Tag Archives: simple

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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Healthy Snacks

Fresh and Healthy Snacks for the week. What are you snacking on between meals?

I was going to write a big, long post about how important healthy snacking and healthy meals are. Complete with a confession that I gained 5 pounds while at a work conference, and upon my return, I ate more taffy in 3 days than any person should eat in a lifetime…

But I’ll spare you all that (oops, too late) and just say I am back on the wagon again and have my fresh snacks ready for the week.

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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.

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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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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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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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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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Simply Perfect

Saturday night. What’s a single girl to do, with her kids away for the weekend? Quite obviously, that girl should cook herself an amazing dinner, right? Afterall, if you don’t treat yourself well, who else will?

On Friday afternoon I ventured into town to check out Shawn’s Quality Meats & Smokehouse. I had heard good things about them from fellow good food lovers. I happily ordered a lamb chop from the friendly guys there, letting them know it was my first time having/cooking lamb. They were all-too-happy to give me some tips, including to not overcook it because that’s where you get the gamey flavor.

Simple Perfection

Saturday night rolled around and I had purchased all the ingredients to make a fancy dinner. I was going to make this fabulous-sounding pomegranate marinade and relish for the lamb, and risotto, and then I was going to fancy up the asparagus (generously given to me from Baby Sis’s produce co-op baskets). I stood there, staring at all the ingredients, and promptly decided that in this case, simple would be best. So I pared down my menu to include only the ingredients you see in the picture. That’s right. A lamb chop [seasoned lighly with cracked black pepper and a tiny bit of coarsely ground salt and cooked in my grill pan until medium-rare], asparagus [steamed], and a red potato [wedged, tossed with garlic-infused olive oil, and baked until brown]. Simply Perfect. And I think I enjoyed this simple preparation much more than I would have the more labor-intensive meal I originally planned. I got to really taste the flavor of the lamb, unmasked by fancy sauces. And I must say, I give it a 10!

Some foods are best enjoyed with the simplest preparation. I believe that a good quality cut of meat does not need to be fancied up, and I was pleased to find that to be true with this lamb chop from Shawn’s. I will surely return to their shop. Thanks, guys!

 

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Asian Dressing

1/3 cup rice vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons sugar
1 pressed garlic clove
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup vegetable oil
 
Combine all ingredients into a salad dressing mixer, or small bowl. Mix until well blended. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
 

 
MY NOTES:
I use low sodium soy sauce
1 garlic clove seems weak to me, but I’m a garlic-lover! I use 2…
Instead of vegetable oil, I use sesame oil to add another element of flavor to the dressing….
 

 
THE SALAD!!!
 
I have no measurements… it’s a salad, just use as much as you need to make enough for your family!
 
sliced red cabbage
sliced savoy cabbage
sliced green onion tops
carrot strips (jullienne, or shredded with a vegetable peeler for ribbons)
sugar snap peas
new addition to the salad…
ramen noodles, broken into small pieces
(This was added my request of the family…. and they love it, so I will probably keep adding it…… I guess… lol As long as they don’t start asking me to make them soup with the noodles, it’s all good. LOL)
 
You may also add grilled chicken, toasted sliced almonds, sesame seeds…… it’s a salad! BE CREATIVE!

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Tropical Fruit Salad

2 cans Tropical Fruit
2 bananas
1 apple
1 orange
1 coconut
1/2 cup Heavy Whipping Cream
1/4 cup Powdered Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla
 
Drain canned fruit. If time permits, let it sit in the drainer, over a bowl, in the fridge to get as much juice out as possible. Slice bananas. Cut apple into chunks. Cut peel off orange, then cut segments into chunks. Toss all the fruits together and set aside (still in the drainer over a bowl so juice can keep running off… you don’t want it to break down the whip cream and make runny salad). Cut the "meat" out of the coconut shell and use a grater to shred it. Set aside.
 
Pour cream into a chilled bowl, add powdered sugar and vanilla. Whip until stiff peaks form. (You can use an electric mixer to make quick work of this task. If you don’t have a mixer, use a whisk and place the bowl inside a larger bowl filled with ice and start whipping! It’ll take 5-10 minutes… enlist the help of anyone who plans to eat the fruit salad!). Mix the fruit in with whip cream, plus some shredded coconut, just before serving. Sprinkle the top with additional coconut.

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