Monday, January 26, 2009

Weekend Juggernauts

jug·ger·naut (noun): An overwhelming, advancing force that crushes or seems to crush everything in its path.

That was us in a nutshell this weekend! In preparation for our Super Bowl guests next weekend Courtney and I wanted to get a lot of stuff accomplished. On Saturday Courtney really wanted to paint the office on the first floor. After the illiterate paint guy at Home Depot finally got our color mixed properly, we picked up a bunch of poplar boards (for picture frames) and headed back home to "get to it".

Once home Courtney started taping off the trim and I got to work installing crown molding in our half bath on the main floor. I had painted all of the trim during the previous week, so I got right to cutting. After a few hours and a lot of whining (nothing is ever 90 degrees) I got the trim installed. Next came silicone (for the seams), glazing compound (nail holes), and a little paint touch-up. It ended up looking pretty damn good! Crown molding make such a difference.

At this point Courtney was almost done painting and the new paint color was looking great- looked like a completely different room! While Courtney was cleaning up I re-installed all of the face plates and vent covers, and re-hung the blinds.

At this point my neck was killing me (I sprained it last week) and Courtney was pretty beat. We closed the night out with a dinner of stuffed onions from The Pioneer Woman, and a movie, Pineapple Express.

On Sunday we started with semi-renewed vigor! We still had to install chair rail in the office and I wanted to build 7 more picture frames for our LP cover art project. I got started on the chair rail and Courtney started planning for the Super Bowl festivities. Once she got her grocery list she headed out to Costco, Wally-Mart, etc. and I continued on the chair rail. The trim took a lot longer than I anticipated because there were a lot of end pieces to cut. In my opinion trim always looks like crap until I silicone all of the seams. Once I got that done it starting looking really great though- the whole room looks much better now!

I really wanted to quit working at this point but I still had to make the picture frames if I wanted to hang them before the Super Bowl. I headed to the garage (where it was 15 degrees) and managed to crank them out in a few hours. I was in and out of the garage every 30 minutes for a few more hours gluing and clamping the frames, but I used the free time in between to clean up all the messes we had made over the weekend.

Courtney finally showed back up with a ton of crap and a renewed hatred for the general public (shopping on a Sunday will do that for you). We ended up closing out Sunday by moving all of the furniture back into the office, making a fantastic homemade pizza (with white sauce instead of red), and watching a very disappointing movie that goes by the name of Burn After Reading.

That was the end of the weekend, but we still have a lot to do before the Super Bowl ... wish us luck. :)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

7-Layer Lasagna

I haven't made lasagna in a while and I thought this recipe sounded great.  I think what really attracted me to this recipe is the white sauce used in one of the layers.  I am not the biggest fan of red sauce, so knowing there would be a layer of creamy goodness, I couldn't pass it up (and please, dear readers, you need not make any comments about creamy white sauce goodness, I know you all live in the gutter).  Plus there was enough white sauce leftover to use on a homemade pizza later this week!

So here is the recipe for this week's Fun Friday Feast:

7-Layer Lasagna

15 cooked lasagna noodles (according to package directions)
5 cups of marinara
24 oz ricotta cheese
2 eggs
2 lbs ground beef or Italian sausage (or both)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 cups white sauce (recipe below)
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
ground black pepper

1. In a deep 9x13 pan, pour one cup of marinara.  Layer 3 lasagna noodles on top of the marinara.
2. Mix together ricotta cheese, eggs, 1/2 tsp salt, and plenty of ground black pepper.  Spread the mixture on top of the lasagna noodles.

3. Layer 3 lasagna noodles on top of the ricotta mixture.  Put one lb. of the ground beef or sausage, the garlic, a pinch of red pepper flakes and a pinch of salt on top of the noodles.

4. Layer another 3 noodles on top of the meat.  Pour two cups of white sauce over the noodles.
5. Put 3 more lasagna noodles on top of the white sauce.  Top the noodles with another 1 lb of meat and 2 cups of marinara.
6. Layer 3 lasagna noodles on the meat and marinara.  Top with 2 more cups of marinara.  Top with the mozzarella.
7. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

White Sauce

5 T unsalted butter
1 clove minced garlic
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 t salt
1/4 t ground black pepper
4 cups whole milk at room temperature
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

Melt butter over medium heat.  When butter has completely melted, add garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes.  Whisk in the salt and pepper.  Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly.  Simmer over medium heat, whisking frequently, until the sauce is thickened and creamy, about 12 minutes.  Remove from heat and whisk in cheese, until melted and combined.  Set aside and allow to cool completely.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Parmesan Risotto

After I told you that we were going to eat out less and I was going to make more meals at home, we broke the rule- on Monday!  Brian had the day off and forced me to go eat lunch at Longboards.  Of course I begged him to stay home and eat frozen pizza for lunch, but he would have none of it.

