Friday, September 26, 2014

Baked Garlic Parmesan Sweet Potato Fries

Everyone loves sweet potato fries these days, and I LOVE garlic! So when I saw Skinny Garlic Fries on my favorite food website, Skinnytaste, I knew I was on to something! She used regular potatoes which we did the first time, and they were very good. But tonight, I wanted to try the recipe with a sweet potato.

Baked Garlic Parmesan Sweet Potato Fries

1 Sweet Potato
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
3 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp salt
pepper to taste
2 Tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried parsley

Preheat oven to 425˚.

Cut sweet potato in half and then in half again. Cut each quarter into 1/4" thick slices. Pour the oil into a medium sized bowl and add the garlic, salt and pepper. Then add the sweet potato. Stir to coat each slice. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, remove and turn each slice over. Bake for another 10 minutes.

Once you remove from the oven, sprinkle the freshly grated parmesan cheese over the hot potatoes and sprinkle the parsley on top of that. Enjoy!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Winter is Coming: Time to Add Attic Insulation

What could possibly possess us to climb up into our little attic this fine fall weekend? This all started months ago when the man who installed the windows in the house stopped by to check how they were doing. (Tonight, we discovered the kitchen window latch is broken.) We got to talking about the crazy winter, yikes!!! Somehow he ended up climbing up a step stool and checking the attic out it see what the insulation situation was. He suggested that his company could install a fancy space blanket that would decrease our energy bills by 40% for only a $5000 investment for our 700 sq. ft. attic. Does that seem a little expensive to anyone else? Yeah, that's what I thought.

I was telling my dad and Joe about this when my dad was in town helping me with tiling some of the bathrooms which you can see here and here. He told me that he had just helped my brother-in-law blow insulation into their new house, and he had blown insulation into his own house just last fall. The way he described it, it totally sounded a LOT cheaper than this fancy blanket and something that Joe and I could really do by ourselves in just a weekend. Now, that's my kind of project! :)

Dad thought that for about $300 we could add all of the insulation that we could possibly need and decrease our energy bills by 20% and best of all, it would make the whole house warmer and cozier in the upcoming chilly months. That's the part that really sold me. I'll admit right now, I hate being cold, and I'm pretty much cold all of the time. So anything I can do to increase the chances of me being warm, well, I'm all about that. 

Yep, we have a giant tv antenna up there from some former owner.

This is what the attic looked like before we added more insulation. You might be thinking, "Katie, I see insulation up there." Yep, you're absolutely right, and here is where I'll get a little technical. Insulation is measured in something called the R-factor. It basically measures how awesome your insulation is at keeping the heat in your house during the winter and out during the summer. When a house is built, a contractor only has to put a R-factor of 19 into the house, but the recommended minimum for this climate is R-37 and the ideal is R-49. What? That's a pretty big difference. 

So how did we do this? The first thing I did after getting verbal instructions from Dad was read this helpful article: Insulating Your Home. I then used the Lowe's Blown In Insulation Calculator to figure out what R-factor we already had and how much insulation we would need to get the R-factor we wanted. The final thing I did was to actually go to Home Depot and talk to the handy people there who talked me through the whole thing and helped me pick between the two insulation options and figure out exactly what I needed.

Joe and I compared the two types of blown in insulation and went with the slightly more expensive fiberglass option because it is supposed to be an overall better product and the machine that we used to blow it in was promised to fit in our cars meaning we wouldn't have to rent a truck. 

Once we had chosen, we knew that to get our R-factor of 49 we needed to add almost 9 inches of insulation on top of the existing 8 already there. But, we learned that we couldn't just start blowing. Attics are built to breathe. I'm told it's a very important feature of attics. In order to breathe, they are built with something called a soffit. Soffits are basically the vents that are part of the floor of the attic where the roof and the house meet, and you shouldn't cover them up with insulation. In order to avoid this, I built a little 12 inch wall out of cardboard with a bend at 9 inches. Then we learned quickly to tape the cardboard wall into two long pieces for each edge before we took them up into the attic. Once we had the little wall up there, Joe carefully used boards laid across the attic joists to squeeze over to the edge and staple the cardboard to the 2x4's of the roof. This was absolutely the hardest part. He had to carefully maneuver through the attic right up to the littlest space and while lying down, staple the cardboard to the wood. It was hot and messy. I was also up there handing him anything he needed and making sure that he had enough light in the right spots.

Safety Notes: Make sure you wear a face mask around insulation. Wear safety googles. Wear long pants and long sleeves or you will itch like crazy. And please be careful moving around in the attic. I don't want to hear about anyone falling through a ceiling into the bathroom below. If you aren't careful and just step on what you think is the floor, you'll end up falling through.

There is the cardboard wall protecting the soffits. You can see how there is still a gap between the cardboard and the rafters. This is how the attic will breathe properly.

