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Monday, November 11, 2013

Our Nation's Heroes

Never, ever give up...
I wanted to share this beautifully inspirational story.  If you don't tear up, call me and I will recommend a good ophthalmologist because, evidently,  your tear ducts are defective.  
I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.
An ever grateful nation thanks those who served today and every day.  

Please give if you are able. 
Wounded Warrior Project

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hands Down, Most Accurate Article About Prepping a Home For Sale-Must Read!

Kitchen ideas, bathroom ideas, and more ∨

Hire residential landscape architects to help with all aspects of landscape design, from selecting or designing outside patio furniture, to siting a detached garage or pergola.
With the help of a bath designer, revamp your bland bathroom with a walk-in shower, multiple bathroom sinks and a new bathroom vanity.

Friday, August 16, 2013

First Open House Sunday, 8/18/13 from 1:00-3:00 pm

16278 North Laguardia Pkwy

Click here to view the full details of this property.
CALL (440) 391-1304 FOR DETAILS!
Open Date: Sunday, Aug 18, 2013
Open Hours: 1:00 - 3:00 PM
MLS Number: 3432879
Spacious and beautiful, this home has it all. From the upgraded eat-in kitchen with granite countertops, cherry cabinets, engineered wood laminate flooring, black appliances and island, to the wonderful great room with stacked stone fireplace, to the picturesque views of woods and wildlife from the large back deck, this home has something to please everyone. Large family? No problem. Home features 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, large closets, a play/recreation room in the basement, a bonus room that could be an extra bedroom in the basement, office space and a first floor laundry. Located in Huntington Park Estates with pool access, playground for the kids, and a low annual fee, this location can't be beat. Home boasts new roof and windows throughout and many upgrades. 50 year roof warranty available.
Listed By:
Michelle Stanifer
Cell: (440) 391-1304
Russell Real Estate Services
12198 Pearl Road
Strongsville, OH, 44136

Federal Housing Equal OpportunityRealtor

Monday, August 5, 2013

Three Homes at Reduced Prices Want Quick Sale!

14221 Starlite Dr

Click here to view the full details of this property.
CALL (440) 391-1304 FOR DETAILS!
City: Brook Park, OH
Subdivision: N/A
MLS Number: 3418413
Clean, updated and loaded with family friendly features, this beautiful split level home has been lovingly cared for over the years and is move in ready.  Call for your private showing.

17519 Archdale Ave

Click here to view the full details of this property.
CALL (440) 391-1304 FOR DETAILS!
City: Lakewood, OH
Subdivision: N/A
MLS Number: 3424465
Classic western Lakewood beauty! Full front porch, stone fireplace, natural woodwork and hardwood floors throughout. Most of the original character and charm retained.  Needs some sprucing up but is an excellent value at $20,000 under market value. Don't let this one get away! Call for your private showing.

3819 Clybourne Ave

Click here to view the full details of this property.
CALL (440) 391-1304 FOR DETAILS!
City: Cleveland/Old Brooklyn
Subdivision: N/A
MLS Number: 3426130
Beautiful and spacious! This updated 4 bedroom home features newer windows, large glamour bath with jetted tub, separate shower and dual sinks, crown mouldings, first floor laundry, a sun porch/three seasons room at the rear of the house, and tons and tons of space. Recent updates include windows, vinyl siding, flooring, carpeting, plumbing, electrical and more. Tastefully decorated and move in ready. This rare beauty could be yours for a song! (Just an expression. The seller is actually hoping for money rather than music!)
All Are Listed By:
Michelle Stanifer
Cell: (440) 391-1304
Russell Real Estate Services
12198 Pearl Road
Strongsville, OH, 44136
Federal Housing Equal OpportunityRealtor

Get Listed. Get Sold. Move! 

