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Food Friday: White Bean, Bacon, Kale, Butternut Squash Soup

I should really come up with a shorter name for this one, but nothing really does it justice.  It’s essentially my pasta-less take on a minestrone.

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Back in August when that super cute I-could-squeeze-those-cheeks-for-days nephew of ours was born, we offered to make some freezable meals for my sister and brother-in-law.  Any one who’s been on the receiving end of that offer is often met with lasagna or a casserole.  And not saying those are awesome and equally appreciated, but there’s only so much of that you can take!

We brainstormed and figured instead of making one ginormous dish that they’d eat about 1/3 of before the rest went bad, we’d make a couple of smaller portions of some other things.  One of which was this soup which turned out to be a big hit.  So last week, when we were coming up with what to make for our next door neighbors who just had a baby, we decided to make it again.  It’s easy, simple, super healthy, and…. well let’s just share it with you shall we?

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • chicken stock
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped
  • 3-4 slices of thick cut bacon, chopped
  • 2 cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • Kale, 3-4 leaves, washed, de-stemed, and broken into salad-size mouth-manageable pieces
  • 3 tbsp olive oil or just use the bacon fat because bacon people
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 c. white wine, optional (not recommended if cooking for someone who is pregnant or nursing since alcohol doesn’t cook off as much as people think)

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Directions:

  1. Heat bacon pieces over low-medium heat in a large stock pot until desired crunchiness.  Pour off the fat or… use to cook the veggies in Step 2.
  2. Add the onions, celery, and squash and saute until onions are translucent and the squash is starting to soften.
  3. Add the garlic and continue to cook just for another minute.  I do this at the end of the saute time since garlic burns so quickly.
  4. If you’re adding wine, now’s the time to add that and let that cook down a minute.
  5. Add broth, and turn up heat to bring to boil.
  6. Once boiling, lower heat, cover and simmer for 10 – 15 minutes.
  7. Add kale and beans. Cover for 1 minute to wilt.  Then stir down into the soup and continue to simmer covered for about 5 minutes.
  8. Salt and pepper to taste.

 

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I Just Want Brick

Any Rehab Addict fans out there?  She’s kind of our hero when it comes to house stuff.

There’s something that happens to a house when it’s been passed down to various owners several times over 100 years.  Each owner adds a tweak here and there.  Everyone has their reasons for doing certain things.  Perhaps a reflection of their personal style, a reflection of the era, or for functional reasons.  But to us, there’s something sad about covering up intricate details of a house.

In this particular house, it was the “Fireplace.”  There’s a reason for those quotes which I’ll get into later.

One of the things we were really looking forward to when we bought this house was exposing the fireplace.  I just knew there was brick behind that wall and I couldn’t wait to get the keys in my hand to start taking a sledgehammer to that wall.  And sure enough, that’s exactly what we did.

About a week into owning our house (we still had a month to go before officially moving in), we covered the surrounding floor with kraft paper to protect the beautiful hardwood flooring, hung up plastic drop cloths to cover the entrance to the living room to catch the dust that we’d inevitably stir up, and started tearing into the wall.

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Hesitantly at first.  We had no idea exactly how far behind the wall the brick was and didn’t want to hammer a brick into the chimney.  Once we’d created a hole in the wall, I shoved my phone in there with the flash turned on and took several pictures so that we could see what we were working with.  And that’s when we made the big discovery…

No fireplace.

Sure there was brick back there, but it turned out that all this wall was hiding was a 1′ x 1′ chimney which we have since determined houses the flue for the gas floor furnace.  Drat.  There was definitely a moment where I considered just patching the hole up and walking away from this project, but a little encouragement from the Mister reminded me what I always knew.  Exposed brick is always better regardless of functionality.

So on we went.  Ripping down drywall section by section.  In case you’re wondering how we knew that this wall wasn’t original to the house, you can tell because the wall was drywall.  The rest of the walls in the house are lath and plaster.  Drywall wasn’t used in home construction during 1920.  And before long, we had the sides open.  Now we just needed to take down the mantel.

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A little prying and pulling and the whole thing came down.

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We removed the nails from the back (or hammered flat the ones we couldn’t pull out) and then waddled the mantel into the dining room where it still sits today… 8 months later.  But let’s not dwell on the folly of man.

With the mantel out of the way, we continued our demo.  We had to be much more careful ripping off the drywall from the front of the chimney since there wasn’t a big gap in between.  This meant less sledgehammer and more just prying and ripping.  Less fun for sure.

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Eventually the messiest of our job was done.  We were pretty good about taking breaks during the whole process and cleaning up the mess in stages so that it wasn’t a gigantic pile of debris at the end.  Another big black bag loaded with drwall bits, a little sweeping, and suddenly it was looking more polished.  That was the moment I stopped wondering if we’d made a terrible mistake.

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Next up was the framing removal and by God that was the biggest pain the butt of this whole project.  Those studs were really really in there.  I didn’t think we’d ever get them out.

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I’m not entirely sure what happened next (this is why I shouldn’t wait 8 months before posting about things), but I ended up injuring myself somehow and having to sit on a ladder on the other side of the room drinking beer and taking pictures while the Mister did all the heavy lifting.  Or maybe I wasn’t injured at all …

Oh wait… I remember!

