Auntie Em's Guide to Life

A guide to all the important things in life- marriage, family, cooking, gardening, reading, travel, Christian living… And whatever else grabs my attention!

Ah, November…

If you’ve read Sunshine’s “substitute” post, or my Facebook page, you know we had a little too much excitement last weekend– my husband, Mr X, was in a serious motorcycle accident while riding with a friend. He’s going to be okay; he spent 3 days in the hospital and has a broken nose and 3 broken ribs. He also had a small pneumothorax (air between the lungs and lining that can lead to a collapsed lung; fortunately his dissipated before we left the hospital) and internal bleeding leading to a large hematoma inside his pelvis. It quit bleeding and will eventually absorb. In the meantime, he’s stiff and sore, and moving slowly, but thank God, he’s moving! His friend was also injured but able to walk– stiffly– away.

I went back to work Thursday and Friday, and haven’t had a minute to write anything, or any spare brain cells that are really working that well– so I decided to do a month-end statistics report. As non-mathematical as I am, somehow I love studying statistics!

Top 5 Posts for November

lazy housekeeping                                             Cornbread dressing

1. Auntie Em’s Guide to Lazy Girl Housekeeping      2. Auntie Em’s Cornbread Dressing

Give me a man                         stormy sea

3. Give Me a Man                                                      4.    Stormy Weather?

5. He Wasn’t Always My BFF

Top 5 posts since the beginning (August 31, 2012)

1. He Wasn’t Always My BFF

                            

2. Actually, It’s NOT All About You         3.  Three Little Changes

4. Be Anxious for Nothing

5. Auntie Em’s Guide to Lazy Girl Housekeeping

The most shared posts since the beginning

1. Actually, It’s NOT All About You

2. Auntie Em’s Grilled Pork Loin, AKA The Truth Will Set You Free

           

3. Granny’s Cornbread                             4.  A First-World Problem

5. Thank You, Dave Ramsey

Check out some of these posts if you haven’t yet, and hopefully this week I will get some new words down. In the meantime, I appreciate all your prayers, and please keep them up! As I said on my Facebook page, the fellowship of believers (All over the world!!) is a sweet and powerful thing!

13 Comments »

Auntie Em’s Grandma Ballard’s Caramel Pie

You might wonder why I’m tagging marriage in this recipe post. It’s because “Speak your husband’s language” is one of Auntie Em’s rules. One of Mr X’s love languages is acts of service. And when I serve him by cooking, he has always been very appreciative. When I make his favorite pie, which is pretty easy to make now, but at first was time-consuming and complicated, it spells L-O-V-E to him! Be a student of your husband; find out how to speak his language, then speak often!

Now– on to the pie. It’s not as simple as some– It uses FOUR dishes besides the pie pan! But it’s worth it. You’ll love it! Grandma Ballard's Caramel Pie recipe

(You can see lots of trial and error here. One of my first times to make it was when we were visiting my brother- and sister-in-law; I made it without the recipe. He spent most of the night sick, and the whole family jokes about my bad pie…. however, when the truth came out, he ate most of it in one sitting, and I think THAT is why he was sick !)

PREPARE:

  • Preheat your oven to 400 so you can bake the meringue when you’re all done.
  • Get out your food you’ll need: Flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, eggs, cream of tartar, a cooked pie shell
  • Get out your dishes you’ll need: A heavy pan for mixing the dry ingredients and cooking the custard, a heavy skillet for caramelizing the sugar; a bowl for mixing the eggs and milk, and a bowl for beating the egg whites. Plus a whisk for stirring the custard, a knife to cut the butter, measuring spoons and cups, and a spatula for applying the meringue.

Start with a baked pie shell. (Video instructions for a homemade one are here. It’s not as hard as you think!)

homemade pie crust cooked separate eggs

Now mix your wet ingredients together and your dry ingredients together

  • 2 3/4 C milk and 4 egg yolks. You’ll have to separate your eggs; put the whites in another bowl so you can beat them.
  • 1 C sugar and 1/2 C flour.  The recipe says “4 heaping TBS but I hate the vagueness of “heaping,” so I measured. (Believe it or not.)   I mix this in the pan I cook the custard in. Mix together well so you won’t get blobs of flour. (So says the voice of experience)

Now stir the milk and egg mixture into the dry mixture in the heavy pan. Mix together with a whisk till it’s smooth. This is the custard mixture. Heat it over medium heat. You can take a shortcut and heat it on higher heat till it begins to get warm, but watch and stir! It can burn and curdle quickly.

