Simple Summer Garden Salsa

It was a sad day around here when we finished up the last jar of homemade salsa, a good four or five months before the next batch of garden tomatoes would be a reality.  This year we are going to have to manage the supply a little closer, so some of you that received salsa … Continue reading

Blizzard-Perfect Broccoli Cheese Soup

Yes, it is April 14 and blizzarding in Eastern Montana.  I will stand by what I have said before about loving where we live, but I admit I am ready for spring!  As my Dad always says, this kind of weather is what “keeps the riff-raff out.”  There is always a silver lining. Olive Oil … Continue reading

T-Bones and No Time

During the week, it is seriously crazy around here, like any household today juggling work, school, and everything else that gets thrown at us all on a regular basis.  It is VERY easy to get into the habit of finding any excuse not to make supper when you get home at night, and believe me even those of us that LIKE to cook are not immune from this tendency.  Cold cereal or a fried egg sandwich certainly have their regular turn as a substitute for a real weeknight meal in this house.  If there was a Pizza Hut closer than 60 miles away I would have it on speed dial.

After an undisclosed period of not sitting down to the table in the evenings for a family meal, guilt finally motivates me to reward the family with a meal that actual requires setting plates and silverware on the table.  Especially following a weekend of the family having to endure another cake-making project taking over the kitchen, it is nice to reward them with some grilled steaks.  Never mind that it happened to be about four degrees and snowing.  Seriously, that shouldn’t stop you from rolling out the grill (unless the drifts on the driveway are actually large enough to physically prevent you from rolling out the grill).  We had a friend over a few weeks ago who reminded me that there is no law against grilling year-round, and my mouth has been watering for a fire-grilled hunk of meat ever since.


It wasn’t actually snowing when we started this project, but as you can see by the time the grill was pre-heated it was snowing right along.  One benefit of this versus grilling in the summer is that the beer you are drinking while you grill stays nice and cold.  This is as close up as you get to see my grill so you can’t actually see that it is long overdue for a good scrub.  Priorities, people – it gets 550 degrees in there which I consider to be “self-cleaning.”

Several years of practice and a very particular husband (who is adamantly anti-marinade and anti-frou-frou anything) have taught me a few things about grilling a perfect steak.  If you’re still reading at this point, then you get to share in a few of our secrets (which probably aren’t so secret but probably are things you may not always think about):

1.  Make sure your steaks are thoroughly thawed out and if possible even let them sit out of the fridge for a bit until they are almost room temperature.  They grill much more quickly, cook evenly and won’t “seize up” (like when the sides curl all up and you get a little crater on top) when they hit the hot grill.  This requires a little pre-planning on our part as that same husband is also anti-microwave and we do not own one of those abominable contraptions, but that is a topic for another day.

2. Preheat your grill.  Also known as the self-cleaning cycle on my grill.  If you haven’t yet sprung for a top-of-the line grill that gets screaming hot, like me (it’s on my list, but hey I’m cheap) then basically just fire that puppy up on high and let it heat up while you make the side dish, set the table, change a diaper, whatever – until the temperature dial is all the way to the right (assuming the temp dial still works on your cheap grill).  If you do have a nice grill, then look for it to hit that 550+ range.  You want the snowflakes to sizzle when they hit the outside.

Kosher salt is a MUST!

Kosher salt is a MUST!

3.  Kosher salt, fresh-ground pepper and good-quality beef are the three legs of the mouthwatering-steak stool.  Check out the marbling on these babies.  Whoever came up with the term “marbling” is a marketing genius.  That beautiful intermingling of white fat is what will give every bite of these steaks a flavor like you don’t get from any run-of-the-mill Wal-Mart steak or definitely from any piece of chicken.  Use a liberal amount of kosher salt (or a large-grain sea salt – the large grains are important) and grind a good amount of pepper on both sides.  The kosher salt will form that yummy crust on the outside when it hits the grill, as opposed to a fine-grained salt which just dissolves into the meat.  Don’t season your steaks until just before they are ready to hit the grill.

4.  Now for the fun part.  When your grill is preheated, lay the steaks on the grill over the flame and don’t move them.  You want nice pretty grill marks.  Sometimes I will rotate a steak 90 degrees to get the nice criss-crossed grill marks, but you really have to babysit them to do that and usually there are three little people vying for my time louder than the T-Bones.  Still, you can’t leave them alone too long, because this really doesn’t take more than about five minutes total if you are doing it right.  Start at about 2-3 minutes on the first side, with the grill still on high and the cover closed.  If you try to lift the steak and it doesn’t release from the grate easily, then let it be for another 30-60 seconds until it does.  Flip onto side 2, give it another couple minutes (probably less than the first side since it’s already starting to cook in the center), and just when you start to see the red juices seeping out of the top side you are DONE.  Also don’t use a fork to poke the steaks when you turn them – that releases the yummy juices and you want those to stay inside.  Use a spatula or tongs with rubber grips.

