Tuesday, February 26, 2008

New Floors - Carpet

As I wrote about in a previous post, we have pretty much "re-floored" our whole house in the past few weeks. Hand-scraped Laminate in the front part of the house and new carpet in the bedrooms. The living room, dining room and hallway got laminate flooring due to the unfortunate circumstance of our AC overflowing. The carpet in the bedroom came about in a much less dramatic way.

When the AC leaked, the insurance company did an evaluation of the carpet to see how much it was worth. We always knew it was cheap carpet but the evaluation proved just how cheap it really was. It was cheap. Several weeks later, Ryan's dad sold a home to a family that wanted to remove all the carpet. We asked what was going to happen to the carpet and learned that it would just be given to the different sub-contractors who wanted it, or we could have it. This was very very nice carpet, for free. So we started discussions with their carpet company about how much it would cost for installation and after several rounds of estimates and several days of discussion about whether it was "worth it" decided to go for it.

Here are pictures:

old carpet (light color) next to the new carpet (darker color)

Next to the new laminate floor

Next to the bathroom tile

Master Bedroom

I have never walked on such soft carpet. As Ryan said, it makes you want to just lay on it.

New Floors - Laminate

Over the past couple of months, we have gotten almost all new flooring in our home. The only thing that is left is the tile in the kitchen and bathrooms.

In October, Ryan and I went on a weekend trip to Dartmouth to see his little brother, Eric. We returned late on Sunday night and found that there was water dripping from our living room ceiling. The water was dripping on our dark red couches which in turn faded on our white carpet. We did some investigating in the attic and found that it was the AC leaking. Ryan called their AC company to come out and inspect the unit. He found that drain had clogged (normal) but that the backed up water missed the secondary drain (not normal). This was because the unit had been installed some 7-8 inches out of level so the water was draining the lowest point... the corner right over our living room.

After several months of conversation with the builder (Lennar) and our insurance company, some mediocre work by the builder and then a decision by the builder that it was OUR fault, we finally turned the whole thing over to the insurance company because we needed to have everything fixed. The dealings with the builder are just too much for me to re-hash so I'll leave it at that.

With Ryan's "hookups" in the building industry, we found that we could fix the ceiling and replace our old carpet with some top of the line laminate for not much more than the amount of the insurance estimate. It was just too good to pass up. After 3 months of a red stain on the carpet we have nice, dark laminate floors in our living room, dining room and hallway.

Dining Room Before

Dining Room after

Entry Before
(Ryan had already torn out the closet piece)

Entry After

Living Room Before

Living Room After

The only down side so far is that Admiral is a white dog and this floor is dark. I never knew how nasty our white carpet must have been. I am sweeping almost daily.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Check out Eric's Music

When Ryan and I got engaged, Ryan's youngest brother, Eric, was so excited to have a "sister" and promptly took to calling me "Sis". Eric is a big goofball. Now, he is engaged so I guess Ryan will finally get a "Sis" too :)

Eric is a very talented musician. He can sit at the piano and just play for hours... making stuff up as he goes. Over the past few years he has learned the guitar and fined tuned his singing voice. He has recorded a few songs over the the past year and is close to having the CD ready. Polished versions of most of the songs can be found on his website. Check it out.


We are all really impressed with the outcome. Oh yeah, and Ryan is "featured" on one of the songs. I'll let you see if you can find him :).

Congrats Eric! Love ya, Bro.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


I've got nothing new to write today, but Erica made Pralines and brought them to work. I wasn't feeling well last night and was so sad I might miss out. Luckily I made it to work and started my day with that wonderful sugar rush! They were just delicious and reminded me of home. Pralines are still on my "to-bake" list... better do it before the humidity rises to normal Houston levels (aka 100%).

Monday, February 18, 2008

Chutney Chicken Salad

I never really liked chicken salad until the past year. I grew up with a strong aversion to Mayonnaise. It really, REALLY grosses me out. I wouldn't eat anything that touched it or that I could tell had mayo in it. I wouldn't touch sour cream either, looked too much like mayo. So things like chicken salad, potato salad, etc were just off limits. Then, as I got older I started to eat potato salad (probably because I live for potatoes) but chicken salad was still a no-no. Then one day, my world was turned upside down.

