Monday, February 16, 2015

Spicy Cheese Baked Potato

Jeezy Creezy it's cold outside! Luckily this baked potato smothered in broccoli and spicy cheese sauce was very filling and warming. I used my go to Perfect Baked Potato Recipe. Mr. Lawyer and I both thought the spice was at a minimum and would add more hot sauce next time for a bigger zip. Besides that this cheese sauce was a hit and very versatile. Bring on the baked potatoes, cooked veggies, hot pretzels, and nachos!
Spicy Cheese Sauce
(makes approximately 1.5 cups) 
Ingredients:
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 tablespoon Sriracha or favorite hot sauce
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt + pepper to taste
Directions:
1. Bring milk to a slow simmer in a medium saucepan or warm in the mircrowave
2. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Once it starts to bubble add in the flour, whisking constantly until a paste forms.
3. Slowly add in the warm milk to the flour paste, whisking constantly over low to medium heat. After 3-5 minutes of thickening add in the grated cheese, hot sauce, and cayenne. Whisk until cheese is melted. Season with salt and pepper if desired.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

DIY Thursday: Mailbox Refresh

I've decided that Thursdays will be my DIY/Thriftscore blog post day.

The mailbox that came with our house is oversized and unique. It's a weird pull down/rotating, scoop bucket number that I wasn't a fan of at first but it's grown on me. The two immediate problems being it was rusting something fierce and it leaked like a sieve due to holes in the seams (as in one day our phone bill was completely water logged and I had to spread out all the sopping pages on the kitchen table and then send in our dry but crinkly and faded bill. Yay homeownership!). Originally we thought of replacing it but after looking at new ones we realized that we would have to drill new holes into the brick because the new mailboxes are smaller. Not only are we not equipped to drill into brick but I'm cheap and didn't want to spend money on a box that had considerably less character than our existing one. I decided an added bonus was that our full address was already on the box which is helpful because we are a corner lot with X address but our front door/driveway are on Y street. Cue confused delivery and maintenance type people. So this Sunday the mailbox came down and I began it's transformation process! Luckily it was warm enough to work outside on the deck so making a mess and fumes were not an issue.
Mailbox Refresh!
Materials: wire brush, spray paint (I had leftover from our handrail project), painters tape, caulk (if needed)

Step 1: Scrape as much rust and old paint off as possible with a wire brush.
Step 2: Tape up address plate, gold ring, and any other parts you don't want painted.
Step 3: If needed caulk up the holes and seams. Let dry.
Step 4: Spray paint with a fabulous color, let dry, hang back up, and wow your mailman.
My lovely rust bucket in all her random paint layer glory.
 All shiny! You can see how the hammered paint helps blend in the rust bumps on lefts. 
A note about spray paint: Our outside iron handrails were also incredibly rusty. We did the same sprucing up project with them this summer and they look awesome! We decided to go with Rust-oleum Hammered Paint and Primer in one. Even after the scraping the handrails (and mailbox!) were still blemished and uneven. I felt that a flat color would highlight the bumpy imperfections. This paint creates an shiny hammered metal finish which helps blend the rough patches. I've been thrilled with the outcomes of both projects. It's completely worth the extra couple of dollars.
This project was easy and quick (even with the drying time it was 30-60 minutes). Best of all it was free since I already had all the supplies from various other household adventures. Spray paint has certainly become one of my best friends since owning a home. From handrails and mailboxes to furniture, garden things, and medicine cabinets it helps me complete quick and easy facelift projects. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Delicious Chickpea Salad