Then put 1 C of sugar into a heavy skillet; shake it to spread it around evenly. Heat over medium heat. Same as with the custard, you can start the heat higher but turn it down for more control.

sugar and flour mixture caramelizing sugar in skillet

Now you wait. And stir the custard. And stir the custard. And wait. Don’t stir the sugar. Just wait. After 10 minutes it looked like this, just barely beginning to melt.

sugar beginning to melt caramelizing sugar

After another 10 it looked like this. All this time I’ve been stirring the custard. If it has thickened or begun to bubble, I turn down the heat until the sugar is melted.  (At this point you can add the vanilla and butter and use this custard for a wonderful banana pudding! No jello pudding at our house!) Granny says never stir the sugar, just shake it around, so that’s what I do.

melting sugar caramelizing sugar

Once all the sugar melts it’s time to be really careful. The custard has to be VERT hot, or else the caramelized sugar will cool and harden instead of blend in. When you pour it in, it will bubble up violently. Stir, stir, stir!

caramelized sugar caramelized sugar poured into custard

Till it looks like this.

caramel pie filling

At this point, remove it from the heat and stir in 1-2 TBS butter and 1 tsp vanilla till it’s all smooth.

Pour into your cooked pie shell. You’re almost done!

Now you have to make the meringue topping. A Kitchenaid stand mixer makes quick work! Add 1/2 tsp cream of tartar and mix the 4 egg whites on high. When “frothy” like the first picture, add 4-6 TBS sugar and 1/2 tsp vanilla. Beat till stiff peaks form– that means when you lift the beater it sticks and the mixture in the bowl keeps its shape, like in the second picture.

frothy egg whites stiff peaks egg whites meringue

Now gently place blobs of meringue onto the hot pie filling. You don’t want to do a lot of stirring because that will get the filling all over the meringue plus get the air out of the meringue, which will cause it to deflate. That’s bad. Gently connect the blobs to form a solid surface, and press to the sides of the pie crust to seal.

meringe on pie meringue on pie

Now, cook the meringue till it’s as brown as you like, at 400 degrees. This was about 4 minutes.

Auntie Em's caramel pie with meringe topping

Here’s what was left: (It will be a hit at your house or church too!)

leftover pie

Auntie Em's holiday cooking Collage

17 Comments »

Auntie Em’s Homemade Pie Crust

BIG NEWS!

Auntie Em figured the only way to teach someone to “cut in flour” or “roll out a pie crust” is to SHOW THEM. So, Dearies, here is Auntie Em’s video debut. I was brave; it was kind of weird… Be brave and try the pie crust! And leave me a comment here or on my Facebook page, telling me how it turned out.

Homemade pie crust gets a bad rap for being difficult, but really, it’s not. And it’s one of those things that really impresses people; they think you are Martha Stewart or something! (And I don’t mind something that gets a lot of bang for the buck LOL!)

I start from “Nanny’s Good and Easy Pastry” from my Cotton Country Collection, published by the Junior League of Monroe, Louisiana. My mother had a copy and gave me mine for Christmas right after our first anniversary. (in 1981!)

Here’s the recipe.

Measurements in (parentheses) are for a double crust. Italics are my commentary.

1 (1 1/2 c) cup sifted flour (You know I don’t sift it!)

1/4 heaping tsp (1/2 heaping tsp) salt

1 pinch of sugar (big pinch), a must for a good pastry crust (I think this is so funny!)

1/3 c (1/2 c) shortening

3 T (4-5 T) cold water

This just never made enough, so like I said, I start here. I usually don’t measure, but I would use at least the double measurements for a single crust. I like it to hang off the edges of the pie plate to the counter, so I can trim it and evenly turn it under. Plus have leftovers for a cinnamon roll!

What to do:

Stir or sift together the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in shortening. Sprinkle in ice water and stir till it sticks together. Add water if necessary. Roll out on floured wax paper and shape into pie plate. For a precooked crust, bake at 400 for about 15 minutes. If you are cooking a pie, like pecan or pumpkin, you can “seal” the pie crust by diluting an egg white with a tablespoon of water, brush over the crust, and bake at 400 for about 5 minutes. This will prevent the liquid from soaking into the crust, which causes it to stick to the pan and tear up when you’re serving it. If you are cooking the crust, for a custard or other pre-cooked pie, poke holes with a fork into the bottom and sides of the uncooked crust, and weight it down with some dried beans. This prevents the crust from bubbling up, and keeps it flat.