I helped throw a baby shower where we served chicken salad finger sandwiches from Primos Cafe and Bake Shop. I was really hungry that day and decided the sandwiches didn't look too "mayo-y" so I gave one a try. Then I had a second and a third and a fourth and maybe even a fifth little finger sandwich. From that point on I was addicted to a chicken salad that I could only buy at a restaurant 2 states away. As my parent's next visit to Texas approached, we started brainstorming ways they could carry it on the plane with them but couldn't come up with a good way to keep it cold that didn't involve ice(liquid) or freezer packs(gels) going through security. Not only that, but one little 8oz tub was something like $8!!!

So I just dealt with it until my next visit home. Primos is a long time fixture in the Jackson restaurant and bakery world but a place I had actually never been. I was sure missing out on a good thing. The first place on my list of places to eat is typically Keifers but that time, it was Primos for lunch. I didn't even have to check the menu. I'll have a Chicken Salad Sandwich, and a sweet tea of course. Yum. We got a tub for me to take home as I was checking my luggage and could pack it with some gel packs. It made for great lunches that week.

The little tub from Primos calls the chicken salad "Chutney Chicken Salad" and it listed all the ingredients: Chutney, Mayonnaise, Chicken, Pecans, Celery, Green Onion, Grapes. Sounds easy, but what is Chutney?

Mom asked on of our friends who is an excellent cook and she told us two interesting bits of information.
  1. The chicken salad would probably use what is called "Major Grey's Chutney".
  2. The Junior League of Jackson cookbook Come On In has a recipe in it for "Chutney Chicken Salad" that is very close to the Primos recipe.

Ah-hah. I have that cookbook. And it really is about the exact same thing as Primos. Once again, my co-workers Erica and Marsh have given it the stamp of approval.

Chutney Chicken Salad (Come On In)

1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Major Grey Chutney

8 Chicken Breast Halves, cooked, in bite-sized pieces
2 stalks Celery, coarsely chopped

1 Granny Smith apple, unpeeled, coarsely chopped, sprinkled with lemon juice

1/2 cup red seedless grapes, sliced
1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted

2 cups cooked brown rice
(see note below)

Thoroughly blend mayo and chutney. Combine with all other ingredients. Serve chilled.

My notes: I don't include the rice. I find that the celery can be overwhelming so I normally cut it back some. I add extra pecans and don't toast them. You can use green or red grapes, whatever you prefer. Tastes delicious on sourdough bread.

A Tired Dog is a Good Dog!

Admiral made his first visit to the beach this weekend. Of course, it was rainy and nasty Friday and Saturday but it cleared up on Sunday, just in time for the drive home.

It took him a little bit to understand how hard it is to run in the sand/water/waves but by Sunday he was just barreling through the water. He was EXHAUSTED yesterday. We got home and he went straight to his bed outside. Then, when I got home from the grocery, he came in and went straight to the floor to sleep some more. He pretty much slept all day and was still pretty sluggish this morning.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Valentine's Day -- Part 2

From now on, no baking the night before Valentine's Day (or any other holiday).

On a whim, I decided to do cookie cakes instead of just regular cookies. Little did I know that earlier this week, Ryan went to Kroger and ordered me a personalized cookie cake. What a sweetie.

We have cookie cake galore! Thank goodness I took half of each of the ones I made to work today to fatten up my co-workers!

Some advice: when ordering anything personalized from a person that doesn't speak much English, they probably don't spell well either. Be sure to write exactly what you want out in large, clear letters.

The cake read like this:

Happy Valintines


[insert big red heart with
in the middle here]


(Punctuation and spelling intentional.)

Happy Valentines Day!

This is my Dad's favorite holiday of the year... riiight! I don't know how many times in my life I heard "Valentine's Day was invented by Hallmark and florists." Ryan agrees and hey, I'll admit, it's probably true!

But to me, Valentine's Day is an excuse to bake, and that is just what I did.

