Simple Pork for Project Day

This week is somewhat busy, all things considered. We have family coming to help us with projects on the weekend, which means that the bedroom that’s currently serving as our cabinet space (lots of fragile things all over the floor surrounding the bed) needs to become a bedroom again by Friday night. Which means that cabinets will be totally painted by Friday.

It’s nice to have a deadline though, and it isn’t an “everything must be finished” deadline, which is helpful.  Just cabinet bases.  So with that in mind, this is what the cabinet bases looked like yesterday morning:


brown and avocado glory

And this is what the cabinet bases looked like by the afternoon:

ta da!

ta da!

Putting the doors back on will eventually make the white cabinet picture complete.  I decided not to paint the interior of the cabinets, because sometimes painted cabinets have wood-tone interiors.  It’s not totally unheard of.  And why paint perfectly good shelves if they’re only seen when the door is open?

Even though we’re in splotchy primer stage right now, I like the white paint so much!  It instantly made me feel better about the backsplash and the countertop.  The white appliances even look fresh now.  We already decided the green tile and appliances would stay, since they’re in good shape.  No point in getting rid of things that are relatively inoffensive visually and otherwise do their jobs.  And honestly, I would gladly keep the countertop, too.  Paint is an incredible thing.

What do you eat when your kitchen is being painted and the fridge is in the doorway between the kitchen and the living room?  We went with simple spice-rubbed pork chops, sweet potato fries (baked), and edamame that was basically just warmed up and lightly salted.  It certainly wasn’t a complicated meal, but it was tasty and relatively healthy.  The pork chops had a delicious spice crust on one side, and I loved the fact that I got to just sprinkle on the spices instead of messily smearing it on both sides.  Everybody was happy, happy, happy.

The sweet potato fries were as basic as it comes.  I cleaned the sweet potatoes up a bit, since they came straight from my father-in-law’s veggie garden.  Then I dried them so they would crisp up well in the oven.  I preheated the oven to 450 degrees.  I threw some olive oil and salt and pepper in with the fries on a cookie sheet, mixed with my hands, and put them in the oven for 10-ish minutes per side (more if thicker fries, less if thin-cut fries).  Scott added some cajun spice to his fries, I think.  Or cinnamon and cayenne.  Not sure, really.  Extra spice, anyway.  I liked them with nothing but salt, pepper and brown, crispy edges.

While all of that cooking was going down, Scott was also taking down the studs of our wall.  I know it doesn’t look super cleaned up or polished at this point, but I still like how it’s going.  A lot.

the only time that the loss of studs is a bonus

the only time that the loss of studs is a bonus

I also primed the front of the cabinet doors yesterday.  I feel pretty lucky, because we have this giant room downstairs that has very little furniture in it at the moment.  We also have a ton of packing paper that makes a brilliant (and free) drop cloth.  The only imperfect thing about the set-up is that sometimes your adorable dog might chase a fly through the room.  He might even chase it over the freshly painted cabinet doors that are laying on the floor.  (NO!)  Fortunately, Peanut and Fly only stepped on cabinet doors that were dry.  Whew.

Ducks, Pigs, and Polar Bears

It has been a fine Wednesday, Jack.

Whether or not you got that reference, you should definitely watch Duck Dynasty tonight.  Scott and I have been hooked since we saw an episode a few years ago, and we happily watch reruns all the time.  Tonight isn’t a rerun though, it’s the season premier.  We’ve been looking forward to this night for months.

And how did I celebrate this momentous day?

I started with the great fridge de-molding of 2013.  It was pretty epic.  And now that it’s over, I can relax in that wonderful feeling you get after you finish a dreaded project.


I used a homemade cleaning mixture that my mom recommended.  It was 1/3 hydrogen peroxide, 1/3 white vinegar, and 1/3 rubbing alcohol.  And thanks to that potent mix, I’ve never been happier to see a dated but moldless fridge.  It looks beautiful now.  For more homemade cleaning solutions, there is a great list with recipes at Young House Love.

There had to be more celebration, what with it being Duck Dynasty day and de-molding day all in one.  So in the names of all things Southern, I pulled out a few recipes from my favorite chefs and made a small feast.  It was a take on the week’s accidental theme–pork chops and squash (it’s what we had in the fridge, and I have plans for other exciting meals with other exciting ingredients later in the week).  Even after eating pork chops and spaghetti squash so recently, this was delicious and just different enough.

