Monday, December 27, 2010

Egg Timer

Today, for the first time in months (maybe even years) I boiled eggs to perfect doneness.  The difference between that very seldom occasion and this one was that it was on purpose!  In the past if my eggs were cooked perfectly it was on accident.  I've tried to follow several different recipes for boiling a medium-hard boiled egg, but with only mediocre results.  Not even "The Cookbook" has a recipe that gets consistent results.  But today, after receiving this little gem for Christmas I boiled eggs to PERFECT doneness!

I've had this on my amazon wish list for some time and if I would have known how awesome of a job it was going to do I would have bought it for myself a long time ago.

Did you get anything for Christmas that you can't wait to tell your friends about?  If so, tell me about it!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Baby Feeder Revisited

Two and a half years ago I reviewed this baby feeder and gave it one star mainly because my son would not even put this in his mouth.  Good thing my mother-in-law never read that post because for Christmas she bought our youngest son this feeder and he loves it:

This is a similar but simpler design than the other feeders.  The first style that I reviewed had a total of three pieces, where as these new ones are just made of one piece.  I like the simplicity of this design better mainly because there aren't any parts to lose.  The best part?  They are dishwasher safe and that makes clean up a cinch!

So far Asher has only enjoyed chewing on a hunk of banana, but I'm sure more foods will make their way into these great feeders.  I guess this just goes to show (again) that just because one baby likes or doesn't like something it doesn't mean the same will be true for any subsequent babies.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Baby Wearing: the Snugli

At the beginning of this post let me just say that blogger's picture handling capabilities leave much to be desired.

Me wearing Ethan at less than a month old.  He is positioned sideways in the carrier with both feet coming out of one hole.  *Warning* This position is not endorsed by the manufacturer, but on that evening he needed to be held.
First up on my list of baby wearing apparatuses is the Snugli Front and Back carrier.  I'm reviewing this carrier first because I think it is one of the more popular styles of carriers.  Here's a quick run down of things I look for in a carrier and how this one measures up:

Positions baby can be worn in: 3 (Face-in, Face-out and BackPack)
Range in pounds or age baby can be worn: Infants 7 to 26 lbs
Easy to put on: 4/5 (more discussion below)
Stability of baby in carrier: 100%  I would do jumping jacks or maybe even kart-wheels with this carrier on!
Can you help a toddler go to the bathroom while wearing this carrier: Absolutely!
When do I choose this carrier?: Anytime I feel like I will be moving around a lot and I need the full use of my arms.
Average time this carrier remains comfortable: no more than 2-3 hours
Overall Score: 4/5

Berry picking with Asher in the "face-in" position.  You can really do anything with this carrier on!
Asher in the "face-out" position.
Another shot of Asher in the "face-out" position.

I really do love this carrier and before writing this post I questioned myself as to why I don't wear it that often.  The answer is simple.  Even though this is a versatile carrier that is easy to put on and securely holds the baby, it is connected to your body with four main straps.  These straps are connected with buckles that similar to other backpack buckles.  My one complaint with these buckles is that if you aren't careful they can pinch the heck out of you!  And I mean the heck!  The time before last when I was buckling the Snugli on me I literally said the F word when one of the buckles pinched my finger.  If you hang around me very often you know that I don't say the F word.....ever!  Well, at least not very often...  If you have someone to help you put it on they can help you make sure you aren't going to pinch yourself, but honestly how often do you have someone else around to help you put on your carrier?

Philip wearing Ethan in the "backpack" position.

The great thing about this carrier is the ability to wear the baby on your back.  Similar carriers like the Baby Bjorn often do not have this option.  This position really allowed my husband to wear a baby and not feel girly!  He even carried Ethan in it on a hike to house mountain.  After that hiking trip we bought a better hiking carrier, but more on that later.