Okay, I lied, I wanted to go to.  But when was the last time I was at Longboards?  Maybe 2 months, or more ago?  I deserved it; plus I got two meals out of it.

This guy wasn't with us this time, but I just wanted to remind everyone how gigantic their burritos and wraps are (each burrito he is holding is actually a half burrito):

I did still manage to cook a great meal Monday night for dinner.  I made seared scallops, parmesan risotto and fresh green beans (they came out good this time since I figured out how to cook them!) with onions and bacon.  And guess what?  I didn't have to look at a single recipe!  All this cooking is finally paying off.  Maybe someday I can start to come up with my own recipes.  Okay,  I'm stretching it here.  I didn't make anything that complicating, but it is still a small accomplishment for me.

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures to show you of the meal, which is my favorite part, but I still wanted to write this recipe for risotto on the blog because I think a lot of people may be intimidated by it (as I was).  It's actually very easy to make, a little time consuming, but so worth it in the end.  It's great as a side dish or even as the main dish when you mix in a few other ingredients such as shrimp, mushrooms, peas, green beans, or anything you can think of.  Even the pickiest of eaters will like risotto (you don't have to add the onions if you don't want to).  The key to making risotto is to taste it before you call it done.  You want to make sure the rice is completely cooked before you serve it, otherwise it will be very bad- as I  found out the first time I made it.

Parmesan Risotto

1 cup arborio rice (can be found at Walmart in the rice section)
2 T olive oil (just drizzle some in the pan)
1/2 yellow onion,  chopped
3-4 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
1/4 cup white wine (you can substitute chicken broth if you don't have white wine)
4 cups chicken broth, warmed on the stove or in the microwave
1 cup heavy cream (room temperature)
1 cup parmesan cheese, shredded (or any "harder" cheese will do such as romano or asiago)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat.
2. Throw in onions and garlic and cook until onions are translucent (about 3 minutes).
3. Add rice to skillet and cook, while stirring, for about 1 minute.
4. Add in the white wine and cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has been absorbed.
5. Add in one cup of the chicken broth.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the liquid has been absorbed.
6. Keep adding the broth, one cup at a time, waiting for the liquid to be absorbed each time before adding the next cup, until all of the chicken broth has been used.
7. Taste the rice to make sure it is done (not crunchy, kind of like how you would want pasta to taste).  If it still tastes crunchy, add another half cup of chicken broth.
8. When the rice is almost done (or done to your likeness, it really doesn't matter) add in the heavy cream and cook until the liquid is mostly absorbed.
9. Stir in the cheese, salt and pepper and serve immediately.

Thursday, January 22, 2009


This year's southern fall spectacular has a special twist- it's also Halloween weekend! Courtney and I are leaning heavily on going again. Last year was a blast and this year sounds like it will be pretty wild. Anyone else wanna go? Maybe I'll wear this Ricky Bobby costume!

On a related note, Courtney and I are starting to look at replacing the aging Jeep Liberty. I'm really just interested in 3 vehicles:

When I started reading reviews and looking at features, the Ridgeline was at the bottom of my list, but now it's at the top. We'll see what happens! It would be really nice to drive down to Alabama in a new truck! If you have some opinions feel free to let them loose.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Spiced-Up Grilled Cheese and Creamy Tomato-Leek Soup

This was the best grilled cheese and tomato soup I have ever had.  Okay, let's be honest, I've only ever had grilled cheese with velveeta and tomato soup out of a can, so I could only do better.  This soup was very easy to make (except you need a food processor or blender to make it "creamy") and tasted so much better than anything you can get out of a can.  The sandwich was also excellent; I did, however, add some pepperoni which isn't in the original recipe.  I highly recommend this for a cold afternoon or evening.

Spiced-Up Grilled Cheese
1 6 ounce can tomato paste
3 T chopped canned chipotle chilies
1 T mild-flavored (light) molasses
12 3/4-inch-thick slices sourdough bread
18 ounces extra-sharp New York cheddar cheese, thinly sliced
4 plum tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup fresh cilantro leaves (WOOPS, somehow I missed this, I will add it next time)
olive oil for brushing the griddle or grill pan

1. Blend the tomato paste, chilies, and molasses in processor until smooth.  Spread 1 T chipotle mixture over 1 side of each bread slice.
2. Arrange 6 bread slices, chipotle side up, on work surface.  Divide half of cheese among bread slices.  Top with tomatoes, onion, cilantro and remaining cheese.  Top sandwiches with remaining bread, chipotle side down.
3. Brush grill pan lightly with oil and heat over medium heat.  Place sandwiches on grill pan and cook until bread is golden and cheese is melted, about 5 minutes per side.

