Saturday, January 30, 2010

Spicy Pork and Red Bean Chili

This chili has so much flavor that I can't believe I made it in my kitchen.  It's definitely worthy of a chili cookoff and it's classic "man food".  My husband loves it and so do I.  If we were having a Super Bowl party (which we won't be doing until the Eagles or Ravens make it back to the Bowl), I'd serve this chili.

I found this recipe on and I tried it because it includes two types of pork (bacon and pork shoulder) and we love pork.  It goes without saying that this isn't a low-fat meal and you shouldn't eat it everyday (hmm... I find myself using that excuse a lot).

Pork shoulder is inexpensive and quite fatty.  I picked up this 4 lb. shoulder for about $3.50 (on sale).  The fatty, tender meat really makes this recipe.  With that said, there was no way I was putting this much fat into the pot:

Even I know when to stop.  Do you see that thick, fatty pig skin?  It's just wrong.  I spent 30 minutes trimming away most of the large pieces of fat with scissors and a chef's knife.  Don't worry, the resulting chili was still moist and flavorful.  I couldn't get all the meat off the bone and my hands were slippery (and I didn't want to cut myself and end up in the ER... again), so I cut as much meat as I could, but ultimately just added the bone to the pot.  Once the chili was finished, I just pulled the bone right out.  It worked fine and I got to keep my fingers.

Here's my trimmed pork, seasoned with salt and pepper and ready to be browned in bacon fat:

First I browned bacon, then browned the pork in some of the bacon fat.  (I warned you...)

Keep some of that pork fat!  You'll need it to saute the onions, jalapenos, garlic and spices...

Then comes the addition of unusual ingredients:  water... beef stock... diced tomatoes... and coffee.  Coffee?!  (I was skeptical, too.)

At this point, you may as well take a nap or pop in a movie.  It needs to simmer for at least two hours.  After two hours I used a potato masher to break up the soft pork and crush the tomatoes.  Then, I stirred in the red beans.

I served it over white rice and topped with cheddar cheese, red onion, and cilantro.  My hubby topped his with bacon.  Why not?

I heard this is even better after it sits a few days, if it lasts that long.

Spicy Red Pork and Bean Chili

1/2 pound sliced bacon
4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large white onion, chopped
1 to 2 fresh jalapeño chiles, seeded and chopped I used 2 and it was perfect for us
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled
1/3 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
14 1/2-ounce can beef broth I used 1 T. beef bouillon dissoved in 14 oz. hot water
1 cup brewed coffee
1 cup water
28- to 32-ounce can crushed tomatoes with purée (I used diced tomatoes)
2 (19-ounce) cans small red beans or kidney beans, rinsed and drained I used small beans

Cook bacon in a 6- to 8-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, turning, until crisp. Transfer with tongs to paper towels to drain and pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from pot. Crumble bacon. Pat pork dry and season with salt and pepper. Add oil to pot and heat over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Brown pork in about 6 batches without crowding and transfer with a slotted spoon to a plate. Add onion and jalapeños and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened. Add garlic, oregano, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne, then cook, stirring, 1 minute. Return pork to pot with any juices accumulated on plate and add broth, coffee, water, and tomatoes with purée.

Simmer chili, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until pork is very tender, about 2 hours. Stir in beans and bring to a simmer, stirring.

Serve chili with bacon and accompaniments. We used white rice, diced red onion, cilantro, and cheddar cheese.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chicken and Dumplings

This is one of those meals that fills your home with good smells and makes everyone feel all warm and fuzzy on a cool day.  I only make this on weekends because it takes a few hours, but it is so worth it.  Even the leftovers are great.  If you like chicken noodle soup and chicken pot pie, I'm pretty sure you'll love this.

There are many different ways to make chicken and dumplings.  Some people make fluffy drop-style dumplings, some people make biscuit-style dumplings, but my mom and I agree that the best dumplings are thin, slippery, and noodle-like.  In Delaware we call them "slippery dumplings".  Maybe other people call them something else.  Maybe other people have never experienced them.  All I know is that if I came home after a long day during the cold weather months I would love to have a pot of chicken and dumplings on the stove.

