Taking the House by Storm

The trials and tribulations of the average gal trying to navigate through life, love and the pursuit of domestic bliss.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mmm….Seafood Chowder

My dad went through a soup phase. It’s not like he’s a huge cook or anything, but he can definitely hold his own beyond the grill. So one winter, he started making soups with some degree of regularity. Can’t really remember when it was, but I’ll never forget my favorite: Seafood Chowder.

I’ve only made it once or twice myself, but the first time I made it for Rick a couple of years ago, he said, “Andy (his friend) would love this.” Ever since then, we've talked about having him over.

It finally happened last Saturday. It was a couple of days after the Rickster’s birthday and we invited Andy and his wife, Jean, and another couple, Sally and John over for dinner. Since it’s been a while since I’ve made it, I couldn’t remember how much soup the recipe made, so I figured I’d double it.

Instead of hitting the standard box grocery store, I decided to splurge and visit the Hyde Park Fish Market. I’m not going to lie: it was pricey. But it was good quality fish and the service was outstanding. I highly recommend it and will go there again.

In retrospect, doubling the seafood wasn’t necessary. We had plenty left over and it was packed full of fish. If I ever double the recipe again, I’d probably just double the tomatoes and maybe do 1.5 times each of the main ingredients.

So if you like seafood, I highly recommend you give my dad’s recipe a try. You won’t be disappointed.

4 medium onions, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
¼ cup vegetable oil (seems like a lot, but it’s not with all the stuff to be sautéed)
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
3 (14.5 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes, undrained (I got the whole variety and wish I had gotten the sliced)
1 Tbsp. celery salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. hot sauce (I prefer Tabasco and I would use more if you like that sort of thing; I do)
½ tsp. pepper
2 pounds fresh medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ pound crab meat or scallops (I used both since I doubled it. If I had to choose, scallops all the way. If you use crab, feel free to get the cheaper ‘cut’ because I didn’t find the more expensive stuff to be any less stringy)
½ pint oysters, drained (they’re not for everyone, so feel free to leave out)
1 large fish fillet, cut into bite-size pieces (I used flounder; the fish monger suggested something light to complement the more fuller-bodied flavor of some of the other ingredients)

Sauté onion and green pepper in oil in a large sauce pan until tender: add flour, stirring until smooth. Cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in the next 6 ingredients; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 15 minus. Add remaining ingredients; cover and simmer an additional 15 minutes. Enjoy! Yield: 12 cups.

A final note: Be careful not to overcook lest the shrimp get rubbery. Thanks, Dad.

Monday, February 26, 2007

What a Difference a Week Makes

Or not. Two weeks aren’t much of an improvement, either.

Two weeks ago, I took a picture of our disastrous upstairs. My hope at the time was that I would show you what it looked like in the morning, then dazzle you with my resolve and accomplishments at the end of the day.

What I think I knew subconsciously was that the same thing would happen that always happens: Nothing.

Sure, it was Sunday at 3 p.m. before I even got started, but I felt motivated. I had everything on the bed. I had picked up all my clothes and either put them away or put them in the hamper. I had started to organize all my papers into neat, manageable piles I had planned to file and/or put where they belonged. I had prepared myself to dust and vacuum.

An hour into it, I was going strong. But I needed to go downstairs to get some dusting spray. That’s when the wheels fell off the bus.

My husband had my personal nemesis – the television – on. No matter. I was prepared to walk right past it, into the kitchen, to get what I came for and get back to business.

Then Rick said, “Hey, you never did see the X-Files movie, did you?”

Oddly enough, I hadn’t, even though that was one of my favorite shows back in the day – one of the few shows I actually made it a point to watch on a weekly basis.

Suffice it to say, that was all she wrote. The movie was just starting, it was 4 o’clock, and I still had plenty of time. Two hours later, I’d lost the will to clean. 6 hours after that, I was back in my usual routine, moving stuff from the bed back onto the floor so we could go to sleep.