I made this chickpea salad this summer and it blew my mind. The flavors were amazing and intense. I've been thinking about it the past few days and I think it might be making a reappearance soon. Do not skip one single thing...grill the corn (I held it above my gas burner), the herbs must be fresh, and oh baby that lime! It was such a great change up from the typical sumer macaroni or potato salad. Plus it held up well over a few days and the flavor intensified. 
Chickpea Salad with Honey Lime Dressing
(Pinterest find! From How Sweet It Is)
Ingredients:
3 cups chickpeas (or 2 (15-ounce) cans, drained and rinsed)
4 green onions, thinly sliced
2 ears grilled corn, cut from the cob
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1.5 tablespoons honey
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 lime, juiced and zested
Directions:
1. In a large bowl, combine the chickpeas, onions, corn, tomatoes, basil and chives. Toss well with the salt and pepper. In a small saucepan, add the oil, vinegar, honey, garlic, lime juice and zest. Heat over low heat and whisk until the mixture is warm and garlic cloves are sizzling a bit.
2. Pour the liquid over the chickpeas and and toss well to coat. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. It tastes better as it sits! Serve with toasted baguettes spread with coconut oil or whipped feta.
Served up with some grilled flank steak and red wine...can't beat it!
Bonus: check out that Fiesta!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Veggie Fried Rice

I had a bunch of rice leftover from earlier in the week so I decided to try my hand a fried rice since I had read that using leftover rice was better for the dish. I omitted the scrambled egg because I was not feeling it and used a fun bag of frozen veggies instead of fresh because I had zero energy (yay pregnancy on both accounts!). Once you get use to the idea that this fried rice is not going to compare to restaurant fried rice it's amazing. It definitely has a lighter, healthier taste which is probably due to the copious amounts of msg that are missing from it. I'll be keeping this recipe around for any leftover rice! It was the perfect snack for this cold spell we've been having....lies. It wasn't a snack. I straight up ate just fried rice for dinner two nights in a row.
Veggie Fried Rice
(Pinterest find!)
Ingredients:
3 tablespoons butter, divided
2 eggs, whisked (I omitted the eggs because...pregnancy aversion)
Half a bag of frozen primavera blend veggies from Birds Eye (carrots, peas, asparagus, red pepper) or fresh veggie equivalent. 
1 small onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups cooked and chilled rice
4 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
Directions:
1. Heat 1/2 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until melted. Add egg, and cook until scrambled, stirring occasionally. Remove egg, and transfer to a separate plate.
2. Add an additional 1 tablespoon butter to the pan and heat until melted. Add frozen veggies, onion, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper if you wish. Saute for about 5 minutes or until the onion are soft. 
3. Increase heat to high, add in the remaining 1.5 tablespoons of butter, and stir until melted. Immediately add the rice, soy sauce, and stir until combined. Continue stirring for an additional 
3-5 minutes to fry the rice. Then add in the eggs and stir to combine. Add the sesame oil, stir to combine, and remove from heat.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Thriftscore Thursday!

I've had a couple of requests from several loyal readers to do a non-food related post about my furniture adventures in my new house. We moved from a one bedroom apartment to a three bedroom, two living room/family room, plus a finished basement house. So with a tiny budget and a month of no work (yay teacher-life!) I hit the thrift stores pretty hard looking for some DIY projects to fill the place up.
First up was transforming a $40 buffet into a bright and cheery entertainment system.
Next was a huge $20 dresser for the master bedroom painted a sunny yellow.
 A $5 end table for the Library Solarium
Materials: sandpaper, hand sander, tack cloth, wood conditioner, wood stain, polyurethane, primer, paint, brushes, screw driver, and a well ventilated space!

