Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Guest Blogging: Things Could Get 'Messy'

The ladies at Messy Aprons extended an invitation to readers last week to write a guest blog featuring one of our own recipes. I jumped at the opportunity to join in! Their blog is super cute, with wonderful recipes and mouth-watering photos. I fear I may not live up in the photo department, but I think my recipe is one you'll like.

I decided I would share my Steak San Marco recipe. I love this dish. It's very similar to beef tips but with a tomato base, which really lightens it up for summer and gives it an Italian kick. I usually put all the ingredients in the pot, turn on the stove, go for an hour-long walk and come home to an aroma-filled house and dinner ready for the table!

If this dish is not your thing ... you have to give me credit for my dedication. I woke up this morning and realized I didn't have a picture of this dish. I threw my leftovers on the stove and let it simmer while I got ready for work. I do it all for you!!

So, make sure you check out Messy Aprons today, where I'm the "postess with the mostess!" And if you have a recipe you'd like to share, let them know. The invitation is still open. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Splish, Splash, 5 Reasons I'm Dying to Redo My Bath (Room)

After yesterday's kitchen post, I was surprised to see that some out there liked my kitchen exactly as is. Others wouldn't go as far as to say they liked it, but they said it wasn't that bad. Today, I'm really putting you optimists to the test. I dare you to find something nice to say about our master bathroom!

Here are some pictures and my top five reasons I'm ready to renovate our master bath:

1. Thankfully, the walls are the color of Pepto since every time I look at this room I more or less want to gag. It's a dynamic color for a 1930s house. And what a prize that there are window treatments to match (cue the sarcasm)! I can't really complain about those too much. The alternative to not having those curtains is the entire neighborhood seeing me in the nude. Or showering in a one piece.

2. I can fully appreciate a large, deep jacuzzi bathtub, but this one is overkill! I've taken about two baths in it, but it's not very comfortable. If I lean against one side of the tub, my legs aren't long enough to reach the other side of the tub for support. We have a very large bathroom, but most of the space is taken up by this gigantic bathtub, which we've fit six fully-grown (and fully-dressed) adults in at one time. When we take it out, we're thinking about relocating it to the backyard and calling it a hot tub.

 {I really need to wash some towels.}

3. I think at one point there must have been some wild Turkish Bath parties at this house. If there's not room for you in the bathtub, no fear! We can fit about six more in the shower.

4. The color of the bath tiles, along with their non-uniform texture, reminds me of one thing: the icing on a Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tart. Don't you agree?

5. One thing I treasure about our house is that the windows along the front of the house are original, adding so much character. The problem is they do not insulate very well, and with six of these windows in our bathroom, it gets very hot in the summer months. It's misery in August when I have to blow dry my hair. And we all know I can't go curly!

So, based on all those things here's the preliminary plans.
  • Board up and cover some of the windows to regulate temperature in the space.  
  • Convert the shower into a walk-in closet for me.
  • Remove the jacuzzi tub for a smaller, clawfoot tub.
  • Add double sinks and vanities.
Once the tub/lap pool is removed, I imagine the space will be completely different! I'm dreaming it will one day look similar to this. Now that makes me feel optimistic!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Eye Spy an Ugly Kitchen

I promised I would share some before pictures of our kitchen and master bath this week, so without further adieu ...

OK, first let me tell you how hard this is for me.

I'm perfectly fine sharing pictures of my 12-year-old afro hair because I don't still have afro hair. But this kitchen photo is difficult to share because it was taken this morning, and when I get home tonight, my kitchen will still be this way.

To make me more comfortable with sharing, let's make an eye spy game out of it. Here's picture no. 1, can you find the following items:

  • Mr. Baxter
  • Cantaloupe
  • Smoke Detector
  • Clementine
  • Lint Roller
  • Step Ladder
Truthfully, I hate this kitchen for a lot of reasons.

