Monday, March 26, 2012

Pinterest Projects: Success and Failure

I love Pinterest! It's clear by my nearly 2000 pins that I'm hooked. I keep my boards nice and tidy and really try to do some of the projects I pin. 

{{NOTE: If you've never heard of Pinterest, only know it in name or want to know how to use it better, I have the perfect post for you. Just head on over to Grey Likes Weddings. The author, Summer, has a fabulous post, A Pinterest Field Guide: Four Steps to Winning at Pinning. Even as an avid pinner, I learned a thing or two.}}

Okay, back to my projects. I recently found two that I wanted to tackle right away.

1. Oven Dried Strawberries: these look amazing, right? I'm always on the hunt for natural ingredient snacks. How could I go wrong with this pin?!?

Result: Here's how it could go wrong. After 3 hours and having completely followed the very easy instructions I had this on my hands.

Some of the strawberries were still mushy while others were dry as a bone. They're the least appetizing thing I've ever laid eyes on! I threw them all away. And yes, mama, I did use the brand new Williams-Sonoma pan you gave me. It's still soaking to be honest! This very well might have been a user error or maybe my oven is whack, but I can say I won't be drying strawberries like this again for a little while. I'm sure I'll give it another whirl because that first picture just looks so tasty! If you have tips on oven drying fruit, please let me know!

2. Pedi Perfect Feet: I need a pedicure every day of my life. I swear! I go one day after getting a pedicure and could stand to have another one. I can't afford a pedicure every day or every week. During summer months a monthly pedicure is a must, but I'm trying to find a way to spread them out a little throughout the rest of the year. I saw this post and thought, It won't work, but what will it hurt to try. I followed the instructions to put shaving cream on my feet (with my husband looking at me like I have 10 heads), then dipping a towel in a solution of listerine and warm water I wrapped my feet up in the towel for 30 minutes and waited. 

Result: I don't have a picture of my feet because feet are just gross in general, but it worked!!! My feet are extra clean and far smoother than when I applied shaving cream. I followed up with the suggestion of drying them with a hair dryer and then applying lotion. We'll see how long this lasts, but it's a much cheaper option to an actual pedicure!

So while every Pinterest project doesn't pan out, I do think it's a great place for brainstorming and storing potential ideas. It's a bevy of creativity for sure...just be sure you use good manners when pinning and correctly site all your pins!

Monday, March 12, 2012

All Natural Oven Cleaner

We have an old range to say the least. Unfortunately for me, it works really well! The list of furniture we need for the house is about a mile long, so replacing an appliance that still works is far off into the future. Why use an all natural oven cleaner, you ask? The self-cleaning feature on our oven doesn't work...if it did this post probably wouldn't exist. I didn't want to use a fume filled cleaner since we have Toby (our little Shih Tzu) around the house all the time.

I found a natural recipe from This absolutely took elbow grease, but the oven is SOOO much cleaner! I could also breathe throughout the entire cleaning process. Always a bonus!

Natural Cleaning Recipes -This recipe uses baking soda, borax, salt water, essential oils and vinegar. The recipe calls for very little water, and I happen to agree with the author of the post. I used almost a full cup of water to get a paste consistency. I also used a rag, scrub brush and of course elbow grease.

BEFORE -Nasty doesn't even describe it. I did not do a thorough job of cleaning it out when we moved in and then had a spill!

AFTER -While it's not perfect, it's leaps and bounds above the oven you see above!

I would use this recipe again and would use the vinegar/oil mixture throughout the house for light cleaning.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Menu Planning (aka Feeding a Hungry Man)

I'm trying to do a little prep work to make dinnertime less hectic. Josh is ALWAYS hungry and also doing a lot of running so filling meals are really important. Here's what's on the Bills' menu this week.

Sunday -Curried Quinoa with Chicken and Peas from One Dish Dinners via Pinterest
We're trying to eat more whole grains. Quinoa is a superfood that cooks quickly...such a yummy option, too. I like to make enough of something on Sunday night to give us leftover options.

