Monday, September 27, 2010

Cooking Bacon on the Waffle Iron

A few months ago I watched a video where Chef Alton Brown cooked his bacon on a waffle iron. I figured this was a pretty ingenious idea. I tried it.

Previously, I had been cooking my bacon in the oven on a roll pan/cookie sheet. The downside to this method is that you have to have a pretty hot oven (heats up the whole house, which is not ideal in the summer) and you have to turn the bacon over half way through cooking it. The more contact I have with a hot oven, the more likely I am to burn myself somehow. Oh, and while the bacon cooks, it wallows in its own fat. Turns out pretty tasty, but I was open to finding a better way to cook bacon.

So, the first time I tried cooking bacon with Alton's waffle iron method, I used my Black & Decker Waffle Iron/Grill. I didn't put the grill on a cookie sheet when I cooked the bacon as Alton Brown does in his video... and my counter wasn't exactly 100% level, so the grease went the path of least resistance and made a mess all over my counter, not to mention making a huge mess out of my waffle iron! I figured I'd go back to cooking bacon in the oven.


But, my stubborn streak forced me to try it again a while later. This time, I placed a cookie sheet under my grill and securely propped up the grill in the back against the rim of the cookie sheet so that the grease would collect in the right direction. My results were much better. Good enough that this is now my preferred bacon cooking method. I think this would work great with a George Foreman Grill as well. Though I don't have one, so I don't know. In the above pictures I'm cooking turkey bacon so there is minimal fat. I can cook about 4 strips at a time and it only takes about 2-3 minutes to cook.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What CAN I Drink Out Of?


Once plastic was seen as a miracle invention. Now with news of BPA and other harmful substances that can leach out of plastics the consumer is left to wonder what to do next. Buy the latest miracle invention?... And in 20 years they'll find something bad about that. It's just how it is. There is a side effect to every great advance.

As a result of rearing four children, I recently found my supply of mugs and glasses running low. Tired of cleaning up the remnants of broken beverage containers too often, I was really hoping to buy something a bit more kid-proof this time around. I figured I'd go with plastic, but with the recent buzz over BPA, I was having second thoughts. Yeah, I know that living causes cancer, but if I can try to prevent it with the knowledge available, provided it won't break the bank, I'll do it. So I searched for PBA-free plastic tumblers. There is BPA free plastic... but the cost is relatively steep, in my opinion for something that hasn't withstood the test of time yet.

Then I revisited tried and true glass. I had written glass off initially because, well, it breaks. But, not all glass does. And it has withstood the test of time. My answer? Duralex Glasses. French. Heat treated/tempered. Very durable. I Ordered twelve 8.75 oz. cups. They are nice and heavy. Great for everyday. Love how they are shaped- good for dunking cookies. Easy to hold. I'm going to order some 12 oz. ones too. They are great in the dishwasher, come out dry and without any little pools of water on the bottom. Duralex makes bowls and plates too...

Also check out: http://www.zoebonline.com/kidishes-kid-friendly-tempered-glass-duralex.html

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

My First Summer of Charcoal Grilling

Our grilled pizza over a campfire on a family vacation.
Unconfirmed sources say that 75% of Americans own an outdoor grill. Until this year, I was part of that 25% who didn't own a grill. I was never very interested in grilling because I always thought that grilling was for people who eat a lot of meat and we just don't a tone of meat. Guess you could say we're flexitarians if you want to put a name to it.

But then I got to reading about how cooking your meals on an outdoor grill can help keep utility costs down in the summer. Since I hate heating up the house with the oven on a hot day, I was interested. Naturally, I read up on it. I learned that you can cook just about anything on a grill.

Next thing, I bought a cheapie charcoal grill from Home Depot just to give it a whirl. The first meal I did with the grill was grilled cheese and chicken sanwiches. They took forever to cook (like an hour). Stubborn little me had to figure out how to regulate temperature so that I could cook just about anything on a grill! I found this website most helpful when it comes to learning how to figure out if your grill is hot enough to cook with (it's a dutch oven cooking site, but the principles are similar):
http://www.dutchovendude.com/campfire-cooking.shtml

The basic idea is obvious, but new to me: if it feels as hot as the oven where you normally cook it, it's ready for the grill. If it's not hot enough, add more charcoal. Just stick your hand over the heated charcoal/fire. Closing the air vents or the grill lid will decrease the temperature. It's a lot the same for a campfire too. Only, with a campfire, it's easier to add wood to make it hotter than it is to make it cooler. Obvious, like I said, but brilliant to a newbie like me.

