Archive | January, 2012

Repurposing Awesome: Candy Bars

27 Jan

We somehow ended up with a candy hoard in our pantry. This is only partially not my fault in any way. I’m not even a candy eater! Ok fine, I have a soft spot for dark chocolate that I developed thanks to Trader Joe’s and their insanely addicting dark chocolate bars with sea salt. Seriously, if you haven’t had any sort of dark chocolate/sea salt combination, DO IT. Or, I guess, don’t, if you don’t want to get addicted to it. But anyway, my husband is the chocolate eater so between me, his mom, and Christmas as a whole, we ended up with 8,000 lbs. of chocolate in our pantry this year alone. I mean, some was eaten, but most certainly not all.

And I somehow ended up married to a declutterer. How did that happen??

The declutterer went into the pantry and produced some soon-to-expire chocolate (they were “best by” dates, not like it’s going to make you sick). My husband doesn’t like expiration dates. Or, rather, he loves them because he obsesses over them. Me? Smell test all the way, baby. Why waste something if it’s not bad, just because there’s a date on it? My nose knows whether it’s bad or not.

He was all “OMG! We’re going to have to throw out all this chocolate!” Yes, he says OMG in real life.

Ok, not really.

So me, the hoarder hates-to-throw-anything-out-er, was all, “Um, no. We are not throwing that out.” Then he wanted to know what I proposed to do with it and I was like “Boo-ya, I already have a recipe for that pinned on Pinterest!” and he was like “You did what… on where?”

Silly boy.

So even though this is more of a hot topic just after Halloween, I think it’s a subject that can certainly be addressed now as well. People get chocolate for Christmas, too! And, actually, we didn’t have any chocolate on Halloween (or trick-or-treaters for that matter).

I spent a good chunk of my time 2 weekends ago making (and eating) two delicious desserts using leftover chocolate. Yeah, it was a couple weekends ago, sorry. But I’m still eating the dough out of the freezer, so it still counts.

Candy Bar Cookies adapted from The Downey Patriot
A bunch of chocolate (seriously, this is a “use as much or as little as you want” kind of thing – use mini chocolate bars, large chocolate bars, bars with nuts, whatever)
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
3 cups flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Chop candy bars in a blender (I really need a food processor). Don’t chop them too thin, or you’ll just have chocolate powder! Cream butter and sugars in a bowl. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend well. Fold in candy bar pieces. Scoop batter onto a greased cookie sheet with a teaspoon. Bake 9-11 minutes until golden. Let rest on cookie sheet 2 minutes before moving to a cooling rack. Cool completely. Makes 2-3 dozen.

Fudge Brownies with Mucho Extra Chocolate
Fudge brownie mix – eggs and oil, quantity varying depending on the mix
Chocolate squares with caramel inside
Regular chocolate bar

Chop the regular chocolate bar in a blender (food processor), this time it can be chocolate powder… or chunks, whatever you prefer. Make brownie mix per bag instructions. Pour brownie mix in pan. Break caramel chocolate squares off, press into brownie mix, leaving enough space between each so that there is one chocolate square per brownie. Shake chocolate powder/chunks on top. Bake per package instructions.

This was my own little concoction. Obviously not hard, but trust me, delish. That melting caramel inside each brownie… yum. My husband was like “OMG BROWNIES” and pacing the floor while they were in the oven.

It’s so simple, but I think the biggest “duh” to come out of this, is to use chopped up chocolate bars instead of chocolate chips in cookies! Or maybe it’s just because we always have chocolate bars in our pantry that this seems amazing to me. I will never buy chocolate chips again. Unless we miraculously get no chocolate in a year (not gonna happen).

Don’t throw that chocolate out! Unless it looks funky, then throw it out. But if it doesn’t, make cookies and brownies and force your friends and family to eat it.

xxx

I Made Something Awesome: Pepper Steak Stir Fry

25 Jan

I’m more of a “cook with what I have” than a “go out and buy the things I need” type of person. It makes me feel more accomplished when I can come up with something out of what I already have, I guess. Or, I’ll go through cook books and if I have all (or most) of the ingredients – Bingo!

