Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday Baking and Holiday Plumbing

Last weeked I had the oppotunity to bake some things for the upcoming holiday get togethers Brian and I will be attending.  I actually had the house to myself for a night, so it was the perfect time to get my cook on!  Brian was down in Emporia doing part of the bathroom remodel- plumbing to be exact.  He got a lot of practice sweating pipes, fitting joints, fixing termite damage, etc.  Look at the great plumb job:

Before



After



So while Brian was plumbing I was baking.  I made three different treats- Oreo Truffles, Salty Nutty Peanut Bars, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Crunch.  They are all very, very good.



Oreo Truffles
1 package Oreo cookies (not double stuffed)
8 oz. cream cheese
2 8 oz. packages semisweet baking chocolate, melted

Crush cookies to fine crumbs using a food processor (or however you want) and place in a medium bowl.  Add the cream cheese and mix until well blended (you shouldn't see any white from the cream cheese or oreos).  Roll the cookie mixture into about 42 balls, 1" in diameter.  Dip the balls into the melted chocolate and place on a wax paper covered cookie sheet.  Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Salty Nutty Peanut Bars
Cookie Base
1 pouch Betty Crocker peanut butter cookie mix
3 T vegetable oil
1 T water
1 egg
2 cups dry-roasted peanuts (salted)

Topping
1 bag (10 oz.) miniature marshmallows
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk (not evaporated)
1 bag (10 oz.) peanut butter chips (1 2/3 cups)
2 cups dry-roasted peanuts (salted)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray bottom and sides of 13x9 pan with cooking spray.  In large bowl, stir all cookie base ingredients except peanuts until soft dough forms.  Press dough in bottom of pan.  Sprinkle evenly with 2 cups peanuts; press lightly into dough.  Bake 12 to 15 minutes until light golden brown.  Cool 30 minutes.

In 3-quart saucepan, heat marshmallows and butter over medium-low heat, stiring frequently, until melted.  Stir in peanut butter, milk and peanut butter chips until smooth.  Immediately pour marshmallow mixture over cookie base; spread evenly.  Sprinkle evenly with 2 cups peanuts; press gently into marshmallow mixture.

Refrigerate about 1 hour until firm.  Cut into bars.


Chocolate Peanut Butter Fudge Crunch
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
2 sticks plus 1 T unsalted butter
One 16 oz. jar creamy peanut butter
3 cups crispy rice cereal
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 cups confectioners' sugar

Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper.  In a medium saucepan, melt half the chocolate and 1 T of butter over low heat; stir in 1 cup peanut butter, then 2 cups rice cereal.  Spread the mixture evenly in prepared pan; refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes.  Wash out the saucepan.

In the saucepan, combine the remaining 2 sticks butter and the salt; melt over medium heat, stirring.  Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining peanut butter and the confectioners' sugar.  Spread half of the peanut butter mixture over the cereal layer.  Top with the remaining 1 cup cereal.

In a small bowl, microwave the remaining chocolate at medium power until melted, 1.5 minutes.  Stir into the remaining peanut butter mixture.  Spread evenly on the cereal-topped peanut butter layer; refrigerate until set, about 45 minutes.  Cut into 16 pieces.

Later on this week I will be baking a pecan pie for Christmas dinner and preparing spinach artichoke dip for an appetizer.  Yummy!  I love the holidays simply for the excuse to eat all kinds of wonderful food.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Grilling Technique Makes for a Great Dinner

This past Saturday evening my cousin Kate came up to visit and spend the night.  We had a blast eating, drinking, talking and playing a few rounds of Guitar Hero (with singing).

There were a couple of firsts that happened on Saturday.  Kate got to see our house for the first time and hang out in our basement.



Kate also brought homemade absinthe that her friend made which Brian and I tried for the first time.  It's definitely not something you could drink a lot of, but it was very tasty and hopefully when her friend finishes up another batch we will be getting some.  And no, we did not see a green Kylie Minogue fairy flying around.



The third first was grilling salmon on cedar planks.  We went to Home Depot and bought a piece of cedar which Brian cut into several smaller 12" sections (who wants to pay $15 for a couple of small, pre-cut boards when you can make your own?).  We soaked the planks for about 2 hours (you don't want the boards to burn up on the grill) and pre-heated them on the grill to get them smoking to start letting out the cedar "flavor".

