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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Easy Brunswick Stew

I know what you're thinking, "Kathy, it's getting hot outside; why on earth would I want to make stew at this time of year?" but hear me out. Where I come from, Brunswick Stew is just as much a part of a barbecue as are ribs and burgers, and this recipe could not be easier to put together.

Every summer, a little roadside BBQ stand and food truck opens up along one of the main routes where we live. We noticed that every weekend, there were lines of people waiting to buy BBQ and we figured that it must be something worth checking out. Turns out we were right. In fact, food from this little roadside BBQ was the one of the first meals we ate in our new home 3 years ago, and it still serves some of the best ribs we've had since we moved up here to Virginia.

They are only open from May to November, so just before they close down, we order a couple of pounds of their ribs, chicken, and pulled pork specifically for this soup, which we devour when the temperatures have us huddled inside. We strip the meat of the bones and freeze in big Ziplock bags to sustain us till we can see that roadside stand open up again the following May.

Finding smoked or barbecued meat for this stew shouldn't be hard, just go to your favorite local BBQ joint and buy some. This original recipe comes from one of my Paula Deen cookbooks, but I found her version to be a little too sweet and it didn't include lima beans, which is sacrilege as far as I'm concerned.

This recipe is literally as easy as throwing everything into a pot and turning on the heat. The most effort you will have is cutting up the onion. I always double the recipe to include lots of leftovers, which reheat wonderfully.

Kathy's Easy Brunswick Stew
Recipe modified from Paula Deen

1-1/2 lbs. of cooked, chopped BBQ meat (pulled pork, chicken, ribs, etc.)
1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes
1 (16 oz.) creamed corn (if doubling recipe, use 1 can regular corn undrained, and 1 can cream corn)
8 oz. frozen baby lima beans
6 oz. can tomato paste
1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
1 onion, diced
½ cup ketchup
¼ cup BBQ sauce (I use Sweet Baby Rays)
1 tablespoon liquid smoke
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon celery salt
Salt and pepper to taste

Put all the ingredients in a soup pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 15-20 minutes; add salt and pepper to taste. 

*Note: The original recipe was too sweet, so I reduced the amount of ketchup and BBQ sauce and came up with this version. If you feel your version needs to be more sweet, feel free to add more. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Garden View

The kitchen is still coming along, but slowly. The upper cabinet doors are off and are being primed and painted, but there's less of an urgency. Our attention has been turned elsewhere.

Spring is full-on and there are things that need our attention outside, plus who can resist a gorgeous, cool, spring day? There's a reason why they call it spring fever. I have to say though, my allergies have been off the chart this year! It's really bad.

The vegetable and herb garden is taking off. My winter sowed tomato seedlings will get planted this weekend and the trellising for the cucumbers and raspberries will be put up. Some things are doing better than expected, some not so, but that is the beauty of gardening; you often don't know what to expect when trying something new.

This is a window garden view from our guest room. I love how much it looks like a formal potager garden. I think subconsciously, that is what I am going for. I make a garden plan each year, but that has about a 60% success rate, as I don't know what plants will do well in what beds the first time around. This garden gets a good 6 hours of sun a day, the back beds a little less. So, I know some things will do better in the back beds and some things do better in the front beds. The smaller boxes contain Russian Fingerling potatoes...another new experiment.

At some point, this maple tree will be taken down. I love it as a specimen tree, but it is too close to the house and its limbs are too brittle. Plus it gives me unwanted shade.

There used to be 3 huge maple trees in this whole garden space; that's where all the mulch came from and why we use raised beds. Although the trees were cut down, mulched, and the stumps ground, there are still thick roots that run underground. I would have loved to plant my raspberries on the left side of the garden, but those thick roots had other plans.

The big pile in the back, right-hand corner is my compost pile. It gets nothing but table scraps, dried leaves, grass clippings, and clean garden waste. I would love to find a good manure source, but I haven't been very proactive. The worms seem happy though, and I get a big joy to turn that pile and see their wriggling about "flexible and pink, like lips" as Margaret Atwood would say.  I had a hard time keeping earth worms in Florida, as the fire ants would eat them. Speaking of fire ants, we do have them up here! They're are not as fierce or prevalent, but they are definitely here. My old nemesis!

At some point, I want to put up a small garden fence around this area to define it more. We don't have issues with garden pests (knock on wood), with the exception of marauding crows. I have fantasies about getting chickens and I know that vegetable gardens and chickens don't mix for most of the time.

I have perennial beds elsewhere on the property that are getting most of my attention now. So between them, this vegetable garden, and the kitchen, I have to pace myself and work on one or all three a little bit each day.