Overall this is a great versitile carrier!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Baby Wearing

With my first baby and especially now with my second one I just love wearing them.  Around the house, out in public, or anywhere we go I would much rather stick a baby in a sling than lug a big car seat carrier around.  The best part is that for the most part the baby is much happier too!  Maybe the only exception I have is when we go to a restaurant.  There we usually bring him in still in the carrier because I hope I will have the chance to actually eat my lunch or dinner.  This hasn't really worked on many occasions, but I can still hope!

Over the next week I hope to review 4 or 5 of the carriers we have used.  What is your favorite baby carrying device?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Molasses Crinkles

Another family favorite cookie around the holidays these are great to make with kids.  I have fond memories of making these with my family.  My favorite part was dipping the cookies in the colored sugar or nonpareils.  Maybe my mom can even dig up and old picture for me.

Until then here is the recipe:

3/4 cup Crisco
1 cup Brown Sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 1/4 cup flour
2 tsp soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ginger

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine Crisco, brown sugar, egg and molasses.  Combine dry ingredients in separate bowl and then slowly incorporate into wet mixture.

Use small scoop to spoon out cookies.  Dip one side of cookie in decorations if desired before placing on a baking sheet.  Bake for 8-10 min.  Enjoy!

Forgotten Cookies

My mom use to make these for us around Christmas time every year.  I can't wait to make these with my kids this Christmas.  Like other meringues, it is best to make these on a dry day.

2 egg whites
2/3c sugar
1/2c nuts (optional) - I just add extra chocolate chips
1c chocolate chips
1t. vanilla
1 pinch salt

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.  Beat eggs till frothy.  Add sugar gradually and beat until stiff.  Stir in the rest of the ingredients.  Divide batter and color with food coloring if you wish.  We use to color them red (slightly pink) and green for Christmas.

Spoon out cookies onto foil lined baking sheets (or foil wrapped oven racks) and place into the preheated oven.  Immediately turn off oven and leave the cookies in the oven overnight.  It is important not to open the oven after putting the cookies in.

When cooking these cookies in an electric oven (one without a pilot light to keep the oven slightly warm and dry) you may leave the oven on at a lower temp (200 or so) for an hour before turning the oven completely off.


Monday, November 29, 2010

Aunt Janet's Hashbrown Casserole

I didn't have this casserole this Thanksgiving, and I really missed it!  It will definitely make an appearance on my Christmas menu.

I'm sorry I don't have a picture yet, but I'll try to upload one after I make it.

1 large pkg frozen hashbrowns (I get the square kind)
2/3c melted crisco
1t. salt
1/4t. pepper
1/2c chopped onion
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 pt. sour cream
2c grated cheddar cheese
Topping: 2c crushed special K and 1/4c melted crisco

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Defrost potatoes the night before in the refrigerator.  Mix all ingredients and pour into a 13x9 pan.  Mix ingredients for topping and sprinkle over casserole.  Bake for 45 minutes - 1 hour until the edges are bubbly and the middle becomes hot.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Knox County Library

The following post was written by Betsy F:

When you need information, a book recommendation, a research question asked, whom do you ask? Ever thought about your local library?

Our Knox County Library is a great library for our size county. The local branches are diverse, helpful, and easy to access. Don't want to go downtown? Don't have to--have the book or movie sent to your local branch (through the website: In addition to helpful resources, most local branches offer at least one children's storytime. We are FAITHFUL attenders at our local library's storytime. As a result, my children are comfortable in the library, look forward to going to the library, and I've gotten to know the staff at my local branch quite well (this is especially helpful if one of your children escapes the library unnoticed by you and a friendly librarian alerts you or--even better--rescues your child).

But the piece de resistance is the virtual reference help you can receive. From the main library webpage, click on the "Contact Us" link at the top. One of the first links listed is Reference  "Ask a Librarian." Click on that link, and you will be taken to a page with a form to fill out that includes your contact information and a sizable square in which to type your query. My reference questions have all had to do with children's materials, so the children's reference librarian has always answered my queries. You don't have to specify which department--whoever filters the questions will send it to the right person.