The other night I came up with a good one. We had some cooked chopped steak in the freezer that I thawed out, determined to come up with something to make with it. Stir fry came to mind (and was the winner), and it sure was good. The only thing I bought was a yellow pepper and that’s because we were already out and there was a little produce market on our walk home. Otherwise I would’ve just done without.

I guess I’ve never really made stir fry completely from scratch before, interestingly enough. I like that the recipe I adapted mine from called for tomatoes. (Oh yes, tomatoes and I are friends again.) Do all stir fry recipes use tomatoes? If so, I never knew!

Pepper Steak Stir Fry adapted from here
– 1 to 1.5 pounds steak, cut into thin 2-inch strips
– 1-2 Tablespoons oil
– 1 onion, sliced (I almost always prefer mine chopped, so did that.)
– 1 clove garlic, minced
– 2 tomatoes, diced (I used 1 can diced tomatoes)
– 1 green bell pepper, sliced
– 1 red bell pepper, sliced (not a huge fan of red peppers, so left them out of mine)
– 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
– 1 cup beef broth
– 1/2 tsp salt
– 2 Tbs soy sauce (I used terriyaki sauce)
– 2 tsp fresh grated ginger
– 1/2 cup cold water
– 2 Tbs cornstarch (4 tbs. all purpose flour)*
– 4 cups of hot cooked rice (loving brown rice at the moment)

In large skillet, fry steak, onions, and garlic in oil over medium heat. (I left out my steak because it was already cooked.) When onions are starting to turn translucent and steak is partially cooked (still some pink), add tomato, beef broth, salt, and soy sauce. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes, until meat is tender. Add bell peppers and stir to mix them in. Cook until peppers are crisp-tender (it does and it doesn’t make sense). In a small bowl, whisk together flour and water. Add to pepper steak pan, stirring to avoid lumps and cook until mixture thickens. (Boil/simmer for about 3 minutes.) Serve over hot rice.

*In case you were wondering, all purpose flour can substitute for cornstarch by doubling the amount needed.

I totally forgot that my husband isn’t home for dinner tonight, which is a very rare occurrence! Usually if he’s out, I’m out, or we’re out together. But tonight, I’m home, he’s out… so I’m panicking trying to remember all the things I said I’d cook for myself next time he wasn’t home for dinner! The only thing I can think of is zucchini – the one thing I like that he doesn’t. Besides pumpkin soup/beer, I guess. So I guess it has to be something zucchini! Help? I’ll probably end up just throwing it on pizza or something, lol.

xxx

Suburban Life Problems

24 Jan

It happened again last night, and the watch thing again this morning (reset to 12 on the dot as soon as I walked in the bathroom). But we won’t dwell because that’s not what this blog is about! I just really need a nap. And a new house.

We’re officially going to look at our first houses this weekend! Yay! Fingers crossed nobody died there!

Too morbid?

Fine. (Still keeping my fingers crossed, though.)

So the other day I was talking to our agent, telling him what we want in a house. The conversation went a little something like this:

Me: We need a house with a driveway.

Him: Yeah… um… most houses in the suburbs have those.

Me: Oh, right. Awesome! Also, a dining room. Definitely a dining room.

Him: Yeah, um… again. Most houses have those.

Me: Oh. Huh. Right. Also, it has to be within walking distance to the train line.

Him: Ooook, I’ll add that to the list. (But it sounded like he was like, “Oh, yeah right, like you’re really going to WALK to the train station.”)

So, in recap – apparently I’ve lived in city dwellings for too long and forgot that houses have driveways and dining rooms, and apparently we’re going to be the only suburbanites who actually walk to public transportation. Suburban life problems!

Any tips for what to look for and what to avoid when looking at houses?? I’ve done plenty of research, but the more you know, right?

xxx

Do You Believe?

23 Jan

I ain’t am afraid of no ghosts.

I’m a believer in ghosts and spirits. It doesn’t matter to me if you are or you aren’t, but I just feel like sharing because what happened to me last week was just too.damn.freaky.