I had bought a 2 pound, skinless salmon cut into two pieces which had been marinating for about 15 hours in a 1/2 cup soy sauce, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup orange juice, 1/2 cup honey, 1 T freshly grated ginger, a couple of chopped green onions, a couple of dashes siratcha (hot sauce), and 1/2 T ground mustard.

The combination of the marinade and cedar planks made for some of the best tasting salmon I have ever had.  Every time we would go to check on the salmon the smell coming from the grill just absolutely made our mouths water!  We cooked the salmon for about 20 minutes (until they reached 130 degrees internally), adding more marinade after 10 minutes.  What is nice about the cedar planks is that you don't even have to flip the salmon- they just cook up perfectly.



I honestly cannot wait to make more salmon on the grill with the cedar planks.  I also cannot wait to eat my dinner tonight- it's a salad made with the leftover salmon.  Yummy!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Old School

This post is old school for two reasons:

  1. I am writing it.

  2. I can't cook like Courtney, so I will not speak of food.


Now on to bidness, I got a new toy that I have wanted for some time:



What is this and why is it significant you may ask? This badass mutha is a 12 inch sliding compound miter saw with laser doo-dads and a penchant for success! Did I mention I got a portable stand too?



The sliding part it cool because it means I can cut large objects (like my friend Hogs) in a single pass. I have a co-worker that has mentioned he has the pricier DeWalt version no less than 700 times (I had mine delivered to work). It has taken great restraint not to either kick him in the balls or remind him I will actually use mine.

Bullets:

  • I installed a car stereo in my parking lot at work today (only took 10 minutes).

  • Next weekend I have to go to my Mom's house to redo the plumbing in her bathroom (next phase of her bathroom remodel).

  • Last week I painted 120 linear feet of casing, chair rail, and crown molding for the aforementioned bathroom remodel- I despise painting.

  • I'm creating the system for this rather exciting project at work that will allow students to access virtual lab computers and individual remote applications from anywhere in the world.


Ba-bye.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Songs for John II Concert and a Traditional Greek Dinner

Two great things, one great weekend!

Saturday night, Brian and I attended a benefit concert in honor of my late cousin John held at Spivey's Bar and Grill in Lenexa, KS.  John died this past February at a very young age from neck cancer.  Last year my cousin's friends put together a benefit concert to raise money to help with the cost of his treatment, and this year they decided to do it again to raise money for many different families in need of help.  It was a blast!

There were six different bands performing including the duo of my cousin Kate, on accordion and vocals, and her friend Mike, on guitar and vocals, as the Minstrel Periods.



They did an amazing job!  They had a set that consisted of all cover songs, including a rap song (not sure which one, I will have to find out) in which they put down their instruments and danced and rapped to a beat.



It won them a standing ovation, as well as an overwhelming response for a repeat performance- which they did!  Great job Kate!  Hopefully we can see them perform again.

Another act was Anthony, who played the acoustic guitar and sang all original songs.



He is very, very talented.  Definitely someone who could make money playing music if he wanted too.

We also saw one of John's old bands perform.  They played many songs that John had written including his famous song "Embyo Dog".  They are a rock/blues/jazz band that loves to just jam.



There was also a band that came down from Des Moines, Iowa to play.  I can't remember their name right now (hey, I'd had like 3 beers and 3 rum and cokes!), but I know they were good.  I am only mentioning them because their piano player had a really cool suit on, and I wanted to post a picture of him.  Very "Killers"-esque.



On Sunday, Nate and his cousin Trent came over to watch the Chiefs game and we smoked a chicken, made a great salad, twice baked potatoes and garlic bread.  It was a nice relaxing way to finish out the weekend.

On Monday I made a great traditional Greek dinner.  Earlier this year, my brother went on a cruise around the islands of Greece and he brought me back a cook book full of traditional greek dishes.  So in honor of my brother (he better be reading this!) we made a few of the recipes.  We had a traditional greek salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onions, black olives, capers, feta cheese, oregano, and olive oil), roasted potatoes with olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper, and baked fish in tomato sauce (and olive oil of course, lots of olive oil!).  It was all very good.  Now I just need to learn how to make some of their traditional desserts!  Yuuummm, baklava.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Beef Stroganoff

This recipe is great for those long, cold days of winter.  It is very easy to throw together before you leave for work, and takes minutes to finish preparing once you get home.  It is also a Cooking Light recipe, so I guess it is somewhat healthy for you.




