#52NewEats :: Week 3 :: Creamy Brie Mac and Cheese

Hey ya’ll!  For this week’s 52 New Eats recipe I chose another mac and cheese dish – primarily because my daughter LOVES Brie cheese, and LOVES Ritz crackers, and I though, why wouldn’t she LOVE this?!

Silly me.  🙄

She’s too picky I suppose.  She didn’t like this mac and cheese, but I thought it was pretty bangin’.  I like that it’s a little more grown-up than my mac and cheese – it uses slightly more ‘exotic’ cheeses.  Not so exotic you can’t find them in a supermarket, but more exotic than your average Joe mac and cheese.  I’m happy with the way this turned out and will file it in my ‘keepers’ column.  😊  You can find the original recipe //here//.

Here are my thoughts on the recipe:

🍴 I halved the recipe and it was plenty for me, my daughter, and two bowls of leftovers.  I’d only make the full portion if I was having people over.  It did reheat well, if you heat it gently on 50% power until warmed through.

🍴  The cheese sauce is VERY thick.  I would highly recommend measuring the cheeses accurately, and weighing the Brie as well.  Don’t eyeball it.  I sort of eyeballed it in the sense that I measured out the cheese I needed and then I had some leftover and thought eh, can’t hurt anything, but I think it helped contribute to making the cheese sauce very thick.  I don’t not like this – who doesn’t love a thick, creamy cheese sauce? – but it may not be what some are looking for.  I also used just over 2oz of Brie.  This also helps make it slutty and thick!

🍴  I have never had crushed Ritz crackers on top of a casserole before, though I have seen it many times.  You can now officially call me converted – it was the perfect topping for this mac and cheese, and I may even reconstruct my classic mac and cheese to have this topping!  I omitted the garlic in this step though, because I was trying to keep it as kid-friendly as possible.  I’m sure the garlic would have been a nice, sharp touch!  If you do add it, I would highly recommend grating it over mincing it.  It will melt into the butter much better.

🍴  I was unsure about the mustard powder and cayenne, but I added it anyway because like I said before, I like to make a recipe as called for the first time, and tweak afterwards.  I barely tasted them after the mac and cheese baked, but I do think I tasted the mustard powder – it was ever so slight, something that just made me go hm, is that the mustard powder?  Maybe that’s what my kiddo tasted when she made a stink face at me.  Whatever, I didn’t mind it at all, and it’s probably the kind of thing you would notice if it wasn’t there.  I could imagine this mac and cheese being rather plain without these seasonings – Brie, havarti, and fontina are all pretty mild, rich cheeses.

Below is the recipe as I made it.  Enjoy!

Creamy Brie Mac and Cheese
Serves 8

Ingredients
3.5 tablespoons butter, divided
3/4 cups crushed Ritz crackers
1/2 pound elbow pasta
1/8 cup flour
1.5 cups warm milk
2/3 cups sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup fontina cheese, shredded
2/3 cups havarti cheese, shredded
2-3 ounces Brie, rind removed and chopped
1/8 teaspoon mustard powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Nonstick cooking spray

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a baking dish with nonstick spray.
2. Boil the pasta according to package directions and drain. Set aside.
3. Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat and add 1.5 tablespoons butter. Allow to melt. Add in the crushed Ritz crackers, and stir to coat and toast, about 3-5 minutes.
4. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Allow the mixture to cook and bubble for about a minute, stirring a couple times so as not to burn it.
5. Add the milk. Whisk constantly, and raise heat up to medium-high. Bring the mixture to a boil, whisking frequently, until the sauce has thickened, about 2-3 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and begin stirring in all of the cheeses.
6. Once the cheeses are well-combined, pour the sauce over the drained macaroni. Stir together to combine, then pour into the prepared baking dish.
7. Bake for 20 minutes or until the crumbs are golden brown and the sauce is bubbling.

#12NewTreats :: January :: Boston Cream Poke Cake

So I have two projects going on this year – #52NewEats which is where I make a new recipe every week, and #12NewTreats which is where my daughter and I bake a new dessert recipe each month.

If she had it her way, we’d make a new dessert each week, but I managed to convince her that that’s not the healthiest thing in the world, and so maybe we should try one dessert a month and see how it goes.  😉

It is no surprise to me at all that this child chose a Boston Cream style dessert as our first project.  She L O V E S Boston Cream donuts.  LOOOOVES them.  I was thankful to see that this is an extremely easy recipe to make, perfect for baking with your kid and letting them help out in the kitchen.  No homemade custard, no homemade cake mix, no homemade frosting.  Almost entirely store-bought and guess what, I don’t even care, and it was still delicious.

I don’t get snobby about desserts.  I’m just not a baker.  There is nothing wrong at all with baking a cake from a cake mix!  It’s the ONLY way I’ve ever made cake!  I didn’t do anything to change this recipe up, HOWEVER, I am excited by this method, and Maraea already mentioned we should do this again but with different flavor combinations.  She doesn’t have to twist my arm to get on board with that!

This cake was delicious and in fact it was even better the next day after sitting in the fridge overnight.  Total winner!  You can find the original recipe //here//.

