Monday, February 28, 2011

packing 101

When we moved, I packed all of our clothes into our suitcases since we have two sets (that includes two large suitcases and two medium cases plus two carry-on sized rolling suitcases) and I thought it would be really dumb to move them empty (plus I was trying to use boxes for more important things). I ended up packing our entire wardrobe (that includes sweaters, housecoats, pajamas, everything -- including some tableclothes I had forgotten to pack earlier) into the two larger suitcases and one of the medium sized cases, and I think it was all due to a little clothes packing trick I learned years ago.

Idle Husband had to go to a conference in San Francisco this week, so I thought it would be the perfect time to show you how I always pack our suitcases.

his super thick sweatpants

Sunday, February 27, 2011

menu for two

{the menu}
monday: no dinner
tuesday: filet mignon
wednesday: chicken fingers

what really happened

{monday} We were out thrift shopping (yay!) and had a late lunch at Red Robbin, so I didn't make anything for dinner. That place will fill you up no problem. I really think Red Robbin has the best burgers and the steak fries are great. I've never been disappointed with them. I had the Banzai Burger and Idle Husband had the Bacon Cheeseburger with yam fries. Their tower of onion rings was really tempting us, too, but we both knew we'd never be able to finish it plus a burger and fries. Secretly, I want to order just the onion rings if we go again. I feel an onion ring craving starting to build up (stupid onion ring picture).
{tuesday} We stopped at Superstore casually the other day just to get some Greek chips (bad), and we happened to come across the motherload of beef tenderloins. I haven't seen them there since I found that one for Idle Husband's birthday. We bought two just so we'd be guaranteed to have plenty of filet mignon steaks around just in case we wouldn't find tenderloins for another 6 months. We also decided to forgo vegetarian Tuesday so we could properly celebrate the renting of our old house. Huzzah! We collected our first month's rent. Anyhoo, I also threw together a sort of onion and mushroom topping to go with the steaks. It was all very delicious.
{wednesday} homemade chicken fingers as scheduled! I did not bow to temptation and bake up some more of the store-bought ones. I also used up an old potato for some baked fries. Doesn't it make you sad to cut up a potato that's happily growing on your counter? It kinda makes me sad. Poor potato. He never saw it coming.
{thursday} I bought french bread this time instead of baking it myself. It was less hassle and I didn't feel guilty about it since crusty french bread is only $1 at Superstore. I did, however, feel like the salad was too bready. I used the right amount, but the bread overwhelmed the salad portion. So I either didn't use enough vegetables or I should reduce the amount of bread cubes next time. Also I friggin' love that salad dressing recipe. It's just oil, vinegar, and dijon, but I love it so much more than store bought. I've been trying to find a good dressing lately, and anything I try, I get so sick of after a couple weeks of using it. I think I'm going to start making my own.
{friday} Idle Husband wanted to give me a vacation from making dinner so we had beef Shawarma (the only one worth having, just fyi). I had actually planned for the souvlaki dinner, so I put all the marinating ingredients with the pork and shoved it in the fridge for Saturday.
{saturday} Pork souvlaki is the best thing ever! I must've cooked more pork this time, I don't know what happened, but we didn't finish all of it. There were only about four large chunks left, but it was just really surprising that we didn't stuff it in. They were really great cold as a snack at lunch, though!
{sunday} I decided to scrap the honey mustard chicken. I can make that some other day, and besides, I was really not in the mood for chicken. Unfortunately, that meant that I didn't take out any chicken stock to make carrot soup. Did I tell you that when we moved, I went microwave-less? Yup. We had a big one that took up half my counter space at the old house and when we decided we were moving, and everything was a done deal, I started keeping track of exactly how much I used the microwave each month. Quite honestly, some months I wouldn't use it at all. Sure, I'd have weeks where all I did was defrost things in there, but those weeks were few and far between. I don't like cooking in it (that was mom's go-to appliance. Sorry, mom, but you kind of scarred me for life with microwaved brussel sprouts -- though her microwaved BBQ chicken was pretty good) and we rarely have leftovers, so I decided to only use my toaster oven for reheating instead. Dilemma! All my stock is in plastic containers and I didn't think it would be very smart if I put plastic in my toaster oven (that sucker gets super hot, even when it's just on toast). I put it in a double-boiler type contraption at first until Idle Husband expressed concern over melting plastic, so I abandoned that for submersing the container in boiled water instead. It worked like a dream. The rest of this soup was easy. Four carrots boiled in the stock until they softened, some ginger slices, puree, serve. My carrots weren't that tasty, so I added some sugar to the soup. Carrot soup should taste sweet in my opinion.

Friday, February 25, 2011

because I'm not feeling particularly inspired right now

{The Ghost of a Sabre Tooth Tiger} Jardine du Luxembourg

{The Walkmen} Canadian Girl

{Washington} Cement [No Device remix]

{Foster the People} Pumped Up Kicks

{Peter Bjorn and John} Second Chance

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

favourite things

I'm in Red Deer today as I had to help mom with some stuff. Momly stuff. Top secret. So I've just been wandering around the house trying on clothes and purses and boots (cuz she's got crazy amounts of those things and always whips out a ton of stuff for me to try on and take home -- she announced that one of her goals in life is to collect as many leather purses as she could for my inheritance. So I can [supposedly] later brag about how she once got three Kenneth Cole real leather purses for $30. Has she gone nuts?!). Otherwise, I'm just sitting here staring blankly at the internets (being relatively bored). The post I was planning on publishing today is just not doing it for me anymore (well, I suppose it's ok. I thought it was a swell idea a couple weeks ago when I started working on it, but now I'm not so sure), so I thought I'd take some pictures of stuff in mom's house I really wish I had in my house.

This is the most gorgeous sofa table. I love it so much. I want eeet!

 I have a snake plant, but it's all three leaves tiny and spindly. Don't plants look better when they're huge and full? This one's just about up to my shoulders. I doubt I could lift it and carry it out of the house, though.