Ingredients:



1 lb. top round steak, 1 inch thick, trimmed
1  cup  chopped onion
2  tablespoons  chopped fresh parsley
2  tablespoons  Dijon mustard
3/4  teaspoon  salt
1/2  teaspoon  dried dill
1/2  teaspoon  black pepper
1  (8-ounce) package sliced mushrooms (about 2 cups) (*I used 16 ounces fresh sliced mushrooms)
3  garlic cloves, minced
1 15 oz. can fat free cream of mushroom soup
1/3  cup  all-purpose flour
1  cup  beef broth
1  (8-ounce) container low-fat sour cream
2  cups  hot cooked medium egg noodles (about 4 ounces uncooked)
1. Cut steak diagonally across grain into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Place steak and next 8 ingredients (though garlic) in a 3-quart electric slow cooker; stir well.



2.  Place flour in a small bowl; gradually add broth, stirring with a whisk until blended. Add broth mixture to slow cooker; stir well. Cover with lid; cook on high-heat setting 1 hour. Reduce to low-heat setting, and cook 7 to 8 hours or until steak is tender. Turn slow cooker off; remove lid. Let stroganoff stand 10 minutes. Prepare noodles while waiting.  Stir in sour cream. Serve stroganoff over noodles.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Meatball Sub Casserole

Fun Friday Feast happened on Thursday of last week since we were rockin' out to Trent Reznor Friday night and Brian didn't have to work this Friday.  I thought I would post this anyways since it is so good.

This casserole is awesome!  How can you go wrong with bread, cheese, meatballs and sauce baked into a cheesy, meaty bliss?  Not only is this dish good hot, but also cold- especially right out of the pan after a long night at work!

Meatball Sub Casserole



Ingredients:
1/3 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
1 lb ground beef
1 loaf Italian bread, 1-inch cubes (1 lb loaf)
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mayonaise
1 teaspoon mixed Italian herbs (basil, oregano...)
 salt and pepper
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (divided)
1 quart spaghetti sauce (or 28 oz can)
1 cup water
4 garlic cloves, minced (or pressed)


To make this recipe easier, I buy pre-made frozen meatballs and just toss a bunch in.  If I have time, I like to make my own, but that didn't happen today.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a bowl, combine onions, crumbs & cheese; add beef and mix well.  Shape beef into 1-inch balls; place on rimmed cookie sheet; bake for 15-20 minutes (no longer pink in center); turn oven down to 350.

Meanwhile, arrange bread cubes in an ungreased 13x9 pan. 



Combine cream cheese, mayo, seasonings, and S&P; spread over bread.  Sprinkle one cup Mozzarella cheese over the cream-cheese mixture layer.  Combine sauce, water & garlic; add meatballs and gently mix; pour this over the cheese layer.  Sprinkle remaining Mozzarella.





Bake (uncovered) at 350 for 30 minutes.

 

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nine Inch Nails at Mizzou Arena in Columbia



As expected, Trent Reznor and company did not disappoint. It was an awesome show again, and we can't wait to buy the Blu-Ray concert DVD when it comes out.

We left KC at 3 P.M. so we could get to Columbia in time for dinner and make it to the show by 7:30 P.M. We had a reservation at the Hampton Inn nearest to the stadium, which was supposed to be one block away from the arena and a very short, easy walk, according to the person I talked to at the hotel (so we wouldn't have to worry about driving), but when we got there, the people at the desk said it was 3/4 mile away, which is more like a 15 minute walk, and we were not going to do that in 30 degree weather. This is just one thing that was disappointing about the hotel, but I won't get into all of those details. The room however, was great! I think you can figure it out:



Yes, that is a jacuzzi tub right next to the bed. Score!

We drank the two beers we brought with us an headed out for dinner. We were just going to get McDonald's or some sort of fast food, but we came upon Fuddrucker's. Both of us had eaten at one when we were little kids and remember it being pretty good, so we ate there. And we were not at all disappointed. It was very cheap and we both got really full off of medium rare burgers, french fries and onion rings.