And that’s where it all sat until this past weekend (a full two weeks later), when we “cleaned up” for guests. Let’s just say you can’t walk in our closet or put anything else in the drawers in the spare bedroom.

Well, I guess there’s always next week…

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Narcissistic Tendencies

There’s only one reason in the world to make something from scratch that you can buy by the dozen for 99¢ at any local drugstore: just to say you can.

Take chocolate covered cherries, for instance.

I got a wild hair up my bum before Christmas that I wanted to give them a try. I like them, my mother in law likes them, and I thought they’d be a nice addition to my usual Christmas cookies as well as a showpiece at our ornament exchange party.

And I’m not going to lie: I wanted to dazzle people with my culinary skills when I told them I made them myself. What can I say? I’m desperate for attention.

It all started when I got a weekly newsletter from allrecipes featuring a chocolate covered cherries recipe I liked. So I went out and got all the ingredients to make a veritable assload of cherries, including a 5,000-or-so-count jar of maraschino cherries I picked up at Sam’s.

By the time I actually made the cherries, I had found a different recipe that didn’t involve as many ingredients or steps but got great reviews. Time was running out, as you’re supposed to let them sit for two weeks to gel and our party was about a week and a half away.

So I took the ‘easy’ way out. And let me tell you, I’ve never had a new recipe go so smoothly from start to finish.

Little did I know before my foray into the dark and luscious world of chocolate covered cherries that the gel-like substance you experience when biting into one is the result of a fondant that the cherries are wrapped in.

The batter came together like a dream and the cherries were wrapped effortlessly. Then it was time to dip the cherries in chocolate. Thanks to an online tip I read suggesting you add a little shaved paraffin to the chocolate chips, I had a bowl full of smooth, creamy chocolate. The cherries were dipped flawlessly. I could hardly believe my eyes – or my luck.

The day of our party, I bit into one. Holy cow! They even tasted good! The only thing that I hope to fix for my next batch (since I never quite got around to making all the edible gifts I planned for the holidays) is leaking gel.

A lot escaped my first batch, which I found surprising since while making them, they the came right off the waxed paper with no trouble. Apparently, I either didn’t wrap or dip as thoroughly as I thought. But I’ll have plenty of opportunities as I’ve got about 4,942 cherries left.

Shirley Temple, anyone?

Monday, February 19, 2007

A Bouquet of Flours

Over the months (dare I say years?), I’ve accumulated quite the collection of flours. I’ve got wheat flour, oat flour, self-rising flour, bread flour and cake flour. Ironically, when setting the scene for this ‘photo shoot,’ I realized I didn’t have any more run-of-the-mill (haha) all-purpose flour. The stuff I actually use. Had to pick up a 5-pounder today.

Anyway, you might ask yourself: why would anyone have all of these, especially when they haven’t opened any of them?

Let’s just say the road to hell is paved with good intentions and a wide variety of flours.

But if we really want to get to the root of the problem, it boils down to being overly ambitious. A newsletter arrives in my inbox from allrecipes.com and there’s some recipe in there I want to try. A show on the Food Network features a recipe that piques my interest. Flipping through a magazine, I see something fun and challenging I’d like to like to test myself with.

The sad reality: I never get around to making any of them. Truth be told, I don’t even remember which recipes I got most of these flours for. It’s really quite pathetic. I did actually get to open the cake flour the other night when I made those chocolate chip cookies, but I’m quite sure that’s not what I got it for.

Maybe one of these days, I’ll remember what I’m supposed to be making and actually do it. In the meantime, if you need to make any paper maché, you know who to talk to.

Small Victories

Good grief. Three weeks in and I’m already ready to dump this “column.” I thought it would be inspirational insofar as get me to actually produce a few small victories every week. Mostly, it just reminds me of all the stuff I didn’t do.

For instance, about three weeks ago, I bought probably about 15 Valentine’s Day cards for various family members and friends, including one friend whose birthday is on Valentine’s Day. Let’s just say I have quite the jump on next year.