I can't remember where we found this dresser/bureau, but it's so neat and it's completely made of metal. You wouldn't know it to look at it, eh? When we bought it, we took it directly to an auto shop and inquired as to how much it would cost to paint it with auto paint in some cool colours. Needless to say, even though we paid under $100 for it, we weren't prepared to pay as much as a small car to spruce it up. I'm kinda glad we didn't. It's pretty unique with the pretend wood grain. It occurs to me now that I should have opened the top "drawer" to show you how it pulls out into a little desk, but I totally forgot. I would do it, but it took me all afternoon just to load these pictures and I'm getting kinda tired of watching things load.

I bought this geode for mom as a gift, but it's so pretty I'd like to put it with my mom's other geode that I stole have. Sorry for the dismal pictures. I don't have my swanky camera with me. The crystal is actually tinged more purple than this weird yellowy/white colour. Next time I go to Drumheller, I'll buy my own (and maybe some split geode bookends).

So I got these huge fake cherry blossom branches super cheap for a large bundle at the thrift store, and the flowers are in the best shades of pink (perfect for the house) and so springy (I'm still so tired of winter! It's enough already!), I really couldn't pass them up (plus it was during my Valentine's Day gift of thrift shopping with Idle Husband all day, so they were his everlasting flower contribution to V-day). Then I got them home and realized I didn't have a vase large enough for them. I could cut the stems, but I thought I'd at least make an attempt to find a vase first. So I'm sitting here at mom's computer and I turn my head and spot this one. I'm still eyeballing it. I think it might be tall enough and the blue would look so great with the pink. I may be able to make off with it when I leave tomorrow.

She's got super awesome vintage furniture pieces all over the house, too. I really wish I had more vintage pieces like this. And this:

We painted this china cabinet/hutch. It used to be shiny yellow wood and the handles used to be brass. But we sanded it all down and painted it bright white and sprayed the handles glossy black. Love it! It's kinda retro modern. Maybe she has a before picture on her computer...

This is the best I could find. Oh it also comes with a table that has pretty neat legs that are bowed out in the shape of a C, kind of like a staircase railing. I like them from far away, but it was really a pain if you found yourself having to sit at the ends of the table. I could never pull my chair up properly without my knees bumping up against those legs (and shaking everyone's drinks all over the table).

 Neato pieces of driftwood I remember picking at our favourite driftwood spot years ago. I can't actually remember the name or I'd totally tell you; and no, I'm not just keeping it a secret for myself! It's out west somewhere. Past Rocky Mountain House. I'm sure it'll come to me as soon as I publish this.

So I expressed interest in the vase and she showed me over a dozen more tall vases (hidden in the bottom of that white china cabinet) I could also have. Hoo boy. I'm going to be going home with a lot more than I came with (as usual).

Sunday, February 20, 2011

menu for two

{the menu}
monday: meatloaf and sweet potato salad
tuesday: grilled cheese
wednesday: baked hotdogs
thursday: pizza
saturday: gyro
sunday: applesauced pork chops

what actually happened

{monday} My regular meatloaf recipe, good as usual, except I didn't use a whole pound of pork, so it didn't stay together as well. The sweet potato salad idea came just because I've had a sweet potato sitting around on my counter for way too long. The salad itself was really delicious. I never have cilantro, so I used up all of my green onions (which were starting to look sad anyway). I also used red wine vinegar instead of cider as that's something I don't have either. Also, for myself, I added one quarter of a preserved lemon peel. Idle Husband doesn't like preserved lemon (I can sneak them successfully into flatbread, though!) so I didn't add it to the entire salad. I really like that pop of citrus with sweet potato so I kept it on my plate and added it as I needed it. I think it's nice, but it took me a while to embrace the flavour. It's a lot different than what you know lemon peel or zest to taste like, it's definitely an acquired flavour.
{tuesday} We had a few slices of meatloaf leftover, so I sandwiched them between bread and cheese with a squirt of ketchup and grilled them up the same as grilled cheese. Best idea yet. I swear, they tasted like little burgers. I actually started calling them flatburgers. It makes me want to make a meatloaf, cool it and slice it, and just keep it in the freezer for flatburgers. You don't need buns (something I never have), the meat is in a loaf shape so it fits the entire bread (none of that weird, now I'm eating bread and ketchup experience you get when you put an actual burger between bread in a no-bun situation), and I used the flat plates on my grill to squish them down and cook them which left a really delicious crispy exterior and everything was cooked together so we didn't experience any meat or cheese sliding out of the bread. I honestly think that if you add all the condiments in this including tomato and lettuce and then grilled it, it would be the best thing ever. I might put flatburgers on the menu one of these weeks to test my hypothesis.
{wednesday} This is the first day of Idle Husband's vacation! Don't be surprised if you notice more meat and more go-to, easy dinners for the next week or so. It's harder for me to plan and cook new meals now, so it's easier just to go with the dinners he really loves instead of taking chances with... eggplant meatballs (for example). I really felt like hot dogs and Idle Husband had bacon on the brain, so I combined baked hot dogs with a slice of bacon. I couldn't really taste the bacon, honestly, and I used chicken hot dogs, so it wasn't a case of pork on pork. I also bought a can of beans for myself and added those to the tops of my hot dogs only. It was good and filling. I could only eat two.
{thursday} I still wanted to be true to vegetarian day, so I made half the pizza using these salad pizza ideas (which I've wanted to try forever) and the other half I covered in meat and bacon as per Idle Husband's request (also known as the usual pizza we always have). My salad pizza was really good. I topped my side with tomato sauce, cheddar, purple onions, broccoli, a little garlic, and tomato slices. After it came out of the oven, I added thinly sliced lettuce, a little dab of ranch dressing, and some veggie spice. Delish!
{friday} I used this recipe as an idea for dinner. I didn't print it; I didn't follow it. I just remembered jam and did my own thing. So I spooned some peach jam directly over the chicken and rubbed it all around with some salt and pepper. I thought it was delicious. It wasn't a strong jammy flavour, it just had a mild sweetness to it. Idle Husband didn't like it as much. I don't know why. We also had salad (as usual) and I roasted up the last of the cabbage with the chicken. The peach jam really added to the roasted cabbage making it extra delicious.
{saturday} I was going to do vegetarian until I got the stink eye. Gyros it is.
{sunday} This was just an excuse to get rid of my last container of apple sauce. Originally, I was going to sear the chops in my cast iron pan, and let them finish in the oven while I made an onion/garlic topping with the apple sauce, but Idle Husband wanted to make them himself, so I had him cook the chops completely right in the pan instead. Then I served the applesauce as a condiment. He didn't try it, but I liked it. I did realize that I'm not a huge fan of applesauce. It's good, but I'm definitely not inspired or interested in it at all. I guess it's nice to have around if you want to use it as a substitute in baking, but I can never plan far enough ahead for that.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