Step 1: Give your thrift piece a good cleaning and take off the hardware. I love the original hardware of all the pieces I've done but some people purchases new hardware. If you go with a different style you might have to drill new screw holes and use wood filler to fix the old holes. If you are making any modifications do them now (example: removing a drawer and strengthening the platform to hold the cable box)
Step 2: Sand the heck out of it. If you are just painting it a light sanding to scruff up the surface will suffice. If you are staining it, like I did with the top, prepare to use a ton of elbow grease. You will need to sand through the veneer to the fresh wood. Some people use chemical strippers but I wanted to avoid the mess and fumes.
Step 3: Vacuum off all the dust and wipe down with a tack cloth to remove any dust.
Step 4: Prime any of the areas you plan on painting. My aqua buffet did fine with one coat of primer but my yellow dresser needed two coats of primer and three of paint!
Step 5: When the primer is dry apply the necessary coats of paint. My projects have varied between 1 and 3 coats plus touch ups here and there. I used traditional paint for the buffet/dresser projects and spray paint for the end table. While the spray paint is faster I prefer the end results of the traditional paint projects.
Step 6: Use a wood conditioner on the parts you want to stain and then apply the stain. When the stain is dry apply the desired amount of polyurethane coats. Follow the directions on the can for all these steps. It will tell you when to lightly sand, use a tack cloth, how much to use, how long to let it dry, etc. I used Minwax products and am very happy with the final outcome of my projects.
Step 7: Reattach the hardware and enjoy! 
Note: in my research it seems that some people liked to stain first and others paint first. I did what works for me, each project was different and depended on the weather (I tried to do the bulk of the work on the porch to avoid dust and fumes inside). I would often bounce back and forth as something was drying. As long as you are careful you won't have any slip ups! 
For the entertainment system I only removed one drawer to fit the cable box, modem, and apple tv because I wanted to keep a lot of the storage. I have plans to do another entertainment system for the basement which will require more modifications and taking out drawers/cabinets to make room for all of Mr. Lawyer's nerdy gaming equipment. I did keep and paint the drawer to match the dresser though. I use it on the bottom shelf of my coffee table to hold magazines. It brings the aqua color to the other side of the room.  You can see it peeking out from the coffee table in this picture.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Homemade Chicken Soup...good for everything!

Thomas Keller's Chicken Soup was the next recipe Mr. Lawyer tackled while I was languishing away on the couch. Fall was official here and soup was just what the doctor ordered to keep the chill away. Mr. Lawyer did all the work while I read the recipe to him from my perch at the breakfast bar. We declared this our "Slow Food Day" because this recipe was from scratch and intense. Full disclaimer: we didn't make the dumplings. Mr. Lawyer was doing so much I didn't want to have him make dumplings too. We just added some noodles at the end and cooked them until they were done. But the dumpling recipe sounds divine. Even without making the dumplings there are a lot of steps. I think it took us two hours from start to finish. Don't be scared off! This soup is amazing and totally worth the effort. It was so rich and velvety and completely made me feel better about being useless.
Chicken Soup with Dumplings
(From Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller)
*Note: I've italicized the dumpling parts to make it a little easier to follow*
Ingredients Part I:
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
1 cup coarsely chopped celery
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 cup coarsely chopped leeks
Kosher salt
Ingredients Part II:
4 quarts Chicken Stock
5 stalks celery
3 large carrots
1 teaspoon honey
1 bay leaf
2 thyme sprigs
1 large garlic clove, crushed, skin left on
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (about 4 ounces) Roux
2 cups cooked shredded chicken (dark or white meat)
1/4 cup minced chives
1 tablespoon champagne vinegar
Flat-leaf parsley leaves
Ingredients for Dumplings:
1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced chives
Directions:
1. Melt the butter in an 8- to 10-quart stockpot over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, onions, and leeks, from Part I and season with salt, and cover with a parchment lid. Reduce the heat to low and cook very slowly, stirring occasionally, 30 to 35 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Remove and discard the parchment lid. Set pot to the side.
2. Make the dumplings: Fill a wide deep pot with salted water and bring to a simmer. Set up a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
3. Combine the water, butter, and 1 teaspoon of the salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the flour all at once, and stir rapidly with a stiff heatproof or wooden spoon until the dough pulls away from the sides of the pan and the bottom of the pan is clean. The dough should be glossy and smooth but still moist; enough moisture must evaporate from the dough to allow it to absorb more fat when the eggs are added. Continue to stir for 4 to 5 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary to prevent the dough from coloring; a thin coating of dough will form on the bottom and sides of the pan. When enough moisture has evaporated, steam will rise from the dough and the nutty aroma of cooked flour will be noticeable.
4. Immediately transfer the dough to the mixer bowl. Add the mustard and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and mix for a few seconds to incorporate the ingredients and release some of the heat. With the mixer on the lowest speed, add the eggs one at a time, beating until the first egg is completely incorporated before adding the second and incorporating it. Then add the chives and incorporate. Remove the bowl from the mixer.
5. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Shape the dumplings using two soup spoons to make a quenelle shape, dropping them into the simmering water. Cook the dumplings in batches of about 6 to avoid crowding the pot and allow them to cook evenly. Once the dumplings rise to the surface, it will take about 5 minutes for them to cook; remove one and break it open to make sure it is cooked. With a slotted spoon, transfer the dumplings to the baking sheet, and cook the remaining dumplings. (You will have about 18 dumplings.)
6. Once the dumplings have cooled, trim any uneven edges with scissors.