NEW!!! 4 Bedroom in Strongsville with Something for Everyone

16278 North Laguardia Pkwy

Click here to view the full details of this property.
CALL (440) 391-1304 FOR DETAILS!
County: Cuyahoga
Subdivision: N/A
MLS Number: 3432879
Spacious and beautiful, this home has it all. From the upgraded eat-in kitchen with granite countertops, cherry cabinets, engineered wood laminate flooring, black appliances and island, to the wonderful great room with stacked stone fireplace, to the picturesque views of woods and wildlife from the large back deck, this home has something to please everyone. Large family? No problem. Home features 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, large closets, a play/recreation room in the basement, a bonus room that could be an extra bedroom in the basement, office space and a first floor laundry. Located in Huntington Park Estates with pool access, playground for the kids, and a low annual fee, this location can't be beat. Home boasts new roof and windows throughout and many upgrades. 50 year roof warranty available.
Listed By:
Michelle Stanifer
Cell: (440) 391-1304
Russell Real Estate Services
12198 Pearl Road
Strongsville, OH, 44136

Federal Housing Equal OpportunityRealtor

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Stuffed Hungarian Peppers with Tequila Lime Sauce

The thing I love most about spring and summer is the changing and bountiful variety of fresh produce.  To me it is eye candy just to see it in the stores.  I like to find things I have never tried before and bring them home to make, hopefully, something wonderful.  Such was the case with my most recent find, Hungarian Wax Peppers.  

Hungarian Wax Peppers look like very large banana peppers.  Most commonly they are sold when yellow, but if allowed to continue ripening, they turn red.  The flavor is sweet and mildly hot.  

I knew I had some chorizo sausage in the fridge so that gave me the idea to stuff them.  To be honest, when I started out, I was going to make this with a marinara sauce, but as I was cooking it, I really started to get more of a south of the border vibe and went, instead, with a tequila lime sauce.  My husband loved them.  I thought they needed more heat so I added some of the seeds to the sauce recipe.  

6-8 Hungarian Wax Peppers, halved and seeded with tops left on.  They should look like little boats to hold the stuffing. Reserve ¼ tsp or more of the seeds.
1 to 1 1/2 lbs Chorizo Sausage
1 large onion, chopped fine
6 cloves fresh garlic, smashed and chopped fine
8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 oz shredded Mexican cheese

Drizzle some olive oil, just enough to keep the sausage from sticking (1-2 TBS), on the bottom of a hot large skillet.  Add the sausage, onion and garlic.  Sauté over medium heat until the sausage is cooked through.  Drain fat.  Allow meat to cool to room temperature.  

Mix cooled meat and softened cream cheese in a large bowl with a spatula until well mixed.  

Stuff meat mixture into the pepper boats and place on baking sheets.  The peppers may be odd shaped and not want to lay flat so to prevent them from tipping, you can lightly crumple a small piece of aluminum foil to place beside or underneath and act as a cradle holding the stuffing side up.  

Bake stuffed peppers in pre-heated oven at 350◦ for 30 minutes.  Mix sauce while baking.  After 30 minutes, turn off oven, sprinkle peppers with Mexican cheese, and return to oven to allow the cheese to melt.  Serve over dirty rice and top with Tequila Lime Sauce. 

Tequila Lime Sauce:
¼ c butter
3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped fine
½ c chicken broth
2 TBS chopped fresh Cilantro
1 TBS sugar
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp lime zest
¼ tsp reserved pepper seeds
1 TBS corn starch
¼ c lime juice
2 TBS tequila, the better the brand, the better the flavor in the sauce.  (never cook with a liquor or wine that you wouldn’t drink)

Melt the butter in a medium sauce pan.  Add garlic and sauté until golden. 

Stir in chicken broth, cilantro, sugar, salt, lime zest, and pepper seeds.  Simmer for 5 minutes. 

Mix cornstarch and lime juice together in small bowl with wire whisk until cornstarch is well blended.  Stir this mixture into the simmering sauce and stir constantly until color clears and sauce is thickened. 

Add tequila and whisk into sauce.  (for less Tequila bite, you can add the tequila with the chicken broth and allow it to cook)

Serve immediately.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

Celebration of Life and Love

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service.  No one appreciates that more than the men and women who served with these great heroes and, by the hand of God, were spared to continue the mission and return home to the warm embrace of loving family.  

