Trying out the Instant Pot – French Dip Sandwiches

Happy Monday, everyone! I hope you’re staying cool as we singe our way out of Spring and into Summer later this week.

I was given an Instant Pot as a wedding gift back in October. I’ll admit my husband and I both had no idea what it was and stared at it blankly when we first opened it. It then sat on a high shelf collecting dust until I finally decided to break it out. Even then, I spent weeks poking through recipes until I finally decided on something. Bonus: I picked something I’d never made before even by other means. French Dip Sandwiches!

While I discovered that my Instant Pot had different controls than the recipe said to use, overall the meal was a great success. My husband said to add it to the book for making again, so there we go!

Sandwiches

There’s a lot of flexibility with this recipe, which is essentially a ‘set and forget’ fast toss together. I used The Salty Marshmallow’s recipe, which worked just fine for me. Below is a more general how-to guide.

The main ingredients are: Chuck Roast, provolone cheese slices, hoagie buns and an au jour french dip sauce. For the sauce, you can make it yourself with chopped onions, 1 can of french onion soup, about 2 cups of beef broth (for 2 lbs of beef), and a splot of Worcestershire sauce (optional). OR you can use a powder packet mix of ah jour french sauce.

You can slow cook the meat 6-8 hours or Instant Pot pressure cook it for one hour (using the au jour sauce for the liquid in both) . Yup. Just one hour! Total prep time takes around an hour and a half. You can toss in the meat and au jour ingredients, or first sear the meat and saute the onions before you set and forget. Follow your instant pot instructions for steam release, and voila!

Slice the meat, put it and the cheese on the bun, ladle out some of the sauce and dinner is served! Fast, tasty and friendly! And the cleanup isn’t too bad, either, since you can do everything in the Instant Pot, or with just a single fry pan and a crockpot.

Have fun!

-Abby

 

 

 

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Baking – Moist Chocolate Cake

Happy Tuesday, all! I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day Weekend! This weekend was my second attempt at a Chocolate Bundt Cake. My first attempt some months ago came out tasty but too dry. This one? It was delicious for a cake, but an epic fail for a bundt.

I used Taste of Home’s “Contest Winning Moist Chocolate Cake” which was reportedly for bundt cakes. Maybe it was the pirate ship bundt pan I used, or maybe I didn’t spray/flour it enough, but my first attempt at this cake broke out in about five large chunks with lots of little fluff bits. Since this was supposed to be for my family Memorial Day gathering, I was sorely disappointed. No matter how many jokes my husband cracked, I was not going to serve a sunken pirate ship to my family!

Fortunately, the taste of this cake was as amazing as the title suggests, so the next morning I got up and tried it again using an ordinary pan. I also tweaked it a bit and added chocolate chips to the cake and used a cream cheese icing on top. The results were fantastic! The cake was completely devoured by my family. As to the remains of the sunken pirate ship, my chocolate loving husband has thoroughly enjoyed taking a fork to it.

Final result? I will definitely make this cake again… just not as a bundt.

Bundt Cake

Moist Chocolate Cake

Recipe from Taste of Home. Suggested tweaks from me.

2 c sugar                                             1 3/4 c flour                                        3/4 c baking cocoa

2 tsp baking soda                             1 tsp baking powder                            1 tsp salt

2 eggs                                                 1 c brewed coffee                              1 c buttermilk

1/2 c canola oil                                 1 tsp vanilla extract                   Optional: Chocolate Chips

Preheat Oven to 350. Mix dry ingredients (first six listed), then add remaining ingredients (minus chocolate chips) and thoroughly mix. Pour into greased cake pan or a greased and floured bundt pan.

Optional: Drop in chocolate chips evenly (the mix is so liquid the chips just sink to the bottom, so don’t bother to mix them in, but they really give this recipe a tasty extra bite).

Bake around 45 minutes until toothpick comes out close to clean. Let cool (flip if it’s a bundt cake).

Optional extras: Original recipe suggests you dust with confectioner’s sugar. I used a cream cheese drizzle (see above picture). This would also go great with ice cream.

Enjoy!

-Abby

 

5 Things To Do When Waiting To Hear Back From An Agent

Happy Monday, everyone! As some of you may know, I had an agent ask for my full manuscript a few weeks ago. It was one of my most exciting moments in my writing career to date, and has been followed by one of the hardest: waiting to hear back. For those of you who may not know (because I didn’t), it takes at least 90 days to hear back from an agent at this level.