After gorging ourselves on meat and potatoes, we headed to the arena. Our seats were for row 10, which we were a little disapointed in considering we had "first row" seats at the last concert, but once we found them we realized they were great seats. They turned out to be "first row" also! Part of the arena's seats were folded in underneath us, so we were actually the front row. See how happy we are:



The opening act was a band called Boris that we watched one song from, left to save our ears from the screeching guitar, and go down a few beers.



Opening acts are always hit or miss, and this one was definitely a miss.

The one bad thing about this arena is that they seem to not be set up to serve beer. They had one concession stand open that sold only beer in 8 oz. cups and they were $4 each. It was ridiculous- especially when the entire place had to come to this one stand to get beer. The line was out of control. Luckily, we weren't wanting to drink too much since we had to get up early the next day to come home and pick up the dog, so this helped us out, otherwise I would have been very upset. Maybe locals new this would be the case, so they just drank a lot ahead of time- we saw a lot of smashed people at the concert. Good times!

At 9 P.M. the Lights in the Sky show started.



See how close we were? That shirt that Trent is wearing actually has holes in the armpits, that's how close we were. We could see every facial expression, every drop of sweat, every blank stare of the bass guitarist.



Their setlist was pretty much the same as the concert we went to in St. Louis:

999,999
1,000,000

Letting You

Discipline

March of the Pigs

Head Down
The Frail
The Wretched
Closer
Gave Up

Me, I'm Not

The Great Destroyer

5 Ghosts I
17 Ghosts II

19 Ghosts III
Piggy
Pinion
Wish

Terrible Lie
Survivalism
31 Ghosts IV
Only
The Hand That Feeds

Head Like a Hole

Encore:
Echoplex
The Good Soldier
Hurt
In This Twilight

There were some new visual effects that they had added since St. Louis, and Brian said he actually saw the blue screen of death. One of the new effects was a close up camera on Trent as he was singing that made him look pretty freaky. That's him in the background of this pic (you can see his mouth):



Trent also talked to the audience for a couple of minutes, which is pretty unusual (I had never heard so much as say hi to an audience). He asked if Missouri was a great place to live, talked about how he came from a place where there was nothing to do, he made a comment about someone's iPhone needing an update, and he made a comment about how his album was free, but you could just go ahead and steal all his other albums, he doesn't give a fuck anymore.

Here are some shots of the amazing effects the three HD screens and bank of lights can create:

(Trent Reznor is actually playing the marimba in this one!)





All three screens in action



We took a lot of different videos of the show, but we were so close the sound on the video is horribly distorted. The video turned out great, but Brian wants to try to overlay the studio versions of the songs onto the videos before he puts them online so that you can actually stand to watch them.

After the show we went back to the hotel and took full advantage of the jacuzzi tub. We filled it with bubbles, turned the TV on, and ate a pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. It was a nice way to relax after an energy filled evening.

We woke up early the next morning, grabbed our "hot" breakfast of french toast sticks and sausage patties (yeah, this was just one of our many other complaints- no eggs, no sausage, etc.) and got the hell on the road.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

NIN Redux

This years Nine Inch Nails "Lights In The Sky" tour is the best tour we have ever seen, so we're going back a second time ... tomorrow!

Fullscreen those bitches!





Cat Torture

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Lots of new stuff.

New shoes for the Honda.  Goodyear Assurance Triple Treds- Consumer Reports #1 Rated all-season passenger tire (as well as other excellent ratings).  Bring on the snow baby!



New shoes for our feet.  Brian bought the Nike Air Vomeros and I bought the Nike Air Zoom Structure Triax, which are awesome!  We both feel like we're running on air.  They are a lot more supportive than our previous shoes and will last us a long time.  Now we have no excuse not to go for a run!





New decor for the house- Christmas lights.



We weren't sure how many good weather weekends were left in the year so we went ahead and put them up last Sunday.



So far they are only on the lower half of the house (but Brian still had to use the tall ladder for the garage), but Brian will probably put them on the second story at some point.  It looks awesome already!  I can't until next weekend when we can turn them on every night (and then you will get a picture of them on at night- no peeking early!).

