Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pinterest Review: Cheesey Hamburger Casserole

A lot of meals when I was growing up came from a box.  We had a lot of Hamburger Helper when I was a kid.  And when I was in college.  And for a few years after.

Then when I started reading labels I realized that I should probably not be eating something with so much sodium so often.  And for the past half-dozen years or so, I haven't even bought them.

But I so love the concept!  One pan!  One dish!  Yum!

That's why I decided to try the Cheesy Hamburger Casserole that I found on Pinterest.  Even though it dirties three dishes instead of one, it had the concept I was looking for.  The casserole style I wanted.  I've made it twice now.

Macaroni & Beef with Cheese

1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon canola oil
salt to taste
optional seasonings: black pepper, oregano, cumin, coriander, chopped garlic, hot smoked paprika, chilli powder—whatever you’re in the mood for (I just used black pepper, garlic and a tablespoon of fish sauce, which gives it depth)
one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, pureed in the can with a hand blender or in a blender blender
2 pounds lean ground beef
1 box macaroni
1 cup each grated cheddar and mozzarella cheeses
Sweat the onions in the oil with a three-fingered pinch of salt.  Add the beef and cook it, breaking it up as you do. (Because my beef was very fatty, I cooked it separately and added it to the pot along with the tomatoes. Also an option, but uses an extra pan.)  Add another three-fingered pinch of salt or two, along with any dry seasonings you want.  Add the tomatoes and any fresh seasonings you may be using, bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook for an hour.
Cook the macaroni in boiling water till it’s half done.  Drain it and add it to the tomatoes.  (I wanted this to stretch into two meals, so I used the whole box, but if you want your dish to be very tomatoey and beefy, you might want to add only half the macaroni).  Stir it into the sauce.  Taste it.  Add more salt and other seasonings as needed, and cover.  When it’s cooled and the pasta has absorbed the tomato juices, transfer it to a large baking dish and cover it with foil.  It can sit out for several hours like this, be refrigerated for up to two days, or frozen a few weeks.
Bake it in a 400 degree oven till it’s piping hot (about 45 minutes if it’s cold to room temperature).  Just before you’re ready to eat, remove the foil, cover macaroni with the cheese and broil till it looks beautiful.

I made a few changes:  less noodles, tomato sauce instead of tomatoes cause that's what I had in the house, and I winged it on the seasonings.

This recipe made me feel like I know what I'm doing in the kitchen.  The first time anyway.

When you start with tomato sauce, it really takes some seasoning to get something that tastes good instead of something that tastes like, well, tomato sauce.  And I hit the nail on the head the first time!  I kept tasting and adding and stirring and tasting until I had just the right flavors.  I felt like I learned why salt is so revered.  It was magical.

Or about as magical as I get in the kitchen, that is.

The second time I made it just felt wrong.  I felt like I had to keep. on. adding. spices.  Ugh.  It never did end up tasting right.  It did end up tasting salty thought.

Would I make this again?  Sure.  I would make changes though.  I would add veggies.  Lots of chopped onion and pepper and mushrooms and heck maybe even some zucchini or something.  Even less noodles.  Lighten up on the cheese (I know, blasphemy for someone in Wisconsin!).  Perhaps a different ground meat (like turkey) to make it a lighter dish.  But it won't be my go-to meal.

Do you have any one-pot-wonders you can share with me that won't break the calorie bank?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Valentine's Day Fondue!

Mmmm...  cheese, salad, and chocolate fir a Valentine treat!  We finally used the Melting Pot gift card that mom & dad gave us...
So so good!  I hope you all had a good Valentine's Day!

Pinterest Review - DIY Fruit Snacks

What have I been up to lately?  Not nearly enough.  But what I have been doing has including trying some recipes from Pinterest.  Because sometimes you just have to find out if you really can make your own fruit snacks.

Which you can.

And I did.

Here's how.

Home-made Jell-o Fruit Snacks

1 (3 oz) package gelatin, any flavor
2 (.25 oz) envelopes unflavored gelatin
1/3 c. water

Sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small saucepan.  Heat over medium heat and stir until gelatin is completely dissolved.  Pour into molds and allow to set at least 20 minutes.

And then you have to put on your patience pants because otherwise you'll try them before they're fully set and they will really stick to your teeth and you'll wonder if you look like a dog who's been given peanut butter.  Because that's what you'll feel like.  But once you actually let them sit for long enough, they're not bad.