Here are some pictures of our Curried Chicken and Quinoa.

Onion, garlic and chicken cooking in olive oil.

Added tomatoes and seasoning before adding the quinoa.

Finished product! Blurry pic...ugh. We were done eating before I realized it.

Monday -Slow-Cooker Creamy Chicken with Biscuits from Real Simple
I haven't tried this recipe before, but am hoping to use up some ingredients I have on hand. Again, this will likely give us ample leftovers for lunch or dinner. Slower cooker options are great for Mondays when I never feel like cooking! I also like to have Monday's meal prepared early in the evening since Josh heads to small group for church every other week.

Tuesday -Slow-Cooked Pulled Pork Sandwiches from Good Housekeeping
Make this in bulk! I like to scoop leftovers (using my large Pampered Chef Scoop) onto a cookie sheet and freeze for an hour. Then I double bag them in a gallon size freezer bag. It's so nice to have a quick homemade meal on hand! I serve them on a soft bun with a salad and baked beans.

Wednesday -This is usually leftovers night. I have small group, and Josh has class. Needless to say, we don't have time for a lingering meal. I always try do a fresh salad to go with whatever we're finishing up from earlier in the week.

Thursday -White Chicken Chili
We're having Josh's baby sister, Anna, over for dinner Thursday night, and this is her request. It's gluten-free which makes it the perfect meal for when she comes over to hang out. This recipe was originally given to me by a friend, but over the years it has morphed a little.

White Chicken Chili

4-5 chicken breasts
1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
16 oz salsa (On the Border brand tastes great -unfortunately I can't get it in NY)
3 -15 oz cans great northern beans (drain liquid off until level with beans)
2 cups or 16 oz Mexican blend shredded cheese ( I like a lot of cheese)
4 oz can chopped green chilies
8 oz frozen corn
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp Tony Chachere creole seasoning (optional, double above spices if left out)
Chicken stock, to thin (about 16 oz.)
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut chicken in 1/2 inch cubes. Add olive oil and garlic to a hot pan and add chickenBrown chicken, turn down to medium-high heat, cook fully. About 10 minutes.

While chicken is cooking, heat salsa, beans, 1/2 of the shredded cheese and green chilies over medium in a dutch oven.

When chicken is cooked, add to the dutch oven. Mix well and add sour cream, cayenne pepper, cumin and Tony Chachere Creole seasoning.

Begin to add chicken stock as the cheese melts. Add remaining cheese and corn, mix well. 

Continue to add chicken stock as cheese melts. You want it to be slightly thicker than the consistency of chowder. Don’t add more than 16 oz. of stock.

Once all ingredients are combined and the cheese is melted, let simmer for 45 minutes to an hour to heat thoroughly. Serve with tortilla chips.

Friday -Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce from Lidia's Italy in America
We're having friends (who are also family) over for dinner and I want to make something from my new Lidia's Italy in America cookbook Josh got me for Valentine's Day. While I have been reading it, this will be my first adventure! Now that I'm typing this I so wish I could find a link to it online!

Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce
Serves 6, plus a quart of sauce for the freezer

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large yellow onion, finely diced
1 large carrot, peeled and grated
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more for pasta pot
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground veal
1 cup dry white wine
Two 28-ounce cans Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand
4 fresh bay leaves, or 6 dried bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon peperoncino flakes
Scant 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 pound dried egg tagliatelle
1/2 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for passing

Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven set over medium heat. Add the onion, and let cook until slightly softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the carrot and celery, and season with 1 teaspoon salt. Cook and stir until the onion is translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes more. Meanwhile, put the ground meats in a large bowl, and pour the wine over the meat into the bowl. Use a fork to stir and crumble the meat to mix with the wine and break the meat into small clumps. Add the meat to the pot, season with 1 teaspoon salt, and cool, stirring with a wooden spoon to break down the clumps, until the meat has given up all of its liquid. Increase heat to medium-high, and reduce away the liquid until you hear a cracking sound coming from the bottom of the pan, about 15 minutes in all.