And last but not least, a new dish made by Brian- tuna noodle casserole.  A yummy, comforting, home-cooked classic (with a cheesy Velveeta surprise!).

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Coldplay at the Sprint Center

The concert was awesome ... OK, I have to be honest-  I probably would have given the overall concert a rating of "above average", but Brian, Frank, Lynn and I were some of the lucky audience members that experienced a close-up acoustic performance of The Scientist! Towards the end of the concert Coldplay ran out into the audience and I was lucky enough to touch each band member as they ran by (thanks Frank)!  So as you can see, my original rating of awesome is a little biased. :)

The night started off well with dinner at our house.  I made salmon burgers with sour cream-cream cheese sauce, roasted red potatoes, and spinach strawberry and walnut salad with homemade vinaigrette dressing.  We left for the concert in Frank and Lynn's Prius after stuffing ourselves and getting a few glasses of wine down.



I really like the Sprint Center, it's nice, it's very clean, and the seats are cushioned, but they could have used a parking garage near the building.  We had to park a couple of blocks away and pay $10 (once again ... thanks Frank).

Once we got inside (after going through a metal detector- no pat downs!) we had to find a Quiktrip so Frank could get a donut.



The Quiktrip idea is brilliant because they sell a lot of the same food and drinks as the concession stands, but at Quiktrip prices.  Unfortunately Brian and I were only interested buying beer, which they do not sell.  Brian and I bought ourselves two 20oz. beers for $15 and made our way to our seats.



We were in section 105 (lower level) seats 1-4.  I was actually kind of disappointed with our seats.  They were pretty far away for how much we paid for them, and we also bought them right when they went on sale.  Oh well, lucky for us, it turned out awesome in the end.

There were two opening acts.  The first was called Sleeper Car.



They were okay.  We didn't really pay too much attention to them, we were busy people-watching.  It's a completely different crowd that comes to a Coldplay concert compared to our usual fair (NIN, Family Values, or even Talladega).  There were lots of yuppie-looking, pretty people!

The second opening act was just a single guy named Jon Hopkins.  He played electronica while trippy cartoons played on a screen next to him.  There were no words in any of his songs.  Brian really loved it; I thought it was okay and thought it was kind of odd to hear before a Coldplay concert.

After that guy was done they started setting up the stage.  Finally it was time! The lights turned off and the concert began:



Here is what I believe the setlist was:

Life In Technicolor
Violet Hill
Clocks
In My Place
Speed Of Sound
Cemeteries Of London
Chinese Sleep Chant
42
Fix You
Strawberry Swing
Glass Of Water (setlist position unconfirmed)
God Put A Smile Upon Your Face (techno version)
Talk (techno version)
The Hardest Part
Postcards From Far Away (piano instrumental)
Viva La Vida
Lost!
The Scientist (acoustic)
Death Will Never Conquer (acoustic - Will singing)
Viva La Vida (remix interlude)
------
Politik
Lovers In Japan
Death And All His Friends
-------
Yellow
The Escapist (outro)



During the song Lost! we noticed the security guards putting up red tape along the stairway right next to us.  Frank asked what that was for, and it was confirmed that Coldplay would be running up the stairs to play in the audience.

When the song ended the band ran through the floor level crowd and up the stairs right next to us.  I held out my hand, hoping to maybe get a high five, but instead I got a hand covered in sweat as I touched each band member on the chest or arm.  It was awesome!!!!  It all went by in a blur and we didn't get any pictures of that part.  But they ended up playing across the aisle from us and up about 4 rows.



They played an acoustic version of The Scientist (which is probably my favorite song)  The crowd around us just went nuts!

YouTube's "High Quality" version here.

Next they played a second acoustic song that the drummer actually sang and finally ran out the door (not back down the steps) and went back onstage to play 4 more songs and spill confetti onto everyone.



They ended the night playing the always excellent song Yellow with the audience singing along the entire time.



All-in-all it was a great concert.  I know Brian and I will remember this night forever (kind of like how I will never forget the night I kissed Dave Attell), and we will probably never get to experience something like that again.  Ultimately I thought some semi-crappy seats turned out to be some of the best in the house!  Thank you Chris Martin, for letting me rub my hand on your sweaty chest- I will never forget it!