Boston Cream Poke Cake

Ingredients
1 box yellow cake mix, and all ingredients needed to prepare
2 packages instant vanilla pudding, and all ingredients needed to prepare
1 container chocolate frosting

Directions
1. Prepare yellow cake according to package directions. Bake in a 13×9 pan. When finished, remove from oven, and poke holes into the cake with the handle of a wooden spoon or spatula. Space the holes evenly throughout the cake.

2. Right after the cake comes out of the oven, prepare the instant vanilla pudding. The brand I bought required me to whisk for about 5 minutes for it to get pretty thick. Once the pudding has thickened, pour it over the cake, taking special care to pour directly into the holes. Spread the pudding around on top. Cover the cake and refrigerate for 1 1/2 – 2 hours.

3. After the cake has cooled and solidified for a couple hours, remove the cake from the refrigerator and uncover it. Remove the lid and metallic covering from the container of chocolate frosting. Microwave in 10-second intervals until the frosting is warm, loose, and stirs very easily. (For me this took about 25 seconds total.) Pour the frosting over top of the cake, and spread quickly before it stiffens again. Place the cake back into the refrigerator for another half hour at least to set.

4. Remove from fridge, cut, and enjoy!

Sausage, Pepper, and Onion Sliders

Last summer sometime, I hosted a Slutfest at my house with our friends Geoff and Becky.  Normally Slutfest is just the four of us getting together and pigging out but on this occasion we also invited our friends Jackie and Brandon.

One of Jackie’s contributions to the party was some kind of cheesesteak or cheeseburger slider dish – she had seen a recipe or video on Facebook, and it was basically 12 slider buns split apart, bottom halves placed into a baking dish, covered with meat and cheese, topped with the top halves, and baked.  Then you take them out of the oven and it’s meaty and cheesy and melty and slutty and delicious.  They were SO GOOD.  My mind got to turning about how many different ways I could take this method and make something delicious out of it.  And so, the sausage, pepper, and onion sliders were born!

I actually tried this recipe out for the first time on Jackie and Brandon when they came to our house for New Year’s Eve a few weeks ago.  These sliders were a hit!  I don’t think you can beat the smell of Italian sausages cooking with peppers and onions…. it’s one of my favorite smells.  In fact, I love this sausage-pepper-onion mixture so much I am thinking about repurposing it in other recipes… maybe on pizza, or inside stromboli.  YUM!

These sliders are so easy and will feed a lot of people at once.  They would be perfect for a Super Bowl party or any other kind of gathering you may be hosting!

Sausage, Pepper, and Onion Sliders
Serves 6

Ingredients
Nonstick cooking spray
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 links mild Italian sausage, removed from casings
1 link hot Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 8oz can tomato sauce
12 slices provolone cheese
12 slider buns, split in half

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Spray a large skillet with nonstick cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Add the chopped green bell pepper and saute until crisp-tender, about 7 minutes. Add diced yellow onion and saute until translucent. Remove the peppers and onions from the skillet to a bowl and set aside.

3. Return the skillet to medium heat. Spray the skillet again with nonstick cooking spray, and add the Italian sausage links. Break up the sausage into crumbles with a spatula. Cook until cooked through, about 10 minutes or so. Add the peppers and onions back to the skillet with the crumbled sausage. Pour in the tomato sauce. Stir together, reduce heat to medium-low, and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes. You want some of the water to cook out of the tomato sauce so that it thickens nicely. The sausage, pepper, and onion mixture should be saucy and coated nicely with the tomato sauce, not runny and watery.

4. While the sausage mixture is simmering, place the bottom halves of the slider buns into the bottom of a 13×9 baking dish. You may need to squish them in there a little bit, this is okay. Press them down slightly so that they stay in place. Cover with 6 slices of provolone cheese, overlapping if necessary. When the sausage mixture is done, pour it on top of the provolone cheese. Top with the other 6 slices of provolone cheese, and finally the top halves of the slider buns. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Enjoy!

#52NewEats :: Week 2 :: Nachos Blanco

So ya had to know it was only a matter of time before one of the new recipes I wanted to try was a nachos recipe, right?  🙂

This week’s recipe comes to you from Sunny Anderson a la Food Network fame.  I watched the episode these nachos were featured on, oh, I don’t know, a thousand years ago, and IMMEDIATELY printed up the recipe and stuck it in my binder because I NEEDED to make them RIGHT AWAY!!!!  (And then I never made them for a thousand years.)

These nachos weren’t so bad – I really liked the consistency of the cheese sauce: it was smooth and silky, and it tasted good, but for me it needed a little kick.  I decided not to add anything to the cheese sauce though, because I thought the salsa might end up being pretty spicy.

So here are my thoughts on this recipe:

🍴  The cheese sauce recipe calls for vegetable oil + butter.  I don’t cook with a lot of vegetable oil in my house (I normally use coconut oil or olive oil), but I didn’t want to sub it with something else because I like to try and remain true to a recipe the first time I make it, and adjust afterwards.  When this cheese sauce was done, it did taste good, but I noticed some kind of aftertaste – and I thought it might have been the vegetable oil.  That might have been my fault, because I’ve had this veg oil for a bit and it might not have been good anymore.  If I make this recipe again, or attempt to use this cheese sauce again, I would try replacing the vegetable oil with more butter instead and see how that turns out.  I think the vegetable oil may have contributed to how shiny and silky this sauce turned out to be though.  So I’m not sure.  I will just have to experiment!