First, I made squash casserole, Giada-style.  We made this recipe about six times last summer, with the dozens of fresh summer squash that came straight out of our mini veggie garden.  With the lack of garden earlier in the summer, there was also a lack of squash and “Verdure al Forno.”  Thankfully, Scott’s dad came to the rescue with a supply of garden-fresh squash.  I mixed it with some zucchini for color and texture variety, and presto.  Giada would probably be sad to hear that I call her recipe squash casserole, because it’s a lot more than that.  The veggies keep their shape well and don’t get over-cooked, which is key.  And the heavy cream, three-cheese, and breadcrumb combo is magical.

There were substitutions made, as usual.  Monterey Jack cheese for Fontina (which we don’t have at our local grocery store), and Parmesan for Romano.

Then came the pork chops, courtesy of The Pioneer Woman.  The other recipe from earlier in the week had more flavor, but PW’s recipe cooked up juicier, so it’s a tie.  And to go with the cheesy squash casserole, the simpler pork chop flavor just seemed right.


This was kind of the perfect summer celebration dinner, if I do say so myself–delicious homemade food, a tasty glass of wine, and lots to look forward to.  And do you see that polar bear?


That is the polar bear from my favorite pair of pajama pants.  Even with splattered green nail polish all over them, they’re still the best.  They’re comfy and cute, and they make me happy, happy, happy.

So all things considered, it was a successful day.  Mold was vanquished.  Pictures were hung, boxes were unpacked, and as soon as Scott gets home, Duck Dynasty will be watched.

Cooking With What You Have… and picking a good recipe

On this Monday night, I found myself with a spaghetti squash, some pork chops, and approximately zero motivation to cook. I do, however, have a need for tasty leftovers to send with Scott to work. Welcome to an impromptu (11 PM) dinner of roasted spaghetti squash and pan-fried Dijon pork chops*. Mmm.

Not what I looked like, mixing my mustard sauce. (photo from, which is great)

Not what I looked like, mixing my mustard sauce. (photo from, which is great)

I had intended to make squash casserole, but we didn’t have quite the right ingredients on hand, so I had to change the plan. Somewhere in my frantic internet search for pork chop ideas, I realized that my recipe search process has changed a lot in the last few years. That made me wonder if anybody else struggles to pick out recipes like I did (and sometimes still do). I realize that you’re probably a cooking genius and learned this ages ago, but just in case it could help you out… keep reading.

I used to pick recipes based on title, more or less. If it sounded good, I was in. It’s kind of the same technique I still use to pick wine. (Is the label nice?)

Now, I have a few quick screening tactics for recipes. First, I usually pick recipes from sources I trust. Your list could be full of family members. I certainly have some favorite recipes from my mom and my grandma. But for me, the larger list starts with Giada and The Pioneer Woman, Scott’s and my favorite cooks respectively. Then the list continues in lots of different directions. The common thread for all of my “trusted” sources is that I’ve made several recipes from that one source, with overwhelmingly positive results from that source.

I go to Martha Stewart if I’m feeling fancy or planning a bigger than average party. I go to Real Simple if I’m only enthusiastic enough about cooking to last for 20 minutes of prep and/or cooking. I go to loads of other loved cookbooks if I’m feeling more adventurous or if I’ve run out of good options in the traditional sources. (Good places to start: Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys, Dinner: A Love Story, William Sonoma’s Fast Weeknight cookbooks, and The New Cooking Light.)

Then comes the second screening tactic–look for some trusted ingredients. You know the ingredients you love and the ingredients you avoid. For me, mustard and lemons are a few of the “plus” ingredients, while expensive things we don’t already have in the pantry are a minus. Back when we had rosemary in the front yard, that was a major plus. Inexhaustible fresh herbs always help take something from good to great.

And there you go. Since I started using those really simple tools instead of nice recipe titles, my recipe success has sky-rocketed. I only wonder what would happen if I knew anything about wine.

*I honestly can’t find the recipe I used for the pork chops. But I think I remember it. Here goes: Mix 1/2 cup of Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon of crushed garlic (or a smaller quantity of garlic powder), 1 teaspoon of honey, 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh parsley, and 2 teaspoons of garden herbs (which I translated into “All-Purpose Seasoning,” but could probably be interpreted as any number of herb mixes). Put that mixture into a plastic bag, add 4 pork loin chops to that bag, making sure that the chops are covered in the sauce. Let them sit in the bag for at least 5 minutes, then cook them on a grill or grill pan or whatever you have that is closest to those options. It will take 5-7 minutes per side to cook the pork chops through, but you can make sure you get it just right by going with an internal temperature of 145 degrees. I think our chops were on the thinner side, and thus only took 4-5 minutes per side to cook through. The recipe ended with a nice mustardy flavor and a happy brown crust on the pork chops. Last-minute win.