Thursday, May 31, 2012

Easy Breakfast Casserole

Egg casserole for camping

When my blog buddy, A.Marie at My Money Mission, posted this on her Facebook page a couple of weeks ago, I knew I wanted to try it for a camping breakfast.  Her recipe, as shared below, is for a larger casserole in a 9x13 pan.  I decided to make only half the recipe, and ended up using an oven safe skillet because I didn't have a small casserole dish in the camper like I thought I did. 

Actually, I started this on the burners by assembling the casserole in the skillet, covering it with foil, and setting it over a low flame. I was using the oven for the hash brown patties and turned the oven off when they were done.  It was too hot to light the oven again (the manual-light pilot is at the rear of the oven), so I just stuck the covered casserole in the still-hot (but turned off) oven, shut the door, and left it there for about 10 more minutes.  It was just perfect when it came out.

Here is the full-size recipe:

Easy Breakfast Casserole
1 doz. eggs, scrambled as you normally would
1 can cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
1/4 c. milk
6 to 8 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 lb. bacon, sausage, or ham

Cook the bacon, sausage, or ham.  Drain grease if necessary.

Heat oven to 350F.

Combine the cooked meat with the scrambled eggs. Mix the milk with the mushroom soup and fold mixture into the egg mixture.
Spread into a greased 13 x 9 inch baking dish. Top with the shredded cheese.*

Cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 350 degrees until hot (about 20 minutes).

May be prepared the night before and baked when ready to use. Allow a little extra time for baking since it will be cold. Do not preheat oven when removing from refrigerator. Put in cold oven and turn to correct oven temperature.

*I believe A.Marie mixes the cheese into the egg mixture.  The only reason I did not do that myself was because I am still learning about our camper's oven and didn't want the cheese in the mixture to possibly keep me from knowing whether the eggs were fully cooked.  Next time I will probably add the cheese in before baking.

Super Easy Sugar Cookie Bars

Sugar cookie bars

These cookies are based on a recipe from one of those check-out counter booklets from Pillsbury.  The original recipe included almond extract and margarine.  I've made them with the almond extract, and while good, I think I like them better with vanilla extract.  I also use butter instead of margarine and for the oil called for in the recipe, I used coconut oil.  It gave the cookies a very delicate coconut flavor that we all liked.  I made these ahead of time for camping.

Super Easy Sugar Cookie Bars
3/4 cup sugar (can use white, organic, Sucanat, etc.)
1/3 cup butter, softened
1/3 cup oil (recipe doesn't specify; I like using coconut oil)
1 Tablespoon milk
1 to 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (per your taste)
1 egg
1-1/2 cups all-purpose or unbleached flour
1-1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar (plain or colored)

Heat oven to 375F.

In large bowl, beat 3/4 cup sugar, butter, oil, milk, vanilla extract and egg until light and fluffy.

Lightly spoon flour into measuring cup; level off. Stir in flour, baking powder and salt; blend well.

Spread evenly in ungreased 15x10x1 baking pan (jelly roll pan); sprinkle with 1 Tablespoon sugar or colored sugar.

Bake at 375F for 10-12 minutes or until light golden brown.

Cool 5 minutes, then cut into bars.  Makes 4 dozen bar cookies.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Crockpot Pork and Gravy with Vegetables

Crockpot camping meals

This is another recipe inspired by something our friend John made and served to us.  He makes a dish of sauteed chicken breast chunks served over rice, with zucchini and mushrooms (each sauteed separately) spooned over, and then poultry gravy ladled over all of it.  It's a pretty good meal.

Now, I'll tell you this, because I tell John this too...although he's a he, he's also something of a diva in the kitchen.  He does nearly all of the cooking for his family and he doesn't really like it when I take one of his ideas and make it my own.  But I do it all the time and he just has to deal with it.  So, if you were able to ask him, he'd say the recipe that follows is NOTHING like the one he makes, and not as good, either.  To use John's own words, I have only this to say...


I took his meal and adapted it, not only to the foods I already had on hand, but also to the crockpot, so I could let the meat cook at camp while we were out doing other things.  It could still be served over rice, but we voted for pasta instead.  So, John's right, this isn't much like his original dish.  But I have to give him credit for the idea.

None of us thought we were very hungry the day I made this at camp, but we ended up eating every last bite of it.

