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There was a time when I used to update this blog on a weekly (ok, usually bi-weekly) basis.  Unfortunately, a few life decisions in 2012 and 2013 completely put the brakes on my little blog project. A few things that replaced the blog over the past year include:

  • In January 2012 making the decision to go back to school part-time with the goal of becoming a CPA.
  • Gutting our kitchen and renovating 90 percent of it ourselves.
  • Serving as President of my Rotary from June 2012 – June 2013.
  • Making a big career move in October 2012 by becoming a manager of a team and leaving my previous employer.

I swear I’m not masochistic.

Going back to school was the biggest driver of abandoning the blog. I knew that any spare time (and there wasn’t a lot of it) should be dedicated to studying, not the blog. Lame.

Summer 2013 brings with it a lot of gifts. As of this month I am officially done with my Rotary Presidential year. UVA also gave me the gift of not offering any of the courses that I need over the summer semester. I am also no longer drinking from a fire hose at my new job. I certainly feel comfortable enough to update the blog over the summer, and dare I say for the foreseeable future?

Evidence of my newly discovered free time can be seen on our back porch.

That’s right, folks, we’re living off the land! Our Serrano pepper plant is bursting at the seams and our tomatoes have somehow survived the deer, foxes, racoons, rabbits, and squirrels that hang out in our backyard.

It is good to be back in the kitchen with enough time on my hands to actually maintain a hobby. I hope this blog continues to be a fun way to keep up with Dan and Mary and our happy, hectic lives.

Peppermint Meringues

As a child I thought baked meringues were a secret family recipe. I remember Grandma using egg whites leftover from a batch of chocolate pudding to make rounds of baked meringues. She would flavor them with vanilla and when they came out of the oven they had the perfect combination of textures: a crunchy shell with a soft and sticky interior. I never heard of any other kids enjoying this treat. I just assumed it was Grandma’s secret recipe.

I couldn’t help but think of Grandma when making the peppermint meringue recipe from the December 2011 issue of Bon Appétit. The recipe is easier than a batch of chocolate chip cookies and calls for less ingredients. Plus, cookies don’t get much healthier than the egg white based meringue. Bonus!

Click here to view the recipe. Before you start whipping up a batch at 10pm, be warned that they require 2.5 hours of baking time and 1 hour of cooling time.

Scrap Metal Christmas

Living with an engineer has its perks. Among other things, I have (nearly) unlimited access to a wide variety of tools and materials. Our house is practically a mini Home Depot, giving me the ability to pick up most DIY projects on a whim.

On Monday my whims convinced me to throw together a lighted cone tree. The project used four items: leftover wire mesh from past bathroom renovations, zip ties, tin snips, and white string lights.

I rolled the wire mesh into a giant cone, securing it along the way with zip ties to maintain the cone shape.

I received only a few minor cuts before finally molding the wire mesh to my will.

After forming the cone I trimmed the base with tin snips to stabilize it. Sure, it looks a little “rustic” now, but after adding a few lights…

…okay, it still looks pretty rough…I mean, rustic. Luckily, the glow of the lights hides most flaws.

My little tree and wreath will be the extent of our outdoor Christmas decorations this year. Then again, an animated abominable snowman would be a great addition to the yard. Maybe next year.

You will have to excuse me if I haven’t posted in a few weeks. If you recall, in July we committed to finishing our master bathroom by Thanksgiving. This commitment kicked into full gear in November, where we took the bathroom from this…

To this…

Can you believe Dr. Dan did all of that fancy tile work? We still have a few more things to do, but Dan has finished the lion’s share of the work for us.

In addition to a bathroom renovation, we hosted six family members for the Thanksgiving holiday. Here is our family’s Thanksgiving menu, with links to recipes when available.

Appetizers
Pastry Wrapped Brie
Ginna’s Spinach Dip with Veggies

Main Course
Roasted Chicken and Honey Baked Ham

Sides
Green Bean Casserole
Asparagus Wrapped in Serrano Ham
Grandma Mckee’s Dressing
Grandma Edwards’ Sweet Potato Soufflé
Deviled Eggs
Dinner Rolls

Dessert
Ambrosia
America’s Test Kitchen’s Pecan Pie
Pumpkin Spice Cake
Vanilla Ice Cream

Alas, there was one tragedy this Thanksgiving…

The sweet potato soufflé, in an attempt to escape the Thanksgiving dinner table, jumped out of my father-in-law’s hands only to crash into the dressing. The soufflé, unfortunately, did not survive.

Click here to view more Thanksgiving shenanigans. We have also documented our bathroom renovations here.

Halloween Brownies

The Halloween recipes (or attempts at Halloween recipes) continue with Martha Stewart’s Pumpkin-Swirl Brownies. The trifecta of eggs, oil, and pumpkin make for a very moist and delicious brownie. Don’t be intimidated by the addition of cayenne pepper. I found that it cut the raw pumpkin flavor instead of adding heat to the brownies.

Ingredients

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for pan
  • 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cups solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup chopped hazelnuts or other nuts

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan or dish. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper; butter lining.
  • Melt chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth.
  • Whisk together flour, baking powder, cayenne, and salt in a large bowl; set aside. Put sugar, eggs, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; beat until fluffy and well combined, 3 to 5 minutes. Beat in flour mixture.
  • Divide batter between two medium bowls (about 2 cups per bowl). Stir chocolate mixture into one bowl. In other bowl, stir in pumpkin, oil, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Transfer half of chocolate batter to prepared pan smoothing top with a rubber spatula. Top with half of pumpkin batter. Repeat to make one more chocolate layer and one more pumpkin layer. Work quickly so batters don’t set.
  • With a small spatula or a table knife, gently swirl the two batters to create a marbled effect. Sprinkle with nuts.
  • Bake until set, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pan on a wire rack.

Candy Corn Part II: Screw It

They say a picture speaks a thousand words…

Operation candy corn was not a success for any of the three attempts that took place yesterday. Dan made a valiant effort to salvage the third and final attempt. Unfortunately, not even a rocket scientist could save that disaster.

Candy Corn Part I: Humidity

I should know better.

My family makes fudge every single Christmas. Humidity it the one thing that stops my family from making fudge. It is woven into my DNA that humidity and homemade candy do not mix. Period.

Yet, somehow, it failed to occur to me that humidity would affect a recipe for homemade candy corn. The whole corny mess started with Alton Brown.

As usual, Alton got me all excited to try some thing new. I went to the grocery store early, started cooking at 10am, and was left with this by 11am.

After taking some time to pout, I realized that it has rained every day for the past four days. Turns out we were at 75 percent humidity when I tried to make the candy. The rule is that humidity should not be greater than 60 percent when making candy. D’oh!

The sun just came out and we are now down to 62 percent humidity. I’m going to try the recipe again this afternoon, hoping to create something a bit more appetizing.

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