You may be wondering why this home and cooking blog is entitled Ducks in a Row. Why not something like Design and Dishes by Deanne? Or something maybe a little less cheesy than that, but obviously with an alliteration (I loves me a good alliteration). Here’s the story (apologies for the super long post):It’s a Pitlyk Family tradition to designate one’s house as a Pitlyk house by displaying concrete ducks in the front yard. This dates back around 100 years, and such ducks have since been made from the same 100-year-old concrete duck mold by my grandpa. When I had friends over to my house growing up, I would always tell them to look for the ducks in the yard. It was an easy marker of a fun and fabulous household (if you know a Pitlyk, you know good times are to be had in their presence). When the hubby and I bought our first house, my dad took the initiative to gift us with our very own set of Pitlyk ducks, making us the first grandchildren to have them (he was very proud that we were going to carry on the tradition). He borrowed the antiquated mold from my grandpa and tirelessly worked to pour and shape the concrete, let it harden, and paint the his masterpieces for us. It was part of our housewarming gift from my parents, and I was elated to find the perfect spot for the ducks in the front yard. I tested several spots and duck formations before settling on aligning them right in front of our porch for all to clearly see. My neighbors must have thought I was off my rocker. They also probably thought we were the type of patient to adorn our lawns with gnomes, flamingos, and the like. Nay, OUR lawn ducks are classy and timeless.
Now what does this all have to do with my blog?
When thinking about my blog, I knew I wanted to write about cooking and baking and crafting and home renovating, common themes in the blog-o-sphere. But, true to my nature, I had to find a way to set my blog apart from the rest.
In all aspects of my life, from school projects to extra-curriculars to packing for vacations to planning a wedding to buying someone a birthday gift, I have always, ALWAYS planned, organized, and meticulously worked to insure that I had all my ducks in a row (let’s not even get into dating…). All my moves were careful and well-thought out. I may have been in my head too much, but I enjoyed having my life in order, goals in mind, and a plan to achieve them. And to truly have my ducks in their said row, there must always have been some sort of special flair added. This usually involved staying up until the wee hours of the night to bedazzle a project display, make props or themed baked goods to share for a presentation, or to travel to 7 different stores to find just the right coordinating bracelet to match the outfit I bought my mom for her birthday – always lots of stress, but always, ALWAYS worth it. You can tell from my recipes/projects/tangents that the details make a difference in my book.
Now, I have new types of ducks to line up. Life as a big girl. A new home and marriage, work, church, family, friends, hobbies… Aligning the major aspects to my life requires a special kind of skill set, one that I am constantly evolving. No longer is it school first, everything else second (well, for now). It’s a mesh and a blend of everything I hold dear. As my life evolves, and I accomplish my dreams, big and small, I know keeping those little duckies all in order will take a lot of patience and a lot of balance.
One thing I have always worked at. Turns out, when you come with a Type A personality, you sort of dive right into a lot of things and other things, like relaxation, exploring hobbies, spontaneity, etc. go by the wayside. Not to say that, in the pinnacle of my Type A days, I abandoned my family, friends, and general happiness. I just may have burnt myself out on the things that were temporary. My new intent, as part of getting my ducks in a row (sorry, metaphorical overuse), is to be consistently aware of what is truly important and what makes me happy. Lately, those things include family time, being cozy in and enjoying our home, cooking/baking/crafting per usual, church involvement, exercising, reading (I know some of you are shocked), and just being in the present. I am at a much-needed limbo phase of my life right now, and I am soaking it up. I’ve heard from a lot of people close to me, especially my mom, that I seem truly happy and entirely myself these days, which is absolutely true. I’m finding the balance I’ve always needed. Thank goodness I don’t have kids yet. Who knew balance would be so difficult to attain when you’re just in charge of yourself (and occasionally your spouse).
Fast forward to next August, when I’ll be telling you a whole new story. Word on the street is that PA school will knock one’s socks off, and not necessarily in a good way. I look forward to the challenge of surviving (and succeeding) in school, while still finding time to do the things I love and enjoy the company of the people I love. And I’ll DEFINITELY be doing a lot of stress baking, so you can look forward to all those recipes!
So there you have it. A little off topic, a little on a tangent, but now you know where the literal and figurative ducks’ history lies. For all intensive blogging purposes, I’ll try to stick to the more poignant subjects: cookies, curtains, crocheted scarves, and all things cozy, but don’t be surprised if you stumble upon a few posts here and there about surviving the demands of a master’s level program while trying to satisfy an insatiable need to be a 20-something Martha Stewart. This could get hilarious; can you imagine, accidentally packing my cookbooks to class instead of my pharm textbook or dissecting my chicken before I roast it?
