How to make a beef pot roast in a Crock Pot!

Here’s how I make my roast in a crockpot (otherwise known as a slow cooker)…with a short disclaimer. I typically would be using 1 lb of carrots and about 4-5 potatoes cut up in the Crock Pot with my roast. This particular time; though, I used a full 2 lbs of carrots and did the potatoes on the stove to make mashed potatoes. You may also add an onion, cut into wedges or pearl onions-we just don’t care for chunks of onion in our food.

So let’s get started.
In my previous post, you saw how I peel my carrots (and potatoes are done the same way), so we’ll start with my already peeled carrots:
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Cut once, and lined up for the next cut.

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Each carrot is cut into thirds. I do this because I’m going to be cooking this low and slow for a long time, and I don’t want mushy little carrot coins when the roast is done cooking! You can do any shape you’d like, really, I just find this easier than making a million cuts. Just remember the smaller the piece of food, the faster it cooks, and the larger it is, the longer it will take to cook.

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My 2 lbs of carrots in the crock pot.

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I mix up a spice blend, b/c I like to rub it into the roast before searing. *Note: That was the closest recipe I could find to what I use for a spice rub. Searing is entirely optional, by the way. It’s something I do, lots of people don’t and if you don’t want to, you can just skip the whole searing section of this post.

The roast after the spices have been rubbed on:
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Next, I put a touch of olive oil (or regular oil is fine, too) in a pan and turn it on medium-high heat. Once the pan is hot, but not quite smoking, I put the roast in the pan, and sear the roast for 30 seconds on each side. Just long enough to get a nice brown coat on it.
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The roast in the crock pot with the carrots (this would be the time to add those onions and potatoes-cut into quarters):
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Next, I simply add enough beef broth and water to cover the roast and veggies (2-3 cups of broth, 2-3 cups of water), and add whatever spices sound good (onion powder, garlic powder, seasoning salt, pepper, Italian seasoning  a touch of cayenne):
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And put the lid on, turning the Crock Pot on low. It will cook for 10 to 12 hours on low. You can usually go ahead and eat it in 8 if you need to, but the longer you cook it the more tender it will become.
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There is no need to stir…that’s the beauty of a slow cooker!

Once the roast is done, you can take out your carrots (and onions and potatoes) and put them in separate bowls:
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Take your roast out and put it on a platter:
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Now would be the time to use the broth/juices in the crock pot to make gravy if that is your desire. I’m sorry I don’t have a tutorial on the gravy just yet, but it’s coming.

And finally, serve to your happy family!
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How to peel carrots without cleanup…

I love to cook, but I hate to clean up. Most people feel the same way, I’m sure. So when I discovered this method for peeling potatoes or carrots without having to pick up peels for days afterwards, my life has been much happier!

It’s a simple concept, really, and one that seems to be more effective than any other I’ve tried. Grandma always peeled into a bowl or onto a cutting board. Then you had to scrape the slippery peelings out of the bowl into the trash, which was messy.

Mom always peeled over the trashcan…which was a vast improvement over Grandma’s method, but I never got all the peelings into the trash, so I’d still be down on my knees, scraping up those slippery peelings that missed the trashcan, plus my back would hurt from bending over to try to get the peelings in the trash…so that wasn’t the best option.

The third generation (that’d be me) approaches it all differently. I still use Mama’s potato peeler, but cleanup is a breeze with the new method.

First, you cut off both ends on a flexible cutting mat:
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Then, place a plastic grocery bag in an empty sink. Spread it out as open and wide as you can get it. Then begin moving your peeler (or a paring knife if you don’t have a peeler) from one end to the other of your carrot.
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The peelings will conveniently fall into the grocery sack, like this:
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When you are finished, simply tie the bag closed and carry it to the trashcan (or dump into your compost pile if that’s your thing). No slippery peels to clean up, no mess on the floor, and the bonus is that your back doesn’t hurt from bending over at an awkward angle to peel into the trashcan!

Tomorrow I’ll post on how to make a crockpot roast with carrots and potatoes, but I wanted to show you my method for peeling potatoes and carrots first!