Auntie Em shows how to cut in flour.

Auntie Em shows how to add water and roll out the crust. (For some reason I kept calling my wax paper “Paper towels.” I meant “wax paper.”)

Here’s what the crust looks like before it’s cooked.

homemade pie crust

Here’s after it’s cooked. Notice it’s not real brown.

homemade pie crust cooked

And here’s the pie I made– Grandma Ballard’s Caramel Pie!

meringe pie

Auntie Em's holiday cooking Collage

19 Comments »

A Hallowe’en TREAT

Next Wednesday I’ll be guest posting at Exceptionalistic, and sweet Kelly will be be blogging here. It will be my first switch-up and I’m so excited!

Kelly’s blog is a few months older than mine, and she knows a LOT about blogging! She has helped me out many times, and is so kind about it… says she wants to give back, and be a blessing! Well I’m giving her ample opportunity! She has two regular weekly features, Matrimonial Monday and Into the Word Wednesday, that I link up to every week.  She’s shared her heart and some heartbreaking stories on her “All About Me A-Z” series. She does some book reviews and giveaways. (I want to get there but I’m not yet.) She shares yummy recipes and takes some beautiful pictures!

She’s just plain adorable and I hope you all visit her blog and tell her Auntie Em sent you! Then tune in on Wednesday and see what she has to say.

Plus she’s the spitting image of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden. Can you guess which one is which?

 

1 Comment »

Church Fiesta

September 16 was Mexican Independence Day, and in the wonderful, creative way of our fellowship committee at my church, they planned a Fiesta covered-dish lunch! (We have an AWESOME group of ladies, and a few husbands too, that plan and execute luncheons and activities regularly.)

Now that I’m one of the … ahem… “older ladies” at church, I feel like I need to bring really big dishes, and multiple dishes. I don’t have kiddos I’m trying to get ready for church, and I can afford large quantities much more easily than I could when we had little ones at home, so I’m glad to do it. Many people enjoy making desserts, and we usually have lots, but sometimes run short on meats and veggies, so I’ve begun bring main dishes too.

I decided to make the Marriott Riverwalk’s Famous World Tortilla Soup.(If you are in downtown San Antonio, visit the Cactus Flower Restaurant in the Riverwalk, and enjoy the soup!)
It’s very simple, as you see… 20120929-143649.jpg

I collected the ingredients…

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Then, because I didn’t have as much chicken as I would have liked, I added a can of rinsed black beans, a few slices of chopped bacon (because it makes everything better!), and celery, because I love the flavor with chicken.

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I served it with Tostitos and grated cheddar cheese, and it was a big hit! Barely enough left for me to have some for lunch the next day.

I decided to make a Sopapilla Cheesecake too. I googled and found one online somewhere– I’m sorry, I don’t remember where! It called for 2 cans of Pillsbury RECIPE CREATION Crescent Rolls (These were new to me, so new that my store didn’t even have any), 16 oz cream cheese, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 stick of melted butter, 1 cup sugar, and 1-2 T cinnamon.

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Spread out 1 can of Crescent rolls in the bottom of a 9×13 pan. (Mash the seams together if you use regular rolls.)

20120929-145159.jpg.

Beat the cream cheese and vanilla; spread over dough.

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Roll out the other can over the cream cheese, then pour the melted butter over the top evenly.
Mix the cinnamon and sugar together and sprinkle evenly over the top.

20120929-145637.jpg

Bake about half an hour, till brown and bubbly. I used a pizza roller to cut mine in small squares– they are rich! — and brought them on a plate. (That way I got to keep some at home for us!).

I’m not sure why I didn’t take any pictures of the finished products! You’ll have to trust me; they were really good– I hope you will make them soon, and celebrate a fiesta!

4 Comments »

Perfect Hamburger Patties

Summertime is here– time for cookouts and grilled hamburgers– and I’ve updated my grilled hamburger patty post. Hope you enjoy and get a lot of mileage from it!