Crockpot Pork and Gravy with Veggies

1 pork loin roast (about 2 pounds) cut into 1-inch cubes
2 packets of gravy mix (pork or poultry, either will work) or equal amount of bulk gravy mix
1 small to medium zucchini, sliced into half-moon shapes
1 small to medium onion (I used vidalia), cut into large chunks
1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into chunks
pan spray or a small amount of oil
1 Tablespoon butter
seasoned salt
cooked, drained pasta of your choice

Place pork and a generous amount of water in a smaller crockpot and turn on the HI.  Let meat cook on HI for about 4 hours, or on LO for about 6 hours, or until tender.

When meat is tender, whisk in gravy mix, cover and let thicken.  Ours turned out rather thin, but it still worked just fine.  If you like a thicker gravy, use either less water in the crockpot or more gravy mix.

Meanwhile, saute the chopped veggies in a skillet over medium heat that has been sprayed with pan spray or coated with just a drizzle of oil.  Add a little seasoned salt to taste.  When the veggies start to get a little bit tender, add a Tablespoon of butter to the skillet, increase heat to high, and sautee until veggies begin to brown.

Spoon veggies over cooked pasta and top both the veggies and pasta with some of the pork and gravy mixture.  Serve with fresh fruit and/or bread on the side.

Cowboy Potatoes

Cooking potatoes on the grill

I mentioned in my previous post comments that I learned how to make Cowboy Potatoes by watching our friend John make them.  The method is his, but the measurements are mine.  You can adjust the amounts as you see fit.

Cowboy Potatoes

6 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 to 1-1/2 inch chunks
1 medium or large Vidalia or other sweet onion (or any type of onion, really)
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 stick butter (yes, 1 whole stick)

Place potato chunks on a piece of foil.  Slice onion into strips and sprinkle those over the potatoes.  Sprinkle potatoes and onions with season salt and then top it all with chunks of butter.

Cover with another sheet of foil and fold the edges over.  You want lots of room in there for steam, thus the two pieces of foil instead of a folded-over packet.

John's charcoal grill method is to like the charcoal, place the packet on the grill while there are still flames, and by the time the coals burn down and are ready for grilling meat, the potatoes can come off the grill.

My gas grill method is to light the grill and set it at a medium flame.  Place the potato packet on the grill and cook for 20 minutes.

Either way, take the packet of potatoes off the grill, but do not open it.  Set it aside while you grill your other meat and/or veggies.  When the rest of your meal is done, open the potato packet.  The potatoes will still be hot, and perfectly done.

Eat them just as they are, or top them with sour cream and shredded cheese.  They are delicious either way.

I haven't made these in the oven yet, but if you want to try them that way, I would suggest 20 minutes at 350F, then let them sit on the counter for 10 minutes before opening the packet.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Eating and Drinking at Camp

By now you know I like to cook and that I try to steer my family and myself away from a lot of junk foods and pre-packaged convenience foods.  But camping is supposed to be a mini-vacation, so when we camp, we loosen up on a lot of the "rules" we follow at home by buying, eating and using a lot of things we don't normal buy, eat or use at home.

I don't want to spend my entire trip cooking and washing dishes, so we allow for a few conveniences.  We use paper napkins and paper plates.  Not styrofoam, but actual biodegradable paper.  We eat hot dogs and marshmallows, and drink soda and bottled water.  We've been known to use canned soups and boxed mac-n-cheese when we camp.  These aren't the same standards I try to keep to at home.  Whatever.

This past weekend was no exception, although I would like to point out a few things that I found interesting. 
  • Everything we ate, we ate at camp, meaning we didn't eat any meals out.  We usually eat at least one meal out when we camp, so I consider this a small victory.
  • When we left home, in addition to beer and water, we had three 2-liter bottles of soda and a gallon of homemade iced tea.  By the time we got home, the tea was nearly gone, and we had consumed less than a bottle of the soda.  Our water was about 3/4 gone, and we didn't have any beer left.
  • The homemade cookies I made didn't get touched at all until we got home|
  • In the s'mores department, we still had graham crackers, marshmallows AND chocolate left over.
  • On the other hand, there was only half of one of the three bags of chips left, and the french onion dip was completely gone by the end of the second day. 
  • True confession time:  I just don't like s'mores.  Every camping season I try one, take a bite or two, then pass it on to Kat or Shane.  This year I tried one with dark chocolate, thinking maybe it wouldn't be so sweet.  Nope.  Still couldn't do it. 
  • Thus, I've decided that my ideal s'more would be savory.  The graham crackers would be replaced with saltines, the chocolate replaced with cheese, and the marshmallow replaced with ham.  If that happened, the s'more would be my BFF.
Anyway...we did a little cooking and a lot of eating at camp.  Here are a few pics, and I'll try to post a couple of recipes to follow them up tomorrow or Thursday.

