Sunday, June 11, 2017

Update for last years Backyard Shed Makeover

It's warm, the suns out & we're ready to enjoy our pool area. Last year Dave did a blog
on remodeling our shed.

I am updating with a few pictures now that the wisteria is in full bloom.
We added a fish from Pier One, hooks I got at Marshall's & solar lights from Target.

Loving how it turned out & very excited to make some fun memories in this area!

Happy Sunday!










Friday, February 24, 2017

Chilling with Steak Tips, Cauliflower, and Chocolate Cake


My beautiful wife Colette is so remarkable in so many ways. I am a blessed and infinitely thankful man! Colette invests so much of her time and herself every day into taking care of our large, busy family and keeping everything organized and running efficiently. She amazes me with the truly remarkable job she does, and how she does all she does with such excellence! But last night it was it was time for the tables to turn as I cooked dinner for Colette while she spent the evening relaxing and enjoying a very well deserved break!

When I venture too far outside my culinary comfort zone of pizza and grilling, things can get a bit risky. But to accompany the main course of steak tips, I took on the extreme challenge of making a side dish of cauliflower gratin with goat cheese topping and a flourless chocolate cake for dessert. If I'm being honest, I would have preferred just grilling the cauliflower and cake, but all in all I think everything turned out OK, so I thought I'd share here for anyone else who may want to take a similar stab!

First, I baked the cake. Thankfully I got some expert help from my extremely capable sugar-toothed assistant, Miss Chloƫ! We worked together and made the following cake.


Basically just followed this recipe as written. It's pretty straightforward. The only notes I'd add is that we didn't bother with the parchment paper, and also the cake took 5-10 minutes longer than listed to cook for some reason. Otherwise, things went pretty smoothly.


We made the cake, let it cool a bit in the pans then let it cool some more out of the pans on a wire rack. Then we made the whipped topping frosting with this recipe. We let the frosting chill in the fridge for about 30 minutes, and then I let Chloƫ work her magic frosting the cake!



Next, I tackled the cauliflower dish, using this recipe. Once again, pretty much just followed the recipe, although I'll admit it took me a while to figure out exactly what the heck "florets" and "steaming baskets" are...


A warning note about cauliflower in general. It's like scallops--tastes great, but smells absolutely horrible while cooking. So don't be alarmed. Couple other notes on this recipe. I used fresh thyme and just chopped it on a cutting board. Also, I used a blender instead of a "food processor." Once again, I found that this dish took a little longer than listed to cook (i.e., to get lightly browned on top). And finally, we skipped the bread crumbs.

After the cake was made and frosted, I put it in the fridge until we ate it. I prepared the cauliflower dish so it was just ready to stick in the oven, then turned my attention to the steak tips. As far as how I prepared the steak tips, I used the following homemade rub I came up with a while back for smoking meats. (Amounts are not measured, just throw it all together.)

       1-2 cups of stevia
       Hefty amount of chili powder
       Hefty amount of onion powder
       Garlic powder (little bit less)
       Ground cinnamon (little bit less)
       Paprika (think I put small amount in)
       Pink Himalayan salt (smaller amount but generous)

Mix in bowl and then rub steak with lemon juice and rub dry rub on both sides and let it marinate for at least 5 hours.

I applied the rub to both sides of the steak tips and left in a pan to marinate overnight (about 24 hours total).


I put the steak tips on the grill and then after about 5 minutes or so I put the cauliflower into the oven.


In hindsight, I could have started the steak tips and caulifower at the same time and the timing would have been perfect. But the timing still worked out pretty good and I think all in all things turned out pretty good.

I had a really fun time making dinner for you, Colette! :D

Until next time,

David

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Cherry Chocolate Kisses & Dishpan Cookies

We had fun baking up 2 Valentine's cookies the other day. Both were delicious!
Cherry Chocolate Kisses are from a recipe in the book, The Ultimate Cookie Book.
They are a bit like a shortbread, soft & buttery with great almond flavor. Dishpan Cookies, (recipe on my moms card below) remind me of a chewy oatmeal cookie & they are so, so good! I left out the nuts & raisins & put a thing of Wilson's Valentines sprinkles & a cup of chocolate chips in.  It was was hard to eat just one of both of these... the struggle is real, right?




Thursday, December 15, 2016

Holiday Toffee Bars



Doubled the recipe to fit on a 9x13 or larger pan & first lined it with parchment for easy cutting & clean up.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Gluten-Free Pizza Cooked in the Outdoor Pizza Oven


We love food. Our whole family does. Enjoying food together is a regular highlight of many of our family activities, whether it's going out to eat somewhere cool or at home enjoying one of the many scrumptiously savory food delights Colette blesses our family with day in and day out. My culinary responsibilities in the family consist mainly of eating and doing dishes, but I do pitch in with the cooking from time to time in a few specific areas: grilling meats, smoking meats, and making pizza (all of which take place on the back deck, so I guess that makes the deck my own personal backyard kitchen) and with Christmas around the corner, I am feeling especially festive & festive = pizza in our house!

