Thursday, May 31, 2012

The New Addition Revealed!

Hopefully you figured out from the description I gave of our "new addition" that we are NOT having a baby right now.  Although I do have to admit that when I picked that title, I was hoping to trick at least a few of you into thinking that :)  The new addition is....a piano!!!

We bought it for $100 from someone at Joe's office and I'm so excited to have a piano in the house now!  When Joe saw the listing on the for sale boards at Garmin, he forwarded it to me, and we decided to check it out.  It had been in their garage for a couple months after they got new hardwood floors installed and just didn't want to move the piano back inside.  Overall it was in good condition, but there was one key that stuck, two that wouldn't strike, and the damper pedal didn't seem to work.  I did some searching about those problems and found that they would be relatively simple fixes, so we decided to go for it!  

The piano movers came yesterday, and the guy who moved the piano also happened to be the owner/tuner/repairman so he fixed the pedal and sticking key right away and took the 2 non-working keys with him to fix and bring back.  I've already been playing it some and luckily a few of the songs I had memorized a long time ago came back to me at least a little.  Well, that's all I really had for tonight.  I just wanted to fill you all in just in case you hadn't figured it out from my bad clues yesterday.  I hope you all have a great weekend!

Oh, and here are a couple pictures showing the multiple personalities of our kitty friend, Chase.  :)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Preparing for Our New Addition

On the road again...

I'm once again on a work trip but this time it is just a quick one to Tulsa for a meeting.  I am staying overnight though which means that of course I have to write a blog post! Joe is home tonight hanging out with Chase the cat and also welcoming our new addition into our home.  I won't tell you what it is until I can get some pictures of it, but I will tell you that I had to clean up the front room to make a space for it to call home.  It is very heavy and Joe will hopefully enjoy it, but I doubt he'll ever use it.  Do you know what it is?  I know that some of you do because I've already told you :)  Here are the before and after pictures of our front room where our new addition will go.  Now you can all see just how messy I can be.  (I'm just trying to keep it real here on this blog!)

Everything on this wall had to go!

Our new addition's future home!

Before.  Yikes.

After.  Yes, I did kind of just move all the pictures over to that wall.

As you can see, that room is full of projects but the room itself is also a project.  Hopefully the new piece in this room will be the kick in the pants I need to get going on all the things I want to do in there. 

We've got a couple other projects going on right now as well.  Our little garden is starting to do pretty well since we planted the seeds several weeks ago.  Some of our seeds didn't make it, but we did end up with several tomato plants, a few peppers, some beans and some broccoli.  If they actually end up producing some veggies then I'm sure you'll see them here on the blog! 

Another project that we've got on the drawing board is expanding and fixing up this flower bed in the back yard.  Right now the bed consists of rocks and one lone hosta in the area around the trunks of the two walnut trees and the Osage apple tree.  Our plan is to possibly cut down the Osage apple tree then get some larger natural looking stones and create a new much larger outline for the bed.  Then we'll fill it with dirt and plant a lot of shade loving plants.  I can't wait to pretty up our back yard! 

Well, thats all I really have for tonight.  I'll just leave you with a picture of our super adorable, temporary pet, Chase.  Luckily he doesn't have any front claws, or I would be blind in my left eye right now.  We were playing with him last night by peeking out from behind the couch and then he would bolt around and pounce on us.  Well Joe did it a couple times and Chase only batted him in the nose.  Then the one time I tried it, he came at me really quick and his furry little paw swiped right across my eyeball.  He was just playing though, and thats what I get for provoking him!  But maybe he was just trying to get rid of me since Joe is the one he really loves :)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Homemade Sushi Rolls

I can't believe that our 3 day weekend is over already!!!  Joe and I had a great weekend in St. Louis hanging out with his family and going to the wedding of our good friends Mandy and Paul.  Now we're back home and just relaxing before heading back to work tomorrow.  We're also trying to get our temporary cat friend to come out and play with us.  Our friends Shayna and Greg are on vacation this week so we're cat sitting for their kitty, Chase.  He really is a nice cat, but he's still trying to get used to everything in our house.  We'll have him until Friday so hopefully by then he'll warm up to us a little more.

Last weekend after delivering the bowling ball cake, Joe and I came home and made some sushi for dinner.  We like going to sushi restaurants for dinner every now and then, and about a year ago we decided to try making our own sushi at home.  We did a little research and found that all we needed was sushi rice, seaweed paper (nori), rice vinegar (for making the rice sticky), and whatever fillings you want in your sushi roll.  We've also found that it goes a lot smoother if you have 2 people working on making the rolls.  Joe is the master rice handler and roller, and I take care of the filling and slicing.  I took lots of pictures of Joe's rolling techniques since that seems to be the hardest part.  Here's the breakdown of how to make some tasty sushi at home!

