Monday, December 26, 2011

Renovation Completed In The Nick of Time

All done for now- minus flooring and some trim, but it certainly feels done. It's huge!

Our Christmas tree came from our front yard. It's a little pathetic but deserving of love too.

I really need to invest in a better camera.

That's a metal bat that my brother welded for me!

Justin and Lacy enjoying the new space

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Yep, That's A Room

Since Saturday we've gone from this....

To this! Tonight they should be all done and it will be white. In addition, Rick has promised to score me 4 new dining room chairs that perfectly match our table, and I can begin decorating for Christmas.

Why, you ask, do your dining room chairs not match your table? Well, it's complicated and kind of a long story: I'm cheap.

See, now you understand. I knew you would once I explained. So, won't you stay for dinner? We have decorating to do!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Floor complete, rotten wall coming down

The window was going to move to the right wall here, but since that faces west--we're thinking no window.
 We now have a fly infestation of horror-movie proportions, likely owing to having all windows and doors ajar all of yesterday. After the floors were finished last night, Rick spent an hour bounding around on them trying to find spots not screwed in completely, then crawled on his hands and knees with the drill patching all the places he could "hear" were uneven.  I told the dogs I thought he'd gone 'round bend.

As of last night we agreed that this window, which is moving because we want our TV on that wall, may just be done away with since the wall it would move to a) faces west and b) faces the neighbor's house.  Now in the morning light, I think the room will be awfully dark without a window.  However, we will store it and Mr. Renovation can change his fickle mind later and install it.

Siding to be added here today--board and bat on top, lap board on the bottom, with a shelf separating them. Wish I could paint the brick now but that's for later.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

I love my husband

(This man is not my husband.)

(this one is.)

More Renovation Progress...

Electrician came this week and sorted out the rat's nest that previous renovators gifted to us. Today the subfloor goes in, and it should begin to look more like a room. Then the walls!

Got this handsome contractor for the day...and his little helper too. He works for lunch and beer and me finishing his laundry. I'll let you guess which 2 of those he'll actually get.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

He's Kind of A Big Deal

 In only 6 hours, Rick reduced the garage to only its framing and insulation, removing even the ceiling for easier electrical installation. All the paneling and trim came off the walls, then sheet rock, then plywood hiding behind the sheet rock. We even managed to clean up by 4pm.

Among our interesting discoveries: a herd of geckos hiding in a rotted exterior wall (water damage, another discovery we suspected and confirmed), more hay than insulation in the attic (squirrels), and a mummified skeleton entombed in a wall.

Just kidding on the last one.
Wall in mid-destruction

view from the living room
 Today is electrical and framing in the window side wall. The window will move to the caddy corner nearest wall and the exterior door will be removed entirely. In the window's place will be a slight recessed media area where our TV, receiver, and entertainment area will sit. Behind the recessed area, entombed mummy.

My brother is very generously helping provide the electrical expertise, and hopefully the lack of a ceiling will make that easier. My purpose today is to help clean and to cook barbecue for after.  Rick thinks he will complete a sub floor by the end of the day, then our sheet rocker will hopefully be here this week to give us real walls.

Updates: If you see the electrical wires hanging down in the last photo, you have a hint of the mess we found in the attic. Professional electrician to the rescue.  The best part?  The electrician's name is Sarge.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Home Renovation Begins

We're renovating this weekend and next, the culmination of 6 months of talking and planning. Our house has a converted garage that is separated from the living room by a single wall, so that wall will come down today and then the garage floor raised to the living room's level. After electrical, drywall, and moving a window, we should have a single big living room that will now also have a dining room area.

Rick is a pro at this, so I don't doubt we'll be almost done by Christmas (when we're hosting) but we're going to document it here as a way to guilt-trip ourselves if we leave a portion incomplete. Rick's brother renovated his own kitchen a year or more ago and there's still a whole shelf waiting to be finished.

And so: BEFORE
Bye Bye, Wall!

2nd fridge- to be relocated, possibly into a closet. Srsly.

View from laundry to garage, soon to be hidden by a sliding bookshelf.

 And the mess begins...

UPDATE: Just as we get started, cops come to investigate 4 young punks hanging around neighbors' houses that look empty. Yea for resale value!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Arts and Crafts Weekend

Last weekend it rained and we started craft projects all over the house, painting and decorating for Halloween.  This weekend we finished it all and it's quite the gallery.  Taste Tester prefers to be known now as "Freed", the Artist.

