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, July 28, 2009

Going Bananas

Last week, I had a bunch of bananas on the verge of slipping beyond usable into the trash stage. While I wasn't prepared to just throw them away, I couldn't bear the thought of making (and eating) yet another loaf of banana bread. Don't get me wrong, I like it, but with a small family, it's just too much to eat. I think I still have a couple of mini loaves in the freezer from last time my bananas got away from me.

So I Googled banana ice cream and found this recipe for Chunky Banana Nut Chip Ice Cream. As you can see from the title, it's chock-full of a lot of tasty treats: chocolate, nuts and bananas. It was pretty easy to make. The only thing I really did differently was to use about 3 cups of heavy cream and 1 cup of half and half instead of the full quart of cream. Mainly because I'm cheap and wanted to make another ice cream from allrecipes.com, Blueberry Cheesecake (fabulous – more on this coming soon) and didn't want to buy two quarts of expensive heavy cream.

Some reviewers complained it tasted too banana-y. Personally, I'm not sure how that's even possible. So if you don't really enjoy the taste of bananas, I wouldn't suggest you make this particular ice cream. But if you do, give it a whirl. You won't be disappointed. And a little chocolate sauce on top doesn't hurt it, either.

Note: This pic doesn't do it justice, but it's hard to photograph something so light, so close. And, I'm no food stylist...yet.

Hose Surgery a Rousing Success

I love talking to my dad. All I have to do is casually mention some problem going on around the house (or really any subject) and he has some insight, advice or information that I can put to good use. For instance, I recently told him that we needed a new hose because the end that attaches to the spigot had gotten run over and I couldn't unbend it.

He informed me that they sell replacements – all you have to do is cut off the old one and attach the new one, called an end fitting. Who knew? I went to Lowe's and sure enough, there were several to choose from, ranging in price from about $1.40 to almost $5. I believe the one I picked up was in the neighborhood of $3. Didn't want to completely cheap out but didn't want to spend so much that I may as well just buy a new hose.

After several weeks (possibly months) after buying the darned thing, I finally got the inspiration I needed to actually put it on yesterday when my two-year-old son, Ian, dropped a quart of paint on our living room rug. Right or wrong, I thought it was a good idea to try to hose it off. That is fodder for another post, another day.

Anyway, I was a little nervous about putting it on because it didn't really come with any instructions and my dad sent me an email last week saying he'd forgotten what a pain it was to do the old switcheroo – apparently, he mowed over his hose for not the first time. I wasn't even sure what I was going to cut the old one off with until I remembered I got Rick a nice utility knife for Christmas. It worked like a charm and really, the whole process went off without much of a hitch.

I had to tighten it up a bit after my first attachment revealed quite a leak, but a few more turns of the screws and voilá! It's like a whole new hose – and it's one less piece of rubber in the old landfill. So I feel good twice for this little home improvement accomplishment.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Orzo, Anyone?

I've had a bag of orzo in the pantry for a while but never knew what to do with it. Last night, I decided to put it to good use.

I had already planned to make Awesome Baked Sea Scallops, from allrecipes.com, and discovered some people had made orzo as a side dish. So I looked it up and decided on Vegetable Orzo, especially since I magically had most of the ingredients on hand.

Personally, I loved it as is. Other reviewers, and my dear husband Rick, didn't think it had enough flavor but the balsamic vinegar was enough for me. I started to sprinkle Parmesan on it as some other reviewers suggested, then decided I didn't want to over-fatten something that was relatively healthy, especially since those scallops were so heavy. I would definitely make it again, though maybe throw in some herbs and/or spices for the Rickster.

I would not, however, make those scallops again. They just tasted so fattening and it seemed like a shame to bury those expensive, succulent mollusks in a lot of breading, butter and oil. Lots of people loved it, though, so I'm sharing it with you. But it was just too heavy for my taste. And the fact that Rick, who love scallops, hardly touched his confirmed I won't be making it again. But please enjoy my lovely photos of it.

Cool New Turntable

Check out this neat little two-tiered turntable from OXO. It's 10" and allows you to get more space for your money with adjustable upper levels and an open area for taller bottles. Genius! Wish I hadn't recently bought one of the regular, run-of-the-mill kind.

Corn Chowder

One of the many perks of being married to my DH is fresh corn every summer. His step-father's family farm and grow the most delicious corn you've ever had in your life. I believe it's called bodacious. I've only had the privilege of helping "put up" corn once in my life, about three years ago. It's a full day of picking (my step-father-in-law generally does all of that), shucking, silking, blanching, icing, cutting it off the cob, bagging and burping it.

It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and sometimes the grossest thing I've ever done. I'll never forget opening up one ear of corn that was completely engulfed in the blackest, fuzziest mold I've ever seen. The occasional worms didn't bother me nearly as much as that did.

Today, we spent a lazy Sunday afternoon up at the in-laws pool, right next door to one of their corn fields. So right before we left, I picked about 12 ears. It was my first time picking them myself, but my brother-in-law, Scott, gave me this guideline, passed on from my step-father-in-law, Fred: If it's soft, it's not ready. It should feel like a hard-on.

