Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 Best Dinners of the Week

I am no Food Network star.  Don't get me wrong -- I love to cook, but anything I make isn't gourmet by any means, and often is semi-homemade.  The biggest issue I face with cooking, however, is that by the end of a long work day, making dinner is last thing I feel like doing.  So we often choose carry out or whatever's easiest from there.

That's why I began sharing recipes on this DIY blog, calling them Dinners of the Week.  They are truly simple, 30-minute or less recipes that are easy enough for a busy weeknight and can feed a small army or serve as great next-day leftovers.  I've compiled a list of my favorite 10 Dinners of the Week from 2013.  The full recipes are contained in the hyperlinks below.  I hope that you love them as much as we do!

Ready for the list?  Here you go!

#10 Creole Chicken

Here's a perfectly healthy, Cajun-inspired meal ready in less than a half hour.  The chicken is perfectly spiced with a variety of Bayou seasonings and served with the holy trinity of tender bell peppers, onion, and celery, all topped on a bed of freshly-prepared brown rice.  Control the heat levels based on your wants and needs, and you will be sure to please a hungry crowd.


#9 Black Bean and Cilantro Skillet Burritos

I am obsessed with Mexican food, and could eat it every day.  These skillet burritos are healthy, low budget, can be mixed with any items you may have on hand, and taste as if you ordered them from a Mexican restaurant.  These cilantro, brown rice, and black bean burritos are savory on the inside and crunchy on the outside.  Love them.


#8 Beer-Marinated Flank Steak, Baked Potatoes, and Roasted Parmesan Green Beans

The evening before, toss the flank steak into a Ziploc bag with a bottle of beer and a variety of spices, then enjoy a perfectly tender, juicy meal served with two easy sides at the end of the next workday. My favorite part about these baked potatoes are their crunchy skins, made possible with a combination of Kosher salt, freshly cracked pepper, and olive oil.  The roasted parmesan green beans are fantastic, and carry just a hint of citrus with them.


#7 New England Clam Chowder

I discovered soups this year, and how easy they are to make.  This clam chowder recipe tastes as though it's been simmering on the stove all day long, but in reality, takes a half hour at most.  The tender celery, potatoes, and clams are served in a mouthwatering and wholesome cream sauce.  I've had a lot of clam chowder over the years, and this is just as good as the real New England deal.


#6 Buffalo Chicken Pizza

My family's favorite pizza is buffalo chicken, and it's hard to make one that'll meet their high expectations.  This recipe is easy to make with a refrigerated pizza dough crust, and then topped with a spicy buffalo sauce, variety of bleu and mozzarella cheeses, and perfectly-spiced and tender chicken chunks.  Grab at least two slices right off the bat, or you won't get seconds.


#5 Ham and Broccoli Twice-Baked Potatoes

I make a lot of twice-baked potatoes.  They are easy, taste wonderful, and you can stuff them with whatever you have on hand.  My favorite from this year were these ham and broccoli ones.  They were light, fluffy, and filling enough to serve as an entire meal.  I made a whole batch of these, and they were gone within minutes.


#4 Spicy Honey Chicken

Man, does this chicken pack a punch.  First, you make a supremely spicy rub out of chipotle chile powder, garlic powder, freshly black pepper, cumin, and smoked paprika.  Pat the tenderloins with the rub and drizzle on a honey and apple cider vinegar mixture over top.  Bake in the oven for a few minutes, and out come these perfectly juicy, piping hot chicken tenderloins. I'd imagine that the same rub and honey mixture would work great with grilled chicken, too.


#3 Cheesy Bacon Potato Soup

I made this soup for my family this fall, and I lost count of how many times my sister-in-law said, "this is awesome."  She's right.  In about a half hour, you can have a perfectly cheesy and creamy potato soup, served with crumbled bacon over top.  It makes for even better leftovers.


#2 Shrimp and Crab Bisque

I ranked this bisque so high on our list because of how decadent it is, yet it'll take you less than 20 minutes to make.  By the time you've finished, you'll say, "that's it?"  That's it.  This is a creamy, rich soup made with fresh shrimp and lump crabmeat.  It's perfect for special occasions, dinner parties, holiday feasts, and even just a fancy Tuesday night meal.


#1 Mini Deep Dish Margherita Pizzas

My absolute favorite meal this year, and one we make the most often, are these Mini Deep Dish Margherita Pizzas.  They are made from simple ingredients -- refrigerated pizza dough, spaghetti sauce, tomatoes, cheese, and basil, all stuffed into muffin tins.  Evan and I love these gooey, bite-sized pizzas and have served them as appetizers to large BBQs and tailgates, for lunch with a group of friends, to a quick dinner on a hectic weeknight.  Mix and match the toppings all you want, and you will be sure to please a hungry crowd.




