Monday, March 26, 2012

What's Cookin', Good Lookin'?

Venison Lasagna

This is a report on the venison lasagna I wrote about yesterday, and it turned out SO FREAKIN GOOD that I just had to put the full recipe on here before I forgot how I did it. (Note: The sauce is based on this recipe; I made a couple changes to tailor it to my anti-pork-and-fennel taste, but the majority of the sauce recipe came from Ezra Poundcake, who cited the Hunter Angler Gardner Cook blog for its origin. The cheese filling recipe came from the Skinner Oven-Ready Lasagna Noodles box ;-))

2 pounds ground venison
1 onion, chopped finely
1 head of garlic, chopped finely
2 tablespoons of sugar
1/4 teaspoon of fennel seeds
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped finely
2 tablespoons of oregano
1 cup of red wine (I used Oak Vineyard Merlot)
1 6-oz. can of tomato paste
1 8-oz. can of tomato sauce
1 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes   
4 cups of shredded mozzarella (I used 2%)
1 15-oz. container of ricotta (I used low-fat)
1 egg

1. Brown the venison in a large saute pan.

2. Add the onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes.

3. Add the sugar, fennel seeds, oregano and basil. 

4. Add wine and tomato paste.

5. Bring the mixture to a boil. 

6. Add the tomato sauce and crushed tomatoes.

7. Mix the sauce and allow to simmer for about an hour.

8. While sauce is simmering, combine ricotta cheese and egg in a small bowl; mix together well.

9. Using a ladle, scoop a ladle-full of meat sauce onto the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan.

10. Place 3 (UNCOOKED!) lasagna noodles evenly in the bottom of the pan; they'll only fit one way (Note: the directions emphasize that you should not let the noodles touch each other or the sides of the pan since they'll expand in the cooking process).

11. Take 2/3 cup of the ricotta mixture and spread it evenly over the 3 noodles.

12. Scoop another ladle-full of sauce on top of the ricotta mixture and spread it evenly over the whole surface.

13. Sprinkle 1 cup of mozzarella evenly over the whole surface. 

14. Repeat steps 10 through 13 twice. 

15. Place your last 3 lasagna noodles on top, and cover with the remaining meat sauce.

16. Sprinkle the rest of your mozzarella on top.

17. Cover with foil and bake at 375 degree F for 35 minutes.

18. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes, or until cheese is golden brown. 

I've made a lot of lasagnas in my day, and they've all been pretty delicious. But Chris and I both agree that this is my best lasagna yet. So, thank you Hank Shaw, Rebecca Crump, Skinner, and, of course, Boney (the deer). 

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Salvation Makeover - Quick Hit

Shower Caddy Under the Kitchen Sink

This shower caddy didn't fit quite right in our shower, but it's perfectly good. So I spray painted it and hung it under the kitchen sink to hold sponges and stuff.

To keep it from swinging when the door is opened and closed, I secured it with these nylon fasteners (I found them in the "Hard-To-Find" bins in the hardware section of Lowe's). 

What's Cookin', Good Lookin'?

The cereal cabinet :-/
I don't really like to cook. I don't like the mess it makes and I'd rather spend my time doing other things. Plus, I'm married to a 39-year old who has the pallet of a toddler and won't eat anything that has a "yucky" texture or even resembles a health food (but I love him!). That means squash, eggplant, most cheeses, avocado, yogurt, most fruits, and even pudding are not options for inclusion in a family meal. Chicken fried steak (blech): yes. Veggie pizza: no. But lately, Chris has been complaining about how much cereal we eat for dinner. Ok, I'll give in on this one. Our cereal cabinet looks more like an aisle at the grocery store. 

But with Chris's uber-pickiness and the fact that we both work really far away from home, I just have no desire to cook in the evenings and neither does he. And it's neither wallet nor waist friendly for us to eat out as much as we do. So I decided to spend this Saturday preparing a few meals for this week. We decided that if we made three meals, we could stretch them over the other evenings and some lunches. 

