Baked Barbeque Pork Chops

As much as I fear the backlash, I have to say it; I’m not fond of slow-cookers. I know others swear by them, not knowing how they would have ever lived without them. Not me though, I much prefer to use the oven. Why? I really have no idea.

I realize some meals are best cooked slowly. Yet sometimes we need a quicker meal when 5pm has snuck up on us, and we haven’t even started to think about what to make for diner yet. It was one of those nights when these tasty chops were born.

I was given less than 2 hours and 3 pork chops. This is what I came up with…

1.       Brown the Chops
In a medium pan, I tossed 3 chops with white wine vinegar, olive oil, and a bit of seasoning. I’ve always been a fan of fennel seeds, so those went in our mix, too. There are a dozen different ways you could pan-fry the chops until brown on both sides, so these ingredients are only suggestions. They looked a little something like this while cooking:

2. Cover & Bake
I used a combination of barbeque sauces we had on hand (about a full bottle total), and coated the bottom of a 9×13 glass pan with half the sauce, then poured the rest over the chops.Since these were thicker cuts (Iowa chops, to be exact), I set it to 400* for 45 minutes covered, then flipped them and baked an additional 10 minutes uncovered.

3.  Serve and Eat
To make sure there was enough BBQ sauce, I poured sauce over the chops when serving. You might think they weren’t “properly marinated”, but no one had any complaints. There was enough sauce on the plate you couldn’t really tell the difference between how long they were cooked.

Overall, these probably would have been better in the crockpot. Although with as big as these cuts were and with what little time they were in the oven, I think they turned out fabulous. It was easy and quick, too, so it’s absolutely going on our regular family meal list!

Top Movies of the 80s – Part 2

This is part two of the top twenty movies of the 80s, covering the last ten of the series. Keep in mind this is a personal list, and not compiled on any sort of data. See part one for the first ten movies in this series.

11. Poltergeist (1982)
A little girl’s late night interaction with ghosts in the TV, steaming from the house built over a burial ground. This movie is great because you get that “what if this was me” feeling, even if it’s just for a split second. While it doesn’t compare to the special effects of today, it’s still a classic.

12. Weekend at Bernie’s (1989)
When Bernie dies unexpected after promising two guys a weekend of fun at his beach house, they decide to make him keep that promise…and take him with. This particular movie had such a unique plot and so much humor, it was easy to overlook how “wrong” their actions really were.

13. The Burbs (1989)
Get Tom Hanks riled up and thinking something strange is going on at a neighbor’s house, and you have unlimited comedy. He thinks evil things are going on, and must find out what.

14. Short Circuit (1986)
Who doesn’t love giant talking robots? What makes Johnny 5 so awesome, though, is he has feelings by some strange electronic mishap. Never before has a movie made us say “awwww!” about a piece of machinery.

15. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
This one ranks in the “cult classic” section, since it was just so far out there as far as realism and seriousness. I bet it made you think twice about purchasing a Venus fly trap, though, didn’t it?

16. Gremlins (1984)
The idea that an adorable little fur-ball can reproduce such ugly offspring is enough to scare the hell out of all of us. A mixture of goofy and sweet humor made this movie worth watching several times.

17. Splash (1984)
Tom Hanks falls in love with a mermaid, unperceived to him. She can’t explain it either, for fear she’ll be turned into a science experiment. Sadly, she is anyway, and so is Tom Hanks. Darrel Hannah co-stars in this “true love conquers all” fairy tale story.

18. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989)
The 80s featured a lot of science experiments gone horribly wrong, which is exactly what this movie was about. Rick Moranis stars as a dedicated scientist focused on creating a machine that shrinks objects. A mishap by unattended kids leaves the adults scrambling to find the miniscule children in a suburban backyard.

19. Ruthless People (1986)
Two half-hearted kidnappers scheme to hold a millionaire’s wife (Bette Midler) for ransom. The plan starts to come unraveled when her husband (Danny DeVito) won’t give up the money and dares them to kill her off for him.