1. The look of it: Our house is old, classic and filled with character. This kitchen is a poor reflection of that, as a result of some late 80s remodeling. There's more dark green wallpaper (the exact same stuff we just removed from our dining room) - on the walls, on the ceiling, on the light fixtures. And then there's the fruit backsplash. Please don't get me started on this.

2. It's not functional: You can't work on the cooktop and open the fridge at the same time. Or open the oven and open the fridge. All the work space comes with no counter space.

So the plan is to more or less gut the space, but we're also going to make some modifications to the layout. The wall behind the refrigerator will be knocked out. The fridge will turn 90 degrees counter clockwise and back up to the space where the microwave currently sits. This will completely open up the space and even give us room for an island. I'm thrilled about the additional work space.
The cute little built-in buffet/cabinet thingy near the dining room will stay the same with some updates, including a possible wine fridge.
Right now, we're at the conceptual stage of our remodel. I'm tearing out magazine page, trying to get an idea of what I like. And it may take a while since I work out of town during the week and only have Saturdays to really shop around and find the materials I like. My ultimate goal is to restore this kitchen to the character it probably once had. To get rid of those white floors. And to never see a strip of that green wallpaper again as long as I live!

Friday, May 20, 2011

This Weekend I'm Planning To ...

1. Make this Key Lime Pound Cake for my Sunday School class. If you're in my Sunday School class ...  surprise! If you're in my Sunday School class and this cake doesn't come out of the pan right .... no surprise! I guess either way there's going to be a surprise come Sunday.

2. Begin mentally designing my kitchen and bath remodel. That's right, we're about to undertake a massive project: the complete remodel of our kitchen and master bathroom. That means there's a lot of materials to select. Tile, counter tops, vanities, appliances, shower heads, lighting fixtures, faucets, cabinetry, cabinetry pulls, flooring, paint. Is it over yet? There's going to be about a three month period of time without a kitchen or master bathroom. It's going to be painful and exciting all rolled into one. I have a list of things I want and like, but this weekend will be spent perusing kitchen and bath magazines, as well as a few local stores, to begin figuring out the specifics. Right now, all I know is that I'm in love with the bathroom pictured above. Next week, I'll show you pictures of our kitchen and master bath as they are right now. But today, I'll leave you with a preview: Do you know anyone in the market for a 12-seater beige jacuzzi bathtub with gold fixtures? Now you're dying to see it, aren't you?

3. Celebrate Marcus' 31st birthday. We're going to dinner with our dear pal Marcus on Saturday night as a nod to his 31st. And on a semi-related note, I'll be making Steak San Marco (which always makes me think of Marcus because it sounds like his name) to share on the Messy Aprons blog next week! How exciting!

4. Get another Brazilian Blowout. In an effort to prevent a vacation hair disaster like the one pictured above (yes, that's my real hair. And no, I can't believe I just shared that with you.), I'm getting my locks blown out tomorrow. This is the only solution when I'm going to spend multiple days on the lake. My early years would have been so different if Brazilian Blowouts were around. Thank heavens it was the '80s, although I don't think that helped me out much. And for the curious:
  • My hair doesn't look like that anymore ... even on its worst day.
  • And to my credit, I had just woken up.
  • I don't think I would ever have gotten married if hair straighteners weren't invented.
  • When you have big hair, you're required to develop a dynamic personality to survive. I wasn't cute, but I was funny. Actually, I just read a lot. And wore baseball caps.  
  • Yes, we are eating breakfast on kick boards.
That's all I know right now, and we're playing the rest by ear. Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My (Backyard) Bobby McGreens

Right before Ty's birthday party in April, we had a landscaping friend come over and gut our flower beds. They needed to be purged of all the excess leafy stuff. And since then, our yard has felt so clean and nice and slightly bare. After a year in the jungle, I didn't mind the bareness. It was liberating! Like my flower beds were skinny dipping. Freedom.

But now, after a time of reflection, I'm ready to plant. The problem is our landscaping friend keeps telling me to pick out what plants I want. And I keep telling him I have no clue and he needs to decide. We're at a standoff.