The feedback I've received from my online queries has been outstanding. Case in point: when we were about to put our dog to sleep, I asked for help in finding some children's books that dealt with the death of a pet. Not only did I get a reply the next day several titles listed, but the librarian also told me which ones ended with the family getting a new dog--in case that wouldn't apply to our family (it didn't; we were/are not planning on a puppy anytime soon!). She also offered to have the titles I liked sent to my local branch. Great service, eh?!

When filling out an online reference form, make sure you put in ages of children if you're asking about children's resources and any other information that will help the librarian assist you.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A new family favorite: Pumpkin Creme Pies

I ran across these wonderful cookies on Ree Drummond's blog and I made them for a recent church event.  The results were AWESOME!  Not only were these tasty, but my husband who doesn't usually like pumpkin flavored things loved these cookies.  I would describe them as being very similar to a pumpkin roll, but in cookie form.

Here are some tips for following this recipe:
  • The recipe makes 24 cookies (not 12 as stated).
  • Although it instructs you to pipe the cookies one of the commenters said that you can just as easily scoop them.  I will try this next time.
  • Don't bother cutting the parchement into squares, as that is a huge waste of time, but do use parchement to bake the cookies on.
  • A PC medium scoop (about 2tbs) delivers the perfect amount of icing on each cookie to make 24 sandwiches.
Just in case you doubted how moist and delicious these are, here is another picture:

    At the church lunch these were gone in just under 10 minutes or so!  My family members were all so glad that we had tasted one at home because we did not get to enjoy them at the lunch!!  I will definitely be making these for Thanksgiving and every gathering between now and then.

    Here is the recipe step by step and in printable form.

    Monday, August 30, 2010

    Tot School

    Since Ethan is staying home this year from preschool, I am picking up the slack by going through a preschool homeschooling curriculum with him.  I love the curriculum, but I was really looking for some new activities to do as we review letters A-D this week.  Enter TotSchool.  This site is a great resource by a homeschooling mom who thinks that for 2-3 year olds it may be too early for "preschool", but we can certainly learn a lot of cool things in "Tot School".  Today Ethan and I made these adorable animal letters:

    Here is another page we did to review the letter A.  Betsy might recognize the fabric I used since I did not have "picnic" paper. 

    You can find the complete alphabet lessons listed on this site.  Ethan just loved school this morning and kept asking, "Now what are we going to make?"

    Friday, August 27, 2010

    Mom's Spaghetti Sauce

    This sauce can be made and eaten right away or frozen for later use!  It is also great in lasagna.
    • 2 pounds ground beef
    • 5 (6-oz.) cans tomato paste
    • 2 (15-oz.) cans tomato sauce
    • lots of garlic powder (at least 1 tbls)
    • lots of onion powder (at least 1 tbls)
    • lots of Italian seasoning (at least 2 tbls)
    • salt and pepper to taste
    Brown and season ground meat with salt and pepper. Drain grease and place meat into a crock pot. Add remaining ingredients. Cook on high for about two hours (stirring every 30 minutes or so to prevent burning). Then cook on low for about six more hours. Let sauce cook for a while before tasting. An extra can of sauce or paste can be added to thicken or thin the sauce as desired.

    Because my crock pot often burns this sauce I am trying it on the stove top today.  I'm sure it will be just as good!

    Wednesday, July 14, 2010

    My iPad!!!!!!

    For Mother's Day my husband bought me this iPad and I love it!!  It is by far my favorite thing lately.  But instead of writing a review about the actual iPad, I would like to say a few things about my favorite apps.

    This idea came to me when my sister was here this past weekend.  She has an iPhone and one afternoon we sat down and compared apps.  I know that I have a few other friends out there that have iPads or iPhones and I want to share my favorite apps and then hear from you about your favorites!

    The above picture is my first homepage and I thought that would be a good place to start.

