Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Probably Not the Best Ever Slow Cooker Pork Loin and Veggies


Look, I'm not going to lie to you. This is probably not the "Best Ever" or "World's Greatest" slow cooker pork loin recipe. It's not going to set the world on fire or revolutionize cooking. What it will do is provide a simple, tasty, filling dinner that will satisfy everyone at the table. Except my child. "I DON'T LIKE COOKED CARROTS!" "I DON'T LIKE MUSHROOMS!" "THOSE POTATOES ARE GROSS." "I'LL EAT THE PORK IF I CAN DROWN IT IN BARBECUE SAUCE." As always, notes are in blue.

Probably Not the Best Ever
Slow Cooker Pork Loin and Veggies


  • 2 pound pork loin
  • 5 medium potatoes, quartered
  • 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 8 oz. baby carrots
  • 1 can (10.5 ounces) cream of mushroom soup
  • 12 ounces beer (if you don't do alcohol, just fill up the soup can with water and dump it in)
  • 3 teaspoons Lake Shore Drive seasoning from the Spice House. (if you don't have it, you should totally get it. It's a blend featuring  chives, scallions, green peppercorns, and shallots. Works with just about everything and ships free if you buy it in flatpack envelopes. No, they didn't pay or give me anything for this plug, which is an absolute shame.)
  1. Throw the pork loin in the cooker, fat side up. 
  2. Throw the veggies in around the pork.
  3. Pour on the soup and liquid of your choice.
  4. Sprinkle on the seasoning.
  5. Cook on LOW for 6 hours.
Good Times!

3 Days/2 Nights in Illinois and Kentucky

As she is the master of trip itinerary, this post is courtesy of The Wife.

Let me give you an idea of a 2-night/3-day road trip for us. Last July/August, we headed to southern Illinois…and then over to Kentucky.

Carbondale is about a 3-hour drive from where we live, so we got there in the late morning/early afternoon. In order to fulfill the husband’s distillery requirement, we visited Katy Lynn Distillery. On a previous Carbondale trip (the husband is an SIU alumnus, so we visit frequently), we had seen a sign for this place, but we weren’t able to work it into our schedule. We are now regular visitors to this establishment. (Disclaimer: I don’t consider the cost of distilleries/alcohol purchases when figuring our vacation budget. The husband personally incurs all alcohol-related costs.)
Time spent: 1.5 hours
Cost: Don’t ask

After finishing up at the distillery, we planned to head to the Quetil Trail in Alto Pass. This was to fulfill the daughter’s hiking requirement. Before reaching our destination, however, we passed a sign for Cliff View Park. We followed Rule #8 of the inexpensive vacation guidelines and stopped. There were some beautiful views overlooking the cliffs, and we could even see the Bald Knob Cross of Peace which is mentioned in Atlas Obscura! The child found an unusual mushroom (which is always exciting for her), and then we were on our way again.
Time spent: 20 minutes
Cost: $0

Quetil Trail is just off the main road in Alto Pass. We didn’t walk the whole trail. In fact, I don’t know how long the whole trail is. It didn’t matter, though. There were mushrooms for the daughter to photograph and rocks for us to climb. The trail is shaded, so even though the day was warm, it was a comfortable trek. When walking trails such as this, you might be lucky enough to see wildlife…but not when you’re traveling with my daughter. Her mouth is going a mile a minute at maximum volume.
Time spent: 1.5 hours
Cost: 0$

After the trail, we checked into our hotel in Metropolis. It is situated between Carbondale and Paducah, just on the edge of Illinois. It was just a hop, skip, and jump over the bridge to Kentucky in the morning.

After an acceptable free breakfast (there was an automated pancake machine), we took the bridge over the Ohio River and into Paducah. The first item on my list was the Paducah Floodwall Murals. The flood wall is along the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. There is free parking directly across the street. Before we could even look at the murals, though, our daughter demanded to walk down to the river. She loves water in all shapes and sizes.

Once we could tear her away, we walked the entire flood wall. Each panel on the flood wall depicts an event in Paducah’s history. The event is briefly discussed on the plaque in front of the panel. I was especially interested in the panel that showed how Paducah became the county seat of McCracken County, as it was tied to the story of one of my ancestors (more on this later).
Time spent (between staring at the water and touring the flood wall): 1.5 hours
Cost: $0

Across the street from the flood murals is the River Discovery Center. On the day we visited, their credit card machine wasn’t working, so they chose to waive the admission fee. Normally, the cost is $12 per adult and $10 per child. However, if you are a member of an institution that participates in the ASTC Travel Passport Program, admission is free. Our daughter is now an EAA member, and they participate in this program. If we visited this museum again, all our admissions would be free.