***

I can't wait to experiment with additional easy recipes in 2014, and am looking forward to sharing my favorites with you as future Dinners of the Week.  Stay tuned for more, and Happy New Year!

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Year in Review

It's always fun to look back on all that you accomplished in a year and reminisce about the projects that you now love and can't live without.  I hit some major blogging and DIY'er milestones this year (400,000 total page views, say what!), tackled intimidating projects, and also completed huge projects for both our family and our community.

Ready for the full list?  Here are my favorite projects from 2013!  Each post contains a full tutorial on how to complete similar projects for your own house or others.

January: My Mother-in-Law's Kitchen Reveal

We started out the year with a bang.  Our Christmas and birthday gift to my mother-in-law was a complete kitchen makeover.  We took over her house (bless her, she is a sweetheart) and over the course of a week, painted her kitchen's walls and ceiling, installed board and batten, stripped and sanded all of the dark kitchen cabinets, stained and refinished the kitchen cabinets a light gray, installed pendant lighting, and installed a new tile backsplash.  Kitchen renovations are always the hardest, but we got it done on time and under budget by simply working hard and completing all of the tasks ourselves.  I'm fortunate to have had the opportunity to offer this as a thank you for everything my mother-in-law has done for both Evan and myself over the years.

February: Magnetic Spice Rack

This simple project has truly transformed my life.  No exaggeration there.  My kitchen countertops and cupboards were packed to the max with spices and it drove me nuts. So, I created this simple spice rack out of a sheet of metal and a bunch of magnetic spice tins from Bed Bath and Beyond. I mounted the rack on one wall of my kitchen.  Now I always know where the spices are at a moment's notice and if I'm running low on any.  It's also pretty, too!


February: Baseball Table Lamp and Hockey Stick Floor Lamp

One day in the garage, I was trying to figure out how to incorporate my old composite hockey stick into my husband's man cave and finally, it clicked.  I'll build a lamp.  And now I'm hooked, in that I'm always on the lookout of what else I can turn into a lamp.  I absolutely adore both of these lamps, and get frequent compliments on them from house guests. I think they'd look great in boys' rooms, as well.


March: Flagstone Raised Garden Beds

Evan and I wanted a veggie garden for our yard, and one that will last for many years to come.  Therefore, we decided to build raised garden beds out of red flagstone bricks.  We have two of these beds in the side yard, and have plans to build additional ones in 2014.  It was amazing to have fresh peppers, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, and herbs all summer long.  And, fortunately enough, the deer kept out of the beds, too.  :)


May: Kitchen Tile Backsplash

Installing a tile backsplash for your kitchen is not as difficult or scary as you might think.  I finally gathered enough courage to do it, and I tell you, it has truly made our kitchen unique.  We chose a slate and glass tile combination, which blends in well with our beige countertops, refinished red kitchen cabinets, and guacamole green walls.


June: Refinished Roller Hockey Rink

Our beloved roller hockey rink at Virginia Tech was built out of two old tennis courts, and in need of a little love.  Therefore, we decided to refinish the roller hockey rink by painting the surface a light gray, designing and painting a logo, and painting official goal lines, creases, and playoff circles.  Nearly six months of hard play afterward, this rink still looks as good as new.


August: Foyer Reveal

Upon move-in, our foyer was a clean, beige slate.  To add some personality, I painted it a warm yellow, installed board and batten, painted the ceiling, installed crown molding, added warm accents, and installed track lighting.  Now it seems more like a room than just a mere entryway, and I love coming home every day to this bright and sunny foyer.

August: Living Room Reveal

The living room was one of the first rooms that I painted when we bought our house in October 2011, and I had been working on it slowly ever since. In March, I installed a stone accent wall, which I feel truly makes the space cozy, inviting, and modern.  I also painted the ceiling, got new track lighting, bought new furniture and odds and ends, and installed crown molding.

September: The Child Who Never Was

One of my favorite professors in college often told us that writing is the best, most cathartic way to release your emotions.  Therefore, I took a break from DIY projects for a day by sharing an extremely personal story about a miscarriage.  I received a lot of mixed reviews with this post.  My goal was to share it in hope that it would comfort both men and women out there experiencing the same thing as I did.  And I met that goal, so I couldn't be more grateful for having done it.


