Friday, February 26, 2010

Pleading Students

My students have been asking me (and rightly so), when are you going to post again? I honestly haven't been feeling the whole blog thing lately (I am soooo self-conscious about my silly is that), but after they made me feel so incredibly special on my birthday this week (flowers and baked goods - how sweet is that!?), I had to say I would post something.

It's not that I haven't been cooking lately. I've been cooking up a storm. And unbelievably so, I've been doing more cooking than baking. It's been prairie winter cold (read: extremely windy with bitter cold and the dreariest skies imaginable) and I start to want good, solid comfort food. And there has been a lot of it at this home.

So here is a list of what I can remember I've cooked lately with the links (seriously, self-conscious about my pictures so there are none).

You'll notice that most of these are from Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman. I got her new cookbook for Christmas, and I LOVE it. She seriously has good home-cookin' country food. I love it. She makes no bones about not worrying about the caloric content of her food. I also love that. So here is my ode to Pioneer Woman lovin' in the kitchen:

Braised Short Ribs - Heaven on a Plate

So deliciously wonderful. Mike actually put these together. The smell in our kitchen was, well, heavenly. This is such a great option if you want to have friends over for dinner, celebrate a special event, or serve a classy Sunday dinner. PW suggests cooking this with polenta with goat cheese stirred in. We've decided that we are not fans of the loose consistency polenta, so we won't be trying that again, but we will most definitely have the meat with mashed potatoes. Mmmmm.

Comfort Meatballs

Oh. My. Goodness. This is one dish that I will definitely be making again, and again, and again. The ultimate definition of "comfort". I typically don't do left-overs unless they are really, really, really good. Wouldn't even let Mike have any left-overs. I coveted them all. All day long. I couldn't wait to get home to my meatballs. So good. You have to try them. I think even vegetarians would be comforted by this food. (Ok - that is probably a stretch, but they are soooo good).

Chicken Pot Pie

She doesn't have a link for this meal, but it is in her cookbooks and worth the purchase. Actually, her pie crust recipe is worth the purchase. I've always loved making pie crusts. It is soothing for me. Relaxed. I can't help but thinking that I'm in the kitchen with Marilla Cuthbert. Wouldn't that be relaxing? So I have always taken pride in making my own pie crusts. But this winter my mother-in-law was raving about someone else's pie crust and how flaking it was. I want her to rave about mine! I know that is incredibly silly. I don't have the best pie crust. I know that. But I struggle when I am not the best. I always have. Yet another unfortunate trait about myself. So I decided I would try a new crust to compete. And let me tell you, I think this one could compete. My mother-in-law hasn't tried my new one yet, but I have confidence that I am up there with the best again. :)

Chicken & Cheese Tortellini Soup

This is not a PW recipe, but it is from her Tasty Kitchen experiment. This was a decent meal. It gets better with time. I might re-tool it a bit, but it isn't something I'm racing back to anytime soon.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Ok. This was a complete disaster for me. I don't know what I did wrong, but all the liquid evaporated out, and I was left with an over-boiled chicken (which by the way was extremely traumatizing experience of cleaning it for the pot). I might try this again because so many people say it's better homemade, but right now I'm not convinced.

Pat's Famous Beef and Pork Chili

This was such a great experiment for me. We had people over to watch the Olympics (and Mike could share with everyone his strange obsession with curling) and have Chili. Mike picked out this recipe and it was a hit! People LOVED it. They couldn't believe that it all, even the seasonings, came from scratch (which is something I can never understand because all I do is follow the instructions). This is a definite repeat. But be careful because we fed 8 people with this and it says it only feeds 4-5.


This was fantastic. Another PW recipe. We served it with the chili. And if you have a cast iron skillet, please cook this in it. You'll thank me. I know people can be very adamant about their cornbread, but thankfully everyone was in the not-sweet cornbread camp. It was good. Again, people were amazed it was baked homemade and not in a box. Believe me, it's just as easy as a box. And 10 times better. Try it this way at least once.

