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!


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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Mitchell's Bacon Jalapeño Dip


One of my husband & son Mitchell's favorite things are jalapeño poppers. Tonight I turned my recipe into a dip just for them because, you know, I love them & all and I am not going to lie, I was craving something spicy. You could be as creative as you wish & add shredded cheddar or gouda on top during the last 10 minutes to add an extra kick. Be prepared though, this dip is HOT so if your not a hot & spicy fan this is NOT for you!

Check out the printable recipe below:

 Mitchell's Bacon Jalapeño Dip

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sleep-deprived and Stomping on Serpents

Luke 10:19 has long been one of my favorite verses of scripture. It reads as follows in the Amplified version:

Behold! I have given you authority and power to trample upon serpents and scorpions, and [physical and mental strength and ability] over all the power that the enemy [possesses]; and nothing shall in any way harm you.

Jesus spoke these words to "the seventy," after they returned from being sent out by Him "like lambs into the midst of wolves" (Luke 10:3). The seventy were returning to the Lord with joy and marveling to Jesus that "...even the demons are subject to us in Your name!"

I love the picture of power this scene paints--the power of the Lord Jesus Christ, creator of the universe, given to a bunch of guys whose names we don't even know, guys we know only as "the seventy." This scene reminds me that Jesus freely gives His power to anyone genuinely seeking to do His will. It reminds me that, whenever we find ourselves feeling like a lamb in the midst of wolves, we can take comfort knowing that God's power is always stronger and more real than any feeling we may have. No matter how insignificant or incapable or unequipped you ever feel, if Jesus is your Lord then you possess physical and mental strength and ability over ALL the power of the enemy! And we don't just tiptoe around serpents and scorpions, either. No, we walk right over them, trampling them unapologetically and without missing a stride, knowing that as we do nothing will in any way harm us!

What an awesome promise this is. What a completely amazing truth! The trick is, though, as a follower of Jesus do you actually believe this promise? Do you receive it? you? I think that many times Christians don't see this truth play out in their lives, and they don't live with this sort of power and command over their circumstances, because of how they feel. I think Christians often don't feel like they have the power and authority of Jesus to trample their serpents and scorpions, and as a result they get tricked into believing they do not have it. Wrong! This promise from the lips of Jesus has absolutely nothing to do with how we feel, and the sooner we realize that the sooner we can get on with the trampling!

I remember about 17 years ago, as a young Christian with a young family I was working a full-time job all day, pushing myself to progress in my fledgling career while also working a second job delivering papers at night. I would go home each day after work from my day job, spend a few family hours together with Colette and our 2-year-old son Jackson, then sleep for a few hours and get back up at 1:00 or 1:30am and head out to work the paper route till 5:00 or 6:00 am, after which I'd change clothes in a McDonalds bathroom and then head back into my day job and start the cycle all over again.

We did this crazy routine for a whole year. Colette miraculously handled virtually every aspect of our home (while pregnant with Boy #2 Hunter, I might add) so I could work the 2-job schedule we needed at that point to make ends meet. We knew this routine was hard, seemingly impossible and utterly exhausting. But you know what I remember most about this time? Not that it was a hard time, although in the natural it was hard in many ways. No, I remember it mostly as a joyful, purposeful, and thriving time for our young family as we pursued our destiny and dreams together. I remember the satisfaction of working hard--together--doing what we could and leaving what we couldn't in the hands of the Lord.

I remember a simple contentment and joy at night, coming home exhausted but thankful, and laying down to precious if short sleep with my beautiful wife and our little son.

Taking a break with newborn awesome year and one to remember for sure!

I remember having a real sense of purpose when the alarm went off each morning at that crazy hour when no one in their right mind should ever be awake, and trudging back to the grind because it was necessary; and even more than that--because it was my privilege and honor to be entrusted with such a great responsibility of love. I remember driving the eerily silent midnight streets of Detroit alone, delivering papers in the midst of the very real and tangible presence of God who was right there with me in the car. It was like me and Jesus were the only ones in the whole city awake at that hour, like two old friends just hanging out together. In an odd sort of way it was always just a little bit disappointing when the sun finally did start to crack over the horizon.

Then, after a full year of this routine, I remember the utter joy and excitement we had when I landed a new job that provided the income we needed so I could quit the paper route and focus on advancing in a one-job career. And fast-forwarding to today, God has in His infinite grace and love and generosity continued to surprise and bless us in so many ways over and over ever since.

Family times with Grammy & Papa!

Out to eat at one of our long-time favorite places - Chili's!

