Saturday, January 31, 2009

Decisions, Decisions

Okay. I am officially enlisting your help. This is a very important issue, and I expect all of you to exercise your constitutional right to vote on this crucial referendum:

Do we want to go with "Taupestone" (on left) or "Wild Oats" (on right)?

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I know. I totally can't decide. The current carpet is white, which is absolutely not an option for us. Its a matter of -- how dark do we want the new carpet to be? Wild Oats (on the lower stair) is darker and more of a golden-brown, while Taupestone (on the higher stair) is more of a grayish neutral tan.

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The part that's making this so difficult is how different they look with my different paint colors. Here's the tan in the hallway and staircase (Behr's Pecan Sandie), with Wild Oats on the left this time, and Taupestone on the right.

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And here's the upstairs master bedroom color. The carpet choices look so different against this paint -- don't you think?

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Steven likes the Wild Oats color, but I don't know if I'm brave enough to buy carpet in that dark of a shade. (It would, however, do an excellent job hiding stains...)

Since you've been with us for the entire painting excursion, here's a glimpse of the finished product. Here's the sitting room: (Remember it used to be pink?)

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And here's the dining room. (And no, we still haven't bought any furniture.) Hence, this is what we do with a house full of empty rooms.

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I also have to report that our faithful Mac Powerbook has finally bit the dust. Its making a clicking sound, which makes me very sad, because it contains all of our pre-2007 photos, videos, and music. However, there was not much time for grief, because tonight we headed out to the mall...

And made a MasterCard commercial.

Boots on clearance: $40

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Buttering up your wife so you can get a new MacBook: Priceless.

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This is a clever man, people. A very clever man. :)

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Baby, Its Cold Outside

Have I used that title before? I think I might have.

Its snowing here today -- we are supposed to get four inches when all is said and done.

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And cold weather calls for one thing: Mittens!

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Pattern: Chevalier Mittens
By: Made By Myself (Her blog is in some Nordic language. Don't be alarmed. The pattern is in English, too.)
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Luxury Donegal Tweed
Bought at: Knit Happens, Alexandria, VA

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This is the only thing I've completed recently, which shows you my lack of knitting focus lately. Its hard to sit and knit when there's stuff to clean and walls to paint and et cetera.

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Steven tried these on (after I practically demanded that he do so), and he actually likes them. He requested a pair in charcoal gray. I have barely completed half of the first one.

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Sorry dear. Maybe next snow day.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Redemption! (By Way of Potato Soup)

Remember that string of mealtime failures and my deep concern that I might have lost my cooking mojo forever?

Redemption is mine, folks.

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Oh yeah. I still got it.

Baked Potato Soup
4 large baking potatoes
2/3 c. margarine
2/3 c. flour
4 green onions, chopped and divided (didn't use 'em, didn't have any)
12 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 1/4 c. shredded cheddar cheese
8 oz. sour cream
6 c. whole milk (used 1% -- no difference, still thickened perfectly)
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Bake potatoes (I baked them in the crock pot, wrapped in tinfoil, because that thing will NOT defeat me yet), cool, scoop out pulp. Melt margarine over low heat. Add flour and stir (whisk) until smooth. Darken roux slightly. Gradually add milk. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thick and bubbly. Add potato pulp, salt, pepper, half of the green onions, 1/2 c. bacon, 1 c. cheese. Cook until thoroughly heated and stir in sour cream.

Serve with remaining green onions, bacon and cheese as garnish. (You can add more milk to stretch the recipe. I halved the whole thing, because it was just the two of us, and because I was scared of having to throw it all out as I've done with the last two meals. BUT NO! It was fantastic and today's score is Heather: 1, Kitchen: 0.)

Go mighty me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Don't Quit Your Day Job.

This has been a week of kitchen failures.

Utterly sad, depressing, and very not tasty kitchen failures.

First, there was a recipe from Bon Appetit. Ziti with Skillet-Roasted Root Vegetables. It sounded so delicious, and the picture looked amazing. And while I'd never had a golden beet or a parsnip before, the recipe was from Bon Appetit! It had to be good, right?

I hunted down all the fresh root vegetables in the produce section while Steven watched, shaking his head silently as I grabbed one unusual selection after another. I turned them over contemplatively in my hands at the grocery store a while before placing them lovingly in my cart, thinking to myself, "Yeah. I can totally do this."

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(Famous last words.)

I diligently chopped up the vegetables, which made for a colorful array.

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I set aside the beet greens for later (I'd never had beet greens either. This will factor in later, as you can probably imagine.)

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I cooked the pasta (I had penne, not ziti.)