Here's my criteria:

1. A variation in height to cover the heavy amount of wood fencing.
2. Some color, but mostly low maintenace plants.
3. Did I mention low maintenance? They don't call me Stephanie the Vegetation Vixen for nothin'.

I've been observing and we have the most sunlight in the morning and the yard begins to shade in the early afternoon. I think that fact matters, but I'm not exactly sure.

Here are the things I like, although I don't know if they will work in my yard.

1. I would like another gardenia bush. They're pretty when even when they're not blooming. But when they are blooming is when the real magic happens. The frangrance is intoxicating. We have one already, so I think this would work.
2. I love hydrangeas more than anything else. I would like to plant as many of these as possible, but I'm not really sure what kind of sunlight a hydrangea likes/needs.

Example A: My wedding bouquet. I didn't care what else was in the bouquet, just give me hydrangeas. Yes, give me hydrangeas in September. I knew I'd found my florist when she said "no problem." I could have kissed her.

Example B: My wedding party bouquets. I didn't care what else was in the bouquet, just give me hydrangeas.

3. I also love hibiscus. But I'm still not sure of their habits or desires. Sounds like a tough relationship, huh? Here's the one thing I do know.

I bought this one nearly two months ago and haven't killed it yet. In my opinion, that's a good start.

At more or less a complete loss, I thought it was good to walk around a local nursery and find a few things that I liked that also looked as if they would ask very little of me. Independent plants, if you will.

I liked both of these options because they offer a lot of color, but don't look like you would have to do anything to them. Although, I don't know what you call either of them, and I don't know if my philosophy is true. Thoughts? Anyone?

I've got to get something in the ground soon before all the old stuff starts coming back. Suggestions are welcome. Think Vegetation Vixen-Proof. I'd hate to plant all these beautiful things just to watch them die.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Why Did I Eat That Salad?

I was a Nazi dieter for over a year, and although I'm not quite interested in returning to that lifestyle, I still try to do right most days with the occasional indulgence.

So you can imagine how peeved I was to discover the Wendy's salad (a seemingly healthy option) I'd been eating for lunch everyday was packed with 750 calories. It felt like such a betrayal. Freaking salad ... for that, I could have eaten a burger and fries and enjoyed my lunch much, much more! Of course, it's not the lettuce's fault. It's the dressing and croutons (that I don't eat), the fast food chicken and other fixins. 

Another horror story: A friend of mine ate salad for lunch and dinner everyday last week and ended the week up three pounds. It was a difficult lesson for us to learn: Just because it goes by the name "salad" doesn't mean it's healthy. 

Then possibly the most horrifying story of all: Last week, I read an article by the Huffington Post listing nine salads that are calorically worse than a Big Mac. To think a salad could ever compare to the fat-factor of a Big Mac. I'm disgusted.

So, unless it's prepared by my own hands, I'm avoiding salad for now and returning to my Lean Cuisine lunch. I know they're high in sodium, but at least the calories are printed on the side of the box! A solid number I can trust.

I know a lot of you guys eat Lean Cuisines for lunch, too. And most everyone has their favorites. I avoid all forms of fish and seafood and don't branch out very often from my regulars.  Here are my top five favorite microwavable meals. I'm hoping you guys can recommend some others worth trying or this menu may get a little stale. Help a girl out!

Baja-Style Chicken Quesadilla

Chicken with Basil Cream Sauce

Garlic Chicken

Herb Roasted Chicken

Pepperoni Pizza

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Stuffed Pasta Shells

I had this dish for the first time three or four years ago when my brother brought his then-girlfriend Ashley to the beach with our family. At the time, I didn't know the love I would one day have for Ashley, but I think her pasta shells were a strong indication of good things to come.

It's a miracle Ashley spoke to any of us after that trip. And a greater miracle that she married my brother after seeing how mad he got at his baby sister for leaving hair in the shower drain. My bad, I have a lot of hair!

My guess is that it all worked out because she cooked pasta shells for us one night. A bond was formed over cheese, pasta and marinara.