🍴  The recipe calls for you to dollop bits of the salsa around the nachos after they have been assembled.  This looked and smelled like it might be a pretty spicy salsa to me though (I think I got an extra hot batch of jalapenos, my eyes were tearing up as I cut them open), so I decided to do something else to spread the heat out a little bit.  I poured the salsa into the skillet and added the shredded chicken, and simmered it for a few minutes to warm it all up together.  This ended up working out nicely – we had some leftover chicken and there are a bunch of uses for leftover salsa chicken!  Taco salads, enchilada filling, quesadilla filling, taco filling – get creative!

What I’ve written below is how I prepared the recipe, but you can find the original //here//.  Enjoy!

Nachos Blanco
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
1 bag white corn tortilla chips
1 pound shredded chicken* (see note)

Salsa:
3 green jalapenos, halved and seeded
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 medium onion, cut into chunks
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 handful of cilantro (just grab the bunch and rip some off the top)
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cheese Sauce:
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/4 cup minced onion
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup heavy cream
4 ounces white cheddar cheese, shredded

Directions
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a small baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the jalapenos, garlic cloves, and onion on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss together to combine. Move the garlic cloves underneath the halved jalapenos. Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the jalapenos and onions begin to char and turn black.

2. When the vegetables are finished roasting, remove from the oven and scoop all ingredients from the baking sheet into a blender. Add the cilantro, chicken stock, and lime juice. Puree until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside. Leave the oven on.

3. Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter, vegetable oil, minced onion, and a couple grinds of salt and pepper. Cook the onion until tender, about 4-5 minutes. Add the flour and cook for about 2-3 minutes, being careful not to brown the flour. Add the heavy cream and whisk together until thickened, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low. Add the shredded cheese and whisk together to combine. Keep warm.

4. Heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the salsa and shredded chicken. Stir to combine. Simmer until warmed through, then turn heat to low while you prepare to assemble the nachos.

5. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread tortilla chips on top in a single layer, and warm the chips in the preheated oven for about 5-10 minutes, just until they are warm to the touch. Remove from the oven. Scatter shredded chicken over top of chips evenly. Then pour the cheese sauce over top evenly as well. Then devour and enjoy!

Notes
* I like to poach my chicken in the crock pot and then shred it. Place 1 pound chicken breasts in the crock pot and season with salt and pepper. Cover with water or chicken stock. Cook on low for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from crock pot and shred!

Fixer-Upper Friday :: Family Room Before & After

For my first Before & After post showcasing my new/old house, I chose our Family Room!

Our Family Room is in the original part of the house (not the addition).  As I mentioned before, this original part of the house dates back to either the 1700s or 1800s (depends on which local amateur historian I’ve talked to).  Someday I’ll get to the township building and see if I can find out for real but for now let’s just say it’s a really old house.

It has exposed beam ceilings.  Many windows.  And part of it is an enclosed front porch.  There is a ton of wood paneling in this room – the entire front porch area is wood paneling, as are the built-in cabinets and bookshelves.  This room also has a door that leads out to the side of the front of the house – it’s an older door with a window, and its lock uses a skeleton key!  This room gets lots of late afternoon light, and it’s closest to the road so it can be kind of noisy at times.  Hopefully we can fix that with some new windows and insulation in the coming years.  It’s a big room, and because of the enclosed porch, windows, and awkward shape, it presented a challenge as far as arranging furniture.  But thanks to Pinterest, I found some creative solutions that helped us out.  More about that later.  🙂

So here are the horrid Before pictures.

Here’s the old front door with awesomely old skeleton keys!
View from the stairs. So much wood paneling!  And guys, the carpet.  Don’t you just kind of want to vomit?  Blech.
View from the enclosed porch area to the back of the house.
View of the enclosed porch area. There are built-in cabinets beneath all the windows.

And now, for some of our During pictures:

View of the enclosed porch area during painting. So much oil-based primer. I stunk for days.
View from the stairs. All that white is really making things look better!
We ripped up all the old carpet in preparation for new, and found gorgeous original wood flooring beneath. Unfortunately, as you can see in the enclosed porch area, the flooring is different, and painted, where the porch was. We didn’t have the creativity to restore these floors, so we’ll leave them for some other owner some other time.  Additionally, you can kind of see in the spot where I’m standing, there was some damage to this section of the flooring at one time, and it had been patched and never stained to match.
Another view of the original wood flooring into the enclosed porch area. Why would you paint wood flooring?! And why would you paint it teal?!
If all the wood flooring had looked like this, we might have kept it!
Ah, new carpet! What a difference some paint and carpet make! No more wood paneling, no more sad blue/brown/gray/ugly faded carpeting.
One of my favorite differences is how different the light comes into the room when the window trim is white vs. wood! It has made a ton of difference in this house.
And here’s my daughter dancing on our soft sand-colored carpet. This carpet is thick and plush and soft, and it’s the first carpet I’ve ever WANTED to walk on with bare feet.

