Friday, December 28, 2012

25 Things - The 2012 Year in Review Edition

It's true that 2012 is ending on a somber note for most of this country. The tragedy in Newtown, CT and the senseless shooting of two firefighters in Webster, NY didn't put most of us in the holiday spirit.

Because of all the dreary news, it's easy for me to overlook all of the good things and fun times I've had this year.  I've compiled some of my favorite trips/home project accomplishments/happy days from the past year (in no particular order):
  1. I celebrated two years of marriage to my darling husband. 
  2. I got a new job about 20 miles from home, which saved me at least 370 hours (that's 15 DAYS of my LIFE) and 26,270 miles of commuting this year (based on working 37 weeks, since I started working in March).
  3. I started this blog. :)
  4. Built a chicken coop and raised 10 chickens from peep-hood for fresh eggs.
  5. Had a fantastic time on a cruise to the Bahamas - had the best snorkeling experience ever at Paradise Cove in Freeport.
  6. My sister-in-law Colleen visited for two weeks over the summer and we had fun drinking too much wine, making zombie detours, parties, chickens and all sorts of stuff. 
  7. Had an awesome day in Caroline County with some fabulous ladies (including Colleen) - alpacas, outhouses and tattoos, oh my!
  8. Traveled to Rhode Island for a paranormal investigation of Rose Island Lighthouse... complete with a rather creepy and foggy ferry ride across Narragansett Bay to Rose Island. During this trip, I also experienced Connecticut style lobster rolls at Abbott's Lobster in Noank, CT, visited my cousin Heather (& family) in Boston and Jay's cousins in Naugatuck, CT.
  9. Built a raised garden bed and started a compost pile. Sadly, the chickens destroyed most of our plants, but we got a lot of jalapenos and green peppers.
  10. I purchased a canning kit, made and canned apple butter for the first time.
  11. We finished our upstairs bathroom - drywall, tile, trim, and paint. 
  12. Close to finished on our fourth bedroom - drywall, laminate flooring, and paint. Trim has been cut, it just needs to be nailed to the wall.
  13. Finished the upstairs and downstairs foyer/hallways - drywall, laminate flooring (or refinishing hardwood) and paint. 
  14. Finished the reading nook - drywall, laminate flooring, paint, installed banister & railing, AND scored 2 fantastic chairs at a great deal.
  15. Finished the kitchen - ripped out and replaced previous tiling job, installed cabinets, sink, dishwasher (although it's still not hooked to power), installed laminate counters.
  16. Installed exterior siding with R-5 insulation value.
  17. Got a subpanel installed for Jay's to-be-built shop/shed/man-cave.
  18. Had a great time at the Southern Summer Cocktail Party. :)
  19. Had many fun nights with my book club ladies.
  20. Making an effort to buy local, organic, and/or natural foods when possible- I'm now a regular at Nice Farms Creamery and Cedar Run Cattle.
  21. Hosted a crazy fun party and featured aforementioned local food.
  22. Participated in many happy hours at Harry's on the Green with some of my favorite ladies. Some of these happy hours turned into late night shenanigans. One such night ended with a potted petunia in the bottom of a friend's hot tub. Oops!
  23. I survived the release of my first holiday schedule and planned the holiday party at work. The schedule was awful, but the party turned out great. I'm still getting compliments on it... mad props to Lorraine at The Milestone and Jimmy at It's Your Day DJ. They did an awesome job.
  24. I began putting myself first again and started enforcing boundaries with people.
  25. Celebrated Christmas quietly with Jay - we opened presents, feasted like Kings and watched TV all day.
Soon I'll be posting 25 goals or plans for 2013. It's not going to be a resolution list (although I imagine a few things are resolution-esque), but more of what I'm looking forward to in the next year.

I've also seen an idea that I really like on Pinterest... it's cheesy in some ways, but I think it's a great idea. Each time something good or fun happens in 2013, write it down on a scrap of paper and put it in a mason jar. At the end of the year, for Christmas or at NYE, open the jar and read all of the scraps. I think it's a lovely idea... even when you're feeling a bit blue, you can open the jar and smile at the great memories you've made. 

I plan on 2013 knocking the socks off of 2012!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Grande French Meat Pie



As promised, I am posting my version of my Aunt Mary’s French Meat Pie.



I’ve made the recipe twice and still think that it could use some tweaking when it comes to the potato processing and crust.

My aunt uses Pillsbury Ready-Made crusts, which are a real time-saver. Making these pies can be a bit of an arduous process.  Despite this, I try to make at least two pies out of my batch using homemade crusts. The Pillsbury crusts are great, but I have to say that my favorite and most flaky crusts were those that I made with butter. I experimented with butter, lard, and duck fat and they all turned out delicious. When it comes to using animal fat in pie crust, a 2/3 butter to 1/3 animal fat seems to be a good ratio.

