Archive for category At Home

Brief Intermission

You guys and gals are long overdue for an update.  I haven’t stopped blogging, and no Martha Stewart did not put out a gag order to stop me from “fixing” her recipe.  Sometimes life gets in the way of the plans we make and although its not always fun, I grow a lot in these times.

Two weekends ago my sweet “Maw Maw” had a severe stroke.  I got in the car and drove the 7 hours to sit with her and hold her one functioning hand in the hospital.  Its always tough to see the people you love go through something like this, but I am so glad that she is recovering.  We are hopeful that over the next few months with speech, occupational and physical therapy that she will regain her mobility again.  She has a big heart and a strong spirit and although its difficult, she reminds me that I have a lot to learn and even more to be thankful for.  At 86, she has fought through health complications before and she isn’t giving up this time.

After I got home, Jason and I decided to whip up these handmade cards to send her as a pick me up.

I will be posting more projects soon and, of course, I still owe you the still-tasty-but-not-1000-calorie version of Martha’s tart. In the meantime, please say a prayer for my grandma.

Recipe Review: Peanut, Caramel and Chocolate Tart

The Verdict? This recipe needs to go on a diet and chill out!

The October 2010 issue of Martha Stewart Living features several recipes for adult desserts that mimic childhood favorites so you don’t go dipping into your kids candy bowl.  There is a Malted Milk Creme Brulee, a 100 Grand inspired cake, and the Peanut, Caramel and Chocolate Tart made to taste like a Snickers that I decided to make.

Normally I read cookbooks and recipes like a story – in full before deciding whether I’ll make them. But Martha couldn’t lead me wrong, right? I’m a sucker for Snickers and the picture, complete with oozy caramel, won me over.  It doesn’t help that a lot of magazines have started showing the eye candy early and then making you flip to the very end of the magazine to actually see the recipes. (Does that annoy anyone else?)

I heard a new-to-me saying the other day on a cooking show that made me laugh out loud:

“What doesn’t kill you, makes you fatter.”

That is certainly fitting for this recipe!   This sucker has, count them, *3* cups of heavy cream. Not to mention creme fraiche, a whole stick of butter, cream cheese, and a honkin’ gob of peanut butter. I think Paula Deen just fainted! In all seriousness, a king-size Snicker’s bar has 537 calories and 27 grams of fat.  Martha suggests this baby serves 10.  I actually calculated it all in a handy Excel spreadsheet and at a whopping 943 calories/slice (68 g of fat, 31 sat. fat) you’d be better off eating 13 fun size snickers bars!!!!

I tried, really hard, not to modify the recipe the first time around so I would know what it SHOULD taste like. Martha’s recipe, even after refrigeration was loose and almost savory because of all the salt and peanut butter.To get it to look like the picture, I had to freeze it! It actually tasted a thousand times better after that because it made the peanut butter flavor more subtle.  At almost 1000 calories a slice, I felt betrayed having to doctor (no pun intended) this thing up.

One of my other favorite magazines is Cooking Light and they take our favorite fattening recipes and figure out substitutions to make them more nutritious.  Stay tuned for my next blog post where I will makeover this ungodly recipe into something delicious that you and I can actually eat. For now, check out Martha’s recipe complete with my sarcasm commentary in blue, but read quickly so you don’t absorb the calories!


Active time :35 min
Total Time: 2 hrs 30 min
Makes 1 9-in tart
Serves 10

For the Chocolate Crust

1 box (9oz) chocolate wafer cookies, finely ground  (Amazon had to tell me what this was…)
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
Salt ( much?)
1 stick unsalted butter, melted (yowza!)

For the Caramel Sauce

1¼ c. granulated sugar
¼ c. water
1 c. heavy cream (cup #1)
1/3 c. crème fraiche (because a vat of heavy cream wasn’t enough?)
1 c. roasted salted peanuts

For the Peanut Butter Mousse

8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
½ c. confectioners’ sugar
1¼ c. smooth peanut butter (aka creamy)
½ tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 c. heavy cream (cup #2)

For the Chocolate Ganache

7 oz. semisweet chocolate (preferably 56% cacao), chopped
1 c. heavy cream (yep, cup #3)

1. Preheat the oven to 350º. Make the chocolate crust: Combine cookie crumbs, granulated sugar and 1/4 tsp. salt in a bowl (why not include the measurement in the recipe? weird).  Stir in butter. Press mixture into bottom and 2 1/2 in. up sides of a 9 in spring form pan. Bake until dry and firm, 8-10 min.  Let cool.

