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Sunday Waffles

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Back when I was 16, I lived in Tacoma for a few months with my Dad. There was a little dive cafe (Dive cases always have the best food!) down the street from our apartment called Lu Lu’s. Every Sunday, we would walk down there and have breakfast. And every Sunday I would have Strawberry Waffles. Even on the Sunday when we showed up late, they turned the waffle iron back on and I still got my Strawberry Waffles. I have many fond memories of those months, many of them centered in that cafe. There is another cafe that brings fond memories of childhood as well…but that will be stories for another day…

Now I have teenagers of my own. We don’t eat out much, but we have our own dive kitchen where we cook some pretty awesome food ourselves. My oldest has taken a liking to waffles recently and is perfecting the craft of fluffy Belgian waffles. And with any luck, this will become our new Sunday tradition. If not a weekly tradition, at least I’ve been served waffles homemade with love by my teen, and I know we’re making memories that I hope my teens will look back on as fondly as I do my memories of those Sunday Waffles…

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Cheesy Goodness

Cheesy Goodness | www.ThatCookGirl.com/CheesyGoodness | Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

Cheesy Goodness | www.ThatCookGirl.com/CheesyGoodness | Homemade Macaroni and Cheese

 Years ago I had a pretty amazing boss and work “family”. Our boss’s wife was really amazing too. And a pretty darn amazing cook! When we were having a potluck lunch she would almost always bring macaroni and cheese. I wanted to make it and I decided I had to have the recipe! So during a lunch celebration at our boss’s home in which his wife again served up the cheesy goodness, several of us were swooning over the amazing flavor and I declared “I’m going to ask her for the recipe.” Everyone looked at me in shock. They had for years wanted the recipe but none of them dared to ask. Here I was, fairly new to the office, and unafraid to ask! As I always say, “If you don’t ask, it’s already a no”.

I stood up from the table, found our gracious hostess and gushed to her about how much I love her macaroni and cheese and what a wonderful cook she is. Then I asked. I simply looked at her and asked: “Would you perhaps be willing to share your recipe?” She was so happy to pull out her cookbook and share the recipe with me, and all the girls were looking at me, completely astonished at my immense bravery. Ha! Us Cooks have no fear about asking for a recipe. Really, the worst that could have happened is she could have said “I’m sorry, it’s an old family secret” (which I have heard more than once) or she could have provided me with a different recipe than what she actually uses. Either way, no harm done. And I got an awesome recipe!

I have now made this, many years later, only a handful of times. And I usually use different cheeses than what the recipe calls for. I really like adding in some smoked cheese, sometimes even a creamier cheese like brie. Once even a small handful of bleu cheese crumbles got added in. The important thing is to use cheese that you like. And to make plenty for everyone. Oh and if by some chance you happen to have leftovers, please do yourself a favor in reheating them and do so in the oven. I promise you, the flavor of reheating in the oven vs microwave is well worth the time you wait!
Today I am making this most amazing cheesy goodness for a friend’s family. Her children have declared “what’s wrong with Kraft Mac and Cheese”. Well, nothing, I suppose, unless you want actual cheese in your macaroni and cheese. I have the blue boxes sitting here too, just in case I am unable to sway their tastes on this one. But really, it’s cheese, butter, and pasta! How can they not like it? Love it, even? These children are for sure my toughest critics. Since I have known them, I have cooked many meals for them. Most a hit, some are eaten, but I’m not sure enjoyed as much, and when they don’t like something, they speak up about it. (I don’t think I’ll ever be allowed to forget the caramelized carrots fiasco… apparently “caramelized” means something entirely different to a 9-year-old girl than to a 30-something woman who has an immense love of food!)

To make this cheesy goodness for yourself and your faves, you’ll need about 2# of cheese a pound of pasta, plus some butter, flour, milk, spices…oh, and maybe a recipe… please don’t be intimidated. Read through the whole recipe before you start and then just relax and let the process work.