When the bottom of the pan is dry and the meat is lightly browned, pour in the tomates and slosh out the cans with 2 cups hot water. Pour that into the pot along with the bay leaves, and season with the peperoncino, cinnamon, and remaining salt.

Bring the sauce to a boil, then lower the heat to a rapid simmer. Set the cover slightly ajar, and cook until the sauce is thick and flavorful, about 1 1/2 hours, adding up to 4 cups more hot water during the cooking time to keep the meat covered in liquid.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for pasta. Heat half of the sauce in a large skillet (refrigerate or freeze the remaining sauce for another day!). Plop the tagliatelle into the boiling water. When the pasta is al dente, drain and transfer it directly into the simmering sauce. Drizzle with olive oil, and toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Remove from heat, and toss in grated cheese. Serve immediately, passing more grated cheese.

Saturday -I don't think I have to cook at all on Saturday! We have a lunch party to go to and then have a dinner birthday party as well.

I hope our weekly menu inspires you to plan ahead for your meals! Have a great week!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Birthday Celebration

We celebrated Josh's birthday with a fun little dinner on Sunday before his birthday. Then on his actual birthday (also known as Valentine's Day) he surprised me with a fun little night out to see The Artist. If you haven't seen it, you must! It was so good and happens to be the winner of this year's Best Picture. And...if you watched The Oscars you might know that J-Lo and I had the same Valentine's Day date!

For our dinner on Sunday, here was the menu: Scallops with shrimp paste and grits, salad (which I totally failed to photography) and for dessert I made french silk pie.

Shrimp Paste

Shrimp Paste is something I've eaten, but never made or used in cooking. This recipe and the grits recipe are from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Gift of Southern Cooking: Recipes and Revelations from Two Great American Cooks by Scott Peacock and the late Edna Lewis. I think birthdays are kind of celebrations where you can pull out something as decadent as shrimp paste and grits. So much shrimp and so much butter! Who wouldn't love that?!?

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 pound fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup sherry
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Heat 6 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet until it is hot and foaming. Add the shrimp, salt, and black pepper, and cook over high heat, stirring often, for 4-7 minutes, until the shrimp are pink and cooked through.

Remove the skillet from the stove, and use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked shrimp to the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Return the skillet to the stove, and add the sherry, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper. Cook over high heat until the liquid in the skillet is reduced to approximately 3 tablespoons and is quite syrupy. Immediately add this to the shrimp in the food processor and process until the shrimp are thoroughly puréed. With the motor running, add the remaining butter in pieces and process until thoroughly blended. Turn the food processor off, and carefully taste the shrimp paste for seasoning, adding more salt, black pepper, sherry, lemon juice, or cayenne pepper as needed. Transfer the shrimp paste to a ceramic crock and allow to cool completely.

If not using right away, cover the shrimp paste and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Refrigerated shrimp paste should be allowed to return to room temperature before serving.

The shrimp paste was delicious. I think about the only thing I would change is buying some higher quality sherry instead of cooking sherry. I had intended to find something different, but just didn't make it by the liquor store. Does anyone have a nice sherry they use?

Old-Fashioned Creamy Grits

2 cups water, or more
2 cups milk, or more
1 cup stone-ground or regular grits
Kosher salt
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Heat the 2 cups water and milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepan until just simmering.

While the milk is heating, put the grits in a large mixing bowl and cover with cool water. (If using regular grits, skip this step.) Stir the grits assertively so that the chaff floats to the top. Skim the surface carefully, and remove the chaff. Drain the grits in a fine strainer, and stir them into the simmering water and milk. Cook, stirring often, until the grits are tender to the bite and have thickened to the consistency of thick oatmeal. Regular grits are done in about 20 minutes, but stone-ground require an hour or a little more to cook, and you will have to add additional milk and water as needed. As the grits thicken, stir them more often to keep them from sticking and scorching.