This recipe isn't complicated, but it's just time consuming with all the chopping, browning, simmering, and stirring.

First, prep your veggies.  I run mine through my Cuisinart food processor because I have to chop them really small to get my husband to eat them.

Then you've got to get your chicken ready.  I use about 3 lbs. of chicken and since we prefer white meat I use 3 large, bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts.  Unfortunately, it's becoming difficult to find bone-in chicken breasts at the grocery store.  I guess people don't like bones in their white meat.

I season my chicken with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika, then brown it before throwing in 1/2 of the veggies and a few minutes later, chicken broth, a bay leaf, and a bunch of fresh thyme.  Then you just let it simmer for about 45 minutes (until the chicken is cooked).

Now, the fun part.  This is the part of the recipe that requires the most skill, but don't worry, you can do this.  Dumpings!  Add warm milk and melted butter to a mixture of flour and baking powder, then knead it to form a ball, roll it out, and cut it (I use a pizza cutter).  Then you slowly drop those dumplings into the broth, one by one.  Let them cook until tender (I like to let mine sit for at least an hour).

Ladle the chicken and dumplings into shallow bowls, top with fresh parsley and dig in.  The leftovers are great, too.

Chicken and Dumplings
adapted from Emeril Lagasse's recipe 

3 bone-in chicken breasts, about 2 pounds total
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. paprika
2 T. vegetable oil
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
3 carrots, coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
6 cups chicken broth
2 T. unsalted butter
4 T. all-purpose flour
1 T. chopped fresh parsley leaves

for the dumplings:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
3 t. baking powder
3/4 c. milk
2 T. butter
1/2 t. salt

Season the chicken on both sides with the salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven and, when hot, add the chicken, skin side down, and cook until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Turn the chicken over and add half of the chopped onion, half of the carrot and half of the celery and cook until the thighs are lightly browned on the second side, about 3 minutes. Add the thyme, bay leaf, and chicken broth. Cover the pan and cook on medium heat until the thighs are tender and the meat pulls away from the bone easily, 30 to 40 minutes.

While the chicken is cooking, combine the butter and flour in a small heatproof bowl and, using your fingers or a pastry blender, blend until smooth. Set aside.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the chicken, chopped vegetables, thyme, and bay leaf from the cooking liquid and transfer to a plate to cool. Ladle 1 cup of the hot cooking liquid into the bowl with the butter-flour mixture and whisk to combine. Add this mixture to the pan along with the onion chunks, sliced carrot and sliced celery and stir to combine. Cover and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, or until the vegetables are just tender.

While the veggies are cooking, make the dumplings by combining the flour, baking powder and salt in a small mixing bowl. Heat the milk and butter until warm and the butter is melted. Add the warm milk mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Transfer to a floured work surface and knead lightly once or twice. Using a floured rolling pin, roll to a thickness of 1/8-inch. Using a knife (or pizza cutter), cut the rolled out dumpling batter into 1 1/2-inch strips.

When the chicken has cooled enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and discard the bones, chicken skin and cooked vegetables. Reserve the meat separately.

When the veggies are crisp-tender, uncover the pan and add the reserved chicken meat to the cooking liquid. Stir to combine, increase the heat to medium-high and, when the mixture comes to a boil, add the dumplings, 1 strip at a time, to the pan, using a spoon to gently submerge the dumplings in the hot mixture. Cook, uncovered and undisturbed, until the dumplings are cooked through, 7 to 10 minutes. Stir gently and serve in wide shallow bowls.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Penne with Broccoli and Sundried Tomatoes

Here's another weeknight winner.  Like my Cheesy Baked Shells and Broccoli, this recipe meets my qualifications for a home-cooked meal on a weeknight:  I probably have all ingredients in my fridge or pantry, I can prepare it in less than 45 minutes, and the leftovers are great for lunch the next day.  I used to order this meal in a diner all the time, but the service became poor and I decided to make the meal at home.  Mine ended up tasting better than the diner version, so now it's a repeat meal at our home.  I don't even think my husband likes sun dried tomatoes, but he eats this!

