Monday, February 28, 2011

I Want To Put My Feets In! by Tomato Mama

This afternoon Pickle and I were playing with some Moon Sand in his sensory box. We had the tractors out, some "brick" molds, and some cookie cutters I was using for tracing some felt. He grabbed the cookie cutters and started trying them out in the sand. He cut shapes into the sand, molded with them, and stacked them up to let the tractors fill them up. This was all nice clean ( ish) fun. Then, the socks came off.

"Pickle, why are you taking your socks off?"

"Don't look at me Mama." (Uh-oh, that's never a good sign!)

"Do you want to try putting your feet in the sand?" ( He always does this in the sandbox, I had a pretty good hunch this was where this was heading.)

"Yes please!!!!!! I wanna put my feets in the sand to see if it tickles!"

How could I say no to that? He put his feet in. It did tickle.

It was also cold and soft. It was fun, it got messy, and it was learning! Kids want to explore the world with their entire selves. They are storing all of this information and putting it together in their heads to figure out this amazing world. Yes, it got messy. Do I care? Ok, I kind of care. Moon Sand sometimes drives me crazy because it ALWAYS sneaks out of whatever container we put it in. The clean up (which Pickle assisted me in) didn't take long, and it was worth it. Will we do it every day? No, but I'm glad we did.  Now, who knows what he will think up next time. I can't wait to see!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Kitchen Adventures: Serving the Rainbow in Bowls by Duck Momma

Goose will be six months old on Monday. I can't believe time has flown by already. We are now embarking on exciting new adventures as we begin tasting what the world has to offer. I am excited for this stage, I will not be relying solely on jars of food. I want her to start out with wide base for food. Not only is food something that can be enjoyed in so many ways, but I want to broaden her horizon and tastes. I will be sharing our adventures in home creations. I am armed with highly recommended cookbooks for babies, as well as knowledge and encouragement from Baby Led Weaning sources, and with my own enthusiasm for cooking and fresh ingredients. This will be a messy sticky ride I'm sure.

The trickiest thing about being a mom looking for advice or suggestions, is that no one has the absolute right answer. There are a million ways to do things. And for anyone who is in the same boat, I'm sure you know what I mean. I am finding that its good to take in lots of options (make sure you have sound sources) and tailor your actions and choices to you and your baby. You are the expert on your baby, its fantastic and terrifying. This goes for all aspects of parenting I think. 

So branching out slowly, we have discovered peaches and cinnamon, pears and ginger, fresh bananas (fun to hold), sweet potatoes and cinnamon. We can't wait to  try simple baby "meals" and I will be posting successes as well as terrific failures. On the docket soon: beautiful bright beets, tasty turnips, avocados, avocado banana guacamole, eggplant,  and more. We are going to sample the rainbow, not only new experiences for her but for Momma too! (what in the world do you do with turnips or beets? Stay tuned!)
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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Kitchen Adventures by Duck Momma

Here at our home on the pond, we eat at home most of the time. And Most of the time little Goose is with me in her little saucer watching me work. I show her what I am blending, mixing, or mashing. She watches things simmer, smells good things baking, and hears all the sounds. Some of my earliest and best memories are with my mom in the kitchen and I want to pass that to my little one.

So what do honey and chili powder have in common. . . well nothing right now but I'm sure she will dream up some lovely recipe for them in the future. I am collecting sturdy and standout items for her little kitchen someday. I used to make woods soup when I was little (and was always offended when no one would try my muddled mixture of bark, berries, leaves, etc.) I moved on to my Easy Bake  which turned out some interesting creations(I rarely used packaged mixes). And God bless my dad, he would bravely taste them and then enthusiastically ask me to make more of whatever it was for him to take to work the next day. I was so thrilled and proud. . . I can't imagine what his poor stomach went through.