The reviews from my critics have come back and here’s what my toughest critics have to say:
1. I was so stoked to eat it! (14 yr old)
2. So stoked on this macaroni, it’s so dialed! (15 yr old)
3. It was very scrumptious, but very hot (like heat hot) (11 yr old)
4. I thought that it was awesome. (13 yr old)
5. It tasted good. I mean, I ate all of it… (17 yr old…who seemed a little confused that I was asking)
6. It’s ****ing amazing (17 yr old [yes, there was swearing…very excited swearing…] )

Next time I make this, hopefully some adults will be around to enjoy it. Until then, I am pleased that I was able to share this cheesy goodness with a houseful of teens and tweens. 🙂

The Great American Macaroni and Cheese
This recipe is from the Pasta & Co. Cookbook

They say not to substitute a smooth tube dried pasta but to always use rigatoni for the best results. They also make a note that it is not a fiery dish, even though it calls for Tabasco and chili powder. The spiciness of the sauce and powder enhance the cheddar flavor.

INGREDIENTS

1 lb sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 lb mozzarella cheese, grated
3 cups milk
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
1⁄2 cup flour
1⁄2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1⁄4 cup romano cheese, grated
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
1⁄3 teaspoon white pepper
1 lb rigatoni pasta
3⁄4 teaspoon chili powder
3⁄4 cup milk

DIRECTIONS

Combine grated Cheddar and mozzarella and set aside.
In a small saucepan, heat milk until near boiling. Turn off heat. Melt butter in a heavy pan large enough to hold the pasta after it is cooked. (It will take at least a 14-inch saute pan or a large casserole that can take direct heat.) When foam from butter recedes, remove from heat, add flour, and mix well. Return to medium-low heat, and, stirring occasionally, simmer for 2 to 3 minutes to cook, but not brown, the flour. Gradually stir in hot milk. Raise heat to medium-high and continue stirring until mixture is smooth and thick (about 5 minutes). Add Parmesan and Romano cheeses. Whisk until smooth. Add Tabasco and white pepper and blend.
Cook rigatoni in boiling salted water about 4 minutes. (It will be underdone, but will finish cooking later.) Thoroughly drain rigatoni and fold it into the cheese mixture.
If cooking immediately, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Layer one-half the rigatoni mixture into a 9×13 pan. Top with one-half of the Cheddar and mozzarella. Repeat layers. Top with chili powder, sprinkled evenly over top.
If not baking immediately, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze. When ready to bake, drizzle the 3/4 cup milk over the dish. Bake for approximately one hour. If frozen, add at least 20 minutes to baking time. The dish should be rusty brown on top. Should it appear to be browning too fast, cover with foil for part of cooking time. Be sure to check for doneness in the very center of the dish.

 

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Shots and Ice Cream

Shots and Ice Cream For Dinner | ThatCookGirl.com | Some days just require a shot (of espresso)...and ice cream for dinner

Some days just require a shot (of espresso)…

Some days just require (espresso) shots and ice cream for dinner. Today was just such a day. I wouldn’t say I had a bad day, it just wasn’t particularly good. It began with receiving some sad news that didn’t quite allow itself to settle in. And then the day just went on as any usual day at the office would, people dropping in for different things throughout the day, appointments and meetings, coffee breaks (of course…I mean…it is MY office. There IS coffee!), just the usual goings on of the day. And then just before the day at the office ended, more sad news. And this time it took a good 15 or 20 minutes to settle into my heart and soul, and when it finally did, both bits of news settled into me all at once and it took all my strength to finish my day and get myself home to my babies.

Shots and Ice Cream for Dinner | ThatCookGirl.com | Some days just require a shot (of espresso) and ice cream for dinner

…and Ice Cream for Dinner

Life is precious and short and sweet. Celebrate the smallest moments. They are the biggest. Hug someone you love a little tighter today and every day.  Call someone. Take a chance you’ve been scared to take. Don’t wait another second to tell someone you love them, even if you think they already know. Have ice cream for dinner. Have a shot (of espresso).  Go for it! Live while you’re still living!  As my daughter wisely said once “Live; You Might Like It

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A Thankful Life

Hello my loyal blog-readers. Are any of you still out there, waiting for me to get my act together and start posting again? I hope so.

Well, today seems as good a day as any to see what I can do about getting back to blogging. You may be thinking “How does she have time to post on her blog when she should be busily preparing Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd?” Easy. I’m not hosting dinner this year. Nor have I for several years. You see (and I’m about to get really real with you here), I stopped hosting the big Thanksgiving dinner when my life turned upside down a few years ago. I tried desperately to turn it right side up, to no avail. Life has had me upside down, inside out, backwards, right side up,right side out,and forward again more times than I can count. So I just started rolling with the punches. And boy were there a lot of punches thrown my way in the last 5+ years. All the while I dodged a few, threw a few back, and found myself left breathless and disoriented by even more. In the last 2 years I have held 5 different jobs and had 4 different addresses to call home. Somehow I managed to keep my head held high, if only barely at times. So, I hope you will forgive my immense absence from the blogging world, and just welcome my attempts to return. I make no promises for how often I will blog. I only promise to try to be entertaining when I do.