Ok, I may have already done the latter… so maybe this balance business is innate and won’t be so difficult after all.
Raise your hand if you’ve seen this out on the counter for dinner:
Leftovers. Sometimes that’s a disappointing sight, but depending on the contents of that saran-wrapped vessel, it can be quite a little treat, no? Chili, for example, is an excellent option in leftover land. As is Christmas ham. Thanksgiving turkey. Rum cake (trust me). And, of course, grandma’s meatloaf.
My grandma, Marie, makes THE BEST meatloaf. She has a number of homemade specialties that only she can execute correctly: meatloaf, stuffed pork chops, Thanksgiving stuffing, green beans with ham hocks, chicken noodle soup (you know it’s good when it turns to jello in the fridge from all the fat), mostaccioli, pineapple upside down cake that could turn you diabetic with just a bite. All amazing, and all only perfect if SHE makes them. Of course, her recipes are memorized and undefined, a little this, a little that, so to recreate them would involve video taping her while making each dish and typing a manuscript from the tapes. I might have to do it some day soon. It would be worth the effort.
She lived with my family from the time I was a baby until the time I entered high school, and on days where my mom was out of town (i.e. no one to cook) or just days she felt like treating us, we’d feast on these old-fashioned, stick-to-your ribs recipes. The kind that you see in “Leave it to Beaver.” The kind that always involved corn mixed into your mashed potatoes and 7 servings of green beans. So. Good. Now, she doesn’t cook as much because she lives in a retirement home that serves her meals (of which she highly disapproves – “They put fancy things like ‘chicken cordon bleu’ on the menu… why can’t they just say chicken with ham and cheese? Their soup is too salty, and no one wants quiche as a lunch option 4 times a week!”), but she still whips out the good stuff on holidays and special occasions.
Fortunately, I’ve gotten close to mimicking Grandma’s meatloaf recipe, and I even managed to lighten it up in doing so. I omitted the eggs and used ground turkey instead of ground beef to reduce the fat and cholesterol. The bones of the recipe are the same, which is actually quite healthy. Yes, I know meatloaf is not a novel or glamorous recipe, but its one of those salt of the earth recipes that everyone should know how to make and should serve to their families from time to time. It’s humble, American, comforting, and so, so delicious.
(*note* Sorry there are no pictures from the preparation phase of this recipe… I made it quickly for myself last night and was so amazed with how it turned out that I just snapped some shots of my leftovers for lunch today. That’s how meatloaf is meant to be eaten anyway, right? I knew you’d understand.)
Just like Grandma’s Meatloaf
1 Tb. olive oil
1/2 c. chopped yellow onion
1 1/2 ribs celery, finely chopped
1 lb. ground turkey
1/2 c. oats
1/8-1/4 c. bread crumbs (start with a little bit at first, then add more to combine)
1 Tb. dried parsley
1/3 c. ketchup, plus more garnish and for dipping
1 1/2 Tb. Worchestershire sauce
2 Tb. milk
1/4 tsp. onion powder
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
pinch of salt
pinch of fresh cracked pepper
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Sautee the onion and celery in the olive oil until the veggies are soft and the onions begin to become translucent.
3. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients, including the onions and celery, until all are well-incorporated. Go easy with the bread crumbs, using the 1/8 cup first and adding more as you go. You just want the mixture to combine like dough and not crumble or be too soggy.
4. Shape mixture in loaf pan. In hindsight, I should have used my mini, individual serving loaf pans, because it would provide more surface area to obtain the crispy edges that I enjoy so much. Personal preference. Drizzle ketchup on top (I like just a little, but you can slather that baby to whatever extent tickles your fancy). Bake at 375° for 35 minutes, or until no longer pink throughout.
5. This must be eaten the only way meatloaf is meant to be eaten: hot with cold ketchup. Not chili sauce. Not tabasco. COLD KETCHUP. It’s classic and timeless, just like a lovely strand of pearls or a vintage sports car.
Let me tell you guys. This stuff is GOOD. No one will know how healthy it is, too. Not even my dad, who is a skeptic when it comes to healthy ingredient substitution. I may have contributed to his cynicism – I once presented my family with a low-fat banana bread made with yogurt that imploded before his eyes. Now, with everything I cook, he reminds me not to use “any funny ingredients.” I bet I can get this one past him, AND get Grandma’s seal of approval.