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As I watched the vegetables saute, I had many grand plans for this meal. It would be our new wintry, substantial-yet-healthy go-to dinner dish.

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I chopped up the beet greens, and dreamed of making this dish with beet greens from my own garden someday...

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And then ... something happened.

The veggies weren't browning like I'd imagined they would. Instead, they were just sort of getting... mushy.

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Unwavering and stubborn as ever, I soldiered on, reading and re-reading the directions a thousand times. Yes, saute until browned and then cover and cook until tender.

Hmm.

Alright -- just get it in a dish and onto the pasta -- maybe it will still taste good.

Right? Looks okay....

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Presentation: 7
Taste: Negative 700 Billion.

It was SO. EXTREMELY. GROSS.

Beets? Seriously? What was I thinking??

Steven and I each suffered through a small serving, and then I threw it all out and we went to Subway.

Not one to be easily deterred, I decided that tonight's meal was going to redeem my kitchen woes. Beef Stroganoff in the crock pot. How could I possibly screw that up?

And yet, somehow I managed. At 8:05 this morning before I left for court, I was throwing ingredients into the crock pot as fast as possible: stew beef, chopped onion, cream of mushroom soup, pepper, cream cheese, and sour cream. I put the lid on the crock pot and glanced back at the recipe one last time before I left the house.

"Just before serving, stir in sour cream and cream cheese."

Oh, crap.

When I got home, I learned why the recipe does not call for cream cheese and sour cream to be cooked for ten hours straight. Again, like a broken record, it was SO. EXTREMELY. GROSS.

(Steven, being the kindhearted and loving husband that he is, still asked for seconds. I promised him I'd make it right next time. I also promised him that we'd go back to the basics. Tomorrow night? Macaroni-and-cheese. Wish me luck.)

Monday, January 19, 2009

Painting (Again.)

Anyone getting tired of hearing about paint yet?

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Because, you know, I sure am.

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We had an incident earlier, in which we lost track of Carlie, and all of a sudden, she was standing in the paint tin, knee-deep in Behr's Toffee Crunch. I didn't manage to get a picture (Steven hollered, and I grabbed her and ran straight to the utility sink), but here's what she's been doing ever since -- napping by the paint cans. We think she might have been an artist in a former life... she just really, really wants to be near that paint.

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Meanwhile, Pringles has been nervously monitoring our progress.

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He had his own paint incident, where he backed his little tush into a freshly painted wall, but it turned out alright. I figure his rear end is already sort of toffee-colored, so I'm just leaving it there until his next haircut.

He is, however, slightly offended that we aren't letting him go to the Inauguration. I told him it was too crowded for a five-pound dog, but he's still pouting.

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I have no idea what traffic will be like tomorrow. It will either be totally insane or there will be no one on the roads. There's supposed to be at least 2 million people in DC tomorrow. (And one porta-potty for every 5,000 persons. God help them all.)

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After a brief break for the latest Inauguration coverage, it was back to work for your humble correspondent.

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After a while, the original pink colors start to play tricks on your eyes, and you find yourself painting over the same spot five times, just to be sure.

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I am pleased to report that we are finished with the front sitting room and the kitchen, and the only remaining spots to paint are the upper borders of the dining room. I couldn't bring myself to climb up the ladder anymore tonight, and plus, 24 was about to come on. :)

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I bet Jack Bauer never has to paint dining rooms. He makes Chloe do it, at an unreasonable rate of speed. ("Chloe! We don't have time!)

(As you can see, Pringles has now found the other warm spot in the house. They are not cold-weather dogs, apparently.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Home Sweet Home

Thanks to several gift certificates from Home Depot (thank you Huffs and Steeles and Mulvihills!), our house is starting to look a bit more like a home.

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We spent all day yesterday and today painting the two front rooms in the house. (You thought we were done painting?? Oh, think again...) I'm going to finish the trim in the front room tomorrow if it kills me, and then hopefully finish the trim in the dining room and be rid of that horrid pink forever and ever. We still have to hire somebody to paint the entryway, and I'm just keeping the doors to the upstairs bedrooms shut so I don't have to think about how they are not even a smidge painted, and how I haven't even taken down the wallpaper yet....and... and....

Anyway. The to-do list isn't getting any smaller.

Carlie has been following me around into every room I paint, and she falls asleep right on the plastic sheeting. We moved the sheeting out of her way and realized that she was actually just claiming the sunny spot in the house.

