Thursday, September 3, 2015

asparagus casserole

I love asparagus, and I was so sad I had to leave my garden in Ohio where it grew so happy!  This recipe used canned asparagus, which I had never had.  But it's covered in dried onions, which I love (and couldn't stop eating out of the can as I was making this):

Honestly I thought it was very tasty, but the canned asparagus was odd.  It had a mushy texture like many canned veggies had, so I think this would be better with fresh asparagus, but I'm not sure how that affects the process.

Asparagus Casserole
1-½ cans of asparagus drained
1 can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup
1 cup of crushed Ritz crackers
1 large container of dried onions
½ to 1 cup shredded cheese

Layer bottom of square glass casserole dish with asparagus.
Spread cream of mushroom soup over the asparagus (whip soup first for easy spreading).
Thoroughly crush Ritz crackers in a plastic Ziploc bag and pour evenly over the soup.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350.
Uncover and sprinkle cheese and dried onions evenly over the dish and place back in oven uncovered for an additional 5 minutes or until casserole is bubbly, cheese is melted and onions are lightly browned.

Note: if cooking with a deep glass casserole dish, you may double the layers of the ingredients (except for the cheese and onions). Cook time should remain the same.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

cauliflower au gratin

I don't eat cauliflower a lot, but I do like it a lot, especially if you throw the word gratin there - I love me some cheese!  So I looked forward to this dish, but honestly it was just okay.  Nothing spectacular, nothing I ate it all and it was decent as leftovers, but I don't think I'll make it again.  Maybe I need more cheese?  HA. 

Cauliflower Au Gratin
1 medium cauliflower
1 can cream of celery soup
2 ½ oz jar sliced mushroom (drained)
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Wash cauliflower; remove outer leaves; cut out center core. Cook in enough boiling salted water to cover, about 20 minutes or until fork tender, but not mushy, drain well; place in greased casserole. Heat undiluted soup, stir in mushrooms, spoon over cauliflower, sprinkle with cheese. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven about 15 minutes until cheese is melted and browned. Sprinkle top with paprika. Cut in wedges for easier serving at table.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

starting to fix the guest room wall

Soon after we moved in, we painted a feature wall in the guest bedroom.  We decided to get fancy and add a texture to it.  BAD IDEA.  Only because the combination of the texture and the semi-gloss paint caused problems.  There are overlapping marks from the paint (which is normal since you are supposed to maintain a wet edge when painting), and so some of the wall is lighter or darker than other parts.  The glare from the window make it even more obvious:

See some vertical striping in there from the reflection?  Yep, that's the problem.  Even after multiple coats. (And normally the bed goes against that wall but we had already cleared space.)

We have been sitting on it about 2 years trying to decide what we wanted to do to cover up the texture, and we had to save up money in our home improvement fund.  Finally, Pinterest gave us an idea that looks easy, fairly cheap, and cool!  Pinterest led me to a blog where they had put a whole covering on the wall and then made a grid:

So Andy and I can totally do that, right?  We're handy!  So we got the supplies from Home Depot (about an hour+ away but they didn't sell the right thickness of MDF at our Lowe's) and began.  First you have to cover the wall:

Man I see those stripes in the picture and it kills me.  So annoying!  The only reason I've lived with it for two years is because we don't go in that room much.  So this project takes a LOT of math (my sister will be so proud) because not only do you have to plan where the 'stripes' of the wall will go, but you also have to make sure that the stripes will cover up the seams from piecing the wall covering together.

We put full sheets on from the right and left with a little trimming to make sure that the seams will fall on the stripes:

Cutting these big sheets with the table saw was tough only because they are very thin.  But it worked....I forgot to take a picture with the last piece in there, but you'll how it seams up in the next posting!

Friday, August 28, 2015

awesome chocolate chocolate chip cake with buttercream frosting

This cake is one of the best cakes I've ever made!!!  I thought I should share something especially delicious after writing about the tuna. 

This recipes is not from my wedding cookbook, but my mom requested this for her birthday.  To be more exact, she asked for "a layered chocolate cake with chocolate chips in it with buttercream frosting".  Very specific!  Luckily she didn't have a preference between square and round because round pans are what I have.

I went searching online and found a cake recipe and a frosting recipe that sounded great and got good reviews.  I also found a cool trick for preventing chocolate chips from sinking in your cake, which is dust them with flour:

Although I'm not sure it's necessary because the mini chocolate chips seemed to melt away and never really found them in the cake anywhere.  But a handy trick to know!  The finished product came out super pretty:

Seriously dense and delicious:

Honestly the best cake I've made in a loooooooong time, and is a serious competer for best cake ever with my cinnamon roll cake

The cake recipe is here:

The frosting recipe is here:
I did follow some reviewers comments and only used 3 cups of powdered sugar instead of 3.5, but otherwise made it exactly like the recipe.  It made the perfect amount to frost this cake. 