Homemade sugar cookie bars.

Friday night's supper of burgers and dogs.

Oh yes it was!

Sausage rolls for breakfast, but they tasted more like an hors d'oeuvre.

Sauteed zucchini, onion and red pepper to go with....

chunks of pork loin simmered in a slow cooker...

thickened with gravy mix...

and served over whole wheat pasta.  We ate every last bit of it.

These were good.

A breakfast casserole (thanks A.Marie), and pre-made hash brown patties.

Our friend John calls these cowboy potatoes.  Potatoes, Vidalia onions, season salt and butter...

wrapped in foil...

and grilled until tender.  Yum!

Monday, May 28, 2012

First Camping Trip of The Season - Watkins Mill State Park

Those of you who were readers of my previous blog may remember that we upgraded from our pop-up camper to a "hybrid" camper late last summer.  A hybrid camper has the convenience of a hard-sided camper, but because it has drop-down beds like a pop-up camper, it is is lighter in weight than conventional campers of the same length.

Since we bought it in August of last year, we were only able to take it out a couple of times.  Naturally, we were eager to get out in it this year.  Our first destination was Watkins Mill State Park and Historic Site, which is just north of us by about an hour.

A highlight of the trip included a doe (or maybe more than one) that strolled through the thin wooded strip between our campsite and the next.  We spotted her there three out of the four days we were there.  We also witnessed a barred owl being successfully called in from the wild by one of the park rangers; it was close enough we could see its face clearly.

If you want to see detailed pictures of our camper, go HERE (my old blog).

If you want more information about Watkins Mill State Park/Watkins Woolen Mill Historic Site, go HERE.

Patiently waiting as we set up camp.

Our home away from home.

Doe, about 50-60 feet from the camper.  Saw her (or another like her) three of the four days we were there.

"Oh, taxi!"


Camera fell lens-up on the picnic table, so I snapped a picture.

So tired, she can't see straight.

Nice campfire.

Sunday morning 'do.

Blowin' bubbles.

Down the lane to the mill.

Baaaaaaaad picture.

Outside the mill.

Summer kitchen at Bethany, the Watkins' family home.

Back of Bethany.  Summer kitchen (detached) to the right.  Open door leads to dining room of home.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Face the Music - Billy Currington - People Are Crazy

Billy Currington - People Are Crazy

I like everything about this one. The melody, the story, the observation of the human condition, the irony. Oh yeah, don't forget the beer. Beer is good.

Heading out for a weekend of camping.  Everyone have a great weekend and stay safe!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cheese-Stuffed Pork Roast

I found this in my recipe card file, in my own handwriting, so I have no idea where it came from.  It was probably from a magazine clipping, but I can't be sure.  At first glance, it seems a little involved, what with the pounding, the rolling, the tying, but it really wasn't that difficult at all.  It makes a nice roast for company, or just for your own family.

If you're bothered by the heavy cream, I think half-and-half would work fine.

Cheese-Stuffed Pork Roast

1 Tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon lemon pepper
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 Tablespoons heavy cream
4 ounces shredded Swiss cheese
1 pork loin roast (2 to 2-1/2 pounds)
6 ounces deli sliced ham
1 teaspoon paprika (I forgot to add this and it didn't make much difference)
1/2 teaspoon dry marjoram leaves
1/2 teaspoon dry oregano leaves
1/2 teaspoon dry basil leaves

Cream Sauce:
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon sour cream
salt to taste

Combine flour, lemon pepper, butter and cream.  Stir in cheese; set aside.

Cut a lengthwise slit down center of roast to within 1/2" of bottom.  Open roast so it lies flat; cover with plastic wrap.  Using a meat mallet or rolling pin, flatten to 3/4-inch thickness. 

Remove plastic; place ham slices over roast.  Spread cheese mixture lengthwise down the center of one side of the roast to within 1-1/2 inch of ends.

Roll roast, starting with the long side with the cheese mixture on it.  Tie several times with string; secure ends with toothpicks.

Heat oven to 325°F. Combine paprika, marjoram, oregano and basil; rub over the roast.  Place on a rack in a shallow roasting pan.  Bake uncovered at 325°F for 75-90 minutes or to an internal temperature of 160°F.  Let stand 10 minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile, in a skillet, saute onion in butter until tender.  Stir in cornstarch.  Whisk in cream and broth.  bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.  Remove from heat and stir in sour cream. 

Slice roast and serve with cream sauce.

Makes about 8 servings.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Just Hang On...

I had a very full weekend, lots to do today and tomorrow,
and then Kat's summer vacation begins Wednesday.