While I was working the night shift Wednesday night, this happened.
Despite the horrendous traffic problems that ensued as a result of this winter wonderland, I was elated. I had the day off and have been itching to whip up some soul-warming soups. In my quest for inspiration, I found a stand out pin on my Pinterest recipe board. Leave it to BHG to satisfy my needs.
Upon further investigation, I realized that this recipe is chock full of cup upon cup of ooey gooey cheese. Sounds spectacular, right? Right. But still, I would hate to sabotage our healthy eating habits if I can prevent it. I’d seriously lose sleep over it. Eater’s remorse. You all know what I’m talking about.
So. I got resourceful. I kept the bones of the recipe, but toned it up where I could. Let me tell ya, you’d never know that this was lightened up. I think it’s partially because you’re distracted by the perfecly executed spice and creaminess of the beloved buffalo chicken dip, but with a nice crunch of good-for-you-veggies. It’s rich and filling like a typical cream-based soup, but you’ll have no eater’s remorse knowing that it’s lightened up. Plus, spicy foods speed your metabolism, so it has that going for it too. The hubs and I had this for dinner, and we each were fully satisfied with 1 bowl and a generous slice of beer bread (more on that later).
What else can I say? It hit the spot on a frigid, slushy, wintery night. A tall order that this soup met, and with flying colors at that.
Buffalo Chicken Soup
(please don’t be intimidated by the list of ingredients… it’s super easy, and these were all ingredients I had on hand – you probably do too!)
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/8 tsp. smokey paprika
salt and pepper
1 c. celery, chopped (I used 3 stalks)
1 c. carrots, diced (I used 3 carrots)
1/2 medium white onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
2- 14 oz. cans low sodium stock (I used chicken, but take your pick OR use homemade)
1.5 c. skim milk
3+ tsp. hot sauce (I used WAY more than that!)
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
1 c. shredded low-fat colby jack cheese (or cheddar, mozzerella, bleu cheese, or a combination of them!)
3-4 tbsp. Neufchatel cheese (it’s low-fat, skim-based cream cheese)
2 tbsp. butter
1/3 c. all purpose flour
1. Preheat oven to 400° F. In a small bowl, combine 1.5 tsp. olive oil with garlic powder, chili powder, paprika, salt, and pepper to make a rub. Distribute rub evenly among raw chicken breasts and coat each. Place seasoned chicken breasts in a small pan and roast in oven for 35 minutes or until cooked through and tender. Allow to cool, and shred into small pieces.
2. While chicken roasts, in a large stock pot, drizzle 2-3 tbsp. olive oil and add the carrots, celery, onion, and green pepper. Cook on medium heat until the onions soften and start to become translucent.
3. Add broth, milk, and hot sauce to stock pot, and stir. Mix in cheeses and stir until melted. Add shredded chicken, and stir.
4. In a separate saucepan, melt 2 tbsp. butter with 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add 1/3 cup flour and stir constantly, making a roux-like paste. Stir until lightly browned and thickened. Spoon some of the liquid from the large stock pot into the roux to temper it, then add the roux to the stock pot, tablespoon by tablespoon. Stir briskly to prevent lumps – this should thicken the soup considerably.
This is tricky for some people, so here are some pictures to help:
Pre-roux (watery) Roux ingredients Roux’s ready! Much thicker!
5. Taste and add more hot sauce as needed. Apparently I needed a lot.
**Garnish with: a dab of ranch dressing, a drizzle of more hot sauce, and a sprinkle of colby jack cheese!
Of course, this soup would not be compete without something with which you could absorb the very last bit of cheesy, spicy goodness. The second I decided to make this soup, I knew I HAD to make beer bread. It seemed like a perfect fit. I found this happy little recipe that you should check out at Tasty Kitchen (a spectacular site for recipe hunting).
(why is that image so grainy?)
I basically followed the recipe as written, but I added some parsley and chives to the batter and used a Sam Adam’s Old Fezziwig Ale because I wanted a deeper beer flavor that I couldn’t get from a lite beer. I also really liked that particular beer’s name.
Enjoy this delightful wintery mix of cozy comfort foods, and fair warning, you will probably want to double, triple, or quadruple the recipe. It’s that good.