But I don't think I'll make them again.  Here's why:
  • It's not economical.  Once you purchase both the Knox gelatin and the Jell-o, it's probably about the same cost as buying regular fruit snacks.  Maybe more expensive because this recipe makes a very small quantity... 
  • They don't taste any better.  I used sugar free Jell-o, and while I thought they were kinda tart, Rhy thought they were too sweet.  And they are only okay for flavor.  But I guess if you have a Jell-o flavor that you're over-the-moon about, maybe it would be a good option for you.
  • They're not any better for you.  Isn't the whole reason to make things at home instead of purchasing them so you can make better-for-you items?  I don't think that is happening with this recipe.  I mean, you're using packaged Jell-o and packaged Knox gelatin.  I'd rather use my Knox with real fruit juice and make Knox Blox instead.

Oh, brain-storm!  Bug Juice* flavored Knox Blox!  Who's with me?!?!

Thank you to Six Sister's Stuff for the recipe!

*And for all of you that didn't grow up in my household, mixing red KoolAid with orange juice makes Bug Juice.  Yum!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Vintage Photo: Washintgon DC Vacation 1981 - Tina's in trouble!

What did you do now?
I have two photos of Tina in the stocks.  Here's one of them.  Again, this is probably Jamestown, but I don't remember.  For someone in trouble, Tina looks awfully happy...

This is why I don't blog too often.  I've run out of things to say...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Vintage Photo: Washington DC Vacation 1981: Smithsonian

The most I remember about the Smithsonian is that it was really big.  My memories mainly come from the Air & Space Museum, but those are perhaps from our 1985 vacation?

As you can see, we were in our nation's capitol during the Christmas holidays.  I have no idea why the setting was particularly special that made Mom & Dad take our picture here...  but there you go.

At least we were dressed for our location!  Check out all that red, white, and blue we are wearing.  It's nice to see that pop of blue in my red coat/red pants combo...

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Vintage Photo: 1981 Washington DC Vacation - Our Nation's Capitol

Looks like you can get a good work-out going to the Capitol Building
We drove out to Washington DC in the little brown Datsun.  We got to DC, Dad rolled down the window, and asked a passer-by "Where are we?"   The answer was "This is the Capitol Building."

Or that's how I remember it, anyway.

Mom said that we were on the side of the building that is NOT in all the shows and movies.  So it wasn't easily recognizable.  Okay.

This photo is my only proof that I've ever been to the Capitol Building.  I have zero recollection of it.  And I haven't been there on any of my other trips to DC.  Somehow I love DC, but have no desire to be in the place where the politics happen...  Am I the only one?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Vintage Photo: Washington DC Vacation 1981 - Lincoln Memorial

I've visited the Lincoln Memorial 4 times.  1981 (above), 1985, 1999, and 2010.  It's a great site and one not to miss when you're in Washington DC.  Next time I visit, I'll need to make sure I get a photo from the same vantage point as above.

I love that Mom & Dad got pictures of Tina & I together at so many landmarks, but there are few pictures of them.  BUT, aha!, Dad got Mom in this picture!  You can tell that she's either telling us to smile or making sure we don't fall.  Here's to your Q-Tip hat, Mom!

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Vintage Photo: Washington DC vacation 1981, Mount Vernon

An out-building at Mount Vernon.  Tina is very impressed.

Did you know that Mount Vernon was actually Martha Washington's home?  She brought it to her marriage to good ol' George.  Once he retired from being the very first POTUS, they moved back to Mount Vernon where he ran the plantation.  True story.

We went on a tour of Mount Vernon.  My memories consist of what was captured in pictures (slides.  they took pictures on slides.) and this memory of the tour guide saying that we couldn't touch anything and me just really wanting to go beyond the velvet rope to touch a bed.  I didn't.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Vintage Photo: Washington DC Vacation 1981

Once again my sister pointed out how long it'd been since I'd blogged.  The room holding our computer is the coldest in the house, and every time I think about blogging, it's super cold in there!  Add on that the fact that the computer I like is getting more and more finicky, and the fact that I HATE the Mac, and, well, 3 weeks goes by...

But, here goes...

In December 1981 we went to DC (and the surrounding areas) for vacation.  It was my first of 4 (so far!) trips to DC.  I love it.  So much history!  I can't wait to visit again...

Looks like in this picture Mom & Dad had just about had enough of us and was sending us away...  sad...  I'm sporting the ever-popular red pants/red coat combo.  And Tina has (not kidding, either) a pretty cool plaid coat.  Not sure what happened, but we didn't actually get sent away, so perhaps it was just a tourist attraction...

Mom - Was this Jamestown?