November: My Father's Master Bathroom Reveal

My dad was in the hospital for a few days, and while in town visiting, we decided to completely renovate his master bathroom as a welcome home gift.  In less than 24 hours, Evan and I completely gutted the bathroom by removing the medicine cabinet, light fixture, sink, toilet, and linoleum flooring.  We then painted the walls and baseboards; replaced the light fixture; installed a new toilet, vanity, sink, and faucet; installed ceramic tile flooring; and fancied things up with a new shower curtain, towel rack, and a few other odds and ends. My dad was speechless when he saw the finished room, and I hope he enjoys it in the years to come.


December: My Little Etsy Shop

To end the year off strong, I decided to take a huge blogging step by creating my very own Paint Speckled Pawprints' Etsy shop. Since I'm new at this and I've got to admit -- this is a little scary -- I'm starting off slowly by offering my hand-painted pet silhouettes, which are completely custom-made based on photos and colors that the customer chooses of their pets.  My plan is to gradually add more and more of my DIY projects to this shop in 2014.  If you're interested in anything from this blog, as well, just let me know, and I will be happy to create it for you, too!


***

I want to sincerely thank you for all of your love, help, and support in following my DIY adventures here at Paint Speckled Pawprints.  I started this blog as a creative outlet for me to share my favorite pastime with my friends and family.  It has grown substantially from that and I hope that it'll continue to flourish in the years to come.  I've got an endless amount of projects, recipes, and stories planned for 2014, and I can't wait to share them with you.

Thanks for reading, and Happy Holidays to you and your families.

I've linked up at these fantastic year-end parties:


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dinner of the Week: New England Clam Chowder

Our good friends got married in New England this fall, and we must've had clam chowder for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I had never made clam chowder from scratch before, and decided to give this recipe from the Food Network a try.  I think it's a winner, and is easy and fast enough to be prepared for a busy weeknight.

New England Clam Chowder
Courtesy of Dave Lieberman at the Food Network

Ingredients: 
- 2 shallots or 1 medium onion
- 2 celery stalks
- 3 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 2 (10 oz.) cans chopped clams in juice
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 pound Idaho potatoes
- Butter or margarine
- Salt and pepper

First, wash, pat dry, and dice up the shallots and celery on a medium-sized cutting board.


Wash and pat dry the potatoes, also.  Peel them completely and then dice them up into small chunks.


Heat a large dab of butter or margarine in a large pot over medium-high heat.


Add the shallots and celery to the pot and saute them until softened, stirring often.


Stir in the flour to distribute evenly.


Add the stock, juice from the two cans of chopped clams (be sure to reserve the clams for later), cream, bay leaves, bay leaves, and potatoes, and stir to combine.  Bring to a simmer, stirring often, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a fork.


Add the clams and season to taste with salt and pepper.


Cook the soup for an additional two minutes until the clams are just firm. Serve immediately in single-serving bowls with a side of oyster crackers. 


Enjoy!



This recipe is absolutely perfect, in that I felt like I was in Massachusetts and Rhode Island all over again. It is perfect for a cold fall or winter night.  Both the potatoes and the clams are perfectly tender and seasoned, and the soup is creamy and piping hot.


I adored this recipe and will be making it time and time again.  I hope you will give it a try, as well!

You may find me linking up at these fantastic parties:

Monday: Boogieboard CottageC-R-A-F-TCraft-O-ManiacDIY Home Sweet Home,  Get Outta My Head PleaseThe Girl CreativeMad in CraftsMaking the World CuterOur Delightful HomePolish the StarsSerendipity and SpiceSew Can DoSkip to My LouThrifty Decor ChickToo Much Time on My HandsTuesday: A Bowl Full of LemonsCherished BlissCoastal CharmConfessions of a Stay at Home MommyDukes and DutchessesFunky Polka Dot GiraffeI'm Topsy TurvyMommy By Day Crafter by NightNap Time CreationsNot Just a HousewifeSugar Bee CraftsTip JunkieToday's Creative BlogWednesday: Adorned from Above, Free Pretty Things for YouGinger Snap CraftsHome Happy HomeIt's Just Called SpicyJAQS StudioLet Birds FlyLife with the Crust Cut OffThe NY Melrose FamilyRae Gun RamblingsThe Sasse LifeSew Much AdoSew WoodsySomeday CraftsSouthern LovelyThe Style SistersThursday: A Creative PrincessA Glimpse InsideCrafty, Scrappy, HappyHouse of HepworthsJust Winging ItMade in a DayThe Shabby Creek CottageSomewhat SimpleFriday: 2805The Answer is ChocolateBacon Time with the Hungry HypoCreation CornerFingerprints on the FridgeThe Grant LifeHappy-Go-LuckyIf It's Not BaroqueJust Us FourMom 4 RealMy Simple Home LifeNot Your Ordinary RecipesOne Artsy MamaThe Rooster and the HenSimply DesigningTatertots and JelloWhipperberryYoung and CraftySaturday: Be Different... Act NormalCandace CreationsFunky Junk InteriorsIt's OverflowingIt's So Very CheriNutmeg PlaceSunday: The Crafty CowgirlEmbellishing Life with Homemade GoodnessFlamingo ToesG*RatedNifty Thrifty Things

