Monday, October 15, 2012

Pumpkin Spice For Everything!

Really.  One of my favorite things about fall is all of the pumpkin spice things come back and stay till around Christmas.  In August the family took one last trip to Hershey Park for the summer and there we discovered that the new Kiss flavor is pumpkin spice...and oh my they were as delicious as you're imagining.  Our bag lasted till about eleven the morning we opened them and unfortunately they aren't out in any stores here yet so I've been craving them which brings me to what I did this morning.

The best fudge recipe ever, in my opinion, is also the easiest and it's totally adaptable so that's what I used as the basis for this morning's candy making.  Basically you take whatever chocolate chips you want and melt them with a can of sweetened condensed milk, add a dash of salt and some vanilla and that's it.   There's no messing around with a candy thermometer and it's incredibly creamy.  Did I say adaptable?  You can either just cut it up as fudge or roll it into about inch balls and then in something else (like powdered baking cocoa) to get something vaguely truffleish.  This batch I'm going to cut into fudge sqaures.  I used 18 oz of Nestle White Morsels, one can of sweetened condensed milk, a dash of salt, a teaspoon of vanilla, a tablespoon of pumpkin pie spice, some butter and a double boiler.  I don't actually have a double boiler so I used a glass mixing bowl over boiling water and buttered it with a REALLY thin layer of butter so the fudge slid out more easily.  I also lined an 8x8 baking dish with waxed paper. 

I started with this.

Bring some water to a boil (make sure the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl you're going to use) and put the bowl over it.  Pour in the morsels or chips and the condensed milk and stir frequently.  The morsels will hold their shape pretty much until they're totally melted but once they break down you need to stir constantly till the mixture is smooth.  Then take it off the heat (just move the bowl, I set it on the next burner) and working quickly add the salt, vanilla and spice and stir till it's smooth again and the color is consistent throughout.  Pour it into the prepared baking dish, gently shake it till it's more or less level and there are no bubbles.  Take another piece of waxed paper and gently press it onto the surface then refrigerate it till it's solid.  When it's done, take it out and let it sit for about five minutes, take it out of the baking dish and cut it up. 

I tasted some of the melted fudge that hadn't scraped out of the bowl while it was still warm and it was still pretty overwhelmingly white chocolate but tasted again after it started to set up and the pumpkin pie spice flavor was a lot stronger.  We'll see and I'll let you know what the kids think as soon as they taste it.  What's your favorite easy candy recipe? 

UPDATE:  The verdict is that "it is soooo amazing!"  It's really rich so I'll cut these into smaller pieces but yeah, it's good. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Soup, Glorious Soup

A couple of weeks ago it was stock, now it's just straight up soup.  One of my favorite things about fall is that it's soup season, just throw everything into one big pot and let it simmer for a while and you're done.  Easy, right?  The easiest soup I've ever made is the one I made last night which I hadn't made in a long time but I have about 42 28 oz cans of tomatoes in my pantry and I really need to use them up. 

How did I wind up with 42 28 oz cans of tomatoes?  There's a grocery store local to me that gives gas points for buying bundles of things, for example buy 5 cans of tomatoes and get 20 points, which equals 20 cents off per gallon.  From that particular deal we wound up with 50 cans of tomatoes and had $2.00 off per gallon.  We haven't actually paid at the pump for gas in about a year but I have a ton of tomatoes to go through and I don't want to just make sauce with them because from another deal we still have 27 jars of sauce (and we eat pasta once a week...did I mention the 15 bags of gnocchi I still have in the freezer?).

So...this soup recipe calls for a single 15 oz. can but since all I have are huge cans I just doubled everything else in the recipe.  I found it in a Betty Crocker "Simple Soups and Breads" recipe booklet I bought at the cash register of some store years ago.  You'll need

1 2lb loaf of Velveeta, cubed (yes really and trust me on this one)
2 15 oz cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
2 15 oz cans of corn, drained
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes and chili peppers, undrained
2 cups of milk

Throw everything in a pot over medium-low heat, stir it frquently and as soon as the Velveeta is smooth and melted you're good.  No, really, it's that simple.  The only thing is that it takes a loooong time for the Velveeta to melt (about 20 minutes for the double batch I made last night) but, honestly, that's it.  One tweak for my family is that I used plain tomatoes because that's what I had on hand and my husband and son spiced theirs up with Red Hot sauce but that was just as well because my younger daughter won't eat anything even remotely spicy hot.   She crumbled corn bread in hers.  These amounts made 8 servings and I have some left over for lunch today (it's really good the next day, IIRC...we'll see!).