Mmmmm...can you smell it?

Mmmmm…can you smell it?

5.  Let the steaks rest on a plate before cutting into them.  This may be the most difficult step because at that point your mouth will be watering like a rabid dog’s from the smell of that grilled meat.  I will admit that the resting period doesn’t always last as long as the Food Network will tell you it should in this household.  Remember, sometimes it’s been a few days since these poor people had a decent meal.

Here is what you get for your efforts.

Grilled T-Bone

Grilled T-Bone

If you are one of “those people” that doesn’t like a medium rare or rare steak, I won’t judge you, but I will highly recommend that you reevaluate your opinion and at least give it a try.  What I always shoot for is the hot reddish-pink center, which is what you will get if you follow the steps above including letting it rest.  The meat is hot when it comes off the grill and will continue to cook assuming your ravenous family hasn’t already devoured it.  There is no such thing as a juicy, flavorful well-done steak.

These T-Bones barely lasted long enough for me to take a picture.  The kids especially like the T-Bones so they can gnaw on the bones, but I am a sucker for the fillet side of these bad-boys which you can cut with a fork and it melts in your mouth.  The fillets (small side to the right of the “T”) were especially good-sized and flavorful on these steaks.

Also I don’t mean to imply that you can’t get good (enough) beef at Wal-Mart.  I am sure their product is perfectly safe and they have probably opened up a whole new market for our industry.  However, I guarantee it is not going to taste like the beef you can get direct from a local ranch, it probably has about 2,000 miles on it before it gets to your house, and for sure it makes the owners of Wal-Mart even richer instead of supporting your local economy.  If you kept track of the price of every retail meat purchase you make, I bet you would also find that local beef is actually more affordable when bought by the whole, half or quarter.  For those of us that live in a rural area that also makes it much more accessible.

As you can see, a better-than-restaurant-quality meal is possible at home on a weeknight.  Throw together a simple spinach leaf and tomato salad and throw some spuds in the oven to bake (those are potatoes for those not from Montana) or any of a million other simple sides, and sit down at the table with your family for a meal.  Happy grilling!



Trying this recipe tomorrow.  Love the name of her blog.  Cheese?  Good.  Potatoes?  Good.  Half & half?  Good.  As a side dish for homemade steak strips?  Oh yeah.

Saturdays and Deep Freezes

I love Saturdays.  As you can probably tell from the reduced frequency of postings, I have gone back to work and into survival mode during the week.  I will readily admit that simply making sure everyone is fed and clothed, especially during weeks like this one where I put on over 1,200 miles and was fighting a cold, is challenging given my motivation level when I finally get home.  On Saturdays, however, (in between approximately 127 loads of laundry) I finally have a little freedom to experiment in the kitchen and enjoy feeding the family.

This Saturday, I started with a little something for me after seeing this on Pinterest.  I didn’t waste any time giving this one a shot, and it is definitely a keeper.  One of the main appeals was that I had all these things in my pantry, which is fairly important when you are 20 miles from the nearest grocery store and the roads are lousy.  You will never see me post or pin a recipe that requires 17 gourmet imported ingredients, half of which you will never use again and they will rot in your pantry.

I took the ease of this recipe one step further by using some Hershey’s caramel sauce which I happened to have on hand thanks to my awesome and beautiful sister-in-law (thanks Rach!), and I just used regular coffee.  It was EXCELLENT, and unlike my usual cup of coffee which sits on the counter until it is lukewarm, the entire thing was gone in one sitting.  It was probably better than the Starbucks version as I am not a huge fan of their coffee (I am a coffee wuss, which is probably why I like these recipes that are one part coffee and three parts sugar and fat – the Starbucks coffee is a little on the bitter side in my opinion).  The sea salt really makes this and I highly recommend giving this recipe a try.  I am also going to have to try her Salted Caramel cupcakes, but in the interest of not gaining 10 more pounds we’ll hold off on that one until someone else is here to help us eat them.  And yes, those are fresh-baked cookies in the background.  Like I said, Saturdays are awesome.