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dinner of the Week: Cheesy Bacon Potato Soup

Is there anything better than a creamy potato soup?  How about add melted cheese and crumbled bacon to it?  Heaven.  This is my favorite cheesy bacon potato soup recipe.  It's incredibly easy to make and to even make things easier for you, can also be done in a crock pot.  My stove top version is below.

Cheesy Bacon Potato Soup

Ingredients: 
- 1 half bag of russet or Idaho potatoes
- 2 stalks celery
- 1 shallot or small onion
- 1 carton chicken stock
- 1 1/2 cup half-and-half
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1 bag shredded cheddar cheese
- 4 strips bacon
- Salt and pepper
- Butter or margarine

First, wash and pat dry the potatoes.  Fill a large pot up halfway with water and place it on the stove on high.


Peel the potatoes entirely.  Dice them up on a large cutting board and place them into the pot.  Let the potatoes boil on high for at least 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender and can be easily pierced with a fork.


Meanwhile, wash, pat dry, and dice the shallot and celery stalks.


Heat a dab of butter or margarine in a medium-sized frying pan on the stove over medium heat.  Add the diced shallot and celery to the pan, and cook for approximately 5-10 minutes, until the celery is soft and the shallot pieces are translucent.


Drain the potatoes, then return them to the pot.  Pour the carton of chicken stock into the pot, and add the cooked shallots and celery.  Add approximately 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.


In a small bowl, whisk together the half-and-half (can substitute heavy whipping cream) and flour together until smooth.


Pour the cream and flour mixture into the pot with the potatoes once done, and stir well.  Cook on high, covered, for 15-20 minutes, until thickened.  Stir occasionally.


In the meantime, use the same medium-sized frying pan from before and cook the strips of bacon.


Once the soup is done cooking, slowly add handfuls of cheese to it.


Stir well to allow the cheese to melt into the soup.  Cook for another five minutes until the soup thickens.


Pour ladles of the soup into individual bowls.  Crumble the bacon, drop a small handful of it on top of each serving, and enjoy!


I served this meal to my brother, sister-in-law, and Evan, and it went fast.  I lost count of how many times my sister-in-law said, "This is awesome."


This recipe is large enough to feed a small army.  It tastes even better the second day as leftovers, and freezes well, too.  I highly recommend it as comfort food for all of those cold fall and winter nights.


Hope you like it as much as we do!

You may find me linking up at these fantastic parties:

Monday: Boogieboard CottageC-R-A-F-TCraft-O-ManiacDIY Home Sweet Home,  Get Outta My Head PleaseThe Girl CreativeMad in CraftsMaking the World CuterOur Delightful HomePolish the StarsSerendipity and SpiceSew Can DoSkip to My LouThrifty Decor ChickToo Much Time on My HandsTuesday: A Bowl Full of LemonsCherished BlissCoastal CharmConfessions of a Stay at Home MommyDukes and DutchessesFunky Polka Dot GiraffeI'm Topsy TurvyMommy By Day Crafter by NightNap Time CreationsNot Just a HousewifeSugar Bee CraftsTip JunkieToday's Creative BlogWednesday: Adorned from Above, Free Pretty Things for YouGinger Snap CraftsHome Happy HomeIt's Just Called SpicyJAQS StudioLet Birds FlyLife with the Crust Cut OffThe NY Melrose FamilyRae Gun RamblingsThe Sasse LifeSew Much AdoSew WoodsySomeday CraftsSouthern LovelyThe Style SistersThursday: A Creative PrincessA Glimpse InsideCrafty, Scrappy, HappyHouse of HepworthsJust Winging ItMade in a DayThe Shabby Creek CottageSomewhat SimpleFriday: 2805The Answer is ChocolateBacon Time with the Hungry HypoCreation CornerFingerprints on the FridgeThe Grant LifeHappy-Go-LuckyIf It's Not BaroqueJust Us FourMom 4 RealMy Simple Home LifeNot Your Ordinary RecipesOne Artsy MamaThe Rooster and the HenSimply DesigningTatertots and JelloWhipperberryYoung and CraftySaturday: Be Different... Act NormalCandace CreationsFunky Junk InteriorsIt's OverflowingIt's So Very CheriNutmeg PlaceSunday: The Crafty CowgirlEmbellishing Life with Homemade GoodnessFlamingo ToesG*RatedNifty Thrifty Things