Next time you need a cake for a birthday, pot luck, or a Wednesday at home with movies, I seriously urge you to make this cake!! Even those (Dad and Andy) who aren't chocolate lovers really liked this cake.  Leftovers did not last long!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

the recipe that may prevent me from finishing my cookbook goal

I've never been a fan of tuna.  In fact that would be the one food (that's I've tried) that I would say I just don't like.  Other foods I may not prefer and choose something instead, but tuna fish is icky to me.  So there was a recipe in my cookbook, "Tuna Supper," which had me leery.  But in the interest of my goal, I was making it:

Decided cheese might make it a little better:

No, it didn't.  Andy and I both tried it, and didn't eat even half of one.  I can't remember what we had instead - maybe a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?  In any case I threw it out.  Yes, I hate wasting food, but neither of us wanted to eat it!  I can't comment on whether it was actually good or not, but that's because I don't like tuna fish! 

This recipe also makes me very fearful to try the other recipe in my cookbook that is haunting me: chicken liver pate.  We'll see how that goes...I just dread the idea of trying to eat pureed chicken livers, both due to being livers and because it's pureed meat, which is just wrong!

Tuna Supper
3 green peppers cut in half
2 7-oz cans tuna drained and flaked
½ cup chopped celery
2 hard-cooked eggs chopped
¼ cup chopped onion
1 T. chopped pimento or olives
Salad dressing

Parboil green peppers 5 minutes. Combine tuna, celery, egg, onion, pimentos and enough salad dressing to moisten. Mix lightly. Fill green pepper halves. Bake at 350ยบ-30 minutes. Add a little water bake. Serves six.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

what i learned while estate planning....

Andy and I had never done estate planning and didn't have a will, but when we set up Roth IRA's and had to choose contingent beneficiaries, which opened up a much larger conversation.  So here we are doing the whole thing: will, beneficiaries, power of attorney, health directive, etc.  I had to do a lot of research to figure out even where to start or what questions to ask.

For those of you who are curious, or who have never thought about it, or need a place to start, here are some of the valuable insights I gained in my research.  Of course this in NO way is legal advice (and we are actually going to meet with an estate lawyer to discuss some additional questions we have).  But I did learn some valuable things that might help someone else plan!

The most helpful book:
Yes, I'm a librarian, so I did some book research on wills and estate planning.  The best book by far of the three or four I had gotten from the library was Plan Your Estate by Denis Clifford.  According to the copyright page in the book, they publish an updated version every two years.  It was invaluable to demonstrating what I needed to know so I could ask good questions and do more research.  It also gives quite a few details specific to certain states.

There is a lot of talk about taxes when I was doing research.  So here is a short summary of what I learned:
  • Gift tax is only for gifts that you make while you are alive.  Gift tax does not apply to anything related to your estate.
  • Federal estate tax applies only to estates over $5 million.  (um, yeah, this won't apply to us)  
  • State estate tax varies by state.  I learned for Tennessee it currently applies only if the estate is over $2 million, which still won't apply to us.
  • State inheritance tax must sometimes be paid on an inheritance, but this also varies by state.  Tennessee and Virginia to do not have it, but I learned Pennsylvania does, which could matter since one of Andy's brothers lives there and he may be responsible for taking action on our estate.  Turns out in Pennsylvania it only applies if the person who dies lives in PA or if the property resides in PA (I had to call an 800-number to verify this).  Since neither of those would apply to anything Andy would leave to his brother, it doesn't apply in our case.  But since this varies by state, be sure to investigate!
  • When calculating the value of your estate for tax purposes, it takes into account everything you leave whether it be by will, beneficiary, if it's cash, real estate, etc.
  • Lastly, any money you leave to someone that was pretax (like if your 401k or other retirement plan was taken out of your paycheck before tax), the person who gets it will have to pay taxes out of it just like you would have had to pay taxes on it if you were getting it as part of retirement.  Exception: if you leave it to a charity with the right tax designation, they will not have to pay taxes on it.  Also, a Roth IRA, since it is set up as an after-tax retirement account, will go to someone tax free!
When you have an account that asks for a beneficiary, that means you list who you want to get the money when you die.  Accounts that have beneficiaries typically include life insurance and retirement accounts.  There is a primary beneficiary (which means your first choice) and often you can also list a contingent beneficiary (which means who gets it if your first choice already died).  Sometimes you can list more than one person and determine the percentage that each person's all dictated by the account on whether you can have multiple primaries, whether you get a contingent, etc.  And you can list a charitable organization as a beneficiary, either primary or contingent.