Season grits generously with salt, and stir in the cream and butter. Remove from heat, and let rest, covered, until serving. Serve hot.

At this point I often stir in cheese! The suggestion from Miss Lewis follows:

"I like to stir in the paste thoroughly, which gives the grits a lovely coral color...For every cup of hot grits, stir in about 1/4 cup or more shrimp paste."


I could have made a meal out of just the shrimp paste and grits, but the hubby loves a lot of protein. The scallop recipe is from Alton Brown. I watched the video on how to prep the scallops, too. I hadn't ever made them so I needed a quick "how to" on cleaning and trimming them.

1 to 1/4 pounds dry sea scallops, approximately 16)
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons olive oil
Kosher salt (I just used regular salt..whoops)
Freshly ground black pepper

Remove the small side muscle from the scallops, rinse with cold water and thoroughly pat dry.

Add the butter and oil to a 12 or 14 inch saute pan on high heat.

Salt and pepper the scallops. Once the fat begins to smoke, gently add the scallops, making sure they are not touching each other. Sear the scallops for 1 1/2 minutes on each side. The scallops should have a 1/4 inch golden crust on each side while still being translucent in the center. Serve immediately.

There are LOTS of great scallop recipes, but for my first try I thought Alton's purist approach to most foods would be a good way to start. These turned out to be so delicious. I couldn't believe how easy they were to whip up in just a few minutes!

Here's our little date night picture before The Artist, too!

I'll post pictures and the recipe for french silk pie soon!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Catching Up and a Thankful Heart

A post about pretty much anything is LOOOOOOOONG overdue; I'm well aware. We've now been married for 99 days according to my wedding countdown turned marriage counter. I'm pretty sure my husband feels like it's been more than 99 days.

To be really honest, getting married, learning to live with someone new and settling in to life together is more overwhelming than I imagined. We're absolutely loving this adventure, but I kind of expected life as usual. What was I thinking?

I've had a goal in mind to start posting more starting in March. Maybe a couple of times a week even? This goal would likely stay unattained were it not for my sweet friend Cindy. I received an email from her recently that started with, "Girl, are you ever going to start blogging again?" I totally rolled my eyes knowing she was so right! So thank you Cindy, for being the nudge I needed!

This post is pictureless. Yeah. Not a word. I know. I'm just warning you ahead of time. Now I'm going to complain for a moment and then try to type from the heart. Pictures are coming so just stick with me for this post.

Dinner. Check. Groceries. Check. Keeping milk on hand (Let the 3 gallons a week speak for how crucial this item is). Check. Cleaning. Check. Here are two of my wifely duties that don't get to go on the list of items I easily check off every week:

Laundry -I could survive several weeks without needing to do laundry --aside from linens of course. Josh really needs me to do it every week. Every week! Of course he offers to do his own laundry, but that could be more disastrous than not having clean laundry.

Making my husbands lunch -Josh doesn't have the luxury of going out to lunch every day. He eats quickly and often on the go. Plus, it's just a huge savings to take your own. By about Tuesday night I get on the ball. Wednesday I'm feeling pretty good. Thursday night comes and I realize I don't need to make lunch. He eats out on Fridays because it's a half day for him. Then the weekend comes and I forget all over again.

It's a constant reminder of his grace with me. He's so patient and almost never complains when I forget. This in turn reminds me of the Lord's grace with our daily shortcomings. In the New Testament, Jesus is always offering grace. The woman at the well. Dining with tax collectors. The thief on the cross.

I am so thankful that same grace is constantly being heaped upon me as I desperately I need it. If not keeping up with household duties was the worst of my shortcomings I would be pretty set. I know all too well, that this is just scratching the surface.

My heart is so thankful for the grace and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. I'm still a new and sometimes forgetful wife, but with the Lord's help I'm attempting to pass on this grace to everyone I encounter.