Tag Archives: easy

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.

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

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Live Flavors

As you know, I love food. I love to talk about food. I love to make food. I love to help people find foods that they enjoy. Right now, I am in love with researching different ways in which foods are processed and how that processing affects the flavor and/or nutrition of the food. I do this for no other reason than it interests me. I don’t get paid to do this. It is something that I enjoy learning about and I love passing on new information when I learn about it. Most recently, I have learned about a processing method that does not apply heat, helping to maintain the integrity and the flavor of the original food. Keeping the flavors alive is important in food. Am I wrong? I dare you to tell me I’m wrong. (I know I’m right. 😉 )

Case in point:

Evolution Fresh

There’s a new juice on the block these days. It’s from Evolution Fresh and when I did a side-by-side taste comparison of their orange juice with another brand of high-quality orange juice, I was impressed. (And it takes a lot to impress me where orange juice is concerned because, well, orange juice does not impress me. Juice in general does not impress me.) The first juice was…juice. It tasted just like most any orange juice I have ever had. It’s just juice. And then I tried the Evolution Fresh juice. It was a classic double-take reaction. I did not expect what I tasted. What I tasted was real. It was fresh. It was like the juice my son labored over for 30 minutes one morning, squeezing every orange in the house, just to serve me freshly squeezed orange juice. At the first sip, I had to know more. How did they do it? How did they make this juice that was like actually biting into an orange?

The answer is simple. They don’t heat it. Never. The fresh juice is cold pressed from the fruit, and to process the juice for commercial packaging and sale, it goes through High Pressure Processing. The juice is never heated. And the heat is what kills the vitamins, the enzymes, the FLAVOR of your foods and juices.

I have tasted several more of these juices now, and each one, even the Essential Vegetable, had such an explosion of flavor that I knew I had to make sure people knew about this new company and the amazingness they have to offer.

I really could go on and on about this. But I’ll save it for another post, another day. If you have a chance to check out Evolution Fresh in your neighborhood, you really should. I want to know what you think!

*This is not a paid advertisement. This is just me, really excited about a new thing I tried, and new information I’m learning! 🙂

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Amazing Casserole (AKA Tater Tot Casserole)

I had not planned on posting this recipe tonight. I wanted to get pictures to go along with it, and that just didn’t happen tonight. So, what made me post it anyway? Well, I’m a sucker for kids who ask for recipes, and tonight, my girl child told some friends that she was looking forward to Tater Tot Casserole for dinner, and to her complete shock, most of them had never heard of it! One of those friends asked for a recipe so he can make it. Who am I to deny a child (ok, a teen) the joy of cooking? So, for my girl child’s friends, enjoy this simple recipe that you can make for your family! (Yes, that’s right. The teens shall cook for the parents. You’re welcome!)

TATER TOT CASSEROLE

Ingredients

  • 1# Ground Beef
  • 32 oz. bag Tater Tots
  • 2 Stalks Celery, sliced, including leafy tops
  • Cream Soup (your choice of flavor, or make your own)
  • 1/2 cup Sour Cream
  • 1 cup shredded Cheddar Cheese (plus additional for topping)
  • Green beans or other vegetable of choice (I prefer fresh, but many use canned)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Prepare tater tots as directed on package. While those are baking, cook ground beef and celery until meat is no longer pink and celery has softened. Drain excess liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add cream soup, sour cream, cheddar cheese, and vegetable to meat mixture. Fold in a handful of tater tots. Pour mixture in a casserole dish (9×13 baking dish). Top with remaining tater tots. Bake at 350*F for approximately 30-40 minutes, until heated through and bubbly. Top with additional cheese, if desired, and return to oven for 5-10 minutes.

Serve with salad and ENJOY!

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Roasted Pork Chops and Vegetables

With this recipe, I am just going to jump straight to the pictures for you. A mouthwateringly simple dinner, from simple ingredients to simple preparation. Enjoy!

