Monday, July 25, 2011

Picture Troubles

To those of you who view my blog through a reader or via email, you might get notification of updates to prior posts. I changed some settings on my pictures on Flickr, and apparently, by doing that, I removed them from the blog. So the updates were just to correct that information. Sorry for any inconveniences!

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

I know it may seem unnecessary to post a recipe for spaghetti with meat sauce. You're probably thinking, "Really? How hard could it be?" Well, I can definitely admit to searching and searching for the perfect homemade sauce. The stuff that comes in jars can be good,  but there is so much extra junk added in the mix that really doesn't need to be there. Also, the price. It can get pretty expensive to buy the quality sauces.

After numerous sauces and various experimentation, I've finally created a sauce that I am completely satisfied with. In my personal opinion, and Ryan's too, this is the best sauce EVER! Now I know everyone has different tastes, and some may already have a "best sauce EVER" that they would defend to the end. However, for those of you in search of an easy, flavorful, inexpensive sauce, this recipe is for you! Feel free to change things up too. The fun with cooking is the experimentation!

1 lb ground beef (or chicken, turkey, etc.)
1 medium-large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 8oz cans of tomato sauce (or one large can - approx 24-28oz. Small ones just happened to be on sale)
1 6oz can of tomato paste (because I like my sauce a little thicker)
1 6.5oz can of mushrooms, diced (fresh would be awesome as well - I only had canned)
1 tsp dried basil*
1/2 tsp dried oregano*
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
2 tsp salt
1-2 tbsp sugar (depending on personal tastes)
Black pepper to taste
Couple shakes of crushed red pepper (optional)

Begin with browning the meat. Once the meat is fully cooked, drain off any excess grease and return to pan. With the heat set to high, add the diced onions. Cook for a few minutes, until the onions begin to soften. Next throw in the minced garlic. When the mixture becomes fragrant, add in the other ingredients.

Stir in the tomato sauce, tomato paste, mushrooms**, and spice mixture. I personally like to combine all of my spices beforehand. This is just personal preference though. Bring the mixture to a low boil, then reduce the heat. At this point, the sauce is technically ready to serve. However, I like to let it simmer for awhile so everything can mesh together nicely. If you go that route, reduce the heat to a low simmer and cover, stirring occasionally. Depending on how hungry I am and how much time I have, I would let it simmer anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.

Once the sauce is to your liking, grab a pile of spaghetti, add a generous serving of this meat sauce and a heaping handful of Parmesan cheese (that is, if you are a cheese fiend like me). If you want to get all fancy, you can top the dish with a couple leaves of basil. This treacherous Midwest heat did my basil plant in though, so no fanciness here.

To save time in the future, go ahead and make a double batch of the sauce and freeze it in an airtight container. Before freezing, make sure the sauce has cooled completely. Savour at a later date!!

*Remember - Dried herbs are more concentrated than fresh herbs. When substituting fresh for dried, you will need to increase the amount you are using.
** If you are using fresh mushrooms, add them to the mix with the onions

Recipe Source: My Imagination

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wyoming Vacation - Day 4 and Day 5

Hi Again!

Back for the Wyoming Vacation recap I see. Well, I pretty much covered the main events of Day 4! After the big proposal we went back to the hotel to regroup. Since it was so cold and snowy we weren't really sure what to do. So we decided that nothing sounded better than taking a blissful, newly engaged, afternoon nap. It was pretty great!

After the nap, we started our search for dinner. We love using Open Table. It's a free service that allows you to make restaurant reservations online (or with your phone). Every time you check in at your reservation you earn points. Sometimes there are promotions and you get a crazy amount of points, but it's typically 100 or so for most restaurants. The way I see it, I'm eating out whether I use Open Table or not. I might as well accumulate points. When you reach a certain balance of points you receive a gift certificate. Moving right along (see how easily I am distracted!)

We chose to eat at the Silver Dollar Grill in the Famous Wort Hotel. It came highly recommended by the hotel magazines! The food was really great, although I wish I had paid more attention when ordering. I chose the Salmon en Croute.... and yeah, I don't like breaded salmon so much. After I removed the "croute" it was delicious! Ryan ordered a super thick filet. I probably wouldn't eat there on a regular basis because it was pretty expensive, but it was nice for the occasion.

After dinner we walked around briefly in the town square. The antler entrance to the park was all lit up at night and looked pretty cool. However, it was freezing out, so we went back to the condo to hang out. It was a night of more roasted marshmallows in our fireplace.