The things I learned by experimenting and testing the limits of will with my family, did eventually turn me into the cook and foodie I am today. Its something I am really proud of and I love to share that. So now I look forward to sharing my love for food and all that it entails with Goose. Someday too soon, she will be big enough for her own little kitchen and it will be well stocked with tools for her imagination.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

A Beautiful Brownie Variation by Duck Momma

Best brownies ever + peanut butter = Happy Momma
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Alphabet Energy Burner! by Tomato Mama

How do 3 year olds have so much energy? Mine never stops moving. He at such a busy, interesting, curious age and I love it! I feel so bad for him when we are stuck inside and I'm always looking for ways to help him burn off some of that energy. This morning alone we had a pillow fight, played hide and seek, and chased each other around in the snow. After all of this, he was still full of energy so I decided it was time for the ABC game.

I cleared some space on the rug and spread around some stuffed ABC's I made a little while back. Then I called out different instructions that Pickle could act out.

Put your head on an H...

Run in circles around the K...

Put one foot on the D...

The possibilities are endless. Some other favorites are...

-Run as fast as you can to...
-Go do a dance on...
-Put one finger on...
-Shake your booty next to...(Wish I could have gotten a good shot of this one, it's hilarious!)
-Put your ear on...
-Go sing a song to...
-Go Tickle...

You get the idea. In nicer weather we draw the letters on the driveway and do this activity there. If you don't have stuffed letters you can always put down pieces of paper with letters drawn on them. This idea is not only great for running off steam, but it is an opportunity to work on letters, shapes, colors, body parts, you name it! 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mommy Journal by Duck Momma

bKeeping a journal is such a great way to record and reflect on moments in your life. My mom kept a journal for me and it is one of the most treasured items I own. I absolutely treasure my family and little momentos that reflect our past. It is a book that provides little prompt questions, places for recipes, pictures, and personal notes. It is so wonderful. I have read it cover to cover, like the best collection of stories ever, because it is.
The journal I have started for Goose is a handmade made and painted journal by an artist I found on It just screamed at me. All those individual doors are so unique, just like every doorway or path we choose through life. I have a family tree started and have written down songs that my mom sang to me, that I now sing to her, as well as songs I sing her (like Irish folk songs).
I want to write down stroies from my childhood, recipes, funny stories featuring her as a baby, advice. . . I want this to be something for her to have forever, maybe even pass on to her children. Even if it just makes her smile once, if she thinks, " My mom really loves me" it will all be worth it.
On the left is a journal my mom kept for me. It has all sorts of memories and stories.
On the right is the journal I am keeping for Goose. It will include everything from a family tree, songs we sing, stories, memories, recipes,  and advice.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Adoption Day! by Duck Momma

Every year I get to celebrate my Adoption Day. It is one of the most special days of the year, very much like a second birthday. How lucky am I? Really, how blessed am I; I have a mom and a dad who waited so long and wanted me. They adopted me when I was two weeks old, February 22 is the day everything was finalized.

It wasn't always easy being adopted. When I was little, I sometimes worried that it was just a piece of paper that said I belonged in this family. But my mom would always hug me close and explain it was more than paper, it was love and answered prayers. I have always known I was adopted and have always been very proud. My parents were always very open and it was never a scary or negative thing. Its part of who I am. Sometimes kids in school didn't understand or even believe I was adopted, it was a foreign concept to them, that was hard too, but I was still proud and I helped shine light on the subject.

My Mom and Dad on a family vacation
I am so unbelievably grateful for the amazing family I have. My parents are such amazing supporters, teachers, role models, mentors, friends. . . I could never ask for more. In fact, I pray I can follow in their footsteps as I raise Goose with my husband. My mom and dad encouraged me to always be me. They are the most loving giving people I know. I love you two so much, I could never have asked for anything more.

I always like to take time, especially today, to reflect on how grateful I am for the friends I am blessed with as well. They are my family too, and I wouldn't be where I am today without them. They are awesome cheerleaders, cried upon shoulders, laughing buddies, and more. They have sat and watched silly shows in the dark while I was down, they have supported me when I thought I would never have a baby, they picked me up and had the greatest patience, they have celebrated my victories, and soothed my defeats.  I love you all.
And to my husband, you are my best friend. My strength. My calm. You are my Superman. I love you.

