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!

Save Them For Later

I’m the world’s worst at buying a container of something– mushrooms, for example– using them in one dish, then letting the rest go bad sitting for weeks in my refrigerator. (Bad planning!) But this year I was proud that I thought ahead, plus had some down time during my Christmas holidays, and fixed them where I can use them later.

Your freezer is your BFF for this. Chop your mushrooms, fill ice trays about half full with them, then top them off with chicken broth or oil. Freeze and put in freezer bags. Ready to use! (Just don’t forget they’re in the freezer!)


I also like to make chicken broth any time I have chicken bones. After I roast or boil the bone-in chicken and remove the meat, I boil the bones again. If you don’t have time right then, you can put all the bones, or the turkey carcass from Thanksgiving, in a freezer bag to do later. The yummy broth you can get is worth the trouble! If you are chopping vegetables, put the scraps in the pot too, for extra flavor. Put the bones in a large pot and cover with water; salt and pepper if you like; and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for a few hours. Cool then refrigerate. (A straight sided pitcher is handy for this.) The fat will rise to the top and can be spooned off. *NOTE: If you have a lot of bones, like a whole turkey carcass, the broth will have the consistency of jelly. This is because of the marrow in the bones– don’t worry; it will liquefy as it heats up.

Then pour in ice trays (good for adding a couple of cubes for flavor to rice or small dishes) or larger containers and freeze; remove from containers and put in freezer bags for use in soups, gravies, and anything else that needs a shot of extra flavor.

boiling hen DSC_610320121223-084212.jpg

Ice trays are also very handy for freezing bits of fresh herbs (in oil or broth) and lemon or lime juice. Think of the most common amount you require of any of these, whether it’s a tablespoon or a cup, and freeze in that quantity to make it easy on yourself.

Don’t let those fresh yummy goodies go bad in your refrigerator, wasting money– put them in the freezer and save them for later!


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!


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 !)


  • 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


Auntie Em’s Homemade Pie Crust


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


Auntie Em’s Kickin’ Spaghetti Sauce

Oh my goodness, can we make some good spaghetti sauce at Auntie Em’s house! I didn’t take pictures as I went, because I’m telling you, it is SO EASY!

I like to make a large batch so we can eat some now, and freeze the rest for later. As always, I estimate amounts, but I’ll tell you my “starting” place.

2 lbs lean ground meat (beef, chicken, turkey, pork.. whatever floats your boat. I figure the turkey made it a little healthier!)

1 large onion, chopped

1 pkg mushrooms, wiped clean (Don’t run water over them) and sliced into whatever size your family likes

4-5 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup black olives, sliced (I think Mr X might have used green olives this time, but I prefer black.)

4-8 oz sliced pepperoni or Canadian bacon, chopped

2 large cans tomato sauce

2 large cans chopped tomatoes

1 15-oz can tomato paste

Italian seasoning (or parsley, basil, oregano)

Salt and pepper

Preheat a large Dutch oven and add ground meat. Break apart (I use a potato masher) and brown. Drain if there’s a lot of fat; I like to use lean ground meat and usually don’t have any extra.  Add onions and garlic once it’s broken up. After they soften, add chopped mushrooms and olives. Then add the pepperoni, tomato products, and seasoning. Cover it and let it heat through. Then lower the heat, cover it,  and let it simmer. I don’t know if it gets better the longer it cooks, or it just smells up your house and builds your appetite, but I like to simmer it a long time!

This time I used vermicelli rather than regular spaghetti, and I liked it! It’s a bit wider and really hangs on to that sauce. I season my water with a bouillon cube or use broth, to give a little extra flavor to the noodles. Pay close attention to your time after you add the noodles; you don’t want to overcook them. Drain them quickly and add a little butter!

To serve, place the noodles on your plate, top with the sauce, and then add some fresh grated parmesan or mozzarella!

That’s amore! Enjoy!


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!