Just hang on...I will be back later (today? tomorrow?
this week?) to publish a proper post.


Friday, May 18, 2012

Face the Music - Son Volt - Ten Second News

Stick around long enough and you'll find that I love music with minor tones, like this one.  Son Volt is one of very my favorite groups, and this is one of my favorite songs of all time. 

This song is, to me, hauntingly beautiful.  In it's lines "there's a beach there known for cancer waiting to happen" and "there's a cough in the water and it's running into town" it references Missouri's Time Beach hazardous waste disaster and subsequent evacuation of the 1980s.

If you don't know the band Son Volt, or the band it evolved from, Uncle Tupelo (which also spawned the band Wilco), check them out on you tube.  Wilco has a more pop sound now, but Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt are alternative-country at it's finest.  And I promise, their music isn't all gloom and doom...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Beef Tips and Gravy

I love trying new recipes, so for a dish to make it into heavy rotation, it has to be something we all love.  I make this one about once ever 6 weeks or so. 

I learned to make huge amounts of this dish when I worked for a caterer. I did the math and made it manageable for the home kitchen, and it's become a family favorite. Lately, I make it with venison; I think I like it even better that way. 

Warning:  Do not make this dish unless you want your house to smell amazing.

Beef Tips and Gravy

Roux (for thickening gravy):

1 stick butter
3/4 cup flour

Combine and cook over medium heat until mixture is bubbly and gives off a nutty aroma, about 3-5 minutes. Note that the darker the roux is allowed to cook, the "darker" your gravy will taste.

Set roux aside. (If all if it is not used in this recipe, you can refrigerate it for use at a later date.)

Beef Tips

1 lbs. beef, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
pan spray (I use a refillable sprayer with peanut oil or olive oil)
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 onion, cut into chunks
mushrooms, cut into chunks (optional, as many or few as you like)
1-1/2 cups water*
1 10-ounce cans beef consomme*
browning sauce, such as Kitchen Bouquet

*I usually use 3 cups of homemade or store-bought beef broth in place of the water and consomme, although consomme does have a richer flavor, IMO.

Heat oven to 350° F.

Spray bottom and sides of oven-proof skillet or casserole dish with non-stick spray. Combine garlic powder, seasoned salt, dried thyme leaves and pepper. Sprinkle half of this mixture over bottom of pan. Place meat cubes in pan and sprinkle remaining spice mixture over the top. Bake in oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

Remove pan from oven. Reduce heat to 250°. Pour water and beef consomme carefully around beef cubes. Add onion and mushrooms. Cover pan, return it to oven, and let simmer gently for at least 2 hours or until meat is very tender.

Remove pan from oven and sit on top of stove. While liquids are still very hot, carefully whisk roux into liquids a spoonful at a time, until desired thickness is achieved. Gravy will be light to medium brown. If desired, stir in browning sauce, a little at a time, until deeper color is achieved.

Taste gravy and adjust seasonings to taste.

Cover and set aside until ready to serve.


1 8-ounce package of dry egg noodles or medium pasta shapes
olive oil
fresh or dried parsley

Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain.

Drizzle lightly with olive oil and toss to coat; this keeps noodles from sticking together.

Sprinkle with parsley flakes and toss again.

Portion noodles onto serving plates or wide shallow bowls. Top with beef tips and gravy. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.


Add 1/4 cup or so of dry red wine with the water and beef consomme for a richer flavor.

Stir 1/4 cup or so of sour cream just before serving for more of a stroganoff flavor.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Not Always Scratchy

I love to make things from scratch whenever I can.  I like knowing what is in the foods or products I make and usually have a good time making taco seasoning mix, Ranch salad dressing, soap, window cleaner or whatever it is I'm making on a given day.  The extra effort is usually worth it to me in superior quality and/or peace of mind.

On the other hand, there are some things I just don't bother with.  Here is a short list of things I don't (or seldom) make from scratch along with my reason(s) why.  Remember, your mileage may vary.

1) Jams and Jellies - The reason why I don't make wholesome jams and jellies from our homegrown berries or local fruit is because....we don't eat them.  Between the three of us, we go through one or maybe two small jars of jam or jelly in a year.  It's just not our thing. Many people give jams as gifts, but for a number of reasons, that doesn't work for us, either.  So, instead of making jams and jellies, I just buy them homemade from someone at the farmers' market or spend a little extra and buy a quality brand of fruit spread from the store.

