Monday, January 31, 2011

A Sneak Peek

This weekend I organized my craft room, after living here for over two years. (I mean, with major help from Jeremy and my friend Jen, too.) When you inherit pack rat tendencies from BOTH of your parents, it can become a problem. So I'm still not done, but I'm soooo close. And I'm really excited about it! I'll actually be able to make flower arrangements and wreaths and whatnots IN the room itself. Instead of grabbing the materials from the (storage) room and then proceeding to make a huge mess in our kitchen. Because there was really and truly barely room to walk in the craft room before. Sigh!

Here's a sneak peek of the "Before." I cannot believe I'm showing you this. My mother would be aghast. But I'm doing it because I've been completely inspired by "before and afters" on other blogs.

Totally excited to show you the "After" soon! Once it's completed. And it must be completed soon because we're having company staying with us next good college friend Matt and his newish wife Julie, who I've never even met before! I'm pretty stinkin' excited about this, too. Craft rooms and company! Doesn't get better than this. =)

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Couple of Hicks

Let me relate another husband/wife conversation for you. Also, let me set the scene. We were standing at the kitchen counter last night, sorting through mail. Jeremy opens a letter from State Farm kindly requesting that we use them for all of our insurance needs. O.K., go!

Jeremy: Oh, it's State Farm. I was thinking, "Why are you sending me this letter? We already have insurance with you." But we have that other farm one.

Kristen: I know! There are too many with "farm" in their names. It always gives me pause.

Jeremy: Gives you pause?? What?

Kristen: Not "paws." (imitate kitty paws to demonstrate) You know, like it makes me go, "Hmmm...which one is this?" Gives me pause.

Jeremy: You're a Hicks now. We don't say stuff like that. You're gonna have to cut that out.

By that time we were both laughing pretty hard. Or maybe that was just me? He can deliver funny lines pretty straight-faced, but then he eventually get tickled, too. I love that about him. =)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Gift Idea: BeaterBlade!

There are tons of things that make my life easier in the kitchen. And I just got a new and very lovely one for Christmas...I saw the BeaterBlade first in a magazine and left the page open (for weeks, maybe?) until Jeremy got the hint. He did well. He got me the one with the red silicone blades. It Is Awesome.

"Why?" you ask. Well, I'll tell you. You know how you have to scrape down the mixing bowl every so often while you're in the middle of mixing cookie dough or smashing potatoes? Well, this thing does it for you. And afterwards you can detach it and use it as a spatula to scrape out the bowl. Less dishes to wash! Excellent. Don't you wish you'd thought of this idea first?? I certainly do. No kidding.

I have a KitchenAid mixer and my BeaterBlade is specifically designed to fit it. The BeaterBlades are not made by KitchenAid, though, so if you have another brand of stand mixer, check their website to see your options. And if it's cheaper on Amazon, well, there you go. That's where mine came from.

Really, it's a perfect gift to give the cooks and/or bakers in your life. Valentine's Day is coming up and doesn't it kind of even look like a heart?

What? Not even a little?

Oh. Huh.

Just use your imagination, O.K.? Bakers will heart BeaterBlade. Of this you can be certain. And if you need to leave this blog post open for your significant other to discover, I'm here for you. =)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Weekend Guest

Jeremy and I puppysat this adorable little one this past weekend. Her name is Lily - she's a Maltipoo and she belongs to our good friends Sasha and Jared. She loves to snuggle and sleep and play with her squeaky toys. Especially the ones that are as big as she is.

She's such a good, super smart dog. Never chews on or bothers things that don't need to be bothered. And she's great for people with can hardly ever see evidence of shedding. It's awesome.

She's totally against PDA, though. While she was here, I was getting ready in the bathroom and Jeremy came up to give me a hug. She was trailing right behind him and we looked down at her...and in the most perfect display of comedic timing...she literally gagged. I am not even kidding.

Lily is the best. We always miss her when she's gone. =(

Friday, January 14, 2011

Vanilla Bean Pudding

Generally, I'm not much for puddings. I mean, I have some recipes for trifles and whatnots that call for instant pudding - and I's just so quick and easy! But in my eyes, pudding is never the star of the dessert. The brownies or strawberries or sweetened whipped cream factor is always the star. Pudding is creamy and it's nice that it's there, but in 97% of situations, if there were a bowl of vanilla pudding sitting in the fridge, I could resist it, no problem. (The other 3% would involve NO chocolate OF ANY KIND being available in the house. And you will notice that 3% is a very, very tiny percentage. Our house always has chocolate.)