20. Pet Sematary (1989)
You can’t have a list of fantastic movies without mentioning Steven King. This classic explores the darker side of life and death, and why you shouldn’t meddle with it.

Feel free to add your own movies to the list!

7 Short Stephen King Novels

There’s no disputing how great of a writer Stephen King is. However, glancing at some of it his novels seems a bit intimidating to those who do not read much.

This list features seven short novels that Mr. King has written over the years, which are great for those with little time to read.

1. The Dead Zone
You may remember the TV series which aired briefly on USA. As with all movies and shows, the book was better. A perfect short read with a fantastic twist at the end.

2. Dolores Claiborne
What makes this particular book unique is the way the tale is explained. Dolores tells the story of how she killed her husband, in her own language and accent.

3. Gerald’s Game
There’s a reason this particular book was never made into a movie; the main character spent the entire story handcuffed naked to a bed. This story was the “other half” of Dolores Claiborne, although it doesn’t matter much which you read first.

4. Dreamcatcher
This particular book is a bit longer than the others, but still worth the read. If you’ve seen the movie, make sure you read the book, too. Of all the movies they’ve made out of Stephen King books, the movie from Dreamcatcher was missing the most details.

5. The Green Mile
Chances are you have seen this movie, since it was such a huge hit with well-known actors. The movie did not stray too much from the book, but the book is still more than worth a read. In the movie, just a few tiny details are missing or changed from the original story.

6. Insomnia
Suffering from insomnia? If so, you may want to pick up this book for entertainment on those long nights of no sleep. It keeps you guessing as to what’s going to happen next, without a hint of knowing the ending.

7. Bag of Bones
Similar to Insomnia in the way you can’t guess the ending. Full of twists and surprises that keep you reading.

Have you read short Stephen King books that aren’t on the list? Be sure to leave a comment with your own favorites!

Top Movies of the 80s – Part 1

I had so much fun making the list of 90s movies, that I decided to make another with my favorite movies from the 80s. When John Hughes was at the top of his game, and the 80s Brat Pack was everywhere you turned. This list is designed to remind you of some of the great movies from the 1980s, in no particular order. Keep in mind this is my personal list, and based on nothing but fond memories. You are more than welcome to leave a comment and let us know what YOUR favorite movie is!

This is part one of two articles featuring my favorite movies from this decade.

1. Breakfast Club (1985)
A true classic! This movie proved that no matter what niche you were from in high school, you were still a rebel at heart.

2. Planes Trains and Automobiles (1987)
Starring John Candy and Steve Martin in a fun-filled adventure where two mismatched friends attempt to make their way home for the holidays.

3. St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)
One of the movies that defined the “Brat Pack”, with an all-star cast of friends trying to figure life out after college.

4. Rain Main (1988)
This movie features Dustin Hoffman’s award winning role as Raymond Babbitt, an autistic man who has spent the majority of his life in a mental home. His life is changed drastically when he meets his brother, Charlie (Tom Cruise).

5. Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
A bored housewife named Roberta (Rosanna Arquette) acquires the identity of Susan (Madonna) through a jacket, amnesia, and a case of mistaken identity.

6. Beetlejuice (1988)
If you lived in the 80’s, it’s hard not to have seen this movie. After the drowning of a young couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis), the two become ghosts trapped in their own home and forced to share with a family of big city socialites. The newly dead seek out the help of the mischievous “Beetlejuice” to wreak havoc on the unwelcome new owners.

7. Parenthood (1989)
A quirky movie, that takes a look at the trials and treasures of parenting. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Steve Martin.

8. Big (1988)
As a kid, didn’t you always wish to be grown up? Twelve-year old Josh gets his wish, and overnight becomes a thirty year old man (Tom Hanks). Full of lots of laughs watching as he tries to figure out how to be “big” in the big city.