I took pictures last Saturday of the disaster that is my house. I was hoping to be able to show some progress as the hours went by. A week later, not much to show for it, but don’t worry, you’ll see it anyway.

And the list goes on. But I don’t want to give up just yet. So I’ll list the few things I did accomplish this week:

• Changed our sheets. Looks like I’m back on track again in this department – 3 weeks is not the usual, as we experienced of late. That’s like college guy dorm. Yuck. So I’m back on my weekly schedule.

• Finished ironing that huge pile of clothes on the bed in the guest room.

• Did more laundry (trying not to think about the new pile of ironing I’ll have, though I can rest assured it will be much smaller than the last batch).

• Instead of mailing out Valentine’s cards (since I printed a bunch with a typo in it – not too impressive for a writer), I emailed one I made on ecards-gallery.com. Kind of fun and easy, which is a good thing since they only let you send it to 10 people at a time. As far as I could tell, there was no way to save my creation, so I had to keep remaking it.

• Thanks to downloading Firefox, I can now create links in this blog. Woo-hoo!

• Thanks to my husband, Rick, I have finally linked up a few friends and favorite web sites. Woo-hoo again.

• Speaking of my darling, Rick cleaned our entire downstairs, including mopping and/or Murphy’s Oil Soaping the floors yesterday. No small feat.

• Made a much-needed massage appointment, though it won’t be as relaxing as I’d planned since I fell down our basement stairs a few hours ago and the cat attacked me as I lay on the ground. Needless to say, rough night and sore leg. Not to mention the stress of worry something happened to the baby. After a trip to the emergency room, I’m happy to report all is well. Though I still feel like I'm on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

• Fixed my new warming blanket so it’s facing the right way and I even plugged it in. It was actually fired up, warming my bed until I had to shut it off before we left for the ER.

• Signed up for a Costco membership, something I’ve been meaning to do for several weeks. Made the switch from Sam’s basically as a moral issue. It’s certainly not one of convenience or price…

• Went to Dinner’s Ready with a friend, so I now have a freezer full or dinners I can make at a moment’s (well, close to it) notice without having to use too much brainpower.

Gee, now that I wrote it all out, I did more than I thought. I’m feeling better already.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Cookie Monster

Last night, I was in the mood for something sweet. What with not leaving work until 7:30 and not feeling like stopping off for some ice cream, I decided to make some cookies after eating leftover Shepherd’s Pie, courtesy of my loving husband. More on his delicious dish in another post. For now, back to me.

A former coworker of mine once made a batch of what I daresay might just be the best darned chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had. When pressed (very softly), she said her secret was making them with Crisco.

So I went to their site a looking for a recipe. For some reason, all I could find was this Chocolate Chip Cookies version that was way out of the scope of what I was willing to put together. Coconut? Oats? Rice Krispies? Not what the doctor ordered.

Of course, today, when I go to find it again to link to it in this post, I find their recipe for the Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies, which is exactly what I was looking for last night. Figures.

Suffice it to say, I went looking elsewhere. My husband, Rick, suggested I use his tried-and-true recipe from Joy of Cooking for Chocolate Drop Cookies. A good back up plan, but I was bound and determined to find an easy recipe using the shortening.

Gave up on finding a usable recipe on FoodNetwork.com. Type in “chocolate chip cookies” and you get 300 and something results. Not my idea of quick, which is what I was looking for.

Allrecipes.com was no better. Butter, butter, butter. No Crisco. Then I sifted through a few pages of Google results before I landed on a fun site that just happened to link me through to an Alton Brown recipe I wound up using. The Lord works in mysterious ways.

The site was Cooking for Engineers, for those with an analytical mind who like to cook. Who knew such a niche was even out there? Thanks to one of their faithful readers, I learned of a Good Eats episode entitled Three Chips for Sister Martha.

There, I found three (surprise, surprise) recipes: one for thin, one for puffy and one for chewy chocolate chip cookies. I chose puffy because, well, it was the only recipe made with shortening.