    Baby Geek
    Down in my system tray is my favorite and most useful app so far: Baby Geek.  This app helps me keep track of my new little one's schedule and activities.  My favorite part is the graphs that it creates.  I can see a graph of EVERYTHING! How often he sleeps, when he sleeps, when he eats, how long he eats, etc.  I have even put in the growth data for Ethan and I can compare (via a graph) Ethan and Asher's weight, length and head circumference!  I can't really say enough about this program.  Also, the customer service is GREAT!  I had an issue an emailed the support on a Saturday.  Within 4 hours I had two emails trying to help me fix it.  Best $.99 I've spent in a long time!

    Here are just two of the types of graphs (yes, you can email them too):

    The first two rows of apps (and the rest of them that are in my system tray) come with every iPad so I'm not going to review those.

    The Weather Channel
    This app was free and I really like to use it for the daily and weekly forecast.

    iPad Guide
    This is not really an app it is just a bookmark to an online tutorial for the iPad.  It has come in pretty handy at times.

    Weather Bug
    This app was also free (I don't pay for apps often) and it has a great radar display.  I like it 100% better then the Weather Channel's and that is why I have two weather apps.

    If you are a USAA member you can do a lot of online banking with this app.  I love being able to pay my bills from my iPad.  (Note: USAA is a member only insurance and banking organization for military personnel and their families.)

    Pandora and eBay
    These are just app versions of their online counterparts.

    This ends part 1 of my iPad app reviews!  I hope you have enjoyed it so far.  Do you have an iPad or iPhone?  What are your favorite apps?  Please share!!

    Tuesday, June 22, 2010


    I've been meaning to write about Chick-fil-A for quiet a while but I just hadn't gotten around to it.  I had even forgotten about it with my new blog, new baby, etc.  Imagine my joy when Betsy sent me a post about my favorite fast food restaurant: Chick-fil-A.  The only thing I would add to her list is that the Chick-fil-As in our area give away FREE food in exchange for box tops at least once a year.


    Top Ten Reasons Chick-Fil-A is the BEST Fast Food Joint (especially for moms):

    1. Great-tasting food
    2. REAL food (you can tell those nuggets are made from... chicken! Most of their chicken is breaded in the actual restaurant and the french fries are actual potatoes)
    3. Terrific customer service at the counter (they will even bring your food to you if you walk up to the counter with small children)
    4. Even better customer service on the floor (I've had my drink refilled, my trash collected, my kids' meal prizes exchanged for ice cream--all without getting up from my seat)
    5. Best kids' meal value: $2.89 for 4 nuggets, ample fries, a drink, and a toy that you can exchange for ice cream!!
    6. Bendy straws for kids (why is this such a hard-to-find thing at other stores?)
    7. Plastic placemats that stick to the table for kids to eat off of (again.... why don't other fast food rest'ts get this?)
    8. Good kids' meal prizes (if you choose not get the free ice cream, you will usually be taking home a book or a CD instead of a junky plastic toy)
    9. Pleasant dining environment (flowers on the table, clean, cheerful, etc.)
    10. Truly amazing milk shakes 

    Besides all this, Chick-Fil-A was started by a Christian family and is still closed on Sunday. 

    Friday, February 19, 2010

    Quick Tips

    I've been spending a lot of time recently over at my new blog Fans of Bittman reviewing recipes from "The" cookbook, but I wanted to tell you a new type of post I began that really applies to any home cook (not just people that own How to Cook Everything). It's called quick tips and I've got several posted just today so go and check them out!

    Monday, February 1, 2010

    "The" Cookbook

    I love this cookbook so much that this morning it hit me. I wanted a way to share my favorites with other Bittman readers out there so I made a new blog! Betsy and my sister (at the very least) will be joining me in my reviewing efforts. With over 2,000 recipes we have a lot of writing to do! If you own How to Cook Everything or How to Cook Everything Vegetarian I hope you will enjoy reading our reviews.