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I'm also starting to get the hang of the gas stove. As you might expect, it cooks FAST -- much faster than my old electric stove, and that has resulted in a couple of, um, crispy meals... Friday's meal was an old standard -- chicken fingers with mac-and-cheese. I'll give you the recipe but its not really a recipe, just instructions.

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Chicken Fingers
Boneless skinless chicken tenderloins
1 egg
3/4 c. italian breadcrumbs
1/4 c. parmesan
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 c. vegetable oil

Whisk egg in bowl. Mix breadcrumbs and parmesan in separate bowl with salt and pepper. Dip boneless skinless chicken tenderloins first into egg bowl, then into breadcrumbs bowl, making sure to coat each one thoroughly with breadcrumb mixture. Meanwhile, heat oil in skillet on stove. Slide coated tenderloin gently into hot oil and fry until browned.

Serve with Velveeta Shells & Cheese. :)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Toddler Mittens and Crock Pot Lasagna

Remember this baby?

Here, let me remind you. This is my niece, Riley, and I seriously feel like this was yesterday (it was April 2008).

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Well, she's still hamming it up for the camera, but suddenly she's not so little anymore! (They grow up so fast! Man oh man...)

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And remember this little sweater I made for her a while back?

Well, she looks just darling in it. (This is her concert pianist outfit -- Pops is starting her good and early on the keys.)

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And here are the proud parents. I find it painfully cute that Riley looks right at the camera like she's done this a thousand times before. She's a total pro.

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Its such an interesting thing to watch my younger brother as a parent. At times, I look at him and think Wow, he's so grown up, and I barely even recognize him. And then at other times, he looks just like that little five-year-old that I used to dress up in my Rainbow Brite nightgowns.

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Right. Sorry about that, Jon. :)

Given the tumult of moving into our house, I set aside my plans for the next cutie-pie sweater in the queue, and whipped up a pair of toddler mittens for Riley's Christmas present. I think they were way too big, but they'll fit eventually.

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Pattern: Toddler Mittens
Available at: PSSO Blog
Yarn: Blue Moon Fiber Arts, Heavyweight Socks that Rock, in Coral

And just to make this post a total jumble of information, here's a quickie recipe for the dinner we had tonight. I didn't take pictures because I was so famished that I barely avoided ingesting the flatware and bowl right along with the meal. I had stopped at home after court (in DC on the week before inauguration, no less -- there are no words that could possibly describe what the traffic is like up here right now, so I won't even try. Suffice to say, the military is plotting out responses to riot scenarios, and its a good thing because the traffic is, indeed, riot-worthy...).

When I got home from court around noonish, I threw this recipe together as fast as I could, then went to grab a sandwich to take with me back to work. And oh hello, nope, I won't be having a sandwich for lunch today because the loaf of bread is blue. (Why does my sandwich bread get moldy so fast? Argh.) So I had the world's fastest bowl of cereal and zoomed back to work.

When I got home tonight, I was crazy amounts of hungry. (Steven apparently was too -- he even called me in the car on the way home and asked if he could go ahead and eat, because he was So. Absolutely. Starving.) It was a good day for a crock pot dinner. If I had to cook something after I got home, we would have been eating McDonalds for sure. (Not that there's anything wrong with that...)

Slow Cooker Lasagna
Adapted from BettyCrocker.com

1 lb ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cans tomato sauce, 15 oz each (I totally cheated here and used spaghetti sauce)
2 tsp dried basil leaves (or your choice of italian spices) (Note: I didn't use any spices -- no time! I was seriously tripping over myself to get this in the Crock Pot and get back out the door to work. Also, the spaghetti sauce had some spices, so I figured, you know, whatever...)
2 cups italian blend shredded cheese
1 container (15 oz) ricotta cheese
1 box uncooked lasagna noodles

Cook ground beef and onion in skillet until no longer pink. Drain. Stir in tomato sauce and spices. In separate bowl, mix ricotta and shredded cheese together. Spoon 1/4 of meat sauce into Crock Pot; top with 5 uncooked noodles, breaking them in half to fit inside the Crock Pot. Spread with half of the cheese mixture and 1/4 of the meat sauce. Top with 5 more uncooked noodles. Spread remaining cheese mixture and 1/4 of the meat sauce. Top with remaining 5 noodles and remaining meat sauce. Make sure all the noodles are covered with sauce.

Cover and cook on low heat setting for 4-6 hours. Rush in the door and wolf down a huge piece. Makes about 4-6 servings.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Tarragon Chicken Salad

We have been doing some exciting things this weekend over here at Casa de Steele, including such delightful activities as: Raking Months' Old Leaves In The Freezing Rain, and also Dragging Twelve Heavy Duty Garbage Bags Full Of Wet Leaves Into The Garage, and then there was the Cleaning The Wood Floors With A Sponge And Bucket Before Breaking Down And Buying A Mop.