And I thought the two week wait for a form letter rejection was bad.

Having completed the first month of my waiting, I’ve come up with some standard distractions to help pass the time. Enjoy!

ink-and-feather-quill-clipart

  1. Keep Writing – You’ve made it this far (YAY!), now keep the ball rolling by putting all that crazy energy towards your next great work.
  2. Keep Submitting – There’s only around a 10% chance an agent who takes your full manuscript will say they want to represent it. Instead of spending the next three months going nowhere, keep sending out your submissions until you know for sure.
  3. Clean Everything – Nothing says busy work like a good scrubdown of the floors. And with it being springtime, you can also work outside!
  4. Read – If you just can’t focus on your writing, then pull out a favorite book and read! After all, reading is just as important as writing, and a trip to another world might be just what you need to recharge.
  5. Remodel the House – Because the first five things will have been done to death by the time three months is up. A bit of demolition and scenery change can be just the thing!

Have fun!

Abby

picture from publicdomainpictures.net

Baking fun – Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie

Happy Monday, everyone! The past few weeks have been crazy for me! I was rear-ended and sandwiched into the vehicle ahead of me. Popped the airbags and everything! I (and the others involved) came out just fine, but Little Blue was totaled. So I’m now driving a grey Escape we’ve named… Stormagedon! Cue Dr. Who music. 🙂

Despite being a couple weeks late, I wanted to write to you about another pie I made just special for my husband. Now, my husband is a picky eater. He hates beans of any kind, most mashed potatoes, mustard, fruit-filled anything and puddings, just to get started. So back in March as Pi Day approached, my husband informed me that there were no kinds of pie that I could make that he would like. My response to that? Challenge Accepted.

A quick google search later, and I found exactly what would work. A Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie! Literally a thick chocolate chip cookie baked into a pie shell then covered in fudge topping. Amazing, right? So, I made it.

Pie Fail

The recipe I used had some problems. Butter. So. Much. Butter. I thought nothing of it at the time, but the butter bubbled over the pie pan onto the tray, and continued to ooze out of the pie until it finally reached room temperature and stopped. See the yellow in the picture? Yep. Butter. I couldn’t even take the pie tin off the tray without the risk of a sticky mess.

Between the butter, and sugar and chocolate, the ‘cookie’ was on the top of the Too Rich meter. Even my sweet-tooth husband had some problems eating a whole slice, though he did make the comment that it ‘had potential’. (YEAH!) When I took it to work the next day, barely half of it was eaten, and the other half was stuffed in the fridge and forgotten about until I finally had to throw it away. For those who follow me, my workplace devours sweets like they’ve never had them before. Most pies are gone by noon.

So, I have to call this one a fail. Not a big fail, just one that needs some real tweaking (or a search for a better recipe) before I try it again. Which I definitely will, since if I could get the cookie portion on it right, I know my husband would like it. And that makes it worth the risk. 🙂

Have fun!

-Abby

Pi Day – Pecan Pie

Happy Monday, everyone! Last Wednesday was March 14th, or, the amazing Pi Day! This year I decided to honor the occasion with not one but two pies. The first is a personal favorite, and is what I am sharing the recipe of today: Pecan!  The other was made for my husband as a personal challenge. My husband is a picky eater, and among the ever growing list of things I’m learning he doesn’t like are pies. He dislikes any kind of baked fruit, or fruit flavored baked goods. He also doesn’t do puddings. Therefore, he made the statement that there were no pies that he would eat. My response? Challenge Accepted. You’ll have to read next week’s blog to find out what I came up with, and whether it worked or not. 🙂  And now, back to our feature presentation.

Overview: This one was definitely a success according to my coworkers. I’m lucky to have snagged one of the first pieces in the morning, because this sweet treat was gone before the end of the day.

One note I have to add is the bake time. The recipe I used (Not sure where it’s from, it’s in my handwritten box of recipes I snitched from my mother) said to bake for about half an hour. Nooooope! I cooked it for 50 minutes before pulling it out from fear of burning the pecans, and it was still a little runny in the center. Still delicious, and no one complained, but be aware that there’s a trick to baking this that I have yet to figure out.

Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie

1 9″ pie crust                                              1 c sugar                              3 eggs

2 TB melted butter                                    1 C Corn Syrup                    1 Tsp Vanilla Extract

1 1/2 to 2 C Pecans (Or walnuts)

Preheat Oven to 325 (Note: I plan to try 350 next time). Mix sugar, eggs, butter, Corn Syrup(I always use dark) and Vanilla until smooth. Mix in Pecans. Pour mix into pie crust. Bake until center no longer jiggles when you give it a wiggle, somewhere between 25-75 minutes. Pie should be kinda puffed up.

Let cool at least two hours before serving.

Have fun!

-Abby

Lemon Bundt Cake Recipe – Pirate Ship

Happy Monday! Last week we had a going away party for one of my co-workers, which gave me an excuse to at last give my new bundt cake pan a try! And as long as I was trying out a new pan, I decided to also try a new recipe.

First up, the pirate ship bundt cake pan. I’ve been after this pan for years, ever since I found it existed. My husband got it for me at Christmas, probably to make me stop talking about how much I wanted it every time I remembered. Also… pirates!

This pan has a lot of tiny details, so I sprayed the heck out of it before putting in the batter. While it may have been overkill, I am happy to say the cake came out beautifully. My only complaint with this pan is that it should come with its own decorations. I ended up using marshmallow s’more sticks and printed pirate ship sails for a quick finishing touch, which worked okay. I definitely need to do more research to get something better put together for the next time.

Pirate Ship

The cake I made this time was a lemon cake from scratch. I’ve done lemon cakes from box mixes, but I wanted something better for my co-workers to devour. And let me tell you, I made the right choice! The recipe I picked was the Crumbly Lemon Bundt Cake from allrecipes.com.

Most of the comments on the site were correct. I had to cook it an extra 20 minutes before it was done, and when cut it looked undercooked. But when poked/eaten, it really was done and has the density of a solid pound cake. As to the flavor, it is lemon lemon lemon! A perfect amount of tang. And the glaze, what we could get to stay on it, was also just the right amount of tart. My co-workers devoured the majority of it, and I was told to add it to my ‘staple cakes’ to regularly bring.

So, five out of five stars. I would definitely make this recipe again, and you should give it a try!

Have fun!

-Abby

Lemon Bundt Cake

3 c Flour                                       2 1/3 c sugar                    1 1/2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp salt                                       1 1/2 c milk                       3 eggs

1 cup vegetable oil                     1/2 c lemon juice              1 TB lemon extract

2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325. Mix dry ingredients (flour, sugar, powder salt) and set aside. Mix milk and eggs, then add remaining wet ingredients (oil, juice and extracts) and mix thoroughly. Mix in flour, then pour into a well greased bundt pan.

Bake 1 hr. 20 min (It took me 1 hr. 40) until toothpick comes out clean. Let sit ten minutes, then flip. Remove pan and let cake cool.

Lemon Glaze

1 1/3 c powdered sugar            1 /4 c sugar                        1/4 c orange juice

2 TB milk                                     1 TB lemon extract           1 TB lemon juice

1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients in small sauce pan and heat to a foaming boil. Remove from heat and stir until foam disappears. Pour over cake. (Note: Tends to run right off the cake. I’d recommend letting it sit until it starts to stiffen and then spoon it on.)

 

 

 

Makeover – Basement Room Edition

It is truly amazing the difference a little paint and flooring can do to a room. This week continues the remodel work being done on my husband’s house as we prepare to sell it this Spring. With only four weeks left until April, which is when we want to list it, we’re getting down to the nitty gritty!

Our most recent project has been the downstairs basement room. The basement of the house is unfinished except for this one room. We’re guessing it was built as a man-cave/game room. We referred to it as the ‘poop room’, named so for the bloody brown color they painted the walls.

Basement Room

 

What we did: Well, first we put a primer coat on those walls. It was so dark we couldn’t see what needed repaired. Then, while my husband re-taped and mudded most of the sheetrock seams (they’d all come loose), I ripped out the carpet. There were two layers. A dirty tan color, and then the blue rug you can see in the picture.

The work was pretty straightforward once the walls were repaired. I painted the ceiling, then threw on a second primer layer before going to town with the walls. Recognize the color? It’s the same as the master bedroom. After all the paint work was done we put in a floating floor, replaced the outlets and voila! All but finished. We spent less than $300 for the whole room.

What’s left: We’re not quite sure of what to do with the water line access in the wall. It would cost a good $100 or more to get a custom fit access panel to put in, and about the same if we did a proper job of making one of our own. We’re thinking of putting a very thin frame around the edge so it doesn’t look so choppy then hanging a picture over it. We may end up doing something else though, because we put it on the bottom of the to-do list to figure out later.