IHOP Restaurant

I've been using a copycat recipe for IHOP pancakes for over a year now. Not because I really love their pancakes, but because it was the easiest and best tasting recipe I'd found. I'd actually never been to an IHOP, and it never really interested me until I found that recipe. I figured it would be a long time before I ever tasted the real deal until I happened to spot a small sign on Calgary Trail announcing IHOP's grand opening. We decided we'd try it for brunch.

It was so busy, and they obviously planned for it as they have two rather large waiting areas set up. When we first arrived, there was a 15 minute wait to get a table, so we left thinking we'd come back some other time, but we changed our minds and went back in.

There's really nothing much to say about atmosphere and service. It's definitely loud in there just due to the amount of tables. I didn't think it was that hard to have a conversation, but thank goodness they opted not to pipe music in on top of the table chatter. The service is pretty fast, but I think it's mostly just to get you in and out as quickly as possible. Although it did seem like a long wait for the food and drinks.

I would normally order a breakfast item I can't make at home, but I specifically wanted to try their regular buttermilk pancakes, so I ordered the plain buttermilk pancakes with bacon (I didn't want to sully the flavour of the pancakes with a mound of strawberry puree). The pancakes are really good. I don't think the copycat recipe is that close to the original, but it's a fine home replacement (their method must be different in some way. Maybe they separate the egg and whip the whites and I think there's more sugar in theirs).

Idle Husband got the Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity combo (the most terrible name for a menu item ever. He looked at me, scrunched up his face and asked if he really had to say the whole thing). The sausages were pretty good, not too overwhelming on either the salty or greasy side but the eggs were terrible. If I make scrambled eggs at home, I use the Gordon Ramsay method (try this recipe, it's so good) and maybe I've spoiled myself, but the IHOP eggs were really rubbery, dry, and completely boring.

As we looked around the restaurant, it honestly didn't seem like many people were ordering plain pancakes like I did. Most had what looked like the stuffed french toast combo or the pancake combo. I thought these were too much for me, but it looked like everyone ate the savory items first and then had the french toast or pancakes last as a dessert (now I've completely exposed my snoopy nature. What can I say? They have glass panels between booths instead of a wall, so you really don't have much privacy while eating).

I also ordered their Splashberry drink after seeing another table with it. It was definitely good, but nothing special. It tasted like orange juice with some 7-up or Sprite and sliced sugared strawberries on the bottom. The strawberries made it really hard to drink with a straw and kind of ruined it for me. Thicker straw or strawberry syrup. Choose one.

The prices aren't bad when you just look at them on their own (I didn't immediately see anything over $10), but we're still talking about three pancakes and 4 pieces of bacon. Our meal came to about $25 (including drinks).

The stuffed french toast really does look quite delicious, so we might go back to try it; but otherwise, it wasn't really worth it when I can make all of these things at home (just as good and definitely cheaper). I honestly feel like the traffic was only due to the novelty of it (which is why we went), because what they serve can certainly be found at any breakfast restaurant (Denny's, Smitty's, etc) at the same level of quality.

If you want to try them out for yourself, I can't give you their address (their website doesn't have this restaurant on it yet) but I can tell you it's right across from the Zellers on Calgary Trail (3931 Calgary Trail Northwest).

Friday, February 18, 2011

friday fixations

{mushrooms} I saw this post on Design*Sponge and literally squealed over the mushroom logs. Idle Husband loves mushrooms almost as much as bacon so I've been thinking about trying to find one of those growing mushroom logs just for fun. These logs aren't really growing those mushrooms, they're just real mushrooms pinned on for a centerpiece. It gave me a fantastic idea to make it more permanent, though, I doubt I'll ever get around to it. For now, I'll just oooh and ahhh over their to-die-for cute pictures.

{bird cages} Specifically the ones I spotted in the background of this lovely picture. I would die if I found cages like that. Actually, let's just be honest here. I would die to have everything in this room. I'm actually looking for chairs and couches exactly like that right now, and I love how the birds have been placed by the windows with a big palm tree unfurling over top of them. This is completely and utterly my dream room. See more pictures of the house here.

{thrifting} I don't even want to bother with regular stores anymore, I just want to find every single thrift shop in Edmonton and cycle through them every month. In fact, bad things happen when I finally commit to items in regular stores. Almost a week later, I find the exact same thing, with better quality and functionality, for 10 times cheaper than what I just bought. Those fancy stores are for idea generating not money spending.

{serene fish tanks} We only have one goldfish. He's the last of four and we're pretty convinced he offed the others so he could enjoy our humongous fish tank alone in peace. And not surprisingly, that's been bothering me big time lately. One tiny goldfish, we can't even see, swimming around a 20 gallon fish tank. Doesn't that seem a little off? And not even considering the ridiculousness of it all, I was even more annoyed at having to clean this huge tank just for this one tiny fish. So we made arrangements to have the fish and the tank transported to mom who has two goldfish that are (I'm not even kidding) larger than your closed fist. Those two have been happily (we assume) bumping into each other in a 10 gallon tank their whole lives, and I just feel like this would be better for them. Her fish get a larger house, I don't have to stick my arms up to the elbow into fish poo water, everybody wins. Since we didn't have plans to keep our goldfish, we really weren't out looking around for a tank, but we had just finished talking to the terribly attention starved parrots (I'd give them a home if they weren't the price of a small car) and on our way out the WEM pet store, when we spotted these fluval chi fish tanks. I'm not one to buy things right away, I always want to take some time and think about it, but this time I actually said 'let's get it!' rather energetically. This coming from the gal who was really against fish and tanks and cleaning and feeding them in the first place. The fluval tanks are like peaceful water features that just happen to be able to support fish. I especially love how the pump system is inside the tank and has been integrated as part of the tank's design, not some ugly lump that looks like an afterthought since it has to precariously latch onto the outside of the tank. (That's always really annoyed me about conventional tanks.) So I never thought I'd ever be the one to say this about a fish tank, but it's beautiful and modern and the perfect new home for our one fish.