Creamy Tomato-Leek Soup
1 T unsalted butter
1 T, plus 2 t extra-virgin olive oil (divided)
3 leeks, divided (2 thinly sliced half moons and 1 thinly sliced lengthwise)
3 garlic cloves, smashed
3 14-ounce cans of whole tomatoes
1 cup water
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 T sugar
1/4 t crushed red pepper
1/4 t celery seed
1/4 t dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste

1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter in the olive oil.  Add the sliced half moons of leeks and smashed garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the tomatoes and their juice, the water, heavy cream, sugar, crushed red pepper, celery seed and oregano and season with salt and pepper.  Bring the soup to a boil over high heat, breaking up the tomatoes with the back of a spoon.  Reduce the heat to moderate and simmer for 10 minutes.
3. Working in batches, transfer the tomato soup to a blender and puree until smooth (I used a food processor).  Return the soup to a clean pot and rewarm the soup if necessary.  Season the soup with salt and pepper.
4. In a small saucepan, heat the remaining two teaspoons of oil over moderate heat.  Add the remaining sliced leeks and cook, stirring every so ofter until browned and crispy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Indian Butter Chicken, Indian Spiced Rice, and a side of Raita

I have decided that in the hope of eating better and saving a little money, we are going to make more home-cooked meals.  We never really ate out all that much, but the weekend would come around and I wouldn't feel like cooking (I was just being lazy) or  I wouldn't have the ingredients I wanted to use so we would end up eating out more than I wanted (mostly cheap fast food, but it adds up).  I have started picking out recipes before the weekend comes around and buying any ingredients I need before the weekend actually gets here (I HATE grocery shopping on the weekends).

I didn't work last Friday, so instead of going out to eat Indian, I made it myself!  I will tell you two things about the recipes I made.  One is that the Indian Spiced Rice is not like what you would get if you went to the Indian buffet.  It tasted excellent, but it just wasn't the same.  I will have to find a different rice recipe.  The second note is that it was very, very spicy.  Brian and I both really like spicy food (and I mean HOT), but we both agreed that next time I would need to tone it down.  I would suggest using the exact amounts for the chili powder and cayenne pepper in the following recipes (or even using half the amount).  Other than that, I will 100% be making the butter chicken again, it was excellent! 

I have one more warning- the spices that are needed to make these recipes are not ones that I had in my rack, and one in particular was not cheap (garam masala).  Don't say I didn't warn you! 

Indian Butter Chicken
1 T peanut oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/4 white onion, chopped
2 T butter
2 t lemon juice
1 T ginger-garlic paste (I just chopped up a couple of cloves and grate 1 T fresh ginger)
1 t garam masala
1 t chili powder
1 t ground cumin
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup plain yogurt
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup tomato puree (I used 2 T tomato paste mixed with 1 cup of water)
1/4 t cayenne pepper, to taste
1 pinch salt
1 T peanut oil
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite size pieces
1 t garam masala
1 pich cayenne pepper
1 T cornstarch
1/4 cup water

1. Heat 1 T oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
2. Saute shallot and onion until soft and translucent.
3. Stir in butter, lemon juice, ginger-garlic paste, 1 t garam masala, chili powder, cumin, and bay leaf.
4. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
5. Add tomato puree and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.
6. Stir in half-and-half and yogurt.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
7.  Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne.
8. Remove from heat and set aside.
9. Heat 1 T oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat.
10. Cook chicken until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
11. Reduce heat and season with 1 t garam masala and cayenne.
12. Stir in about 1/3 of the sauce and simmer until liquid has reduced and chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
13. Pour the rest of the sauce into the chicken. 
14. Mix together cornstarch and water, then stir into the sauce.  Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, or until thickened.

Indian Spiced Rice
1 T vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 T minced fresh gingerroot
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 t coriander powder
1/2 t ground cardamom
1/4 t ground nutmeg
1/8 T red chili powder
1/2 t ground cumin
1 1/4 cups uncooked basmati rice
3/4 t salt
1/2 cup dry lentils
3 cups water
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 cup green peas
1 T butter

1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat.
2. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently until they have softened.
3. Sprinkle in the garlic, ginger, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, red chili powder, and cumin.  Cook for 3 minutes more, stirring frequently.
4. Add the rice to the saucepan and saute the rice with the spices for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
5. Add the lentils and salt into the saucepan.  Add the 3 cups of water into the pan and stir.  Place the potatoes into the pan and bring the mixture to a boil.  Cover the pan and turn the heat to low.  Cook for 10 minutes.
6. Place the bell pepper and peas into the saucepan.  Stir well and cover the pan.  Cook 10 more minutes or until the rice, potatoes and lentils are tender.
7. Stir in the butter and serve hot.