This morning as I prepare to have Thanksgiving dinner with some much-loved people in my life, it hit me just how very thankful I am. Not only today, but every day. I saw this saying recently that sums up my feelings pretty well:

It is not happy people who are thankful. It is thankful people who are happy.

I am thankful for more reasons than seems reasonable at times. But I am thankful nonetheless. For the love I have been surrounded by, the opportunities life has presented to me, the friends who have become family, the friends and family who have stood by my side as I made choices that they may or may not have agreed with but supported me no matter what. More than anything, I am thankful to have my 2 pretty darn amazing teenagers who keep me going when all I want to do is give up. I will show them and the whole world that life doesn’t have to be perfect or even go your way to live it happily.

Now, I am being summoned by a cup of coffee that needs my attention and my world famous artichoke dip that isn’t going to make itself.(It’s famous in my world, that counts, right?)

My wish for you is to be thankful for the small things and the big things, the good things and the bad things, and for every choice you make, the good ones and the poor ones. Each of these things will make for a happy life if only you can find a way to be thankful for them.

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I’m Not Irish

It’s true. I’m not Irish. But you can still kiss me. 😉 And you may want to when you see how easy and fuss-free it is to make a hearty Corned Beef & Cabbage Dinner for your family. I have talked to at least 4 people in the last week who have either never had corned beef and/or never made it. So, this is for everyone out there who has never made corned beef, especially if you have never made it because you are intimidated by the task. This will make the top 5 list of “least intimidating recipes” I will ever share with you, I’m sure!

IMAG1320Here are your ingredients:

Corned Beef

Red Potatoes

Carrots

Green Cabbage

Water

 

This is a recipe where you will be so happy you own a slow cooker. It’s what makes this such an easy meal to make. Are you ready? Get your knife out and let’s COOK!

  1.  Prepare carrots in the manner you prefer. (Either peel and cut into 1-2 inch pieces, or wash them and leave them whole, with our without the peel. I prefer unpeeled, whole carrots, myself.) Place carrots in bottom of slow cooker crock.
  2. Wash potatoes and cut in half. Place on top of carrots.
  3. Open the corned beef and rinse well. (Keep that little packet of spices. You’ll need it!) Place the corned beef on top of the potatoes in your slow cooker, fat side up.
  4. Pour about 1/2 cup water into the slow cooker.
  5. Now back to that packet of spices. You can take your pick of methods on this one, too. Personally, I don’t like the little bits of spice seeds, but the flavor is amazing and necessary for the roast, so I do use it. If you don’t mind the seeds, open up the packet and sprinkle over the top of your roast. OR, you can put some holes in the packet with a small knife and toss the whole thing into your slow cooker.
  6. Put the lid on your slow cooker, turn it on low, and walk away. In about 6-7 hours, the corned beef will be cooked and vegetables will be tender. (You can use the high setting as well, if you want it to cook faster. Same results!)
  7. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget the cabbage! Cut the cabbage into wedges. Now, if your slow cooker is large enough and there is room to put the cabbage on top of the corned beef, add it to the top 1-2 hours before dinner. If you don’t have room for it, remove the meat and move it to a platter in a warm oven (COVERED, and maybe add a little of the juice from cooking to keep it moist), and then add the cabbage for cooking.

That’s it! Your dinner is done and it will taste as if you slaved over it all day. Your secret is safe with me, if that’s what you want your family to believe.

In our home, we serve this with bread (and fresh butter of course!) and put some butter and sour cream out for the potatoes, and vinegar and/or lemon for the cabbage, along with mustard and/or horseradish for the corned beef.

There you have it! Enjoy. You may now kiss the Cook Girl. 😉

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Filed under Main Dishes, Recipes, Slow Cooker

My Bacon Story

There was a time in my life when making bacon was a chore. But bacon is worth the chore, right? So I would get out the shirt aptly named “The Bacon Cooking Shirt”, courtesy of all the bacon grease splatters it was stained with, and get the bacon started on its way to sizzling, crispy perfection on the stove, jumping every now and then to try (and fail) to avoid the bacon grease splatters. We would enjoy the bacon, it would make us smile..and then we would walk into the kitchen and slide across the grease-covered floor and start the cleanup of bacon grease from the stove, counters, and floor. We didn’t eat bacon very often in those days. Too much work.

