Simple Spaghetti and Homemade Meatballs

So often I’m lazy and just make spaghetti, use canned sauce, and forgo the meat or mix in crumbled hamburger…we all do it, right? Other times if I’m in a hurry, I’ll purchase frozen meatballs and make spaghetti using those. But on very special days-when I’m feeling particularly loving and sweet…I go through the effort to make spaghetti with real homemade from-scratch meatballs. The heavens sing, the clouds part—well, okay I made that part up, but you might think that if you heard my husband talk about my homemade meatballs!

As with so many things, I don’t really have a recipe. I just make them using what I have and what sounds good, but I can give you a basic idea of what goes into them:
2 lbs of ground meat, usually 1 lb hamburger, 1 lb lamb or mild sausage
2 eggs
1 sleeve of crackers-crumbled to a semi-fine powder using a rolling pin and a Ziploc bag
Some Italian-Herb breadcrumbs (or whatever old bread I have on hand, crumbled to a fine powder)
Italian seasoning
Basil
Salt
Pepper
Onion powder (you can use real onions or deyhdrated onion flakes-we just don’t like onions much)
Garlic powder (or fresh garlic or minced garlic-depends on what I have on hand)
Just a touch of chili powder

Mix well, using your hands (it’s messy, but it doesn’t ruin the texture of the meat like a mixer does), and form into 1-2″ balls. (Sometimes I make small ones, other times I make larger ones-the only thing that matters is that all the meatballs in each batch are the same size as one another.)
Meatballs in pan

Heat a skillet over medium heat with olive oil in it (maybe 1 Tablespoon?) till the oil shimmers, but before it smokes. Once the oil and pan are hot, place the meatballs in the skillet, leaving space between each meatball so that it can cook evenly. Do it in batches if you need to. Your goal is NOT to cook the meatballs, but simply to get a pretty crust on them and give them a little flavor with the olive oil. Once a side is browned, turn the meatballs over and brown the other side-keep turning them over until there are no “exposed” sides that haven’t been browned. As soon as you have accomplished this goal, start putting the meatballs on a wire rack inside of a jelly roll/sheet pan. I use some old metal cooling racks inside my large sheet pan. Turn the oven to 350 to preheat. Do your next batch of meatballs in the skillet, adding olive oil if necessary.
Meatballs in oven

Once all the meatballs are on the wire racks inside the sheet pan, put them in the oven, and bake until they reach an internal temperature of 155. Should take between 20 and 30 minutes. The key to making yummy meatballs is the baking. You can forgo the skillet browning if you like and just bake them, that works too (and is less labor intensive, I might add), but I like to brown them all around so I don’t have to turn them in the oven. This method (using the wire racks inside the sheet pan) allows for the fat to drain off of the meatballs, leaving you with non-greasy meatballs that are ready to be eaten plain or thrown into a sauce without becoming mushy like many restaurant meatballs are when they cook them in the sauce.

I just use regular or whole wheat spaghetti noodles and Hunt’s Spaghetti Sauce (you can get a large can for a $1 on sale) that I’ve added my own spices to. Oh, and sometimes I add some canned sliced mushrooms, too-depends on my mood!
Spaghetti and Meatballs Close-up

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How to bake bacon like the pros!

Bacon-fully cooked

Okay, after much searching and trying different methods, I’ve decided that when dealing with nice, thick-cut bacon, the best option for cooking includes the oven.  Sure I can cook it on the stove top like everyone else, but inevitably I’ll end up with one or two “batches” that are overdone, it takes forever, b/c few pans have the size to make the whole pound at once, and I have to deal with splatters and burns if I’m not careful.

In our house, it’s an ironic twist that I can make bacon in a pan, and dh can make bacon in the microwave, but neither one of us can properly cook bacon using the other’s method. I just can’t microwave bacon properly to save my soul, and dh would burn the house down trying to make bacon the old-fashioned way.

Amazingly, though, I think anyone could make bacon in the oven, if the slices are thick enough. I’ve tried it with thin-sliced bacon and it’s a lot harder to get cooked evenly, so that’s why I recommend baking for the thick-cuts.  Another absolutely fabulous thing about baking your bacon is that you can bake it while you are making pancakes, eggs, and hash browns, too! It’s great for those holiday breakfasts or mornings where you don’t want to spend all morning slaving over a hot stove-like when you have guests in town! And if you are totally tired of watching your beautiful bacon strips shrivel into niblets of nothingness and a whole lotta grease, then this is definitely the method for you. Because of the slow-cooking method, you don’t lose nearly as much of the bacon to grease, which leaves you with more luscious bacon-y goodness on your plate!

So, without further ado, let’s get to bakin’ some bacon!

Start with a thick-cut bacon, I prefer applewood smoked bacon for it’s subtle apple flavor. It goes great with most breakfast applications, and adds a little something to appetizers and dinners utilizing bacon!
Thick-Cut Applewood Bacon

Next, you need to prep your pan for the bacon. In this case, I’m using my largest jelly roll pan/cookie sheet with sides. I’ve chosen to cover it with foil, b/c doing so makes cleanup fast and easy. All you do is pour the bacon grease into a can or jar (for use later in green beans or other vegetables to add flavor) from the corner of the pan, slip off the cooled foil into the trash, and throw the pan in the dishwasher-no muss, no fuss.
Pan for Bacon