They were pretty tasty. At first, I thought the 375˚ temperature was too hot – seemed like the bottoms were getting too brown – so I lowered it. Wound up raising it again because lower really cooked the bottoms while the tops were undone.

Some of them turned out better – puffier – than others. I think there might be something to chilling the dough before baking, which I only did for one or two batches. Never heard of this before, but I think I will employ the technique in the future. And I think I’ll add in some nuts to give them even more substance.

My little experiment also resulted in a new appreciation for parchment paper. Never really liked it before, but last night I had to question myself as to why not. Clean up is a snap. Plus, I finally used my Pampered Chef scooper I bought probably 10 years ago for just this purpose. My glass is half full – of milk, to go with my delicious chocolate chip cookies.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Small Victories

I could have sworn that I started this list earlier in the week so that by the time Sunday rolled around, I wouldn’t be sitting here, feeling inadequate because I really don’t have that much good to talk about. *sigh*

Baby steps, though, right?

• Changed our sheets. You wouldn’t think this would be a big deal, but I’m about 2 weeks overdue. Gross, I know, but true.

• Put our new warming blanket on the bed, though after reading the directions, I think it’s on upside down. That’s what I got for correcting my husband, who actually helped me put the bed back together.

• Washed and dried all our towels with help from the Rickster. He is having a very stellar week.

• Actually put afore to mentioned towels away in the linen closet; this usually takes weeks to occur

• Vacuumed part of our bedroom (remember, they’re small victories)

• Finished getting all the hanging clothes out of my closet that don’t fit me anymore

• Started ironing through the giant pile on the spare bed

• Finally got our holiday card together (Christmas turned to New Year’s turned to Valentine’s Day). However, before I can get too excited, Rick just proofed it and pointed out a typo to me. Whether it becomes a St. Patty’s Day card, I ask one of my artsy-pals to help me turn it into an e-mailable thing or I just scrap it remains to be seen. My glass is half full…

Guess that’s it for now. Maybe I’ll have more to report next week since it sounds like the ice storm cometh and maybe I’ll have time to finish more of what I started. Hope you guys had a productive week.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

It’s the Little Things in Life

Just thought I’d share a great idea I recently heard, though I can’t remember where so I can’t give credit where credit is due. My apologies to the suggestor.

If you’ve ever made a fruit pizza (my friend, Cara, introduced me to this fabulous little dish – another miracle of cream cheese) and served it at a party, you know it can get messy once you and your guests have eaten your way toward the center.

Avoid this problem by buying the pre-sliced sugar cookie dough and making little individual pizzas. Brilliant! It’s probably a bigger pain to spread the fruit on top, but the ease of eating far outweighs any of the cons.

If you’re just slightly more ambitious or want to feel like you’re putting a little more love into it, buy a roll of sugar cookie dough and slice it yourself.

In other fun news, completely and totally unrelated to anything domestic, AMC Theatres is running an Oscar special. On Saturday, February 24, you can pay one low price ($30 – that’s just $6 a ticket!) and watch all 5 Best Picture nominees back to back to back (to back to back) and they’ll throw in a large popcorn and large drink, both refillable all day! How fun!

I would do it if I hadn’t already seen 4 of them. For those of you who haven’t, check out this link to see if the AMC in your area is participating. http://www.amctheatres.com/promos/showcase/

For the local yokels out there, game is on at Newport on the Levee.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Delusions of Grandeur

Today, the White Death descended upon Cincinnati. Translation: I got to leave work by 2 p.m. During the drive home, I was giddy with anticipation, contemplating all of the stuff I was going to accomplish when I got there. Iron clothes. Write cards and thank you notes. Clean up our pigsty of a bedroom. Make some homemade cinnamon rolls.

What really happened? I got home, fixed myself a breakfast burrito (I was starving!), and started going through my emails. My husband, Rick, who was working from home today, suggested we take a walk up to the Irish pub in our neighborhood for a hot drink. Sounded good to me.

