Sunday, December 30, 2007

Master Closet Organizer

I've batted around the idea for a few years now of making a closet organizer--I've looked in magazines and Home Centers for ideas, and even fleetingly considered buying manufactured cabinets for it, until I saw 1) the exorbitant price and 2) the shoddy quality. I'm sure that there are nice closet organizers out there, well-built and strong, but I guarantee that they will be lots more expensive than the shoddy ones and I'm too cheap to pay for either. What's left? Do without or build it myself.

So I spent about two hours using Google SketchUp to document a few ideas. I'm still pretty new to SketchUp, and 3D drafting too, so it's nothing glorious but it will be a good rough picture to build detailed plans from. Wish me luck.

Right now, I've got one wire shelf (with attached hanger bar) on each of the two far walls. I plan on taking those out, installing a corner shelf unit, a drawers-and-doors unit, and a few double bars. My side will remain on the right and my wife's side will stay on the left, so I've left a single bar for dresses. Originally, I had intended to make a drawers-and-doors unit on my side against the wall opposite the corner unit; however, there's a whirlpool tub access panel that would block the bottom of the three drawers so I would have to make it shorter. Plus, I think there's enough room in the corner cabinet to put my folded items. I'd much rather have more hanging space.

I have no doubt that plans will change slightly, but I feel confident that the corner unit and the drawers-and-doors will stay the same, although the position of the drawers-and-doors may shift slightly.

I've already got the 3/4" oak-faced plywood for the job. At least, I have three 4'x8' sheets, which ought to do it I think. I'll need to pick up some 1-by solid oak for the drawers and doors, and to face the ply, and some drawer slides and pulls. And a few hanger bars. And figure out a way to mount all this to the wall.


I guess I'd better get to it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A Night of Good Eats

I got some cooking gear for Christmas, and tonight was the night to put it to use. My mother-in-law bought me a set of four 6 oz. ramekins and a new torch head for my blowtorch, and my "baby" sis (love ya, Lulu!) sent me seasons 1 and 2 of Good Eats on DVD. Did I mention that Alton Brown is my hero?

Episode 1 of season 1 is all about steak. I've got a freezer full of various cuts, and thought I'd give his recipe for a pan-seared rib eye a shot--it seemed pretty straightforward, and I had all the tools at my disposal. I followed his recipe to the letter and the T-bone and two filet mignon I experimented on turned out divinely! My 7 year old son, J, asked for thirds!

What would complement a nice juicy steak better than a smooth, creamy dessert? Having just watched the My Pod episode, starring creme brulee, I was eager to try out my new ramekins by filling them with vanilla-ey goodness. I once again followed Alton's recipe (except I used regular cane sugar instead of turbinado) and received two of the biggest compliments known to man:

On tasting his first bite, J exclaimed, "Yum! This is even better than candy!"

And my 5 year old, Spencer, when saying his prayers at bed time tonight thanked God for "cran brulay."

Pan Seared Steak

I'm hardly an authority on steaks, but I just used what I had. Alton recommends using a boneless ribeye 1 1/2" thick. Whatever you use, bring it to room temperature before starting.

Steak - see prep.
Canola oil - I used spray Pam. Don't use corn or olive oil since they have very low smoke points.
Kosher salt
Black pepper

Preheat the oven to 500F and place therein one 10"-12" cast iron pan. DO NOT use a Teflon pan.

Lightly coat the steak with oil. Sprinkle on salt and pepper.

When the pan has reached temp, turn the stove burners on high and set the pan on the burner. (We're not done with the oven yet, so don't turn it off.) Set the steak in the pan and sear for 30 seconds each side. Do not peek, poke, or flip that sucker for at least 30 seconds!

After both sides are seared, turn again and set the pan (with the steak in it...) back in the hot oven for 2 minutes. Flip the steak and cook for another 2 minutes. Check for doneness with an instant-read thermometer. AB suggested these times for medium rare and I found them to be pretty close.

Remove from the oven and let the steak rest on a plate or cutting board, covered lightly with foil, for at least 2 minutes to let the juices redistribute.

You can turn off the oven now.