The simple list of ingredients: Pork Chops (thick cut, 1 per person), Red Onion, Asparagus, 2 Carrots, 1.5 Pounds Small Red Potatoes, Tomato, Spices (I used a good quality Garlic Powder, fresh ground Black Pepper, and Italian Seasoning, plus some Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

 

Cut potatoes in half or quarters depending on size, asparagus into 1" pieces, slice the carrots (I like to leave the peel on, but you don't have to), wedge the red onion. Toss all of these in a bowl with some Olive Oil.

Sprinkle both sides of the pork chops with your seasonings and place them around the edges of the pan (I use a large bar pan/jelly roll). Pour vegetable mixture into the center of your pan. Bake in 425*F oven for 45 minutes. Don't touch it during this time. It's not necessary. You can use this time to clean up the kitchen, set the table, and enjoy a cup of tea while you visit with your family.

After 45 minutes it should look kinda like this. Turn the pork chops over and stir the vegetables.

Cut the tomato into wedges (in this case, I also had some grape tomatoes to add to the mix). Place on top of the vegetables on the pan, and return to oven for another 15 minutes.

Serve up a pork chop and a generous helping of the vegetables for each person. Serve with salad or on its own. A nice big glass of cold milk is a perfect drink of choice for this simple dinner.

This is one of those dinners that I like to use when I have an abundance of produce. You can use whatever vegetables you happen to have on-hand, so don’t avoid making it because you don’t like my vegetable choices. Use what you like and make it your own. Cooking is creative! Find your imagination and watch the smiles as you serve this simple dinner that looks and tastes like it took you all day to prepare!

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Filed under Main Dishes, Pork, Recipes, Vegetables

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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Garlicky Buttery Shrimp Pasta

  

Simple Garlic Shrimp Pasta

Tonight was the closing shift at my new job. But that wasn’t going to stop me from cooking up the shrimp that was waiting for me in the fridge!

Of course, you know me, and I was telling my co-workers how excited I was to get home and cook my dinner. Marc (with a c), who I have not worked with before tonight, seemed really excited about my dinner. I think he was a little jealous. He said he was trying to memorize what I told him about how I was going to cook the shrimp and what I would serve it with. Well, he seems like a nice guy, and he served 5 years in the Marines (Semper Fi!), so I decided to do a picture tutorial on this very simple dinner. It will be the perfect thing for him to make for a date to impress her. (All you other guys reading this need to pay attention, too! It’s easy! You can do it!)

A note about cooking the shrimp. There is only one person who has ever intimidated me in the kitchen with his knowledge. And I really learned a lot from him the few times we cooked together. One thing I learned from him is that cooking the shrimp with the shells still on gives them more flavor. The shells are where the flavor is. (Duh! I can hardly believe I hadn’t known it before. But I’m glad I got to cook with David a few times and add to my food knowledge. 🙂 ) So, it’s up to you, but I would recommend leaving the shells on for more flavor. For a date, perhaps you want to remove the shells before serving so she doesn’t have to fumble with trying to be polite and proper when she really just wants to rip the shell off with her fingers and not care how messy she gets. Just sayin’. 😉 And now, on to the recipe (such as it is…you know I rarely follow a recipe!), complete with pictures.

First thing's first, gather up your ingredients. For tonight's dinner, I grabbed just a small amount of angel hair pasta, the shrimp (I had 6 large ones), 3 tablespoons butter, 2 cloves garlic, 1 small tomato, 1 green onion, Parmesan cheese (Please note the time-- 9:55pm)

Right after snapping this picture, I added water to the pot and turned the burner on high to get it boiling for the pasta. At the same time, I put the pan with butter on a medium-high heat to melt while I peeled and sliced the garlic cloves.

Add the sliced garlic to the butter and cook until just before the garlic turns brown. (This will take about a minute or so)

Remove the garlic from the butter, leaving the butter in the pan. The garlic will continue to cook a little more and will end up lightly browned after it is removed from the pan. You can eat this, use it to top the pasta, or throw it away. Totally up to you.