My Mom and me on Apple Day 2009

I am blessed.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Thrifty Tomato: Eating Well on a Budget

I've been doing some delicious homework this week! Last week I decided to try out some of the budget cookbooks I found at my library. Budget Cookbook Series. I'm really concerned about news reports I've been hearing lately about food prices skyrocketing in the near future. I already keep a really close eye on our food budget and try to feed my family healthy, tasty food so these cookbooks could potentially make a big difference in the Tomato household. Plus, I just love trying new recipes.

EatingWell on a Budget (EatingWell)

The cookbook that jumped out at me first was EatingWell on a Budget (EatingWell). This book made my stomach growl at the library just looking at it! It is a slim, slick looking book that won't take up much room on your cookbook bookshelf, but is bursting with useful information! It has large, beautiful pictures that made me consider a lot of recipes that I may have flipped right past otherwise. 

The Introduction has a section on ways to cut your grocery budget. Most of the suggestions are things I already do ( keep a well stocked pantry, use coupons, meal plan, eat vegetarian a few nights a week) but I did get some ideas on using cuts of meat I had not thought of before and inspired me to try some spices I'm not very familiar with. 

I chose 4 recipes from this book to try. I tried to choose recipes that I already had most or all of the ingredients for, but chose a couple just because the picture made me drool!

I made...
Spaghetti Fritata ( Used leftover spaghetti from the night before.)
Crab Quesadillas ( Used imitation crab meat I had stockpiled in my freezer.)
Chicken Tostadas
Szechuan Tofu & Green Bean Stir-Fry

We already eat plenty of quesadillas and tostadas in this house, but I liked the healthy recipe variations in this book and will probably make them this way again.

The Spaghetti Fritata was really yummy and a great way to use leftovers in a new way so that they don't get boring.

The Tofu was the most surprising. I have had tofu before, but have never cooked it myself. I wasn't sure I was really going to try this recipe until I found organic tofu on sale for under $1.50 so I gave it a try. The recipe was tasty and easy to follow and was a hit with my family! I'm glad to have a new frugal, vegetarian meal option to put into rotation.

The Frugal Foodie Cookbook: Waste-Not Recipes for the Wise Cook

Next up in the series will be The Frugal Foodie Cookbook: Waste-Not Recipes for the Wise Cook.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Jump Jump Jump: a Baby Toy Review by Duck Momma

Being a first time mommy is such a huge change in my life. There are so many things you have to learn, and so quickly! One of the biggest challenges, I think is knowing what baby gear you need, or want, or want to avoid. We have been very lucky and been able to borrow or reuse some great baby items. We also have done our fair share of buying baby things too. When we did buy things, the reviews were so helpful. Do people need this? Do they like it? Does it work? Am I ridiculous for looking at this? What are we having for dinner. . . wait. . .

So I have decided that I want to share some of the things I have stumbled upon and my thoughts. Hopefully they will be helpful and if not, maybe at least entertaining. First on the docket, our jumperoo. We bought this for Goose for Christmas, she was about 4 months.
Fisher-Price Rainforest Jumperoo
This has been fantastic for us. It took Goose about 2 weeks to really figure out what she was supposed to do in it. I tried helping her bounce and got excited at every attempt and before you know it, she started jump, jump, jumping. She has literally spent over an hour just jumping and fiddling with the toys. She loves it.

It does have a sound option with a couple little lights.  I have tried to minimized on features like these, I want Goose to learn to play and not just be entertained. That being said, these are really not bad. The sound rewards the jumping and the animal sounds are kind of cute.  Most importantly, you can switch them off, and it doesn't affect the jumping ability or other toys.

Its a little on the big size, but its not too bad since its stationary. You don't need a door frame. It is movable (nice for vacuuming day). It is relatively easy to get baby in and out. It is adjustable in height, so as baby grows, you can raise it! I did have to give Goose a folded blanket to stand on a first, but as she grew and the springs relaxed a bit, I could move the blanket away!

Overall, I love this toy. It entertains her without me needing to be hands on. So mommy can wash dishes or vacuum or dust. . . wait why did I want two hands . . . Its fun to react to her bouncing. Bonus: it wears her out!There is nothing like watching those little feet go either. I have so many pictures and videos. This is brilliant!

This is how you know its a good toy. Sacked out!