Mom’s Best Cake Recipe and Picture Tutorial

I have no idea where Mom found this recipe, but she had it as long as I can remember, and I haven’t found the same recipe anywhere online by the same name or ingredients…so you’re just going to have to trust me on this one. It is named Best Cake for a reason. Not only is it very tasty and incredibly moist, but it is one of the easiest cake recipes I’ve ever seen (that doesn’t include a boxed mix)!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, cake baking isn’t my specialty. Cake decorating? No problem. Cupcakes I can do, but most non-box-mix cakes just fall on me-terribly! This one is almost flawlessly executed every time…and it’s even helped me place at a church cooking contest, so I can assure you it is worth the tiny bit of effort it takes to prepare it!

First, the recipe:
Mom’s Best Cake

2 c. flour
2 c. sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp. baking soda
2 c. crushed pineapple (juice and all)
1 tsp. vanilla
3/4 c. plus 1/4 c. pecans, chopped (save the 1/4 c. for decoration)
1/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9×13 pan (metal or glass will work). Mix all ingredients together, pour into pan. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. (Cake will turn from white cake-colored batter to a chocolate cake color during baking, this is normal.)

Frosting:
2 1/2 c. confectioner’s sugar
1 stick butter or margarine, softened (shortening will work, too)
1 8oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 tsp. vanilla
Cream butter and cream cheese together, add vanilla and confectioner’s sugar. Mix well until creamy-about 2 minutes.
Ice the cake in pan while still warm. Sprinkle pecans over the top for decoration. (Note: if you don’t like super-sweet cream cheese icing, try using 2 packages of cream cheese, and leave the rest of the ingredient amounts the same.)

Now for the tutorial:

If you didn’t buy already chopped pecans (which I typically do, but not this time), then you are going to need to chop the pecans into small pieces. That’ll take them from this:
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To this:
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Then it’s time to grease and flour the pan. Start with some shortening or margarine in the pan:
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Wrap your fingers in a paper towel like I do, or just use your fingers to spread the shortening around the pan evenly. Be sure to cover the bottom, sides, and corners well.

Once you’ve done this, grab some flour and toss it into the pan:
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Pick up the pan and gently tap it on one side, angling the pan so that the entire bottom of the pan is covered in flour. (The flour will stick to the shortening.) Once the bottom is covered, tilt the pan on one of its’ sides (do this over the sink or a trashcan to avoid a mess) and contine tapping and tilting until you’ve covered the entire inside of the pan with flour. Tap the non-sticking remaining flour into a garbage can, and you’re done with the greasing and flouring. Your pan should look something like this:
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Measure out your pineapple, being sure to include the juices. To accomplish this, I spoon the pineapple and juice into the measuring container. This recipe will use almost all of a 15 oz. can of crushed pineapple, but not quite-so do measure it:
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Measure the remaining ingredients (careful to reserve 1/4 cup of the pecans for decoration later) and throw them all in the bowl. Order does not matter in this cake, I promise!
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Mix until thoroughly combined. Batter will be thinner than a cake mix usually is, so don’t panic. It should look something like this:
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Pour the batter into the pan, and it should level itself out pretty nicely b/c of its’ thin nature:
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Put the pan in the oven and bake the cake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees. The cake will darken during baking, so don’t panic. It’s not burnt, really:
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While the cake is baking, you want to be sure to set out the cream cheese and butter/margarine on the counter to soften. I usually just toss them both in the mixer to soften:
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Once the cake is out of the oven, you may begin creaming the butter and cream cheese together:
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Then add in your vanilla and confectioner’s sugar:
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Mix until creamy…about 2 minutes should do it. Then it’ll look like this:
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While the cake is still warm, spoon the icing onto the cake and spread with a spatula:
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Be sure to get the icing to the edges of the pan:
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For a final touch, sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of chopped pecans over the cake in a random pattern. Serve warm or cold…either way is good, but nothing beats that first warm piece of Mom’s Best Cake!
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How to Make a Baked Potato!