Yet to do: The house is coming along pretty fast for only having weekends to work on it. We still need to empty the house, patch, paint and floor the two hallways, stairwell and living room and add flooring to the kitchen. We also have some of my family coming up to help replace the giant living room window. With four weeks to April, I think we’re right on task. The challenge is that my husband priced hiring painters to paint the exterior of the house and… now we’re looking at doing it ourselves. Should only take us four or five days to do, but with weekends only to do it that’s putting us a lot later into April than we wanted. I may see if I can get a couple of friends to help out.

That’s all for this week!

Have fun!

Abby

Top 5 Reasons to Brainstorm with Others

Greetings, everyone! This week I’m going to talk about one of the most essential writing Help Me’s I have in my arsenal: My friends.

When I first began writing, I didn’t believe I needed help from anyone else to write. I had more ideas in my head than I had time to put into words. I still have those early manuscripts and notes, and I’ll admit I still hope to someday polish them up and put them into print. Will it ever happen? Probably not. They had problems I couldn’t see. But those first works were my babies, my first steps, my practice runs, and will always have a bit of my heart.

Working out the problems is where having a second, living, outside person comes in. Below I’m listing the top five reasons I have personally experienced in my years of meeting others to help with my writing.

ink-and-feather-quill-clipart

  1. We feed off of each other. When I’m excited about an awesome scene I just wrote, I have someone I can tell who won’t think I’m crazy. The reverse is also true, and I can honestly say I get stoked when she writes something amazing. This in turn usually causes the other person to write something awesome and the cycle repeats.
  2.  A good helper is honest and brutal with the know-how to back it up. To say R can be brutal is an understatement, but sometimes I’m just as bad. We stop each other when our books take a wrong turn, point out loose threads and generally harass one another to make the best story possible. But more than that, neither of us will ever say ‘it’s just bad/dumb/doesn’t work’ without a good reason to back it up. It’s still painful, but I know that not only is my wip better, so is my overall writing. I now catch the little things that she once had to point out.
  3. We are bridges for one another. When one of us is stuck, or forcing ourselves through a tough scene, the other person is standing there waving pom poms and cheering. We’ll also sit down together and hash out a scene that isn’t going well. My characters recently were going from Point A to B, and wandered off to Point C instead. It fit the flow, but it took both of us to untangle the mess. And writing blocks? Those are just things we add to the bridge, because what one of us can’t quite figure out the other person can.
  4. You have someone asking you the big W’s. A writer knows their story. It’s in their head. But others don’t. So we’re constantly asking one another Who, What, When, Where and most importantly Why. Some of these mean better description, the big one requires insight. If the other person doesn’t know the answer, it’s figured out.
  5. When you find the right writing buddy, it’s pure gold inside and out. My friend R and I met in college. She became my second mom, and I the fifth child she never had. I got her into writing because she wanted to push me to write more. She also helped put together my wedding, her husband officiated and her daughter was my maid of honor.

And there you go! Another good thing is to have a solid ‘guinea pig’ friend. That one you trust to read the finished project and give you valid comments and concerns. I also want to say not to ignore someone who might not have the usual writer’s brain. My husband (who is not a writer or all that creative, but is a thinker) read something and made a comment that caused R and I to both jump on him for more information. His different line of thinking caught something that neither of us had, and he’s now been added to our extended circle of ‘people we can question for help’.

Have fun!

Abby

(image from publicdomainpictures.net)

Makeover – Master Bedroom Edition

Happy Monday! I hope everyone is staying warm and safe in the wintery weather. It’s a bitter ten degrees right now with a good inch of snow on the ground. Pretty to look at, not fun to be out and about in.

In the three months I’ve been married to my husband, I’ve learned how to replace windows, replace rotting out studs, skim coat a wall, do basic wiring (beyond what I already knew), and just this past weekend how to put in a different kind of flooring than I’ve done before. Most importantly, I’ve learned that my husband and I can do work like this without any fighting and can laugh when one of us makes a mistake.

This week I’m going to talk about the weekend project that we’ve been working on for the past three weeks: The master bedroom of my husband’s house. My first full room project with my husband, I have to say it turned out quite well.

Before and after

The room now sports two new windows (and a few new studs in the wall where the old windows leaked and rotted everything), lots of wall patches, a basically new wall on the window side by the time we replaced all the bad Sheetrock, new ceiling light/fan, new paint, new flooring (from old carpet to bamboo) and new blinds.