And then I started cooking. Yum. I've cooked with our dutch oven, aluminum foil, my regular pots, pans and casserole dishes and straight on the grill itself. Pizza is by far our most favorite thing to grill. And I've discovered what 75% of Americans already know. Not only does food taste wonderful from the grill, but it's also so much fun to cook.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Making Lotion

I decided to make my own lotion for a number of reasons.
1. It sounded fun.
2. My daughters all have varying degrees of eczema, so we go through A LOT of lotion.
3. I like expensive, smelly lotion.

There is more than enough information on the internet for making lotion. It can be confusing... to the point that I just about shied away from trying. All I wanted was a simple, basic recipe and maybe a bit of background info on all the ingredients and the process (but not TOO much!)

Here's the simple, basic recipe and tutorial I found, compliments of the Soap Queen: http://soap-queen.blogspot.com/2008/11/gift-series-lotion-tutorial-from.html I've used this recipe and tutorial a few times now with success every time.

Lotions recipes are quite involved when it comes to ingredients... so if you want to make something moisturizing that is very simple and only uses two main ingredients, perhaps this easy whipped shea butter should do the trick (also from the Soap Queen): http://soap-queen.blogspot.com/2010/01/easy-whipped-shea-butter.html

So, where to buy all the ingredients? I buy from Brambleberry.com but there are loads of other places online or perhaps you are lucky enough to live near an actual brick and mortar store!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Share Your Screen Using Skype

I often try to help out my mom with her computer questions. But she lives far enough from me that I can't just drive over and check out her computer. Hence, we often use Skype to communicate. If you've ever tried to help someone with a computer long distance you know that it can be very confusing for both parties, no matter how wonderful your communication may be. Well, my mom taught me about this really cool feature Skype has that allows you to share your screen. Once my mom shared her screen with me, it was a lot easier to walk her through her computer issue. It's great. It works with Mac OSX and Windows as well as Linux (you have to download the most recent Linux beta version 2.1).

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Makings of an Inexpensive Family Vacation

Yeah, the economy has got a lot of people talking about stay-cations and not taking a vacation at all. But I think it's even possible to take a vacation... just on less. We gave it a try. I'd like to share the strategy we used.

Guidelines for Planning an Inexpensive Vacation:
  • Decide how far you are willing to drive. (This decision should take into account your sanity and as well as your budget.) Check out this gas calculator from AAA.
  • Get a map and check out what places of interest there might be within your appointed travel radius.
  • Research your options. This is the exciting part. Bet you never knew how many unique things there are just within a few hours of your own home! Look for National Parks and Stake Parks (they have very reasonable admission rates) and free things to see and do.
  • Plan Lodging. Now, if you've got more than 1 kid, I don't suggest cramming yourselves into a hotel room. They are expensive and there is little room to play. Instead, check out camping options. Even if you are not much of a camper, there are some great campgrounds all over the country that rent out modest cabins (with bathrooms) for $45-150 a night. The benefit here is that your kids have a place to play (outside) and you can cook your own meals (over a fire or grill). Check reviews of the places you would like to stay before you make a decision. Reserve your lodging.
  • Food. You can bring a cooler or just buy it once you get to your destination. We do a combination of both. We planned to eat out for a couple of meals, but also made a menu of simple and tasty meals we could cook on a grill.
  • Lists: Make lots of lists. Type them up and save them so you won't have to come up with them again next year. If camping, make a list of cooking supplies you'll need, including groceries. Have a list of any bedding or toiletries you might need as well.
  • Budget Money for the sites you'd like to see, the trinkets you'll likely pick up along the way... and anything else.
CASE IN POINT
We just got back from our family vacation few weeks ago. We decided that we could stand to drive 8 hours each way. That took us to Mt. Rushmore. The admission is $10 a carload. Not bad for a family of six, huh? We camped at Rafter J Bar Ranch for about $93 a night (four nights). The cabin slept six people and had a kitchenette as well as grills and picnic table outside. We took a day to drive to Rapid City (30 min drive) to take in some free attractions there: Storybook Island (highly recommended- the kids could have stayed there all day, no joke) and Dinosaur Park (fun for the kids, but only a 20 min visit, really). Groceries cost us $80 for the trip. Gas cost us about $110. In total our trip was $650. For five fun days with the family, this was totally worth it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Remove Permanent Marker from Microfiber Couch

This title might lead you to infer that I, a mother of four, might have had to clean permanent marker from my microfiber couch recently. My first reaction might have been: AHHH! But, knowing that rubbing alcohol is a gentle, yet effective cleaning agent, I tried it and had success. Dab some rubbing alcohol on a lint free rag and blot the area. I followed the procedure with a light water rinse of the area. This works on a lot of different surfaces: walls, carpet, even the dust jacket of a book (not that I've had to). . . Not that anyone would ever need to remove permanent marker from anything of value.