Pizza is the food topic today. I love to cook for Colette, so she can kick her legs up and be served for a change. I like to be able to give Colette a much-needed break from the kitchen, and to make her something she really enjoys. Thankfully pizza is one of those things! I experimented with something new yesterday -- pizza with a gluten-free pizza dough, baked in the outdoor pizza oven. It turned out great!

Here I am getting the project started with my very capable cooking crew...


I used to make pizza indoors in the oven, but no more! Ever since Colette gave me this Pizzeria Pronto outdoor pizza oven as a gift, I can hardly bring myself to cook pizza the "traditional" way anymore. This awesome pizza oven cooks on a stone at a very high temperature just like a wood fired pizza grill, and the results are off the chart amazing -- especially if you like neapolitan style pizza crust.

So back to the gluten free pizza. For the most part I followed this recipe from King Arthur Flour as described, but I made a few slight departures from the exact ingredients and steps listed. I'll walk through the whole thing here.

First I made the dough. I measured and mixed all the dry ingredients in a bowl, then added the wet ingredients and mixed by hand.


Dry ingredients:

1 1/2 cups gluten-free brown rice flour (instead of the brown rice flour blend listed in the K.A. recipe)
2 tablespoons buttermilk powder or nonfat dry milk powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon glucomannan (instead of the xanthum gum listed in the K.A. recipe)
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup stevia (or whatever sweetener you choose, note this is more sweetener than listed in the K.A. recipe)

Wet ingredients:

1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil


With reckless abandon, I completely disregarded the dire warning in the K.A. recipe about not mixing the dough by hand. That seemed silly and it mixed just fine by hand using a large spoon. The "dough" is really more of a batter at this stage - a wet, sticky mess that in almost no way resembles pizza dough. But just keep on keeping on, it all turns out just fine in the end.

Next came another of the recipe departures. I didn't let the dough sit as instructed. Instead, Colette came up with the great idea to treat the dough at this stage like she does cookie dough, spooning it out and rolling it flat between two pieces of parchment paper. What a great suggestion and I learned something new to add to my cooking repertoire!

I spread out a large piece of parchment paper on the counter, sprayed it with Pam, then sprinkled corn meal all over the parchment paper. (By the way, corn meal and the outdoor pizza oven are an unbeatable combination. I've always used corn meal to keep my dough from sticking to the pizza peel so it slides easily into the pizza oven, and the added texture and taste it brings to your dough is so good!)


Next I spooned the dough/batter onto the middle of the parchment paper and then laid another large piece of parchment paper on top (also sprayed with Pam and sprinkled with corn meal). So at this point I had a dough and parchment paper sandwich. Then I took a rolling pin and flattened the dough out, rolling over the top of the parchment paper. This is the step where you get to decide how thick you want your dough. So roll it out as thick or thin as you like!



Next we stuck it in the freezer for about 30 minutes. This step is key, because freezing the dough a bit takes it from a sticky unworkable state and turns it into something more resembling pizza dough that you can actually work with. After you take the dough out of the freezer you peel away the parchment paper and lay the dough down in a greased baking sheet.



One lesson learned here. I should have left the dough in the freezer a little bit longer than I did, because when we peeled away the parchment paper it peeled easily off the edges but the middle of the dough was still fairly sticky and tore apart a bit. Freezing it longer would have left the middle easier to work with. The length of time you have to freeze probably also has a lot to do with how thick or thin you roll out your dough.

Stick the baking sheet in the oven at 425 degrees for about 10 minutes or so to firm it up and get it ready for assembling and baking.


One other lesson learned - the next time I make this pizza I'll roll out the dough thinner and try to get it to turn out almost like a crunchy, "crackery" crust (which is what Colette really loves). I think the amount of dough you get from this recipe is good for 2 medium sized pizzas, with thin crust, or one with regular crust thickness.

Before getting to the last steps, actually making and cooking the pizza, I'll share with you the pizza sauce recipe I used, in case you need one:


5 cans tomato sauce
3/4 cup oregano
3/4 cup stevia (or sugar)
1/4 cup garlic and several hefty shakes of salt (or just use garlic salt)
1/4 cup parsley
several hefty shakes of pepper
1/4 cup of onion powder
**Note: I usually don't measure the ingredients when making the sauce, so the above measurements are approximate.

Mix all this together in a bowl. Taste, and adjust as needed to suit your taste. Note: this is fairly large amount of sauce. If you're only making a few pizzas, you can halve this recipe.


The last step is to spread corn meal onto your pizza peel, then lay the dough down onto the peel and build the pizza: sauce, cheese, then toppings. Here we topped with green and red peppers, onions, and jalapeno peppers.



Slide the pizza into the pizza oven at about 700 degrees, and it should cook in about 10 or so minutes, depending on how crispy you want it to be. Make sure you rotate the pizza (using the peel) inside the oven a couple times while it cooks so it cooks evenly.




And then enjoy!

Thanks for reading!