The most memorable task was unquestionably replacing the first window. We had to pull off crumbling Masonite boards, fight a few thousand ants (and run out of ant spray), poke at more wood rot than my husband anticipated, and by noon I had at least a four foot hole in the bedroom wall. I think we made three trips to the hardware store that day, but by dark we had the new studs, some new insulation, and a new wall put back up. The bedroom looked a little worse for wear with chunks missing around the window and all that insulation poking through, but we got it done!

I had the most fun doing the flooring. Now, a bit about me is that my two favorite jobs in the construction/re-model world are walls and floors. I’ve refinished the hardwood floors in my own house, I hired for the sanding, but the rest (pulling the carpet, staining, poly-urethane coats) was all me. I’ve also put in floating floors. But this bamboo floor has taken the cake! The nail gun for this thing takes a mallet to hammer in these long staples. And working the planks together is also a favorite thing of mine. It’s hard on the knees, or arms if you’re up for hammer time, but makes fast progress unless you’re at a doorframe.

Our fun oopsie moments include when I measured a board upsidedown for a doorframe cut, and when my husband taped the walls for caulking the trim.  When he pulled off the painter’s tape… the wall paint came with it. Husband swears he’s done it this way before no problem, and the paint was two weeks old, so we decided the painter’s tape was just lousy and in the future I’ll handle all trim work.  I also lost count of how many staples we had to pull out because I didn’t hit the nail gun hard enough. Not a ton, and my husband did it a few times as well, but it cost us our steady groove.

Next up: The house remodel continues with the fixing up of the second bathroom, followed by the hallways, living room, kitchen and basement room. There’s also outdoor work yet to be done. We have about twelve weeks left before we begin trying to sell the place. Wish us luck!

Have fun!

– Abby

2017 Wrap-Up

This has been, by far, one of my craziest years. A lot of things happened, both expected and unexpected, and has also been one of the first in several years that didn’t have something bad happen during it. No major family deaths or injuries (yay!), no major life problems (yay!) no crazy work or friendship problems (yay!) or anything else that’s happened in previous years. I’m hoping next year will be just a great!

As I did last year, I’m once again doing a brief covering of the major points in my life, as well as my goals for 2018.

card-with-new-year

  • Writing
    • 2017 Goals: Finish editing 2nd work, find an agent/publishing house, post more interesting things on the blog.
    • Reality: I finished editing my 2nd work and put together a solid query letter, but I have yet to actually put out submissions.
    • I started my 3rd project, another fantasy work in the same world as the 2nd.
    • 2018 Goals: Send out submissions and find an agent/publishing house, finish and edit my 3rd work, become more consistent on twitter and blog again.
  • House Projects:
    • 2017 Goals: Finish the garage. Rebuild retaining wall. Replace garage door. Replace bathroom sink. Add the last two supports beneath the house. Fix fireplace and replace the mantle…
    • Reality: Didn’t get as much done on my house this year for reasons explained below. I rebuilt the retaining wall, repaired the fence in the backyard and that’s about it.
    • On new husband’s house, which we’re fixing up like crazy to be ready to sell in the spring, I’ve so far helped replace the siding and batons, replaced three windows, stripped carpet in the master bedroom, did wall repairs throughout the house, skim coated my first wall, ripped baseboards throughout the house, and several other small things, most of these were done over the last eight weeks.
    • 2018 Goals: Husband’s house: replace the huge front window with help from my family, paint the exterior (hiring), replace all flooring, remodel the 2nd bathroom, finish remodeling the master bedroom, finish fixing up the kitchen and living room, sell in March or April (!!!). Die for awhile after getting all of that done during weekends. Finish the garage and remodel the bathroom in my house and prep to sell it in 2019.
  • Life Events:
    • 2017 Goals: Keep the keeper, learn how to decorate desserts… win the lottery.
    • Reality: Not only did I keep the keeper… I married him! Yay! This one event pushed aside all others and has been one of the best things to ever happen to me.
    • I am happy to say I am better at decorating desserts, and I also now have a pirate ship bundt cake to have fun with. Yeah! Thank you,  husband!
    • 2018 Goals: Become a better cook since it’s no longer just food for me (and blog about it), sell a house, start looking at a new long-term house.

What about all of you? What are your big plans for the new year?

Have fun!

-Abby

(picture from publicdomainpictures.net)