2 cups plain yogurt
2 ripe tomatoes, finely diced
1/2 cucumber, grated
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 t cumin powder
1/4 t red chili powder
1/2 t sugar
1/2 t salt

1. Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.
2. Chill in serving dish for at least a half an hour.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pot Roast, Mashed Potatoes and Roasted Green Beans and Tomatoes

This was a great comfort food meal; perfect for the cold weather that plagued us over the weekend.  I doubt you can really mess up pot roast, but this was some of the best I've ever had.  The leftover roast beef  also made great french dip sandwiches last night!

Pot Roast courtesy of Paula Deen
3 lb boneless chuck roast
1/4 cup vegetable oil
salt, pepper, garlic powder to season meat
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 bag of petite carrots
3 bay leaves
3 or 4 beef bouillon cubes, crushed
10 3/4 oz. can cream of mushroom soup
1/2 cup chardonnay
water as needed

Sprinkle salt, pepper, and garlic powder on all sides of the meat.  Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet over high heat and brown meat on all sides (approximately one minute per side).  Place browned meat in crock pot and add all other ingredients.  Add enough water to cover everything.  Place crock pot on low and cook for 8 hours.

Mashed Potatoes
1.5 lbs of red potatoes
1/4 cup butter (approximately)
1/4 cup milk (approximately)
4 oz. cream cheese, cut up
Salt and Pepper to taste

Cut red potatoes in half, place in a large pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and cook for about 20 minutes.  Test with a fork to see if they are done- the fork will penetrate the potato easily.  Drain water and add butter, milk and salt and pepper.  Mash until you achieve desired consistency and taste, adding more butter, milk, salt and pepper.

Liquid from cooked pot roast
2 T cornstarch
1/4 water

Pour liquid from pot roast into a sauce pot over medium high heat.  Mix cornstarch and water until no longer lumpy and add to liquid.  Stir until boiling and let boil for approximately one minute or until gravy thickens.

Roasted Green Beans and Cherry Tomatoes
1/2 lb green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 pint cherry tomatoes
4 scallions, chopped
2 T balsamic vinegar
2 T olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Toss together all ingredients and place on a baking sheet.  Roast in oven for 20 minutes.

*Note: I cooked the fresh green beans for 25 minutes and I don't think they were done.  The tomatoes were perfect.  I don't know why I have problems with green beans, they never come out right.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Christmas Vacation Projects (Part Two)

My second project I worked on during Christmas break was an urn for the late great Jaik the dog (also known as "Poopers"). Today is the one year anniversary for the passing of Jaik so I figured it would be a good day to post about the project.

We looked at a bunch of urns when Jaik was first cremated, but we didn't like any of them. Additionally, I thought it would be a lot more personal if I made one myself. After looking at a bunch of ideas I decided to go with the not-too-original route of emulating a dog house. The funny part here is Jaik had an irrational fear of dog houses (and balloons), and he would probably sic my balls if he knew his final resting place was a miniature dog house! Anyways, at first I was going to paint everything but Courtney talked me into just using natural wood a few different stain colors (which of course makes everything harder). I went to Lowes to get some redwood and Plexiglass and off I went! Here are the results (click to enlarge):

I'm pretty happy with the results. You can find a few more pics here. Hopefully I won't have to make these too often. ;)

We miss you buddy!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bullets and Blogs

So many things are going on and have happened recently that I'm going to post one of my world famous bullet blog posts (I know you've all heard about them):

  • Courtney and I recently bought a bunch of LP's (records) that we want to frame and hang in the basement (we figured music+art+media room=framed LP's). I'm going to start on the frames in the next few days (I plan to make 12 or so). It will be nice to get them up on the wall.

  • Courtney is painting our first floor office soon, so I can start on crown molding. We are going to do the whole floor eventually but we need to paint some more walls first. This also means I have to paint that trim- I hate painting! I'm going with something more elaborate than the basement due to the fact that the ceilings are 9ft. It's going to make a big difference!

  • Peyton got knocked out of the playoffs god dammit! Now I have nobody to root for. For those of you who don't know, I chose the Colts as my playoff stand-in team years ago because the Chiefs suck so bad. I believe the Colts have made the playoffs something like 7 years in a row. I also believe the Chiefs have sucked at least 7 years in a row.