Looking back, if at the time we would have focused on the difficulties and struggles we faced, I'm not sure how we could have done it. But I've learned that whenever you make up your mind to take Jesus at His word, impossible--as they say--is nothing! We trampled the serpents and scorpions of fatigue, mental exhaustion, financial stress, and discouragement. We walked in the very real physical and mental strength and ability Jesus provides each of us over all the power that the enemy possesses.

We leaned on God. We had to. But does that ever really change? Don't we always have to lean on Him, really? Does our need for Him in any way ever lessen, even after the many blessings and provision we may experience over many years?

No, of course not. In fact, our need for Jesus should actually grow each and every day, out of gratitude for His goodness and a simple desire to know Him more closely. But we need to remind ourselves of this often. We need to ask ourselves frequently if there are any areas of our life where we've relinquished the power Jesus has given to the power that the enemy possesses. And if the answer is ever yes, even just a tiny little yes, then it's time to kick ourselves in the butt and remind ourselves who we are in Christ, recall what He has given us to face every need, and then get back to trampling and stomping all those serpents and scorpions--In Jesus' name!

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Office Make-over - Floor Edition: An Awesome Flooring Solution to Replace your Old, Worn Out Carpet

Hello! Dave here - I'd like to share a little about a very recent DIY project we just completed to replace the floor in Colette's art room/office. Maybe it'll inspire you to replace your own floor!

This is Colette's art room/office today:

And this is how it looked before we bought our house:

As you can see we've made a lot of changes to the room, but I want to focus here on the flooring change which I recently completed because the ancient berber carpet in the room had gotten irritatingly frayed and worn. The carpet actually starting shedding a while back. This is NOT acceptable.  So I was determined to make sure my beautiful and amazingly talented Artiste would be comfortable and free to create in her work space--not itching and scratching which I'm pretty sure must stifle creativity!

The "wood" flooring I installed to accomplish my goal (in the "after" picture above) is actually a vinyl flooring product from Home Depot called Allure trafficMASTER. I discovered this great flooring option a couple years ago while remodeling the kids' upstairs bathroom. Allure trafficMASTER is an economical flooring product that looks terrific and is also really easy to install.

A couple more before and after shots:

A few more words about the flooring product itself, then I'll briefly walk through the installation process. Allure trafficMASTER comes in 2 primary grades - Allure and Allure Ultra. The Allure Ultra grade is a little more expensive but is completely waterproof, while the Allure version is less expensive (about $1.79 a square foot) but is also a little less waterproof. Allure comes in 6" x 36" planks, while the Allure Ultra planks are a little wider and longer. Both versions result in a very professional looking "wood-like" finish when installed.

Both grades come in a large selection of colors, basically all sorts of wood shades running from very light to very dark and everything in between. You can see the selection on display in the flooring section of your local Home Depot store, and the selections are also available for viewing online.

I went with the Allure Ultra grade for the bathroom, in order to get the full waterproofing benefit, and used the base Allure version (in the Blonde Maple shade) for Colette's art room.

As far as how to install Allure flooring, it's a pretty simple process. There is a slight difference in how the 2 different grades of Allure flooring are installed, but they both go down pretty much the same way. The Allure version has a strong adhesive on 2 sides of each plank, and when you lay each plank in place you simply press down firmly on the 2 adhesive sides to ensure a strong bond.

Allure Ultra, by contrast, does not utilize any adhesive. Instead, each plank is constructed with interlocking tongue-and-groove edges that you connect with each adjacent plank of flooring to ensure a very tight, interlocking bond between each piece.

The first step was to get rid of the old carpet. This was a pretty straightforward process. I moved all the stuff from one half of the room to the other half, and then using razor-blade utility knife I scored a deep cut in the carpet right down the middle of the room, from one end of the room all the way to the other. I then just started ripping up the old carpet, being careful to pull it free of all the carpet nails and staples that were used to fasten it to the floor. Once you get a corner started, the whole thing comes up pretty easily.

With the carpet now free from the floor, I was able to roll it up and haul it out to the trash.

Next I essentially repeated the exact same process to pull up the carpet padding that was installed as a base layer underneath the carpet. So again, I used the knife to cut down the middle of the room, along the same line I cut the carpet layer. Then I pulled the padding free of all the nails and staples holding it, and just rolled it up and hauled it out to the trash.

And here's the end result of all this. (Note: the small legs on the right belong to one of my excellent helpers, our very own Princess Chloë who started out very strong on the job but then quickly retreated for more "girly" endeavors.)

