25 July 2010

What's Cooking?

Since we lacked a kitchen when we first moved into the house, we found ourselves eating out a lot. Of course this is not very economical, and it gets tiresome quickly. I've made a conscious effort to cook at home more. The problem is, I tend to fall into the trap of preparing something on the spur of the moment, usually resulting in the same boring meal of grilled chicken breast, rice, and corn. I'm a decent cook when I give a little bit of effort, but I can never remember if a recipe I've tried is a hit or miss. I started keeping a notebook of recipes I've cooked to resolve that issue. On one side of the page, I write the recipe. On the back of the same page, I record any changes or substitutions I made, an out-of-5-star rating from each person who eats it, and any changes to the recipe I and the other people suggest to make it better. I know my mom is always on the lookout for new recipes and improvements to old ones, so I thought I'd share them with her and anyone else who's interested. So what's cooking this week?

Saturday: Indian-Style Chicken Breasts. Average rating: 3.75. This wasn't as sweet as I'd expected given the mango and raisins, but it was still pretty good. Marian and Ben used the leftover sauce later in the week and said they really liked it.

Sunday: Sage and Cream Turkey Fettuccine.

Average rating: 2.25. I used chicken instead of turkey. We both thought the sauce was pretty bland. Might be worth keeping with a reworked sauce. Perhaps just increase the quantities of the ingredients already listed?

Monday: Standing arrangement with coworkers at the Irish pub.

I'm pretty sure Clara is their youngest customer. Yes, we bring our baby to a bar. Don't judge.

Tuesday: Oven Fried Chicken Breasts.

Average rating: 3.7. Made a lot of excess breading. You could probably cut the breading quantity in half and still have lots of excess. I used regular breadcrumbs instead of cornflakes. Marian and Ben each gave the chicken a 3.5 rating, but increased it to a 4 when they used the mango sauce from Saturday as a dipping sauce.

Wednesday: Chicken Lazone.

Average rating: 4.3. I used garlic salt instead of garlic powder and omitted the salt, but it was still very salty. Marian gave it a 4 but would give it a 5 with the adjustment to the amount of salt. Didn't have cream on hand so used milk thickened with flour instead. At least double the amount of sauce next time.

Thursday: We tricked our houseguests (my sister, her husband, and her 2 kids) into performing slave labor for us on Thursday, so we took them out to dinner at The Scioto Ribber. Yum.

Friday: Hamburgers. No recipe for throwing a frozen beef patty on the stove.

Saturday: Macaroni and cheese.

Average rating: 4.5. I added about 1 1/2 teaspoons of minced garlic to the sauce. I also used whatever cheese I had on hand, which was a Mozzarella/Provolone mix and a Mexican blend. I lightly dusted the top with breadcrumbs before baking. This was the first time I used the convection feature on my oven and was impressed that it finished cooking in half the time.

What's cooking in your kitchen?

19 July 2010

Deal of the Day

If you look at home or design magazines even occasionally, you've probably seen these ceramic garden stools at least once or twice.

They're pretty versatile and can be used as a side table if space is tight, as a seat in your shower if you lack a built-in, or of course, as a cute addition to your garden.

And if you've ever looked for them, I'm sure you know about the ceramic garden stools available at Big Lots for the bargain price of $20. But did you know that their lawn and garden decor is now on clearance for 30% off? That brings this item to a mere $14, compared to $87 or even $170 online!

But of course I didn't even pay that much for it. Big Lots had a "Friends & Family" event that entitled shoppers to an additional 20% off their entire purchase, even clearance items. So I was able to snag a white one (they also have blue and red) for only $11.20! Score!

16 July 2010

Everything (and the kitchen sink)

Life with a newborn means little time for house projects, and even less time for blogging about them. My apologies. Since I last checked in, we have fixed the overflow issue from the attic furnace. We still have a couple of minor adjustments left to do for better efficiency, but at least it's not dripping onto the floor anymore. We also had a security system installed. Besides the standard door-and-window alarms, we also had the air conditioners hooked up to the system. We managed to get the kitchen sink installed as well, a process not without problems. The drain hole is smaller than the standard, but we were able to use a strainer intended for a bar sink. Due to the sizing issue, we were not - and probably never will be - able to install the garbage disposal with this sink. I do love the sink, but I have to empty the strainer every 2 dishes that I wash. Maybe I'll luck out and find another sink I love for a bargain price. Here's the classy setup we've got until we do the kitchen renovation for real.