Three and a half hours later, we came home and it was 7:30. We laid on the couch and bided our time before American Idol by watching Scarface. We just finished watching House. I’m going to post this story and go up to a messy bedroom.

Without any clothes ironed. Without any cards written. Without any fresh, hot cinnamon rolls.


In my own defense, I did clean up the kitchen after I made my lunch (and there were more dirty dishes than the ones I made), turned on the dishwasher, and finished some laundry (I know, I lied the other day – I still had one more load to go). So the day wasn’t a total wash. Besides, how often do you get a snow afternoon to spend with your sweetie?

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Bain de Salle of my Existence

I just spent over an hour cleaning our bathroom – and I really didn’t even clean it all the way. It’s not a big bathroom. If you stood in the middle of it, you could stretch out your arms and touch from one wall all the way to the shower curtain on the other side of the room.

In addition to the usual cleaning, I had wanted to wipe the walls down, hang something above the door, install a curtain rod and put up the curtains I bought way back in December. No dice on any of those.

Granted, the bathroom was pretty foul. It had probably been close to a month ago when it was cleaned last. Yes, it’s embarrassing to type that out loud, especially since some of my friends read this blog, but I have to be honest.

Part of my problem is that, as messy and unorganized as I am, in my own special way, I’m also a perfectionist. So I don’t want to just give it the old whore’s bath; I feel like I want to give it the deep clean it deserves. Which takes time I haven’t made.

Another part is how completely frustrated I get cleaning the toilet. Not the inside – the outside. I have yet to find an effective way to clean it without just spreading the hair, lint and fuzz around. I’m not even talking the gross hairs. Just the usual head hairs and pet hairs, mixed in with plain, old, run-of-the-mill dust and carpet fuzz.

It drives me insane! I’ve looked it up on the Internet more than once to no avail.
Granted, I didn’t make it through all 1.6 million Google results. However, I have viewed a fair share and they all just say ‘wipe the outside’ without going into any great detail. Even my beloved Queen of Clean (more on her later) doesn’t even touch on it – her focus in on the interior bowl.

This floors me because, in my humble opinion, cleaning the inside is a no-brainer. Squirt in some cleaner, let it sit, scrub with a toilet brush, flush and voilá – it’s clean.

The way I usually go about cleaning the outside is like this: I spray the whole thing thoroughly with Scrubbing Bubbles. After they work their magic, I wipe the whole thing with a sponge just to get all the dirt, etc, loose and ready to be wiped away. Then I rinse out the sponge and wipe down part of the toilet. Then I rinse and repeat. Over and over and over again. And there’s still fuzz and stuff left on it!

My husband, Rick, swears by paper towels. I admit I liked the idea because using a sponge seems really gross, especially because I don’t want to use a new sponge every time I clean the toilet, as infrequently as that may be. So I decided to give it a whirl. 20 paper towels later, there were still some hangers-on and I just felt like a lot of the dirt must have dried on there because I wasn’t rinsing like I do with the sponge.

This may have been an error on my part; I’ll have to ask him if he ever returns from the basement. In the meantime, I’m looking for some tips on how to clean the outside of the toilet without wanting to throw it out the window. If you can help, please share.

Otherwise, I think I’ll rent “Singles” again. Maybe Kyra Sedgwick’s character was onto something when she used her ex-boyfriend’s favorite shirt to clean the toilet.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Small Victories

Well, it’s been another less-than-stellar week in the land of victories, but like I said last week – baby steps. With that said, here are the few things I accomplished that I feel okey-dokey about:

• Washed all our clothes, which was no small accomplishment considering how many there were. Luckily, we are blessed with great friends who lent us maternity clothes, and since most of them were packed in boxes, they required a washing. A week from now, my hope is they will all be ironed and hung up…

• Packed up all my regular clothes from our closet that I can’t wear right now and made room for all these wonderful loaners.

• Tried a new recipe – Buffalo Chicken Dip from allrecipes.com. It was tasty, if I do say so myself. This is something I’ve been wanting to try for a while. Nothing super complex, but they’re not all going to be 5-star restaurant worthy, right?