Auntie Em’s Grilled Pork Loin, AKA The Truth Will Set You Free *updated *

Remember in Auntie Em’s Guide to Life, the number one rule was to BE HONEST? The truth will set you free. How in the world am I tying that into pork loin, you ask?

A MEAT THERMOMETER!                             

The truth is, a lot of my grilled meat used to be overcooked, dry, and tough. Once I accepted the truth that I couldn’t rely on my eyes to see if something was done, I became Queen of the Grill! Today we had grilled pork loin for lunch. The directions said cook for 35-40 minutes, and Mr X couldn’t wait that long, so I cut that 1.25 pound roast in half, seasoned it with salt, pepper, and Ranch dressing mix, and put it on the grill. (I had it on high and it had heated about 5 minutes.)

I checked it and turned after 10 minutes, checked the temp in another 10 minutes and it wasn’t quite ready, so I put it on an uncooked side and left it another 5 minutes. Once more, the truth set me free, when my sensibilities said, “No roast can cook in 25 minutes!” My meat thermometer said it was DONE, so I took it off, let it rest 5 minutes, and… the heavens parted and the angels sang. Behold the beauty. Amen.

For my friend Deb, who writes at Folksy Musin’s (Go over and see her post about back-to-school dressing for goddesses, then come back when you regain your composure!), step-by-step directions:

1. Turn your gas grill on high. (And if you have a charcoal grill, do whatever the prep equivalent is– get it ready to cook!) If you are really with it, spray with a non-stick spray.

2. Get your  boneless pork loin.

3. Cut in half if you just cant wait! It’ll cut the cooking time down.

4. Salt and pepper on all sides. I like the texture of kosher salt, but whatever you have is fine. This is also the time to add other dry seasonings, like Ranch dressing mix. Save marinades or sauces till it’s almost done, so they won’t burn.

5. Grill on high heat. (I realize that this probably varies depending on your grill. I have a large infrared gas grill.)

6. If you are not on intimate terms with your grill, start checking after 5 minutes. The grill marks should be evident, like the pics below, and it shouldn’t stick to the grill. It took mine 10 minutes per side.

7. Turn over and grill the other side the same amount of time. Check the temp, and if it’s not up to 145, turn to an edge. I don’t like to recook the cooked sides. I had to add about 5 minutes on one edge.

8. Let it rest about 4 minutes… see the pool of juicy goodness?

9. DIG IN!




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


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!


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.


These I peel.

These I don’t.

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


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.)

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!




Update: Auntie Em’s Country Squash and Italian Zucchini


Auntie Em fixed squash for supper tonight. (We have “supper” in the country!) I love summertime, when I can get it fresh. True confession, though: I like *zucchini better. You can fix it just the same way. As always, measurements are guesstimates and you need to adjust flavors to suit your family!

Preheat a skillet on fairly high heat- I like to use a cast iron for this. When the rim is hot to the touch, drizzle some oil. Next, chop some onion. I used about 1/2 cup. Put it in to sauté

   20120803-190314.jpg                   20120803-190422.jpg

Then slice your squash. I like to split them longways, and split the fat part again if it’s too big.

Then slice about 1/4 -1/2 inch thick. Put them in (A real chef would say wait til they are all chopped and put them in together so they will chop evenly, but whatever… 4 chopped squash won’t fit on my cutting board, so in they go when I get too crowded!) At this point I added a couple of small cloves of garlic. It tends to burn, so I don’t put it in at the beginning. I do the Rachel Ray “smash”, then peel and mince.


Stir everything up good- add some butter! Salt and pepper. Squash is pretty bland so I like a lot. Cover and lower the temp a little. Don’t cook it too long, and add broth if there is not liquid visible on the bottom. Depending on the squash, some amount of moisture will cook out so you might not need to add any. Not too much, you don’t want it soggy!

Serve it up hot and you will love it!

*NOTE: Added August 12, 2012– I fixed zucchini like the squash, but added a large can of Italian chopped tomatoes and a little water, covered, and cooked till tender. YUM!!

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