Recently, during some genealogy research, I found a trail on my mom's side of the family that kept me up all night.  One of the coolest things I found was this:  My grandfather is the second guy from the right in the first row.  Isn't he a looker?  And look at all that hair!  My grandmother just adored him.

When I was 13, I was on the balcony (where I could be found tanning every clear day of summer that year) and she came out to sit with me.  This particular day, she just wanted to reminisce about her husband.  She gave me a picture of the two of them that was taken during The War.  They looked so happy and in love.  The way her eyes twinkled when she talked about him, how romantic and good looking he was, how in love with him she was, is something I will never forget.  It isn't often that someone mentions their love and you are immediately and thoroughly convinced of their romance.

The above photo was taken after his rescue on 6 Apr 1945.  Apparently, he was in the Pacific aboard the destroyer, USS Bush during WWII when three Japanese Kamakazi pilots dive bombed over a period of two days in Okinawa, Japan.  The ship sunk and the survivors were rescued by the heroic efforts of the LCS64.  I can't even imagine the horrors these men suffered through and the sheer terror that must have been in their hearts as they did the work they were trained to do to defend our great country and the ideals for which we stand.  I am told that my grandfather watch many good friends die a horrific fiery death that day about which he refused to speak for the rest of his life.

The men who fought in WWII were like no others.  They had a clear vision of purpose and knew exactly what they were fighting for.  The life and country they loved, their family, wives, children, neighbors were to be protected and defended.  These men endured stresses and saw the ravages of war, and yet, many came home, happy to be alive and free, feeling a sense of accomplishment and pride that was well deserved as they threw their arms around their mothers, wives and children, and took their place again as providers and protectors.

Many of these men came home and, in a spirit of reunion with their beloved wives, grew their families exponentially.  Thus, the baby boomers were born.  My grandparents were no different.  Thanks be to God, my grandfather survived the attack on the USS Bush and came home to to my grandmother and their two children.  As I calculated the math, I realized that my mother, who was born in Feb 1947, is the direct result of their post-war celebration of life and love!

My family was fortunate to have been spared the pain and tragedy of the loss of my grandfather.  Yet each of us has been touched, in one way or another by the loss of a loved one, neighbor, friend, church member, or co-worker.  May we remember today with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy.  God bless the American Soldier.

Friday, May 17, 2013

FAQ 1 - Should I Lease With an Option to Buy?

I am often asked by buyers if my listings are available for lease option or if I would help them locate a lease with an option to purchase.  First, for those who aren't familiar, a lease with option to buy means that a prospective home buyer would identify a property where the seller is willing to defer the purchase until a later date, usually one to two years, at a pre-negotiated price and terms.  During the one to two year waiting period, the buyer will lease the home, usually after making a sizable deposit and will occupy it as a tenant until the sale closes at the end of the lease term.

While our current market conditions have produced a few of these properties, I generally do not recommend this type of purchase.  Here is why:

Usually, if a seller is willing to do a lease with option, it is often because they have overpriced the property and cannot or will not sell it at market value.  A buyer agreeing to purchase a property this way may be committing to overpaying for the home.  Typically, a deposit of several thousand dollars is required, and would be lost if the buyer doesn't go forward with the purchase at the end of the lease term.  I am told by a lender friend that, statistically speaking, less than 2 out of 10 buyers are able to qualify for a mortgage at the end of the lease term when the reason for the choice to lease with option is that the buyer is trying to find a way to buy a home with bad credit.  In addition to these risks, your selection of properties is greatly limited to the small number of sellers who are willing to lease with option to buy. 

I generally recommend to my clients who are either working on credit repair or saving down payment to commit to renting for a year or two while working with a reputable credit repair specialist, such as Credit Repair Resources and get credit back on track to buy a home.  After a period of several months, if the client follows the plan and does the work that they are instructed to do, they will have cleaned up their credit profile and will be able to obtain mortgage pre-approval.  At that point, the client will be in a position to choose any home that suits, within their budget.    

If this recommendation doesn't fit your current situation or if you have more questions than this post addresses, please contact me directly at or (440) 391-1304.  I am always happy to answer your questions and am available to help you locate a property to lease or buy.  