So we tried to rip out the framing studs and they were NOT budging.  At all.  I mean full body weight thrown behind a sledgehammer and nothing.  So I brilliantly decided that we should run to Lowe’s and buy another circular saw (and even though I already owned one it was in Baltimore at the time) to weaken the wood enough to hammer it out.

While putting it together, I let go of a lever too soon and it snapped the safety cover of the saw on my hand taking the skin off the top of my index finger.  Who knew you could almost lose a finger with the safety cover?!  The saw wasn’t even plugged in!  Man that was a gnarly accident and of course we had nothing but dusty paper towels to wrap it up in since we didn’t actually live there yet.  In retrospect, first aid supplies should always be on hand when doing demolition work.  But, you live, you learn.  Anyway, we were back at work before long.  Me sipping beer taking pictures, the Mister ripping out the studs.  Oh and I should probably mention that we did finish getting the saw put together and then realized it wouldn’t reach the studs without an extension cord.  Yeah.  That happened.

3 hours later…

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OK, so it didn’t take that long. In fact, between frustration and pure adrenaline (and perhaps without me in the way), the Mister just ripped the studs out of the wall with his hands by sheer force.  My hero. :)

So there you have it folks, how we exposed a fireplace chimney and kept all of our fingers.

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Big News

And just when we were winding down Wedding Season 2014 with our third and final wedding this weekend, we have another one to think about. Ours.

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That’s right. 9 days ago (but who’s counting?), The Mister popped the question on a beautiful day amongst the vines at one of my favorite vineyards, Veritas. And I said Yes! If I hadn’t just retold the story a million times to our family and friends, I’d probably embellish a bit more, but instead… you get pictures.

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There were definitely a few things I wasn’t prepared for that day…

  1. It is really uncomfortable having so many strangers congratulate you and ask you a million questions about something which to me is so intimate.  I definitely didn’t handle the attention as well as I thought I would and turned into a bumbling mess thinking “I don’t know what to do with my hands!”  It’s been over a week now, though, so I’m starting to get used to it a bit.
  2. You get DRUNK the day/night you get engaged.  Don’t get me wrong. I was so flattered and humbled by everyone’s desire to celebrate with us.  Friends and strangers buying us bottles of champagne to drink.  Luckily we had a couple of friends with us at the time to help us go through them, but by the time we made it to our dinner reservation, I was already swaying and 90% sure my lipstick wasn’t on correctly.  I looked at pictures later.  It wasn’t.  And I may or may not have eaten dessert with my hands because I apparently couldn’t wait for the waiter to return with silverware.
  3. People certainly don’t expect you to know all the fine details of your upcoming nuptials only 15 minutes after you’ve got a ring on your finger, but that doesn’t stop them from asking.  I’m still processing the moment and wasn’t prepared for the “so when do you think you’ll get married?” and “do you think you’ll have your wedding in Charlottesville?”  And to be fair, it’s not like The Mister and I haven’t talked about all of that.  I may not have known the engagement was happening THAT DAY, but I knew it was coming.  But I still found it funny how many times we were asked wedding details that afternoon.
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Seriously.  Have I ever smiled that big in my life?  So for any ladies on the verge of an engagement, you’ve been warned.  It is a crazy crazy day.  Beautiful, exciting, emotional, and crazy.  Now … time to start planning!

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Food Friday: Fancy Mac and Cheese

Back this Winter, when we were bundled up taking shelter from Snowmageddon Pt. 2, we came across an episode of Simply Baking on the Food Network.  Never heard of it? Neither had we.  It took all of 5 minutes for me to be officially hooked on her show.  By the end of the episode, I was practically drooling over some of the dishes she’d been making.  One of which she called her “Glam Mac and Cheese.”  And for anyone who’s ever met me, you know how much I love Mac and Cheese. Blue Box, Velveeta, something gourmet like this, or even deep fried… I love it all, so of course we had to make it. Here’s our slightly modified version:

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz Rigatoni
  • 1 pkg pre-chopped pancetta (~1/3 c.)
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh Thyme
  • 1/4 c. chopped green onion
  • 1/2 c. panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 1 c. milk
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • a pinch of nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 c. shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 c. shredded Gruyere
  • grated Parmesan (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cook pasta according to directions.  Aim for al dente as it’ll cook a little more in the oven.  Drain and set aside. Note: Toss in a little olive oil to keep the noodles from sticking together while you cook the rest of the ingredients.
  3. In a pan, cook pancetta over medium heat until lightly browned.  Toss in thyme and most of the green onion (save a little for sprinkling on top later).  Cook down for another minute or two.
  4. Remove from heat and add to drained pasta.
  5. In medium saucepan, heat butter until melted over medium heat.  Add flour and whisk together to make a rue.  Cook for a minute or two, but do not brown.
  6. Add cream and milk a little at a time, whisking well and allowing mixture to thicken before adding more liquid.
  7. Once all the milk and cream is incorporated and the sauce has thickened, add the cheddar and Gruyere.  Stir in until cheese has melted and sauce is smooth.
  8. Add mustard powder, salt and pepper, and nutmeg.
  9. Add noodle / pancetta mixture. Stir well to make sure noodles are thoroughly coated in the cheese sauce.
  10. Pour into a greased casserole dish.  Sprinkle with panko and Parmesan.
  11. Bake for 20 minutes until bread crumbs are golden brown and cheese on top has melted.
  12. Sprinkle with the remaining fresh green onion.  Serve hot!  With wine. :)

 

Welcome to the real world.