If you asked our daughter what the best part about the museum was, she would tell you it was the turtle from the River Habitats exhibit. Its name was Annabelle, and we got to feed her. Other, more notable, exhibits were the River Film and the Boat Simulator. If you get motion sickness, avoid the boat simulator at all costs! I made the mistake of sitting in the room while my daughter repeatedly beached her simulated boat.
Time spent: 1.5 hours
Cost: $0 (on any other day, it would have been $34)

Paducah is awash in historical plaques, so we explored the city for a while and read some of them. The city also has a host of super cute shops. We wandered into a few. If you have self-control (like me), wandering into a shop doesn’t necessarily mean you walk out with anything. If you don’t have self-control (like the husband), wandering into a shop can be dangerous. Know which type of person you are. We visited Wildhair Studios' Rock Shop (the daughter loves rocks) and she picked out a necklace. We also stopped at the Ice Cream Factory for a bit of sweet sustenance. We located another distillery, but it was Monday and they were closed, so we decided we would put them on the list for the next day.
Time spent: 1.5 hours
Cost: Approximately $25

Now it was time for a genealogical adventure. I know genealogy isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, so I won't bore you with the details. Long story short, my ancestor, John Field, purchased several lots of land in the city of Wilmington, Kentucky, in 1827. Wilmington was the first county seat. Unfortunately, in 1832, Wilmington experienced a severe flood. All records were removed from the courthouse and transported to Paducah by skiff. Paducah became the new county seat. Wilmington no longer exists, but in the middle of a cemetery, there is a monument to this lost town. I wanted to go see it and the area in which my gggg grandfather had considered settling. If you are interested in the brief history of Wilmington, read my blog

After that, we drove through some other genealogically significant areas like Ballard County, Kentucky, and back over the Ohio River into Alexander County, Illinois.
Time spent: 2 hours
Cost: $0

After 6 ½ hours in Kentucky, it was time to head back to Metropolis for some hotel pool time.

After a final morning swim and checking out of our hotel, we crossed back over the Ohio and into Paducah once more. We weren’t really certain what we wanted to do, but we were pleasantly surprised to see a gigantic riverboat coming in to dock. It was beautiful, and until I checked out the pricing, I momentarily contemplated taking a riverboat cruise myself. We chatted with the crew and some of the Paducah ambassadors.
Time spent: 30 minutes
Cost: $0

We decided to walk more of the city and, of course, to stop at Silent Brigade Distillery. What I liked about Paducah was that it was easily navigable on foot. We parked our car in the same place we had parked it to the view the floodwall murals and didn’t come back to it until we were ready to head home. We spent an hour or more admiring sidewalk sculptures and artwork on the sides of buildings before deciding we would get lunch and head home.

We had passed Kirchoff’s Deli the day before (but as it was Monday, they were closed), and this is where we decided to eat. We got our orders to-go and picked up a few loaves of bread (for which the deli is known) on the way out.
Time spent: 2.5 hours
Cost for lunch and bread: $40

We took our lunches down to the riverside and watched the riverboat get ready to leave while we ate our sandwiches and chips. We probably hit the road for home around 1:30 p.m. We briefly contemplated going to the National Quilt Museum, but no one but me was going to enjoy it! Below are some things we did on a previous visit to this general area:

The Superman Statue in Metropolis, IL – FREE

The Superman Museum in Metropolis, IL - $8/person

Dorothy Miller Park in Metropolis, IL - FREE

Fort Massac State Park in Metropolis, IL – FREE

You could very easily add them to your itinerary. :)

Thursday, August 17, 2023

Getaways on a Budget

Yes, this blog is called Tales from a Middle Class Kitchen, but middle class people cannot live by bread alone!  They also need to get away from daily stressors and responsibilities and take much-needed vacations.  For me, though, the word ‘vacation’ conjures up images of airplanes, cruise ships, and gigantic dollar signs, but this middle class family has learned that doesn’t have to be the case!  As long as you can handle being trapped in the car with your family for a few hours, road trips are a great way to see the country (or, in our case, the Midwest).

In the last two summers, our 3-person family has taken several mini-vacations.  I (The Wife) have been the one to coordinate these.  I am a notorious penny-pincher and have found ways to make a small budget stretch a long way.  Here is the basic step-by-step process I follow. 