And maybe because Ashley doesn't shed as much as me during her shampoo and rinse.

My husband is also a huge fan of these pasta shells, so I made this dish for us last night. The recipe calls for ground beef, which I replaced with ground turkey. It still had plenty of flavor and was much leaner. I didn't even have to drain the meat once it browned. I recommend trying the ground turkey if for no other reason than it will save you a step in the cooking process.

Stuffed Pasta Shells

1 1b. ground beef our turkey
1 box jumbo pasta shells
1 jar of spaghetti sauce
Parmesan cheese
2 one-inch slices of Velveeta
1 can cream of mushroom
salt and pepper to taste
  • Boil pasta and set aside to cool.
  • Brown hamburger meat, drain. Add cream of mushroom soup, 3 heaping tablespoons of spaghetti sauce, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and Velveeta. Mix well.
  • Spray Pam in casserole dish and pour a little spaghetti sauce on bottom of the pan.
  • Stuff shells and place in the dish.
  • Pour spaghetti sauce on top and sprinkle with cheese.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes.
Sidenote: Something terrible must have happened on Blogger because comments from the last several posts have disappeared and the order of the posts is a bit scrambled. Please don't hold me accountable! 

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Ty and I had a rollercoaster of a weekend. Filled with ups and downs and in betweens. We managed to make it out alive. I'm being slightly melodramatic, but something did happen this weekend. Something very bad. Let's start with the good.

The Good.

We got to see a lot of our friends this weekend, which doesn't always happen. Friday night, we went to dinner with my brother and sister-in-law, Chris and Ashley, and Ashley's sister and husband, John and Jill. Our intent was to do some pre-planning for our Memorial Day trip. But the only thing we really decided on was that we needed a lot of beer and some Pop Tarts for breakfast.

Saturday night, we were invited to the Brewers' new home for a potluck! Ty and I brought along everyone's favorite mac 'n cheese and these yummy lemon blueberry cheesecake bars. Our group of friends can potluck like none other. We feasted on ribs, chicken, barbecue beans, salad, corn, tater tots and Strawn's pie (chocolate and strawberry). It was such a good meal and a good time with friends we don't see as often as we used to.

The Bad.

My right arm feels like it may fall off at any moment. I'm not exactly known for my upper body strength (more so for my hatred of arm pit fat and, yes, I think I have fat armpits). So, when I volunteered to weed eat while Ty mowed yesterday, this agonizing pain wasn't what I had in mind. I was thinking we might finish yard more quickly and do something like this:

How romantic. You can thank John Hughes for my unrealistic expectations of yardwork.

I don't even have a cowboy hat.

And my arm hurts. And I'm so bad at weed eating that I left several bare patches in the yard.

The Ugly.

Walt and Ty had a gig Saturday afternoon for the annual Cowpatty Invitational fishing tournament. It's always windy on the small oxbow lake, causing something really, really bad to happen.

That's the neck of Ty's guitar. Damaged at the hand of a strong gust of wind. He was sick about it. And I was sick for him. It's not that hard to go out and buy a new guitar, but he'd had this one for a long time, which makes it special to him. And it's not as simple as repairing the wood. It probably wouldn't sound the same.

And as much as my arm hurts, this hurts even more.

Whose Child Is This?

Ty and I were watching a video slideshow Monday, given to me from my parents for my 30th, when we picked up on something we'd never noticed before. In between Ty saying "oh my gosh, your hair" we began to see the uncanny resemblance between my childhood pictures and my good friend Jenny's daughter, Georgia.

I put this thought to the true test today and sent Jenny a few of my baby pictures to see if she thought Baby Me and Geo resembled. Only a mom can make such a declaration! Jenny's response:

"I am IN SHOCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Did you carry Georgia for 9 months and puke daily?????  CRAZY.  I mean. . .really crazy."

While I didn't birth Georgia or carry her for nine months or puke daily because of her, I love my little friend so much. She's one of the few girls at our church, but she can handle her own. Another characteristic that reminds me of myself at that age. She's funny and energetic and such a fun kid to be around (hence us all going to the beach together this summer). She wore heart-shaped glittery sunglasses for the entire duration of our church service last Sunday. ... and didn't think twice about it.