Sometimes things just pop into my head, and until I carry out that thought or task or whatever it may be, it will not escape my mind. Earlier this week, I was searching for something new to make for dinner and came up with an idea for Greek turkey burgers. I went to the store to get pita, feta, and other miscellaneous Greek-sounding things, gung-ho and ready to whip these bad boys up. But then, I came home, and hubby had taken it upon himself to defrost some chicken. My bubble was officially busted. While it was awesome that he took initiative to cook dinner, I couldn’t help but daydream of an overstuffed pita full of yumminess all week long.
Today, I got some peace of mind. And it was SO delicious.
You know you cook something spectacular when your husband, after one bite, says, with a mouthful, “ohhhhmmmmnnnhhhnnmmmmmm,” or something to that effect, which I interpreted as a caveman-esque way of saying, “wow this is good, great job honey!” Sort of the Tim-the-Toolman-Taylor version of “yum.”
You know what I mean? No? Let me enlighten you.
Yes, I grew up in the 90′s.
Back to the burgers.
These are healthy, delicious, and a nice break from the usual cheeseburger. Plus, anything inside grilled pita makes my heart smile.
“Opa!” Greek Turkey Burgers
1 lb. ground turkey, thawed
1/4 c. pimento-stuffed green olives, finely chopped
1/4 c. crumbled feta cheese
4 halves of pita pocket bread
1/3 tsp. oregano
1/3 tsp. parsley
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. onion powder
dash of dill
dash of tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
Garnishes: hummus, sour cream, thinly sliced tomatoes, thinly sliced cucumber, lettuce, etc.
1. Combine turkey, olives, feta, and spices with hands until well mixed. Feta will still be chunky, but that’s what makes these burgers so delicious!
2. Evenly divide mixture into 4 equal parts. Pack into patties and grill for around 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through.
3. Grill pita for 1 minute on each side or until lightly toasted.
4. Spread a thin layer of hummus inside each pita pocket, then top with a thin layer of sour cream.
5. Stuff each pocket with cooked turkey burger and garnish with tomatoes and cucumber. Serve with your favorite summery side dishes!
DO YOU SEE THAT YUMMY CHUNK OF FETA? Yea, they’re that good.
I ate mine so fast and forgot to pay my sides any attention. They had to wait until I wrote this spectacular recipe down. Enjoy!
Now that the house is shaping up and we’re getting our act together, AND the temperatures have broken 100 degrees for more than a day, it is finally time for us to show our house off! I’ve been thinking about having an open house in September, an opportunity for family, friends, and new neighbors to come over, hang out, eat good food, play games, and see all the things we’ve done to our abode.
Here’s where I’m stuck. What kind of party do I want this to be? Of course I have to have a theme, or at least a general direction for the party. I’m cheesy like that. So, I’ve come up with a few options for you to consider:
1) Post-Game Tailgate
We all know how I am an ENORMOUS Mizzou fan, so my initial idea was to center a party around a televised Mizzou game. Then, I realized… we don’t have cable. So the next logical idea is to have the post-game party at our house! Tailgate food, yard games, and lots of fun and friends. I could even put on awesome football movies in the background. …OR…
2) Ice Cream Social
Who doesn’t love ice cream and the fun of making your own giant sundae? Thanks to BHG for the idea (and bascially all the inspiration for my house)There would be a frosty buffet of a million different ice cream/sorbet/sherbet flavors and even more creative and delicious toppings. Plus yard games and board games and other fun things. …OR…
3) Fall Fest
I’m thinking caramel apples, seasonal beer, a gourmet hot dog bar, a fire pit, s’mores, oh, so many good ideas. Fall is definitely a favorite among my friends and this would be a great, festive way to kick off the season. And, of course, fun and games for all. …OR…
4) Cocktails and Cookies (Milk and Cookies for the lil ones)
I’ve done a dessert bar before, and it seems to be a hit. Plus, it’s fun to make a million different kinds of cookies – good practice for Christmas! I found a Milk and Cookies party on Pinterest, and though I’m pretty sure it’s meant for 3 year olds, we could perk it up with a few fancy-schmancy cocktails for all to enjoy (my crowd loves their libations) – Bailey’s milkshakes, Vanilla vodka and root beer “floats” (I have this root beer thing going on), and something with that spiked whipped cream I saw at the store the other day.
So, thoughts? Should I combine some of these ideas? Let me know what you think! What would be the most fun for all to enjoy? Vote in my poll and leave a comment!