That's why the recipe I'm about to share with you is a game-changer. I am sitting here at the computer, composing this post, la la la - but I'd really much rather standing at our refrigerator door, sneaking a few spoonfuls of Smitten Kitchen's vanilla bean pudding. Oh, dear, yes.

I've made only a few custards in my day, but each time I have to psych myself up to do it. There's no telling what could go wrong - there's been limited success - and sometimes I've had to remake them. Which stinks. I just don't feel competent in that area. I know, I know...practice makes perfect. Well, all I know is that I'll be saving this vanilla bean pudding recipe and substituting it in every other situation that calls for pudding or custard or such. Banana pudding? Yes. Peanut Butter Pie (that they don't make any more...sad!) from The Olde Pink House in Savannah? Definitely. And can you freeze your own pudding cups? Because, man! That is seeming like an excellent idea!

If you get right down to it, though...this pudding needs nothing else. It can stand alone, exactly as is. I felt true bliss while we ate some last night. Still warm because we couldn't wait until ten o'clock at night at eat dessert. It was very delicious already - and Jeremy actually heated his back up in the microwave when its temperature dropped. (He was eating it and studying for a presentation for work at the same time). "It got cold!" he said.

All of this is truly amazing to me. Because you know how I feel about pudding. Yes, yes, I know it's because there's such a difference between instant and the real stuff, but it's still amazing.

So, I need to tell you that Smitten Kitchen is the cat's meow. The proof is in the pudding. (How do you spell that drum/cymbal crash after a bad joke?) Anyway, Deb is the Big Time, cooking from her tiny kitchen in NYC, and is now working on a Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. (Yea!) I'm terribly excited about that because I adore her writing and I think she's super smart in the kitchen. As evidenced by several testings/tastings of her recipes that I myself have held in my own kitchen. If you meander on over to her site, be sure to also click on any links embedded in her text - she's got the cutest little curly-headed toddler that shows up at least once in every post. =)

Back to foodstuffs...if you're trying to decide whether you can master the following recipe or not, remember that a pudding novice had great success with it, so I feel sure that you, too, can make this happen in your kitchen. I do have a few notes, though...

First of all, you may already have guessed this by reading the very name of the recipe, but it does call for a vanilla bean, which is exactly what inspired me to make it - because I already had some. BUT. If you don't, you may still use vanilla extract, but please use the good stuff. (A side, side note: vanilla is quite expensive in all of its variations, but do you know why? I did a little research while I was purchasing them awhile back and was very interested to see how fussy a vanilla bean vine is to grow and harvest. One has to hand-pollinate each flower! If I were growing them, I'd be charging quite a bit, too. Fortunately, a little goes a long way. That being said, I did use one whole vanilla bean instead of the half that Deb called for. Don't skimp - it's scrumptious!)

Also. Milk. Deb's recipe calls for whole milk, which I don't ever have. What I do have on a regular basis is a fridge door full of skim milk (for drinking) and half & half (for coffee/tea) - and often, heavy cream (for making scones/desserts), which was the case last night, as I had recently made scones. I used a mixture of all of these, to good effect. I would not have attempted this with only skim milk. Word to the wise.

Now, let's get started. While it's good to have your ingredients and measuring apparatuses lined up before beginning any recipe, I encourage a somewhat heightened kind of preparation in this recipe - along with studying it for just a few minutes before putting the milk on to start heating. Don't freak's really not difficult, but for pudding novices, it's just going to be easier (and more fun) to be ready than to not-be-ready.

Vanilla Bean Pudding
Serves six, one-half cup portions

2 2/3 c. whole milk, divided
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. cornstarch (yes, cup)
1/4 tsp. salt
Seeds (caviar as it's called) from one vanilla bean - or two teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. unsalted butter (optional)

Begin heating 2 cups of the milk in a medium saucepan over medium low heat, stirring frequently. Combine sugar, cornstarch, salt, and vanilla bean seeds in a separate heat-safe bowl. (Hint: I used my KitchenAid with the whisk attachment for this step.) Toss the empty vanilla bean pod in the saucepan to steep as the milk continues to heat. 

Slowly add the remaining 2/3 cup of milk to the sugar mixture, whisking well during the process. Also add the egg and whisk again to combine.