Now pay attention...this is the best part of doing beneficiaries....are you ready??  If you name someone as a beneficiary, upon your death, that money goes to that person without going through your will and probate (described a little further below).  They typically need to verify their identity and provide proof of the death, and then they get the money without involving the courts.  This is a big deal, as you'll see in the Wills and Probate section.

Payable/Transfer on Death (POD/TOD):
This was a super valuable thing I learned from that book.  Turns out that many bank accounts have a form to fill out that basically names a beneficiary but they call it payable on death.  It functions the same as a beneficiary: the bank account is not part of the will or probate and the person you name gets the money in the account with proof of identity and death documentation.

This is especially helpful because if there are medical bills and funeral bills, the person you name will have fast access to cash.  I had never heard of this until I read the book mentioned above, but it turns out our bank (Regions Bank) totally does this!  I don't know why they don't promote it or ask everyone who sets up a new account to fill out the forms for POD?!  I know it's morbid, but it's a huge perk.  Our bank had just a form to fill out and sign for our existing accounts (we did have to have the name, address, phone number, birthdate, and social security number of the person we named).  No need for us to set up a new account or change the type of account, and we did this for our checking and savings accounts.  Some banks may do this differently and maybe only offer it on certain accounts, but definitely check it out.

Some states may let you also name someone for a Transfer on Death (TOD) for cars or real estate.  Tennessee does not allow this, so I did not investigate this further to really understand how it functions, but it sounded similar to POD, so it would be worth investigating if you are allowed in your state to avoid probate.

Wills and Probate:
These are combined because they are so closely related.  This is where estate planning gets the most complicated, which is why POD and beneficiaries are a huge perk.  So anything left of your estate that doesn't have a beneficiary or isn't paid/transferred on death falls under your will.  Basically the will states what you want done with it, states who will take care of your children if applicable (none for us), and names who is to carry out the wishes in your will (the "executor" of the will).

For us, the only things that are not covered by beneficiaries and POD is our real estate and personal property like furniture, cars, etc.  So our will needs to say what to do with that and name an executor.  We have some questions about our will (the biggest one being who we are allowed to name the executor since state guidelines differ), so our plan is to consult an estate planning lawyer.  I swear estate planning is the one thing that is more complicated when you don't have children like us, because most parents default to leave everything to their children equally!

Some people may leave individual things to specific people (example: my spouse gets the house, my brother gets the car, my neighbor gets my antique table, etc.) but there is always a 'residual' clause in the will.  That means that no matter whether you name things individually or not, there is always a part of the will that basically says "anything not listed specifically or otherwise taken care of goes to x person". This helps cover anything you forgot or anything you acquired between when you wrote your will and when you died.

Power of Attorney:
This is the part of estate planning that grants people the ability to conduct business for you.  This allows you to name someone to do things like access your bank accounts or even sign off on selling your house if you are incapacitated.  For example, this would be handy if both spouses had to sign off on selling the house and someone is in a coma....but the house needs sold to cover medical expenses.

Health Care Directive:
This is where you fill out a form to name who can make health care decisions for you in case you are not able (like when to stop feeding, pull the plug, saying yes to experimental surgery and drugs, etc.).  Turns out Tennessee actually has a form available on the state's Health Department website, so that was easy!  It allows us to name a person, then a backup person.  Our form also has on it a place to put your burial wishes, which is as good a place as any to put them.  They suggest a copy to the person/people you name, a copy with your estate planning paperwork, and a copy to your doctor.

So there is the intro 101 things that I learned while starting to estate plan.  I'm sure things will change over time, and it can get more complicated I'm sure since we are simple in our needs for estate planning.  Many of these documents need notarized or witnessed (or sometimes both) so make sure you figure that out.  If looking for a notary, sometimes they are available at a library, financial advisor's office, lawyer's office, or maybe someone you know is one.  In any case, you want to be sure that you sign off properly so there is less debate and question when you die.

As a final note, I think it is also helpful to create a list of "instructions" as part of your estate planning paperwork that helps tell people where they need to go or what they need to do.  Like my only sister lives out of state, so I'm pretty sure (before reading this) she'd have NO idea who our bank even was.  So instead of having to dig through an entire filing cabinet, I have created an action document that basically says "here's what to do when Sharon dies".  Yes, it's morbid.  But honestly it's an organized way to help your loved ones settle things easier while they are upset and missing you.  So whoever needs to take care of the details, whether it's my husband or sister or someone else, they know who I bank with, which company has my life insurance, where my retirement accounts are, etc.  It includes business names, phone numbers, and web addresses (not account numbers in case it falls into the wrong hands).  I encourage you to either create a document like this or at the very least have some seriously logically organized filing system so that anyone can get into your files at home and easily find all the necessary information.