It pains me to learn of the number of people who still cook bacon this way. There is an easier way, people. Easy! And no babysitting of the pan, or flipping of the bacon is necessary. Yes, really. It’s true!

All you need is your favorite bacon (mine comes from a local farmer I used to buy my pork from in my hometown. I’m hoping to find a new local farmer in my new town soon, since my freezer is starting to get quite low on meats!), an oven set to 425 degrees, and a bar pan (jelly roll pan, whatever you call it, as long as it has sides. You do NOT want to use a pan with no sides. You need the pan to be able to hold the bacon grease.) Line the bacon in a single layer across the pan. You can put it pretty close together, but don’t overlap it. Put the pan of bacon in the oven, and set your timer for 15 minutes. (Please, please, please set the timer. Don’t believe that you will remember, because you won’t, and you’ll forget about it, that is, until your smoke alarm reminds you that you were cooking bacon. And then you have a pan of burnt nothingness and that is just wrong, on so many levels.)

Don’t worry. The 15 minutes is just a starting point. I always set it for 15 minutes and check it then, but usually end up re-setting the time for another 5-10 minutes. Personally, I think bacon is done just before it burns. My kids, sadly, do not tend to agree with me. But, I’m the one cooking, and when they decide to cook, they can make it how they like it. But, once in awhile I’m feeling generous and will take a few pieces off the pan early for them.

Tonight’s bacon cooking is serving multiple purposes. BLTs on the menu for the night, paired with oven fries, which I cooked on the same pan (after removing the bacon and most of the bacon grease). The bacon grease gave a great extra bit of flavor to the oven fries tonight. MMMMMMMM!!!!!! And the remaining bacon grease? Well, it now sits in a jar, on a shelf in my fridge, awaiting its turn at flavoring some fresh green beans we got in our Bountiful Baskets produce pickup this past weekend. And it will get to flavor some other things over the next couple weeks as well, I just don’t know what those things are quite yet.

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Filling Empty

I have 6 half-gallon Ball Canning Jars. When I asked my parents if they would sell me these jars they had sitting around, Mom asked what I was planning to do with them. I told her I planned to fill them. And that is exactly what I plan to do. I have 3 of them in use now, but I’m not going to tell you what I’m using them for, just yet. First, I want you to tell me what you would use them for if they were in your home, and/or tell me what you think I am going to/should use them for. I expect to fill the remaining 3 jars by this weekend and will share with you what kind of fun and/or practical uses I have found.

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Vanilla Beans

How to cut open a vanilla bean: lay bean(s) on cutting board, holding one end with your fingers, use a sharp knife to cut bean lengthwise, exposing seeds

Not too long ago I bought a few vanilla beans for a good price. (I don’t recall what the price was, but I remember not wanting to pass up the good deal.) I finally have gotten around to doing something with them, and I am pleased to say that my first experience in working with vanilla beans has been a good one. They are simple to work with, despite their size, and now my hands smell like vanilla and that makes me smile.

So, what did I do with these fragrant, flavorful little pods of goodness? I made more goodness, of course. It will be ready in about 2 months.

First, I made Vanilla Extract. In my cupboard I had some vodka that I will, in all honesty, never drink. (Sorry, sis. I’ll buy more for your dirty Martinis when you come visit. I promise.) This is the perfect liquor for making vanilla extract. And I am almost out of vanilla extract in my baking supplies, so it seemed a perfect use to me. The process is so simple you’ll question why you’ve never made it yourself, and then you’ll want to rush out and buy some vodka and vanilla beans.

You will need:

— 1 cup vodka, bourbon, or rum (Vodka is my #1 choice here because of its neutral flavor.)

— 2-4 vanilla beans

— clean bottle or jar

Here’s what to do:

Place liquor into a clean bottle or jar with a tight fitting lid. I was finishing off a bottle of vodka for this, so I just used that bottle and saved myself the trouble of finding another appropriately sized jar/bottle. Split open vanilla beans to expose the seeds inside the bean pod (as shown in picture). Add vanilla beans to liquor, secure lid, and shake well. Place in a cool, dark cupboard, and give it a little shake a couple times a week. In about 2-3 months, you will have beautiful vanilla extract for all your baking needs. It will become a little darker as it ages, and you can use it as you would any other vanilla, only it will taste way better. To keep it going forever, you can add more vanilla beans and liquor to the bottle.