After you've removed your carpet and padding, you should be down to whatever the sub-floor layer is, and hopefully you find that it doesn't require too much prep work before you can start installing your new floor. In our case, the floor beneath the art room's carpet and padding was a typical plywood sub-floor, since it's a second story room right over the garage. Note, however, that if you're working with a first story room (and it's not over a basement or garage) you may find cement slab beneath the carpet. It doesn't really matter what the sub-flooring is, though, because to install the new Allure plank flooring the only real prerequisite is that whatever sub-floor material you're dealing with just needs to be completely clean and free of debris, so that you're left with a clean, even surface upon which you can start laying down your new flooring. So you need to make sure you remove or repair all nails, staples, or anything else that makes the floor uneven, bumpy or jagged.

For our project, we thankfully found the sub-flooring to be in good shape and it was a simple process for me (and my helpers!) to pull all the remaining nails and staples from the floor (using pliers), and to also remove the narrow wood carpet strip from around the perimeter of the floor (using a nail puller and hammer).

A few shots of this part of the process, featuring Princess Chloë (in her last official task of helping before the job lost its charm) and our 14-year old Mitch who was a huge help and hard worker throughout the project (thanks so much Mitch!!)

I was happy to find this part of the project much easier than what I ran into when replacing the bathroom floor a couple years before....that project involved removing several layers of tile flooring (and an old nasty toilet, which is always fun to mess with) to finally get down to the plywood sub-flooring only to find it in need of much replacing, repairing, and decontaminating in several places that were rotted and moldy. Needless to say, compared to that simply pulling a bunch of nails and staples this time around was a very welcome task!

Once we'd finished all this I did a thorough vacuuming with the shop vac and we were finally ready to start laying down the Allure flooring.

Voila! Ready to put down the new floor!
As far as the actual installation process goes, there are a lot of good videos readily available online that show you how to work with and install the Allure planks. There are a few tricks you need to learn--for example how to measure cut the pieces, how to properly connect them together, how to install around obstructions, etc. But it really is very easy and doesn't take long to get the hang of it. You can actually get everything you need to know to get started by spending about 10-15 minutes watching a couple of installation "how-to" videos. Here are a couple pretty good ones I found - there are many more...

Video: Installing Allure Flooring

Video: Installing Allure Ultra Flooring

Because of the way the Allure interlocking strips are designed, you should always lay this flooring down from left to right. Aesthetically, because Colette's art room is a rectangular shape, I wanted the planks to run long ways down the length of the room rather than sideways across the narrower span of the room (which would have looked really weird). So with that orientation as my guide, I started in the "upper left" corner of the room (see first picture below) and began laying down each interconnecting piece moving left to right to ensure the interlocking tongue-and groove edges connected together properly.

I should note that it's really important to take your time and make sure your first couple of rows are installed nice and tight together, and to ensure that you lay them down very straight and square with the edges of the room. If you start out straight and square, everything will end up straight and square and look great. But if things get off track or crooked in your first couple of rows, the whole floor will end up off track and crooked.

Almost done with the first half of the room - Let's go Mitch!
Another important installation point has to do with the pattern you should follow when laying out each subsequent row of flooring. You do not want to line up your seams from one row to the next, you instead want the seams from one row of flooring to the next to be staggered, intentionally not lining them up, which will result in a very professional and finished wood-floor look when you're finished.

Accomplish this look is easy. All you need to do is make sure you start each new row (again, going left to right) with a different sized plank so that the seams from one row to the next are staggered and don't line up with or near one another. It's also not necessary to be exact in how long each starting piece is from one row to the next. You really can just eyeball it and make your cuts accordingly.

Generally speaking, you should start about each 4th or 5th row with a full-length plank, with the rows in between each starting with smaller planks following a set pattern (apprx. 3/4 of a plank long, then 1/2 plank long, and 1/4 plank long). Again, it's not necessary to be exact in measuring your starting plank lengths - all you're really doing is eyeballing it to vary the sizes of each starting plank so that the seams end up staggered in an alternating pattern. It actually looks a lot more natural if the lengths are not exact and there is some natural variation in them.

That's really about it. The key is to make sure you use a lot of elbow grease and install each plank very tightly against the planks it buts up against. If you do that for each and every piece you lay down, the floor will look grat when it's done!

So, after finishing the first half of the room, Mitch and I moved all the stuff over to the newly finished side to expose the remaining carpeting on the other side of the room.

Then we basically just repeated the same process we'd followed for the first half to remove all the old carpeting and padding and prepare the sub-floor.

From there it was just a matter of continuing where we left off to lay down the remaining rows of flooring until we reached the far wall of the room. The final row required some length-wise trimming of the planks to make them all the right width, and also some cut-outs were needed to go around a few places of molding and woodworking along that far wall.

After laying down the final rows of planks it was time to clean up and enjoy the fruits of our labors! Enjoy your new floor, my love!