2) Yogurt - It's not that I don't ever make homemade yogurt, I just don't do it often.  The reason, again, is because we don't eat a lot of it.  To be more accurate, our yogurt eating is sporadic.  Kat and I go through phases where we eat it almost daily, then drop it like a hot potato for months.  So, I make it sometimes, when we're in a yogurt-eating phase.  When I start making a lot of yogurt cheese because I know we aren't going to eat it as plain yogurt, I know it's time to stop making it for a while.  We recently discovered dairy kefir, which is a yogurt-like probiotic drink.  I find it easier and quicker to make than yogurt, so sometimes make it instead.  Also, I have no problem buying the occasional tub of quality yogurt from the store.

3) Homemade Dishwasher Detergent - We make our own bath soap and laundry powder, so you'd think I'd be all over this idea. I've tried and tried to find a homemade dishwasher formula that I'm happy with, but I haven't found it yet.  Until I do (if ever), I buy commercial detergent and cut it with some baking soda and borax (ingredients in most homemade dishwasher detergents) to make it go farther.

4) Mayonnaise - I think knowing how to make homemade mayo is a good skill to have in a pinch, but for the cost of farm eggs and good oil (for me, that means not canola, soybean or corn oil), there is no savings to be had by making our own.  My family and I also find the homemade stuff a little too eggy for our tastes.  Since the oil is the only ingredient in commercial mayonnaise that I have a big problem with, we'll either just cut back on how much we use, or fork out the extra for mayonnaise made with better oils, like olive oil. 

5) Flour Tortillas - As with the yogurt, it's not that I won't make them, but I won't make them often.  We have some Hispanic markets in our town and I can usually find locally-made tortillas that are made with manteca (lard) instead of hydrogenated shortening.  When I'm busy (when am I not?), I'd prefer to buy good tortillas rather than roll out my own.

6) Hand Sanitizer and/or Disinfectant Wipes - I don't buy these products and don't see the need to make them, either.

7) Granola.  I've made homemade granola and it's great tasting stuff -- much tastier and healthier than boxed cereal. guessed it...we just don't eat it.  None of us really likes cold cereal; I found a box of cereal in the pantry last week that had a 2010 expiry date on it.  I don't eat it at all, and the other two lose interest after a bowl or two.   The same goes for granola, so after making two batches, I called it quits. 

Can you add to this list?  What do you NOT make from scratch that other DIY and homesteader-type folks seem to be making all the time?  Why?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Time For A Garden Update

Good morning and I hope everyone had a nice Mother's Day yesterday.  We had planned to go the the Kansas City Zoo, but Shane woke up not feeling well.  He went back to bed twice during the day -- unheard of for him -- so I knew he was really feeling yucky.  He's better now, though.  I ended up spending the day reorganizing my kitchen cabinets and going through my recipe files at a leisurely pace.  Not at all what I had planned for the day, but it was a nice day all the same.

I haven't done a garden update for a while, so I think that's what I'll offer you this morning.

My throwback flower child.

We've been getting a cup or two of strawberries every couple of days.

Pyramid of lettuces, beets, carrots, etc., is looking a little wild. 
We already cleared out all the radishes.

Radishes in another bed.  Overcrowded, but, oh well...

Ground cherries.  Not sure what to expect with these.

Kat's cabbage from school is growing very well.

Kat's "Moon and Stars" watermelon, also growing well.

Spinach not doing well this year.  I think it'll get cleared out to make way for
peppers or cucumbers. (This spot is sunny after mid-morning.)

Peas took their sweet time, but are finally growing.

Turnip beauty.

Swiss chard is ready!

We thought our kohlrabi and other brassicas were goners,
but they have finally shown signs of growth.

We still have tomatoes in the freezer from last summer. 
This year we are growing only eight tomato plants.

Blackberries starting to get some color.

We won't get more than a few raspberries,
but the plants are healthy and growing.

This bed needs work.  Onions near the fence, garlic toward the yard.
Fourth year blueberries in the middle haven't produced yet;
they will be replaced with more blackberries, we think.


Jerusalem artichokes...

will eventually tower over this fence and block us from the view of
ever-barking dogs at the house behind us.

The last of the irises.

Wild columbine.

A week or so ago, I was ready to say screw the garden.  I was in a funk, Shane was working overtime and/or out of town for a while, plants were growing slowly, yet there was still so much to be done out there.  But things finally broke loose -- the weather, the overtime, the mood I was in -- and now we are feeling encouraged again.

And just when I think we're done planting, we're not!  We put green beans and sweet corn in late last week.  When the corn is a few inches tall, we'll plant pinto beans, some zucchini and some butternut squash in with it to follow a Three Sisters planting.  Also, we still have to plant bell peppers and cucumbers.

Stick around and see what happens.
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