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Budget Cookbook Series by Tomato Mama

We are on a strict grocery budget here at the Tomato household. I try to keep a close eye on how much we spend on groceries. I use everything I can to help keep the grocery bill low. I coupon, stockpile, buy loss leaders, mark-downs, and comparison shop. It's a lot of work, but I've been doing it for awhile now and can see how much of a difference all of it makes to bank account.

I also have been collecting and concocting budget friendly meals for a few years now. It is important to me to feed my family as many healthy options as I can, but it is incredibly difficult to keep things tasty and interesting on a shoestring budget. While browsing at my local library, I came across the "budget friendly" cookbook section. I grabbed a bag full and have been impressed with what I found! 

What I'm looking for in a cookbook like these are new ideas. I want some ideas on how to use the food already in my pantry and freezer and I don't want to have to buy tons of new ingredients to make them work. 

Tomorrow I will post my first cooking experiment with a book called EatingWell on a Budget (EatingWell).  I'm trying a few recipes from this book and can't wait to share them with you! 

In the meantime, here are some ideas for saving money on cooking and getting your grocery budget healthy...

1. Know how much you can afford to spend on groceries and stick to it! The Tomato household grocery budget is currently $250 a month. I do not include toiletries and household items in this list right now. 

2. Make a meal plan! By looking at the grocery store ads and coupon blogs I plan about a week of meals at a time with the deals I find. I write down 7 dinner ideas, lunch ideas and breakfast options. I make a loose plan for what day I'm going to make each meal, but I'm flexible. 

3. Cook once, eat twice. When possible I make a double batch of a meal and freeze half of it for another night's meal.  One of my favorite meals to do this with is stuffed shells, but I also cook rice and waffles in large batches for freezing. 

4. Use coupons if you can. Not only that, but go to a grocery store that doubles your coupons to get the most bang for your buck. Not all areas get great coupons in their Sunday paper, but there are a lot available online as well. I do not use as many coupons as I used to, but they are still a big part of my shopping trips. ( More on this in a later post.) 

5. Look for markdowns at the grocery store. Every time I go to my local Meijer I find markdowns on meat, bread, pastries and fruit.  

6. Shop your local Farmer's Market. Duck Momma and I are lucky enough to have an indoor, year round market in our town and are planning a trip soon. We will show you how we did in an upcoming post!

If you missed it, here is a frugal meal idea I posted a little while back. It's one of the Tomato Family faves! 

April Showers by Duck Momma

Its only warmed up a few degrees and I'm jumping up and down! I cannot wait for spring! I want to throw open my windows and clear out the winter gloom. In all my excitment, I started thinking about how much I love spring rain. It makes me so happy. So I decided to make my own version of a rain stick for Goose. I wanted it to be interesting to touch, see, and hear.

I started with an empty oatmeal container. I used dry brown rice and little navy beans for my "rain". I used more rice than beans, but I played with lots of different options before deciding on this. I glued the lid on tight after adding "rain" and taped it for good measure. I wrapped the whole pod in blue satin like material I had laying about. I sort of wrapped it like a gift or candy, sewing it tightly at one end.

I then added felt clouds and stitched them with a blanket stitch and lightly stuffed them to make them puffy. I cut out blue felt rain drops and sewed them on but left the ends floppy so they can be tugged on. I was so pleased with the end result, and so was Goose! Altough I think it will be much more interesting when we can actually observe and talk about rain later down the road.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

From Ireland with Love by Duck Momma

Its been a long winter. And as much as we look forward to spring, you know March is coming with its lion attitude. There is always some gray day ahead. But Those lovely rain drops will bring us lovely flowers, and in the meanwhile I have something to comfort and warm you.

Now there is nothing like Irish Brown Bread (aka soda bread). Its rich and dense and so comforting. For me, it is a way to nod to my Irish roots and I love it. This recipe is spot on in my opinion, although nothing beats having this bread with lamb stew on a rainy day in the Ring of Kerry, but a gray Monday in  my kitchen is worthy too. I hope you will enjoy this, May it bring a smile to your face and chase your hunger and blues away.