Let me first say that when I say spirits, I mean people like my Meamaw, who after she passed away a few years ago left me heads up pennies at every turn (she used to pick them up and hand them to me and always say “See a penny, pick it up!” in reference to the good luck adage). She did this for a month or so after she died. I started a collection in a coin purse I had, and it’s full to the point of bursting. Thank you Meamaw, I miss you. I miss that, too. Someone (who is even more of a believer than I am) once told me to enjoy it while it lasted because they typically didn’t do those things for long, maybe a couple of months. She was right.

When I say ghosts, I mean scare the crap out of me dark spirits that I can feel standing in the corner of the room. (This seems like it would be an appropriate Halloween post, no?)

So, like I mentioned last week, we’re starting to look for houses to buy. Yay! However, in looking at a ton of beautiful photos our agent sent us, and then at the super low prices of some of them, I’m like… ok, what’s the catch? What’s wrong with these houses? I watch American Horror Story. Because of course I do. If you don’t know what it is, this season (every season is supposed to be different) it was about a mansion where all the previous owners are dead and still “living” inside. There’s a curse on the house, and everyone who buys the house (which is super cheap because it’s called “Murder House” for a reason) basically dies one way or the other, and then is stuck there with the other previous owners. It’s not really a scary show, but I guess it seems a bit too real. SO OK YES I KNOW I PROBABLY SHOULDN’T WATCH IT. Too late. So now I think the reason these houses are so pretty, but so cheap, and have been on the market for so long, is that there are scary ghosts inside. Obviously.

The other night this came to a head in my mind while I was in bed trying to fall asleep (of course) and then I couldn’t sleep and then all of a sudden… I was being held down. First of all, I sleep with a sleep mask, but second of all, I wouldn’t have opened my eyes anyway. I knew what it was. It’s happened to me before, just not in this house. And I refuse to open my eyes because if I see what’s holding me down, it becomes too real. I couldn’t move my arms or my legs. Our ghost told me his name is Bob, and told me there’s a newspaper article about his murder. I got the feeling he wanted me to look it up (haven’t been able to find anything, in case you’re wondering). I tried not to react because even though I’ve always felt there was a ghost in our house, my thought is that if I never acknowledge that feeling while in the house, they’ll never “appear” or do anything to show that they are there. Hopefully Bob doesn’t read my blog or he’ll know I’m bluffing.

Yes, it could have been a dream, and I get that most of you will be of the belief that it was. But being the believer in ghosts that I am, I don’t believe that it was a dream. Oh right, and there’s more.

Over the summer one of my watches (Timex analog) stopped working. Or, rather, was slow. We were in England at the time, and it seemed to be almost 2 hours behind what it should’ve said. I’m not sure how long it had been like that. I mean, I wear my watch, but don’t always look at it. I thought when I got home that I’d go back to the jeweler and get it checked out, because I’d only bought it not 3 months before, brand new. But then I reset it and for a couple weeks it was fine, so I didn’t see a reason to go back. Must’ve had something to do with flying (??) or being in another country (??). Neither of which made any sense, but whatever, my watch was working again. By the time it reset itself again, the jeweler had closed down (he retired). I thought ok fine, my watch resets itself to random times now again. Looks like I’m just going to have to deal with it until it straight up dies and I get a new battery.

Then last week my other watch reset itself (a digital watch which is very difficult to set – you have to use a pen and press one button twice before another one once and very hard). I was starting to think maybe there was something wrong with me internally that would cause my watches to go crazy. Something to do with my heart?? Do I have magnetic blood? Yeah, I don’t know. I also probably watch too much House and therefore uncommon medical conditions don’t seem too far-fetched. I thought about googling it but never did. I reset the watch.

Two days later, the morning after my interaction with Bob, I snoozed my alarm on my phone and laid it next to my hand on the bed, like I always do, for an extra 5 minutes of sleep (man, did I need it after the night I had). When the alarm went off, the phone was clear on the other side of the bed. I would’ve had to toss it to get it there, and my husband had already left for work so he didn’t do it. I tried not to show signs of noticing, and went downstairs to get in the shower. As I was brushing my teeth, trying to convince myself that it was a dream, I looked down at my watch and it said 12:00 AM. In reality, it was probably about 10 after 8. My watch had been reset at that very moment, while wearing it, while trying to convince myself that the night before was a dream. Fah-reak-y.