Blackberry Cobbler

SOOOO Delicious. And easy. I seriously made one for a group of people, and they ate it so quick that I whipped up (and I do mean whip) another one in a matter of minutes. Try it. You'll go back to it over and over again.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

This only gets better with time. You will want to claim these leftovers right away. (How do you spell left-overs? I keep changing how I think it should be). However, it makes a TON. I don't know who I was cooking for, but I cooked the full recipe for just Mike and I, and we were eating those leftovers for quite awhile. I wasn't complaining. It was delicious. But it was also ridiculous.

Dark Chocolate Orange Cake Balls

You've gotta make these. They are so good. Sinfully good. Sinful with a hint of orange. And don't forget a tidge of sea salt. It really brings out the flavor. Mike actually said that I could mix these in with my cookies of persuasion. Now that's a seriously big deal.

Ok - so I think I've got everything we've been making lately. Actually, I just remembered that it's not, but that is everything that is post-worthy. I hope that you enjoy these recipes as much as we have!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Grams' Brownies, with a Twist

I got home, make dinner with Mike, and decided I just had to satisfy the little bit of a sweet tooth I had. For once there was no chocolate in readily available and edible amounts, so I decided to make my Grams' brownies. I always have all the ingredients on hand, and they're really quick to through together. This time I played with it a little because I found a heath bar and raspberry creme chocolate bits that I decided to throw in. I didn't have enough of either to make something else, so I figured why not through them in some brownies?

These brownies are soooo fudgeyn gooey, delicious, you'll want to eat them with a spoon right away (I might have done that a bit). They will harden up after they set for awhile, but sometimes it's so hard to wait that long!


1 stick of butter
2 squares of semi-sweet chocolate
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup flour


Melt together the butter and chocolate on medium low heat. Gradually add in the sugar and remove from heat. Add one egg at a time beating it immediately (if you don't and the mixture is too hot, you could get scrambled eggs which is not a great addition to brownies). Then add the vanilla (again, don't add it on the heat because the vanilla can cook out) and the flour.

I then added the extra business of chocolate love.

Bake at 350F for 18-25 minutes (again, I have to take into account my crazy oven).

I really love these brownies. I actually liked the heath and raspberry business, too. It added a nice surprise to the bite. I won't do it all the time, and we'll have to see what Mike thinks, but this is on experiment that I think went well.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Skillet Tostadas

Quick? Check. Easy? Check? Good? Check.

This is not the most amazing meal I have ever cooked. But if you are looking for a quick and extremely easy meal that is great left over, this one's for you. We made this on Monday and it's lasted us until now. The dish also nice to prepare together. Easy to manuever around a small kitchen together.


1 lb ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 cans black beans
2 cans condensed nacho cheese soup
1 cup bottled salsa
totada shells
shredded lettuce
chopped tomatoes
sour cream


Using a large (emphasis on large) skillet, cook the beef and onion until the meat is brown and the onion is tender. At this point you should drain the fat, but I never do. Mostly because I use my dad's grass fed beef raised on our farm which is lean and doesn't have the fat. Stir in beans soup and salsa. Let it simmer a bit (that's as technical as I've got for you).

Heat up your tostadas. Mike and I tried these:

We're trying to be a little more healthy where we can, and these have 7 grams of fiber per tostada and only 50 calories compared to the usually 100+. I think they are great when used like in this recipe: as merely a vehicle for the meat and bean mixture. If you want a dish that focuses more on the tortilla, I would go for the more authentic flour ones.

Pile up the tostada and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Pumpkin Roll

This recipe has never failed me. Not even once.

Now I know that is a big assertion for the beginning of a post, but I've seriously never had anyone not like it. Even when they say they don't like pumpkin or cream cheese filling (believe it or not, there are people out there like that). And who wouldn't be impressed with how it looks? Trust me, it's a lot easier that you think.

This is another Mrs. Lindner recipe. I've never gotten a bad one from her. She's pretty solid at this baking business. :)

I make two of these for Thanksgiving this year. We had a ridiculous amount of dessert this year. My mom makes a pretzel, strawberry, cream cheese dish that is really a dessert, but we eat it during the main meal. Then my aunt brought four pies, another aunt brought another pie, and I brought these two pumpkin rolls.