  • We went to Chris and Heathers for New Years and had a good time! Courtney and I dressed in somewhat of a 70's theme and it somehow made the experience more fun. :)

  • I got some cool camera gear for Christmas ... taking pictures is good times (Photoshop is fun too).

  • Courtney got an iPod Nano and Nike+ running sensor for Christmas- too bad she has not used it yet. ;)

  • Courtney and I started watching season two of Dexter, what a great show.

  • Taigan\Monkey is one smart dog- so far we have taught him sit, stay, lay down, play dead, rollover, shake, high five, backup, spin, bring it, get it, and heal. Now we are working on crawl. Did I mention he knows his toys by name?

I think that is it.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Thai-Style Shrimp and Veggies with Toasted Coconut Rice

This another YUMMO recipe from Rachael Ray!  If you like all things coconut you will definitely love this as much as Brian and I did.


2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup long-grain rice
4 T vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small yellow onion, sliced
8 napa cabbage leaves, thinly shredded
1 cup store-bought shredded carrots, or 1 medium carrot, cut into matchsticks
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
3 large garlic cloves, chopped
3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced
3 T tamari (dark aged soy sauce)
5 scallions, thinly sliced
20 fresh basil leaves, chopped or torn
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
Juice of 1 lime

In a sauce pot, combine 1 1/2 cups of the chicken stock with 1 cup of the sweetened shredded coconut; bring the mixture up to a simmer, and add the rice.  Return to a simmer over low heat and place a tight-fitting lid on the pot.  Cook the rice for 18 minutes.

Heat a small skillet over medium heat, add the remaining 1/2 cup shredded coconut, stir frequently, and toast until golden, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Heads up: Once the coconut starts to brown it will go from golden to burnt quickly, so keep an eye on it.  Remove the toasted coconut from the pan and reserve.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil (twice around the pan).  Season the shrimp with salt and pepper and add to the hot skillet.  Saute the shrimp for 2 minutes on each side, or until they turn pink but are not yet firm, then remove from the pan to a plate and reserve.  Return the skillet to the heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.  Add the onions, napa cabbage, carrots, red pepper flakes, garlic, ginger, and red bell peppers to the pan.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the tamari and the remaining cup of stock, then toss the shrimp back into the pan and stir to combine.  Cook the shrimp and veggies for 2 more minutes, or until the shrimp are cooked through.  Add the scallions, basil, half of the cilantro and lime juice and taste for seasoning, adding more tamari, salt, or pepper to taste.

Add the reserved toasted coconut to the cooked rice.  Fluff the rice with a fork to distribute the toasted coconut.  Serve the Thai shrimp on top of the toasted coconut rice, sprinkled with the remaining cilantro.

Christmas Vacation Projects (Part One)

Over my Christmas vacation I worked on two very different projects. The first project was a bathroom remodel for my Mom. I had been promising to do it for a few years now and I finally came through! Might as well start with the before and a few afters:

This project was very complex and involved ripping out everything but the cast iron tub. Some of what I did:

  • Demolition (including tearing out some awful paneling, the tub surround, custom cabinetry, and the worlds heaviest cast iron sink)

  • Added new electrical outlets (I guess people in the 50's didn't have hair dryers)

  • Added a new electrical run to ceiling (for fan/light combo- the light being the new part).

  • New plumbing for shower (I installed a new manifold and raised everything but the spout higher). I also got the pleasure of fixing some termite damage while I was in there (I love remodeling surprises)!

  • New plumbing valves/cutoffs everywhere else.

  • New bead board paneling (floor to ceiling)- turned out really nice.

  • New shower surround ... some stressful modifications with this- why is nothing ever 90 degrees?

  • Installed the new sink base, granite top, and fixtures (encountered some head-scratching problems I'll mention below).

  • Installed new medicine cabinet and separate storage cabinet.

  • Installed new lighting.

  • Crown molding and custom base trim.

  • New towel racks. toilet paper holder, etc.

  • About seven miles of silicone. I siliconed everything, including above and below all trim and molding. It really makes a difference not to see cracks anywhere.

Every project has some kind of nightmare that you remember as "the one". This time it was the sink base cabinet. The wall drain was exactly where the rail was for the top drawer. Not only did I have to move the drawer rail (which included cutting off the lower "L" portion), but I had to shorten the drawer by two inches and get the drain to clear everything else. I spent a fair amount of time staring and thinking on this one.

This was the bathroom I grew up with and it hadn't changed at all, so it felt nice to do this for my Mom. All of the bathroom remodel pics can be found here.

I'll post my second project here in a couple of days ... oh the anticipation!