To some, this is the simplest thing in the world…anyone can bake a potato, right? Well, not so much. When I was in my first apartment, trying to teach myself to cook for the first time…I was completely and totally lost on such a simple thing. And I didn’t have internet at home to just pop on and figure it out. In this day and age, though, most anyone can get to a library at least to learn about such things, and I thought I’d post a very short tutorial on this simple procedure. This method was adapted from the way several steakhouse-type restaurants make them, so if your potatoes at home never taste as good as the ones at the steakhouse, try this!

First, you wash the potato, and place it on a paper towel:
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Wrap the potato in the paper towel to dry it:
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Place a half-pat of butter (about 1 teaspoon’s worth) on the potato and put the potato on a square of foil, discarding the paper towel.
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Use your fingers to rub the butter all around the potato till it is fully coated, and sprinkle sea salt on it if you’d like:
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Fold the foil towards you, over the potato:
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Pull the ends of the foil in towards the center of the potato, and roll the potato until it is covered by the foil:
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Form the foil tightly around the potato:
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Now bake it at 350 degrees for approximately 1 hour, OR 400 degrees for 45 minutes, OR 300 for 90 minutes. And now you can enjoy your baked potato topped with whatever you’d like! I personally am a fan of the broccoli, cheese sauce, and bacon bits approach, but a potato is good with just about anything on top!

What to do with a whole pork loin…

There are several options for dealing with a whole pork loin, but there are 3 ways that are my favorites.

Preparation One: Trim fat, use a rub on it, cook it whole, low and slow in the oven. (325 degrees for about two hours for a 5 lb loin)

BTW, my roast rub is much simpler: garlic powder, onion soup mix or onion powder mixed with beef boullion, salt, pepper, italian seasoning…but I don’t use a specific recipe, thus the link above to another popular rub recipe.

Preparation Two: As a pork roast, often in combination with a beef roast, b/c they flavor each other nicely. Pretty much the same rub as above. I like to sear and then dry roast mine, but you can add a couple cups of broth or soup to the pan or toss the whole roast and veggies in a crockpot with liquid. Of course flavor with what sounds good. When making pork roast, I often go with the above mentioned spices plus celery seed, a touch of sage, parsley, and thyme.

Beef and pork roast, rubbed, seared and ready for the oven:

Ready to Roast Pork and Beef Roasts

Preparation Three: Boneless pork chops! I typically do these on the griddle or grill for a fast cooking method that gets dinner on the table quickly.

I’m going to get some more pictures together for each of these methods later, but for now, I’ll show you how to break it down for Prep Two and Prep Three:

Whole Pork Loin trimmed and cut in half for a roast:

Pork loin cut into roast

The other half sliced into thick-cut pork chops:

Raw Pork Chops

I put these chops on freezer paper on a cookie sheet to freeze them individually (so they don’t stick together when frozen), then once they were solidly frozen, I tossed them in a freezer bag, labeled them and put them back in the freezer for another day:

Ready to Freeze Pork Chops

Please don’t be intimidated with a whole pork loin, it’s really quite easy and very versatile. 10 minutes of prep and you’ve got the makings of several meals already!

How to make Biscuits and Sausage Gravy…Part Two:Sausage Gravy!

As mentioned in the Biscuit Post, Sausage Gravy is not only one of my favorite things to make, but one of the few things I learned directly from my mother. Most sausage gravy recipes are pretty much the same, with slight variations here and there, but the most obvious difference between the flavor of different sausage gravies is not in the spices used, the method of preparation, or anything like that, but in the sausage used to make it. The sausage used makes such a difference in flavor, b/c different sausage companies use various spices in their sausage to make it their own. Even my own sausage gravy varies from location to location because the best sausage rolls are usually locally-produced and therefore aren’t available country-wide.

When I lived in Missouri, the best sausage EVER was Oldham’s…I have relatives that live in other parts of the country and still go to Missouri with an empty ice chest just to bring back loads of that stuff. Nothing compares…nothing. And with that particular brand, the key to awesome sausage gravy was mixing the hot sausage with the medium sausage-and the result was perfection.