Homemade Salted Caramel Mocha

Homemade Salted Caramel Mocha

I also had to share Roy’s skill in packing a deep freeze, which seemed to be a fitting topic for a Saturday where it is also four degrees below zero outside (get it – deep freezes?).  We just got our beef back from Golva so we are re-stocked for another year.  Seriously, how nice is it to be able to go to the freezer in my house and choose from literally dozens of different cuts of the best-quality, homegrown beef?  I don’t know exactly how much time this saves me at the grocery store, but on a monthly basis I am sure it would be counted in hours, not minutes.  Not having to visit the meat counter on my one weekly grocery trip (sometimes it’s even less often than that) results in substantial savings to my time, sanity, and our wallets.  It takes a big freezer for us, since we are feeding six people plus several branding/weaning/working cows crews throughout the year, so most people probably would not need a freezer this size.  A typical family could probably get by with any small to medium size chest or upright freezer available at your local hardware or furniture store that would fit easily in your basement or garage.  We can haul two whole processed beefs boxed up in the back of a suburban, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding a spot for one quarter or half – it would probably even fit in the refrigerator-freezers of two well-organized fridges (c’mon, we all know there is some extra room in the freezer of that old fridge you keep in the basement to keep your beer cold).

A Well-Stocked Freezer

A Well-Stocked Freezer

Off to continue the Saturday festivities – homemade chili is on the agenda for dinner, made with (of course) homegrown ground beef and canned tomatoes from this summer’s garden.  Out of all the cuts of beef that you will enjoy most out of your freezer from a local rancher, the quality and taste of your ground beef will make you a believer.  The texture, the lean versus fat content, and the flavor of our ground beef literally makes most retail ground beef seem nearly inedible.  Form this stuff into a patty, add some coarse salt and fresh ground pepper and throw it on a hot grill for five minutes, and you have a gourmet hamburger with no need for a bunch of extras to mask the flavor.  You will learn to love the REAL flavor of beef!

Sledding and Homemade Marshmallows

Good friends, good food, crock pot hot chocolate and homemade marshmallows – what a great way to ring in the new year! I also made a (gasp) chicken in the crock pot using the winter BBQ recipe from my new Southern Cooking recipe book, another Christmas gift I love (my kids think it’s weird that I sit in the living room and read a cookbook). For me, butchering a whole chicken is like Riley’s theory of tomatoes and ketchup – it’s like revenge on chickens. It was a local farm-raised bird, and I will admit it wasn’t bad slathered in spices and sauce. Unlike good beef, which of course has an excellent flavor all on its own.

The highlight of the day were the homemade marshmallows, a recipe I finally got brave enough to try this year. It is actually quite simple and is one I will definitely make again.  I used the one from Taste of Home (big fan).  It did not take me 15 minutes for them to whip up; it took about 7-8 with the KitchenAid mixer.  This is a lot like making White Mountain frosting; you’r just using gelatin instead of egg whites.  Like the meat thermometer for a good prime rib, the candy thermometer is not optional unless you enjoy throwing away large batches of ingredients.  These were so much fun to decorate – there is really no limit to the many coatings and toppings you can use.  I just filled several small dishes with sprinkles, colored sugars, cocoa, and crushed candies and let the kids decorate to their heart’s content.  The ones covered in crushed candy cane were a big hit.  I also had some blue tinted white chocolate candy coating left over from a cake pops project that we drizzled on a few and then topped with sprinkles.




These were very tasty floating in a hot cup of crock pot hot cocoa – pour a can of sweetened condensed milk (heaven in a can) into a 3 quart slow cooker, add 7 1/2 cups water, 1/2 cup of dry baking cocoa, and 1 1/2 tsps good vanilla, stir, and set on low for 4 hours or until a bunch of short people covered in snow rush your front door. For the big people, a nice snort of peppermint schnapps is the perfect finishing touch.

Wishing you lots of hot cocoa and gooey marshmallows in 2013!





Prime Rib

We are having our New Year’s Eve supper tonight – prime rib. Wish you could smell my house right now. This is another example of a beef recipe that is so simple it’s not even really a recipe. I like to use a standing rib roast, as the bones act as a rack and give the meat great flavor. You can also use a rib roast without the bone. Make sure you know what your roast weighs so you know how long to cook it. Use a kitchen scale or check the label on your roast if you bought it retail. For a bone-in roast, we figure about a pound of raw roast per person. Remember how much beef we eat, however – you may be able to get by with less especially if you are serving several sides.