Bump up the heat a tad and stir until the milk in the saucepan just begins to boil. Retrieve and discard the vanilla bean pod. Slowly pour just a tad of the hot milk into the sugar/cornstarch mixture, whisking constantly. (Important: this will temper the egg so that you won't end up with scrambled eggs. It can happen.) Slowly add the rest of the heated milk and continue whisking until things are thoroughly combined.

Pour entire mixture back into saucepan, making sure all of the sugar and vanilla bean seeds go with it (some may tend to hang out on the bottom of the mixing bowl) and heat again on medium low. Stir constantly with a silicone spatula with a wide, flat edge (my choice) or a wooden spoon. As it heats, you will notice that the spatula or spoon will start gathering thickened pudding from the bottom of the saucepan. Proceed to stir somewhat quickly as it cooks about one minute longer and thickens up considerably - but don't worry about any lumps that begin to appear. You can whisk those out. After doing so, stir in the tablespoon of butter if you choose to. I chose to - and it was outstanding.

Pour one-half cup of the pudding into six small ramekins. (I think I got my heart-shaped ones in the dollar aisle at Target a few years ago.) To avoid pudding skin, press plastic wrap gently onto the surface of the pudding before chilling in the refrigerator. Chill at least two hours. Or eat it warm, like we did, if you just can't wait.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

And, yes, after this pudding photoshoot, there was pudding for lunch. What? It's Friday.

P.S. This post is part of a "linky party" over at Sweet As Sugar Cookies. There's lots of other fun stuff to look at on this blog, so head on over!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cincinnati Chili

One of my future projects is to organize my recipes - besides my cookbooks and online food blogs and ideas floating around in my head, there's this (pitiful) stack of recipes that Jeremy and I have. Newspaper clippings, printings from, handwritten ones on scraps of paper and napkins. I do have an accordion file where my most favorite (usually handwritten) ones reside, but they're still difficult to find and I refuse to keep filing the newer ones away using such an unfortunate system. Sigh! The trials of perfectionism. Too many times it holds a finished product at arm's length. If anyone can help me, it would be much obliged.

I've never even tried quite a few of these stragglers. I remember one time that I made a completely terrible, sodium-laden beef and broccoli stir-fry using one of these random recipes - and with great relief, I just threw the recipe away afterwards. Jeremy cheered me on. The recipe had no redeeming qualities...nothing that made me say, "Almost! I'll keep tweaking."

After church this past Sunday, though, I tested out a recipe for Cincinnati Chili that was plucked from this unsightly stack of recipes. It will surely go into the special saved file, whenever I figure out my system. It was really very good - and different from any chili we've ever had, due to the combination of spices. Sure it had chili powder, but what intrigued me was the unsweetened cocoa, the allspice, the cinnamon. Right down my alley, I tell you. And chili served on top of pasta?? Unheard of! We had to check it out.

Now, I don't know all that much about Cincinnati chili in general - I'd heard the name of it before, but that's about it. And this recipe was submitted to the publication from someone who lives in Massachusetts. Figures. Unless there's a Cincinnati in Massachusetts...hmmm....

Dana, my Ohio reader, you'll have to let me know if this recipe is legit. ;)

Cincinnati Chili
Serves 4-6

1 lb. lean ground beef
3/4 c. diced red (purple) onion
1-2 garlic cloves, pressed
1-2 cans (15 oz. each) tomato sauce
1 1/2 c. water
2 tsp. unsweetened cocoa
1 1/2 tsp. chili powder
salt, to taste (depending on sodium content of tomato sauce)
1/4 tsp. ground allspice (or a little ground ginger, nutmeg, and cloves)
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/8 tsp. ground cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 1/2 tsp. apple cider vinegar
dry pasta, cooked according to package directions (our favorite is angel hair)
1 (15-oz.) can red kidney beans, heated
chopped onion, for garnishing
shredded cheddar cheese, for garnishing

Crumble beef into a large, non-stick skillet, cooking over medium-high heat. Brown beef and add diced onion halfway through. Mix in pressed garlic, tomato sauce (starting with one can), water, cocoa, chili powder, salt, allspice, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne pepper, and vinegar. Bring to a simmer, stirring often. Taste the balance of spices - I felt it was too tame so I added more. Then it got a tad too spicy - never fear, though! Just add more tomato sauce - I added another half can of it because it seemed the sauce was too thin also.