Perfect hamburger patties

Nothing beats homemade, grilled hamburgers– unless you don’t know how to make them! Auntie Em makes some slap-your-sister-good ones, and I’ll tell you how:

First- go start your grill. I always scrape the grates and spray them with Pam first.

To make the patties: Start with ground meat. Get at least 15% fat ground beef– too lean and it will be tough and chewy. And I like to add ground pork too.. Yum! Season like you like–I use salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder, and Chipotle Tabasco sauce.

Mix it all up really well- the meat has different textures so you don’t want them to look separate. You’ll probably have to use your hands to do it well. Sorry!

Then begin shaping them into patties. They need to be uniform sizes and not too thick- about 1/2 to 3/4 inch. Rotate them between your palms, using your thumb to even up the edges. Don’t smash it down, though; you don’t want it tough.

As is my normal practice, I make more than I need for one meal and freeze the rest! Wrap patties with

parchment paper, then put into a Ziploc freezer bag.

I do my own vacuum-seal by closing the bag except for a little gap, then sucking out all the air myself! (Tightwad Food Saver!)

Ta-da! Now I can take out as many as I want and they won’t stick together.

I grill them 6-7 minutes. They should be a little brown around the edges, and getting gray on top.

Carefully lift to check the bottom for raw spots. None here!

So go ahead and flip them over, and cook about 1 minute less than you did the first side.

Hungry yet?

And there you are- perfect hamburger patties. Top it off like you like- cheese, grilled onions and mushrooms, lettuce, onions. pickles, mayo, mustard, good soft warmed buns….

15 Comments »

10-minute meals with Auntie Em!

School started last week!

It actually went very smoothly, and I actually always get up early so I can visit a bit with Mr X before he leaves, so it’s not getting back on a schedule, but getting used to getting DRESSED and LEAVING THE HOUSE that takes some getting used to! I was so glad I had some freezer meals waiting! I froze 3 meal-sized servings of taco meat during my Once-a-Month-Cooking marathon, remember? Behold the awesomeness of a 10-minute meal:

 

7:54. We’re starving and tired. Take the meat out; microwave a minute or two to break it up; then put in a covered container to heat through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While that’s heating, drain some Ranch style beans (of course you can use regular pinto or black beans too), then heat them; and grate some cheese. I usually use cheddar but couldn’t find any! Heat the beans up after the meat heats.

I also sliced some cherry tomatoes that I had, and got out some tortilla chips and bottled hot salsa.

Layer it as thick as you like. Microwave a few more seconds to melt the cheese!

 

 

 

 

8:04. Ten minutes, freezer to table. Supper is ready. Once-a-month cooking payoff! And may I just say, it was a big hit!

12 Comments »

Auntie Em’s Once-a-Month Cooking, Sort of

You might have heard of the term “once a month cooking.” You plan out your menus for the month, compile your grocery list and shop, then in one day you prepare everything! You divvy it up in proper serving sizes and you are done for the month. I love the idea, and did it… once. Mr X helped me, and we had the crock pot, electric skillet, oven, and all the burners going on the stove! It took all day and we were exhausted. What I have found is that a modified version works better for me: I cook 2 or 3 times the amount I’ll need, then freeze the rest. This is also great if you have a food ministry– you get a call– you go to your freezer and have a pot roast or pound cake ready to go. It’s also especially handy for small households like ours. (That sounds so strange, after having all those kids!)

School is about to start (have you seen this poster?)  So I knew I’d better get busy.

Here’s what I started with:

I started out browning the stew meat (beef and pork) and the hamburger meat. 20120807-153254.jpg

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My go-to cooking buddy 

While that was cooking, I put all but 2 big chicken breasts (5 lb package) in the crock pot with celery, a carrot, onion and garlic, and covered it with water, slapped the lid on and turned it to high. More of that later. After the stew meat browned, I added 2 packages of Lipton Beefy Onion mix, about 3 cups of water, stirred it up good and covered. You want to let it cook till it’s fork tender; probably about 2 hours. You can also do it in the crock pot all day. I added 2 more cups water after an hour. You can also add red wine  if you want.

To the hamburger meat, I added Taco seasoning and water, stirred it up and let it cook about 20 minutes just to get the flavor in good. While THAT was cooking, I trimmed and split the remaining chicken breasts, salted and peppered, put 2 pieces in a freezer bag for a grilled meal, and sliced the remaining 2 pieces in strips for fried chicken strips!