#1: Choose a destination.  Sometimes, our choice needs to be reasonably close to a family get-together.  (For example, both summers, we have planned around a 4th of July party in the Chicagoland area.) Other times, the locations may be based on an acquaintance’s suggestion.  (Our trip to Indiana was based solely on running into a former student who mentioned the name of a distillery where she had recently attended a wedding.)  You might also want to work in quick visit with someone.  (That’s how we ended up in Minnesota this year.)  Or, if you’re like us, maybe there is something strange in Atlas Obscura that you just have to see!

#2: Consider what your family enjoys doing.  The husband’s requirement is that he get to visit a distillery.  Our daughter enjoys hiking and anything that involves animals.  When I can, I try to work in a genealogical adventure for myself.  Depending on where we go, that’s not always possible, but I can almost always find an interesting historical landmark or museum to visit.

#3: Start searching for activities in the surrounding area.  I generally just go to Google Maps and type in our proposed location.  Once you get to the map of the area, you should see an option at the top that says “Things to do.” Click on that, and start exploring!  At this point, I like to create a Word document or Google Doc to keep track of any ideas I might have.  I include the name of the attraction, address, hours, phone number, and cost.

#4: Consider costs.  I don’t like spending money. At all. I still don’t understand why it costs as much for adults to get into a children’s museum as it does for the child.  What am I spending money to do?  Chaperone my child?  I do that all day for free!  But I digress…  The last thing you want is to arrive at a location and find out the cost is more than you want to spend.  So here are some pointers:

•  Most historic sites and state parks are free or close to it. 

•  Colleges and universities often have free museums. At worst, you might have to pay for parking.

•  Some attractions have free admission days.  As someone who actively avoids large groups of people, I don’t generally take advantage of this option, but it is available.

•  Look for discounts.  Are you a teacher? A veteran? A member of an organization whose membership includes free admission to certain places?  Sometimes it isn’t listed on a website, so it might not be a bad idea to call and ask.  One museum we went to in Minnesota was free for teachers, but we only found out when the husband thought to ask when we were purchasing tickets.

#5: Set an itinerary.  Your itinerary can be as basic or as detailed as you want.  It might just be a list of all the possible places to visit, and you just play it by ear when you get to your destination.  For places with limited hours, free admission on certain days, etc., you might want to simply list what attractions you want to visit on what day.  Totally up to you.  Make sure you check to see how long it will take you to get to your destination, and don’t forget to consider time changes!  We only had to worry about this once in 8 trips, but it’s still worth mentioning if you are planning to travel a considerable distance.

#6: Book a hotel.  Unfortunately, there is very little chance of finding a free hotel (unless you are visiting friends/family, and they are willing to put you up), but you can still minimize the cost.  I use Expedia.  It has a rewards program where you earn money to apply to future travel, and it allows me to filter hotels by price, ratings, and amenities.  (There are plenty of apps/websites that do this, so use whatever makes you comfortable.)  When traveling, it is necessary for my daughter to have a pool and for all of us to have a free breakfast. I look for places with more than just your basic continental breakfast because loading up on breakfast usually means we can make it until dinnertime without having to eat.  Look through the pictures the hotel provides to get an idea of their breakfast options and/or read the reviews.  We have had some stellar breakfast bars…and a few not-so-stellar.

#7: On the day of your trip, pack snacks. Our child is apparently on the verge of starvation at all times.  As a result, we pack a small cooler with car-friendly snacks: juice boxes, sandwich crackers, fruit, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, etc.  This keeps you from having to spend money at rest area vending machines or gas station convenience stores.  It also keeps you from having to stop the car every hour.  If you have room, pack an empty cooler.  We often end up with leftovers from our dinners out, and while your hotel room will probably have a refrigerator, you’ll want a way to transport the leftovers home if you don’t eat them during the trip.

#8: If you see something interesting, stop!  Here in central Illinois, there are Abraham Lincoln sites pretty much everywhere.  One day, we took a detour to the World’s Largest Covered Wagon…driven by a statue of Abraham Lincoln.  I also remember traveling through South Dakota just before the husband and I got married.  For miles, we had been seeing signs for Cosmos Mystery Area.  We were intrigued, so we stopped.  It was ridiculous, but it was fun, and we even got a bumper sticker to commemorate our visit! 

We did, in fact, survive it.

#9:  Relax, and enjoy your getaway knowing that it did NOT cost a small fortune.

Additional tip for adults: If you and/or your spouse enjoy an evening cocktail, we suggest packing mini liquor bottles, sodas, and juices.  Once you’ve settled into your hotel room for the evening, simply hit the ice machine, and you have the makings for an adult beverage or two!