Freed used the tree that was taken down 2 years ago, which we saved, to make this bench by hand.  It took a full week and it's gorgeous.  The insects that crawled out of it were a little frightening, but all tenants were evicted before it was sealed.  He's planning to make a matching bench out of the other half of the top piece. Anybody have a fallen tree you want turned into something memorable?

Next he made me tombstones for Halloween. Nothing says "Honey, I love you" like a headstone.

Finally, I got this beautiful copper globe lamp from my brother, who had inherited it from our grandparents, who had found it in Pakistan when they lived and worked there.  It's older than I am, and it hadn't been shined up in ages. As long as I could remember in my childhood, it had looked like a dull brown blob of metal.  Half a can of Brasso, one bout of tendonitis, and 5 cleaning cloths later, it gleamed.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cornbread Corn Chowder

When corn is in season, I love to get elotes wherever I can find it.  Roasted corn, topped with mayonnaise and butter and lime and chile powder and cheese.  It takes all the healthiness of corn and then completely abolishes it under mounds of fat and chile.  This soup is kinda like that.  Start with veggies, then drown them in half and half.  Also, add some bacon grease, then use cornbread to thicken it. Taste Tester had a sensitive stomach so this was a nice simple version, but at the bottom I suggested some add-ins that would make it pretty awesome.

Cornbread Corn Chowder
2 tbsp butter
1/2 cup chopped white onion
3 cloves garlic
1 cup frozen or fresh corn
1/2 cup diced yellow and/or red bell peppers
1/4 tsp each thyme, sage, black pepper, and salt
1 cup half and half
3 cups milk
1 cup chicken stock
2 cups crumbled cornbread
1 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp honey
Additional ingredients I didn't use but might next time:
diced green jalapeno--red if I could find them
roasted chicken
potatoes (?) or butternut squash
Bacon grease instead of butter to start, and bacon in it! That's the proper start to a proper chowder.
A cheese--not sure what kind, but manchego is my current favorite
Crema fresca as a top garnish with chives

 First heat the butter, then "roast" the corn in it to slightly brown it before adding the onions and garlic. Once the onion is slightly translucent, add half and half and diced peppers. Add milk and then chicken stock, seasoning.
My cornbread was fresh from the oven and not yet crumbled
Bring to a simmer for about 10 minutes, then add the crumbled cornbread and mix well.  Simmer for another 10 while mixing, adding worcestershire and honey at the end.  Serve with a small wedge of cornbread.
                                                   Extra tip for free:

I don't know about you, but cornbread batter is better than cold cookie dough. I can't stop tasting it. My cornbread recipe is from the side of the cornmeal bag, but one trick for a perfectly moist cornbread is to preheat a cast iron skillet, then turn off the heat and pour the batter in before baking. 

Whole Grilled Salmon & The Facts Of Life

Wow, I haven't posted since July?  After starting a new job, I guess it got away from me.  Fortunately the change of season means we'll begin having more cookouts and people over, even if our back yard looks like the West end of Mars. (Taste Tester assures me the East enders of Mars is populated with wasteful yuppies who overwater their lawns.)  Unfortunately, we lost a giant elm that shaded most of our back yard to the terrible drought we're having in Texas.

But, since the temperature was a low 97 Sunday, we did dig up a new recipe for whole grilled salmon.  I happened to have a whole salmon in the freezer and Taste Tester wanted to use his smoker, so after dousing the lawn around it to be cautious of sparks, he got it up to 250 degrees and I prepped the fish.

First I had to trim the tail and remove the fins, it was already cleaned when purchased but I rinsed the cavity and dried it as well.  Salt and fresh ground pepper seasoned the inside, then a layer of sliced lemons was added inside.  On the top, I sliced to the bone and inserted half-moon slices of lemon. Too easy.
The garlic-chive-butter was also spread on the outside

Smoker at 250 degrees, a little cooler than it felt outside
 A butter-garlic mix was rubbed on the outside and inside, then it was cooked over low direct heat with minimal smoke for an hour.  Oh, and we used a cedar smoking plank that was soaked for 30 minutes in water.