Here is what you need:
  • 1 c all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp sallt
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cold butter
  • 2 c wheat flour
  • 1/4 c rolled oats
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • (possible extra few teaspoons of milk in case dry)
Here's what you do:
  1. In a bowl mix all purpose flour, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Cut in butter until mixture forms small crumbs. ( I used a food processor) Stir in Whole wheat flour and oats.
  2. Add buttermilk and stir gently. If mixture is too dry to hold together add 1 tsp of buttermilk just until dough holds together. (I had to use 3 extra last time I made this) Dough should not be sticky.
  3. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently about 5 times. Set lightly on a greased baking sheet, (or pizza stone) Pat into a 7 inch diameter circle and with a floured knife cut or score a large X in the center.
  4. Bake at 375 degrees until well browned, about 40 minutes. Cool on a rack. Serve warm or cool with salted butter.

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Monster Truck/Marker Rally by Tomato Mama

Pickle loves wheels. Cars, truck, bikes, unicycles. It doesn't matter. If it has wheels, he's into it. When I saw this activity over at Teaching 2 and 3 Year Olds I knew I had to try it with the little guy!

I taped some craft paper on the floor, and had Pickle help me pick out some trucks and cars to use.

Pickle helped me decide what colors to put on each truck. We did a lot of different combinations to see how they would look when we "drove" them. 

Here is the finished product. It was lots of fun and Pickle loved it! 

I Killed A Spider by Duck Momma

That's right, I killed the spider. You should have seen it! It was at least three feet in diameter, with legs 6 feet long. It had long fangs that were dripping with whatever those movie spider fangs are always dripping with. I'm pretty sure it knew my name and was just taunting me, mean mean bugger. . .

Ok, well maybe not quite like that, but its my story and I did kill a spider. As far as I know, my mother isn't afraid of anything, including spiders. I spent most of my childhood, teenage years, and early adult hood running and screaming like a little girl from the 8 legged advisaries. (to be fair I was a little girl for some of that time). My mom would stroll in and with a mere kleenex between her fingers and the vermin, and she would squash it like. . . well a bug. What a hero! My saviour!

Now I find myself in a very interesting position. Its now my job to be champion, I have a little baby counting on me. She hasn't actually noticed them yet but its still my job. *gulp*

So in the spirit of triumph over evil and being a crafty mommy, I present to you the SPIDER SPEAR! This simple weapon can be used by all and more than effective. It has easily changable ends, so that when; in the heat of battle you do not have to carry around guts. Truthfully its a dowl rod with a thick paper towel folded around it and fixed by a rubber band. It works. And I did kill the spider.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ferdie Bird by Duck Momma

Ferdie is not actually a bird. He is our little muppet dog. He is more closely related to a stuffed animal than anything.
His beginning was rather sad. He was wondering by my husband's store one August day. Barely 4 months old, scrawny, dirty, and a flea buffet. It was so sad. So Duck Daddy brought him in and called me. Long story short; food, love, and dreaded bath time set all to right.
He currently spends his days chasing down squirrels who dare climb my bird feeder and stealing toys from Daisy the Dragon. He has no idea he's a little dog, it never holds him back. He loves everything and most everyone, especially his family (cats excluded).
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Daisy the Dragon and Ferdie Bird

Monday, February 14, 2011

Best Brownies Ever by Duck Momma

Happy Valentine's Day! In case your day was not sweet enough, or perhaps it is and a little extra chocolate never hurt anyone, I thought I would share my mom's brownie recipe (since I already spilled on the fudge frosting of course)

Here's what you need:
  • 1 c butter
  • 2 c sugar
  • 2 tbs vanilla
  • 3/4 c cocoa powder
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 c flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
(I didn't say they were the healthiest brownies ever. You ever bite into a vitamin? ok back to brownies and sweet mental health *wink*)