Life could be worse, right? I am grateful for it all.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Crockpot Cincinnati Style Chili

To me, Cincinnati chili is more of a sauce than an actual chili. Also, there are NO beans in my Cincinnati chili in this household. If you want beans in your Cincinnati chili, go down to Texas, you big freak! Although, there are people who order and eat it this way…BLEH!

Okay, for the uninitiated, Cincinnati Chili is kind of a big thing in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and even in some parts of Florida. It’s a regional thing and a person can hardly spit in Ohio without hitting either a Skyline Chili restaurant, or its rival Goldstar Chili. Loyalties are fierce for which chain makes the best Cincinnati style chili. I am pro-Skyline all the way. Although I've never had Goldstar chili, why try another when you know you are eating the best?

Cincinnati chili has a very different flavor profile than its typical southern-based cousin. Skyline Chili was originally founded in the late 1940’s by Greek immigrants in Cincinnati, Ohio, so the chili has unusual ingredients like cinnamon and cloves, but you will also find the familiar ground cumin and chili powder. Cincinnati chili also has a finer texture than its typical, meaty brethren, and you can either have it with beans (yuck!) or not. Plus, there’s the whole spaghetti and oyster crackers thing.

I got into Cincinnati chili through my ex-husband, who is from Cincinnati. We used to make several pilgrimages a year to Ft. Lauderdale, where one of the few Skyline restaurants were located, to gorge ourselves on 4-ways and cheese coneys. Ever since then, I've been hooked and make a point to go to a Skyline whenever I am in one of the 4 states its restaurants reside.  Why the chain hasn't spread across the country, I’ll never know. WE NEED MORE SKYLINE CHILI RESTAURANTS!!! You can even buy their products in the frozen section of your grocery store like White Castle burgers. What’s up with that???

Anyway, I digress. Unless I move to Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, or back to Florida (NOT happening), I will have to make my own Skyline copy-cat. This is as close to the real deal as I have been able to find. If you blindfolded me and had me try this homemade version and a real plate of Skyline, it would be very hard for me to tell the difference.  The cheese isn’t as finely shredded, but I can live with that! Bibs are optional. :-)

Note, I usually double the following recipe, as you will DEFINITELY want leftovers. Also, you will need a handheld, stick blender or food processor to get the right consistency. 

Kathy’s Crockpot Cincinnati Style Chili
Recipe modified from:

1 lb. ground beef
1 large onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups water
2 cups crushed tomatoes
6 oz. can of tomato paste
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 whole bay leaf
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt

cooked spaghetti, optional
shredded cheese, optional (I use Cracker Barrel Extra Sharp Cheddar)
chopped onions, optional

In a large skillet, brown the ground beef with the diced onions. Once the meat is nearly brown and the onions are tender, add the minced garlic and cook for another minute or two.

Add the meat mixture and everything else (excepts the optional toppings, of course) to the crock pot, and cook on low for eight hours or high for four. About 1 hour before you serve, fish out the bay leaf and lightly puree the chili using a blender stick. You want the chili to have a fine meat texture, but not liquefied. If you've ever had real Cincinnati style chili, you'll know the texture I'm talking about. If you do not have a stick blender, carefully ladle the chili into a food processor, process accordingly, and return to crockpot. Continue to cook the chili for the remaining hour.

Lastly, taste the chili to check if it needs more salt or sugar and flavor to your preferences.

To serve, pile some spaghetti on the plate, top with the chili, then shredded cheese and onions

Monday, May 04, 2015

Back in the (Range) Hood

Finally! We installed the range hood this weekend after grouting, caulking, and sealing the tile. It works like a charm and vents like a champ.

I was also able to re-install my VERY much missed oven/stove. We've been eating out of an electric skillet and crockpot for 6 weeks!

 It's actually starting to look like a kitchen again!

Now for the last stretch of this journey, I start working on those upper cabinets and building a false cabinet facing up to the ceiling. After the tiling and range hood marathon, going back to painting cabinets again is going to be a breeze!

Almost there!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Kitchen Upgrade Status: Backsplash Tile

You guys, I just spent the last 5 days tiling my kitchen backsplash. For starters, this is a peek into what I went with:

I haven't grouted yet, but boy am I HAPPY with how things have turned out so far.

Why did it take me 5 days to do this? I had A LOT of area to tile, not to mention that I still have to work a full-time job during the day and try to keep me and my husband fed, although we have been eating a lot of take out. That and you kind of need a oven and stove to cook, amiright? Well, almost...

I mean, take a look at this kitchen!

I went with Grecian White Interlocking marble tiles from Home Depot instead of the trendy glass mosaic tiles that are hot right now. After some thought, the glass mosaic tiles looked too busy and came across as something that would date the kitchen after time. I wanted something classic, yet modern. I love how the tile picks up the white and black from the cabinets and counter, as well as the browns from the tile floor in the kitchen.