On to the recipe!

This recipe is to make about six 9-inch pies - it makes 6 pies if you are using disposable pie plates and ready-made dough. If you are using deep dish plates with homemade crust, it makes 4 or 5 pies. As previously mentioned, this is a somewhat labor-intensive process, so you should make your pies in bulk. They freeze well and are perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, parties, book clubs, and hostess gifts! 

INGREDIENTS

CRUST
12 Pillsbury Ready Made Pie Crusts (6 boxes)
OR
15 cups all-purpose flour (about 1 1/4 cups per crust)
3 pounds butter (12 sticks)
6 tsp Kosher salt
2-3 cups ice water (anywhere from 2-4 tablespoons per crust)
**If you decide to substitute lard or duck fat in the pie crust, use 5 or 6 tablespoons butter and 2-3 tablespoons of animal fat per crust.

FILLING
3 pounds lean pork sausage – preferably something not mass-produced
2 large onions, chopped – one white or red, one yellow (or your preference)
5 pounds potatoes, shredded, ground, julienned, or chopped into ½” chunks
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cloves
2 tsp sage
2 tsp Kosher salt
2 tsp savory, poultry, or Emeril’s essence seasoning

CRUSTS
I make two crusts at a time by hand… making all 12 (six top and bottom crusts) would be difficult to do by hand. However, if you use a food processor it might be feasible. Measure 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour and 1 tsp salt into a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter, blend 2 sticks of butter into flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. As I mentioned in my sausage gravy and biscuits recipe, please get yourself a pastry cutter. Once combined, add 1-2 tablespoons of ice water at a time (I mix using a wooden spoon), pressing mixture together until it starts to stick together. Divide in half and form into 2 balls of dough. Flatten into a disk and refrigerate at least 30 minutes (this can be done a day or two ahead of time).
  
FILLING

Chop two large onions.



I prefer using one sweet or yellow onion and one with a little more bite – white or red onions. I imagine that shallots would also work well. Throw onions into a large pot (I use a 6 quart stock pot) with the loose sausage. If you can find good local sausage, use it… or even better, make your own!

Again, I must rave about Cedar Run Cattle’s sausage.



Their sausage is the best I’ve ever had! I used 2 pounds of mild and 1 pound of spicy sausage in my recipe. Having run out of my favorite, I used Jimmy Dean sausage for my second batch of pies and while they were tasty, I prefer the pies made with Cedar Run’s sausage.

So back to the task at hand… brown the sausage with the onions.



Add the spices… cinnamon, cloves, sage, Emeril’s seasoning (or your preferred poultry/savory seasoning) and salt.


Chop, julienne, or grind your potatoes. My darling husband taught me how to julienne potatoes (it's wasteful, but fast). I have to say that he makes an awesome sous chef. For my next batch, I think that I’ll boil the potatoes first and then use a potato ricer. My Grandma Grande used to grind her potatoes, so the potato ricer might be a good option.




Throw the potatoes in the pot and stir. 



You can either cook this all down on your stovetop until the potatoes are tender, or use my aunt’s preferred method:  Throw it all into a roasting pan, then bake covered at 350 until the potatoes have softened (about one hour). Check periodically and add water and/or stir if you notice anything sticking. Trust me, this method is much easier.



While the pie filling is baking in the oven, prepare the pie crusts. Lightly flour your counter area and rolling pin. Roll out your refrigerated disks into circles that are about 2-3” wider than your pie plate. Holding your plate over your rolled-out crust is a good way to see if they’re wide enough. 


It doesn't have to be pretty, it just has to be big enough to fit in the plate. Pie amoebas are perfectly acceptable.


I have a few pie crust tips for you first-timers. Always roll in one direction; don’t go back and forth. Once you’re done rolling in one direction, turn your pin about a quarter of the way each time (think of a clock dial) and roll in a new direction. Roll slowly and I promise you won’t have nearly as many problems. Trust me, be patient. My first few crusts were a disaster, but I’ve gotten better with each crust I make. Use the rolling pin to transfer the dough into the pie pan.




Once the potatoes in the filling are cooked, let cool slightly. Divide filling evenly between pie crusts. 



Place top crust on filled pies and flute. I’ve found that the best thing to do is first tuck any excess dough up under the edge of the crust and press with my thumbs to seal. Then I use my thumb and index fingers to make the fluting. YouTube is a great source for learning how to flute. I can tell you that it’s difficult to make a nice edge when you have fingernails, so cut them short for this task.


If you discover that fluting isn't your thing, press edges together and use the tines of a fork to make a decorative edge.


If you’re going to serve the pies immediately:  Prick the crusts and bake at 400 for about 30 minutes, or until cooked to the crust color or doneness that you prefer. You may need to cover the edges to prevent burning.