Friday, April 12, 2013

Waiting for the rain

Penny is definitely the smarter of our two dogs.  Chloe is all heart but, sadly, not much on brains.  From the time Penny was young, when she would wrap herself around a tree on her tie-out, I could tell her to “go around the tree,” pointing the direction with a sweep of my arm and she would run counter to her original wind and free herself.  A pretty good trick if I do say so myself. 

Chloe, however will wind herself around the tree, and as I do with Penny, I will instruct her to “go around the tree.”  This interaction only serves to excite her.  She is so happy that I am giving her any attention at all just at a time when she is feeling trapped and forgotten that she begins to jump and smile and wag her tail. 

The more I try to command her, the more excited she gets.  Oh, yes, she has run around the tree as I have instructed her, but invariably, it will be in the same direction she went when she became stuck to begin with.  Eventually, I give up and tramp out in the rain to unwind and “rescue” her.  Oh, did I forget to mention that this is a rainy day trick?  I can’t recall a single time she has performed this one when it was not raining outside. 

As I approach, she will give excited little yelps and I can almost hear the trumpets in her head as her brain plays, “here she comes to save the day!”  Once I am close enough to help her, she becomes so grateful that she jumps up to hug and thank me, wiping her muddy paws all over my clothes.

Other favorite tricks of theirs that I enjoy are the Two Dog Tangle, the Unstaking of the Tie-out, the Tie-out Chew Through, and the Snapping of the Chain.  There is nothing fun about tying out dogs in the yard.  The escape methods vary, but dogs are pretty ingenious when they really want to “self walk.” 

Then there is the safety issue.  Chewing on a twisted steel tie-out can’t be good for the teeth and gums.  Watching a dog lunge on her chain as the mailman stops by is tortuous for me to see.  I can only imagine the damage being done to the trachea and spine.  Additionally, who knows where they go and what they do when they are gone?  I once retrieved them running down the main road with twenty foot cables and twisty, muddy stakes dragging along behind them. On one of Penny’s escapes, she returned about an hour after she left, soaking wet and reeking of chlorine.  Obviously, whichever neighbor’s pool she was in wasn’t home or I am sure they would have called to give me an earful, considering our phone number is on her dog tag. 

But all of that is about to change.  Yesterday, my husband installed deer fence around the perimeter of our backyard.  Because our back yard butts up to the woods and I would like to have a vegetable garden this year, a deer fence is a must have.  Better than keeping the deer out, however, is keeping the dogs in.  While I realize that fences can be jumped, dug under and chewed through, I am not sure my dogs are that ambitious.  Until they prove me wrong, I am enjoying opening the door, letting them out, going on about my business and then finding them on the deck waiting for me when I return. 

I can’t wait until it rains! 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Luxury Features in a City House w/In-law or Rental Suite

3871 West 36th St

CALL (440) 391-1304 FOR DETAILS!
Community: Cleveland
Subdivision: Brooklyn Center
MLS Number: 3389460
This impeccably maintained colonial in historic Brooklyn Center is a legal single family with an in-law suite and separate utilities. Can be converted. Downstairs has 4 beds/1 bath. Kitchens are huge and all appliances stay, including washer& dryer. In-law suite upstairs features 2beds/1 bath. Both upper and lower have in-suite laundry. Home features large, partially covered deck and hottub in a covered gazebo. Both the upstairs and downstairs tubs are whirlpool tubs and the downstairs shower features a rainhead. Newer windows, roof, cement work, updated kitchens and baths, etc. Never worry about a power outage. Home comes with an auxiliary power generator. Security alarm services provided by ADT. Pride of ownership shows here. Market rents estimated at $575-600 up and $650-700 down.
Listed By:
Michelle Stanifer
Cell: (440) 391-1304
Russell Real Estate Services
12198 Pearl Road
Strongsville, OH, 44136

Federal Housing Equal OpportunityRealtor

Friday, March 15, 2013

The "Self Walk"

Me: It's raining.  Forget chaining the dogs to pee this morning.  They aren't going to want to stay out there.  I'll  just open the door, let them run out back and do their thing; they will be back on the deck wanting in by the time I put on the coffee.