And now for the Afters!!:

View from the doorway to the great room.
It feels like home!!
So please excuse the sheet on the couch….
…..the sheet on the couch is for this guy right here. 🙂

It looks like a real home now, doesn’t it?

The main challenge with this room was our gigantic U-shaped sectional sofa.  We originally placed it back against the two windows you see in the pictures above, but it took up the entire length of that wall and I would lose precious storage space by not being able to get into those built-in cabinets.  This also wasn’t ideal in the summer months, as one of those windows has to house this room’s window AC unit, and who wants ice cold air blowing on the back of their neck (even in the dead of summer)?  The small wall dividing the main room from the enclosed porch area is what limited us on the right hand side, so we were kind of stuck.

Well we moved the couch out to butt up against the small divider wall, but that left us with a lot of wasted space between the back of the couch and the windows.  Sure I could put a sofa table back there, but it was so much space and seemed so useless.

Then!  I remembered a pin I’d saved on Pinterest.  Someone had posted a picture of a bar-height table behind their couch, with bar stools at the table.  It was a game room or man cave or something.  I remembered this idea, and went to Amazon looking for unfinished wood bar-height tables and bar stools.  I found these and these, and they really filled out that wasted space!  I love that I was able to incorporate this idea into my new home.  From the front of the couch it just looks like we have a really large sofa table behind it – I can fill it with lots of decor and candles.  But then when you go around the back, it’s nice to have a place to sit and eat, either while watching movies or the big game.  It’s ideal for when we have people over and not everyone can fit comfortably on the couch.  And it’s perfect for pizza night when we want to eat in front of the TV but don’t want to cover the ottoman in towels and worry about spills on my new carpet.  Now if we could just get the tables stained…. 👌

Anyway!  I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s edition of Fixer-Upper Friday.  I’ll do a new post every week to show you before and afters of my new/old house.  Last but not least will be the kitchen.  🙂  Only because I think it’s the biggest and brightest and BEST change of all!

#52NewEats :: Week 1 :: Not Quite J. Alexander’s Mac and Cheese

As part of my 2017 new year’s resolutions, I would like to make one new recipe every week.  I’ve been in something of a cooking rut lately – creativity has escaped me, thanks to the stress of moving and renovating a house – and am looking for some inspiration and some new foods to drool over.

I have this 3-inch binder full of recipes at home.  No kidding.  Three inches.  Full.  Some of these recipes date back about 16 years to when we were living in Spokane and I was just learning how to cook.  I got some cookbook program for my computer, where you could plug in a recipe and it would provide you with the nutritional information for the recipe.  You could print out a full page, and I would enter all these recipes I found on the ancient internet in those days and print them out.  I have NO idea where many of these recipes came from.  So I can’t really claim them as my own.  Many of them I have made before, and I have really only kept the recipes I like and the recipes I haven’t made yet in this binder.

It should come as no surprise that about 85% of the recipes in this binder are recipes I haven’t made yet.  #lazyaf #orbusyaf #imnotsure

The binder is divided into sections – Beef, Chicken, Pork, Pasta, Veggies, Drinks, Sweets, and Miscellaneous.  Each section also has a folder, and within each folder are all the recipes I’ve ripped out of magazines over the years.  Food Network, Real Simple, Bon Appetit, Saveur, Food and Wine… TONS OF RECIPES.  Over the Christmas break I was sitting on my couch in a rare moment of laziness, paging through a stack of magazines I had to read before tossing them, and of course I ripped out a few recipes, and I said hey, why do I keep ripping these out?  I never make these recipes.  I always make the same stinkin’ recipes over and over and over again.  So that’s where I got the idea for this resolution!

The first one I picked had to be a cozy comfort food recipe because guess what people, it was 15 degrees outside yesterday.  Yes, folks, 15 FREAKING FREEZING degrees.  My new/old house gets very cold and I am finding out that baseboard heating is basically useless unless you turn it up to 80+ degrees.  So I wanted to cook up something that would get my oven going and warm us up from the inside out.

Some time ago, when I first started on Pinterest, I found a recipe for J. Alexander’s copycat mac and cheese.  J. Alexander’s is a restaurant I had been to in Chicago with my friends Liz and Sara on a girls’ night out.  We left the husbands home with the kids – they had a pizza party and some whiskey, and we dressed up and went to a nice restaurant to shove our faces full of all the sluttiest of foods.  I think I remember ordering some really delicious hot spinach dip, mac and cheese, and a steak.  I remember the mac and cheese knocking my socks off.  So when I was perusing Pinterest some time later and stumbled across a copycat recipe for this, I just had to make it.  So I pinned it.  And some time after that I tagged it as a recipe I wanted to make “soon”, so I copied it into a Word document with 5,634 others and printed it up.  I stuck it in this binder.  And then promptly never made it.  #lazyaf #orbusyaf #stillnotsure

I did a quick Google search to see if I could figure out which site this recipe came from, and the one that looks most like the one I printed up is located here, but it’s still not exactly the same.  The top 3 search results are all different recipes.  I might try the others before the year is out.  🙂

Anyway, here are my thoughts on the original recipe:

🍴The original recipe calls for several chicken bouillon cubes, which I am not a fan of.  I find bouillon to be pretty salty.  I’m sensitive to very salty foods.  So I omitted the bouillon right off the bat.