Now that I’m in Ohio, this is Bob Evan’s country, and I have to say, while overall I’m not a huge Bob Evan’s Restaurant fan, their Biscuits and Gravy can’t be beat in this area of the country! So, when trying to replicate their lovely breakfast dish, I now use Bob Evan’s original sausage. When we move somewhere else, I’ll have to find a new local company to love, b/c I’ve never been a fan of Jimmy Dean’s flavor (or price) and Odom’s Tennessee Pride pretty much makes me sick. So it’s like a new adventure to find the sausage that is best in YOUR area and use it for making sausage gravy!

Sausage gravy is fairly simple if you just understand the concept of a roux-based gravy. A roux is when you mix hot fat (in this case sausage fat, bacon fat, butter, or oil) with flour-in equal amounts, mix it up, cook it a little, and then add liquid (in this case milk) to it, bring to a boil stirring constantly (to keep it from sticking) and then when it reaches a boil, the roux will magically make your gravy thicken. So, knowing this is how it works, let’s get started.

First we need to cook our sausage. I just put it in the pan over medium heat and break it up with a metal spatula (metal b/c it breaks it up better) as it cooks. Partially cooked sausage breaks up more easily than raw sausage, so this is why I use this method. Some prefer to break it up with their hands, and that’s fine, too:
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After you’ve broken it up into crumbles, it will look something like this:
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Continue breaking it up during cooking, and cook until it is no longer pink-this picture is almost done:
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Once the sausage is no longer pink, it is essentially done, and you can push the sausage to one side of the pan (or some people like to remove it completely from the pan, but if you do this, leave the fat from the sausage in the pan), and tilt the pan allow the grease to drain to the opposite side as the sausage:
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Estimate the amount of sausage fat in the pan…if you are using a particularly lean sausage (like Bob Evans) you may not have enough grease to make a roux. You’ll need approximately two whole Tablespoons of fat to make it work. If you have too much fat, drain off what you don’t need. If you don’t have enough/any grease, you can add a Tablespoon of bacon grease, butter, or cooking oil if you are really desperate. Just make sure you have at least two tablespoons of the grease, and add an equal amount (2 tablespoons) of flour to the fat. Reduce heat to low.
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At this point, you can add salt and pepper to the flour, and mix it together with the grease until it forms a paste. I didn’t get a good picture of my roux, but I found a picture for you, just click the link to see what it should look like. It is okay if it is even a little more thick than that-more paste-like…it’ll turn out either way. Now you have a decision to make. The longer you cook the roux (remember your pan has been reduced to low), the darker it will get and the more flavorful your gravy will be…but the darker it gets, the less thickening power it will have. About one minute is just about right for most people to cook their roux before adding liquids. Don’t forget to keep stirring constantly, and you can allow the sausage to be coated in the roux during this time.

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Once you are ready to add the can of evaporated milk and can of water (you can use regular milk without water, but we don’t buy whole milk, and the more fat in the milk, the better your gravy will be, so I often use evaporated for this), go ahead and pour it in the pan, bringing the heat back to  medium and never stopping your stirring/whisking for anything at this point.

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Continue stirring with a spoon or whisk, making sure to get all the way to the bottom so the roux cannot attach itself to the pan, b/c if it does…it’ll burn to the bottom of the pan, give your gravy a burnt flavor, and won’t be able to thicken the gravy like it should. So KEEP STIRRING.

Once the gravy comes to a full boil, it will be pretty much as thick as it is going to get, and you can turn off the heat, but don’t stop stirring until it has cooled enough to stop bubbling. As your gravy thickens, you’ll note that not only does it become thicker and more gravy-like, it will darken and become uniform in color. That’s a good way to know you’ve succeeded.
Congratulations, your gravy is done!
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Now simply crack open a biscuit (or crumble it if you wish) and pour that yummy sausage gravy over it and enjoy!
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Sausage Gravy over Biscuits:
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Jess’s Sausage Gravy Recipe:

INGREDIENTS:
1 lb bulk pork sausage (local brand)
Fat to make 2 Tablespoons (sausage grease, bacon grease, butter, or oil)
2 Tablespoons flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 Can of Evaporated Milk plus one can of water OR 3 Cups Milk

DIRECTIONS:
Crumble and cook sausage over medium heat in a skillet with high sides (cast iron and non-stick work best). Continue breaking up the sausage with your spatula as it cooks. Cook until sausage is brown and has no traces of pink. Once the sausage is done, move it to one side of the skillet with spatula. Reduce heat to low. Tilt the pan slightly, and add or remove fat until you have 2 Tablespoons of fat left. Add 2 Tablespoons of flour, salt and pepper, and mix with a whisk until pasty. Using the whisk, mix the sausage back in and cook for approximately one minute, stirring constantly, scraping the bottom of the pan thoroughly to keep roux from sticking. Add milk and water (or just milk if not using evaporated). Continue stirring with whisk, kick the heat back up to medium, and heat gravy to boiling. Do not stop stirring for anything, and be sure to keep it from sticking to the bottom of your pan while it comes to a boil. Once boiling, remove from heat and continue stirring until it stops bubbling. Serve over biscuits. Makes approximately 4 cups (enough for 4-6 people). Recipe can be doubled if using a pan large enough.

How to make Homemade Biscuits and Sausage Gravy…Part One, Biscuits!

A friend on a forum I visit mentioned she’d like to know how to make homemade biscuits and gravy…and I had a lightbulb moment-I have no idea why I haven’t given y’all a tutorial on this before, b/c biscuits and gravy are one of my favorite things to make! So here it is, a pictorial on the making of biscuits and gravy from scratch:

First, I’d like to start by saying that there is no shame in using canned biscuits if you’re just not up for trying to make your own just yet…I grew up on canned biscuits and I still have a more than healthy obsession interest in biscuits and sausage gravy made at home-it won’t scar your children, I promise. In fact, this sausage gravy is one of the few things that I actually learned how to make from my mother, who was a wonderful cook that had an ungrateful daughter who remained entirely uninterested in learning to cook till well into adulthood. I know, I know, y’all thought I was always into cooking, right? Yeah, not so much. But I’ve learned to love it, and you can, too! This post will address the biscuit part of the recipe…
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BISCUITS:

The biscuit recipe I like to use most frequently is J.P.’s Big Daddy Biscuits. It’s not that I don’t use other recipes, but this was the first recipe that really helped me learn to make biscuits that couldn’t effectively be substituted for hockey pucks (and taste the most like Bob Evans-which are my favorite biscuits). I also like southern buttermilk biscuits, so you could go that direction, too. One day, I’ll learn to turn Big Daddy Biscuits into buttermilk biscuits, but for now it’s one or the other.

*I was making a double batch of Big Daddy Biscuits, so please know that if you make a single recipe instead, your dough ball and quantity will be much smaller than what you see in the pictures. Also, I used half butter, half shortening, but all of either is fine in this recipe, no worries.*

First, preheat your oven to 425 degrees, and cut your butter into small cubes if you are using butter. (If using shortening, skip the cubes.)
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Now, I sift my flour and other dry ingredients b/c I find it makes fluffier biscuits, but the whisk almost accomplishes the same thing (which is what the recipe calls for).
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Then you put the butter/shortening in the bowl with the flour. Now is the time to employ one of two methods:
1.Use your fingers to coat the butter/shortening in flour, then continue rubbing the butter pieces between your thumb and forefinger, breaking it into smaller and smaller pieces, covered in flour until the entire mixture becomes a coarse, crumbly mess with most crumbles being similar in size to one another.
or
2.Grab a pastry blender or fork, and use the utensil to do the same thing.

Whichever method you choose, remember to keep your palms of your hands out of the whole ordeal, b/c your fingers aren’t as warm as your palms, and you are trying to keep the butter from melting. This is a hugely important step, probably the most important, so make sure that you have a good crumbly mixture before continuing on with the recipe.