Penny:  It's warm!  It's Spring!  I am not chained to the deck!  Quick, Chloe, where's the warden?  Do you see her?

Chloe:  Checking... nope!  No sight of her.

Penny:  Come on, Red, we're blowing this joint!

Fade in:  Two red dogs running down the street, muscles rippling, hair flowing, big goofy grins on their face, soundtrack to Born Free playing in stereo in their heads.

Cut to:  Stupid look on my face as I approach French doors to find no dogs waiting for me.

And that, my friends, is how the "self walk" happens at our house.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Spring is in the Air

Each day, I open the door to let the dogs out in the frozen tundra of our yard and am grateful I don't pee outside.  Some mornings, I have to push them out because it is just too cold to go.  I feel for them, sincerely.

I live in a suburb, but my yard backs up to the Cleveland MetroParks.  The sound of the woods in the winter is almost silent.  Sometimes there is a rustling but not much else, aside from the traffic that passes down Valley Parkway.  The woods are teeming with animals still, I'm sure, yet it seems the noisy ones are either hibernating or have flown south.  There is not much stirring out there aside from a few deer.  OK, more than a few deer.

This morning is gloomy and grey, but something is different; there is a stirring.  I can faintly hear the river behind us rushing its way to open waters somewhere.  Familiar birds have returned and are squawking, and there seemed to be movement aground, even without any breeze.  Scurrying hungry little critters in the bramble, perhaps?  As I write this, I hear geese.  Geese!

The air seemed to be warmer and the smell was a little different too.  I detected that fresh, oh so Spring-like scent of wet mud.  Warm wet mud that will soon give way to little green things that, after so long of white and brown, are like soft kisses for the eyes.

I wasn't the only one who noticed, either.  Normally, Chloe bounds off the back deck and drops to pee the instant her paws hit the lawn, while Penny daintily prances off the deck to sniff the yard and detect any intruders in the night before relieving herself.  But not today.  As I surveyed the changes and allowed the romance of Spring to swirl in my head, I glanced over and noticed both my girls standing with me on the deck, nostrils flaring, wistful expressions on their furry faces.  I could only guess at the runs, swims, and chases they were imagining.  We are all so ready for the Spring!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

To Buy, Then Sell or Sell, Then Buy?

There are, quite obviously, two schools of thought on this subject.  Choosing a new home is an emotional decision.  Many people fear that if they sell their current home first, they will not be able to find their next "dream home" before they close the sale on their current home.  Conversely, many fear that if they make an offer on the home of their choice before selling their current home, they may not be able to sell in time and could end up making two mortgage payments.  Both opinions are valid; however, one is riskier than the other.  

In our real estate market, agents have some tools to assist with either scenario.  The first is the Contingency Clause or Concurrency Clause.  The second is the Subject to Specific Purchase Clause.

Contingency or Concurrency Clause
A Contingency Clause states that a Buyer is making an offer on a new home, but completing the transaction is Contingent upon the sale of his current home.  If another Buyer offers on the Seller's property before the Buyer can sell his own property, he will be given the option to remove the Contingency within a prescribed number of days and move forward with the purchase without regard to the sale of his current home or to release the Seller from the purchase agreement, rendering the agreement null and void.  In this case, all deposits will be returned.

A Concurrency Clause states that both Buyer and Seller will offer their homes for sale Concurrently.  If the Seller finds another Buyer before the Buyer sells his home, or if the Buyer cannot sell his home within the specified time period, the sales agreement immediately becomes null and void and all deposits shall be returned.

  • Allows a Buyer to make an offer on his dream home while not obligating him to complete the sale if he can't sell his current home.  
  • It allows a Buyer to be certain that he will be able to negotiate acceptable price and terms on the home of his choice before committing to sell his current home. 
  • Sellers are reluctant to accept a Contingent offer; although still considered an active listing in the MLS for showing purposes, the status must change to Contingent, dramatically reducing showings.  
  • In the case of a Contingency, if another offer comes in on the property, you will have a few days (usually 1-3) to remove the Contingency, that is, to perform on the contract regardless of the sale of your current home, or forfeit the property. 
  • In the case of a Concurrency, the MLS status remains Active and the home continues to be marketed.  It is a race to sell before the Seller finds another Buyer and the first Buyer forfeits the property.