I'm really trying hard not to eat store-bought meat, but the only meat we currently have is venison, so I knew I'd have to at least buy some chicken so that we could have some variety (I'm all about the meatless meals, but Big Tex can't handle it). My obsession with Pinterest really came in handy here, because there are about a million recipes to be found there. I first did a search for "Venison" and came up with these two recipes: Venison Lasagna and Venison Guinness Stew. Monday's and Thursday's dinners, check. Then I searched "Crock Pot" and found this Orange Chicken in the Crock Pot recipe. Yum. That'll be Sunday night. The Orange Chicken is cooking as I write and it smells delicous. I put together the lasagna this morning; all it has to do is go into the oven around 5 tomorrow and it'll be ready.

I should note on the lasagna that I didn't follow the recipe exactly. The pecorino romano was really expensive, so I made the sauce as instructed in the recipe, then made the cheese filling as instructed on the box of the oven-ready lasagna noodles. I'll report back on the quality after I've tried it. 

BUT...the piece de resistance of my Saturday: homemade Nutella. Like all the other stuff I made, I found the Nutella recipe on Pinterest. It was pinned from a blog called The Eccentric Cook, so it is not my recipe. I just followed her instructions and made a little magic. 
Homemade nutella on whole grain toast. Sooooo healthy cause of all the whole grains... 
Here's the recipe (translated out of metric and with my notes and observations):
1/2 pound hazelnuts (also called filberts...who knew??)
1/2 pound chocolate (I used 3/4 of a bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips)
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup hot milk

Filberts (hehe) ready to be roasted
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Place your hazelnuts in a pan in one layer, then roast them in the oven for 15 minutes. When they come out, dump them into a dish cloth, wrap them up for a minute, then roll them around inside the cloth to get the skins to come off. You don't have to get every bit of skin off, but try to get as much off as possible. 

Hazelnut butter in my tiny food chopper
If you have a good food processor, shut up and stop bragging. Ok, kidding....if you have a good food processor, you are lucky. Dump your filberts in there and process away until you have a nut butter (it will look like nut dust at first, but give it time). If, like me, you just have a tiny little food chopper, then grind them in batches. Be patient and don't give up. You don't want it to be grainy. You want it to look like natural peanut butter. 

Melted chocolate. Worth burning my mouth over.
Boil some water in a pan, then put your double boiler on top. Put the chocolate in and turn the heat down to medium. 

Chocolate and condensed milk: the perfect team.
When all of the chocolate is melted, dump the can of condensed milk in and mix well. 

Mix it up!
Put your hazelnut butter and your chocolate yumminess into a mixer and set on low for several minutes. You want to make sure it gets mixed well and isn't grainy. Once you feel like it's mixed well, evaluate the texture. If you like it the way it is, don't add the milk. If you'd like it a little smoother, add the milk (I did).

Refrigerate after you're done. It will thicken slightly in the refrigerator, so keep that in mind when deciding whether to add the milk. 

Then go crazy and just try to not get up in the middle of the night and sneak the jar out of the fridge, and try not to frantically dip pretzels into it, and try not to get chocolate-y goodness all over your face. Just try, that's all I'm asking. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Organized Life: Pot Lid Holder

In my last post, I mentioned that my productive Saturday had included two organizational accomplishments, one of which was my cabinet cork board. The other was this piece of bad-assery: a special place to keep all of my pot lids! The lids to our pots are glass and I'm always worried they're gonna break when I toss them haphazardly in the back of the cabinet under the stove...probably a valid concern...

Anyway, I've been contemplating the best way to store the pot lids for a while (what an exciting mind I have, right?). There are pot lid holders that you can buy, but those don't really work for me because you still have to drag it out every time you want to get one, unless you have a rolling shelf attachment (which would really be quite awesome). But, you start buying all that stuff and the price really creeps up. So, I decided to just make one on the cheap and learn a few things in the process. 

I got the idea originally from this Real Simple article. However, I knew that I couldn't make mine just like that one because I freakin hate tension roads. I have tried before to make cabinet dividers and what not from tension rods and they never stay where they're supposed to. Then my projects start falling apart and I get sad and give up and spend hours on the couch watching reruns of Monk and Say Yes to the Dress. So, basically, the tension rod is not my friend and I won't employ it in any capacity other than shower curtain-holding. 

I chose to use good old cheap and sturdy dowels and roller catches that I think are actually intended for cabinet doors. I used the roller catches instead of just screwing the dowels in place so that the dowels are removable and I can clean the bottom of the drawer (and change out the lining paper). 