So, that's it and it's gluten free, too, if you're concerned.  What's your go-to easy soup?  Comments are open...have a great day!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Dining Room Redo, Part 1

Hey, how are you guys?  I know, it's been a couple of weeks but I really hadn't done anything else to The Little Cabinet That Could and had nothing else going but plans.  Oh, did I have plans.  I told you guys about how I pine for a dining room and when my Darling Husband finished our basement space into a living/family room I was one step closer.  We cleared all of the living room stuff out and were left with a gas fireplace, an old dresser that I go back and forth about and the bigger brother of my little cabinet, a four-shelf two-door pantry that's currently holding a bunch of kid related stuff. 

It sat that way for months because we couldn't decide what to do with it.  When we moved in here over ten years ago one of the first things we did was repaint everything a different color.  I mentioned that my grandfather's decorating ideas extended to, "Eh, Ivory/Cream/Beige goes with everything," and so we went colorful:  the kitchen and our bedroom were pink, the two extra bedrooms were peach and the then-living room, entry way and hall were the most gorgeous shade of sage green.  The full effect of all of that didn't hit me until one day when I was sitting on the end of my bed putting my shoes on and I looked up and could see my room, the hall and one of the extra bedrooms all at once and it looked like the inside of a doll house.  Yikes.  What made it worse was that we'd used flat paint on everything which was a pain in the behind to clean.  Because of this experience I backed off and let my husband pick paint colors and luckily he has great taste.  The sage green was beautiful but didn't really work in our space (it looked like a cave) so he repainted the living room, entry and hall a lift-your-spirits sunny yellow that is so much better but is ultimately really safe.  We kicked around maybe putting up blue and white curtains, which is a classic color combo but not quite as warm as I wanted.  I wanted cozy and colorful but not doll house and I was still trying to figure it out when I cleaned out my purse one day.  This purse.

Isn't that beautiful?  I got it a couple of years ago as a birthday present and I love it not just for the print but also because that color combination is just stunning.  That yellow there?  That's almost the exact shade that we have on the walls in the dining room.  That's the kind of warm I was thinking about and it was on my shoulder the whole time.  I passed it by my husband who was perfectly okay with whatever I wanted to do as long as it didn't involve him having to repaint anything.  I found some really pretty colors at Lowe's but before I had a chance to show my husband what I was thinking about we started talking about the fireplace mantle.  He's been considering taking the whole thing out because it clashes so much with the floor (which was not as noticable when we had an area rug in front of it) but I love it so I asked if we could maybe paint it and again he said that as long as he didn't have to do it he was fine with whatever I wanted to do.  When pushed he said he'd like it to be sea foam green.  Sea foam green you say? 

So I planned and I waited for my husband to take the kids to his university's homecoming this weekend and then I went to Lowe's, didn't listen to my intuition and the universe delivered an expensive lesson in ALWAYS listening to my intuition.  This has nothing to do with the actual redo but if you're reading this and your inner voice clears it's throat pay attention to it.  I locked myself out of my house three times this week.  The first two times were because the back door latch is touchy and sometimes just breathing on it, let alone actually shutting the door, makes it lock when that wasn't what I intended.  The first time it was easy enough to get back in because the plate holding the latch was loose and I just had to jiggle it to get it open.  That freaked me out a little bit so I tightened the plate and problem solved, right?  Nope, the latch was still touchy and still dropped when I went out to play with the dog.  That time I had to call my father-in-law to come and let me in because I'd tightened the plate and jiggling it didn't work.  While I was at Lowe's yesterday getting paint I passed the key making counter and thought to myself that I should really get an extra key and hide it outside somewhere but put it off because I was on a mission.  Inner voice whispering to you yet?  I got home with all my paint supplies and headed out the front door to our shed and because my brain registered that I had keys in my hand I automatically locked the door as I went out.  I realized my mistake as soon as I shut the door.  Husband and kids a hundred miles away, father-in-law with them.  *Sigh*  I went to my neighbor's and called a locksmith and twenty minutes and $80 later was back in my house.