2. Make the caramel sauce: Heat granulated sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, washing down sides of pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent sugar crystals from forming., until medium amber, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat, and carefully add heavy cream (mixture will bubble and steam).  Return to heat and bring to a boil, making sure caramel that seized up when cream was added melts. (sounds violent.. and it is!) Transfer to a bowl, and stir in creme fraiche. Refrigerate until cool but still pourable, about 45 minutes. Fold in peanuts. (This is the most dangerous  recipe for caramel I’ve ever made. It pops and splatters molten caramel lava all over the place.)

3. Meanwhile, make the peanut butter mousse: Beat cream cheese and confectioner’s sugar with a mixer on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in 1/2 tsp. salt. Add peanut butter and vanilla, and beat until combined. Whisk heavy cream in a separate bowl until medium-stiff peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the whipped cream into peanut butter mixture. Fold in remaining whipped cream in 2 additions.  (REALLY? Why do we need this many steps!)

4. Assemble the tart: Pour caramel sauce into cooled chocolate crust. Gently spread peanut butter mouse over caramel in an even layer, making sure they don’t blend together. Refrigerate 30 minutes. (or 24 hours if you want it to turn out right)

5. Make the chocolate ganache: Place chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl. Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Pour cream over chocolate and let stand for 1 minute. Whisk to combine. (Use immediately) (as opposed to letting it re-harden?)

6. Remove tart from refrigerator, and pour in ganache to cover surface. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (and by that I mean a lifetime)

Make ahead: Caramel sauce can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Reheat in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water before folding in peanuts.

Storage assembled tart can be refrigerated overnight. (In fact, you have to do this or you’ll just end up with a pile of goo. Better yet, put that baby in the deep freezer.)

Made For You With Love

Remember the caramel apple cheesecake I made yesterday?  Well, I had some extra batter because my springform pan was too short to hold it all.  Not a problem – I quickly whipped up some extra crust and baked a baby version too.  We were getting together with good friends today, so I decided to wrap it up as a little present for them to enjoy.

Jason designed these adorable stickers for me a few months ago and we had them printed by Stickermule.  Just $9 for a batch of 100 2″ stickers after a coupon code. I also have a stash of fun treat boxes and bags from Christmas thanks to Jason’s mom. Who knew you could gift-wrap a mini cheesecake!

The ribbon and label came with one set of treat boxes and I thought they matched really well with the sticker and my blog.  Despite what you might think, I’m not a huge fan of pink.  But my favorite color is chocolate brown (is that weird?) and the two go so well together. I will say that in transport some of the caramel stuck to the window of the box which of course drove me crazy briefly, but overall I was really happy with how it turned out.

Along with the idea of owning a B&B, you can add professional baking to my list of dreams.  I love that I can whip up something in my kitchen to make other people smile!

The B&B Dream

I have this crazy dream, a daydream I guess you might say, of buying a rundown old property in Florida and restoring into a Bed & Breakfast. I recently bought a book on how to run/open/manage a B&B just to satisfy my curiosity.  The main premise in the book is that you shouldn’t rely on the B&B for your main income.  People also say that old homes are money pits.  I’ve also heard if you want to operate a B&B you should do it after the kids are grown and not have any pets.  We haven’t even started a family yet and I couldn’t imagine living without a fluffball to snuggle with.

Even with all the doubts and naysayers, I can’t get the idea out of my head.  I guess the B&B I have in my minds eye just puts so many of my passions and talents to good work (except that whole chemical engineering phd thing…heh).

I often wonder if it could be a process… I work for 20 years in research and then we purchase our getaway. Will I be too tired then?  Or could we buy a place soon and while we’re working at our day jobs, spend many years renovating it with the intention of making it into a B&B later?  I don’t want to just buy something – I want to rehab it and bring it back to its 100 year old glory.  I want decorate each room with a purpose and a vision,  to do it all on a budget, and blog about it all the while.  I want it to have an organic garden and fruit trees that we harvest from for breakfast.  I want it to have a compost bin, some rain barrels and energy saving windows. (Jason really wants double flush toilets.) Like I said, tough for me to get it off the brain.

Scouring and using the advance search feature to look for 51+ year old places for sale has only made me want to do it more.  Although, admittedly, I went into a few places that I liked on the internet and they are in oh-so-much-worse shape when you see them in person.  Here are a few I’m drooling over right now (click the links to see more photos):

Classic style, built in 1903, 4500 sq. ft., in Tampa, FL

Spanish style, built in 1920’s, 4291 sq. ft (including guest houses!), in West Palm Beach, FL

Victorian, built in 1910, 4300 sq. ft, near the water, in St. Petersburg, FL

Little Letters

Jason and I don’t have kids yet. Well that’s not technically true we have one – Ms. Abbygellers Princess Fuzz Bucket herself (Abby for short). But you probably can’t see her…she has invisible superpowers.