🍴I also eliminated the sugar.  I think we add sugar to recipes a lot of times when we don’t need to.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a recipe for tomato sauce that has you add sugar to ‘balance it out’.  I will taste it before and after and not taste a difference.  We don’t need anymore sugar in our bodies, so I eliminated that too.

🍴There’s a step in the original recipe where  you are supposed to toss the drained pasta with olive oil and lemon juice before adding it to the cheese sauce.  I actually went to the trouble of buying a lemon, squeezing fresh juice out of it, measuring it out and adding it to a little bowl with some measured olive oil, and then forgot this step.  In hindsight, it might be a good thing I forgot this step.  I think it only would have caused the cheese sauce to separate a little more while baking.  So I ended up unintentionally omitting this as well.

🍴The recipe calls for Gruyere cheese and recommends using half regular Gruyere and half smoked Gruyere.  I looked for smoked Gruyere and couldn’t find it at either of my grocery stores.  I wish I had, because I think it would have kicked this up a notch!  I will probably try this recipe again with the smoked Gruyere!

🍴I loved the thick, luscious, velvety-ness of the cheese sauce base before I added the shredded cheese to it.  I may use this base on other mac and cheese recipes that I come up with myself.

With all that in mind, and without further ado, here is the recipe as I prepared it!

Not Quite J.Alexander’s Mac and Cheese
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
8 cups chicken stock or chicken broth
8 ounces cavatappi (I actually weighed this)
3 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 small red onion, minced
1 clove garlic, grated
1 teaspoon Cholula
2 1/4 cups freshly grated Gruyere cheese – may use a mix of Gruyere and smoked Gruyere
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
Fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup panko

Directions
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bring the chicken stock to a rolling boil over high heat and add the cavatappi. Cook according to package directions. Drain, and return cavatappi to pot.

2. While the pasta is cooking, add 1/2 tablespoon butter to a small skillet and melt. Saute the minced onion and the garlic over medium heat until the garlic melts into the butter and the onion softens, about 8 minutes. When finished, set aside off the heat.

3. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. When melted, whisk in flour and cook for 2 minutes, whisking constantly. Gradually add in the cream, half and half, and sour cream, whisking constantly. Whisk until warmed together and thickened, about 2-4 minutes. Whisk in the sauteed onion and garlic mixture and the Cholula. Whisk until well combined. Season with freshly ground black pepper to taste. Simmer gently over low heat, about 15 minutes.

4. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups shredded Gruyere and all of the Parmesan cheese. When thoroughly combined, pour over the cooked pasta. Stir together to combine well. Add remaining tablespoon of butter to a small bowl and microwave until it melts, about 15 seconds. Add the panko and stir until the panko is coated with the melted butter.

5. Pour half of the mac and cheese mixture into a greased baking dish. Top with half of the remaining shredded cheese. Pour the rest of the mac and cheese mixture on top, and top with the remaining shredded cheese. Top with the buttered panko. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the mac and cheese is bubbly around the edges and the panko is nicely browned.

Yay for 2017

I don’t know about you all, but I am welcoming 2017 with open arms.

2016 was one hell of a year.  On so many levels.  I mean for Pete’s sake, the amount of drama I had in my life in 2016 was just astronomical.  I’m over it.  This year I am ready to welcome lots of simplicity and minimalism and focus into my life.

Due to such aforementioned drama, I have honestly not had much time or energy to put into figuring out what my resolutions should be.  I usually get all gung-ho with resolutions.  One year I did 12 mini-resolutions instead of one big one and that went pretty well.  Last year I don’t think I did anything much.  I knew I would be moving and knew I just had to make it through the year alive.  Which I did.  But right now I’m so burned out.

So I’m thinking, instead of making some kind of official declaration, official THIS IS WHAT I WILL DO ALL YEAR kind of resolution, I think I want to just keep some things in the back of my head that I want to be working towards.  Things like:

Simplicity/minimalism :: Less stuff, less debt, less plans, less expectations.  More space in my house, more time with my family, more money in my pocket, more free time to myself, more freedom from pressure.  I need to work towards a “it’s just, whatever” kind of attitude.  Relax a little.  Ok a lot.

Health :: just stay in a gym routine.  Things were going really well with that last year until Moving Shit came along.  I just need to stay in the gym and stay active.  And I really should get a physical this year.

Society :: I’m just going to bury my head under a rock for 4 years.  If you’re my Facebook friend and you post about Trump or politics I will probably hide you.  Because I just can’t let that stuff into my bubble.  Don’t talk to me about it.  I don’t want to know about it.  I’m over it.  It’s draining.  I’m an INFJ/HSP/Empath.  I am not the type that lets that kind of shit go.  If you know me, you know that I am not the kind of person that can let things roll off her back.  I get all worked up and stressed about it and it is honestly just better for me and my marriage and my family if I stay out of current events.  I prefer to live in oblivion.  I am 36 years old.  There is literally NOTHING I can do to change national or world events.  My name won’t make a difference on any petition.  My vote doesn’t count for shit (thx Electoral College).  That idealism that plagues so many late teens and 20-somethings has vacated me, and I couldn’t give a crap, honestly.  I truly, honestly, 100% believe that the very best thing I can do for society right now is raise a kind and loving human being, so that is what I am going to do.  Lord knows we need a few more of them out there.  Here’s hoping I’m still here in 4 years to crawl out from under my rock though.  Cheers folks.