I couldn’t stop with just Vanilla Extract, though.  I wanted a treat that could be used more frequently, and enjoyed by my awesome kiddos, too. So, now we’re on to Vanilla Sugar.

You will need:

— 1.5 cups white sugar

— 2 vanilla beans

— clean bottle or jar

Here’s what to do:

Place sugar into a clean bottle or jar with a tight fitting lid. Split open vanilla beans to expose the seeds inside the bean pod (as shown in picture). Add vanilla beans to sugar, secure lid, and shake well. Place in a cool, dark cupboard, and give it a little shake a couple times a week. In about a month, you will have a flavorful sugar that can be used in baking, in your coffee, or sprinkled on some buttered toast for a sweet treat.

Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Sugar! So easy, you'll wonder why you haven't tried it before now.

———————————————————–

So there we have it. A quick trip into the kitchen this morning, and the results are sweet. 😉

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Traditionally Non-Traditional

Have I ever mentioned how much I love my kids? They are fun and quirky, just like their Mama, but in their own unique ways. We all embrace each other’s individuality, bringing out the best in each other, making every day life fantastically fun together. Part of our fun is that we love tradition, but we also love to break tradition!

Color Me Happy

It’s Easter. So we obviously had to color some eggs. We even made some tea eggs after seeing my sister’s post about making them. Coloring eggs is one of my favorite things. I don’t know why. I don’t even really enjoy hard boiled eggs all that much. But there’s just something about the fun, bright colors of Easter Eggs that bring a smile to my face. I’ll be coloring eggs long after my kids have grown up and moved away from home. It’s a Holiday tradition I enjoy very much.

Baskets o' Plenty

Let’s not forget the candy, of course. Our baskets were left in front of the fireplace for the Easter Bunny last night. This year, we all have “proper” baskets. I have struggled every year with the fact that my kids don’t have nice baskets that they will enjoy bringing out year after year, even as adults, like I have. I’ve just never found nice ones that we liked. Some years we didn’t even have a basket, so the Easter Bunny would leave their treats in new lunch boxes or new baseball caps. Always fun, but this year when we looked, the kids decided they both really liked the plain wood ones. They are sturdy enough that I think they will last a long time for them! And we awoke to our baskets filled with candy, candy, and more candy, plus some notebooks, coasters, books, and even new toothbrushes for the kids (their Dentist will surely be happy to hear that! lol)

Traditionally Non-Traditional Easter Dinner

So, what does a silly family like ours have for dinner on Easter? I’m so glad you asked. Cheeseburgers, of course. I was asked by someone today if I would be having a big ham dinner. He seemed a bit taken aback when I said “No, we’ll be having cheeseburgers for our Easter dinner tonight.” He asked me if that was a family tradition. It was then that I realized our “tradition” is that we like to be “non-traditional”. He seemed pleased with my response, and thought it was a pretty cool way to enjoy Holidays. [By making a tradition of breaking traditions.]

Our Easter dinner, 2012: Cheeseburgers, piled high with plenty of melted sharp cheddar cheese, fresh lettuce and tomatoes, and some thinly sliced red onion. Paired with artichokes [with lemon butter for dipping!] and sweet potatoes, and of course some deviled eggs (gotta use those colored eggs somehow, right?)

And the weather for this day? PERFECT! We made great use of our deck for the first time since we moved in here, and enjoyed our fantastically fun dinner outside, giggling about our silliness and enjoying each other’s company and laughter.

I hope you enjoyed your Holiday as much as we did.

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Finding Dinner Menu Planning

Your menu planning and grocery shopping worries are about to come to an end! Introducing That Cook Girl’s Finding Dinner Menu Planning! Each week, you will be greeted in your email inbox with a new menu plan and grocery list. Stop wasting time and money wandering the aisles at the grocery, deciding what to make for dinner. I’ve got it all planned out for you.

The details are HERE and you can get started with your kitchen basics list HERE to get an idea of how simple your meal time can become.

So, are you ready? Subscribe now and don’t miss a thing!

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