By this point, your pasta water should be boiling. Angel hair pasta takes only 4 minutes to cook to al dente, which really helps to pull this meal together in no time at all. Get the pasta into the water and set your timer for 4 minutes. Don’t forget to stir the pasta so it doesn’t stick together.

Add the shrimp to the butter in the pan and let those little guys bubble away getting all that garlicky, buttery goodness cooked right into them! Is your mouth watering yet? Each side will cook for 1-2 minutes.

While the pasta is boiling and the shrimp are sizzling in the butter, you have time to run your knife through the tomato and green onion. Just cube the tomato into bite-size chunks and slice the green onion. (I use just the dark green parts for this recipe, and reserve the white and light green parts for another use.)

Once the pasta is finished cooking, drain it and put it into a pasta bowl or onto a plate with a rim that will hold the juices in. Then remove the shrimp from the butter (leave the butter in the pan, you’re not done with it just yet!) and place on top of the pasta.

Add the tomatoes and green onion to the butter in the pan. Toss gently, just enough to warm the tomatoes a bit (this should only take about 30 seconds), and then pour the entire contents of the pan, butter and all, right over the top of the pasta and shrimp.

”]Welcome to my little piece of heaven, straight out of my own kitchen. Enjoy!

 

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Filed under Cooking With Love, Pasta, Recipes, Seafood

Loves of my Life

Heart Day Dinner for the Loves of my Life! xoxo

I celebrated my first Valentine’s Day as a single woman by recognizing the true loves of my life. The two people I spend the majority of my free time with. Who love me unconditionally (even when they “hate” me momentarily), and who I love unconditionally.  They bring me joy every day with their smiles and their laughter. They keep my life interesting and bring a ray of light even on my darkest days.

They are my favorite boy and girl in the whole wide world. They talk back. They forget to do their homework. They drive me crazy. And I love every minute of it, because more importantly, they have smiles and hugs that would melt an ice queen’s heart, they tell stories about their day and about their friends. They tell jokes. They fight and they love and they do it with their entire heart and soul.

I love you, my favorite kiddos! Thank you for sharing Heart Day with your silly mama. xoxo

So… what did I make for these most fabulous kiddos of mine? Nothing super fancy, just some of our favorite foods, shaped into hearts. My easy meatloaf, paired with roasted carrots [drizzled with olive oil and tossed with chopped red onion], julienne beets, and some mashed potatoes [I used up the last of the ranch dressing I made last weekend and that added really great flavor, along with the homemade butter I mixed in.] Comfort food with great conversation and giggles at dinner.

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Eating From Boxes

Sometimes, life throws you curve lemons. 😉

I’ve learned over the years, as many who have come before me, that if there is one thing in life that will always remain constant, it’s that nothing stays the same. And if ever there was a doubt, my life as of late proves just that. I won’t go into the terribly boring details of these changes, except maybe 1 of them. It’s the reason we are eating from boxes and the biggest reason for my recent “hiatus” from the blog-osphere. We’re moving to a new town, a new community.

Oh, words that I never thought I’d say, at least not before my children had finished school in our little town. But, I realized that as times change, as people change, as circumstances change, sometimes, well, you gotta roll with the punches, catch some lemons, and throw some curve balls of your own right back at life. So that’s what we’re doing.

While we transition to our new home, we’re staying with friends. Have you ever picked up your kids and inserted yourself into the middle of someone else’s home and family for a few months? Yeah, it’s a lot harder than you would think. But we’re managing and so far I think we’ll remain friends once our stay there is complete.

Last weekend, we found ourselves spending our first night in our new apartment, in our new town. We’re not fully moved in there, and won’t complete the move until mid-November, but until then, we’ll be spending our weekends there, setting up the new place, and eating from boxes. I won’t be posting a lot for awhile, but my kiddos have said they’ll write a couple posts. I will get back to posting once things settle and the boxes disappear from my life. 😉

(I leave you with this picture: Our box table with celebratory drink before dinner. This was the boy child’s idea. I was going to just put the table cloth on the floor, but he really wanted to set up a “real” table. Isn’t he a cool kid?–No, you can’t have him. He’s mine. 🙂 )

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Market Colors

Market colors make a grey day bright again!