Butter Garlic Sauce
4 tbsp butter (microwaved till warm, ~45 sec to a minute)
5 cloves crushed garlic (toss into warmed butter)
2-3 tbsp chopped chives
2 tbsp lemon juice
Salt to taste

Then the fish was served with this cold sauce:

Lemon Mustard Sauce
1/4 cup mayo
1/8 cup dijon mustard
1/8 cup Greek yogurt
leftover garlic-butter-chive mix from above
more lemon to taste--probably another 1 or 2 tbsp
2 tbsp chopped chives
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

We probably rushed the cooking of this, as our salmon was a little less pink than it should have been, but still delicious. Taste Tester sometimes gets excited and chooses the well-disproven method seen in every sitcom ever written of upping the temperature in order to shorten the cook time. Remember when Tootie tried that on The Facts of Life and burned Blair Warner's birthday cake?  I laughed and laughed.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Grilled Turkey Meatballs with Grilled Naan

I'm loving buying cheap cuts of meat and using the grinder attachment to grind the meat.  We did lamb burgers the other day-- 4 burgers from $6 worth of lamb shoulder!  Today I thought about turkey, since we love turkey burgers.

But burgers are so heavy and I always end up tossing away the bread and just enjoying the toppings and meat.  So today I'm making turkey meatballs, and Taste Tester will get to grill them on kebabs, and I'll make naan to go with it because WHO TOSSES NAAN?  Nobody, that's who.  Nobody tosses naan.

I haven't completely figured out the rest of the meal idea, but a spicy meatball naan sandwich is the rough outline.   First I ground the meat I had chopped into small pieces, then I added ~2 tbsp of flour to help bind it.  I used garlic powder, ground pepper, a touch of sage, and fresh garlic and chopped onions...but that was pretty bland when I made a test ball.  So, I went back and added cayenne, paprika, curry, and cumin.  Much better.

And the naan, recipe here, will also be done on the grill.  Grilled bread, meat on a stick...what more could one wish for?  Yogurt dip!
1 cup greek yogurt
1 tbsp tahini
1 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp each of chopped cilantro and mint
1 tsp honey
dash of garlic salt

I also bought fresh sheep's milk feta, so good it makes your mouth weep with gratitude.

After minor marital disharmony over grill space and shoddy grill maintenance by Taste Tester, the naan was grilled and the kebabs failed to hold so they just became meatballs (pan seared then baked for ~20 min at 400), and I chopped some tomato and sliced red onion and it all came together, this was actually FANTASTIC.  Sweet Abe Lincoln it was awesome.  The spices in the meat made for a smell-good house for hours.  And I actually had enough leftover meat to freeze for future turkey burgers!

Scott and I will have to have a turkey burger cookoff....

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Garlic Yeast Rolls

Another bread post, not really showcasing my talents, but the chile relleno omelettes got eaten too quickly for photos this morning.  I wanted to make a loaf of bread to enjoy with all our fresh garden tomatoes, but it always gets moldy so quickly that I thought rolls might be better for storage.
Gratuitous Fruit Shot: heirlooms and big boys
 So, I threw these together this morning. 
Very moist and a great crumb that pulled apart perfectly.  Some have garlic on top and the next batch will have some folded into the center too.  You'll need a muffin pan and someone who doesn't mind garlic breath.

Garlic Yeast Rolls
6 cloves garlic
4 tbsp olive oil
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
2 1/4 tsp (or 1 packet) yeast
1 cup milk plus 1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp sugar

Mix milk, sugar, and yeast and let sit for 5-10 minutes so the yeast can dissolve.  Stir in egg yolk and salt.
In mixer or by hand, mix with 2 cups flour.  If by hand, knead and add flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to your hands until smooth.  If in mixer, let it knead and monitor incorporation of the flour until the dough is only stuck to the bottom but clearing the sides.

Roll dough into a ball, coat in olive oil and let rise until doubled in size.  Meanwhile, chop/crush/puree garlic with olive oil until the chunks are small.  After the first rise, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and press a bit flatter.  Spread 3/4 of garlic mix on this side then fold (grab sides and tug outward then fold in at four corners to expel air and incorporate garlic).  Then roll into a tube and act like it's playdough until the tub is long and 2 inches at most in diameter and about 15 inches long.

Slice 2" pieces and pat the tops with oil (or the leftover garlic oil if you want!), then place in muffin tin.  For a perfectly round top, you'll need to stretch the little rounds and tuck their edges under, so the folded portion is hidden below.  My recipe yielded big 8 rolls and could have made a dozen small.

Let rise another 30-45 min while the oven heats to 400, then bake for 15-20 minutes until nice and brown.  If you skip the muffin tin, let them rise on the pan you will bake on.  Larger rolls might make great hamburger buns!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Cheese Biscuits

I've made 3-layers cakes, countless loaves of bread, pizza and creme brulee, but biscuits still intimidate me.  Added to the intimidation was a bit of disdain, since I rarely crave them anyway.  This recipe solved both problems because it's all about cheese.  The results are buttery, savory, with the right amount of crumble, and all about cheesy flavor.