Simmer with skillet uncovered for about 1 hour. To serve, ladle sauce over cooked pasta. To finish it off, add kidney beans, more onion, and cheese. Or just add the kidney beans to the meat mixture. I'm not sure why it's a "topping." Either way, enjoy!

Adapted from the American Profile magazine found in our newspaper

Monday, January 10, 2011

Link to "Friends and Figs"

Oh, yes, and there's a new posting entitled "Friends and Figs" over on the new blog today. I'm not sure about all the logistics of telling you regular PrettySweet readers whenever there's a new post on PrettySweet: Heaven-Minded, but I'm up for receiving advice! =)

Flowers in the Snow

For years, my mother and I have each bought at least one amaryllis bulb to plant in early winter - and hoped it bloomed before Christmas. I didn't do extremely well with the tradition this year because I couldn't find an amaryllis bulb until a little later (at Four Seasons Nursery for those of you who live around here - go visit my cousin Adam! There may not be any bulbs left now, but there's always something fun to look at. As in, did you know that Carhartt makes pretty scarves? For women? I got one for my birthday, thank you very much.)

Anyway, since I planted it a little later, the amaryllis bloomed a little later. As in, it's in almost full bloom today. It's superbly gorgeous! And it's got another bud coming up also.

It snowed here last night - it was already covering the ground pretty well when we went to bed around 11:00. And we woke up to even more snow (3-4 inches total) this morning! Really, really beautiful.

I had this silly notion to tote the amaryllis out into the snow for a photo shoot. I was a bit nervous because I also had this vision of tumbling down the slick porch stairs, snapping the amaryllis stem in half and shattering our camera and my tailbone.

Thankfully, this vision did not come to pass. We all made it back inside, safe and sound. Whew! I just loved seeing the red flowers against the background of the pure snow. I suppose it was worth the mental anxiety. =)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Day of Birth

Last year's cake

Today is the day of birth for my new blog. My new second blog - I'm not closing up shop here. No way, man. Technically, this blog was born a few days ago but I've been tweaking and tweaking to get it ready for its debut on this, my real-life birthday. I'm sentimental like that.

It's funny, my friend Jen recently blogged about cheating on her first blog by starting a second one. We always seem to be on the same wavelength with our blogging habits - I was starting a second one, too, but I don't look at it as "cheating" on this one. I plan to keep blogging here, but the new blog is an extension of this one. It needed its own space to grow. Its own plot of land, if you will, in case it starts mimicking a strawberry plant. I have big plans for both blogs and I'm terribly excited about them. I hope you will be, too!

So, without further adieu, here you go: The NEW one...

Because I love God. And I love you.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Queen of Multiple Choice

Someday when my husband starts his own blog, I may just regret posting these funny conversations with him. But for now, I simply can't resist. =)

In the car, on the way to his parents' house in Chattanooga - just after Jeremy put in a mix CD...

Jeremy: Who is this? I'll give you some choices.
Kristen: (Already thinking that I have no idea...but always willing to play) O.K. then.
Jeremy: A. AC/DC (slight pause) B. Led Zeppelin (incredibly long 10-second pause)
Kristen: Led Zeppelin.
Jeremy: You knew that because I couldn't think of a third choice!
Kristen: And I knew it wasn't going to be the first one. Too easy.

So, kids - listen up. When you're guessing at multiple choice questions, the best guess isn't necessarily going to be "C." Especially - and I cannot stress this enough - if your questioner doesn't offer a "C." Go with "B." It's the smart thing to do.

P.S. See that picture at the top? Where I was talking? I was probably answering a multiple choice question. Correctly. Happens all the time. ;) Shhh, Kristen. Calm down. Let someone else have a turn. We're trying to take a picture. Yeesh. O.K., O.K., O.K.!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

How to Say "No"

Have you ever thought, "I need to learn how to say 'No'"? (Don't freak out - that was entirely grammatically correct.) I've said that myself a time or two. If you've made that one of your New Year's resolutions, well, you're in luck. I've got some help for you.

Not only is this an adorably hilarious video, I'm practically related to this kid. O.K., not really. But my cousins are related to this kid on the other side of their family. I can claim only a little connection. This video is featured on The Huffington Post website and has gotten a ton of hits in the last few days. Hope you enjoy!

And really - see how easy (and fun) it is to say "No"? We should all take a few lessons from little Charlotte.