Now for the fun part! Once we had the cardboard in place, we were ready to blow the new insulation in on top of the old stuff. We waited until the next day so we didn't wear ourselves out completely. Sunday took about 3 hours from start to finish. We had to go to Home Depot in our two cars, buy the insulation and get the machine that blows it. This machine did come apart, and it did squeeze into the cars. It was a really tight fit though, so if you have access to a van or SUV, use that. By the time we loaded up the machine and 11 insulation packages, both of our cars were stuff to the gills. 

We unloaded into the backyard and set the machine up. This machine takes a very compact tube of insulation and beats it apart and blows tiny pieces up the hose and into the attic. It says that it makes the one package of insulation expand 16 times its original size. We ran the hose up through a bedroom window and up into the attic. 

I stayed in the backyard and fed the machine while Joe was upstairs doing the blowing. The directions to run it are right on the it in words and pictures.

We only ended up using 6 packages throughout the entire attic. Joe added 9 inches across the whole space. It looks like it was covered in a layer of fresh snow. It did make a bit of a mess underneath the attic opening, but it was nothing that the vacuum cleaner couldn't take care of. I did wear my face mask while I vacuumed just to be safe.

In total, we spent about $180 which we should recoup within a few months this winter, and it should make the house more comfortable year round. I would call this project a home run! If you are considering this as something your house might benefit from, please make sure to do your research before you do it. It's not a hard project, but it does take some planning. I'd love to hear from you if you've done this and found it to help, or if you're considering this now.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Zucchini Pizzas

I was given a number of gigantic zucchini this year. It was awesome! But, at some point, what do you do when you've added zucchini to bread, enchiladas and curry and you still have an entire large container left? I decided to try making mini zucchini pizzas. They really weren't even that mini either because this was a BIG zucchini.

Preheat the oven to 375˚. Cut the zucchini into about 1/4 inch slices lined up on a baking sheet. Mix about 2 tablespoons of tomato paste with a cup of your favorite spaghetti sauce. Spoon the pizza sauce onto the zucchini. You can add any toppings you'd like at this point. We had pepperoni that I added this time. Top with a mixture of mozzarella and parmesan cheese. 

Bake for 22-25 minutes. Top with fresh basil and allow the pizzas to cool for at least 5 minutes on a cooling rack. They come out of the oven extremely hot and keep that heat for a long time due to all of the water in the zucchini. You will probably want to put a pan under the cooling rack to catch the extra liquid that will drip off.

Serve with some crusty French bread and enjoy! You can totally have the French bread since there is no crust. :) 

Do you have an alternate crust that you enjoy?


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Roasted Tomato Pie (Pizza Pie)

I visited my great aunt Carol in May and tried this tomato pie that she had made that afternoon.  I will admit, I was totally skeptical just like you are right now. ;-) But, wow! It really is so tasty. I'm sorry Carol, I should never have doubted. You're an awesome chef!

I would really call this a pizza pie more than anything else. If you are like me right now, people are giving you fresh tomatoes every week. Take those gardeners up on the tomato offer and make this wonderful dish. You'll need about 8 tomatoes to make this pie. I use a family recipe for my pie crusts called Eileen's Pie Crust. Joe's grandma gave me the recipe. She and her friend Eileen would make up a batch every year. Maybe someday after I get Grandma's permission I'll share the crust recipe with you. 

This original recipe comes from the Bride and Groom First and Forever Cookbook. I've made a number of changes though. And I apologize for only having one not so great photo. I pulled this out of the oven and just grabbed my phone and snapped this picture. Next time I make it, I'll try to get some better shots.

Roasted Tomato Pie

1 9-inch pie crust
2 lbs ripe summer tomatoes or plum tomatoes, cut in 1/2-inch slices
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 cups grated sharp white cheddar cheese
20 fresh basil leaves 
1/2 tsp fresh oregano or 1/4 tsp dried
2 cloves of crushed garlic
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

Preheat the oven to 350˚. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush with olive oil. Place the tomatoes on the baking sheet, brush with olive oil, and season with the kosher salt and pepper to taste. Roast until the tomatoes are slightly dehydrated but not completely dry, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (Plum tomatoes take about 1 hour. Peak-of-season summer tomatoes take about 1 1/2 hours.)
Prebake the pie crust according to directions either on package or in your pie crust recipe. While the crust is still warm, sprinkle with 1/2 cup of the white cheddar cheese.
Adjust the oven to 400˚. Layer half of the tomatoes on top of the cheese and sprinkle with half of the basil. Layer the remaining tomatoes on top and sprinkle with the remaining basil. 
Combine the oregano, garlic, onion powder, Parmesan cheese and Greek yogurt in a small bowl. Spoon the mixture on top of the tomatoes. top with the remaining white cheddar cheese. Place the pice on the baking sheet and bake until the cheese is slightly brown. 20-30 minutes. 
Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Garnish with basil before serving.