    Monday, January 18, 2010

    Using the Internet to shop for a camera

    While researching for my most recent purchase, Philip's uncle recommended this site. It is great if you are shopping for any digital camera. My favorite portion of this site was the video review that is included in most camera reviews. It's hard to shop for the best camera when you can't pick them all up and see how they feel or really see how fast they focus, etc. In these video reviews a man shows you around each camera. In real time you can see how well the live view works, or how fast the camera can auto focus, etc. You even get to hear what 4 frames per second (or 7 frames) sounds like.

    Camera Labs also has a tips site that I just discovered. The same guy that gives the camera "tours" at Camera Labs also hosts online workshops on that can guide you through:
    • How to blur action shots for speed
    • How to get more in focus
    • How to take perfect sunsets
    • How to brighten your photos
    • and many more...
    The website also has a guide for lenses, accessories, etc.

    The last website I mainly used when shopping for this camera was this side by side comparison site hosted by From this site you can select all the cameras you think you are interested in and see a breakdown of how they compare in over 25 categories.

    If you have any great Digital SLR sites, or just a photography tips site please share them in a comment!

    Friday, January 8, 2010

    Gumbo: the method, the art

    For quite a while we have had our gumbo recipe posted on our family blog. The thing about making gumbo is that it is more of a method (or an art) than a recipe. Gumbo is what I call a poor man's stew, in that you start out with flour, oil, and water and you can add really anything that you have lying around the kitchen after that. Serve it over rice and you have a gumbo!

    Making a roux:
    All good Cajun gumbos start with a roux. A roux is just a mixture of flour and fat. Recipes usually call for a 1:1 ratio but that makes a really oily gumbo. It is a commonly held family secret that some of my (and Philip's) relatives use pre-made roux that you can buy in a jar. That is what Philip and I did for over a year when we first moved here, but eventually our stash ran out and we had to make our own roux!

    We have tried out many different ratios of flour to vegetable oil. Our current ratio is 2 cups of flour to 1.5 cups of vegetable oil. To make a roux you need a heavy bottomed pot. Traditionally this is a cast iron skillet or a cast iron dutch oven. I use my 12" cast iron skillet and it works great.

    Set your cast iron skillet over medium high heat and make a paste with the flour and oil. When the flour and oil are combined it will look like this:

    The most tedious part of making a roux is that you must stir continuously as it cooks. You don't need a "Cajun Spoon" to make it, but it does help because it has a flat bottom that makes scraping the bottom of the skillet easier. This is important because you don't want to burn the roux. It is also important that you use a wooden or metal spoon to stir your roux because it will get really hot!

    Continue to stir the roux until it is a "chocolate" or "copper" brown in color. While it changes color it will begin to get more pasty in texture and it would be a good time to turn down your heat so that the roux does not change too quickly. Be careful about how dark you let it get because the darker your roux gets the less it will thicken your gumbo. Typically you want your roux to be one or two shades of brown darker than you want your final product to be.

    Also remember that when cooking in a cast iron skillet the cast iron can retain a ton of heat. If your roux is getting too dark it will be necessary to transfer it to your stock pot immediately to prevent it from burning. Once a roux is burned it is done for! You will have to throw that batch away and begin again from scratch.

    After your roux is nice and dark you are going to want to prepare your soup pot for receiving your roux. Gumbo traditionally starts with the "cajun trinity": onions, celery and bell peppers. We add our onions directly to the hot roux so that they cook down a bit before adding the liquid. It is important to note here that you do not want to pour roux into liquid, rather you need to add liquid to the roux. If you made your roux in a skillet this means that you'll need to transfer the roux to your stockpot before putting the liquid in. Philip and I speak from experience on this one....

    Roux can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge indefinitely.

    Adding Liquid:
    The stirring is not over! When you add the water to the roux you will have to continue to stir until the roux is completely dissolved so that the roux does not settle to the bottom and then burn. Remember you are adding water to and oil based substance so this can take a little bit of time (especially if your liquid was cold or only at room temperature). At this stage if it does burn a little bit it is not disastrous to your gumbo, but you do want to try and avoid it.

