Thursday, November 28, 2013

Celebrate Thanksgiving no matter the circumstances: Thanksgiving Day Goulash

On Wednesday, November 23rd 2004 as families began their holiday commute, the Illinois wind was blowing and a wet snow was heavily falling from the sky.  It didn’t take very long for the 12 inches of snow to knock out the power at my parents’ rural home, 3 miles from the closest town. 

Dad set up the generator and Mom prayed the electricity would be repaired quickly as not to interrupt our Thanksgiving.  The next morning, still without power, mom stuck the turkey in a snowbank and searched through the pantry-determined to have her adult children home for Thanksgiving.  Lighting the gas stove, Mom boiled water and began browning the hamburger as she made a family favorite-goulash.  

The roads were cleared in time for all the kids to arrive for the noon feast, but the power lines were so damaged, electricity would not be gracing this holiday weekend until Sunday afternoon.  Our family of five helped themselves to goulash and veggies and played cards until evening, when dad hooked up a shop light and we all decorated the Christmas tree.  There may not have been pumpkin pie, but it may have been one of our best Thanksgivings ever.

Mom’s Thanksgiving Goulash (serves 8)

1 lb ground beef or turkey
1 med onion-diced
1 green pepper-diced
1 large can diced tomatoes OR 2lbs. Fresh tomatoes-diced
1 13oz box macaroni or penne
Fresh Parmesan
salt & pepper
Italian Seasonings

Directions: Brown ground beef or turkey in skillet, add onions and green pepper-cook until softened.  Add entire can of tomatoes or fresh tomatoes with juices to skillet and add Italian seasonings-to taste, cover and turn heat to low.  Allow tomatoes to steam for 3 minutes.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Cook Pasta as directed by box. Mix noodles and tomato mixture in large bowl.  Top with Fresh Parmesan. 

Serve with Garlic Bread (If you have electricity).

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Classic with a Twist: Candied Pecan Pie

At the risk of full disclosure, I'm not typically a fan of pecan pie.  Too often it looks like it needs a hug-the sad wrinkly brown topping without a hint of color.  Due to it being Levi's favorite-I felt the need to begin making it for Thanksgiving this year.

My first attempt was fine.  Levi and my father each ate the majority of the pie with compliments, but I sat there with the same sad feeling as I choked it down.  It needed...something (flavor). 

So this version was created to satisfy my own need to make a twist on a classic-without stripping it of all its dignity. 

This recipe can be done over the course of two days, or during a laundry day.  Its not complicated, but the two hour cooking time can be annoying to some.  The candied pecans can also be eaten as a treat!

Candied Pecans

12oz-16oz Pecan halves
1 cup sugar
1 egg white
1 Tbsp. water
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt

In one bowl mix the wet ingredients and whisk until fairly frothy.

In separate bowl mix all dry ingredients-except the pecans.

Add the pecans to the wet mix and stir so they are coated evenly.  Slowly add in the sugar mixture and stir so the pecans are evenly coated.
Pecans coated with sugar mixture before cooking

Dump pecans onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment and spread out evenly.  Put into a 250 degree oven.  Stir every 15-20 minutes for an hour, breaking up the clumps so the egg-wash cooks through. 

Let cool and serve or store.

Candied pecans-finished

Candied Pecan Pie (1 pie)

1 unbaked pie crust (9 in)
1 cup corn syrup
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
2 1/2 Tbsp melted unsalted butter
1 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1 cup candied pecans
1 cup chopped pecans

Lay pie crust in pie dish and cover evenly with the chopped pecans-creating the first layer. 

Mix remaining ingredients (except the candied pecans) and pour over chopped pecans.

Top with candied pecans.
Pie before baking

Bake at 350 degrees F, uncovered for approx 50 minutes until the pie's center doesn't jiggle when moved.

Cool completely before serving.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

A Simple Coat Rack for a Small Apartment

My apartment was formerly a large house in the Old-Town District of my city.  I love this apartment, but there are a couple 'tells' that the current setup was not the original.  The primary tell being, there is this weird space between the dining area and the bedroom.  Im not sure what to make of the arrangement and I've never settled on a name for it.  For awhile I called it the 'hallway', but that not being a great description I just describe it by its location.

When Levi moved in all his boy-stuff, I struggled to figure out how to integrate his excessive Chicago Cubs memorabilia with my library-chic style.  The small space, with the 10 foot ceiling and built-in bookcase made an excellent 'man-cave'.  All of his items are displayed nicely and they dont clash with the rest of the apartment.

The recent death of my coat-tree introduced the new dilemma of, 'where to put our coats?'  For the last few months coats have been strewn everywhere and primarally ending up ON the dining room table-to which, I'm not a fan (even though I'm the one whos doing it the most).