Subject to Specific Purchase Clause
A Subject to Specific Purchase Clause is when a Seller accepts a Buyer's offer, however the Seller stipulates that he must find an acceptable replacement home within a specified period of time, which will close in conjunction with the sale of his current home.  If the Seller is unable to find a replacement home within the prescribed time per the sales agreement, the Seller is under no obligation to sell his home to the new Buyer.  

  • Allows a Seller a specified period of time to perform his new home search while retaining a Buyer for his current home.
  • With the Seller's current home under contract, the lender can qualify him for a new mortgage up to his maximum buying potential.
  • A Buyer may be reluctant to sign such an agreement, as this commits him to wait and hope that a Seller will find a suitable replacement property.  
In this instance, a seller still has options.  The Seller can accept the Buyer's offer without the Subject to Specific Purchase Clause, but counter-offering a longer closing period to allow time for his new home search.  Rather than lose a good Buyer in a sluggish market, a Seller may choose to consider a short term rental or even rent back his current home from the new Buyer until he finds the right home.  
Buying before you sell without a any protective clause

This option is one that I have seen many unrepresented and some represented buyers take and it is one that carries several significant risks that must be considered before moving in this direction:
  • Lower selling price for your current home.  Selling under duress, which in some cases fits this scenario, often results in lower offers.  I can't tell you how many times I have heard a buyer touring an empty home state that they thought they would get a deal because the home owner has already bought a new home and "needs to sell."  Even if you are still living in the home, an over-zealous listing agent may recommend the terminology "motivated seller" in the listing comments which will often result in a lower offer.  Regardless, when neither the home is vacant nor the agent has compromised your bargaining position, the pressure to accept a low offer for fear of losing the buyer is present.  
  • Dual mortgage payments.  Even if you have the income to support it, making dual mortgage payments can be a significant financial strain. Consideration should be given to how such a burden will effect the family's current lifestyle and whether the shift in priorities is worth the risk.  A change in your employment situation, such as a pay-cut or job loss could have a devastating effect.  
Home buying is never one size fits all.  Whichever option best suits your personality type, it is important that you choose an agent that is willing to listen to your wants and needs and one who is well versed regarding protective clauses in the contract to look out for your best interests.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Chuckwagon Stew

My husband loves his comfort food.  Recently, I have been making what I call “Chuckwagon Stew.”  It’s a beef stew made with ground beef.  It’s quick, easy, cheap and, a term I heard once, ghettolicious! 

The last time I made it, I thought I would like to try it with dumplings.  I haven’t had a dumpling since I was perhaps 8 years old.  I wasn’t even sure I remembered what they were supposed to taste like.  I have heard of dumplings that were heavy and doorstop-ish so care must be taken to avoid that dumpling recipe! 

As I usually do when I have an idea for a recipe, I research the food on the web and then I improvise.  They turned out light, velvety, and delicious.  I was impressed with my dumplings, so I am sharing.  I hope you like them too. 

1 ½ c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp white sugar
½ tsp salt
2 TBS cold butter
1 egg
½ c milk
*** 1 TBS parsley flakes

1. Sift or stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in medium size bowl with wire whisk until light and well blended. I use my Kitchen Aid Mixer with whisk attachment.  I hate sifting, so I just whip on low until my dry ingredients are light and fluffy.  *** To make parsley dumplings, add 1 tablespoon parsley flakes to the dry ingredients.
2. Cut in butter until crumbly.  I also use my whisk attachment for this.  I whisk on low until the butter and flour mixture resembles cornmeal.  
3. With a hand held wire whisk, whip egg until well blended.  Whisk in milk until thick and fluffy. 
4. Add egg and milk mixture to dry ingredients and whip for 30 seconds to blend and make a soft dough.
5. Drop by spoonfuls into boiling stew or soup. Cover and simmer 15 minutes without lifting lid. Serve.