9. Look Who’s Talking (1989)
What made this particular movie fantastically hilarious was getting a glimpse of the mind of a baby. Kirstie Alley stars as the single mom to Mikey (voice of Bruce Willis), who has plenty of entertaining encounters with cab driver James (John Travolta).

10. Raising Arizona (1987)
Nicolas Cage and Edwina “Ed” McDonnough team up as an unlikely husband and wife (ex-con and ex-officer), who decide a local entrepreneur with new quintuplets has more than he can handle. The need to have a baby of their own drives them to simply take one baby off their hands in the middle of the night.

Be sure to read the rest of this list in part two!

Sparklers in the Spring

It’s hard to resist the beauty of a fresh spring day.  The air is crisp, the sun feels like warm hug, and the birds sing their annual announcement that it’s time to come out and play. With no restrictions of coats, hats, or gloves to protect from the blanket of fluffy bitter snow, the family is free to do just about any activity outdoors.

What is there to do when the weather is perfect after being in a deep freeze for months? You could bring out the bikes, go for a walk, start on your gardens, or visit the local park. Yet those are all clique ideas, and always the first that come to mind in the spring. So what else is there?

One activity we don’t often think of until mid-summer is playing with sparklers.  Since we happened to find some tucked away in the closet, leftover from Fourth of July last year, we thought, “why not?” We couldn’t think of anything better to do on a beautiful spring day than to light the sparklers for the kids at dusk, watch them dance around the front yard, and snap dozens of pictures.

The kids, ages eight and almost eleven, had an absolute blast. They made designs in the air, pretended they were Harry Potter characters, and enjoyed the glow of the sparks in their hands.  Even as it began to get dark and the wind got a little chilly, all we had to do was come back inside, since we were right outside our own home. By the time it was completely dark and we were finished, there was just enough time to settle down a bit before getting the kids ready for bed.

Even the ten-year-old boy had a fun playing, which you would think a kid of his age would be “too old” to enjoy a child’s activity. Yet he proved us wrong, enjoying himself just as much – if not more – than his younger sister.

From now on, we’ll be keeping an eye out for sparklers on sale after the 4th, or keeping them on hand for just such an occasion. When the skies are clear, and weather warm, we’ll be using sparklers as a fun spring outdoor activity, either as a reward or “just because”.

25 Family Meal Ideas

Sometimes all you need for supper is an idea, instead of a full recipe. Instead of sifting through endless pages on recipe sites, why not just scan through this quick list for a few tasty suggestions? This list is composed of our family favorites, and foods we make on a regular basis. No actual recipes are included in this list, so as to leave room for variations and for you to use your favorite recipes for each of the ideas.

1. Cheeseburgers
Probably one of the easiest meals you can make for your family. All you need is hamburger, cheese, and buns. Condiments are optional, and everyone can add their own depending on preference.

2. Tacos
Similar to the cheeseburgers, but replace taco shells of some sort for the buns, and add seasoning to your meat.

3. Pizza
Here you can get creative, and make homemade pizza in any way you’d like. You can choose to make your own pizza dough, or use store bought crust. Any toppings you like can be added, and you can even try making a few different types of pizzas at the same time to see which one becomes your personal family favorite.

4. Chicken Strips
Making chicken strips at home isn’t difficult at all. Breading is optional, but you have quite a few options if you decide to bread and fry them. You can also grill them if you have a stove-top grill.

5. Roast
If you have a little time earlier in the day, toss a roast in the oven and let it cook all day. Add your desired vegetables, cook, and enjoy!

6. Biscuits and gravy
Not just for breakfast! These can be made any time of the day for an easy family meal. You can make your own biscuits from scratch if you are ambitious enough, or buy them in the store. Gravy can also be made from scratch or purchased.

7. Quesadillas
If you own a griddle, a few quesadillas can make an entire meal. Be sure to offer sour cream or salsa on the side.