Oh, the joy.

I've got pictures to show you from our New Year's trip to Atlanta -- mostly of my niece, who is sprouting up like her pacifier is made of MiracleGro. (It is not.) But I am too tired to get up off the couch to go upload all the photos (including a few new knits I finished recently), so I'm giving you an older recipe I'd stashed away for just such a lazy Saturday.

I adore the Publix grocery store, specifically with regard to a Tarragon Chicken Salad they sell that I absolutely cannot find anywhere else. In my adventurous cooking spirit, I bought some tarragon and hunted through Epicurious.com to find a recipe that might come close to the revered Publix version.

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The recipe I finally settled on calls for walnuts or pecans. I didn't have either, and I didn't feel like paying $8 for a small bag at the store. I did, however, locate an aging can of almonds in my food cabinet, so I toasted those up instead.

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The assembly was prettier than the finished product. I am such a sucker for small piles of separately designated foods. I have no idea why. It is the organizer in me. (I also love color-coordinated displays of neatly folded items in clothing stores. I am so very odd.)

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Once I got over my fear of messing up the perfect little ingredient piles, I stirred everything up into a delicious mess.

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And OH. MY. HEAVENS. Was it ever delicious. I ate chicken salad sandwiches morning, noon, and night for nearly two weeks straight. People at work were starting to question my sanity (and the expiration date of the chicken salad). Regretfully, I had to toss the last cup or so -- I just couldn't finish it all. The inherent trouble with making something that only you will eat. Even cutting the recipe in half still left too much for me to eat all by myself.

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(In protest of the Neverending Chicken Salad For Lunch, Steven had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Don't feel too bad for him, he loves peanut butter and jelly.)

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Tarragon Chicken Salad (with Grapes and Almonds)
adapted from Epicurious

2 cups cubed cooked chicken (about 3/4 pound) (I used rotisserie chicken from one of those ready-made supermarket chickens)
1 cup almonds, toasted and chopped
1 celery rib, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (1/2 cup)
1 cup halved seedless red grapes
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1.5 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon dried tarragon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Mix it all up and share it with someone who loves chicken salad as much as you do. (For example, invite me over next time you make it. I can pack away some chicken salad.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Ubiquitous Snickerdoodle

After three nights in the new house, we got tired of looking at stacks of unpacked cardboard boxes, so we took a quick jaunt down to Atlanta to spend New Years' weekend with my family. Given my newfound interest in cooking, I decided to raid Mom's recipe boxes while we were there. (There were several boxes overflowing with recipes -- we consolidated them during my raid.)

It was a blast -- I found lots of great recipes from my childhood, most of which are made in shallow Pyrex dishes, which is only proper for a Southern childhood. If you couldn't make it in casserole form, we didn't want it.

But the most hilarious part of my recipe box treasure hunt was sitting with Mom on the couch with the box in our laps, pulling out recipes one-by-one and watching certain recipes show up again and again. For example, Mom had at least eight copies of a "Hashbrown Casserole" recipe in several variations. We giggled more and more with each appearance.

But the most popular recipe in the box(es)? The one that kept making an appearance, over and over, until we doubled over with laughter each time I pulled another copy out of the box?

The one, the only... The Snickerdoodle.

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In case you are unaware of the vast glory that is the Snickerdoodle, let me clue you in. They are heavenly. Crispy on the edge, soft in the middle, and coated with cinnamon-sugar that caramelizes in the oven just so.

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Clearly, one copy of the recipe would never be enough.

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The strangest part is that all of the recipes have one ingredient in common: cream of tartar. Why do these cookies specifically require cream of tartar? I have never seen another cookie recipe require it -- just the Snickerdoodles. Could one of you people that has more culinary knowledge than me (read: all of you) enlighten me here?

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Well, after all of those recipes, we knew we were destined to make a batch of Snickerdoodles. You can't repeat the word Snickerdoodle more than three times without wanting to sink your teeth into that crispy cinnamon cookie crust.

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They were just as good as I remembered. As you might expect, I devoured them by the fistful. Mom sent us home with a Ziploc baggie full of them, with the idea they would last us at least a few days, maybe even a week after we got back.

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I finished off the last one before our plane touched down at Dulles. The first place I headed after the taxi pulled into our driveway? Straight to the cupboard to check for Cream of Tartar. I sense another batch in my near future.

Now if only I could find a copy of that recipe... I know I put it somewhere...