If you’re going to freeze the pies: Prick the crusts and let cool at room temperature. After pies have cooled, cover tightly with plastic wrap (I love Glad Press & Seal!) and a sheet of foil.

Baking frozen pies:  Remove foil and plastic wrap. Bake pies in a preheated 400 degree oven for about an hour (or until crust is done to your liking). You may want to cover the edges to prevent them from burning.

Serve with ketchup. I also love to top my pie slice with an over-easy egg. It is the perfect addition to this dish, especially for brunch.

Look at all that delicious crust!!

Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wordful Wednesday


I had planned to do a wordless Wednesday post, but it didn’t quite work out. This past week has been particularly difficult. Then again, it's been difficult for everyone.

I feel ashamed to even mention my in-laws in this post, but they do cause me a lot of anxiety and frustration. They (my FIL and 2 BIL’s) have been staying at our home since last Friday, so that really puts a damper on my mood. These aren’t the kind of normal in-law frustrations that people have. These particular in-laws have serious issues and they should NOT be staying at our house. Fortunately, they leave tonight.

On Friday, I learned that a drama buddy from high school has stage 4 adrenal cancer. Karisa is two years younger than me and has two young kids. I don’t know why these things happen to good people like her. Some people have created the Karisification community on Facebook. Please make sure to like it, even if you don’t know her.

Then last but not least, the Newtown Shooting. What can I even say about it? I still feel sick to my stomach. The gun-loving conservatives are saying to arm the teachers. Really? The thought of arming teachers terrifies me… most teachers I know aren’t exactly the type that I would want around guns (nor would they likely WANT to carry a gun). The United States needs to take a cue from Australia when it comes to mental health care and guncontrol laws. 

So light a candle, meditate, say a prayer, hug your loved ones, do something good for someone else.




Thursday, December 13, 2012

25 Things

Since I sometimes have trouble coming up with things to blog about, I decided that making lists would be a good thing to do. Instead of writing about my entire Florida trip, I condensed it to 25 things I learned (or confirmed) on the trip. 

  1. Business class makes flying much more enjoyable. The upgrade fee is definitely worth it.
  2. The state of Florida has the worst drivers in the entire country.
  3. Miami is not my kind of city. Too many designer labels, stilettos, overpriced drinks, and fake people. Give me a dive bar full of friendly locals wearing jeans and offering PBR specials any day.
  4. Art Basel is an experience best enjoyed for a limited amount of time, wearing comfortable shoes, and having the freedom to roam many galleries. Hanging around the same place for hours on end is crazy boring.
  5. You can throw globs of paint on a canvas and sell it for $50,000.
  6. Chewing gum has a magnetic attraction to new flip flops.
  7. Never walk long distances in aforementioned new flip flops.
  8. I should sometimes consider my husband’s crazy ideas that involve putting on his socks and cutting out the toes to prevent additional blisters from new flops.
  9. Always carry band-aids.
  10. I'm getting too old to sleep on cheap air mattresses that are deflated by morning.
  11. Coconut water and artisanal rum drinks are disgusting, but those who produce crappy $50,000 art love them.
  12. Sometimes free drinks aren’t worth it.
  13. Tu Tu Tango still has some of my favorite tapas dishes, although their sangria isn't as good as it was a few years ago.
  14. Miami food trucks are awesome - try the chocolate-covered bacon at the Porkalicious food truck.
  15. Bubble tea is weird, but I think I want to try it again.
  16. Having a rental car and no set plans is a fun way to travel.
  17. Jazzy’s Mainely Lobster in Cocoa Beach has some of the tastiest seafood that I’ve ever consumed.
  18. Captain J’s in Cocoa Beach is dead in the off season or when there’s no cruise ship in port. There were two people in the entire restaurant (that holds 300+ people) at 8:30 on a Friday night.
  19. Investigate all potential watering holes before deciding on one place to hang out. There could be something more fun with cheap drinks just a few blocks away.
  20. According to the interwebs, the best way to cure brain freeze is by warming the palate of your mouth with your tongue.
  21. Sometimes you have to make your own fun – all it takes is a 6 pack of beer and Yahtzee!
  22. Don’t forget to take probiotics and use sunblock while taking antibiotics.
  23. One piece bathing suits make going to the bathroom terribly challenging.
  24. Having my own chickens has made me an egg snob. I don’t plan on ordering eggs over easy at a restaurant ever again.
  25. While on a short vacation, make sure that you have some time to relax and don’t spend hours each day driving around.




Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hello from sunny Miami

I'm in a bathing suit hanging out by a pool. It's sunny and 81 degrees. Life is pretty great today!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Deck the halls

Last night we began lighting the tree and decorating for Christmas. We had a nice dinner, I baked bread and we consumed a ridiculous amount of mulled rum and cider. It was so good that I have another pot on the stove to enjoy while we install laminate flooring today.


















Emily, does this look familiar? Somehow I ended up with this!