But you know what I mean, the sweet bald drooling kind that cuddle and suck on their toes.  So you can imagine our excitement when last year at Thanksgiving both of my sister in-laws announced that they were pregnant!  Fast forward to the end of June/beginning of July this year and we have THE most adorable nephew, Vince (Vbear) and niece, Alice – just 9 days apart!

Told you they were cute!  So what is a new aunt to do other than spoil and snuggle them as much as possible?  I had been collecting diapers and other baby goodies as part of my weekly coupon shopping so I put together a basket for each babe.  I wanted to add a personal touch and I got inspired to make a decorative wooden letter for their nurseries.  Using two coordinating scrapbook papers (blues and browns for baby V and purples and yellows for Ms. Alice), I outlined and cut out the paper to exactly cover the letter and glued it on.  Then I just let it dry overnight. Here is the final product:

And what they look like in the nurseries!

Alice’s room has clean lines and modern crisp furniture. Vince has a nautical themed nursery with lots of fun colors (aren’t those capiz mobiles awesome!). I am so thrilled that they each have a little something in their rooms from Aunt Amy and I can’t wait to spoil them some more!

Succulent Smörgåsbord

Reading the title, you probably thought I was talking about a pork buffet, but I’m really referring to plants here… Succulents! These are hardy little guys that can live without much water or maintenance (i.e. my kind of plant).  Just don’t leave them out in freezing temps or extreme shade and you are good to go!

The best part about them is they are SO easy propagate.  My first succulent came from a window box in the “horseshoe” on USC campus. I broke off a small piece, came home and stuck it in the dirt and it has turned into this over the last 4 years:

Since then my sweet hubs will surprise me with a new plant during a Lowe’s/Home Depot adventure. Mom and I swapped a couple of plants and recently my sister in law Jenna graciously shared some new species from her collection with me. Then, I gathered up a few more that were growing wild at Jason’s mom and dad’s new place (aka the Beaird Ranch).

All these new guys needed a good home, so I grabbed some Miracle Grow Citrus, Palm and Cactus soil and I fixed up some pots I had laying around.  A few years ago I snagged these beauts at a community garage sale for a buck a piece. They were pastel, one baby blue, one lime green and one pale yellow. Always intending to paint them, I grabbed a can of Rustoleum Painters Touch in a dark navy blue.  Here is the final product:

I am thrilled with how they turned out and I can’t wait for the plants to grow up so I can share my collection with others.

Someday soon, I will catalog each of the species growing in here and share that with you too!

Coffee? Yes, Please!

We are not huge coffee drinkers in our house, but when we have a cup we want flavor!  Both Jason and I have tried not to rely on coffee to wake us up everyday but we love to enjoy it as a special treat.  After a family meal at Jason’s sister’s house, she offered us a cup and we both declined until we smelled theirs brewing. She made us each a cup in her Keurig machine that we really enjoyed.  After we got home I did a little research and we got one for our kitchen… Isn’t she perdy?

We opted for the most basic Keurig model (Keurig Mini B30). Price was a major factor (we only paid $41.99+tax) and its very simple. What we are missing are fancy features of the more expensive models. No water reservoir, no variable water volume size, no lighted digital display. To us, those “features” weren’t worth the extra $100+ hike in price. We can still brew the same K-cups in less than 3 minutes have a yummy cup of coffee. Considering that our average trip to Starbucks is $6-8, we make our money back by home-brewing 11-12 cups. Although at the rate we are going, we may just become every-day coffee drinkers now, which messes up my math.

I did a price comparison for single serve K-cups shows which shows that the average is around 55¢/cup if you grab it off the shelf. If you want an everyday discount, buy from Amazon or Sam’s club in bulk. The only problem is you don’t get much variety. Keep your eyes peeled for a sale at Kohl’s if you have their store card, or the office supply stores for the lowest price with a coupon. The best price I can find right now is 33¢ per cup at Kohl’s so I will grab a few packs and hunt for a better discount in the mean time. So far, we’ve tried Newman’s Own Organic Extra Bold and its delicious… but maybe a little too bold for us.  The nice thing about the small packs is that you aren’t stuck with any one flavor for too long!

Store Quantity Price Price Per Cup Other Considerations
Amazon 50 pk $21-$23 42-46¢ Free shipping over $25
Sam’s Club 80 pk $33.98 42¢ Large pack, less variety
Kohl’s 18 pk $9.99 55¢ (or 33¢ w/coupon) Best price with a 30% coupon
Office Depot 18 pk $9.99 55¢ (36¢ w/coupon) Good price with a $10 off $25 coupon
Staples 18 pk $9.99 55¢ Lots to choose from
Target 108 pk $59.99 55¢ Huge pack, no savings, may have a better price in the store
Publix 12 pk $5.99 50¢ (41¢ w/coupon) $1 printable coupon
Bed Bath & Beyond 18 pk $9.99 55¢ (44¢ w/coupon) Lots of variety, 20% in-store coupon

I plan to consider some other money-saving options such as this fill your own K-cup, but I have a feeling the convenience of the already portioned packs might be worth the money! Also, I haven’t done the analysis but I’m thinking this little guy saves you energy since it doesn’t have to keep a large pot of coffee warm.