David

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Backyard Shed Makeover

Hello! Here's a quick update on one of our recent home update projects. We have a small shed out back that was starting to look more and more tired and outdated (see below), with its set of old-fashioned windows & shutters, and a full-sized exterior door. The celebration you see here brightening up the old shed is Colette with Chloe and friends at Chloe's #7 Mermaid birthday pool party this past summer! (Where oh where did summer go??!!)


With just a little bit of time and work, we recently gave our old shed a makeover to update it and integrate it better with the look of our backyard pool and pergola area.  Colette showed me the idea we modeled this after, and after we talked through the details of how we wanted to do it I got busy cutting, hammering, painting, and putting it all together and now it looks like this:



In the spring we'll add some nice hooks for pool towels, and maybe something else summery/beachy, to the center piece.


Here's what it took to accomplish this transformation:


I first took off door and removed the door frame. Some good old fashioned demolition using a hammer and nail puller. (Note - in addition to the door you see in the above "before" picture, there thankfully was also already another exterior door on the right side of the shed, so no extra work was required to make sure we could still get inside the shed after making the front door disappear.)

Next I removed the windows and window frame. Same thing--hammer and nail puller. Then I ripped the vinyl siding off the front (but left the siding on the three other sides--no need to change anything with them, except to paint the siding to match the color). I framed in the holes where the door and windows used to be, using 2 x 4 studs from Home Depot which I cut to size and installed with nails and wood screws. I then installed plywood over the holes where the door and windows used to be. Below you can see the window hole covered and the door hole framed in and ready to be covered.

What it looked like after door and siding removed, holes framed, and plywood installed over window hole.

A 4' x 8' sheet of plywood from Home Depot was all it took to cover the door and window holes. I just cut two pieces to size and hammered them into place (Note that the cuts in the original plywood around the door and windows were not terribly straight so it wasn't really possible to install the new plywood over the 2 holes in a really tight/seamless fashion, but as you'll see farther down that doesn't really matter much as we were able to caulk and paint to deal with this.)

The trash heaps:

Old door, door frame, and windows.

The siding - gonna be a big trash day coming up soon!

Here's what the framing looks like from inside the shed:


Next I built, installed, and painted the center piece. I got some 2 x 2's and 1 x 4's from Home Depot, and built this simple frame using the 2 x 2's for the side rails and the 1 x 4's for the slats down the middle. I just hammered this all together using large exterior finish nails, and used a small 1 x 4 block of wood as a guide to space the slats evenly all the way down.


After this I built, installed, and painted the shutters. In the picture below you can see a finished shutter on the left. I'll go through the steps I took to assemble and install the shutters next. You can also see the finished and installed/painted center piece here. (Note that I used a roller to paint the plywood behind the center piece before I installed it, figuring this would be easier than painting the plywood between each of the slats after the center piece was installed.) And color credits to my beautiful Colette, the incredibly talented artist and color genius who picked this really nice off-white color - it's Behr Ultra Creamy White from Home Depot. It's the same color we used to paint a few sections of trim around the pergola sitting right in front of the shed, as you can catch a glimpse of here as well.)


To assemble and install the shutters, I started by cutting and installing a 28" piece of 2 x 4 as the bottom (outer) frame of the shutter, as seen in both the picture above and the picture below. (Note, as you can also see here, that I installed some 1 x 6 as trim across the bottom as well.)


I then painted the plywood behind the shutters before installing anything else. The awesome shade of gray we used (also selected by Colette!) is Ben Moore Coventry Gray.

I used 1 x 2's to build the inner frame which forms the border around the shutter slats. I just cut and hammered 4 pieces of 1 x 2 together to make the frame, and then installed it on top of the 28" outer border piece of 2 x 4 seen above. I then cut and installed a 28" piece of 2 x 6 as the top/outer border piece of the frame, and then finished painting the rest of the gray all around the center piece.

Here's what the inner frame looks like installed, with the top and bottom outer frame pieces also shown.


To make all the shutter slats, I cut a bunch of 1/4" lattice trim from Home Depot to size (26.5" long). I hammered 2 small brads into each end of the shutter slats, leaving the ends of the brads protruding roughly 1/4" or so.


Important note--Before I installed the inner frame onto the plywood as shown above, I measured and cut (using a mitre hand saw) shallow diagonal slits 1" apart all the way down the interior sides of the 2 long pieces of the inner shutter frame, as shown below. With these diagonal slits cut and the inner frame installed, I then pushed each of the shutter slats firmly into place by inserting and pushing the brads on either side of the slats into the diagonal slits, as you can also see here.


Next I cut and installed a couple 2 x 3 studs to form the shutter's 2 outer frame sides.


I then squeezed a bead of liquid nails on either side of the tops of the slats and smoothed it out using my finger.




Then used a small dab of wood filler to cover up the front edge of each of the slits cut into the sides of the shutter frame.



After the liquid nails and wood filler dried I sanded it down and then used wood filler and caulk wherever else they were needed across the "new" front of the shed. I then installed some thin strips of wood trim across the top and sides of the shed wall to give a more finished look.



Finally, I sanded and painted everything else that needed it.


All done!


Thanks for reading!

- David