8. Spaghetti
This is fantastically easy meal if you use sauce bought at the store. Making it at home is an option, too!

9. Burritos
Do you have taco leftovers? If so, make some burritos! Fried or baked, these are delicious.

10. Meatloaf
It may have a bad rep, but did you know meatloaf can be made with just about anything? Crackers, bread crumbs, cereal, and even potato chips can be added to ground hamburger and baked. For less greasy meatloaf, use a higher percentage of hamburger (such as 90% or higher).

11. Crab Cakes
We refer to these as “Krabby Patties” around our house. If you have younger children and want them to experience new foods, gift this one a shot with the more appealing name.

12. Pork Chops
Simple, yet can be cooked in a variety of different ways. Generally we purchase thicker cuts, fry them until browned, and bake.

13. Fettuccini Alfredo
Like spaghetti, you can “cheat” by purchasing the jars of Alfredo sauce and adding it to pasta.

14. Steak & Mashed Potatoes
You’d be surprised how many kids actually enjoy a nicely cooked steak and homemade mashed potatoes. It may not be something you can cook every night, but for special occasions or just once in a while, this makes a great meal.

15. Cheeseburger Casserole
There are multiple recipes floating around on the ‘net for this one. Basically you need hamburger, cheese, and Bisquick.

16. Beef Stroganoff
A simple meal made with hamburger, egg noodles, and sour cream. Other versions of this recipe use specific cuts of meat instead of hamburger, although we like it just fine the “poor man” way.

17. Chicken Noodle Casserole
Perfect for the crockpot, and easy to make! Add chicken, cream of cheese soup, cream of chicken soup, and egg noodles.

18. Pigs in a Blanket
Depending on what you are hungry for, these can be made with hot dogs or sausage, wrapped in a crescent roll or pancake of some sorts.

19. Beef Stew
This is similar to roast, but with a few added vegetables, and in stew form. Great if you have some time to cook or at least prepare ahead of time.

20. Breakfast for Dinner (pancakes, eggs, bacon, toast, etc.)
Who says breakfast foods can only be served in the morning? Treat your family to a “breakfast night”, where you cook all those foods typically eaten in the morning.

21. Homemade Mac & Cheese
It may be easy to just grab a box of mac & cheese at the store, but why not challenge yourself to make it from scratch? There are dozens of unique recipes on the internet for this one dish.

22. Fried Chicken
Egg, flour, and chicken pieces are basically all you need. Fry them all up in a pan, or bake if you want them a little bit more healthy.

23. Chili
Everyone has a unique chili recipe. Start with chili beans and hamburger, adding ingredients according to taste.

24. BBQ Pork Sandwiches
A great meal for the slow cooker! Add a pork roast and barbeque sauce, let cook, and enjoy.

25. Lasagna
If your family doesn’t much care for lasagna, try leaving out the “odd” cheese. We use lasagna pasta, hamburger, spaghetti sauce, and shredded cheese. Fantastic!

This list should give you a starting point for some ideas for dinner!

5 Most Beautiful Places and Things

We’re always encouraged to “stop and smell the roses”, yet often don’t see the beauty in everyday life right in front of us. This is my list of the most beautiful locations and items in my life, both past and present. I hope it encourages you to write your own list, or share some locations you find especially beautiful.

1. Sunsets at My Childhood Home
When I was growing up, I lived with my mom in a rural area. Our house sat on an acre of land, although there was another 20-30 acres owned by friendly neighbors surrounding us. A woods and an empty prairie ground was my playground as a kid, and nothing to me was more beautiful than the sunset in our backyard. I dream about this house often, even though my mom sold the house years ago.

2. Areas in a Local Park
Similar to my backyard, but in a local park, there are multiple views of trees, ponds, and rivers. I still visit this park often, especially when I need to clear my head. I’ll watch as a breeze ripples the water, or try to see as far as possible into an endless horizon. What makes this place special is the lack of people in my “hidden” beautiful spots.