So here I am, a little apartment with one closet already stuffed to the max (its the only closet, ugh!) and a coat problem.  Lets break this down:

Problem: Many coats in active use without a place to be hung.

Requirements: An out of the way place to hang 3-4 coats, a hat and a purse (or two).

Financial Commitment: I would like to spend under $25....did I mention I'm incredibly cheap?

Solution: Levi's 'Man-Cave' has two recessed walls.  One side has a built-in bookcase, but on the other-nothing.  Three to four coats would hang perfectly out of the way there!
The Hollow Space of the Man-Cave

Man-cave Left
Man-cave Right

Disclaimer: I am not Bob Vila, nor do I pretend to be.  I am not an expert (as my father who built my parent's house, regularly reminds me).  I will give you an opinion based off of experience, not expertise.

Disclaimer #2: I rent.  If you rent, please refer to your lease or consult with your landlord before making any major changes to the unit.  That is, of course, unless you're like me and you know how to repair holes incredibly well!  Tutorial on repairing smaller holes in walls to come.

Step One: Assess where the best location for coats to hang will be.  Do you have a recessed wall somewhere?  Would an over-the-door hanger work for your space?  Is there an odd wall that you cant put a piece of furniture against-due to traffic or space?

Step 2: Is your wall drywall or plaster?  With drywall, you will want to locate the studs with a stud-finder or using the tapping exercise to find the dense areas.  With plaster, a studfinder can be harder to use.  So, I go about plaster the wrong way.  I just screw in things where I want them to go.  When that stops working for me, I will make a post on what a better solution is HERE.  Until then, with plaster-have at it! 

Step 3: Pick out your hook system.  With drywall a board with multiple hooks already attached (such as this) may be a better solution for mounting on studs-be sure to use the anchors!  I used these simple hooks from Lowe's (pictured)-two hooks/pack for $2.49+tax.  I purchased three packs so I could hang some of Levi's caps.  The entire project cost me under $9.

Step 4: Establish how high you want your hooks to hang.  Make a mark with a pencil.  Then make a line across the space using a level (or a ruler).  See photo.

Step 5: For drywall: use a drill to predrill holes, insert anchors and mount your coat rack.  For plaster: Line up the holes on the hook with the pencil line (be sure to evenly space the hooks on the wall), put the screw in the hole so it will screw into the line.  Screw into wall.

I added more hooks to accommodate Levi's Hats
Finished Product

The Gold Cowboy hat is from a Macho Man costume

Finished Product in use!

Two Truths and a Change to Foodigen

Truth #1: I'm not an idle person.  I was raised in an active environment and it is something I have grown to cherish as an adult.  People seem to marvel at my 'activities' and how I spend my time.  Levi has grown accustom to coming home to changes all the time (bless his heart) and has even started taking pictures of some of my endeavors (although I'm slightly convinced the motive is more to document my elapsing sanity). 

Truth #2: I have an insatiable appetite for information.  I have discovered Coursera and Skillshare-have been taking different classes and telling my friends about these sites who share in my need for information.  I've had people tell me its a generational thing...I don't really care what it is, but the need to learn and share have been something always present about me. 

I want to share more with you.  I want you to read my blog and take away pieces of value.  It takes time for each blogger to find their own voice and maybe I'm still finding mine, but at least we'll be learning something a long the way.

Ok, so there are really 3 Truths.  #3: I grew up in the country, but reside in a little apartment in the city.  I have lived in the same apartment for almost 8 years-the plan was not to be here so long, but so it goes, here I am.  I love my little peaceful place and have adapted to it-as I have adapted it to me.  In my 13 years of apartment living, I have picked up great items and tips for others and have frequently been sought out for tips or ideas.  So, I added a page to Foodigen, for those who, like me, are living in an apartment and calling it home.  Whether it be for a short time, or a long one, each home is wonderful as long as its yours. 

So, please keep an eye out for my thoughts and ideas for small apartment/home living ideas! 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Washington, Illinois-how you can help

This week was an incredibly stressful one, for so many.  On Sunday, Levi and I were practicing our normal Sunday routine of pancakes, coffee, pjs and football-only to be interrupted by severe weather alerts.  While we scrambled down to the basement once we could no longer see across the street (the emergency alarms never went off in Bloomington)-our friends in Washington, IL suffered devastation.  

It seems inappropriate to go on writing about food today, when so many have lost their home, possessions and sense of security this holiday season. While Monday and Tuesday were clear, those were the only two nice days before rain, sleet and freezing temps returned to the area.  Not nearly enough time to recover the loss of a community.