What you'll need:

- Sushi Rice (It is a special type of rice and you should just follow the directions on the bag for cooking, since it's a little different.  We've found it in the Asian section of our regular grocery store.)
- Seaweed paper ("Nori", also found in the Asian section of the grocery store.)
- Fillings for your rolls (Things we like are smoked salmon, crab sticks, avocado, cucumber, cream cheese, carrots, apples, sauce, crunchy bits like Panko or crushed chips.)
- A bowl of water (to dip your fingers in to keep them from sticking to the rice.

Start by cooking your sushi rice according to the package directions.  While it's cooking get all your filling options chopped and ready.  I usually chop things in to long thin strips if possible.  Also, we've never bought raw fish for making sushi, but if you can find sushi grade fish at your grocery store, go for it!

When you're ready to make the rolls, lay out a piece of nori on a sheet of wax paper.  If you have an actual bamboo rolling mat then I'm sure that's even better, but wax paper works for us!  The nori should be placed shiny side UP.  Its kind of hard to tell which side is shinier than the other, but if you can figure it out then try and put the rice on the shiny side.  Then use a spoon or spatula to spread out a thin layer of rice covering the entire paper, leaving approximately 1 to 1.5 inches of nori with no rice on it along the edge.  If it's sticking to the spoon too much, then dip your fingers in water and use them to pat down the rice.

Then begin laying your fillings on top of the rice in a line.  Keep them about an inch from the edge that has rice going all the way to the edge.  Once you've got all the fillings you want, it's time to roll!

We put the cream cheese in a ziploc bag and snip the corner off to make it easy to add to the roll.

Keeping the wax paper on the outside, begin rolling the rice and nori up over the line of fillings that you laid out.  Try to capture all the fillings within that inch or so that you left empty.

Once you've rolled it a little bit, kind of squeeze the wax paper to make sure that everything is good and tight.  If you need to, pull the wax paper out some so it doesn't actually get rolled in with everything.  It's really just there so you don't have to get your hands all stuck to the seaweed or rice.

Keep rolling, squeezing, and pulling the wax paper out until you've got a nice tight roll.  When you get to the end of the nori that doesn't have any rice, dip your fingers back into the water and dab some along the edge of the nori.  Then finish rolling completely and leave the seam on the bottom.  The water will make the nori glue itself together at the seam.

Remove the roll from the wax paper and slice into individual pieces.

Then grab a fresh sheet of nori and start back over!  We always end up making waaaaaay too much sushi, but we just eat it the next day or two for lunches.  Here are all the flavor combinations we made:

(These go from left to right in the picture below.)
- Crab, shrimp, avocado, carrot, cucumber, cream cheese *this was one favorite*
- Crab, apple, avocado, crushed chips (for crunch)
- Smoked salmon, avocado, cream cheese
- Crab, apple, carrot, cucumber, teriyaki sauce *another favorite*
- Smoked salmon, avocado, apple, teriyaki sauce *another favorite*
- Crab, cucumber, avocado, cream cheese

We need to branch out and try some new fillings, so if any of you have any suggestions or ideas please let us know!  Here are a couple more shots of the fillings in progress as well as the final product.  I hope that if you enjoy eating sushi at restaurants but have been nervous to try it at home, that this will inspire you to just go for it!  This is the 3rd or 4th time we've done it and Joe is pro at rolling now!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

General Tso's Chicken

I had planned on writing this post two nights ago but decided to go to bed instead.  Then last night I had plans to write it again but a delayed flight to Columbus for a business trip meant that I didn't get to my hotel til about 10:30pm and I needed to get some sleep before a day long site visit trip.  Tonight, I'm still in Ohio, but this time I got back to the hotel pretty early and finally have time to write about the tasty General Tso's Chicken that we made for Joe's birthday.  We don't often fry things in our house, but Joe really likes fried "Chinese chicken", so several months ago we decided to try making it at home to avoid getting the sometimes questionable chicken from a restaurant.  We first tried making a knock-off recipe of Panda Express Orange Chicken and it was pretty good and easy to make.  Then I saw this recipe for General Tso's Chicken on a blog called Brown Eyed Baker and it looked even more delicious than the orange chicken.  I showed it to Joe and he decided that he wanted it for his birthday, so on the menu it went!

The recipe basically  has 3 parts.  First a marinade that you use for the chicken.  Then you use some of the marinade to cook and thicken into a sauce.  The third part is coating and frying the chicken.  The secret to this awesome coating is that you mix a little of the remaining marinade into the dry ingredients so that it fries into a really nice crunch.  Joe was the master fryer which is good because I'm kind of afraid of a big pot of hot oil.

So if you're like Joe and you love "Chinese chicken", but you don't want to get the slightly sketchy take-out, then try this recipe!  I think it would probably be good with just about any sauce, even just a bottle of your favorite kind.  Here's the recipe!