Okay, so here's the mantle that I started with.  Please excuse the glare.


Nothing really wrong with it and it's in excellent condition but again it clashes with the floor.  I took inspiration and direction from Kate over at Centsational Girl.  The mantle redo she did for a friend is so beautiful but not quite what I was going for so while I followed the same basic steps I did a couple of things differently.  For example, I wasn't really going for a totally smooth professional looking finish so I didn't worry about the primer I used filling in the grain.  For this project I used an edger, an angled paint brush, a four-inch foam roller, a 60 grit sanding sponge to scuff the surface, a 320 grit sanding sponge to smooth it out between the primer coat and the first coat of paint, tack cloth to clean up the grit, a Sharpie Paint marker in Gold, Kilz Latex white primer and Olympic Interior Latex Semi-Gloss in Sea Sprite.  Oh, and about a pot of coffee, a call to my real life best friend for encouragement, another call to my brother to recount the trauma of being locked out and a surprisingly delicious store brand Mandarin Orange Chicken frozen meal.  Maybe I was just hungry.

I have no pictures from the actual process because I keep forgetting to do that but here are the steps I took.  First I wiped it down to make sure there were no candle wax drippings or smudges or anything.  Then I lightly scuffed the surface with the 60 grit sanding sponge, just enough to take the protective coat off and give the primer something to grip.  I cleaned up with a tack cloth and have you ever used one of those?  I had a cat once who got stuck playing with a roll of masking tape and let's just say that I feel her pain.  Then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that I couldn't return the paint and started priming.  I used a really light touch because like I said I wasn't going for totally smooth professional looking and I wanted the grain to come through.  Kilz lives up to it's "dries-in-an-hour" marketing so I sanded again and used the tack cloth again and as soon as the first brush stroke went on I knew I was in love.  Seriously.  Again I used a really light touch and the first coat went really quickly.  As soon as I was done I put a wet paper towel over the paint still in the tray (a tip I learned from my husband), wrapped the roller, brush and edger in aluminum foil and stuck them in the refrigerator (a tip I learned from my sister) and went to bed.  When I got up this morning I put on a second coat and let it dry and could barely contain myself waiting because I wanted to do the fun part. 

My husband had patinaed (is that a word?) the shiny brass metal trim around the fire box as soon as we bought it because it was just too 80s looking.  When I was first contemplating painting the mantle I realized that I wanted the medallion to stand out a little bit and considered giving it a faux treatment but when I was at Lowe's ignoring my intuition I couldn't find anything that I liked that was under $20.  While I was talking to real life best friend I happened to spy a Sharpie Paint marker my daughter had used for a school project and as it turned out it was the perfect tool.  The tip is thick enough that it kind of outlined the carvings rather than getting down in the grooves which is exactly what I wanted and was dreading trying to do with a teeny paint brush.  It's imperfect but that's why it's so charming to me.


So here's the finished mantle.

I have some touching up to do but it turned out better than I'd hoped.  Like I said, it's not perfectly smooth professional looking but I wasn't going for perfect, I was going for beautiful and as we all know those can be two very different things.  My husband hasn't seen it yet, I'll let you know his verdict.  What are you working on?  Comments are open.

UPDATE:  My husband may be a chemist by trade but he's an engineer by nature which means he's a perfectionist in most things, especially home improvement.  One of the reasons he loathes painting is that he sees all of the flaws when he's finished.  I once got up for a drink of water in the middle of the night and found him staring at the ceiling in the soon-to-be dining room, beating himself up for all the roller marks that only he could see.  I'm not a perfectionist, I'm a make-it-prettierist.  So I approached this project with a certain amount of trepidation, wondering what he'd think of it.  When he brought the kids home from camping last night I made him go in and look because I figured if he really hated it that it was better to know right away.  He LOVED it and thanked me for saving him the headache of doing it.  My older daughter was thrilled that I'd used her Sharpie, my son wants to "detail" his dresser with a bright green Sharpie now and my younger daughter didn't even notice because she barely had her eyes open and went straight to bed.  This morning she said she liked it.  I have enough paint left over (and I so love the color) that I think I might use it on The Little Cabinet That Could, too.  Have a great day, whatever you're doing!