    The liquid that you add at this stage of the game really depends on what type of gumbo you are making. When you are making a chicken gumbo by adding raw chicken to the pot you can just add water because as the gumbo cooks the bones will make their own stock. How much water to add becomes a factor of how much chicken and sausage you are adding to the pot. Start by dissolving the roux with 2 quarts of water, add your meats and then top off the stock pot with more water if needed.

    When making a seafood gumbo you really need to make a stock ahead of time so that the whole gumbo has a seafood taste without overcooking your seafood ingredients. For shrimp gumbo we use the shrimp shells to make a stock ahead of time. This can be done the day of, or if you freeze your stock, months ahead of time.

    For the roux recipe supplied here you will need a total of 2-3 quarts of liquid. This is not an exact science as more liquid will give you a thinner gumbo, less will give you a thicker one.

    This dish would not be complete without white rice! We use medium grain rice (or whatever Walmart had on sale), but typically Cajuns use long grain rice. The ratio of rice to gumbo is a matter of taste, and for me depends on how thick the gumbo is.

    Traditional sides include potato salad, fried sweet potatoes, or bread with butter. Mawmaw actually puts her potato salad in her gumbo and eats it out of the same bowl.

    Adding file' to your gumbo is an option, but our house is divided on this issue.

    Here is my shrimp and egg gumbo recipe:

    Shrimp and Egg Gumbo
    1 Large Onion Chopped
    1 Large Bell Pepper Chopped
    8 Cloves of Garlic Chopped
    4 Stalks of Celery Chopped
    2-3 pounds of shrimp
    8-10 eggs
    other seafood if you like including oysters and crab

    Complete the steps listed above including: make a shrimp stock from shrimp shells, make a roux, transfer the roux to a stock pot and add onions. After the shrimp stock is added and the roux is incorporated, add bell peppers, garlic, and celery. Season with salt, cayenne pepper, and add a bay leaf or two. Let this simmer for about 30min to an hour.

    Bring the mixture to a slight boil and then add shrimp (you would probably add raw oysters here too). After about 5-10 minutes when the shrimp look pink turn down your gumbo so that it is no longer bubbling. Carefully break eggs near the surface of the gumbo and let the gumbo sit (no stirring) for 15 minutes. Try to break the eggs in a pattern around the pot so that they do not land on each other. After 15 minutes you can turn the heat back up on the gumbo and stir carefully. If you are adding other cooked seafood you can do so at this time. As soon as the shrimp and eggs are cooked through the gumbo is ready to eat! Serve over rice with any one of my suggestions above.

    This is one of my favorite gumbos because the shrimp often get lodged in the poached eggs and they are delicious.

    Wednesday, January 6, 2010

    Free Chick fil a!

    They're back!! Most things that sound too good to be true are, but that's not so with free Chick-fil-a breakfasts! Bring in ANY cereal box top on a Thursday morning to Chick-fil-a and receive a free breakfast. To see the schedule just click on the picture above. I can't wait to get my first breakfast tomorrow!

    I know the advertisement above says one per customer, but I've brought two box tops at a time and got a free breakfast for Ethan and myself.

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    Moppine Towels by Rachael Ray

    If I knew now how much I would use these towels, I would have bought them for myself years ago! Instead they sat on my amazon wish list for a year until this Christmas, when my mother and my mother-in-law both bought me some. Since then, I have used these towels everyday! I still have out my other towels for drying dishes, etc. But, now in addition to the one kitchen towel that hangs on the fridge I always have one of these towels hanging on my oven door.

    As you can see from the picture, two corners of these towels have terry cloth quilted in so that the towel doubles as a pot holder. I don't know about you, but I have limited drawer space in my kitchen which leads to a difficulty in storing hot pads. Right now they hand next to my oven, but since I now have this towel literally at my finger tips I use it instead. It is particularly useful when I am cooking in my cast iron or aluminum pot. Instead of having to get down a hot pad and then keep track of where I laid it down, I simply pick up the corner of this towel, hold the handle for as long as I need to and drop the corner back down and walk away!