General Tso's Chicken
From: Brown Eyed Baker

For the marinade & sauce:
- 1/2 c. Hoisin Sauce
- 1/4 c. white vinegar
- 3 T. soy sauce
- 3 T. sugar
- 2 T. corn starch
- 1 1/2 c. water
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1" pieces (I only used 2)
- 1 T. oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 T. grated fresh ginger (I used about 1 teaspoon of dried ground ginger)
- 1/2 t. crushed red pepper flakes

For coating & frying
- 3 egg whites
- 1 1/2 c. corn starch
- 1/2 c. flour
- 1/2 t. baking soda
- 4 c. vegetable oil (for frying)

1. To make the marinade, combine the Hoisin sauce, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, corn starch and water in a medium bowl and whisk to combine and dissolve corn starch.  Place 6 tablespoons of this mixture in a large ziploc bag and add the chicken pieces.  Place in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.  (I only did it for about 10 minutes because I was in a hurry and it was still delicious.)

2. While the chicken is in the fridge, heat the 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet and add the ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes.  Saute until fragrant, a.k.a. your kitchen starts to smell really good :)  Add 2 cups of the remaining marinade to the skillet and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is thickened.  Remove from the heat, cover and keep warm.

3. To make the coating for the chicken, combine the cornstarch, flour and baking soda in a medium bowl, and stir to combine.  Then add the remaining marinade and mix until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Place the egg whites in a shallow bowl and whisk until foamy.

4. Take the marinated chicken out of the fridge, remove the pieces from the bag and pat them dry with a paper towel.  Place about half of the chicken in the egg whites them place them into the coating mixture and mix them around to be sure they are evenly coated.  Set those pieces aside on a plate and repeat that process with the remaining chicken pieces.

5. Once all the chicken is ready to be fried, heat the 4 cups of oil in a large pot to about 350 degrees.  Place several of the chicken pieces in the oil and cook until golden brown.  Turning each piece after a couple minutes.  Once they're evenly cooked, remove the pieces from the oil and place on a plate with a paper towel.  Then repeat until all the chicken is cooked.

My own personal Fry Daddy at work :)

Golden brown perfection.

6. Warm the sauce in the skillet until it is simmering and add the chicken.  Gently stir it until all the chicken is coated.  Serve over rice.  Enjoy!

Joe wanted his broccoli tossed with the sauce as well.  I kept mine plain.

This chicken was soooo good!  Oh, and here's a little idea of how the dinner food usually gets split up at our house.  I take what I want for dinner, and Joe takes the rest :)

Joe didn't actually eat everything on that plate, but he made a pretty serious dent in it.

Joe was ready to eat and didn't want anymore pictures taken of his food.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bowling Ball Birthday Cake

Today I completed and delivered my 3rd cake order.  I've mentioned in the last couple posts that I would be busy working on a bowling birthday cake and it finally came together last night and today.  The cake was for a co-workers son, and the only guidelines he really gave me was that the bowling ball be black and orange.  Those were the colors of the birthday boy's soccer team.  His wife did send me a few pictures of bowling cakes that she'd seen and liked.  Based on those cakes, and with some help from my chief design consultant, Joe, I decided on a 9"x13" base cake with a 6" full bowling ball on top with a bowling pin on either side.  The only needed the cake to serve about 25 kids but I didn't want the cake to look too small so it was more than a 25 serving cake.  I started the whole process on Wednesday night by making the fondant that I'd need to cover all the different parts.  I make my own marshmallow fondant which is pretty simple to make and tastes significantly better than the stuff you can buy at the store.  Then on Thursday I baked the cakes and dyed the fondant to the correct colors.  Since I knew that I'd need black fondant for the bowling ball I started by making chocolate marshmallow fondant and adding black dye to that.  It makes it a lot easier to get a good black color if you start with a chocolate base.  Plus, you don't have to use nearly as much food coloring.

This was 1 and 1/2 batches of fondant.
Friday night I made my icing, assembled the cakes and covered all the parts.  The bowling pins were made by baking a cake in a loaf pan and then cutting it in half on the diagonal.  Then I hand carved each half into a bowling pin shape.  For the bowling ball, I invested in a cake pan specially designed for making perfectly round cakes.  It bakes in 2 halves which then get stacked.  The base of the cake was supposed to look like a wood floor, but the colors I used were a little dark and blended together too much when I tried to marble them.  I ended up just drawing some wood grain in after I'd covered the cake to try and make it look nicer.  In the end I was pretty happy with the result.

Saturday morning I completed the diamond details on the front of the cake and added the writing.  I finished everything up about 30 minutes before we had to leave to deliver it.  The cake survived the trip just fine thanks to the careful driving of my cake chauffeur, Joe.  As you can see, Joe plays many roles in this cake business :)

Here are some pictures!

Marbling the black and orange fondant to cover the bowling ball.

Joe had the idea to cover the rest of the cake with paper towels before covering the bowling ball.  Good idea!

You can kind of see the wood grain on the base layer in this picture.

Carving out the bowling pins.

This time I covered the pins with fondant before placing them on the cake.

The last step on Friday night was adding the bowling pin stripes.

All done!  The writing is a little shaky, but I'm working on that.

We made the finger holes in the bowling ball by pushing a wine cork into the fondant.  Another one of Joe's ideas!

The birthday boy was turning 8, so we made it an 8 pound ball :)

Overall I was happy with the end result, and I always learn something when I make a new cake.  I hope the birthday boy and his parents liked it too!