Stay tuned for an update after we have used it for a couple months!

Bath Salt Sand Art

For a while, bath salts and bath gift sets were all the rage.  I had accumulated a few packs of salts and, although I love soaking in the tub, its not something I get the time for very often.  Inspiration often hits me at random moments and usually with found objects. My family lovingly calls this “Amy Art”. I saw some kids doing sand art at the Grant Seafood Festival (mmm fried scallops) and that was my jumping off point for this project.

Ok, back to bath salts.  The bottle was leftover from lemonade we took on a picnic one day. I made a little funnel with wax paper and then poured each bath salt in carefully, making sure each was level before I poured the next color.  One of the packs came with a little wooden scooper so I tied that on the bottle with raffia just for fun.  I love that it corrals all the salts in one place, makes a nice relaxing visual element in the bathroom and was basically from stuff I had on hand. Super cool that the bottle has a built in rubber stopper to keep everything fresh. Now I get to enjoy the salts, even when I’m too busy for a bath!  Suddenly I have a craving for fried scallops and ice cold lemonade…

Maintaining Coupon Order

Spent $20.35. Saved $92.84.

It’s no secret that I love coupons! I save at least 50% on my food & household needs every week buy buying what’s on sale, combining sales with coupons and stocking up when an item is cheap. And my husband will tell you, when I first started out it took me a lot of time. Clipping, sorting and storing all those guys and then trying to locate them when I needed to was a challenge for a while, especially for someone like me who wants everything to be structured. After a few months and trying a few different methods, I finally chose one that works for me.

Many of my friends and family have asked if I could teach them, so here are the basics!

Here’s what you need to get started:

  1. A small hanging file box or room in a filing cabinet somewhere
  2. 12 Hanging file folders with labels
  3. A shoe box with dividers or some cardstock to make your own
  4. Coupons! – Start buying Sunday papers (or ask neighbors/family for their inserts) and keep an eye out in stores when you are shopping
  5. SouthernSavers – Jenny is a friend of mine and has the best resource out there for matching coupons with sales

What do I do with all this stuff?

  • The three types of inserts you will get in the paper are Redplum (RP), SmartSource (SS) and at the beginning of the month you’ll have a Proctor and Gamble (PG). These abbreviations are used on many coupon sites to reference where to find the one you need.
  • Use the hanging files with labels to sort  coupon inserts by the date they came from the Sunday paper (look for the tiny letters on the spine if you don’t remember). I usually write the date with a Sharpie on the front so its easy to see at a glance.
  • Optional: If you have multiple newspapers with identical coupons, I compile them to have like pages together for easy cutting of several of the same coupons at a time.
  • Only keep 12 file folders because most coupons in the inserts will have expired by that time.  When they are all full, this forces you to flip through the old one, cut out any unexpired coupons and then recycle it to make room for the newest inserts.  Its like organizational auto-pilot!
  • Use a shoe box or photo box to store any loose coupons that you found in the store or that you already clipped.  I sort mine expiration month and use cardstock to divide the month. This does two things, it keeps the loose coupons orderly AND it allows you to pull out a whole month’s worth of coupons once they expire.
  • Finally, use your coupons when an item is on sale.  There are a lot more in-depth tutorials on Southernsavers which you can check out as you have time.  The easiest way to start is to find the stores you shop at (Publix is my favorite) and look at the weekly ad before you leave the house. You can create your list right in SouthernSavers and then print off and clip your coupons according to what you are going to buy that week. (Since you have them all filed, this is a cinch!)
  • The hardest thing  to learn is to change your shopping behavior. I used to run out of shampoo and then add it to my list for the week paying whatever it cost for the brand I wanted.  Now I have 6 extras in my closet that I paid pennies for and I can “shop” from there when I run out.

Quick & Free Photo Swap

Jason’s sister Jenna gave us an awesome stacked picture frame several years ago as a gift.  It originally came with black and white placeholder images of Italy and I have been meaning to swap them out in favor of real photos for way too long now.

We take most of our pictures digitally, and rarely do I get the chance to print out the good ones.  Since I didn’t have any photos handy, I opted for a different approach. My latest issue of Garden Design Magazine (a freebie from an online deal) had vibrant pics of several varieties of Mums which I cut to fit each frame.

Sometimes the quick projects like this are the most rewarding. We now have a colorful, in-season update to our photo frame and it didn’t cost a thing!