    Monday, January 4, 2010

    Homemade Tomato Sauce

    Have you ever read the label on a jar of Ragu (or any other store bought tomato sauce)? I'll let you in on a little secret. They are all jam packed with sugar! Now, you might think that this sugar is just a product of the tomatoes, but nope, their ingredients list all contain sugar. This might not be a problem in your family, but in mine I'm trying to feed a diabetic, and I have always hated buying tomato sauce because I have to look through all the jars to find the one that has the least amount of sugar. They also contain a ton of other preservatives, salt, etc. that you wouldn't put in your own tomato sauce. But they are so easy, right? Well, as I have discovered recently so is making your own!

    My two kitchen "bibles" (Bittman and America's Test Kitchen) tell you to make a Tomato Sauce in essentially the same way. Start out by heating a fat (olive oil or butter), add aromatics (like onion, red pepper flakes, and garlic), add a can of canned crushed tomatoes and then simmer! At the end you can add other aromatics if you have them on hand (like fresh basil, parsley, etc.).

    Sounds easy right? That's because it is! The best part is that I bet I could find all these ingredients (except for maybe the canned tomatoes) in your kitchen right now! After I found and tried these two variations of the same recipe, I always make sure I have pasta and crushed tomatoes on hand for a quick and easy dinner. Tonight we are having the sauce with meatballs. I just add frozen meatballs after the tomatoes and let the sauce and meatballs simmer together. You might have to simmer for a total of 20 minutes to make sure the meatballs are completely heated through.

    Here is Bittman's simple recipe:

    3 tablespoons EVOO or butter
    1 medium onion
    1 1/2 - 2 pounds canned tomatoes (I buy crushed)
    Salt and black pepper
    Freshly grated cheese (optional)
    Fresh parsley or basil (optional)
    1. Melt the butter or heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Once it is hot add the onion and cook until soft, 2-3 minutes. (Here is where I add garlic and let it just heat through until fragrant 30 seconds or so. If you want to add red pepper flakes you can also do that here.) Add tomatoes and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
    2. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until mixture comes together. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add fresh herbs and grated cheese to the final dish or just before serving.
    Of course, after this recipe Bittman has 20 variations that are also wonderful, but this will get you started! The options really are endless. Once you taste this sauce I'm sure you will also swear off store bought tomato sauce, even in a pinch!

    Sunday, January 3, 2010

    The Cast Iron Skillet: Why it should be in your kitchen!

    This is a copied post from full tummies:
    My friend Megan recently asked me why I like/recommend a cast iron skillet. She has yet to be convinced that it's a necessity in her kitchen and, like many of us, is seeking to simplify her kitchen "stuff." So, why add one more type of pan?

    Well, first of all, in all love to my dear friend Megan, she obviously isn't Southern (she has married a Southerner and lives in sweet Virginia now, so surely she's learned this next fact by now): ALL Southerners worth their salt know that you simply cannot make proper cornbread in anything BUT a cast iron skillet. But, perhaps you don't eat much cornbread, or Southern cornbread specifically, or perhaps you don't want to add a skillet just for cornbread making to your already full kitchen.

    Here's why I keep a cast iron skillet in my own kitchen and why, if I ever move to a smaller kitchen, it will make "the cut." It honestly is the skillet/pan I use the most.

    1. It's truly a multi-purpose skillet. Well-seasoned (and you can buy them already seasoned these days), it works like a nonstick skillet. However, unlike nonstick skillets, it's also ovenproof, holds heat marvelously, and won't "peel" off. This one skillet can double for both your stainless steel skillets and your nonstick skillets.