Nice. And to me, it all felt pretty, well, firm. So I wasn't sure what I'd get when we got home. Turns out I'm a pretty decent picker. I had to cut a bug or two out of the tops, but the corn itself was delicious in this restaurant-quality Corn Chowder recipe I got from Tyler Florence on FoodNetwork.com.

Since we don't have any fresh herbs (my garden is pretty much a wash this year), I decided to leave them out and add my own flare as well as take some inspiration from a few reviews. Below is the recipe, or you can click on the link above for the original. Here's what I did differently: skipped the parsley and thyme, added some diced carrots (we had a few left in a 5 lb. bag I got at Costco – never again. I'm glad to finally be rid of them), a few dashes of both Tabasco and red pepper flakes, and about 1/8 tsp. of cayenne. Yummy!


* 2 tablespoons butter
* Extra-virgin olive oil
* 1 onion, diced
* 2 garlic cloves, minced
* 6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
* 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
* 6 cups canned vegetable stock
* 2 cups heavy cream
* 2 Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced
* 6 ears corn
* Salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves


Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme and cook until the vegetables are good and soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Dust the vegetables with flour and stir to coat everything well. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add the cream and the potatoes, bring to a boil and boil hard for about 7 minutes, until the potatoes break down (this will help to thicken the soup and give it a good texture).

Cut the corn kernels off the cob and add to the soup. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until the corn is soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the parsley and give it another little drink of olive oil. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve.

Friday, July 17, 2009

My First Dowel Job

So I decided I wanted to make a 3D SpongeBob cake for my son, Ian's, second birthday. He loves that little yellow dude and I love a challenge. Especially one that will make me insane and stressed out down to the minute. And did this cake deliver.

My mother-in-law was kind enough to allow me to bring all my cake decorating supplies over to her house (where we were having the party) the day before so I could assemble it there and not worry about transporting it. (Thank goodness because I shudder to think what would have happened if we had to drive it 30 minutes to her house.)

Ian was in a summer camp that week, and he was in school from 9-12. My plan was to pick up the rest of the last minute supplies I needed, then pack up the car in time to pick him up and head north. Magically, I had it all in the car (and I mean that car was packed full) with literally a minute to spare before I had to go pick him up. As I was locking the door to my house, congratulating myself on getting 'er did, I thought, "This is too good to be true. Something is going to go awry."

And awry it did go. After picking Ian up, hitting two different Party City stores and getting my gas tank filled, we were finally within spitting distance of my mother-in-law's when I realized I had forgotten the cake itself. So we dropped off all our stuff, turned around and went back home for the cake – an hour-long round trip.

Luckily, I was smart enough to pick up an extra cake mix, eggs, and the pan "just in case" my cake turned out to be too small. Which, of course, it did.

Anyway, let me backtrack. When I first saw the cake I wanted to make, there were a few assembly notes provided by the artist, though not nearly as many as someone of my experience requires. She mentioned using a 9 x 13 x 4 pan, which I had to order from Fat Daddio's (a cool online professional baking pan and tools store). Even though she also mentioned cutting the cake and using dowels, I didn't really put two and two together because I'd never made a stacked cake before.

I just kind of thought that, after the cake was baked and cooled, I'd stand it up on its end. But once I saw the cooked cake, it didn't look thick enough to hold up – it certainly wasn't 4", which surprised me since Beth, the artist, led me to believe a 2-layer cake was all she made. Of course, I'm sure she wasn't relying on Duncan Hines, either, so I guess I'll cut her some slack.

Anyway, when I saw it wasn't going to go as planned, I called over to Cincinnati Cake and Candy Supply and the helpful young lady who answered the phone got me to understand that you cut the width of the cake into thirds, then stack those on top of each other and insert the rods to build the cake. O-------h! I get it...Sort of.

For whatever reason (maybe because I was in the school of Journalism and not Engineering), it seemed like a good idea to put the dowels in kind of a diamond formation in the middle of the cake. After I was pretty far along into decorating, the cake started to lean forward, so I put a few more dowels into the corners. The next morning, the cake had started to lean backwards, so I wound up having to put a few shims under the cake plate. Thankfully, SpongeBob had the good taste to stay erect long enough for us to cut into him.

A post-consultation with my friends at Cincinnati Cake and Candy enlightened me to the wisdom behind putting the rods into the corners in the first place, with a couple more in the middle for extra support. The pro I spoke with explained that too many dowels can cause just as many structural problems as not enough; so I learned the importance of placement. Hopefully, I'll do better next time.

Overall, I was out of my league with this cake. While I got a lot of compliments, I was disappointed. It didn't look like the picture. But Ian's reaction made it all worth while – he loved it and it showed. So I'm trying not to be too hard on myself and give me credit for pushing my limits, getting creative and finishing what I set out to do. Someone please remind me not to get so crazy next year.