3. My Computer
This might seem like an odd location, but certain corners of the internet and computer leave me beautiful surprises on a regular basis. Lately I have been interested in art made from programs like Paint shop and Photoshop, and find beauty in pictures I find, or ones I create. It’s similar to “real” art, yet I don’t have to leave my chair to see it.

4. Family Farm
When I visit my grandparent’s house, I often gaze at the acres of corn and bean fields that belong to our family. What I see is more than just money or crops; I see our family’s history and struggles over the past hundred years. I see the hard work that’s been put into the farm, and the pride in that work.

5. Candles
It doesn’t matter what type of candle it is, or what it smells like. While I do have a preference to the candles my mother makes, it’s the flame itself that provides a level of comfort and beauty to me. I love to just stare at the flickering fire dancing in front of my eyes, like a private performance. It may seem strange to you, but it’s beautiful to me.

So there’s my list…what’s your top 5 most beautiful things?

How to Make Homemade Pizza

Easy Homemade Pizza

Pizza is a popular dish for our family. One day I realized, I have a ton of ways to make pizza, and all of them are delicious. Since my family loves these pizzas so much, I decided to give you a step by step guide on how we make these pizzas, along with all the variations.

Step 1 – Pizza Crust
Depending on my ambition, I will use several different types of crusts. Because of personal preferences, we never use the “just add water” dough in a package. Sometimes we use packaged crust (although after an incident with molded crust, this isn’t used that much anymore), and sometimes we make our own dough.

More often than not, though, we use taco shells. Why? Because they make a perfect thin crust, a large pizza when spread out, and cook perfectly with the rest of the pizza. We lay them out like so:

2. Pizza Sauce

Again, what type of sauce we use depends on our ambition. If I’ve snagged a bottle/can of pizza sauce, I’ll use it. We’ve also used spaghetti sauce on occassion too, since it gives it a very unique flavor. Lately, we’ve been using our own special “recipe”; a can of Italian diced tomatoes and a small can of tomato paste. If you want it not so chunky, just mash up the tomatoes with a meat masher or something similar. It should look like this:

3. Toppings

This is where it starts getting tricky, because everyone’s tastes are different. In the past, we’ve used the following combinations:

– 1/2 lb Italian sausage, 1/2 lb hamburger, and pepperoni
– 1 lb hamburger and pepperoni
– Pepperoni and mushrooms
– “Everything” pizza: 1/2 lb Italian sausage, 1/2 hamburger, package of pepperoni, mild pepper rings, sliced olives, jar of sliced mushrooms.
– “Thin crust Italian” pizza: 1/2 lb sausage, pepperoni, roasted red bell peppers, and Italian seasoning

The other night, we made a simple hamburger and pepperoni pizza. Do remember to use cooked meat, because when you cook the pizza, your main goal is only to melt the cheese.

Hamburger goes on after the pepperoni:

4. Cheese

We’ve used all kinds of different combinations of cheeses on our pizzas, just to play around with the flavor. By far the best is the Mozzarella or Pizza blend cheese. We use 2 regular sized bags.

You can also use yellow and white cheese blends, but I suggest only using one bag on the lower layers of your pizza. Using only white cheese on the top makes it easier to tell when the pizza is done.

5. Cooking Times & Temps

This is where it gets extremely difficult to give you a straight answer, since it’s going to depend on how many toppings you have on your pizza, and how large it is. For the pizza we made the other night, the toppings were spread out over just two layers. In the past, we have made “mountain pizzas” with 3 or 4 layers of lots of toppings. Thick pizzas with lots of toppings should be baked at 325-375* for 20 minutes or more, while thin pizzas with less toppings should be at 400-450* for 10 minutes or more.

Our finished pizza from the other night was cooked at 425* for 15 minutes.

Before cooking:

After cooking:

You can see we like our pizza “well done” to the point it’s almost burnt. You may want to cut back on the time just a bit, and check it every 5 minutes or so until it’s done to your liking.

That’s it! The only thing left is to eat and enjoy!

Yum.