And it was a nice way to celebrate May 22nd, a.k.a. "Jesus Called In Sick for the Rapture" Day.

2 cups flour
3 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp salt (but if your cheese is a salty type, consider halving this)
1/3 cup unsalted butter or Crisco butter-flavored veggie shortening
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 heaping cup of grated cheese
1/2 cup to 2/3 cup of milk
(any additions you might want here: chives, rosemary, peppers, cracked black pepper...)

First stir the dry ingredients, then cut in the butter or shortening with a pastry cutter or just whir it in your food processor.  If in a processor, you'll want to transfer it to a bowl you can get your hands in to add the oil and cheese and mix it up.  Now the milk is added slowly until there is no visible flour (it should be only barely sticky).

Scoop spoonfuls onto a silpat or nonstick pan and bake at 400 degrees for 15-18 minutes.  I found that at fifteen, I needed to turn the biscuits over and bake for a minute longer to brown the tops.  Also, you could brush the tops with butter for extra flavor, but that touch wasn't needed for me.  My cheese was a combo of what I had in the fridge--a little white chedder, a little feta, a little mont jack, and a little cotija.  The cotija was extra salty so my biscuits are just a tad bit salty but still fantastic.

Next I want to make these with either all cheddar and some peppers, or bleu cheese like gorgonzola and rosemary.  You could use anything...I'm going to be distracted from work all day thinking about the possibilities.  What a good easy catering side treat or thing-to-bring-to-a-dinner-party-you-aren't-hosting.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Chicken Pot Pie, Made From Scratch

Taste Tester has the flu, so chicken soup was on my radar but sounded so Blah.  Almost as blah as a milk frother, but not as blah as Dan Patrick. This is not blah.  In fact, this has a VERY exciting ending, which you shouldn't cheat and skip down to, but rather let the suspense build.

So I scratched this together, using leftovers and a pie crust recipe from my new discovery, "The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American" by Jeff Smith.  I bought it whenever ago from 1/2 Price Books and then never read it, but it's all these historical recipes dating back to the Native Americans.  Did you know George Washington distilled his own rye whiskey and that Hasty Pudding is actually just cornmeal boiled in water?  But that's for another time.

So my pie pastry was this, blended in the food processor until it formed a ball and cleared the sides:
1.5 cups flour
1/2 cup butter (chill)
1 tsp salt
1 small egg
2-3 tbsp ice cold water
* I blended everything before adding the water so that I could watch it form up and not overdo the water.

While this chilled in the fridge, I made the filling (basically white gravy or bechamel with stuff added):
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup half and half
1tsp salt and pepper or more to taste
1 tsp chicken boullion
dash of thyme for flavor
1 small chopped potato-- about 1/2 cup
handful frozen peas and carrots (maybe 1 cup altogether)
1 cup chopped chicken (leftover from a roasted chicken from the HEEB)

First melt the butter in a small pot and then whisk in the butter at medium heat.  Keep whisking until this roux becomes tan, then add a little of the milk, blend well with the whisk, and then blend in all the milk, cream and salt.  Add the potato and stir as this thickens.  Add the frozen veggies and chicken and cover, stirring every few minutes to keep it from clumping or burning to the bottom.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

As the potatoes are softening, get your dough back out and split the ball into two parts.  I use 2 sheets of wax paper to roll it out but a floured surface will work too.  I had picked out 2 Corningware bowls and once the dough was rolled to 1/8 in thickness, I laid it in and fit to the bowl.  This involved snipping off the extra and the inside folds, reserving the dough for the topping. Poke holes in the bottom with a fork or knife.

By now my filling was nice and thick and I turned its heat off, and worried about the crust bottoms.  I prebaked them because I like them to be crispy.  It was probably 10 minutes at 400 degrees.  They got nicely puffed, and then I let them cool a few minutes before adding the filling.

Next I rolled out the tops, I had just enough dough left over for both.  Cut to fit, press onto the tops of the filled crusts, and back in the oven for about 30-45 minutes until beautiful brown on top.

And to reveal my big secret, it turns out this is the cure to flu.  I'm sharing it with the world because I'm that generous.  I could have made millions, but I'm just too nice.  You're WELCOME.