I had two bags of Betty Crocker Cookie Mix in the pantry -- one Chocolate Chip, one Sugar. So I decided to make them as cookie cakes. I made the dough as directed on the bags then pressed them out into springform pans. They took longer to cook than cookies -- I just kept an eye on them. They came out of the oven very even and wonderfully browned. The chocolate chip one got a tad bid too hard.

Then, I made the best icing ever... Creamy French Icing. We always called it "Grammy's Creamy French Icing" then I found an almost identical recipe on Cooks.com. I guess Grammy didn't create it but it will always be "hers" in my book. I didn't have vanilla and I was short a little shortening but it still turned out sweet, creamy and yummy.

2 tbsp. water
4 tbsp. sugar
2 1/3 c. sifted powdered sugar
1 egg
1/2 c. Crisco
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt (optional)

Boil water and white sugar together for about 1 minute. Mix powdered sugar and egg (this mixture will get pretty hard. Allow water/sugar mixture to cool a little, but not enough to harden. Then add to sugar/egg mixture. (This will prevent the hot syrup from cooking the egg). Stir in Crisco, vanilla and salt until creamy. (Sometimes I use a hand mixer with the whisk attachment to make it extra creamy.)

I iced my cakes with pink and white and of course a huge heart. I will never claim to be a good cake decorator... but that icing sure tastes good!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Potato Soup

I love, love, love, love, LOVE potato soup. I think this dates back to when I was little and my Nana (great grandmother) would make soups and such by the gallons and "put it up" in the freezer. We used to always have these little plastic containers (the really cheap kind you get at the dollar store) stacked in our deep freezer with potato soup.

We also had containers and containers of peaches and strawberries. We ate the peaches and strawberries frozen. She "seasoned" them with a little (or a lot) of sugar before she "put them up" and that sugar sunk to the bottom before they were frozen. That was the best part, when you got to the bottom of the frozen tub of peaches or strawberries and there was the really sweet, icy mush. Mmmm.

Nana's other specialty was pecans. She and Papaw would drive to the pecan farms and buy bags of pecans. Then she would come home and shell and clean them and put them in bags. We always had bags of pecans in the fridge. I don't think we ever bought them at the grocery store. For some time after Nana died, Mom was still pulling out pecans to make her delicious pecan pies and brown sugar cookies. (Both of these recipes are on my to-make list... too bad Ryan doesn't like pecans.)

Okay, so I digressed a bit. Back to the potato soup. I have been wanting to make some myself and came across this recipe from Southern Living. It was on the ad for their yearly cookbook. I gave it a try last night.

6 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped (1 1/2cups) (I use "sweet onions")
3 (14-ounce) cans of chicken broth with roasted garlic (I used organic free range chicken broth and just added some garlic powder)
1/4 cup butter
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/4 teaspoons pepper
1 cup half & half (or whipping cream)
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 (8-ounce) container sour cream (optional -- I did not use this)
4 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled (I felt lazy so I didn't do this either)
shredded cheddar cheese

1. Combine first 6 ingredients in a 5-quart slow cooker.
2. Cover and cook on high 4 hours (or low 8 hours) or until potato is tender.
3. Mash mixture until potatoes are coarsely chopped and soup in slightly thickened; stir in cream, cheese and chives. Top with sour cream, if desired and sprinkle with bacon and cheddar cheese before serving.

I used red potatoes as that is what I had at the house. None were "large" so I just guessed on how many would equal 6-large. When the soup was done, I felt it was too runny. So, I just boiled a few more potatoes and then mashed them up with a potato masher and added them at the end. Of course, I also added more cheese because everything is better with some extra cheese!

I have only "tasted" the results but my co-workers, Erica and Marsh gave it the thumbs up. It made so much I brought some to share at work. I think Nana would be proud!

It's lunch time now so I might go heat some up myself.

Monday, February 11, 2008

French Bread - Take 2

In a previous post, I mentioned that I attempted the French Bread recipe from Foodie Bride's blog. After my successful King Cake last weekend and new found dough-rising technique, I decided to give the French Bread another try.