• Caught up with my friend, Angie. It’s no small task to keep up with friends, especially long distance. And it gets overwhelming when we don’t get to make as many calls as we’d like, so it does feel good when you get to talk to at least one person you haven’t been in touch with in a while.

• Did make a few calls trying to track down enough medical expenses so we don’t lose our asses on our flexible spending account. Haven’t quite ‘found’ all the money yet, but I am making progress.

• Remembered to take a meal out of the freezer from Dinner’s Ready so we’ll have something to eat Monday night. May not sound like much, but I’ve been meaning to do this very same thing for a couple of weeks now.

So that’s about all I’ve got for this week. But I’m looking forward to a real winner coming up.

Super Food

Yesterday, on the eve of the “Big Game”, I was trolling through allrecipes.com – one of my favorite recipe hot spots – looking for some appetizers I could whip up and bring over to my in-laws. Originally, I had wanted to make some Buffalo Chicken Dip. I have never made it before, and a friend had sent me her recipe, but somehow I lost it. Imagine that.

Anywho, I started out by looking up that recipe, then just kept browsing to see if anything else struck my fancy. What I was struck by was how many freakin’ recipes – freakin’ tasty recipes – spring forth from a block of cream cheese.

While looking through the allrecipes.com archives, I started contemplating some of my own favorite appetizer recipes that had their roots in cream cheese. The afore to mentioned Buffalo Dip, Skyline Dip, Cheesecake Squares, Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball, Salami Roll Ups, Fruit Pizza, Veggie Pizza – the list is endless.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized cream cheese is kind of like the bacon of the sweet appetizer world – you could put it on a dog turd and it would taste good. Couple it with a can of crescent rolls, and there’s nothing you can’t create. Amazing.

Last night we were in the bookstore, killing some time before a movie and I happened to come across the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Cook Book. Was it kismet? I flipped through it with my mouth watering.

In the end, I didn’t buy it, figuring all the recipes could probably be found on their web site. Alas! It is not so. Though I’m sure with a little perseverance, one could find what one was looking for somewhere online.

But I haven’t totally ruled out picking up the book.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Flippin’ Fantastic

I’m no singer. I’m no (great) dancer, either. I can’t paint pictures, sew, knit, play an instrument, crochet, cross stitch, ride a horse, sculpt, cut a straight line, wrap a pretty gift, etc.

So when I do come across something I can do, I feel pretty darned good about it.

Thanks to some inspiration from my mom – well, probably more like a little friendly competition – I can flip an egg. Usually.

I never really gave flipping eggs much thought. Interesting, since I’ve always enjoyed my eggs over easy but have had my fair share of unsuccessful spatula turns. I guess I always thought that was just the way it is.

This mentality changed slightly while Rick and I were on our honeymoon in Aruba. Every morning, I’d wait in line for a fried egg to complete my breakfast sandwich. And every morning I was impressed by the way the chef would put a half ladle full of oil (it was small) in the pan, crack in my egg and flip it over, then flip it onto my plate. Effortlessly.

About a year later, we were visiting with my mom. She was making breakfast and quite casually flipped the eggs. Excuse me? When did this happen? I’d watched that woman fry eggs for years with nary a shake of the pan. And all of a sudden, she’s flipping them with so much nonchalance? The audacity!

There and then, I decided if she could do it, so could I.

We got back to Cincinnati and I decided to give it a whirl. I got out my smallest non-stick pan, a pat of butter and a couple of unsuspecting ovums. That first time, I was so concerned about getting enough air to flip the eggs, I put way too much into it and those things busted apart like one of Dave Letterman’s watermelons dropped from the top of the RCA building.

But I’m a quick learner. I found my stride and flipped what I dare say was the perfect egg. And since then, I’ve never gone back to the spatula. Once in a while, I still splatter myself with hot butter or lose my nerve and don’t give it enough gas, but overall, it’s been a rousing success. Maybe it’s time to get back on that horse…