{baked donuts} I'm still trying to find a recipe that's good enough to send into Idle Husband's work. It's starting to feel really impossible. I've tried nutmeg ones and chocolate ones (that one was disgusting at first, so I actually garbaged the batter, but they weren't so bad after being frozen and slathered in nutella. It was probably the nutella, wasn't it?), I even rewrote and converted a yeasted donut recipe yesterday and I'm still not 100% happy (they taste like sweet bread rings rather than donuts, though I liked the yeasted recipe a lot more than the batter recipes I've tried. I would much rather cut them out of dough than pipe them. It's faster and cleaner). As the day gets closer, I'm more and more tempted to just make some vanilla cupcakes and be done with it.

{in search of a new do} My hair is terrible. It's thick and heavy and bulky and such a nuisance. I haven't had a hair cut for almost 6 months now, and it's gotten so long I can put it into a ponytail again. Since it's so long, I'm now suffering from extreme overheating at night (because it's wrapped all up around my neck), headaches from ponytails, and pushed out ears from furiously tucking pieces behind them (it's too thick to actually stay behind my ears for any length of time, so I've gotten into the habit of always carrying an elastic with me because I can't even eat a burger without my hair swinging out and getting all up in my mouth. I like to call those pieces my "hair horns"). One thing I've been doing everyday is googling hair styles. This is so frustrating for me because of my hair texture. I've never really seen any style that looks like that person actually has the same thickness as I do, so I always think that even though I really love that look, it's probably not going to look like that on me. I've also started to notice that there's really nothing new or interesting when it comes to hair. Everyone's got the same style or variation on the same style, so it's been a really uninspiring task. I would definitely go to a hairstylist tomorrow if they would actually recommend the cut that would be best for my hair texture and my face, but none of them do that. What do you want? What should I do? Tell me how much to cut. It's so stupid. I haven't been trained in hair cutting, I shouldn't be the one giving the orders, how the hell should I know what to do? But I guess after years and years of women bawling their eyes out and complaining about how they had one centimetre more cut off than they wanted (omg hair never grows back after such an assault!!), hairstylists must feel like it's easier and safer to just stand there and take orders from people who really don't have a clue what would look good on them. I think they should start taking control of their industry and bring it back to what it should be about: artistic expression, innovation, adventure, and excitement. We never would have seen hair trends like the (blurgh) Rachel haircut had Jennifer Aniston gone in and said, I just want one inch taken off the bottom. No more. No less.

{futurama} Good news, everyone! We stumbled on the DVD for the new Futurama episodes. You remember they made some new ones right? And they were only aired in the states and Canada was totally denied? Yeah. Those ones. It's so nice to watch unseen episodes, I can't even tell you. I was getting really tired of the same ol' repeats every night (as is our nightly routine of watching Futurama before bed). Unfortunately, there are only 13 new shows, so we're rationing them out so they last as long as possible.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

what's in my bag

I felt like switching purses today and since I had everything out, I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon and show you what's in my bag:

a) calculator for figuring out cost per unit and discounts. I can't do math in my head;
b) I'm a serial kleenex user. I think I got it from my gram who used kleenex for everything and always had a box within reach. Oh, and the extreme cold makes my nose runny sometimes;
c) I have a strapless dress and I want to put a shirt under it, so I matched a paint chip to it so I'd always have a colour reference just in case I spot something that'll work;
d) I only chew gum when I'm bored or hungry;
e) I hate iPod. There. I said it. This is my mp3;
f) sunglasses in a really extravagant case mom bought;
g) Cute as a Button change purse Idle Husband bought on our first trip to Greece. I keep change and folded bills inside;
h) Extreme Pita coupons for emergency Idle Husband hunger;
i) a woman I worked with once gave me this "always with you" angel while we were working on a store set-up together. I've kept it in my wallet since then even though I haven't seen her for years;
j) IKEA pencils work so much better than pens when it's -30C;
k) Dr. Pepper Lip Smacker. I really love this stuff. It leaves a bit of colour, too;
l) I hate conventional wallets. They're too big and bulky. This is basically a change purse, but it holds credit cards perfectly. I bought it at one of those handmade stores in the mall almost 10 years ago and it still looks brand new;
m) my keys. I don't know how people use those key fobs that are just decorations. I love my key bracelet. It's great when you need an extra hand. This is the third one I've had, and I'll never use the trinket type;
n) Idle Husband's old camera is small and light and perfect for my purse. I wish I could carry my good one around all the time, but it honestly gets too heavy to carry around for the amount of times I need a camera. I use this one mostly for comparing prices between stores. Take a picture of the item, compare it with the same item somewhere else. I'm sure most people use their cell phone for this, but I don't have a cell phone;
o) I've started programming the GPS for our favourites and carrying it around just in case. I'm not very good at navigating to new places based on street numbers. I'm all about landmarks. I wish there was a landmark GPS program ; )

I really love seeing these types of posts on other blogs cuz I'm such a terrible snoop!
Are you snoopy, too?

Monday, February 14, 2011

rewiring and fixing a vintage lamp part 2

We left off with a working lamp last post (finally!). If you missed it, you can read all about it here.

So as mentioned previously, this lamp sat in its fair share of dirty, dusty corners, and it showed. So I got down to business cleaning it.

This was by far one of the most tedius parts with regards to revamping the lamp.