Melt butter in a pan. Remove from heat and add sugar and eggs one at a time. Mix in Vanilla, cocoa, and then carefully add the flour, baking soda and salt. Mix it well.
Spread into a greased 9x13 in pan and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
*WARNING* you will not want to share these, however I highly recommend you do, for a number of reasons;
  • whoever you share with will undoubtedly love you (and it is Valentine's Day)
  • there is a cup of butter and 4 eggs in here, so unless you have a date with your cardiologist or gym trainer. . . Although they need love too
  • if you feel you do not want to share, as I often do, then forget what I said in the previous warning entry and grab a fork!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Forget the Cake: Fast Fudge Frosting by Duck Momma

I'm about to share a family secret with you. Promise not to tell? You may never eat your cake again, all you'll need is this frosting. My mom use to make this for us, the extra frosting left over was the best part!( talk about licking the bowl)
Here is what you will need
• 1 1lb package of powdered sugar, sifted
• 1/2 c. Cocoa powder
• 1/4 tsp salt
• 1/3 c. Boiling water
• 1/3 c. Butter, softened
• 1 tsp vanilla
• will power to not eat it all in one sitting

Ok here is what you do:
Combine sugar, cocoa, and salt. Add water and butter. Blend. Add vanilla and mix well. This will frost top and sides of two 8 -9 inch layers. (As long as you don't sample too much of it... )

Enjoy! Your brownies will never be the same!
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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mr. Meow: A Sock Puppet by Duck Momma

Why must dryers eat socks? Where do they go? Its like somewhere between washer and dryer and drawer there is an interruption of space and time... a sock twilight zone... And what do we do with those poor single socks left behind? We make sock puppets!

Mr. Meow was really pretty easy. A few tiny pieces of felt scrap, a lone sock, and some thread should do it.

His ears are made by folding the points of a triangle together and stitching them together. I tacked each ear approximately where I wanted and then continued all the way around. Its easiest with your hand in puppet position but be careful!
His nose and eyes are simply felt that I stitched together. A blanket stitch works very well.

It took a couple tries to get all his features where I wanted but in the end perfection doesn't really matter. Goose was impressed.
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Friday, February 11, 2011

Dinner Plans by Duck Momma

Its cold out, and it's so easy to get beat down by the winter blues. Its easy to get beat down by mid week" I don't know what to do for dinner" syndrome too, but hope is in sight!

Assuming you have some of the basics around, this meal comes in at around$8- $10 total (closer to$15 for a family of 3 or 4. ) Tonight we are having thick cut pork chops with a big hearty apple and onion saute, glazed carrots, and spinach with a little bacon!
First the pork chops: finding them in sale is the first key and it does happen so keep your eye out. Second is getting those chops in a brine. I made mine with kosher salt (key ingredient), black pepper, smoked paprika, onions, celery, apples, garlic, and carrots. This is all done the day before, so just chop, dump, fridge, and you're done!

Next lets work on carrots. I just wanted to use up the carrots I had, and they were a little small so my pieces aren't all identical, but the sizes are as similar as I could get.  This would be awesome if you had baby carrots. First chop up your carrots and pop them into water to blanch. You don't even need to peel them, which is really helpful if they are skinny carrots. Season your water with salt and we are just going to blanch. Cook til your desired tenderness, and into a salty ice bath to shock! After they have been schocked you can just rub the outside skin off with a dish towel. So easy and so fast! The carrots can hang out until close to dinner time. When you are ready melt and combile a couple tablespoons of buttter, garlic, about 1/4 or so cup of brown sugar and salt.  A splash of water will help things melt faster and you can cook it out. Toss in carrots and simmer to coat!

Now for those pork chops! They go right from the brine to a nice hot skillet with a touch of butter. Cook around 6 minutes on each side. Don't mess with them while they cook! After the 12 minutes let them rest on a plate while you work on your saucy saute!
Add long cut onins and thin apple slices to the same skillet you cooked your prok chops in. A pat of butter and about 1 cup white wine to deglaze. Let everything cook together and get saucy and wonderful. I added some salt, garlic, and smoked paprika (same seasoning I used on my chops!)
After everything is where you want it add the chops back in to heat through and smother with apples and onions. Yum!
Bacon and spinach are easy. Crisp your bacon and add spinach. I use frozen sppinach I thawed while cooking everything else.
Thats it! You are done! Its time to scoot up to the table and be super proud of yourself! Enjoy!
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