Second, you are going to place the bacon in the pan, lining it up as close as possible to the next slice-without letting the pieces overlap, as that would make for uneven browning.
Bacon ready for oven
The next step is simple: Put the pan of bacon in the COLD oven (no preheating, here, folks-another time saver), and turn the oven on to 400 degrees. “Walk away, just walk away” in the immortal words of our favorite chef, Alton Brown. Okay, you can set your timer for 16 minutes, just to check it, but then walk away. The bacon, depending on thickness, should take anywhere from 17 to 20 minutes…possibly longer for super thick cuts, but 20 usually does it. If you are trying this with thin bacon (despite my loving warnings), then you want to start checking it at 10 minutes, just in case.
Baked Bacon
This is approximately what your bacon should look like when it is finished baking. I like to drain my bacon, so I just throw it on a paper-towel lined plate, and serve. If it’s for company, it might make it to a pretty platter, but really, bacon doesn’t need fancy dishes-bacon rocks all by itself!
Bacon-fully cooked
So the next time you burn a batch of bacon or need to make bacon, but just don’t have time to stand there flipping it, try this method of bakin’ your bacon, and I’ll bet you’ll be impressed with the results!

How to make moist yummy banana bread-A tutorial!

You’ve seen the recipe before on my blog-in zucchini bread form, but here’s a tutorial on how to make rockin’ banana bread. I’ve tried a thousand recipes for banana bread and I keep coming back to this one as the best.

The secret to great banana bread is really ripe bananas, a good solid sweet bread recipe (our grandmas might’ve called it batter bread), and plenty of spices to kick it up a notch-as our dear friend, Emeril would say!

This recipe fits the bill, and I promise you that you don’t need to be the Next Food Network Star or a contestant on Top Chef in order to make this dish transform you into a rock star in the kitchen.

Well, enough of all this blabbin’, let’s get to cooking.

We’ll start with a quick tip for ripening bananas quickly:

If you buy your bananas at the store and they are still green, but you’d like to make banana bread tomorrow, you’ll need to grab a paper bag (like from the grocery store), a bunch of bananas, an apple or a tomato (optional, but speeds the process up considerably), and a little bit of time.

Ripe Bananas

Put the bunch of bananas in the bottom of the paper bag along with an apple or tomato, and seal the paper bag. Open every 12-24 hours to check, then re-close your bag until the bananas are the desired ripeness. They will brown much faster than if you seperated them on the counter. There’s a chemical that the apple puts off that helps ripen the bananas. Do NOT refrigerate the bananas-ever-b/c once you do, you’ve lost the ability for the banana to ever get past the ripeness it was at when you put it in the fridge, and you’ll never get banana bread-quality bananas out of them!

Next, let’s gather our ingredients:
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3 eggs

1 c. oil

1 Tbl. vanilla

2 1/4 c. sugar

2 c. mashed bananas (4-6, and don’t forget to mash them before you measure!)

1/2 tsp. baking powder

2 tsp. baking soda

3 c. flour

3/4 tsp. salt

1 Tbl. cinnamon (yes, this is a LOT of cinnamon, but it’s what makes this recipe great, so don’t skimp on it!)

Next, we mash the bananas. Ripe bananas are not only more flavorful in banana bread, but they also are easier to mash! Break them up into a small bowl or large measuring container, using a fork or potato masher to mash them to a liquidy pulp.
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Beat eggs, sugar, oil and vanilla.
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Add mashed bananas. Batter will be thin.
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Add dry ingredients, mix well. (Please note that my bananas sat on the counter for a bit after mashing, and therefore were a little browner than they might typically be, which may’ve affected the color of the batter at this stage.
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Grease and flour pan, pour batter into pans-batter will still be pretty thin, much thinner than most banana bread recipes, so don’t panic. Also, please note that in these pictures I used my silicone baking pans, so I only sprayed them with cooking oil spray instead of greasing and flouring the pan, but if going with a traditional metal or glass pan, you’re going to want to grease and flour the pan as per the directions. There’s a really cool “grease and flour” spray out there nowadays that makes this so easy:
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But if you don’t have access to this luxury time saver, you could always do it the old fashioned way.

The batter in the pans, before going into the oven.
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Bake 1 hr. at 325. Makes 1 bundt or 2 regular loaves. Remove from pan right away. Do Not Overcook! You can optionally add 1 cup of nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruits, whatever you’d like really, but we like it plain. Whenever I’m making it for a crowd, I’m sure to avoid putting nuts into it b/c of all the people with nut allergies. If I do use nuts, I avoid walnuts at all costs, b/c I believe that walnuts dry out a batter worse than anything I’ve ever seen, so I go with chopped pecans. It’s whatever makes you and your family and friends happy that matters, so go with what sounds good!
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And there’s one of my beautiful banana bread loaves, see how easy that was?

Super Easy Lemonade Icebox Pie Recipe

Who doesn’t love Lemonade Pie? I mean it’s lemonade and it’s PIE, how could one go wrong? It’s a summer favorite around here, even my husband who loves lemonade, but hates lemon meringue pie devours this stuff like it’s going out of style! So I happened across a pic I took of a slice of this scrumptious pie and thought I’d share the recipe and picture with my lovely readers. Enjoy!

Lemon Icebox Pie

And here’s the recipe:
Lemonade Icebox Pie

Ingredients:
* 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
* 1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
* 3/4 cup lemonade concentrate
* 1 (8 ounce) carton frozen whipped topping, thawed
* yellow food coloring
* 1 (9 inch) graham cracker crust

Directions:
In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Gradually beat in milk until blended. Beat in lemonade concentrate. Fold in whipped topping and food coloring if desired. Pour into crust. Cover and refrigerate until set. I also put fresh whipped topping on the top of each slice of pie.

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