I decided to make the bread while I also made breakfast (more on this later). This was a bad idea because both needed the oven... thus ruining my new dough-rising technique. So I just left the dough on the counter, near the little window where the sun creeps in and hoped for the best. Of course, we had plans for the day (rug shopping, ugh) and it was time to go and the dough had not doubled yet. Ryan was ready to go so the bread had to go in the oven. Here's the final product.

Once again, it TASTED divine, looked pretty good but is just "heavy". Oh well, guess I will have to try again! :)

"DIY" - Part 1

Ryan and I do not do too much major DIY work. Since Ryan is a builder, they have lots of sub-contractors that will come do things for us for really good prices. So, that is what we typically do. Yes, I am spoiled! :) We have done some things around the house but we always tend to run into problems and they seem to take way longer than expected. But, this weekend, we decided to tackle a few things ourselves.

First, I convinced Ryan that we needed to re-cover our dining room chairs and that I could do it myself.

Back story: When Ryan's grandparents moved out of their house into an assisted living facility, we inherited their dining room table, china cabinet and curio cabinet. This was definitely a plus since new dining room furniture was low on our "to buy" list. Our dining room has evolved into a Black, Silver and Gold themed room. This came about because Ryan's parents gave us their old chandelier, which was an upgraded version of the one that came with the house. It is brass. I am not a huge fan of brass, but it was a much bigger and nicer chandelier so it was hard to say no. We weren't too sure about trying to paint it, so instead, we got black shades to make it a little more modern. The rest of the items in our dining room (china, serving pieces, accessories) were silver or had silver accents. We even had some candlesticks that were silver with black accents. Perfect! I decided to make the most of it and incorporate the three colors. It has turned out nice.

The only thing that has been bothering me is the maroon chair cushions. They just didn't "go".

So, after many hours of watching Trading Spaces and HGTV, I was convinced that I could just re-do them myself. I had the idea of finding some gold and black striped fabric. I drug Ryan to Joanne's Fabrics (he felt very out of place) and we found several fabrics that we liked. Of course the ones we liked were outrageously priced. So we looked and looked and found a nice gold on gold striped fabric. It wasn't exactly what we wanted but it was only $10 per yard, then was on sale 50% off. $5 a yard sealed the deal.

The project turned out really well. The only problems I faced was that my staple gun was just not cutting it. So, off to Home Depot to pick up a new one. Ahh, much better. I got all four chairs done in about an hour or so.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Mardi Gras - King Cake!

It's that time of year again. When people do crazy things for little plastic beads. For me, I think of all my Millsaps friends from Louisiana and the couple of Mardi Gras weekends I spent in New Orleans and Lafayette eating delicious cajun food. Then, being the sugar lover that I am, I think of King Cake and all that gooey sugary goodness on the inside and the outside.

My co-worker, Erica, married a boy from Louisiana and inherited a cookbook full of his mothers Louisiana recipes. She has been kind enough to share some with us, the latest of which is this delicious Louisiana King Cake recipe. This recipe could easily be made into a regular breakfast cinnamon roll as well.

I did learn some things...

I attempted some French Bread a couple of weeks ago and didn't do well on getting the dough to rise. It tasted good but was heavy. This time I did better. Ryan keeps our house on a cool 68 year round. This is not prime temperature to allow dough to rise. Another food blogger, FoodieBride, has a nifty setting on her oven for dough that keeps the oven at something around 9oF. I am not this lucky. So, before I started mixing the dough I turned my oven to the lowest setting, warm (170F). I left it on while I prepped the dough. When the oven was preheated, I turned it off. When the dough was ready, I put it in the oiled bowl, covered, etc. The oven still felt too hot. I put the bowl in the oven but left the door slightly open for the first 20-30 minutes. Then, when the oven got down to a more normal "room temperature" (not Ryan's normal, but normal people's normal) I shut the door. It took about an hour to more than double!

I also learned that when Ryan says things like "I don't like King Cake", I should just ignore him and continue baking. When I was done baking and decorating, I gave him a small slice to taste. When he got to a break point in his favorite XBox360 game, I heard a convincing "mmmm" coming from the couch. Five minutes later, a second (and three times larger) piece was requested. If the way to the man's heart is truly the stomach... an night of Davis Spaghetti and fresh baked King Cake should do the trick! Successful night of baking.

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