Sooo now we really need to move because I don’t want interact with Bob anymore. And yes, I’m of the mindset that ghosts do not travel, but are stuck in the house they were last in. Now I just need to find a way to make sure there aren’t any ghosts in our new house before we actually buy it. If you think I’m alone in this “crazy” house-buying concern, google “how do I find out if someone died in my house” and you’ll see that there are 39,500,000 results.

Happy freaky Monday!

xxx

Follow Me Friday

20 Jan

Even though it may seem that way, this is not a plea for followers. This is meant to be a helpful “tutorial”, if you will, on how to follow my blog, since I know I have family members and friends who haven’t been able to figure it out. I know I said it was easy, and I thought it was. But when I first started this blog, it apparently wasn’t obvious how to do it, like I told you it was. So… um… sorry about that! I have now added a section on the right-hand side of the page specifically for following.

Follow the green arrows to follow the blog!

For those of you who come from my old blog’s facebook page, just FYI, I am eventually going to have to get rid of that page because they won’t let me change the facebook address to the new blog’s name. I can change the name on the page itself, the photos, the info, but for some stupid reason the web address will still include the old name, so I’ll be closing that down eventually. So if you want to stay in touch with the new blog, I suggest hitting the follow button to the right! Wish I could do it for you, but I can’t.

Also…

TGIF!! Am I right??

xxx

I Made Something Awesome: Sweet Potato Stuffed Shells

18 Jan

I’m sorry that my blog has been, like, 99% food so far. I guess I wasn’t kidding when I said I had an eating problem. I think I can officially call myself a foodie. Also, it probably has something to do with the fact that it’s winter, aka hibernation time.

Following Thanksgiving, we had some leftovers, including like 6 sweet potatoes. The week after Thanksgiving I turned those sweet potatoes into sweet potato pierogie. They was soooo good. But, I had so much leftover filling it was ridiculous. It’s been in my freezer ever since, which is, like, a month in a half… ok, don’t judge. It was still good! And totally safe, I swear. Just to be safe, though, you should probably eat it all in one sitting. 🙂

My aunt gives us a huge Omaha Steaks package every year for Christmas (awesome gift, btw), so in trying to readjust my freezer for the incoming load, I ended up taking inventory of what we had and started thinking of ways to use it all. One thing on my list was the leftover pierogie filling. A while back a food blogger I love and follow, Jessica from How Sweet It Is, did a week of everything butternut squash – lasagnas, stuffed shells, etc. I pinned it and forgot about it. Then I was looking through my pins the other day and it hit me – butternut squash is kind of like sweet potato (just go with it), and would totally taste good as stuffed shells! So I borrowed her idea, using the sweet potato mixture instead, and used her recipe for a beschamel sauce to go over it.

My husband took one bite and said “You can make this again!” The speed and vigor with which he said this means it’s now on his top 10 list of favorite meals I make.

*pats self on back*

It was, in a word, de-vine.

so good! so good! so good!

Sweet Potato Stuffed Shells (adapted from How Sweet Eats)
For stuffed shells:
– 2-3 sweet potatoes
– 3 tbs. butter
– 4 oz. cream cheese, softened
– 1 tsp. salt
– about 16 jumbo shells (I have had such a hard time finding these lately!)
For bechamel:
– 2 tbs butter
– 2 tbs flour
– 2 cups milk (I used fat free, and I think that’s why it took a while for the sauce to thicken – 2% might be better for this.)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
– 1/4 pinch of nutmeg (sounds weird, I know, but trust me, it’s good)
– salt & pepper to taste
For topping:
– 1/3 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
– 1-2 tsp. sage

Bake the potatoes, remove the skins, mash with 3 tbs. butter, cream cheese, and 1 tsp. salt. Cook stuffed shells per package instructions. Allow to cool. Spray a baking dish or pie plate with nonstick spray. Using a teaspoon, stuff each shell with the potato mixture. Place shells in the baking dish when stuffed. To make the bechamel, heat a saucepan over medium heat and add butter. Once sizzling, whisk in flour and cook until golden and a nutty aroma appears. Add milk and parmesan and let come to a simmer while whisking constantly. Once sauce has thickened, stir in nutmeg and taste – add salt and pepper if desired. Pour mixture over top of shells, then add mozzarella and sage. Bake at 400 degrees F for 20-25 minutes, or until cheese is golden and bubbly. I served with garlic bread because garlic bread is awesome.