    2. It browns meat better than either a nonstick skillet or a stainless steel one.

    3. It actually imparts iron to your food, meaning it works like a vitamin!

    4. It's inexpensive, particularly compared to the better nonstick/stainless steel skillets.

    5. It will last for decades if cared for properly. It's hard to mess up and not care for properly.

    6. Even if you have to store it in plain sight, it will add ambiance to your kitchen.

    7. Don't you feel like you're carrying on the great Pioneer legacy of our nation by owning a cast iron skillet?

    8. If you do drive-up camping (as opposed to hiking all day and then setting up your tent), you can cook with your skillet over an open flame. I did this a lot with a big cast iron bean pot when I worked at nature camp.

    9. It really does make superior cornbread and anything else requiring a golden crust.

    10. It can be preheated significantly, especially in the oven. This, incidentally, is what gives cornbread that great crust. It's also a nice trick to roasting a chicken without overcooking the breast meat and so forth.

    Now, there are some downsides to the cast iron skillet; there is no perfect solution to the "perfect skillet" question. You may, like me, decide that the downsides are negligible:
    • not dishwasher safe
    • HEAVY
    I have several skillets, all Lodge brand, and use them all; the pre-seasoned ones give you a good start to real seasoning/nonstick capability and you can buy them in Wal-Mart in the South. I don't use the pots much because the handles are so darn hot and the pot, once full, is really too heavy for me. The skillet I use the absolute most is the square 10.5-inch one. I have a round 12-inch that I can hardly lift. The 10-inch size is much easier for me. The square shape, though, adds significant volume, so I can cook many things I might have needed a round 12-inch for. It's a great shape to hold 4 grilled cheese sandwiches, 4 pancakes, a big batch of scrambled eggs*, a batch and a half of cornbread, a Dutch apple pancake, a big recipe of stir-fry, a roast to brown, several pieces of chicken to brown and then oven-roast, .... I also have a double griddle that, while heavy, works wonderfully and lets me cook a super batch of pancakes at once or even "grill" inside.

    *I've not perfected scrambled eggs in the cast iron skillet, but my hubby has!

    Bridgette's Post Script: I use my 12'' round the most often and for us it makes the best pancakes. They are just like the ones at cracker barrel with the buttery seared edges! I also have a small round skillet that I can use to make just one grilled cheese or two scrambled eggs.

    I did want to say something about the "not dishwasher safe" note that Betsy made. I have very few things in my kitchen that can't go in the dishwasher including: great knives, stoneware, and cast iron. Unlike the knives both the stoneware and the cast iron can't go in the dishwasher because the soap is too harsh and will take off the great "non-stick" seasoning that is on them. In fact neither one need to be washed with soap at all. Just get some really hot water and a brush to get the food off and you are done. Philip says that he does use soap occasionally to clean the pot and that as long as it is seasoned it is okay.

    If you do get the pot really hot, the seasoning can and will come off. It is easy to re-build though, just make a roux :)

    Saturday, January 2, 2010

    Remarkable Fudge!

    My sister and I had a battle with fudge on Christmas Eve that lasted three rounds and ended with great fudge from this recipe (adapted from Better Homes and Gardens "New Cook Book"):

    4 cups sugar
    2 5-ounce cans (1 3/4 cups total) evaporated milk
    1 cup butter
    2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
    7 ounces of a dark or milk chocolate candy bar (cut up)
    7 ounces of marshmallow creme
    1 cup chopped nuts (optional in my family)
    1 teaspoon of vanilla

    Line a 13x9 with foil (or we did two 9x9s so we could have nut-ful and nut-free fudge). In a large saucepan over medium-high heat melt butter and then add sugar and milk. Cook and stir till mixture boils and then turn down heat to medium and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and then add chocolate chips, chocolate bar, marshmallow creme, and vanilla. If you want your whole batch to have nuts you may also add them at this time. If your family is like our just add the nuts to one of the 9x9s and then pour the fudge on top when it is done. Stir the fudge until everything is combined and continue to stir for one minute more. Spread warm fudge into your pans (or pan) and cut when cool.

    The cook book says that you have to store it in the fridge, but we never do this!


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