Monday, December 16, 2013

Wine Cork Wreath

I collect wine corks, and lots of them.  Any time I visit a winery, too, I ask them if I can have all of the extra corks they've used for the day.  I've always wanted to create a wine cork wreath, and finally, after many years of collecting hundreds of corks, I had enough to do so!


This wreath was extremely easy to make.  I started with a straw-wrapped wreath and then tied about a foot's worth of ribbon around it.  This will serve as the hanging support for later.


Then, keeping the plastic wrapping in place, I began hot gluing the corks around the inside circle of the wreath.  


These corks wrapped around the entire wreath as a base, so I saved a lot of my repetitious or  synthetic corks for this part. 


I continued around the wreath, doing one layer at a time.  Whenever I felt that I was running out of corks, I split them in half lengthwise.  Synthetic corks are a lot easier to cut than actual ones; to do so, I simply sliced them in half on a cutting board with a kitchen knife.  I don't recommend cutting actual corks in half, as they are pretty tough to do.  They can also crumble once they are broken apart.


Once the entire wreath was covered with multiple rows of corks, I took the prettier or more unique corks and began gluing them on top of the first layer.


It looked better whenever I glued these on haphazardly and at random.  I made sure to cover the entire wreath with this second layer of corks.


Then, I strung a ribbon around the wreath and hot glued a few parts of it down to ensure that it'd stay in place.


To add a little interest, I decided to add several of these mini grapes to the wreath.  Similar grapes can be found in any craft store.  I first hot glued them to the wreath, but they wouldn't hold.  I later stuck in sewing pins to keep them in place, but I'd imagine that super glue would do the trick, too.


All that was left to do was to hang the wreath up and enjoy it!



For the details:



The wreath is hanging in our dining room for now, above our wine cabinet. I think it's a creative, inexpensive item to have in our home and the perfect way to display all of the wine corks we've accumulated over the years.


This might be one of my favorite craft projects. Hope you like it, too!  I can't wait to start saving up wine corks for a different project now.

You may find me linking up at these fantastic parties:

Monday: Boogieboard CottageC-R-A-F-TCraft-O-ManiacDIY Home Sweet Home,  Get Outta My Head PleaseThe Girl CreativeMad in CraftsMaking the World CuterOur Delightful HomePolish the StarsSerendipity and SpiceSew Can DoSkip to My LouThrifty Decor ChickToo Much Time on My HandsTuesday: A Bowl Full of LemonsCherished BlissCoastal CharmConfessions of a Stay at Home MommyFunky Polka Dot GiraffeI'm Topsy TurvyMommy By Day Crafter by NightNap Time CreationsNot Just a HousewifeSugar Bee CraftsTip JunkieToday's Creative BlogWednesday: Adorned from Above, Free Pretty Things for YouGinger Snap CraftsHome Happy HomeIt's Just Called SpicyJAQS StudioLet Birds FlyLife with the Crust Cut OffThe NY Melrose FamilyRae Gun RamblingsThe Sasse LifeSew Much AdoSew WoodsySomeday CraftsSouthern LovelyThe Style SistersThursday: A Creative PrincessA Glimpse InsideCrafty, Scrappy, HappyHouse of HepworthsJust Winging ItMade in a DayThe Shabby Creek CottageSomewhat SimpleFriday: 2805The Answer is ChocolateBacon Time with the Hungry HypoCreation CornerFingerprints on the FridgeThe Grant LifeHappy-Go-LuckyJust Us FourMom 4 RealMy Simple Home LifeNot Your Ordinary RecipesOne Artsy MamaThe Rooster and the HenSimply DesigningTatertots and JelloWhipperberryYoung and CraftySaturday: Be Different... Act NormalCandace CreationsFunky Junk InteriorsIt's OverflowingIt's So Very CheriNutmeg PlaceSunday: The Crafty CowgirlEmbellishing Life with Homemade GoodnessFlamingo ToesG*RatedNifty Thrifty Things

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