I do think Georgia and I resemble. Of course, she definitely has the better hair, but take a look for yourself:

First Look: The Closed-Mouth Smile

{Me, circa 1984 ... I'm guessing}

{Geo and Jenny at Mardi Gras 2011}

Second Look: The Not So Into This Photo Opp with Big Brother

We both look a little done with it all in these pics.

Third Look: The "Say Cheese"

I am thrilled to see that matching outfits is just as in style today as "say cheese." Timeless!

Fourth Look: The Dancer

I'm a little older than Geo on this one. But the similarity cannot be denied.

Fifth Look: The Crazy Eyes

Blue eyes, wild glances and sweet-faced brothers.

Sixth Look: The Hot Mess

It's not so much a look. Rather a state of mind. And we've both got it.

Buffalo Chicken Strips

The time comes about once a year that I'm willing to eat meat off the bone. I made a public proclamation against ribs two years ago at Mardi Gras, and I haven't had a rib since. I don't mind getting my hands dirty, just not so much when I eat. And there's something slightly savage about holding a bone in your hand and gnawing meat off it. I'm just not going to do all that for a small portion of meat. Not. A. Fan.

Despite my staunch stance, I do love the flavor of some traditional bone-in dishes. Buffalo wings probably being my favorite. I love the tangy buffalo sauce combined with the cool, creamy flavor of ranch or blue cheese. It's simply mouth watering.

But buffalo wings don't have a reputation for being the healthiest, considering my beloved buffalo sauce is comprised of 50 percent butter and 50 percent hot sauce. My arteries feel thick just thinking about it.

So, about a year ago (in the heat of my Bridal Boot Camp), I was thrilled to find this Buffalo Chicken Strip recipe in my MRC (Metabolic Research Center) monthly newsletter. It has made a regular appearance in my kitchen ever since. It gives all the amazing flavor of traditional chicken wings, subtracts the bone (woot, woot!) and saves some calories since it's butter-free. There's also an MRC ranch dip that's delicious, but I don't have that recipe on hand. I'll get it to you another time.

For now, enjoy these strips and the calories you're not consuming!

Buffalo Chicken Strips

Chicken strips
Finely crushed melba rounds
For the marinade, combine 1 tbsp. water with equal parts of Dijonnaise and Frank's Hot Wing Sauce
  • Coat chicken pieces in hot sauce marinade
  • Coat with crushed Melba rounds
  • Spray cookie sheet with cooking spray and bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes or until done.
  • I use Gray Pupon instead of Dijonnaise. They're essentially the same, but whatever mustard you have in your fridge will work.
  • Everything in MRC World involves Melba Toast! Feel free to use whatever breading you prefer. I always make it with Melba, but I think the next time I'll try Panko crumbs.
  • You should be able to find Frank's Hot Wing Sauce at your grocery store with all the other wing and barbecue sauces. You're going to love it. There's only 23 calories per serving! The bottle looks like this:

Enjoy digging in ... with a fork!

Friday, May 13, 2011

In the Meantime ...

Blogger has been down for what feels like an eternity (one day), and I have no idea where my Buffalo Chicken Strip recipe went or if any of you can see it, and I can see many of your posts in my feed, but it says the posts don't exist. To curb my frustration, I've been putting my energy toward this:

The organization of my personal cookbook.

For years, I've just been sticking in printed recipes and not writing anything in the designated recipe pages. It's impossible to find a recipe when I'm looking for it. There are probably recipes stashed in here that I love, yet can't find and have since forgotten about them.

My cookbook is filled with hidden treasures that I've been stashing and collecting for years. Just in yesterday's sifting and mild organization, I came across some goodies like Steak San Marco (beef tips in tomato sauce), my favorite tortellini salad, Mrs. Eva's heavenly Banana Bread and a bacon chocolate chip cookie recipe.