I should submit this to Rate My Space.

Giant - 26"x19"x11" - epoxy resin sink. Love its size and depth. This sucker holds a lot of dirty dishes.

Tiny bar sink strainer that clogs if you breathe on it. Mound of silicone to fill the 3" diameter rabbet surrounding the 2" drain hole.

Keeping it classy with plywood countertop.

We used a spare piece of plywood for the countertop. I attempted to spray paint it, but it just looked, well, like a piece of spray-painted plywood. So I had some cheap paint mixed at Wal*Mart, slapped on a couple of coats, and sealed it with polycrylic. The clear coat makes it glossier, easier to wipe down, and harder to damage with water splashing from the sink (and windows when I forget to close them when it rains).

To give this plywood counter truly professional look, I routed the edges with a roundover bit.

Gotta protect the finish. Wouldn't want to ruin such an expensive custom counter.

Since the counter extends so far past the base cabinet (3 feet or so on each side), we attached furniture-quality legs to the corners to provide some support.

I thought of adding horizontal pieces between the legs for extra stability, but I don't want to harm the finish of such a valuable piece of woodwork.

The nicest part (and I genuinely mean that and am not being facetious) is our faucet. It's a Pegasus bridge faucet in a satin nickel finish. It's beautiful and looks completely out of place with the rest of our ghetto-fabulous kitchen setup.


It's not much, but it's a vast improvement over hauling hot water in a bucket from the bathtub upstairs to wash dishes every night.

06 July 2010

If it's not one thing...

it's definitely another. We were beyond thrilled when we had an estimate for our A/C replacement that was $400 less than our initial estimate and could be done the same day. As soon as it was installed, the weather took a turn for the better and we didn't have to use it for a few days. We're scheduled to have it tied into the security system on Thursday. In the meantime, poor Tom has been sleeping downstairs. The idea is that he'd wake up to any unusual noises happening in the yard, but I still check on the condensers from an upstairs window several times a night.

After the brief respite from the unbearable heat and humidity, it came back in full force all at once. We enjoyed a full day of lovely climate-controlled bliss. Until...Tom noticed a puddle of water downstairs. The furnace overflow pan was, well, overflowing and dripped from the attic to the second floor. It in turn soaked through the floor upstairs and dripped into a puddle in the kitchen. Tom investigated and found a whole slew of problems with the air handler setup. The two biggies:

1. The overflow pan wasn't draining at all. Since the plastic pan underneath is actually the secondary overflow, that meant the primary overflow wasn't draining, either.

2. There was no filter in the furnace. The drywall guys had the system running while they were sanding, so the coils are probably clogged with a superfine particulate. A homeowner should be able to vacuum the outside of the coils with a brush attachment, but something as fine as drywall dust will clog the inside of the coils, requiring professional assistance (to remove the coils, the refrigerant has to be drained, and it's easy to damage the thin aluminum fins inside the coil).

The secondary pan wasn't draining because the PVC pipe that carries the water outside was not sloped properly. That's easily fixed with a couple of dollars worth of supplies from Lowe's.

The part that really boggles the mind is why the primary pan wasn't draining. There are several sets of inlets where you are supposed to be able to connect the drain pipes. They look like this:

Sorry for the bad pic. It's a tight space to take a photo.

Each socket has a knockout behind it. They have been removed in the above photo. The set of sockets that the pipes were connected to didn't have the knockouts removed, so the water couldn't get into the pipes to drain out. I'm not sure how we can access the knockouts without dismantling the entire drain system. Fortunately PVC is cheap, but it would have been really great if it had been done correctly in the first place. Now we're stuck fixing mistakes at our cost (of time and money). We might take forever getting projects completed, but at least we make sure to do it right the first time and avoid this sort of nonsense. I think I've sworn off hired labor for a long time.

03 July 2010

My self-esteem coach always said I was a winner...

Can I even begin to explain how happy I was to have won the Black and Decker trimmer giveaway at This D*mn House? I haven't received it in the mail yet, but you can be sure I'll have lots of lawn-related posts coming up soon. Thanks again, NV!