FOOD :: I mean I can’t be a foodie or a food blogger without some kind of commitment to food, right?  So this year I want to make a new recipe every week.  I have a whole binder full of recipes I have torn out of magazines over the years.  And every week I want to make a new recipe.  Maybe I will even come up with a hashtag for it and post it on Instagram.  Oh, and maybe I can post it here too if I really love it!  Stay tuned.

What do you have on deck for new year’s resolutions?  I just want to keep improving myself!

Stay tuned!  Later this week I have before and after pictures of my house coming up.  And very soon I have some new recipes to share with you!

 

….To the place I belong….

Hello, hello, hello everyone!

I know it has been like FORRREEEVVVVERRRRRR and I am so, so sorry.  Bad food blogger!

It’s just that I’ve been soo busy with life, man.  Just, LIFE.  I am exhausted.  Can I just take a second and remind you…

In January of this year, I began clearing out my old house.  Every weekend, and some nights during the week, I worked on a closet, a room, an area of the house.  I packed it all up, I trashed what was trash, I donated what could be donated.  I did that basically from January to March.

In March of this year, we listed our old house for sale.  Also in March, I got a new job!  Anyway at that point, not only was I continuing to pack/trash/donate, but I was also having to keep the house in tip top shape for any potential buyers.  I did that from March to sometime in May, when we finally got an offer.

Once May hit, well guess what, my packing/trashing/donating did not subside there.  I was still doing that.  We have (ahem, had) a lot of shit.  Who am I kidding, we still do.  But still.  Now, on top of packing every box, filling every trash bag, and donating everything possible, I was also on the phone nonstop with contractors, scheduling things to be upgraded, fixed, whatever this buyer (FHA buyer) needed done.  I was on the phone with movers, getting quotes, getting a storage unit; I was handling and organizing and coordinating E V E R Y T H I N G that needed to be done to get us out of the house.

We moved out in late June.  If you thought that meant I’d have time to breathe well HAHAHAHUJDGHUIOEWHTGIOWAhngowenhagoweogty

No.

So we moved out in late June, and moved into my mom’s house for a bit.  In early July, we found our new house!  So I guess you could say I had a 1-2 week break.  Because once we found our new house, well here we go, I was on the phone, all. the. time.  Handling, organizing, coordinating, asking questions, getting us the best mortgage rate (thx Brexit), analyzing reports and inspections and learning about septic systems, getting us better movers the second time around, registering my kid for school, getting medical records switched over, school physicals, dentist appointments, you know, LIFE.  Life.  It was all me.

Everything, up to this point, was all.  me.  I.  Did.  Everything.

Go look in my barn.  Every single box still yet to be unpacked has my handwriting on it.

I.  Did.  Ev.  Er.  Y.  THING.

We settled on our new house in mid-August.  And work began on it right away.  I have tonssss of amazing before and after pictures I will show you in a later post, but this house needed so much love.  So much TLC.  I’m sure you’re thinking this must be where I handed it all off to everyone else and all the experts so I could take a break but HAHAHAHAHAHAHDGHWIOEAHIOWEAHEOWAHGOEWAHGTOho

No.

Once again, people, HERE WE GO!  We worked tirelessly on this house for two straight weeks.  Early mornings, late nights, going up after work.  Thankfully I have the most amazing, most talented brother who took a couple weeks off of his normal contracting gig to help us with everything that needed to be done.  He worked there during the day while we were at work and we joined him afterwards.  We also had lots of help from family and friends, and we pushed like hell, and we got it *mostly* done by moving day in late August.

Moving day in late August might actually have been the easiest, least stressful day of this entire year.  If you guys want a recommendation for movers, check out Lee’s Moving and Storage.  They’ll do ya right.

Literally a few days later, my daughter started first grade at her new school.  She had tons of roller coaster feelings and emotions leaving her old house and school and moving.  I wiped many tears, held her many times, her quaking little body, trying to soothe away what must have been the biggest crisis she has ever faced in her tiny little 6-year life.  But she handled it like a champ.  She got pizza and Dairy Queen for dinner that night.

Meanwhile, the work on our house continued – nights, weekends, etc.  I unpacked like a fiend.  I set a date for the housewarming party, if for no other reason than to push us all to get this house “done” by a specific date.  One can only live amongst boxes and power tools for so long.  We needed to turn it into a home.  And fast.

We had our housewarming in early October.  We utilized our barn – we strung up some lights and set out lots of food.  We got tons of yard games and built a fire.  It rained that day.  Not much, it more or less spittled all day long.  It was dreary, but the party was a total success.  So many people came out to see our new house.  I felt so blessed.  I truly did.  The house started to feel like a home on that very day.  I now understand why it’s called a ‘house-warming’ party.