As you may have guessed, this is a homegrown rib roast. Look at the awesome color of the meat and the great marbling. And by the way, this particular roast is not from some 1400 pound steer from a feedlot. It is from a heifer calf that didn’t want to grow like the rest, so we kept her for ourselves and had most of it made into sausage, jerky, etc. I also made my first ever tenderloin medallions from this animal, which I must say were flippin’ awesome. I forgot to to take pictures that day, I guess I was too busy eating.

Thaw the roast, and take it out of the fridge an hour or so before you put it in the oven. Cold meat will seize up when placed in a hot oven. Place your roast fat-side up so that the yummy goodness can seep into the entire roast as it melts.

There are many ways you can season a prime rib, but I like to keep it simple. You will see that theme again later when we talk about steaks. No reason to marinate good meat and ruin the meat-tacular flavor. Coat the roast with kosher salt and a simple dry rub – any prime rib or beef rub you find at the store or a dry rub you make yourself will be just fine. Use enough salt so it can form a crust – it will seem like a lot of salt, but remember you are seasoning several pounds of meat. Meat thermometers are not optional when making the perfect prime rib. Get an oven-safe thermometer and stick it in the middle of the raw roast, making sure it is not touching the bone. Do NOT add water or other liquids.

Pop it in a 350 degree preheated oven uncovered in a shallow roasting pan, and relax while the aroma begins to permeate your entire home. For a bone-in roast like this one, you want the thermometer to hit 135 degrees. This should take anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours depending on the size of your roast, your oven, and other factors. Check the temp every 20 minutes or so after the first hour. You can do 150 if you are one of those squeamish well-done people, but don’t blame me when your prime rib is dry. Seriously, 135, and then make sure to let the roast rest for at least 15 minutes after you take it out of the oven. It will continue to cook and you will even see the thermometer continue to rise after it is out of the oven. Resting also allows all the juices to redistribute throughout the roast so every bite is moist and flavorful. Resist the temptation to gnaw on it right out of the oven. You should hear this thing sizzling in the oven right now. So good, and so easy. Try it yourself on the 31st, and let me know how it goes!


The finished product!  And some Yorkshire Pudding to go with it.  One cup flour, one cup milk, and two eggs – mix together and pour into the pan drippings from the roast, bake at 425 for about 20 minutes.  Yes, it tasted as good as it looks.  Four of us (two who are under the age of 9) ate it down to what you see in the last photo.  I have to give Roy credit for most of that effort.  It’s that good.

IMG_3699          IMG_3698     IMG_3703

Baked from a Box: Cake Batter Fudge – 10 Minute Recipe!

Baked from a Box: Cake Batter Fudge – 10 Minute Recipe!.

Just made these.  Had to fight with the kids over who got to lick the bowl.  Yum!  Good project for them to help with.  The only downside was our lack of a microwave, which we do not own because my husband is categorically opposed to their use for any purpose whatsoever.  It is possible to melt butter on the stovetop.

Christmas Eve Cocktail

Christmas Eve Cocktail

Christmas Eve Cocktail

For all you other parents of young children who end up spending most of your Night Before Christmas wrapping gifts and fighting with “some assembly required” toys and instructions in every language except real English, this might help.  Roy brought me some special presents from the liquor store this year, which I used to whip up this sweet little concoction.  Fill a cocktail shaker half way with ice, add a shot of creme de cocoa (I used the white but they tell me the dark is basically the same thing, just a different color – the white is prettiest in this wintery version), a shot of peppermint schnapps, and about 2.5 shots of milk.  Shake this up and strain into chilled cocktail glasses.  Garnish with a candy cane (I’m cheap, so I broke one in half for these two cocktails).  If it sits for a bit, the candy cane gives its a beautiful pink tint at the bottom.  Mine do not usually last long enough for this part, but they still taste awesome.  Creamy, chocolatey, minty and delicious – Ho Ho Ho!

Christmas Eve Cocktail

Christmas Eve Cocktail

In case you are wondering about the name…

Anyone who knows me at all, or anyone who attended North Dakota State anytime during the latter 90’s, will know that the name of the blog has absolutely nothing to do with being a nun.

Our son has always called his older sister, “Sister,” and since she was only two when he was born, it was easier for her to call him “Riles” instead of Riley, thus the name. Number three isn’t represented in that name, but I can about guarantee that any shameless kid pics posted on the blog will feature her, so she will certainly get her own 15 minutes. Photos taken of her by far outnumber even my food pics.

A Dose of Reality

At times bitter ... always good for you.

Manhattan girl with a love for travel and food

A Sweeter Thing

Food, Family & Fun from the Heart of Beef Country

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A field guide to living an intentional, creative and fun life -- with children.

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