This is great hot, at room temperature, or cold.  The leftovers taste and smell great.  You could also use Italian sausage instead of chicken or add more or less of any of the ingredients to suit your taste.  Enjoy!

Penne with Broccoli and Sundried Tomatoes
my interpretation of a diner classic

1 large boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1" pieces
1 c. sundried tomatoes, chopped into small pieces
1 lb. penne pasta (I use Barilla)
4 large cloves of garlic, minced
4 cups fresh broccoli florets, blanched (use fresh, it really makes a difference)
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil

Cook the pasta according to package directions (al dente).

In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons of oil to medium heat, then add chicken to the heat and cook until done (about 5 minutes).

Add sun dried tomatoes and garlic to chicken.

Cook one minute, then stir in extra-virgin olive oil and cooked pasta.  Stir in broccoli and Parmesan cheese.
Add salt and pepper to taste (I salt the pasta right after I cook it - this dish needs salt, so be sure to taste before you bring it to the table!).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Whirley Pop

As I mentioned in my caramel corn entry, I really enjoy a good batch of popcorn.  It's inexpensive, smells great, and it can be sweet, savory or both.

I've been loving kettle corn since I "discovered" it about 10 years ago at Costco.  At the time they were selling huge bags of ready-made corn.  I was slightly obsessed with it and consumed huge amounts of it in college.  Like most of my food fads, I got tired of it and didn't eat it again until years later on a trip to Hershey Park.

This Hershey Park kettle corn was different.  It was made fresh in a huge vat and sold warm!  We bought a bag in the park and I was in heaven all afternoon and all the way home.  I thought about that kettle corn for a long time.  I looked for similar vendors and I found a few, but once it got cold, I couldn't get my hands on fresh kettle corn.  (We're not talking about microwave corn here.)

Then I remembered the Whirley Pop.  I worked at Williams-Sonoma in college and I remember Whirley Pop popocorn poppers flying off the shelves like hotcakes during the holidays.  I Googled kettle corn and found out that I could make my own fresh, hot kettle corn with a Whirley Pop!

I picked one up for about $20, bought some Orville Redenbacher popcorn and I was ready to go!  Anytime I want kettle corn, it's mine!  It's like going to Hershey Park every day!  (Okay, it's not that fun, but it's tasty!)

Want your own Whirley Pop?  Amazon sells them!

Kettle Corn

1/2 c. unpopped popcorn
1/3 c. sugar
1/4 c. vegetable oil

Place the first 3 ingredients in your Whirley Pop.  Turn the heat to medium high (for an electric stove, read the manual of you have a gas stove) and turn the handle slowly. 

Keep the handle moving and within 3-5 minutes your corn will start to pop.  Continue turning the handle until the popping slows down and the handle is difficult to crank. 

Immediately remove the Whirley Pop from the stove, carefully pour the popcorn onto a baking sheet or waxed paper.  Sprinkle the popcorn with salt and enjoy!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cheesy Baked Shells and Broccoli

This is a weeknight winner at my house.  I can have it on the table in less than 45 minutes, my husband likes it, and the leftovers are great for lunch the next day.  I feel great when I make this meal because it's easy, filling, and it saves us money in the middle of a hectic workweek (dinner plus lunch the next day).

This recipe contains ingredients that you can always have on hand:  frozen broccoli, pasta, and cheddar cheese.  I normally don't love frozen veggies, but they work in this dish, plus they are convenient.

Start by cooking the broccoli (you can microwave it if it was frozen or steam it if it's fresh).  I don't like my broccoli mushy, but this recipe is forgiving.  Boil a box of medium shells (pasta).  I used whole grain last time and it was fine (to my surprise).  Sit the broccoli and the cooked shells aside and work on your smooth, creamy cheese sauce.

