish. It’s a great opportunity for them to show off their talent to the family, and to let them know that they are an important part of the holiday.

When decorating your front porch, keep in mind that this is the first area your guests will see and so will your neighbors. A few pumpkins, some mums and a wreath will stay neat without much attention. Natural decorations are great because they are weatherproof, and don’t require storage after the holiday. Just toss them in with the compost!

Finally it’s time to decorate the dining table! Try to wait as long as possible to do this unless you have a special table you use only for these occasions. I say this because you don’t want your decor to get messy.

First things first- pick out a tablecloth. If you already have a tablecloth, check for any stains you may have missed when you used it last. Even if it’s been a long time, you still might have some luck with a good stain remover. If you don’t have a tablecloth, then you’ll probably want to get one. Don’t be too worried even if your local stores have swapped out their Thanksgiving merchandise for Christmas. You should still be able to find a tablecloth that would work wonderfully. Look for something like a solid red (you can use it for Christmas too!). You’re going to cover it with dishes and decor so it’s actually very nice to have a simple base to work with. Keep in mind who your guests will be. If younger children will be present, you may want to choose a flannel backed vinyl tablecloth over a fabric one. It’s easy to wipe spills away without having to stop the party before a stain sets in.

Next you should decide whether you’d like to use placemats. I think using placemats is a great way to frame out each person’s spot at the table. I bought felt leaf cut out placemats because they are affordable if you are buying a lot and cheap enough to replace if they get stained ($1 each at my favorite store!). Of course you could buy fabric placemats instead, but they can get stained and a lot of the styles are an image that will get covered up by the dishes. A patterned or shaped placemat would work best.

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Now we should work on the centerpiece (or pieces if you have a long table). You should decide whether you want a single piece or a multi-piece arrangement.

Flowers are a great way to brighten up your table. You could pick up a few bouquets at the florist or your local grocery store. They usually carry seasonal bouquets. If you have mums that are still going strong, you could cut a few stems and make your own bouquet.

Another option is a small group of candlesticks to create a simple and elegant look. LED candlesticks are a safe choice in case they get knocked over.

You could also use the giant glittered pine cone I mentioned for the coffee table. If you can’t find one in your yard or local park, a craft store should have them. (Normally I would suggest checking a place like Walmart, but stores like that have a limited craft department so you may not have much luck.)

A tastefully decorated pumpkin (jack o’ lanterns are so last month!) is another easy way to spruce up the table. Painted pumpkins are easy to do and super affordable! I made one with a style I found on Pinterest. If you haven’t checked out Pinterest yet, you should definitely make a point to give it a look. It’s a great way to get decorating ideas by just searching for things like “Thanksgiving decor”, “autumn wreaths”, etc. Pick out one or two paint colors, and use masking or painter’s tape to mark out your design. You can use spray paint if you’re pinched for time. Actually, you might want to use spray paint either way, because it’s a lot easier to work with. I used regular paint and it took about an hour, as I needed to do several coats and it took forever to dry. You can get a can of spray paint for about $1. There’s no need to invest in a good quality paint as the pumpkin won’t last forever. You can make several pumpkins at a time to decorate lots of places. If you don’t have the time to design each one, just choose a solid color and spray them all at once. White and gold are great choices for solid pumpkins.

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Another easy idea is to get a clear vase (or vases depending on the length of your table) and fill it with pine cones, leaves (I suggest fabric leaves because even though real leaves are free, they crush and crumble if you put anything on top of them), small foam gourds, acorns, etc.

If you would like to use napkin rings, you can easily make a set yourself. Cut a thin strip of burlap, about 1/2 inch wide and approximately 10 inches long, and hot glue an acorn to the center of each strip. When you roll up the napkins you can tie the burlap strips underneath.

Another option is to pick out a festive colored ribbon to tie around each napkin.

If you plan to arrange the seating, you’ll be wanting place cards. If you already have place card holders then you’ll be ready to make the place cards. If not, you can make your own.

Pine cones are an easy, natural holder. Once you make the place cards, you can easily use a dab of hot glue to attach the cards to the top. If the pine cones do not stand up straight, break off a few of the bottom points till it becomes level.

You can also skip the holders and make place cards that stand up on their own, by using unruled index cards (or the backside of regular ones), and folding them in half. Make sure you flatten the crease well so they don’t slide down and flatten out.

Decorate your place cards with a simple border. Use a ruler to make a frame with your choice of colored marker. If you are an artsy person you may wish to add a small drawing to each card. Write out each person’s name with your neatest handwriting. Index cards are cheap so you can always redo them.

I made a rough draft of one just to give you an idea of the design. I plan to use color on my real ones since they do look really plain now.

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Now set the table and you’re all ready to serve the feast!