7. Finish the soup: Add the chicken stock to the vegetables and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, then strain the soup base into another pot and discard the vegetables.
8. Peel the celery stalks with a peeler. Cut each stalk crosswise on the diagonal into thin slices about 11/2 inches long. As you get to the wider lower part of the stalk, adjust the angle of your knife to keep the pieces relatively the same size. You need about 1 1/2 cups celery for this recipe (reserve any extra for another use). Cook the celery in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender. Drain, cool in an ice bath, and drain again.
9. Cut the carrots lengthwise into quarters and then crosswise into bite-sized pieces. As each carrot widens, adjust the size of the cut to keep the pieces bite sized. You need about 1 1/2 cups carrots for this recipe (reserve any extra for another use).
10. Put the carrots in a saucepan, add the honey, bay leaf, thyme, garlic, and a pinch of salt and pepper, and cover with cold water. Bring to a simmer and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the carrots are tender but slightly resistant to the tooth. Drain and transfer to paper towels.
11. Bring the soup base to a simmer and whisk in the roux a little at a time until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon; you may not use all the roux. Simmer for 30 minutes, skimming often—this is necessary to remove all impurities from the roux. (The soup will continue to thicken as it simmers.)
12. Add the dumplings, chicken, carrots, celery, and chives to the soup and heat through. Season with the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.
13.Transfer to a large serving bowl and sprinkle with parsley leaves.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Crispy Chicken and Olives

One of our honeymoon goals was to hit up as many amazing restaurants as possible. Since I don't remember ever being hungry, not even once, on the entire trip I'd say we succeeded! We were very lucky to visit three Thomas Keller places. Every morning a heavenly basket of pastries and breakfast goodies from Bouchon Bakery was delivered to our cottage. TO. DIE. FOR. Our first night in the Napa area we had dinner at Ad Hoc and a couple of days later at Bouchon Bistro. Everything was amazing. Naturally we received two of his cookbooks for Christmas that year. 
Since I've been out of commission for two months my darling Mr. Lawyer decided to give some of the Ad Hoc recipes a try. First up was tackling this braised chicken recipe. I was only able to stomach a few bites but what I had was divine. I was particularly impressed with the braised olives, the saltiness really hit the spot. Mr. Lawyer really liked using our cast iron pan to it's full potential too.
Crispy Braised Chicken Thighs with Olives, Lemon, and Fennel
(From Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller)
*Note the recipe serves 12 so Mr. Lawyer cut it to serve 4*
Ingredients:
3 fennel bulbs
12 chicken thighs
Kosher salt
Canola oil
1 cup coarsely chopped onion
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/4 cup dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc
1 cup Ascolane or other large green olives, such as Cerignola
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
4 fresh or 2 dried bay leaves
4 strips lemon zest
8 thyme sprigs
1 cup chicken stock
About 1/3 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves
Directions:
1. Cut off fennel stalks. Trim bottom of bulbs and peel back the layers until you reach the core; reserve the core for another use. Discard any bruised layers, and cut the fennel into 2-by-1/2-inch batons. You need 3 cups fennel for this recipe; reserve any remaining fennel for another use.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Set a cooling rack on a baking sheet.
3. Season chicken thighs on both sides with salt. Heat some canola oil in a large ovenproof saute pan or roasting rack that will hold all the thighs in one layer over medium-high heat. Add thighs skin-side down and brown on the skin side, about 4 minutes. Turn thighs over and cook for about 1 minute to sear the meat. Transfer to the cooling rack.
4. Reduce heat to medium-low, add onion to the pan, and cook for 1 1/2 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute. Cook, stirring often, until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in fennel, turn heat up to medium, and cook, stirring often, until fennel is crisp-tender, about 10 minutes.
5. Pour in wine and simmer for about 2 minutes to burn off alcohol. Stir in olives, red pepper flakes, bay leaves, lemon zest, and thyme, then pour in chicken stock. Increase heat, bring liquid to a simmer, and cook until fennel is tender, about 1 minute.
6. Taste the stock and season with salt as needed. Return chicken to the pan skin-side-up, in a single layer. When the liquid returns to a simmer, transfer to the oven and cook for about 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.
7. Turn on the broiler, and put pan under the broiler for a minute or two to crisp and brown the skin. Remove from oven, and transfer to a serving platter. Garnish with parsley leaves.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Back with a bang!