I add a little fresh cracked pepper and some seasoned salt to my cheese sauce.  We don't like our food salty, but we like it flavorful.  This cheese sauce is so easy and it comes out so thick and creamy that I have to stop myself from licking it off the whisk.

Next, you mix about 3/4 of the pasta and all the broccoli with the cheese sauce.  If you use all the pasta, it'll be too dry.  Of course, you could just double the cheese sauce... but anyway... just make a nice mixture.  Pour it into a 1.5 quart baking dish (I spray mine with Pam), sprinkle some more cheddar on top, and place that baby under the broiler until the top gets brown and crunchy.

I know this dish looks extra-regular, but it hits the spot on a January weeknight.  The flavor is similar to fettucini alfredo, so I always serve it with some grilled chicken breast ('cause that's how my husband likes it).  I'm sure you could just cut up the chicken and stir it in the cheese sauce with everything else.  (Note to self.)

Cheesy Baked Shells and Broccoli
from Real Simple magazine

3/4 pound medium pasta shells
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk  I used1%

2 cups grated Cheddar
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
kosher salt and pepper
1 16-ounce package frozen broccoli florets

Heat broiler. 

Cook the pasta according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 4 to 5 minutes.

Add 1 1/2 cups of the cheese and stir until melted. Stir in the nutmeg, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper.  I add 1/2 t. seasoned salt and more pepper.  Just taste as you cook.

Add the pasta and broccoli and toss to combine. Transfer to a broilerproof 8-inch square or another 1 1/2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining 1⁄2 cup of cheese. Broil until golden, 3 to 4 minutes.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Christmas to New Year's Review

Has it really been two weeks since Christmas?  My husband and I enjoyed nearly two weeks off work during the holidays.  I had big plans:  hosting Christmas dinner for his side of the family, some minor home improvement and organization projects, visiting family and friends, an informal get-together for New Year's Eve...

Well, that's not exactly how it went down.  We didn't get much accomplished at all, but we had fun doing nothing for two weeks.  We have long commutes and we have every single hour of our weeks planned.  It was wonderful to enjoy doing absolutely nothing.  So here's my review of Christmas break.

We hosted family from Balitmore and Philadelphia for Christmas dinner.  We ended up with about 12 guests.  That doesn't seem like much...

However, considering the modest square footage of our home, it was a challenge.  Six guests ate in the kitchen (far right photo), four ate in the living room (far left) and the rest of us just floated around.  It worked.  However, our next house will have a dining room.  The real estate agent said that people don't use them, but I don't know what planet she lives on.

So, yes, I did seat four people in the living room.  We squeezed our leather couch, chairs, and bookshelves into the front 2/3 of the living room (right near the front door) and created a dining room with a portable table and 4 folding chairs.  It was a tight fit, but it allowed people to enjoy a sit down meal.  You do what you have to do.

I also must point out that this was only my second time making a turkey.  If I do say so myself, I did a great job!  I used a fresh Butterball turkey (14 lbs.).  I rubbed it with a combination of special spices and rubbed under the skin with butter and fresh rosemary.  Sometimes turkey can be dry.  My turkey was both moist and flavorful.  We also served baby back ribs.  We marinated them and smoked them (in the snow, with the help of my mom) for 5 hours before serving them.  Needless to say, the food went over well.  So well, in fact, that I forgot to take pictures and everyone ate it all.

As far as decorations, well... we put up the tree in the beginning of December.  The tree had to get set up in our basement since the entire first floor had to be open to accommodate our Christmas dinner guests.  It's an artificial tree circa 1988.  My mom purchased it on clearance for our old house in New Jersey.  The tree has seen better days.  On December 23rd we learned that the tree lights had seen better days, as well.  Who knows how old our lights were, but they decided to short out and start flashing and buzzing two days before Christmas.  My mom helped us search all over the tri-state area for white indoor lights.  We ended up with these cool white LED lights.  I'm all for LED, but since these were cool white (as opposed to warm white) they clashed with our gold ornaments and decor... so we promptly ran around town looking for "cooler" colors like silver and blue for the tree to match the lights.  I'm not sure we were successful.  Maybe next year we'll get a new tree.  Maybe we just won't put up the tree at all.  I'm not the Grinch, but I honestly don't think I'd miss it.