In spite of the cloudy, drizzly day today, the local farmers were out as usual on the street, sharing their food and their knowledge. I always learn something when I go to the market, and what’s better than that is that I often get to teach something as well. This grey day turned colorful as I walked around, talking to the farmers and other vendors, picking up my colorful bounty.

Today I was given a great way to cook up some kale leaves. I picked up the Russian Kale from Parke Creek Farm where she told me the differences between the varieties and some ways to cook them. I chose this variety because she described making kale chips with them by spritzing them with some olive oil and sprinkly with some sea salt, then baking in a low heat oven until crisp. Sounds like a great snack. I also picked up a colorful bunch of radishes in several different colors, along with some onions and arugula. This is my main stop for produce each time I visit the market. This week, though, I did pop over to get some fresh tomatoes as well. I grabbed the remaining handful of “seconds” (these are tomatoes that may be slightly bruised or are badly mishapen, but they still taste great and it gives me a chance to try a variety of tomatoes!) from their bin and went happily on my way to the cheese stand to pick up some fresh goat cheese.

Another favorite stop along the way is always Whitaker Grass Fed Beef where the farmers are always glad to see me. Today we chatted about family and how we eat. She is much better than I am with keeping processed foods out of her home, but I think I’m getting better. And I got to teach her something today. Yup! We talked about my Eye Roll Worthy Ranch Dressing and she seemed excited to try it. I hope she likes it as much as we do in our home. I picked up a couple packs of ground beef from her that I have not decided yet what to do with them, but I have a couple recipes in mind (one of them is a soup recipe I found when going through some old papers this morning).

A successful, colorful day at the market will end with a family favorite dinner of  Old Faithful, using pork chops from another local farmer. I am running low on pork in my freezer, so am glad that I have paid my deposit for this year’s order and look forward to filling up again in a couple months! The tomatoes and onions in the dinner will be from my market finds today, and I am going to use Jasmine rice, just for something a bit different. And as an added bonus, I have FRESH herbs growing in my garden that I get to use.

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Rhubarb Dessert

I look forward to this every year. Rhubarb brings back memories of childhood. Of going out to the yard and picking a stalk off the plant and eating the tart treat right then and there. I can feel the tingle in the back of my mouth now, just thinking of it.

As quickly as this crop comes in and seems to be over-abundant, it is gone. Not to be seen again until next summer. So I savor it while it’s here, and sometimes, if I’m really lucky, someone will share the extra from their plants and I might even slice some up to freeze for use mid-winter when I’m craving this simple rhubarb dessert.

This recipe comes from my Mom. She and an old neighbor came up with it one summer when there was, apparently, a bumper crop of the tasty, tart treat, and it has been a staple in our kitchens ever since!

Rhubarb Dessert

  • 5 c chopped rhubarb*
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1 (3oz) pkg jello (red, preferably raspberry)
  • 3 c miniature marshmallows
  • 1 pkg white or yellow cake mix (plus ingredients to make the cake)

Arrange rhubarb in a greased 9×13 pan. Sprinkle sugar and jello over rhubarb. Top with marshmallows.

Prepare cake mix as directed on package. Spread evenly over marshmallows. Bake at 350F for 50-55 minutes.

If desired, after cooling for 5 minutes, turn it out of pan. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

*You can make this a strawberry-rhubarb dessert by using 1/2 strawberries and 1/2 rhubarb at about 2.5 cups each.

**Yes, this is filled with lots of processed foods. Yes, I am well aware that I talk about eating whole foods, unprocessed foods… but I also know that it is ok to have a treat now and then. And… as a reminder, I am not perfect. Well, I am perfectly *imperfect*. 😉

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