Sunday, January 25, 2015

Seeds for the new year

It's seed time!! It snowed again today, so we are battling the dropping temps by ordering seeds.

So, we have seeds for beets, beans, kale (brave choice), peppers and tomatoes on the way. We had trouble with beets and leeks last year, so that will be a gamble, but the kale, you might remember, went gangbusters. Peppers and tomatoes will be rotated this year, so we will see... 

We have bags of soil at the ready...

And our seed containers are collected, so now it's just a matter of getting the seeds. It's a fun occupation for the new year, a time when everything seems possible ... even beets from seed. :)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Good ol' chicken strips: a healthier version

I make a lot of different things, but I sort of draw the line at frying, aside from corn shells for tacos. So, I prefer to bake things when possible. Such is the case with these chicken strips.

The keys to good oven-baked chicken strips are in the spices and application. Other than that, it's time.

We have these when we have appetizer nights, and usually serve them with ranch dressing.

All you need:

Two large boneless skinless chicken breasts
A large ziploc bag
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
1/2 t. garlic salt
1 t. kosher salt
1/2-1 t. black pepper
1/2 t. white pepper
paper towels
a sharp knife or kitchen shears
8 oz. low-fat buttermilk
1-2 cups Italian bread crumbs

All you need to do:

Dry chicken well with paper towels. Cut into 1 to 2-in. strips against the grain with a sharp knife or kitchen shears.

Place into ziploc bag. Add all spices and close bag. Shake to distribute spices evenly on chicken.

Add 8 oz. buttermilk, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Take chicken out of fridge. Line a cookie sheet or two with parchment paper. Pour one cup of breadcrumbs into a shallow bowl.

Using a tongs, take a piece of chicken out of the bag. Dredge it into the crumbs, making sure all sides are covered well. Place onto parchment covered cookie sheet. Repeat with remaining pieces.

Bake for 26-28 min., making sure to rotate sheets half-way through. Let cool five minutes. Serve with ranch dressing.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The tiny counter gets a facelift

I don't even recognize my counter right now, and it's kind of awesome.

We have been cooking all sorts of things - stew, turkey, cookies. But the thing is, the counter has been getting a facelift, and as a result, everything was put on hold.

You might remember the old green countertop.

This fine color came with the house, and matched the fabulous ivy wallpaper, which we battled with and won.

At some point, I read what I'm sure was a well-intentioned tutorial on painting one's countertops with chalkboard paint. As our counter had no finish to speak of anyway.... you guessed it...

... I painted it. Oh, for a time machine.

At first, it looked all right. But then it started to chip. And no repainting could fix it. And no Christmas cookies could make it better.

Check out the scuffing in the right-hand corner there. Super attractive!

If I had it to do over again, I'd find an all-purpose primer, and use an epoxy for a topcoat. However, when I was considering redoing it, I looked into the materials and it was hard to ensure that all of them would be food-safe. After that, I was a little skeeved out, and proceeded to do all mixing, etc., with towels covering the counter. Not ideal.

Either way, the counter was going to have to to be replaced. The paint just hastened it by a bit. Luckily, the countertop is indeed tiny, making certain materials less costly as a result. Namely, granite.

To misquote Ferris, granite is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking it up. It is beauteous.

Here's a few things we learned about granite. One, because ours is dark, it's also very dense? Which apparently is good, because it's strong. It also came sealed, but if it doesn't, you have to seal it. You also have to use a granite cleaner or windex, and avoid all acidic cleansers. As a result, my homemade lavender vinegar cleaner has been relegated to the bathroom.

The countertop included a stainless undermount sink. It's hard to communicate the excitement I had when I learned this. I was without speech.

So, the counter included a sink, but did not include a backsplash, which I hadn't thought about, really, until it was installed. That began the process of looking at all types of tile for the backsplash. And I mean all. Here's a fun fact - most backsplashes either come in 3-in. or 5- to 6-in. heights, but not usually 4-plus inches. Then there's something called a pencil which is a super expensive backsplash tile border thing.

I decided to go with a mosaic, figuring it would fit most areas, without the need for a border, and I could cut it apart to fit the space. A lot of mosaic 12-in. square tiles on netting ran around $10 to $14 per square, which was a bit rich for my blood. I did find good deals at Menards, and they also had some super helpful people.

I used this tutorial from Amy Matthews on DIY Network to figure out how to put it together. That was really helpful, as she does a mosaic tile in the video. The total haul included the tile, a trowel, a rubber float, powdered unsanded grout, spacers and a sponge. We already had ceramic thinset at home. So, this is the tile, ungrouted.

Every time I see it, I feel like I'm in someone else's kitchen. It's like a magazine photo. I don't even know what to do with myself.

So, the next step is to grout, but I can't do that for a few days. Then I'll have to caulk the top and bottom, and seal the grout. So in about a week or so, we'll be done! 

I should mention that there was a ton of stuff on this countertop which went to live on the living room table while this was going on over Christmas. My goal is now to fit everything in the cabinets, rather than disturb the peaceful wonderland that is the counter. If the cabinets look fit for company afterwards, I will show them to you, because that will be yet another miracle.

Back soon with an update!