We did a little bit of decorations on the mantle above the fireplace (our little caroling family).  I have a nativity, but I haven't been able to locate it for a few years. 

And on to New Year's!  We were previously known for our Christmas party in early December, but this year we opted to not host friends for our annual gathering (tough economic times + my nervousness about preparing for our Christmas day guests).  At the last minute we decided to try to have a New Year's Eve party.  We ended up with three guests (not including relatives).  That's okay, because by midnight it was just family.

And I was happy because I got to rock my Snuggie.

Did our bedroom get painted?  No.  Did we visit relatives out of state?  No.  Did we ever find and put out all of our Christmas decorations?  No way.  However, we enjoyed two weeks of freedom.  No alarm clocks, no turnpikes, no frequent trips to the gas station, no professional dress.  It was great.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Caramel Corn

Popcorn is one of my favorite treats, especially when it's fresh kettle corn or butter glazed popcorn on the boardwalk at Rehoboth Beach.  I figured out how to make good kettle corn, but I still haven't mastered the butter glazed popcorn from the beach.  However, this caramel corn recipe is pretty tasty.  It's crispy, not sticky and it wasn't difficult to make.

First, I popped 4 quarts of plain popcorn in my Whirley Pop.  How did I measure something obscure like 4 quarts of popcorn?  I've learned that 1/2 cup of unpopped kernels = 4 quarts of popped corn.  If you want to be really sure, just fill up a 1 gallon pitcher with popped corn and it's about right.  You can pop your corn any way you like.  I'm sure you can use microwave corn, but whatever you do, make sure your popcorn is plain.  There will be so much buttery, sugary goo going into this recipe that you do not need any additional salt or butter!

Spread your popcorn out on a baking sheet.  I lined my baking sheet with parchment paper, but you could also spray your sheet with Pam.

I added some nuts to my popcorn.  You could add walnuts, pecans, peanuts... I opted for almonds.  I think they are supposed to lower your cholesterol.  Especially when they are bathed in butter and sugar.

Next, create the glaze.  It starts the way all good things start:  butter and sugar.  Butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup to be exact.

Let this cook down for a few minutes until it's nice, bubbly, and smooth.  Then remove it from the heat of the stove and stir in some vanilla and a little bit of baking soda (and watch it foam up temporarily).

Don't be tempted to taste the glaze at this point!  Hot sugar is very dangerous and can leave you with serious burns to your fingers and tongue!  (Don't ask how I know this.)

At this point you need to move quickly.  Pour the hot glaze all over the popcorn and toss it to get everything coated.

Bake the coated popcorn for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.  When it's done, dump it out on some waxed paper and sprinkle the entire concoction with some kosher salt.  I like that sweet and salty thing.

End result?  Crunchy, sweet, salty, buttery popcorn.  That's right, crunchy, not sticky.

This stuff is so good I'd smuggle it into a movie theater.  It's so good that I (almost) don't miss the popcorn at the beach.

Caramel Corn

4 quarts plain popped popcorn
1 c. dry roasted nuts (optional)
1 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. light corn syrup
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. butter
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. vanilla extract

Place the popped popcorn into a shallow, greased baking pan.  Add the nuts to the popped corn if using. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F (120 degrees C). Combine the brown sugar, corn syrup, margarine and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring enough to blend. Once the mixture begins to boil, boil for 5 minutes while stirring constantly.

Remove from the heat, and stir in the baking soda and vanilla. The mixture will be light and foamy. Immediately pour over the popcorn in the pans, and stir to coat. Don't worry too much at this point about getting all of the corn coated.