It helped that I didn't have to do a lot of creative tile cutting, just a lot of straight, straight lines that put my closeted OCD tendencies into overdrive. It's a good thing too because if I had to go one more day inhaling fumes from that mastic adhesive, I would set myself on fire.

There were a few hiccups, mostly with figuring out what to do with the pre-drilled hardware anchor holes that we determined for the range hood before tiling. We decided to tile around them, as we didn't want to drill holes into the tile.

We also had to do several dry fits with the range hood to make sure all the anchor holes were in the right place and the exterior chimney fit where it was supposed to. Turns out it didn't, so we had to learn how to cut stainless steel with a cut-off wheel. Thank god for the internet!

After grouting we move onto the upper cabinets and facade build-out above them. Bye-bye orange paint forever and we're on the home stretch! It's already a HUGE difference from what it used to look like, no?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Winter Sowing Status

This week is dedicated to tiling the kitchen backsplash and so far I am over the MOON on how it is turning out. I will post pics when we are done.

In the meantime, I thought I'd update on this year's winter sowing status. So far, it's been much less successful than last year when I grew my seeds in individual styrofoam cups. I'd say I've had about a 40% success rate to date;

The tomatoes have done the best (thank god) with about a dozen sprouts. I only have 2 zucchini sprouts and 4 cucumbers. My flowers didn't do so well either with only 1 borage, 5 oriental poppies, 1 columbine, and 5 hollyhocks.

There are a lot of things that could have impacted what happened. For instance, last year I used a soiless seed starting mix and this year I used a potting soil mix. Last year I had fresher seeds (for some) and grew them in individual cups versus a big growing bin. I decided to try the bins this year, as last year the seedlings dried out very easily and others have had great success growing in large containers. I could have also planted some of the seeds wrong...who knows. Maybe next year I will try a mix of different growing mediums and techniques to see what works for me.

In the meantime, I will need to resow some more seeds and hope they catch up.

In other garden news, everyone else seems to be doing well. The fava beans are up and are taking off like rockets:

The garlic is doing well too!

That big green bed of lushness behind my winter sowing tubs is a cover crop of hairy vetch. I am going to till that under this week and will plant my tomatoes in that bed when they are ready. Of course, I panicked again and bought 6 Big Box Store plants of "Early Girl" just in case my winter sowed sprouts didn't make it.

Even my Russian Fingerling potatoes are up! I have two 2'5" x 2'5" boxes of these this year with a few extras tucked into one of the beds. We'll see how it goes!

In sad news, my rhubarb didn't do well from last year and I have only 1 measly sprout coming up. Oh well, maybe that will turn into something. Some of my perennials didn't make it or are struggling and I've done what I can to help them and only time will tell.

That is part of the fun of gardening, every season is an ongoing lesson in what works and what doesn't.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Ducting and Wall Vents

See that big hunk of metal coming out of my kitchen wall...see it?

I've never been so happy or excited about a big hunk of metal before. But more importantly, check out this super sexy wall vent cap that it is attached to on the outside...

You don't know how much I have fretted and researched about that wall vent cap. I've learned MORE than I've ever wanted to know about vinyl siding, j-chanels, mounting blocks, and j-blocks these past few weeks.

But first, if you are ever looking for some high-quality exterior bling for your house, check out the AWESOME products offered at Luxury Metals. Do yourself a favor and don't buy those cheap, aluminum things they sell at the big box stores, or else you'll end up with something like this:

It may not seem like much, but there is a right way and a wrong way to attach something to the outside of your house if you have vinyl siding. The vent cap that is in the upper left of this picture is the WRONG way, my new, sexy range hood vent cap is the RIGHT way. BTW, the vent cap shown in the video above is also the WRONG way to do this. You see, you are not supposed to just slap something to the outside of your siding, screw it in, caulk it, and hope for the best. Ideally, you want to have a flush surface to mount to in order to prevent future water leaks and your siding should be cut away to allow that to happen. In addition, that framing around the vent cap is called a j-channel, and that allows water to shed away from the hole you just cut into the outside of your house.

Unfortunately, many contractors don't go this route and many homeowners do not understand there is more involved. Doing something right often involves a lot of forethought and inconvenience, but I believe that it's better to do something right than to have to pay the price and do something over.

I am SO glad I didn't have the original HVAC company install this; I had a siding company come out to make sure it was done correctly. I have a feeling the HVAC company would have slapped this on the side of the house and walked away.

As you can see in the first pic, the sheetrock is back up under the cabinets and I am mudding and taping this week. Next weekend is tile and I'm so excited! After that is done, I'll actually be able to hang the range hood, hook it up, and see if all this hard work has paid off.


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