Once you try this, I know that it will be a staple in your dessert repertoire as well.



3 eggs
2/3 cups canned pumpkin
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup flour


2 tbsp butter
1 - 8oz. package cream cheese
3/4 tsp vanilla
1 cup confectioners sugar


Mix all of the cake ingredients together (easy enough, huh?) Grease a cookie sheet, put wax paper on it, and grease the top of the wax paper (trust me on this step, it will save you a lot of heartache later). Pour the cake into the pan and bake at 375F for 15-20 minutes until the cake springs back and it golden brown (my oven is crazy so I only baked it for 10-12 minutes).

When the cake is out, immediately flip it over onto a terry cloth that is covered in sugar.

Then roll it up. Literally.

Let it cool. While it cools, put together the filling.

Cream together the butter and cream cheese. Add the vanilla and confectioners sugar. Beat until creamy.

Once the cake is completely cool, unroll it and and spread the filling over it. Roll up again, but this time without the towel. There you go.

I like to sprinkle some sugar on top, but honestly it soaks up once you put it in the fridge.

Share this with your family and no one will be sorry.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree!

This year marks a sad milestone. Every year that I can remember, my family has gone out to get our Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. And for 18 of my 25 years, we have gone to Sinnissippi Tree Farm in Oregon, Illinois.

This is our last year because it is closing down for good. I can't tell you how sad this makes me. So to commemorate the occasion, I have a photo essay of the day. This year we were lucky enough to have my brother's to be in-laws along for the ride.

We start of the day getting fresh, warm apple donuts and hot drinks.

While we enjoy them, we wait for our wagon ride around part of the farm. This year it turns out that our driver built the house where the Atchinsons (Calvin's in-laws) used to always vacation each year. His kids also have a new song out on country radio called "Mr. Officer". It's pretty good. You should check it out.

Here's Mom, Mike and I enjoying the ride and conversation.

Once we finish the ride we go to another part of the farm to pick out our trees. This place is huge.

Goodness, am I going to miss this. My Dad got tired every year of waiting for us to try to pick a tree. That's why he's uninvited and has a much better time hunting in Wisconsin. But can you blame us? There are thousands to choose from!

I think I have more than one of these pictures, because this is exactly what happens every year.

Trust me, he hasn't always looked this happy. But he's gotten stronger and more efficient with time. :)

And here's mom. She does a great job of holding the tree.

Mike would, but he's extremely allergic and bad things happen if he gets his head in the middle of one of these trees. So he just measures. (Of course we all know I take pictures).

And then my brother tries stunts like these.

That's right. He's trying to ride the wagon with the tree down the hill like a sled. I swear it's amazing that we've made it to this age with relatively little injury to ourselves.

Mike and I are trying to get more photo record of our existence during the early years of our marriage. It's a struggle for us.

But can you blame me? I mean seriously. This is the time of year when I get so pale it looks like I'm sick. And if you get close enough you start to see double chin action happening. I don't have a double chin. I promise.

Uh, oh! Calvin got away from us while we were attempting to be photogenic.

And there here is the hero of the day:

The tractor to pick up our tree! Seriously, it would be a long way for Cal to haul the tree to the front of the farm.

And once we get to the front, our tree goes through a little mom-approved treatment. First it gets all shaken up to get the loose needles out (trust me, Mom loves this).

And then it gets all wrapped up for easy transportation.

Here's my brother with his fiance.

Don't they take good pictures? I'm so jealous. I know, not a much better color on me than sickly pale, but there you have it.

And that was our day. We've had a lot of great memories, and it was great that our last time my mom could spend it with both of her kids and their spouses.

I'm not sure we could ask for a better ending.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Oh Thanksgiving...