And then after the housewarming party, work on the house just kind of fizzled out.  And that’s ok, I think we all needed a break.  If I had to paint one more goddamn door, I would have screamed.  The house is in about an 80% done state, I would say.  Our master bathroom is still not usable, but we are hoping it will be finished before the end of the year.  And I still have lots to unpack.  I have some time off around Christmas later this month and I am hoping to chip away at it.  Hoping to chip away at it – and make lots of recipes for you guys.  But, we are home, and we love our house, and we love our land.

Last month we also added a new addition to our family – we adopted a 5yo German Shepherd, who was rescued from a kill shelter in South Carolina.  His name is Kane (see pic above), and he is hands-down the most sweet, affectionate, velcro dog I have ever met in my entire life.  He is apparently bonding to me pretty hard.  I am “his person”, as they say.  I don’t mind it one bit.  I have wanted a highly protective dog my entire life.  I have very vivid memories of living in the city in my early 20s, constantly fighting off catcalls from gross old men, and thinking that if I just had a big German Shepherd by my side, they wouldn’t fuck with me.  Or, I could even give him a command and he’d lunge at them and bark.  I would daydream about that.  We lost our last dog, Moko, almost three years ago.  I wanted to get another one right away, but we knew we’d be moving and thought it better to wait.  As things began to settle down with the house I realized that IT WAS TIME FOR A DOG!!  And once I had my mind set on it, there was no turning back.  I started to feel that hole in my heart again that Moko left.  I had been so busy all year that I hadn’t really noticed it.  But when I started to look at rescues and see dogs that needed homes, they were pulling on that part of my heart.  We knew we wanted a big dog, and I’ve always wanted a GSD, so I looked and looked, and finally found not one, but two!  We ended up getting approved for Kane, and he has filled that hole in my heart to overflowing.  He’s an amazing dog.  I sometimes post pictures and videos of him on Instagram, go check him out.

Anyway I wanted to let you all know that I’M BACK and I am hoping to be more active here beginning in January.  I have tons of recipes I want to test (anyone want to help me eat them?  holla at ya girl) and post for you.  In the meantime, you can always catch what I’m eating and doing on Instagram @sluttyfoodblog !

Happy holidays and much love to you all!  xoxoxo

Country roads, take me home….

It is almost time!!

We settle on our farmhouse in just a few days.  And oh my gosh I don’t think I could be more excited.  There have literally been times in the past several weeks where I’ve had to stop and think wait, did I really just buy a farmhouse with 3 acres and a gigantic barn?  Did I just do that?  Wait, I’m really gonna have THREE WHOLE ACRES?!  Three acres.  For me!  Sometimes I really can’t believe it.

But alas, ‘tis true.  I have an old farmhouse.  We originally thought it was built in 1880 but it turns out the original house itself dates back to the 1700s.  The sellers we are buying it from are only the second family to have owned this land – they bought it from the original land owners.  SO original that the cross-street is named for their last name.

DUDE.  Think about that for a second!  We will be only the third family to own this land since the 1700s.  Let the weight of that really sink in!

Now, ORIGINALLY-originally, the property was much, much bigger than 3 acres.  I believe it even extended across both streets some ways.  I’m not sure of the original size, but I know that when the sellers bought it back in 1983, they partitioned off some of the property to sell as lots.  So there are a few houses around us, but we still have plenty of space between us and them.

The picture above is a painting in the house that the sellers had made of the property after they bought it.  We asked if they would be willing to leave it, and they agreed as long as we agreed to leave it to whomever we sold the house to when the time came, to sort of pass it on down through its legacy.  How amazing is that?

Aaron and I are so excited to bring this house into its next phase of greatness.  I’ve mentioned before, the whole house is dated, but it’s all completely cosmetic.  The bones of this house are completely solid.  The seller was a builder with a “strong German work ethic!” according to his niece (who is handling his estate, as he has moved into a home for the elderly – he’s 90-something, and his wife worked until she was 92!).  Anyway, he built an addition onto the house in 1983 (when he was in his sixties!!), and built 6-inch thick walls for the addition (and I believe reinforced the existing house as well with 6-inch walls), which are supposedly amazing for keeping the house temperate in the most extreme weather.  I can attest to that, having been there a few times after stretches of 90+ degree days.  You walk into the house thinking it will be humid and oppressive, but quite the contrary – it’s not exactly cool and refreshing, but you can at least walk around and breathe and sit comfortably, without AC.  Also, I must thank him for not going completely batshit crazy with the baseboard heating units.  Have you ever seen older houses with baseboard heating that lines the entire lengths of walls throughout each of the rooms?  I have seen many houses like this on my search, and they are so unnecessary.  Baseboard heating gets really hot, really fast, and you don’t need that many units!  This guy was a smart cookie – I think he put a couple in each room, and they don’t even run the full length of the wall they are on.  THANK YOU SIR!!

Another thing I have to thank him for – getting a huge 120-gallon propane tank to power his fireplace.  While we will probably convert the fireplace back to wood-burning, we will be using the propane tank to power a dual-fuel range – with a gas cooktop and an electric oven.  Best of both worlds, and solves my crisis of ever having to cook on an electric cooktop.