Good Times!

Monday, March 13, 2023

Breakfast Bites

 Now that we have our new oven, I can really get back to work in the kitchen. We've had some bags of shredded potatoes that I've been wanting to use up for some time. I've seen several iterations of these "breakfast muffins" before, so I figured I'd give it a whirl. I enlisted the help of The Spud on these and while she was happy to help cook them, she didn't seem keen on trying one. The Wife and I did, and were very happy with how they came out. There's a lot of wiggle room here with the ingredients. You can swap in our out pretty much any cheese you want. You can change the meat for crumbled bacon or sausage, or leave it out for a vegetarian option. If you add veggies, just make sure they're drained of all water. Water is your enemy here, as we discovered. Our potatoes were not completely drained, and while the sides and tops got crunchy, the bottoms did not. They were still quite tasty. I imagine if you made these in bulk they'd freeze well and could be easily reheated in the oven. Give it a try and tell me what you think! As always, notes are in blue.

Breakfast Bites
(yields 12)


  • 24 ounces shredded potatoes (if using frozen, make sure they are defrosted and squeezed of all water possible. If using fresh potatoes, still make sure all excess water is squeezed out. Otherwise, the bottoms will not brown properly)
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 3 T olive oil
  • 4 ounces ham, chopped 
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon Trader Joe's Everything but the Elote seasoning (if you don't have this, just use seasoned salt, or even just salt and pepper)
  • 1/4 cup shredded Italian cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400F (200C, Gas Mark 6)
  2. In a large bowl add potatoes (which you have squeezed of all water as humanly possible). shredded cheddar cheese, and the olive oil. Season to taste. Mix until the cheese is evenly incorporated through the potatoes.
    Doesn't everyone wear their winter coat while seasoning?

  3. Take a 12 count muffin tin (don't use the mini-muffin tins here as I can't promise they'll come out right. Just use a standard muffin tray) and spray it with non-stick cooking spray. Take about 1-2 tablespoons of potato mixture and press them along the edges and bottoms of the muffin cups, creating little bowls. You should be looking at about 1/8"-1/4" (about 4-8mm) thickness all the way round. (if the potatoes are too thick, they may not get crispy when they cook)
  4. Put the muffin tin in the oven and cook for 30-40 minutes (you're looking for a nice crispy bowl when these are done. Depending on the moisture level of your potatoes, this time may go up or down)
  5. While the potato cups are cooking, in another bowl, add 6 eggs, the chopped ham, and your seasoning. Beat until everything is mixed well. 
  6. Once your potatoes are done, take them out and lower the oven to 350F (177C, Gas Mark 4)
  7. Start spooning the egg mixture into each potato cup, filling it to just below the lip of the cup (to prevent any spilling or overflow in the oven). Top with the Italian cheese.
    No muss, no fuss!

  8. Put in the oven for 20-30 minutes until eggs are done
  9. Take them out of the muffin tin before they adhere to the pan for all time. Let them cool on a wire rack if you plan to save them for later, or just cram them fresh from the oven directly into your greedy face, burning the shit out of the inside of your mouth just like you did with those pizza rolls, and you swore up and down you'd never make that mistake again. 
    Potential Mouth Blisters
    Good Times!

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Slow Cooker Chicken and Potatoes in Pasta Sauce


Oh boy. Only 54 more wake ups until Summer Vacation. The Burn Out is real. Clearly based on the stellar content I've been posting (i.e. memes and various shitposting), I'm not finding much time or inclination to cook. Going without an oven for five weeks didn't help. We've leaned hard into the slow cooker. The upshot is we came up with a gem. You could eat this by itself as a stew, or over rice or pasta. It uses nothing but staple kitchen items so it won't be hard to put together (especially if you just use jarred pasta sauce) and isn't expensive. It is certainly filling and tasty. The Wife describes it as "kind of like cacciatore," which seems like a fair assessment.  Give it a try and let me know what you think. As always, notes are in blue. 

Slow Cooker Chicken and Potatoes in Pasta Sauce


  • 4 medium potatoes, cut into 1" cubes (Peel them if you want. We generally don't)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped (Pick whatever color you like. The Wife doesn't really like green peppers, so we used red bell peppers here)
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 lb chicken (Another choice! Thighs or breasts? We went with breasts because we had more on hand and I like to save the thighs for any pressure cooking)
  • 2-1/2 cups of pasta sauce. (I highly recommend this recipe for pasta sauce, but feel free to use your own, or even bust open a jar of store bought. I won't judge you.)
  • 1 teaspoon dry oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dry basil
  • salt to taste
  1. In a slow cooker (a 4-5 quart cooker will work), layer all the ingredients in order of appearance.
  2. Cook on LOW for 6 hours. 
  3. Shred the chicken with a fork.
  4. Give everything a stir before serving.
Good Times!