This is the mixture before you begin blending, note the whiteness and tinyness of the particles of flour in this photo:Photobucket

And here’s the mixture after you’ve worked the butter into the flour, see the larger, darker look to the crumbles in comparison with the first photo?
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Measure out your milk:
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Make a well in the center of your flour mixture, and pour in the milk:
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Mix it into a big blob-y mess. This batch was a little wetter than most, but I don’t mind this b/c I flour my counter well and it is ALWAYS better to have too-wet dough than too-dry dough. Remember that you will be adding flour to the dough while rolling it out, so err on the side of too-wet, k?
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Flour your counter (sprinkle flour on the counter so the dough doesn’t stick to it), plop the dough ball on the floured countertop, and sprinkle a teaspoon or two of flour on top of the dough and try to loosely work the dough into a ball. Try not to mess with the dough very much. Something I’ve learned about both bread and especially biscuits is that if the dough still feels cold and sort of wet (but not sticky), then you have reached your goal for having light and fluffy baked goods. Once you get too much flour worked in or the heat of your hands has warmed the fat in the dough, you’ve lost some of that luscious lift you so desperately want in heavenly baked goods, so less is more with biscuits, k?
Once you have it in a ball, LIGHTLY pat it out or LIGHTLY use a rolling pin to make the dough more flat. You are looking for the edges of the dough to be about 1/2 inch thick. You can use a ruler to check. Better to be too tall then too short on this:
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Now it gets easy. Just use a glass (preferably with sharp edges) or a biscuit cutter (I use the medium size in my set of 3) dipped in flour to cut the biscuits. Cut straight down-don’t twist, or they won’t rise as high in the oven. Try to leave very little-to-no space between the biscuits and plan your cuts carefully to get the most cuts out of the dough, b/c you will NOT be re-rolling the dough to make more! We’ll get to that in a second…
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But first, a tip on making non-floury tasting biscuits:
When I cut a biscuit and pick it up to put it in the pan, I turn it over to reveal the side that was on the bottom of the floured counter, and I use a pastry brush (or a silicone brush or even my fingers) to dust off as much of the loose flour as possible. I hate floury biscuits, and this fixes that issue.
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Okay, back to the re-rolling issue. Sure you CAN re-roll the extra dough out and cut more biscuits, but quite frankly, it’s not worth it-they will be 10x tougher than the first ones and you just won’t like them very much. In fact, I believed so emphatically in not re-rolling my dough, that previously I have been known to throw the remaining dough into the trash, seriously. However, I found a neat trick that while it doesn’t produce the most beautiful biscuits, doesn’t compromise the lift and flavor of the “second round” of biscuits. Instead of gathering all the leftover dough from your first cut of biscuits and re-rolling it out to cut the second round-just do this: Take the scraps and gently form them together to make a biscuit-shaped circle approximately the size of the other ones, and cut the edges with your biscuit cutter. No kneading, no re-rolling, just shaping together without much pressure. It is much more effective and you don’t have to throw out the dough. They will be a little misshapen and ugly, but they will still taste good!

Here’s my “reworked” biscuit:
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As with most of my baked goods, I use cast-iron for biscuits, but any old pan will do. Anything from a cake pan to a cookie sheet can be used-round or square it doesn’t matter. But if you want good rise on your biscuits (and you do, you really, really do), then you may wish to put them in the pan touching like I do. Some recipes tell you to put them 1 inch apart, and that’s fine, but just know that most restaurants that make those yummy, ultra-delicious, drool-worthy biscuits that you love (every place from McDonalds to Bob Evans) smushes their biscuits all together on the pan. So unless you really like a crisp outer edge on your biscuits, the touching-method is probably the one you want to use, no matter what the recipe calls for. Just a little hint from me to you.
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Then just put your biscuits in the oven for appropriate time (in this case about 11 minutes is just right for me-but my oven also runs a little hot, so just follow the recipe on this one), and soon you’ll have fluffy, hot, yummy biscuits coming out of your oven. I brush some melted butter (or just rub a stick of cold butter over the hot biscuits fresh out of the oven) over them while they are still hot, b/c it gives them a better color and flavor…and here’s what you get:
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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

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?

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