It's really tricky to clean those veined glass leaves and dainty glass petals and get into all the crevasses. I should probably do it once more, but I was just too excited to finally rearrange the petals so the flowers actually looked like flowers again. I don't think they've ever looked like proper flowers, even when I bought it.

love is everywhere

Sunday, February 13, 2011

menu for two

{the menu}
monday: meat pies and salad
tuesday: mushroom risotto
wednesday: salt and pepper pork chops
thursday: chicken fingers and fries
friday: gyro
saturday: steak and salad

what really happened

This week, I was so uninspired and bored with food, I honestly didn't write up the menu past Tuesday and only jumped into it again on Friday.

{monday} I don't know where the time went, but I was doing a bunch of stuff around the house and taking pictures and washing dishes and cleaning when all of a sudden, I noticed it was 5 and I hadn't started preparing the dough yet. I could have done it, but I didn't have enough rising time including making and kneading time, so I decided to scrap it. I made hamburgers with a tiny bit of leftover ricotta cheese mixed in and cut up a potato for fries. We couldn't really taste the ricotta, but boy those burgers were juicy.
{tuesday} I made all that stock last week, so I was excited to make something with it. But around noon, I realized I'd forgotten to take the stock out of the freezer to thaw and so I scrapped this one, too. I thought about it all day and decided that brinner could be pretty good -- I could make fancier pancakes or something -- but Idle Husband had to unexpectedly work late past dinner, and I found myself lost for what to make just for myself. I ended up trying the quinoa that's been in the cupboard forever. I didn't know what to do with it before and honestly, I still don't. I first tried cooking it, and when that turned out ok, I searched quickly for some ideas. I couldn't find anything interesting enough aside from salads and using it as rice, so I just did what I could remember from this article about quick caramelized onions (which I really didn't finish all the way as I was getting too hungry and tired) and added some mushrooms. It was pretty good. I love the texture of quinoa. Anything that reminds me of tapioca is a-okay in my book. I'll have to do something better with it next time.
{wednesday} It's turning into a pretty glamourous menu this week. I completely threw something together for this night. Pork chops with salt and pepper on them, cooked in the toaster oven. Salad and the leftover quinoa. Admittedly, I ate all the quinoa almost before Idle Husband got home. For some reason, having quinoa cold and straight out of the tupperware with some vegetable seasoning on it made it so super delicious, I couldn't stop.
{thursday} I was out all day and apparently, Idle Husband had no idea I was going to be out in the first place. I told him in advance, plus he saw me up and dressed appropriately for going out, and it honestly never occured to me to retell him where I was going to be all day. That meant an entire day of him wondering where I was, eventually worrying so much he thought I'd thrown my back out at the old house and was just lying there crumpled on the floor. So he left work at 4:30 to come find me and checked home, checked the old house, and I arrived home when he was on his way back, so technically we got home at the same time. I certainly couldn't make some mushroom/pasta/risotto/non-meat thing for him after all of that now, could I? I didn't have any bread, so I couldn't go for grilled cheese, so yes. We ate the store-bought chicken fingers and fries again. Those are turning out to be mighty handy.
{friday} I made bread and flatbread, so I took out six pieces of the previously made gyro meat and unthawed them. Then Idle Husband had to unexpectedly work late again, so I had a gyro by myself with some sliced tomatoes and cucumber (not done up greek-salad style). It was good (as usual), and I saved the rest for Idle Husband when he got home.
{saturday} I'd been experimenting with dragon age donuts in the kitchen, so I just quickly cooked a couple steaks in the toaster oven with salt and pepper and whipped up a salad. Ho hum.
{sunday} I like this recipe for chicken parmasan because it's so easy and fast and I don't have to dirty a frying pan. I always cut it in half (two chicken breasts fill us up just fine), and this was the first time I've made it without making bread crumbs. I used panko instead (for quickness and due to lazyness) which worked well (like, when doesn't panko work? It's the best). I did manage to make my favourite tomato sauce as usual. Just some notes on the sauce:
I don't ever measure the butter in this sauce anymore and I almost never use butter anymore. I'll use softened margarine, and I'll just grab a scoop with my wooden spoon. I'm sure it never amounts to 5 tablespoons; it's always less. I seriously hate it when butter is measured in tablespoons. WTF is with that? Does American butter come with tablespoon measurements on the wrapping? Cuz ours does not. I really hate digging into butter (or margarine) with my tablespoon and scooping it out with my finger. The tablespoon is always still covered in a ton of butter that I can't get off and my finger is covered in butter, everything covered in butter. I hate washing grease off of things. I'd like to take my butter out of the fridge, cut off what I need with a knife, and throw it in the pot. It's less messy and definitely easier that way. Maybe one day, when I have a bunch of softened butter, I'll work out what a tablespoon weighs (warm and cold), but when I'm normally confronted with this irritation, I figure out how many millilitres (ml) that is (there's 15 ml in one tablespoon) and use the measures that come printed straight on the butter wrapping to get it into cups (I actually tore off the ruler from a Crisco box at one time, and I use that. It's got a more accurate ml measurement on it). And please don't throw out the onions in this sauce recipe if you try it. That's my favourite part! I usually eat them as soon as they're cool enough to touch.
I ran out of fresh tomatoes for our usual salad which is why I decided to go with caesar salad (that was actually the initial prompting for chicken parmasan in the first place). I always make the salad completely as instructed (save for the romaine leaves. I chop them up like a normal salad), but I decided to skip making the garlic bread croutons since I still had some store-bought croutons left from the one time I bought them for a stuffing recipe. So I skipped that step and added the minced garlic directly to the dressing. I think I added a touch too much lemon juice. The salad turned out with a little more tang than usual, but it was still good.

Friday, February 11, 2011

katharine hepburn's brownies

I've been waiting far too long to make brownies. I've been bookmarking recipes since last year!

There's a reason for that, though. Brownies definitely fall under the 'want' not 'need' category. I kept thinking about them, but that little voice in the back of my head kept saying no. These are completely unnecessary and you'll regret it later. You don't need 24 squares of pure chocolate and sugar.

But I didn't think I'd ever had an honest to goodness true to form homemade brownie. I used to make Texas brownies all the time, but they're more like an elaborate chocolate cake than a brownie, and I'm sure there was at least one time I had brownies from a box. But I still felt like I'd been left out of the brownie taste experience.