Hopefully this helps a few people with starting or tweaking their estate planning!

Friday, August 21, 2015

chicken pot pie

I never make chicken pot pie because it typically has veggies in it...which Andy doesn't love.  He is branching out on his veggies.  He loves corn, but will also eat lettuce, carrots, zucchini and mushrooms (if they are in hibachi Japanese food), onions if he doesn't know they are in there, and a few green beans. 

But since this recipe was in my cookbook, I wanted to try it.  It's really easy with frozen pie crusts and a rotisserie chicken...great for a weeknight dinner! 

Now I only put corn and chicken inside (so corn instead of mixed veggies as the recipe calls for) but Andy said he could have had carrots in there too.  Good to know!  I forgot to take an inside picture.  I only used two pie crusts and did this in a pie pan since there are only two of us.  It reheated well and we both thought it was very tasty!

Easy Chicken Pot Pie
1 Rotisserie Chicken
1 large bag of frozen vegetables
2 cans Cream of Chicken Soup
½ - 1 cup milk (depends on how creamy you like it)
3 Pillsbury Flaky Pie Crusts

First, remove all of the chicken and cut into small pieces, set aside.
In a 9x13 casserole dish, use 1 ½ pie crusts to cover the bottom and sides of the dish (it doesn’t have to be perfect, and gaps are not a big deal).
Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes (slightly cooked). Remove slightly cooked crust.
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the chicken, vegetables, soup and milk. Pour mixture into crust and top with remaining 1 ½ pie crusts.
Bake covered at 350 for about 35 minutes, then uncover for an additional 30 minutes, or until crust is brown and bubbly.

You can make this ahead of time and freeze; just remove from freezer in the morning, let thaw all day. Bake time may increase about 30 minutes if still slightly frozen.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

stuffed peppers

I don't typically make stuffed peppers, but I have eaten my mom's recipe and my mother-in-law's recipe.  Both are good, but I think this is just not my favorite food.  The recipe in my cookbook smelled delicious as it was simmering in my dutch oven all day.  I couldn't find meatloaf mix so I did a pork and beef combination.

We were both a little disappointed in this recipe, especially after how good it smelled!  It just seemed to be lacking in flavor somehow.  Andy thought it was odd to have rice in his stuffed peppers, but that didn't seem weird to me.  He put ketchup on his, but we just didn't love this.  Odd how it missed the mark after simmering in tomato juice for hours, but oh well!  Could just be our personal preference.

Stuffed Peppers
1 ½ Meat loaf mix (Beef, Pork, Veal)*
½ cup Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice (or Minute Rice)
1 Medium diced Onion
2 tsp Minced Parsley
1 cup Milk
Salt and Pepper to taste
6 Peppers
1 Large Can Tomato Juice

Mix meat, onion, parsley, salt, pepper, rice and milk well (mixture will be soft). Remove core and veins from peppers. You can use green peppers, or we like the Medium hot yellow peppers. Stuff mixture into peppers and drop into simmering tomato juice. Any leftover mixture can be formed into balls, and put into hot tomato juice. Simmer 3 hours.

* Meat Loaf Mix is traditionally ½ pound of each of the three ground meats. You can used any combination though to get your 1 ½ pounds.

Monday, August 17, 2015

the states i've visited

There is a cool website that lets you color in the states you've visited.  Here are mine:

I'm missing Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Montana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Not too bad!  A lot of those states I've been to/through because of traveling for volleyball both in college and then playing beach volleyball.  Of course moving to and from San Diego in my car and taking a driving vacation to Maine both helped as well!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

chocolate chip pie

I don't make pies often, but a chocolate chip pie sounds good!  Andy's favorite cookie is chocolate chip, so this had real potential.

I used my crust shield when baking from the start, and I used Pillsbury crusts.  They don't roll out super even and aren't super pretty, so that's why my crust looks lopsided:

Of course we had to serve it a la mode!

Andy, Mom, and Dad all loved it and gave repeated compliments about how good it was.  Although it was super good, it was honestly too sweet for me to have a whole piece.  The picture above was my tiny piece and I couldn't finish it. 

But I would definitely recommend - it's a great way to serve chocolate chip dessert.  Just cut into small pieces for some :)

Chocolate Chip Pie
1 unbaked pie shell
½ cup flour
1 cup sugar
1 stick margarine or butter
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (optional - I used walnuts because that's what I had)

Mix flour and sugar together. Melt margarine and add to flour mixture. Mix in eggs, vanilla, chips, and nuts. Pour into pie shell and bake at 325 for 45 minutes (may take longer- until it is mostly set). Cover the edge of the crust with foil to prevent over-browning.