For those of you living near and far-looking to do good and help our family and friends in Washington, IL.  Here are some links:

Washington, IL Tornado Recovery Facebook Page
-A regularly updated page on the relief efforts in Washington, IL

Heroes Memorial Info Page for Washington, IL
 - Lots of links to different organizations helping with the relief efforts

City of Washington, IL
 - homepage of the City of Washington, complete with links and current information

Our thoughts and prayers are with you, Washington.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Harry Potter Party: Food for Adults

My epic failure as a hostess and a blogger (a food blogger at that) is that I forget to take photos.  My entire party was centered around food and I didn't take a single shot.  So instead, I will give you the menu with the links to the place I got a lot of my ideas!

I always write a schedule/menu for my dinner party.  This is one of the first things I do when beginning my planning for a few reasons, but the primary being: the menu you start with is NEVER the menu you end up cooking.  Why?  Timing.

I have cooked my way through dinner parties on many occasions and it sucks.  You do not get to enjoy yourself and your guests are left entertaining themselves!   So when I began organizing my menu this way-it allowed me some time to edit.

Note: I dont have actual times written in.  I'm a firm believer in Party Magic.  The element of a party that takes over and lets the night take on its own shape-those always make for the best parties.  I also plan for food that has a bit of 'give' when it comes to serving it.  Things that need to be kept hot may require me to grab a cheap chafing dish at the dollar store.  Some items need served immediately and some need overnight prep.  You really should only make your menu as big as you can handle and allow for that one couple who is always 30 minutes late.

In addition, Another rule I live by: have some food and drink ready at the open.  I do not enjoy waiting to eat.  It makes me hangry!  Whats worse-waiting for a drink.  I've been in food service for too long to make my guests wait for either.  A drink will grant you 10-15 minutes before people start getting antsy-food, about an hour. 

Last year, Levi and I did a beer tasting to kick-off the night.  We had a few couples that had never met and we were worries about mingling time-plus, it gave Levi a fun project to participate in prior and gave him something to do to welcome our guests and help settle them in!

Ladies, if your man doesn't know how to participate-send hin to Friar Tuck with $50 and tell him to get 4-5 of the big bottles of beer for a beer tasting and then sit back and let him take care of it! 

I took two of my recipes from: - as I figured this being an English book, why not English fare?  For the record: both the Yorshire pudding and the soup were the hits of the party!  Plus they were SO incredibly easy to make!  I am definitely doing these again!

Dinner Party Schedule/Menu

Beer Tasting & Appetizer:
·         English beers
·         Yorshire Pudding Canap√©s
·         Deviled Eggs

·         CarrotGinger Soup

·         CottagePie
·         Asparagus
·         Wheat Bread

·         Pumpkin Pasties or a pumpkin tarlet with whipped cream cheese frosting
·         Coffee

·         Witches Brew (Brand of spiced red wine)

*Amanda Gluten Free
*Anna Nut Allergy

Always be sure to double check allergies and preferences-people try to be polite about their needs sometimes, so just be really direct. 

This is the same menu I used the Howler to display! 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Harry Potter Party: Decorating Tips and Ideas

The best part about doing a Harry Potter party are all the little details you can add.  Some will see them, some wont, but in the end-you know they're there. 

I displayed all the Harry Potter books around my apartment.  The pewter stein was a random find at my parents house, the glasses were a housewarming gift from a guest, the electric candles turn on with the dark (less than $5/ea at Walgreens during the Christmas season) and the scarf is actually pieces of felt hot-glued together as a last minute Gryffindor accent piece!

Candles were lit EVERYWHERE!  These photos where all taken with a flash so you can see the detail, but in truth-the whole party was lit with candles.  It was a perfect balance of eerie and comfortable.

*Not Pictured: I had a Fireplace DVD playing on the TV.  I know not everyone has a fireplace-so this is a great way to distract from all the electronics in the house and how the furniture is centered around them.


The dining room took the longest to do.  I wasnt sure how I wanted to do the Hogwarts Ceiling.  So I went to the dollar store and bought 6 plastic table cloths, picked up glitter spray-paint (clear with silver glitter) at Michael's and used packaging tape to put it up.  It looked beautiful with all the candlelight!

The candelabra (chandelier) was a $3 find at the Habitat store.  I found the flickering bulbs at Lowe's for around $5/ea (note: they look cool, but they give off ZERO light).  The other candles shown are all mine or were picked up at the dollar store.  

The old photos taped around are all actually the same woman.  I happened to inherit my great-aunt's modeling portfolio from her modeling days in the 40's.  I taped them all around to give the illusion of all the photos around Hogwarts.   