And then the real deal got really confusing, I mean, what exactly is a real brownie? My obsession started with this recipe, and soon many different equally delicious looking brownie recipes kept popping up almost every day. Chewy brownies, fudgy brownies, moist brownies, these are more like brownies cuz there's less flour; no, you need more flour, mint brownies, rocky road brownies, layered brownies. Soon, I had a huge folder of brownie recipes to experiment with just so I could figure out whether I liked brownies chewy or fudgy or cakey or minty or loaded with marshmallows (I don't even have to try that one, I'll love it, come on).

But then, while I was going through my massive brownie recipe collection for the umpteenth time, I spotted Katharine Hepburn's brownies.

The first thing that caught my eye was how it only makes 9 brownies. Yes. Nine. That solves my first problem. Nine brownies in the house constitutes a nice little treat and an easy dessert after dinner. Nine doesn't incite a gorge fest on brownies.

Because I knew there was probably a pretty good chance we would eat them all in one day.

Next the entire recipe comes together in one pot. So essentially, you're only dirtying some measuring cups and a few spoons and barely dirtying a baking dish. Who doesn't love that?

There's also no need to fiddle around with a bain marie. Not that I can't do that or it's an especially hard step, it's just another step you have to prepare and I prefer to use easy recipes as much as I can. Why go through that extra step for the exact same outcome when I don't have to, you know?

And besides, Valentine's Day is coming up fast, and I'm terrible at remembering important couple dates and anniversaries. I can quickly prepare these brownies the day of so all I have to do is spend a tiny bit of time cutting them with a heart shaped cookie cutter and tossing on some sprinkles. It couldn't be easier to elevate this simple recipe for the occasion.

And if you remember these dates, you can totally spend the time and the worry making something extra fancy like pot de crème or crème brulée or chocolate mousse (three of the recipes I see most this time of year), but I'm here to tell you that simple can kick ass, too (and you'll be guaranteed it'll come out deliciously).

slightly adapted from here

1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup sugar (because I used semi-sweet chocolate, I used just under a cup of sugar)
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8X8 baking dish (mine was slightly smaller) with nonstick spray, line with parchment paper, and spray the paper again.

Melt butter and chocolate together in a medium sized pot on low heat just until the chocolate and butter start to melt. Continue stirring until both are completely melted and mixed together.

Remove from heat and mix in the sugar. Next add the eggs and vanilla and incorporate completely. Finally, add the flour and salt and stir until smooth.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely (as hard as it is), remove from pan and paper and enjoy.

{notes} Definitely allow these brownies to cool completely. Even when they're still a touch warm, they're a little too gooey and sticky. It was enough to make them difficult to slice, and they tended to stick in my teeth. When cooled, they were easier to slice, less sticky and more fudgy.
I also made these with salted margarine (omitting the salt in the recipe) and whole wheat flour, and they still turned out just as perfectly albeit a little more fudgy and chewy with a cracklier top.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

rewiring and fixing a vintage lamp part 1

I bought this lamp at some point in high school. Yes, high school. When I bought it, I bought it because it was pretty and I thought the only thing it needed was a good cleaning and a shade and I'd have yet another unique lamp to add to my growing collection.

Of course, for the first month or so, I diligently looked for a shade anytime I was out of the house. Unfortunately, I never had the foresight to bring the lamp with me, so whenever I found one I thought might be good, I was inevitably too scared to commit to it, and like all meaningful projects, it soon slipped out of my mind and the lamp was abandoned.

fabric cords rock! er, I mean, shock!

When I finally noticed that the wiring was so ancient it actually scared me to plug it in, I added that to my list of 'easy' fixes the lamp needed. But I really didn't know where to start with that task, and again the whole project was abandoned.

This poor lamp has been left sitting around, collecting dust, getting moved from house to house and corner to corner for 15 years (and that's a conservative estimate).

As it endured three moves before, it endured our Christmas move, and as I unpacked it from a box, I thought that this would be a good place to start when it came to my resolutions this year. If I love it as much as I think I do, I should treat it as such. So for the last two weeks, I've been working on it.

Monday, February 7, 2011

rustic key lime tarts

I found some key limes on clearance the last time I went shopping and I bought them without any actual plan for them. I think it's because I've never had key limes or limes for that matter and aside from imagining them as tiny green cousins to lemons, I really had no idea about them. I consider myself adventurous when it comes to trying new fruits and veggies and I've been craving tart, summery flavours, so I went for it (I also bought two bags of oranges for some mysterious reason. I hate peeling oranges so I never eat them without the peeling power of Idle Husband).

Because they were on clearance, they really didn't look very good. Ranging from brownish to yellowish to greenish, I definitely did not buy them for looks. And since some were about to turn into rock limes, I decided I had to do something with them quickly.

Immediately, I thought about a key lime pie because that's really the only thing I know to do with limes. What else is there? Well, as I continued searching I found bars which eventually led to my hairbrained idea of turning a bar recipe into tarts. Cuz I gotta be different and difficult, I guess.

The problem with that plan was that I had no idea how much graham cracker crumb to put per tart and I had no idea how long to bake them. And what was even worse was that I didn't have any sweetened condensed milk.

Now, on the whole, I really hate recipes that call for sweetened condensed milk. I just never have it around. Never. It's always a special purchase for me. But the longer I looked, the more obvious it became. Every single recipe I found had stupid sweetened condensed milk, and since I'd just been to the store, I wasn't going back.

So I used this recipe for sweetened condensed milk instead. A recipe within a recipe. How wholesome! I make my own ingredients, too. Jel-lous?

Blurgh. I felt so smart by skipping the butter and weighing all my ingredients right in the pot, but confident me didn't read the recipe fully. So I measured the sugar and the milk powder together in a pot, added the water, only to then discover that the milk powder had to be whisked in after melting the sugar and water together. So as it cooled, the whole thing kinda seperated into this weird sweet milk foam (almost like melted marshmallow) and thickened condensed milk underneath. I don't know what the foam was about, but oh well, I forged on.