I have so, so much to be excited about, and so much to be thankful for.  I chastise myself for ever thinking about walking away from this house simply because of cosmetic things.  We are going to turn this house into the most amazing forever home ever.  It’s going to be so beautiful when I am done with it.  Down the line, I have so many plans for the kitchen, upgrading the siding and shutters, adding an epic porch and some French doors, beautiful landscaping….  So much to dream about and plan for.

On a more personal note, though, I am also treating this move as a reset button for myself.  I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but lately it seems that our country is descending into a disgusting level of insanity, and there is no shortage of reports of it on all social media outlets.  Facebook is obviously the worst.  And being a full-fledged INFJ (and HSP, and empath – I am not crazy, stick with me), I have a really hard time with that stuff – just with reading it, and absorbing it, and absorbing what it means, and absorbing what it means to the targeted groups of people, and putting myself in others’ shoes and how scared they must be….  It’s completely draining.  I’m not the kind of person that can read about a person being shot by a police officer and move on with my day.  I read an article about that and start to think about the life lost, and how that person’s mother must feel, and did that person have children?, and how must the officer feel?, and so on and so forth.  And I have the same type of reaction when I read an article about an officer being shot and killed by an angry protester.  Or crowds of people mowed down with semi-automatic weapons while they enjoyed themselves on a night out.  Or Trump’s latest eruption of anger and hate and vitriol and racism.  And worst of all may be the comments on all the stories – comments full of hatred, people hating other people, and so much misinformation and lack of education, and lack of EMPATHY and COMPASSION and HUMAN FUCKING KINDNESS.  Social media has turned us into a disgusting bunch, and I don’t know what it will take for us all to realize it.  And I can’t let that stuff go.  I stew on it, and I get all upset, and it takes some effort to pull me out of it.  SO.  I will press that re-set button when I settle on this house, and quit Facebook.  And Twitter.  I’ll stick with Instagram because it’s relatively drama- and politics- and hatred-free, at least the stuff I see.  And I will stick with this blog because nobody ever comments on it anyway which is just fine with me!

I am doing this in an effort of shedding the excess, and shedding what no longer serves me, because this house will be my refuge; this is my fresh start, I will go home every day and I will pour myself into my land and my home and my family, I will reduce my reliance on social media for everything – information, validation, love, etc.  I will stop listening to the news radio station because that is just as depressing.  I am unsubscribing from all the junk e-mail I receive so I don’t have so much to clean out of my inboxes.  I am making peace with people where I can.  I am ridding myself of every burden possible, to lighten my soul and, hopefully, my outlook!  I am moving towards a simpler life, where we take care of ourselves, where we live off our land in the ways that we can, where we strive to be as self-sufficient and self-sustaining as possible.  Where I have the energy and focus to become the best mother I can be, the best wife I can be, the best cook, reader, writer, gardener, decorator, whatever I want to be.  This house will be my refuge!

And I can’t fucking wait ya’ll.

Updates From In Between

Well howdy there, partner.

You know I get to talk like that all the time now, you know why, right?

CUZ I FINALLY BOUGHT ME A FARMHOUSE!!

I may or may not also be watching Toy Story 2 right now and Jessie is rubbing off on me.

But seriously, YEAH, we made it.  We bought the farmhouse!  It’s not exactly the farmhouse of our dreams but the amazing thing about it is that we can MAKE it the farmhouse of our dreams.  We wanted a house that we would be able to throw ourselves into from a design and personal touch perspective and we sure got what we wished for.  Everything from a good school district (it’s actually excellent!), a good plot of land (3 acres!  zoned for horses!!), an outbuilding (a GIGANTIC red barn!), and a house with some age and character (original house built in 1880, addition added in 1983, but so much character throughout with exposed beam ceilings!!)…  We are soooooo excited.

Getting what we wished for also means we have to roll up our sleeves and put some sweat equity into it.  Thankfully, my younger brother has graciously offered to help us out with a lot of the renovations – including removing wallpaper from almost. every. single. wall. inthehouse.  😳  But the good news is, it looks like good wallpaper, which means it might come off easily – but it’s been hanging for over 30 years, so we will just have to wait and see.

So there’s wallpaper removal that has to be done, painting that has to be done, carpeting that has to be removed, new appliances that need to be purchased… We are probably dropping a decent amount of money in the first two weeks, before we even physically move in!  But I’m so excited.  I have already started drawing up floor plans for a kitchen remodel down the line, and a porch to replace a sunroom off the back of the house.  The wannabe architect and designer in me are just loving the possibilities that this blank slate is offering.

So anyway, that’s what’s been going on with me for the past few months.  First we sold our old house in the city.  That went rather well.  We are currently living with my parents while we wait to settle on the new house next month.  And hopefully by September we will be settled in enough that I can start cooking for you again… Lord knows I’ve had all kinds of ideas and I just have not had the time to execute them.  I am also excited to share some of my projects around the house with you – some DIY stuff, some design stuff, some remodel stuff, a little bit of everything!  We also have a lot of barn parties on the horizon…

I will have lots to share with you very soon, stay tuned!  In the meantime you can always see what I’m eating on Instagram @sluttyfoodblog !!