*Not Pictured: I had found Martha Stewart window clings of old-looking ghosts at Joann Fabrics.  I placed them around the apartment as a spooky accent!  They were only $8 and I felt I would definitely use them again!

The front door was a fun greeting!  I googled 'Azkaban Posters' and was easily able to print off Sirius Black's Azkaban posters and even Daily Prophet headlines.  I taped those outside my door in the hall to greet my guests.

The red cardstock I bought for the Howlers, came in handy for my 9 3/4 platform.  I taped the red paper to the door, used a black sharpe to make the grout lines and that it!  The cardstock I bought had a few different heues of red-so that helped to add to the brick effect! 

The 9 3/4 sign was just a white cut-out glued to a piece of red paper.  I had some gold paint leftover from another project-so I outlined the white with the gold and wrote the numbers in with a Sharpe.

*Note: I found the red cardstock at Michael's.

The bathroom was a lot of fun!  I used fake blood to write on the mirror (it dried REALLY dark-wouldn't use it again) and Levi's boss loaned us this huge fake spider he owned.  Levi hung it over the shower rod to spook unsuspecting guests!  

*Not Pictured: Little cauldrons of dry ice going in the bathroom-giving a nice bubbling noise and fog.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Harry Potter Party: How to making a Sorting Hat

 Each time I have a dinner party I have a list of things I need to do for it.  The list inevitably becomes very long-so then it gets prioritized into 'Mandatory' and 'If I have time'.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this, but I will say-I often am accused of trying to do too much....I may be related to Clark Griswald.  

The Sorting Hat was on the more ambitious list-so I was happy to discover I had time to make it!  And like many of my decorations for this party-it came together organically.  For the photos I used a flash-but in the darker lighting-the shadows of all the creases on the hat were incredible! 

  •  1 1/2 yard brown microfiber cloth
  • pillow stuffing
  • pipe cleaners (about 4-5)
  • hot glue gun
  • large cake round

The Base is made with a small cardboard witches hat I got for $2 at Michael's.  I glued pipe cleaners to the inside of the material to make his eyebrows.  I formed them as closely to the original as I could-then glued them to the base itself.  

The mouth was made in a similar fashion as the eyebrows.  

After the eyebrows and mouth were glued to the base-I glued the cake-round to the bottom of the witches hat to better fill out the bottom.  I didn't intend to have this hat be worn, but I feel if you're wanting to make one for that purpose-I would just use a plain witches hat for the base.  For this particular party-I was going for cost effective!  

The face was the hardest part to make because he has such a detailed scowl!  I recommend taking the most time with the face.  Once you have that just right-then use the stuffing and hot glue to get the shaping and the fabric just right.  In close-up of the original sorting hat-there are lots of seams, scratches and stitches-making this project a lot of glue-n-stick!   He's perfect in his imperfection! 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Harry Potter Party: How to make Howlers

I was slightly intimidated by the idea of making these at first.  There seemed to be a lot of steps and after reviewing some tutorials-I felt as though some made these much more complicated than they needed to be!  Some tutorials had the Howlers get painted, some had them fold completely up and others had so many steps-I was lost half way through!

I just wanted a simple and effective decoration-so I took a standard piece of printer paper to try and tinker with a design and Voilà! Much easier than I thought it would be!

1. Red cardstock (or construction paper)
2. Plain white printer paper
3. Scissors
4. Glue stick

Step 1:  Take your red piece of cardstock and lay on the table long ways.

Step 2: Take bottom two corners and bring together to the center of the paper.  Crease the edges to make a point.  This will be the bottom of your Howler's mouth.

Step 3: Fold each side of the paper longways to the center of sheet and crease the edges.


Step 4: Fold paper long ways into thirds (this does not have to be perfect).

Step 5: Use your fingers to curl up the edges of the squared flap.

Step 6: Take white paper and cut into 2 inch strips (horizontally).
Step 7: Fold strips in half, longways and make rough cuts (to form jagged teeth) down one half.  Apply glue to other half and place on the inside edges of your howler.
Step 8: Take another 2 inch strip of white paper and apply glue to either end.  Then place glued ends behind each set of teeth.  
Step 9: For Tongue, take an extra piece of red paper, cut into thin strips (3/4 of an inch) and curl one end around a pen.  Glue the opposite end to the inside of the bottom row of teeth and shape with your fingers.

OPTIONAL STEP: I used my Howlers for my menus.  I used Microsoft Word to write out my menu with Harry Potter Font and formatted the paper into 4 columns (as to not waste paper).  Cut the menus to size and glued in!  Easy!  

Additional Note: Some Holwers are designed to fold-these are not.  I didn't need them to fold up and Im thrilled with the results!  They were the easiest and most fun decoration to make!