Monday, February 13, 2023

Pasta with Sausage, Feta, and Spinach

 So our oven died a few weeks ago and we've been waiting for the new one to arrive. The loss of the oven has forced us to get creative. Normally we make burgers in the winter on a ridged baking sheet. It works great. However, no oven. I wound up outside grilling burgers in the middle of winter. I figured if I had to fire up the grill, I'd throw some brats out there, too. That's how I ended up with this recipe. I had a pack of feta spinach brats I mostly grilled out of spite. You may question the use of brats here, and that's understandable. Most brats I've had have a suspicious texture. The Wife calls it "gritty." My father would say you should never eat "gray meat" and it's a judgement. That said, the brats we got from our local place are magnificent and worked great here. If you can find them or something similar, do it. If not, best of luck. You'll figure it out. I trust you. This one is quick and easy and is pretty damned good, if I do say so myself. As always, notes are in blue. 

Pasta with Sausage, Feta, and Spinach


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped (you can use jarlic if you want. I won't tell anyone)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 sausages, cooked and sliced into 1/2" discs (this is open to experimentation. Obviously, Italian sausage would be fine here. Kielbasa? Probably not. I went with a pack of delightful Spinach and Feta Bratwurst from Turasky Meats that I cooked on the grill. If you can find something similar, I'd highly recommend it)
  • 1 package (8oz.) frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed of all excess water
  • 4 ounces feta cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1lb. pasta of your choice (I wanted to do rigatoni, but turns out we didn't have any. Wound up using farfalle. I guess use whatever you want. It should be fine. Hell, wrap it all up in lasagna noodles and bake it in alfredo sauce. Go wild.) 
  • salt (this is mostly for cooking the pasta. The bratwurst had enough salt that I didn't feel the need to add any. Up to you, though, depending on your tastes)
  1. Cook pasta to according to instructions (looking for al dente), drain and set aside.
  2. In a large pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté a minute or so.
  3. Add the tomatoes and sauté for 3-5 minutes, until the tomatoes start to break down a bit.
  4. Add the spinach and cook to remove any excess water. 
  5. Add the feta and sausages. Make sure to keep things moving in the pan so you don't burn anything.
  6.  Add in the cream and bring to a simmer. (It's possible that the spinach will soak up a lot of the cream. Feel free to add a bit more if you like a thicker sauce. We used just enough that everything got a light coat.)
  7. Add pasta to sauce and toss to combine.
Good times!

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Best Damned Brussels Sprouts You'll Ever Eat


Brussels sprouts are a truly divisive ingredient. You either love them or hate them. Naturally, my child hates them and runs screaming from the room if I suggest she eat some. She claims that her school cafeteria served them once and she did not like them, I contend that story is 100% bullshit. Fortunately, I watch a shit-ton of America's Test Kitchen and took some of their advice and came up with this absolute gem of a recipe. No joke. I could stand at the counter and eat the whole pound of these if left to my own devices. I imagine the gas would be absolutely spectacular. Try it and let me know!

The Best Damned Brussels Sprouts You'll Ever Eat


  • 1 pound of Brussels sprouts, rinsed and cut in half
  • 3 tablespoons bacon grease (you can make due with grapeseed or vegetable oil but you're going to lose a bunch of flavor)
  • 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
  • Seasoned salt
  1. Preheat oven to 375F (190C, Gas Mark 5)
  2. In a large, oven proof skillet (I used my trusty Lodge cast iron skillet) melt the bacon grease on medium-high heat until it has coated the bottom of the pan.
  3. Lay the Brussels sprouts, cut side down in the pan in a single layer. It is important that the cut side is making direct contact with the bottom of the pan.
  4. Let the Brussels sprouts sizzle away on the pan for about 5-6 minutes. You're looking to get a really nice sear on the bottoms. 
  5. Turn the heat off under the pan and slowly pour in the stock. Then sprinkle the top with the seasoned salt.
  6. Put in the oven for about 8-10 minutes. You want the stock to completely cook off in there. 
  7. Once the stock is cooked off, take them out of the oven and serve them up!
Good Times!