I have a binder for the recipes I want to try, but this cookbook is my tried and true favorites. And these dishes deserve better from me! It's a problem I'm now set to resolve. And I hope some it yields some delicious recipes worthy of sharing with you.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

8 Courses, 9 Wines and 3 hours later ...

I woke up Saturday morning and walked into the kitchen to see this:

Shoes on the floor. Louis hanging off the kitchen counter. Martini glasses and sunglasses scattered all over the kitchen.

It was a (milder - no tiger, no teeth or people missing, etc.) scene straight out of "The Hangover." I spent the next couple of hours laying on the couch, trying to trace back the events of Friday night with the help of pictures from my camera phone. I counted 8 courses at the Mabry House. Which meant 8 wine parings. And there was a starter wine. That adds up to 9 glasses of wine, a mixture of reds and whites, to create the perfect storm of a two-day wine concussion.

The realization that, "Yep, I'm definitely 30!" came complementary with the evening.

Despite all that wine and my weekend-long concussion, our dinner was excellent. It was more than just a meal, it was a rare experience that we got to share with some of our closest friends. If I ever end up on death row (fingers crossed that doesn't happen), someone remind me that I want this to be my final dinner. And see if my friends can come this time, too!

Our meal started with rock shrimp, sauteed in butter, garlic and lemon, on a puff pastry. I think we all had trouble deciding what the best course was, but I know this was a strong contender right off the bat.

I apologize that I devoured 3/4s of this dish before remembering that I needed to take a picture. You'll begin to see that as a common thread between these photos. The second  course was a prosciutto-wrapped sea scallop with a pea puree. This pea puree was remarkable considering I don't even like peas.

Next out, (and half eaten ... again) was a breaded, chorizo-stuffed yellow pepper in a homemade salsa with fresh oregano. This was quite possibly my favorite dish of the night. Ashley and I are already scheming how we could make these at home.

Fourth up was this delicious carrot puree soup with crab meat and truffle oil. I think this may have been Ty's favorite of the evening. That's a high compliment coming from someone who doesn't give soup much credit.

** I think this is where we had some sorbet, but I ate it all before I remembered to take a picture. It was that good.

Fifth on the menu, we had buffalo mozzarella, wrapped in a romaine leaf and served on a crispy baguette with a tomato and olive salad on the side. I think this dish rounded out my top three favorites, but consider the components - cheese, olives and bread. It's the holy trinity of my flavor palette. I'm in love with this dish.
And while nothing came close to tasting bad, the sixth dish was my least favorite. This was some type of white flaky fish (can't remember) served with shrimp and a mango salsa on a bed of black bean puree.
I nearly ate this lamb clean off the bone, but I'm a lady so I resisted. This was a grilled rack of lamb with roasted fingerling and purple potatoes with julienned zucchini, squash and carrots in a demi glace. It was the best lamb I've ever eaten. It had a thin, crumbly breading that sent me over the moon.

Toward the end of the seventh course, I began to feel full. But not stuffed like you would imagine after seven courses. I definitely had room for dessert, which included a mango filled wonton with balsamic vinegar ice cream and custard.
They even sang happy birthday to me and LJ!
It was such a special evening with some of our dearest friends. I loved every bit of the food, and managed to fight my inner urge to lick each plate before bidding it adieu. It was harder than you would think.

However, I could not resist the urge to take a spin through the kitchen before we left. I look like I'm concentrating really hard on garnishing something with my tounge sticking out. I must have been lost in a dream of what it would be like for people to respond to me by saying, "yes, chef."

I loved sharing this special night with some of my favorite ladies. I love them so much that I was willing to post this less than flattering picture of myself and my gimp arm. To my credit, I couldn't do the skinny arm because my shoes were so tall that I felt my arm would cover Jenny's face. But don't you love those shoes? And Jenny's face? I do! Worth a gimp arm every time!

And don't you know whenever boys dress up, it's going to look something like this?

Fellas, don't you know that variety is the spice of life?

The End.