YUM.

Try it.

Tonight.

I’m not even kidding.

xxx

Money Money Money Money (Mo-ney!)

17 Jan

Saving money – ugh. I’m good at it, but yet I’m not. Let’s just say I’m good with money. I know when things are too expensive, but I don’t exactly deprive myself of occasional guilty pleasures that go by the names Kate Spade and Radley, in the form of purses.

(cue evidence that you actually save money)

I shop at the dollar store for ANYTHING food or household-related that I can. Mainly canned vegetables, condiments, cleaning supplie, and other random household things that you wouldn’t know the difference if it was from there or from somewhere else. The dollar store pretty much sponsored my wedding, too, but you wouldn’t know it if I didn’t tell you.

I was brought up in a family of bargain hunters (and, ok, shoppers in general). The QUEEN of bargain hunting was my Meamaw. She could spot a blue light special from the parking lot; a clearance sticker from the two aisles away. We spent a lot of time together when I was little (shopping, duh). She swears my first word was “layaway”. That has yet to be disproven, or disputed.

I bring my lunch to work most days, or sometimes buy frozen meals to bring in when they’re on sale. On average, I probably buy lunch once every two weeks.

I clip coupons.

I shop sales.

I shop thrift stores.

When I online shop, I always search for coupon codes or free shipping. Usually that’ll be the deciding factor if I’m wavering.

We order takeout MAYBE twice a month, if that.

We rarely use our car, therefore buy gas once every two months (if I had to guess).

I put towels and blankets around window cracks, hang heavier curtains in the winter, close interior doors and utilize a draft blocker to cut down on heating costs (although, the house we live in is super drafty, so it doesn’t obliterate the problem).

I use every bit of veggies and meats, repurposing in new meals when I can, to try not to waste as much as I can. (PS – check out Food Network’s “The Big Waste” if you can. Also, lots of reader tips on how to not waste food here!)

I do none of this with a real, true purpose. I’m not short on cash; not *really* saving for anything in particular. It’s just in my blood, really.

We have a good chunk of cash in our savings, which is ready to be used as… wait for it… a down payment on a house. *squee!*

obviously this is the type of house we're looking to buy

Aaaand there’s the kicker. We are now officially starting our house hunt, and I have been instructed to try to save as much as I can before we do – for incidentals and the like. Yes, it makes sense. But… how does one who already saves so much, save even more?

I fear it means I must cut out my dark secret, that’s how. I have a problem… a drinking (and eating) problem. I like to… go out to eat, and I don’t drink cheap beer. (Side note: I will drink cheap wine. What? Don’t look at me like that.) Is it so wrong to like the finer things in life? Going out to eat I can cut. Well. I can try to cut. I have an addiction to Restaurant.com gift certificates (they’re so cheap when they’re 90% off!!) and LivingSocial-type deals. We probably  have about 15 or so on hand right now. And fine, I know I’m a sucker and it’s not really saving any money if you wouldn’t have been going there in the first place. But I will not, and cannot, force myself to drink cheap beer. I just can’t. If good beer were cheap beer then I could, but most of the time it’s not. So while other people are splitting $5 pitchers of PBR and Miller Lite, I’m drinking Harpoon Seasonals at about $7 a pop.

So since I’m not willing to part with my good beer, and I’m going to try to not buy any more restaurant deals (but don’t foresee myself being too successful if the right deal comes along…) how else do I save?? Help me out here. What can I do so I can continue to drink good beer?!

Every damn website that says – “Learn how to save more money – now!” reels me in, and then tells me the same old crap – clip coupons, shop sales, bring your lunch to work, blahdy blah blah blah.

Ok, I’ll stop online shopping. Starting… today. I can do that! Um… last week doesn’t count.

Ok, I’ll suppress my TJ Maxx habit a bit. I CAN’T JUST GO COLD TURKEY.

Ok, I’ll stop getting breakfast on my way to work. Guess I forgot to mention that I do that probably 3 days a week… NO MORE. Starting… tomorrow.

What else can I do?!

xxx