After a nice little hiatus I'm back in business...at least a couple days a week! Life has included: buying a house (!), a puppy (!!), and a bun in the oven (!!!). Understandable blogging was not high up on my priority list as I moved into this new adult chapter of life. A few trusty standby recipes and owning a real grill for the first time have gotten us through the adjustment period of moving to the suburbs. Now that we are settled in a bit and I'm getting sick a little less (ah, the lovely first trimester) I'm starting to feel the urge to try new recipes.
The other night a recipe for copycat Asian BBQ chicken lettuce wraps from PF Changs. I've only been there once and I did not have the lettuce wraps so I can't really compare it to the real deal but they were very good! This recipe is both similar and different from our favorite Cashew Chicken Lettuce Wraps.
Pros/Similarities:
-uses ground chicken, not need to cut up slimy chicken breast and hope you get all the fat trimmed
-the flavor is awesome!
-easy to customize: use lettuce wraps or serve on rice, toss in whatever veggies you have on hand
Cons/Differences:
-The sauce requires hoisin sauce (asian bbq sauce) which I general don't have on hand and taste can vary greatly depending on brand. I used Soy Yay Garlic Hoisin and was very impressed. I don't think I'll go back to trying other brands.
Asian BBQ Lettuce Wraps
(Pinterest find!)
Ingredients:
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 pound ground chicken
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 tablespoon soy sauce
¼ cup hoisin sauce (I loved Soy Yay's Garlic Hoisin)
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced (I would grate it next time)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
3 teaspoons sriracha sauce
1 can (8 ounces) sliced water chestnuts, drained and finely chopped
1 small bunch green onions, sliced (Omitted, I didn't have any on hand)
2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/3 cup cashews or peanuts, chopped
Iceberg, Bibb or butter lettuce leaves, rinsed and drained
Directions:
1. Heat up the peanut oil and sesame oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add the ground chicken and cook until it is cooked through, break it up into smaller chunks as it cooks. 
2. When the chicken mostly cooked add the onion, garlic, and ginger. Cook for a few minutes until the onions are heated through and reach the desired consistency (I didn't want my raw like the original recipe called for).
3. Lower the heat. At this point if there is a lot of liquid from the chicken and onions drain it, you don't want it to dilute the sauce! In a separate bowl mix the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, rice wine vinegar, sriracha, and 2 teaspoons sesame oil. Stir it well and pour it into your meat mixture, stir until complete coated.
4. Add in the water chestnuts, green onion, and cashews/peanuts. Let sit until heated through and sauce is thickened, stirring occasionally.
5. Serve with lettuce, rice, or whatever toppings you want!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Moving Time!

The house hunt is over and we're gearing up to move!
Things are stressful and the apartment looks like a half packed disaster so there's been a lot of simple repeat meals like my favorite Cashew Chicken Lettuce Wraps.
 Or this giant batch of delicious pasta with fresh tomato-basil sauce and sausage!
And of course because buying a house is panic attack central there has been a lot of this:
Hopefully I'll be updating in a month or so from my new gorgeous kitchen!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunshine Reading

I've been pretty busy taking advantage of this gorgeous weather and catching up on my recreational reading. My stack of magazines waiting to be read has disappeared and I'm checking off my Christmas books left and right. Every morning I get up early and start reading on our balcony with my coffee. I get some good sunshine time until a little afternoon. Then I move inside and putter around with chores and kitchen things. We've been having a lot of fresh food and salads which is wonderful but a little lame in the new recipe department. 
Yummy salad with tuna and hardboiled egg. At least you can admire the Fiesta!
Sunshine reading...
I guess I better start looking for some new books or I won't have anything to read at the Shore! I cannot wait for beach season.