Gosh I love this day (well, the day was 4 days ago, but stick with me). I love the food, the family, the time to relax together. It really doesn't get much better. Mike and I went up to my parents' place for the weekend (that's why I didn't have any more posts - forgot the camera/computer connector). The best thing about the day: my mom's cooking. And when I say my mom cooks, she cooks. Here's a preview at just some of the food she created.

It's honestly pretty crazy how much she makes for all of us. I'm sure other families do just as much, but it will never cease to amaze me how much she can put together in such a short time and still be a pleasant hostess.

Unfortunately, I did not get any other pictures of our feast like I had intended to do. I just got so caught up in the eating and catching up with my cousin Ash that I forgot all about it.

I did, however, get some good pics of my fam.

Here's the turkey coma of the day.
Calvin and mom are down for the count.

Ever our fire hound is out. Isn't she just the most spoiled dog ever?

And then here is this buddy.

How adorable is the one with incredibly chubby cheeks! Can you believe that he is just 6 months old!?

And look how cute he is with Uncle Chip (my dad)!

If you knew how much this kid spits up, you wouldn't think this is a good idea.

And there is the infamous "boof" that my dads is known for giving every baby he can get his hands on.

I'm not sure that Greyson quite knows what to think about this.

And that's my day. I did make a pumpkin roll that will be coming later, but I just had to share some family pics with you. How great are they?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Peanut Butter Temptations

I love the holidays. I think they are wonderful. And while I would like to say that I have this giving spirit all year round, it really comes out during the holidays. Yesterday I decorated my house. I know, it's a little early. But my family tradition is to decorate the day after Thanksgiving, but I'm going to be back home and will decorate my nostalgic home the day after. This means that if I wait, I really won't have time to decorate until two weekends after Thanksgiving and then I have to leave in two weeks to travel for more family holidays. I really do love spending all this time with family, seriously. But if I'm going to have enough time enjoying my own Christmas decorations at home, they've got to go up before Thanksgiving. So we deal.

Here's my favorite display of holiday decor (I don't even want to talk about figuring out lighting for this picture - it still doesn't do it justice):

I'm starting to go a little overboard with the snowmen, but I love them! Anyway, my home is so warm and cozy with all of the cheer. It even smells like the holidays.

Here's what was baking in my oven yesterday. They are Mike's favorite cookies (I only make then so often because we can't leave them alone). I got this recipe from my friend Eliz's mom, Mrs. Lindner (she's fabulous). Unfortunately I lost it and had to use the recipe off the back of a Reese's Peanut Butter Cups Minatures bad. I'm not sure if it is the same recipe, but it still tasted pretty darn good.


1 stick of butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups flour
aprox. 40 Reese's Peanut Butter Bups Miniatures


Preheat oven to 375 F.

Cream together the butter, sugar, brown sugar, peanut butter. Then add the egg and vanilla. Last add the salt, baking soda and flour. Roll dough into 1 inch balls and put into miniature muffin tin. Bake for 8 minutes.

Here's what happens when you try to be moderately artistic:

They get too dark. It doesn't look like it here, but they are too dark. Don't make that mistake. They should look almost not done so that they stay moist enough. You also have to press in the peanut butter cups right away. Otherwise they don't go in as easily.

Here's what they actually should like like:

Okay, so the difference doesn't come out quite as stark in these pictures as they do in person, but there is a HUGE difference in taste even if you can't see the color difference here.

Side-note: Did you know that Reese's can expire and go very, very bad? Well, they can. I didn't have enough bought, so I went to my chocolate box (yep, I actually have 2 chocolate tupperwares in my cupboard), and found I had some. Some really old ones. Reeses where the peanut butter is no longer creamy but crumbles in your mouth when it opens up. It's pretty disgusting. That's why some of the cookies don't have the peanut butter cups in them. They still taste decently okay, but the chocolate really makes it. Like these.

I know it's just chocolate in a bowl, but doesn't it make you salivate?

They're pretty delicious, and they make your house smell wonderful. These are going to my house for the night before Thanksgiving. I'm bringing pumpkin roll and dad has already threatened to eat it before the Turkey Day. Therefore, I'm bringing these to tide him over. Sort of like a warm up. :)