And surprisingly, it worked. Once I got making the filling (after tediously squeezing a pound of tiny rubber-ball sized key limes), everything worked as predicted. It thickened right up in an instant. If I ever have to make something with sweetened condensed milk again, I'll be using this recipe. I always have milk powder and sugar. Besides, when I have to make an ingredient for a recipe, it means I really want that treat, I'm not just idly pouring it out of a can onto some cracker crumbs and nuts and 10 minutes later, pigging out. That's a good way of keeping yourself off the treats. Ugh. I have to whisk it until it incorporates? Screw it. I'll just have a banana.

I don't know if I recommend making tarts (I recommend eating them, though! buhdum dum ching), but that's only because I have no idea how much crumb I used per tart. I want to say two tablespoons each, followed by a good packing with a cup, but I really didn't measure it. I would suggest going the bar route as I think that would be so much easier in the long run and just as tasty. But if you want to be adventurous, too, be my guest.

slightly adapted from here
makes approx. 10 tarts

1 1/2 cup honey graham cracker crumbs (I didn't know there was a difference, but they taste so much better than regular! Superstore, yellow brand)
1/4 cup sugar
zest from one lime
90 mls or 6 tablespoons salted margarine, melted

Combine the crumbs, sugar, and lime zest (on hindsight, I would crush the zest throughout the sugar first). Mix in the melted butter until everything is evenly moist.
Take the crumbs and divide them as equally as you can into a 12 cup nonstick muffin tin. Using a cup that approximately fits the bottom of the tin, push the crumbs down to the bottom. Kind of wiggle the cup around so the crumbs go up the sides a bit. Get your fingers involved if you need to.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes (mine puffed up and freaked me out, but they settled back down when they came out). Allow to cool.

2 egg yolks
1 can fat free/low fat sweetened condensed milk OR 14 oz homemade sweetened condensed milk (the whole recipe)
1/2 cup key lime juice (the equivalent of exactly one pound of key limes)

Mix the condensed milk and egg yolks together until combined. Add the lime juice and stir to combine. It will thicken up almost instantly.
Pour about 1/2 cup of batter into each graham cracker cup. At first, I didn't want to go over the crumbs, but I ended up going over a few anyway. No big deal. Cook at 350 for 15 minutes. Cool and chill in the fridge for about an hour.

{notes} I worried these would be hard to get out of the cup since I didn't grease the tin (hindsight), but once they cooled, all it took was a knife or spoon around the edge and they popped right out. It still might be better to butter the muffin tin first, though. Less crumb breakage.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

menu for two

{the menu}
monday: spicy oven-fried chicken, roasted vegetables, salad
tuesday: grilled cheese and salad
wednesday: sausages and rice
thursday: eggplant meatballs with mushroom polenta
friday: beef roast and salad
saturday: spaghettini with garlic butter roasted mushrooms
sunday: chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese

what actually happened

{monday} I love this recipe. It's not exactly the taste of fried chicken, but since we never eat commercially fried chicken, this really fills that void without all the extra calories and fat. I use chicken pieces (4 legs/thighs and 4 wings) and I remove the skin. I skip the thyme and hot pepper sauce, I use panko instead of bread crumbs or crackers, and I don't put butter on them before baking. Those are really the only changes I make to the recipe. Apparently, you can marinate them for only 3 hours, but I've always started them the night before I want to have it. It's nice to know I could get away with it in a pinch. I still had enough vegetables left to do another pan of various roasted veggies. I timed them better this time and they were less burnt with more caramelization. I also cut up a potato into fries and added that along with the veggies (I made sure they were seperated to one side of the pan) just for Idle Husband (though I had some, too. They turned out really well).
{tuesday} I should have gone shopping, but if I miss my window of time, I feel like there's no point. Going to superstore later in the morning will almost always end up putting me in a bad mood. There was also a piece of chicken leftover from Monday that I ate for breakfast, so I really wasn't all that hungry by dinner. I made some grilled cheeses for Idle Husband. One with tomato and another with some leftover chicken I had frozen from a previous night. I had grilled cheese with tomato and pesto. (I know this was vegetarian night, but I had leftover chicken spilling out of my fridge this week and I just wanted to get rid of it.)
{wednesday} Still no groceries (sometimes, I have this little contest with myself to see how far I can go. It makes me get really creative). I was so sick of chicken and all I had in the freezer aside from chicken was sausages. I didn't really know what to do with them. I thought about doing brinner (breakfast for dinner) and then I thought about a jambalaya of sorts and settled on that. But like a stupid, I started cooking rice in the rice cooker and realized that's not how to do jambalaya, so I had to improvise after that point. It ended up turning into a kind of sausage and rice chili with chopped tomatoes and mushrooms and the rest of the leftover chicken (finally). I had doubts as to how well received this would be, but surprisingly, Idle Husband gobbled it right up. I guess it was meaty enough for him and when I gave him the cayenne pepper, he really dug in.
{thursday} Disaster. The directions have you slice the eggplant and bake in a 450 degree oven on a sheet pan with only a drizzle of oil and some salt and pepper. Well, looking at the pictures again, I can see now that they meant super thick slices. With just the printed directions in front of me, I had no idea what that meant so I went ahead and got as many slices out of that eggplant as I could. Obviously, only the thicker pieces survived baking. I also think 450 is crazy now, but at the time, I remembered that eggplant is not a vegetable you can eat raw (which I've accidentally done and suggest you don't), so I really did want to make sure it was fully cooked this time. Anyway, at least three of the slices (and whole slices, not end pieces) were completely burned and all that was left were their sad charred outlines on the pan. There was still some that was salvageable, and I went back and forth about just scrapping the whole plan, but I decided to forge ahead and decrease the other ingredients by more than half. The result was not bad but not delicious. They looked disgusting (no joke, we were calling them little turds) and they were like dry chewy puffs of vaguely eggplant tasting disks (ketchup to the rescue). It was entirely my fault, though, so I'm not blaming the recipe on this one. Polenta. Stupid stupid polenta. This is the third time I've made it and it's the third time I've been really pissed about it. That recipe has gone in the garbage and I'm never making it again. It tastes like nothing. And it's enough nothing to feed an army and for some odd reason, I always forget that fact and keep forgetting to halve it (probably because it doesn't sound like that much at first. A cup of polenta. That seems reasonable). So after making this stupid slop, putting a ton of dried mushrooms in it (what a waste), we both had the equivalent of four tablespoons and that was it. Idle Husband suggested happily that I eat it tomorrow. A whole 4 quart pot of gelatinous polenta (as it gets like that about 5 seconds after you take it off the stove). Yeah. I'm so sad about the mushrooms but I had to chuck it. I don't want to walk around with a belly full of disgusting polenta goo all day, thankyouverymuch. And I've seen that you can cool it and slice it and fry it and don't even comment about that cuz I've tried it and it was even more disgusting than in its original form. I'd never heard of polenta until I started reading American food blogs and it seemed like such an interesting fancy alternative to rice or pasta which is why I tried it in the first place. But you know what? Polenta is gross and we don't like it and that's that. Smack me on the face if I ever say, 'maybe I can put that on a bed of polenta!' again.
{friday} After thursday, I wanted to do something basic. Like, really basic. Same as for a roast chicken, all I do is defrost, salt and pepper, 350 degree oven till done. Delicious. Can't go wrong. Comforting safety recipe.
{saturday} This mushroom recipe was so amazing, I really wished I'd have purchased capers cuz I'm pretty sure that would have made it even better. I used about 10-11 ounces of button mushrooms which I cut in half no matter their size. I then kept all the other measurements the same since I planned on mixing it into the spaghettini as a sauce. I also didn't have any parsley, so I substituted some green onion. It was very garlic-y and mushroom-y and delicious. A vegetarian dish on the weekend and Idle Husband loved it. I think I'm going to do more mushroom dishes like this for vegetarian night. And I could have gotten away with a bit more than 200 g (about 7 ounces) of spaghettini since we were both still a little hungry after.
{sunday} With the amount of chicken we'd been eating, I had quite the collection of chicken bones hanging out in the freezer, so I made stock. It's really easy and if you've got a crock pot, you don't have to babysit it at all. I put the bones of two chickens (at least -- this time, I was maxing out at four) into my crock pot, add an onion, a couple carrots, some smashed garlic cloves, a couple bay leaves, and a sprinkling of a rock salt with chili peppers mix that I have. Add enough water to cover the bones and leave at the high temperature until you can smell the chicken. Then I strain the bits out, and put the stock in the fridge to cool so I can remove the fat later (it floats to the top once cooled and you can easily skim it right off). For some reason, I used to think that everything that came out of the pot was pretty much spent when it came to taste and I think that usually applies to the vegetables, but if there is any meat left on the bones, go ahead and pick all that meat off. It's delicious! I missed out for a few months there. Anyway, from that, I usually get about 6-8 cups of stock and I'll only use 4 cups for soup as that seems to be a good amount for us. The rest of the stock I measure out and put in yogurt containers (any plastic containers I have saved actually), write the amount that's in there and the date on them, and freeze them for later. I used to make all that stock into a humongous amount of soup and freeze that, but it's so much better to have the simple stock in the freezer because that can then be used for a lot of different meals instead of just soup. To make the soup, measure out 4 cups of stock, add your chicken back in, add vegetables if you want (I chop up the stock carrots and add them back), let it come to a boil and add whatever pasta you want. I really like broken pieces of spaghetti and random noodle bits (broken lasagna is nice). It gives variety. Serve once the pasta is cooked to al dente.

Friday, February 4, 2011

friday fixations

This really odd snow print that looks like someone and their dog fell over just outside our front window.

{dragon age II} I'm mostly excited that this game is quickly coming to an end (or beginning for the rest of the world). I miss Idle Husband! He's been busy with it for so long. Anyway, I thought I should make some sort of baked good that he could take for his office boys when they finish up in March. By complete luck and chance, I found what looks like individual donut tins at the thrift store yesterday. I didn't know what I was going to bake for those guys that wasn't cupcakes (again), so I'm really hoping these tins work out. Experimenting will begin shortly.

{key limes} I would never ever purchase these normally, but there were tons of bags on the clearance cart when I last went shopping. It takes a long time to squeeze those little bastards, but it was totally worth it. My hands and my cutting board had a zesty fresh smell all day long. I also left the bowl of squeezed limes out on my counter for a couple days, and everytime I was in the kitchen, I could smell that really fresh and clean tarty scent. So much better than any scent you could ever buy.

{ridiculous food network recipes} These are getting so crazy! I thought the Food Network would catch themselves on the first one but almost every month, a new one pops up. If you haven't seen them yet, here are the recipes for late night bacon, english peas, and dark chocolate as a snack. It's especially important to read through some of the comments.

{barley germ bubble tea} Any trip to West Edmonton Mall means I'm entitled to a bubble tea from the Dream Tea House. I specifically won't have any breakfast just so I can justify it! I always like to try a new flavour, and I always like to try something that's strange and different. Strawberry? Bah. I know what strawberry tastes like, but what about barley germ? Of all the flavours I've had so far, I think this is by far the best. I thought it tasted exactly like an oatmeal cookie and even yummier, all the tapioca absorbed that flavour. It was the first time I actually tried to eat them all. Maybe if they renamed it oatmeal cookie, it'd rise up in popularity.

{duck lamp} I think I bought this unusual white glass duck just so I could yell out, DUCK LAMP! every time I turn it on.

{cute valentine ideas} I love really simple ideas for occasions like this. I think they have so much more impact than if you just ran to the store for a stuffed animal, box of chocolates, or flowers. Here are some of my favourites: diy fruit stickers, tree carving ap, perfect pairs pencils, lip and mustache lollipops, diy fabric rose, crayon hearts, easy see-through valentines, arrow cupcake and bag toppers

How could I forget?!

{year of the rabbit} I'm planning on celebrating later this month with some ginger beef.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

january recap

rediscovered china

greek treats

healthy snacks

too much snow

contests won

damaged plants

lost recipes remade

3D calendars

delicious dinners

fancy macarons

rethinking art

a cute bunny friend