Bake for 1 hour, removing the pan, and giving the corn  a good stir every 15 minutes. Line the counter top with waxed paper. Dump the corn out onto the waxed paper and separate the pieces. Allow to cool completely, and sprinkle with salt.  Store leftovers in airtight containers or resealable bags

Monday, January 4, 2010

Haagen-Dazs Mango Sorbet

I'm a self-proclaimed dessert snob.  I don't waste calories on Tasty Kakes, Snickers bars, or Oreo cookies.  I seldom eat grocery store cakes and I definitely don't eat cookies from the refrigerated section of the grocery store.

But I love ice cream.  Always have, always will.  My mom says she spent many days at Carvel when she was pregnant with me, which explains my love of all frozen desserts, particularly frozen custard.

Unfortunately, everybody has to grow up sometime and when I grew up I learned that I'm kinda lactose intolerant.  I love rich ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery, Carvel, or Rita's, but it doesn't love me back.  I also don't have the metabolism I had in high school, so I needed to cut the lactose and cut the calories.  Enter sorbet.

Sorbet is non-dairy, fat free, and comes in so many yummy fruit flavors.  I've always loved strawberry, but last year I decided to try mango.  Well, it's my new favorite.

While I still prefer my desserts to be made at home from the freshest ingredients, I've gotta give Haagen-Dazs credit.  There's no point in me even slicing up mangoes and busting out the ice cream maker when there's a pint of this stuff waiting for me for about $4 at most grocery stores (yes, it's high, but it's worth it).  The color reminds me of a fresh peach, the texture is super smooth and the flavor is sweet, but a bit tart.  It tastes like a frozen mango.  If I can't get my hands on a fresh mango smoothie from the Vietnamese restaurant around the corner, this is the next best thing.  I know the price is a bit steep, but I get 3-4 servings out of a pint.  When I consider that I pay at least $6 for a restaurant dessert and $4 for a fresh mango smoothie, it seems like a good deal for me.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Wine Rack

I practically live in the kitchen (by choice), but it's small, so we're always looking for better ways to utilize the space.  Last summer, we purchased this wine rack at Crate and Barrel and it has been well worth the money.

We enjoy wine with our meals several times a week and it was always a hassle going to the basement to grab a bottle or pulling up a stool to reach the top cabinet where we used to store all our delicate stemware.  Now our champagne flutes, wine glasses, and pilsners are always easy to reach from the dinner table and we can also store up to 16 bottles in the kitchen.  The rack is super narrow, so it fit a corner that was previously underutilized by some baskets.  I keep my most frequently used cookbooks on the second shelf, some cute decorative items on the top shelf, and the bottom shelf is large enough to serve food or drinks when we entertain.

This rack is a great example of utilizing vertical space in small spaces.  It's especially excellent for our home because we don't have a formal dining room, so all of our meals are served in our cozy kitchen.  We've found that we need creative storage solutions for storage, cooking, and entertaining to fit our small food preparation and serving space.  This wine rack definitely fit the bill.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year!

My husband and I have a tradition of starting the new year with a list of home improvements that we'd like to complete during the upcoming year.  After Christmas, we've eaten too much food and spent too much money, so it's nice to change our focus a bit.  Don't you worry, I'll still be cooking!  Cooking at home is a great way to save money.

Have I ever mentioned that my husband and I live in a relatively small space?  I prefer to call it cozy, but at about 1300 square feet, it's considered small around these parts.

We purchased our (town) home in May 2005, just two months after we jumped the broom.  We were and still are so proud to have our own home and we've spent the last 4+ years adding personal touches to our property.  I love investing time and money in our home because we work really hard and we consider our home to be our sanctuary.  We are so proud to come home to a well-decorated space that reflects our personalities.

I'm adding a new category to my postings:  Home.  In this category I plan to show some home improvements or organizational tips that really helped us make our house a home.  We've had some space limitations and financial limitations that have influenced our choices, so I figured it would be helpful to share our remodeling/nesting/customization experiences (major and minor) with my blog family.  Don't be surprised that many of my favorite improvements are in the kitchen!  Gotta keep the focus on the food.
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