I measured the width of the drawer and then cut my dowels down to size (they needed to be 22.5 inches) using both a handsaw (ugh) and a jigsaw (probably not the right tool, but it got the job done). I sanded the ends with my awesome new sander, then spray painted the dowels a pretty grayish color. 

I then installed the roller catches in the side of the drawer and placed the dowels in them, as shown below. I used two dowels (and four roller catches) so that lids of different sizes would have a place to lean.

And that's it! Now I have great (and removable!) lid storage right in the same drawer as all my pots. And when I make my dream pot rack, I'll probably add more dowels and use the drawer for cookie sheet and cutting board storage, as well as lid storage. Fingers crossed that'll be in the near future!

Let me know what you think and if you have any questions about the installation process!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Organized Life: Kitchen Cabinet Cork Boards

I don't know how it happened, but lately my kitchen and utility room are completely out of control with coupons, bills, magazines, tools, and other crap strewn everywhere (ok, I know how the tools part happened...ahem...projects for the blog...). It has been driving me cuh-razy and making me feel out of control. And as Chris can tell you, I'm a bit of a control freak! So I decided to make this past Saturday a day of kitchen cleaning and organization. I didn't get everything done that I had planned, but I did complete two projects, one of which I've got pictures of right now; I'll post pics of the other one later this week. 

I got the idea for this cabinet cork board from Pinterest and it turns out it came from this great blog called Young House Love. Although my cabinets aren't tall enough to do the exact same design they did, their idea was certainly my inspiration. 

I bought these cork tiles, as well as the pretty grosgrain ribbon, at Hobby Lobby. I stuck the cork tiles up on the cabinet with Command Strips, and adhered the ribbon to the cork using Tacky Glue and one of my favorite tools: a Q-tip. 

Voila! I took the important and special stuff that was all over our refrigerator (making it look kind of messy) and put it on our new board. I bought a couple of cute little paper pockets (available in the scrap-booking section at Hobby Lobby) for my ubiquitous coupons and important papers that I need to deal with. Pretty tacks, special papers, pictures, quotes, and cards completed this great little message/memory center. I love it so much, I think I'm gonna make another one on the facing cabinet next weekend!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

30 is the new...30...

I had a major milestone birthday last weekend: I turned 30. I think I handled it pretty well, but I did hate to leave my 20s behind. In your 20s, you're a sort-of-adult, but it's more acceptable if you mess up. People will give you some leeway because you're kinda still a kid. It's like when I moved to Texas and I really didn't want to give up my Massachusetts license plates on my car. Having the out-of state plates made other drivers think I was just a confused visitor instead of the sucky driver that I actually am. My 20s were the out-of-state plates decade of my life. Now I have to get with the program and drive like a native.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to be able to make a trip home to New England the weekend before my birthday. My family and friends are the best and gave me a really awesome birthday celebration weekend. 

My wonderful mom treated me, my sisters, my nieces, my grandma, my aunt, and my cousin-in-law to a girls' night in a beautiful hotel. My sisters provided the traveling bar. You can always count on a party with Nikki and Kelly!
Nick's Nest, Holyoke, MA - A staple of my childhood. Nick's Nest is located near my Auntie Betty's old house and, when my dad and I visited her, we often stopped for a bite. Our standard order: two hotdogs and two chocolate milks (each!), followed by buttery popcorn. No wonder I was a chubby kid!
Mimi and me at Nick's Nest
My dad and his beloved cat, Squeeky. He is literally the only living being (human or otherwise) who likes Squeeky, as she is pure evil. And I don't say that lightly; I'm a huge animal lover!

Ahhhhhh, Dunkies, how I love you! Why won't Texas embrace you ?!? BTW, I found a new favorite while I was home: coconut coffee with cream and Splenda. Yum!


Even though Chris didn't get to come up to New England with me, he got me a couple of special presents including.....

Ta-Da! My very own sander!! And....

 This sweet handmade birdhouse!

We saw our first bluebird beginning to build a nest in it this morning! 

We also got to go to Dallas for my actual birthday and hung out with some great friends and family there. All and all, it was a wonderful two-weekend celebration and a great way to ring in a new decade!