Try to cut them about 3/4′ thick, and all the same thickness.  

So now the taco meat is ready to be put up… any idea what this is?

20120807-153200.jpg                                                      How bout now?  20120807-153146.jpg

Okay, I’ll show you. It’s a baggie holder! I mostly use freezer bags, and this little gadget gives me an extra set of hands.  I had a 2.25 lb container of ground beef, and I divided it into 3 parts. It’ll be good for tacos, taco salad, nachos, burritoes, or taco soup. Be sure to let your food cool a bit before you put it in a plastic bag! A melted bag with too-hot liquid is no fun.

All I did with the pork chops was season them, then put the 4 chops into 2 separate bags. The 2 big sirloin steaks I cut in half (they will cook more evenly that way; they were thick and big!), seasoned, and put in 2 separate bags. This is the time to add marinade if you want to.

Then I put my attention back on the stew meat. After it gets really tender, I’ll take out some and call it beef tips. We’ll eat it over rice or mashed potatoes. The rest, I’ll add vegetables and call it stew. Add what you want- I did onion, celery, potatoes, and carrots. I’ll probably add canned or frozen green beans and/or corn when it comes time to eat! Just be sure to cut your veggies up bite sized and uniformly. I have always cooked it, then put it in the freezer. Sunshine plans to try putting everything (meat and vegetables) in freezer bags, then add liquid and put it in the crock pot. I’ll ask her to report on how that works.

It’s a good idea, when you have your cutting board out and you are in a cutting mood, to get your stew veggies ready- you can put them in a storage bag with liquid to keep them fresh.  You can also chop onions or celery for cooking and put them in a freezer bag- just get out what you need as you need it. With my good knives, I really Kind of enjoy chopping!

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Do you peel your potatoes or not? I don’t mind the skins, and I’m lazy. So if they look okay, I don’t peel, but if I’ve let them get old and funky, I do.

20120807-153212.jpg

These I peel.

These I don’t.

I’ll tell you how I make fried chicken and milk gravy if you want…

2 Comments »

Auntie Em’s Texas Tea — updated

iced tea courtesy ap3601 via FlickrMr X thought a post about tea was a little unnecessary- but I told him he’d be surprised the number of times people have said they can’t get their tea right!
The Queen of “I don’t measure” (that would be yours truly) actually follows this to a T:
In a 2-cup glass Pyrex measuring cup, put 2 c water, 1 family-sized tea bag (I like Community) and 1 small fruit-flavored bag (my current fave- Lipton Purple Acai and Blueberry green tea)). Microwave on high 3 minutes. (You really might have to adjust here according to your microwave’s strength- mine is pretty powerful.)

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Pour it in a pitcher; then fill your Pyrex cup up with ice (in Texas we like our iced tea REALLY ICED!) and fill with water; add it to the pitcher. Sweeten with 1/4 cup Splenda and stir it up. When serving, fill your glass to the top with ice!

20120806-081550.jpg

 

7 Comments »

Auntie Em’s honey mustard dressing

I like to make my own salad dressing. It’s fast and easy and tastes so good! The basic formula is 1 part acid (some kind of vinegar or lemon juice) and 2-3 parts oil. You can add any herbs and seasonings that you like; sweeten it with sugar, honey, or (my favorite) agave nectar; thin it with fruit juice (I like to add mandarin oranges to my salad and some of the juice to the dressing.) or make it creamy with yogurt or mayonnaise. Experiment to see what you like. I usually don’t write down any measurements, but this time I did. It turned out good! (You can also use it on a marinade or topping for grilled or baked chicken… MMM!)

1 tbs rice wine vinegar

1 tbs agave nectar

2 tbs Dijon grainy mustard

2 tbs oil

1/2 tsp each salt and pepper

Shake it all together in a small covered container like a Mason jar. Add herbs, or adjust sweetener or mustard to taste. You can see it makes a small amount. Increase it as you need it, and for heaven’s sake adjust it till it’s just how you like it!

What’s your favorite salad dressing recipe?

NOTE: March 18, 2013– I made this as usual, doubled the recipe, but added a TBS of dried basil and oregano and a couple of sage and rosemary leaves… even better! Go buy you some herbs for your garden TODAY!

I’m linking up with

4 Comments »

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