Creme Brulee

You'll need a good torch for this one. I used a torch like this one, ordinarily used for soldering copper plumbing pipes. I can't vouch for those puny kitchen torches, this being my first brulee, but I've heard that they aren't always up for the task. Besides, it's more manly to make any meal with a tool from Lowe's than it is to use a tool from a place that sells throw pillows. This can be made with a broiler, so I hear, but again, you never know when you'll need a blowtorch so why not spring for one now?

Oh, and don't even think about trying this without a fire extinguisher handy. If you don't own one, go out right now and get one, even if you don't try this recipe.

You'll also need a baking pan and a tea towel. Fold up the towel so that it fits inside the pan, lining the bottom.

Final note: This recipe is for six 7-8 oz. ramekins. I had four 6 oz. ramekins, so I halved the recipe with no ill effects.

Really final note: I forgot to get vanilla beans, so I added 1 tsp. vanilla extract after the cream had cooked but before the cool-down time.

1 quart heavy cream
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 cup vanilla sugar, divided
6 large egg yolks
2 quarts hot water

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Place the cream, vanilla bean, and its pulp into a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Remove the vanilla bean and reserve for another use. Meanwhile, set the 2 quarts of water in a pot, saucepan, kettle, etc. to boil.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup sugar and the egg yolks until well blended and it just starts to lighten in color. Add the cream a little at a time, stirring continually. Pour the liquid into 6 (7 to 8-ounce) ramekins. Place the ramekins into a large cake pan or roasting pan.Pour enough hot water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Bake just until the creme brulee is set, but still trembling in the center, approximately 40 to 45 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting pan and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days. (I found them to be better after 24 hours of refrigeration than after 2 hours. They were more flavorful and more firm.)

Remove the creme brulee from the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes prior to browning the sugar on top. Divide the remaining 1/2 cup vanilla sugar equally among the 6 dishes and spread evenly on top. My 6 oz ramekins took about 1 to 1 1/2 tsp of sugar each. Using a torch, melt the sugar and form a crispy top.

Hold the ramekin at about a 45 degree angle (relative to the countertop) in the fingertips of your left hand and hold the torch in your right hand. As you turn the ramekin slowly with your left hand, let the tip of the torch flame lick at the top-center of the brulee, gently moving the flame back and forth to avoid scorching. When the sugar is all melted and has achieved a golden brown color, remove the heat and keep turning for a few seconds to help distrubute the sugar.

Allow the creme brulee to sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Finished Chair

It's alive! IT'S ALIVE!! Well, maybe not alive, but it is definitely fully-built...

I have finished my Adirondack chair, and am very proud of my handiwork.

I like these plans because they only required 3/4" wood, which is available from my local Home Center--no driving around looking for special thicknesses of wood required.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Dutch Oven Chicken Supreme

I went on a campout this last weekend and I found out on Thursday night that I'd be feeding 5-6 adults dinner on Friday and breakfast on Saturday. Oh geez. Simple is King.

So I flipped through my Palm, where I keep all of my best recipes on hand *ahem* and found Dutch Oven Chicken Supreme. It sounded simple and quick, with a minimum of preparation, so I figured I'd give it a shot. I'd love to credit the recipe's author, but I'm just not sure where I got it. If this recipe looks familiar, gimme a shout and I'll acknowledge.

This was a big hit, and I'll absolutely do it again.

At home, I thawed and precooked the chicken (as much as time would allow) on the gas grill, and cut it (the chicken, not the grill) into 2-3" chunks--not quite bite-sized, but something quick to cook and easy to dish out.

When you get to camp, preheat a 12" dutch oven using about 10 coals below and 14 above. (That's about 350F.)

5-6 chicken
1/4 lb. sliced ham
1/4 lb. sliced swiss
1 box dry stuffing mix
1 10.75 oz can cream of soup

Arrange chicken in the bottom of the DO. Cover chicken with slices of ham. Cover ham with slices of cheese. Cover cheese with stuffing mix. Spoon soup over stuffing mix. Cover and cook 30-45 minutes or until chicken is cooked throughout.