 The next day we woke up to beautiful weather. I'd say it was around low 50's. Since it was so nice out, we decided to venture out to some of the nearby national parks. We knew for sure that Yellowstone was still closed, so we headed South toward the Grand Teton National Park

Unfortunately we didn't get to travel very far into the park. We were able to drive about 8 miles in before we had to turn around. Everything was still covered with snow, so the majority of views looked like this:
The entrance to the park looked promising!
The roads were clear, but the snow was piled higher than the car!

We really wanted to see Jenny Lake, but found out the roads leading there were still closed. However, we were pretty excited when was saw that the roads to Jackson Lake were open and went right along the banks. Unfortunately, this is what lakes look like in Wyoming during the month of April: 

It was still really pretty, but it would be nice to go back again sometime in the summer! After we left the park, we headed back to Jackson. Right on the edge of town is a wildlife refuge. Since it was on our way and free we decided to check it out. I think it's primarily for elk, but we saw lots of sheep, and even a grey wolf! The animals obviously didn't hang out close to the road, so they look really tiny in our pictures.

 (Sheep on the left and elk on the right)

Later that evening we went back to Snake River to get dinner. After that we just hung out back in the condo. Before we went to bed that night, it looked like this outside:

When we woke the next morning it looked like this:
Basically the same shot as the night before - just covered with a few feet of snow!!
The pile of snow on top of Ryan's car as we checked out of the hotel
We wiped the snow off the top of the car and began our trip to Casper. We had planned on leaving Jackson the same way we came. However, due to the snow overnight and the continued snow that morning, the road we came on was completely whited out. I used to think I knew what "white-out" conditions were, but after seeing Jackson white outs, I can for SURE say I know! I tried to take a picture, but anyone who's ever been in a white out knows everything is just bright white, so as you can guess, the pictures didn't turn out very well. Since we couldn't see anything at all, let alone where the road ended and fields began, we decided to turn around and find a new way out of town.

We went up the North side of the mountain, which ended up taking a little longer. On the way we stopped by Teton Village and snapped some photos and checked out the mansions. This is clearly where the rich and famous stay when they come to town! We tried to be as non-creepy as possible while gawking at the mansions, so I refrained from snapping photos of the huge houses. This is the only picture I took while in Teton Village:

The mountains in the background were sprinkled with amazing houses!
Back on the road to Casper! Final Wyoming Vacation post coming soon!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wyoming Vacation - Day 3

We woke up this morning in Thermopolis. It was probably the warmest weather we had experienced during the trip, although still a little chilly. Since we were staying in the Hot Springs State Park, we decided to take a look around and see what it was all about. Once you got over the smell of sulfur and rotten eggs, it was actually really cool. We got some neat pictures around the hot spring.

Also located on the grounds was a buffalo reserve. We drove up and down the various roads to try and get a close up peek at the grazing buffalo. Most of them were, of course, nowhere near the road. Right as we were about to give up, we got lucky. We came upon a buffalo hanging out right next to the road, so naturally, we took as many pictures as possible! Here are a few of our shots:

After we had spent an hour or so wandering around the park we decided to get back on the road. Next up on the trip was Jackson, our main attraction for the vacation. We planned on staying in Jackson for several nights. I'm going to plug Priceline again! I cannot get over how great some of the travel deals are! We really hit the jackpot on our hotel in Jackson. Since our trip was right at the end of the ski season, many resorts were already offering deep discounts. So if skiing wasn't a top priority for you, the available deals were unbeatable. We ended up staying at the Snow King Resort. It was right at the base of the mountains.

Our room was set up condo style, with a living room, full kitchen, bathroom and separate bedroom. We also had a fireplace, which was pretty cool! We ended up paying just $55/night. This was the biggest, nicest, and CHEAPEST room during our entire vacation (well, except for the awesome, free room that Ryan's gracious Uncle and Aunt offered us at their home)!

Let me back up a second. We arrived in Jackson around mid-afternoon. It was COLD! I still made Ryan stop and take a picture in front of the sign.

Next we stopped by the visitors center to grab some postcards to mail off to our mothers and my grandmother (this is another family tradition). After that, we went back to the hotel to settle in for awhile. We unpacked our bags, looked through the attraction magazines on the coffee table, listened to some music, and just enjoyed ourselves. After awhile we started getting hungry and decided to try out the local brewery, Snake River Brewery. We were only in Jackson a few days, but we went to Snake River at least 3 times! I would definitely recommend it if you're ever up that way.

 While there we grabbed a bite to eat, enjoyed some local brews, and Ryan bought a souvenir shirt. It was perfect for him!

"Maintain Your Brain" - Snake River Brewery, Jackson Hole, Wyoming

He's a goofy one :)

Next up I'll post the remainder of our time in Jackson, followed by the end of our trip in Casper! Stay tuned!