Chuckwagon Stew
1 lb lean ground beef
1 large onion, diced
4-6 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, minced
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 carrots, sliced thin
8 oz sliced mushrooms
¼ c flour
½ c green beans, cut (optional)
2 large potatoes, cubed
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 lbs canned diced tomatoes (+/-)
2 c water
2-3 tsp beef base or 3-4 beef bullion cubes
1 TBS flaked parsley or minced fresh parsley
2-3 bay leaves

In Dutch oven or large pot, brown ground beef with onion and garlic.  Add celery, carrots and mushrooms.  Cook until softened. 

Sprinkle on flour and stir with wooden spoon until incorporated.  Add remaining ingredients.  Mix well, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are softened. 

Once potatoes are softened, add dumplings, cover and simmer another 15 minutes. 

Makes 4-6 servings depending on how hungry you are.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Sweet Treat for You & Your Sweetheart

Valentines day is a wonderfully romantic date night that I love to celebrate.  What I don't love is dining out in crowded restaurants and paying exorbitant prices for sometimes mediocre food.  One year, I decided that it would be my gift to my husband to cook and serve him a 12-course meal.  I set a pretty table with candles, chilled several types of wines for the various courses, bought expensive cigars, a nice port, and then cooked my brains out.

If you have never done this, I will advise you to plan ahead and begin eating early.  If you start with the appetizer around 6:00 PM, you may get to the final course by 11:00 PM.  We have done this several times.  It is something that is a lot of fun to do with a group of friends.  Well, a group of friends who can have a few glasses of wine and still be fun, that is.  Do not try with moody drinkers.  Take your time between courses and make your portions small or you won't make it to the end!  

The one thing I have made more than once and is now the one dessert that I think of every Valentine's Day is a Mocha Truffle Cup.  The little cups are made of chocolate, the filling is mocha mousse and it is topped with a chocolate covered coffee bean.  It was a simple but sophisticated little dessert that I found in an old cookbook.  I now see that another site has posted it word for word, but doubled, and is claiming it as their own.  They have requested that it be attributed to them if copied.  Since it was mine first and someone else's before that, I do not feel the need.  I will share it with you and I hope you and your sweetheart will enjoy it as much as we do.

After Dinner Mocha Truffle Cups

18 Chocolate cups
                1 cup chocolate chips
                ½ Tbs shortening
Melt over low heat or in double boiler, stirring constantly to prevent scorching.  Remove from heat as soon as chocolate melts.  Spoon about ½ TBS melted chocolate into each of 18 small foil candy cups.  Brush chocolate up the side of each cup with a clean paintbrush, coating foil completely.  Carefully wipe off any chocolate that may have run over top of foil cup using tip of finger.  Place cups on a baking sheet; let stand in cool place until firm.  Do not refrigerate.
½ c whipping cream
1 egg
½ c semisweet chocolate chips
1 TBS prepared espresso, cooled
½ TBS coffee flavored liqueur
Sweetened whipped cream
Chocolate covered espresso beans for garnish (I get mine at Cafe Ah Roma in Berea)

* Prepare chocolate cups and set aside. 
* Place large bowl and beaters in freezer until cold.  Pour whipping cream into chilled bowl and beat with mixer at high until soft peaks form.  Refrigerate.
* Beat egg in separate bowl at high about 5 minutes or until thick and lemon colored. 
* Melt chocolate chips in double boiler .  Add a small amount to egg and stir to blend.  Add egg mixture to remaining chocolate and cook over medium heat 1 minute stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.
* Place espresso and liqueur in small saucepan and sprinkle with gelatin.  Let stand 1 minute to soften.  Heat over low heat until gelatin is completely dissolved, stirring constantly.  To test for undissolved gelatin, run a finger over the spoon.  If it feels smooth, the gelatin is completely dissolved. 
* Gradually add gelatin mixture, a few drops at a time to chocolate mixture, whisking until smooth. 
* Gently fold ½ of chocolate mixture into chilled whipped cream with rubber spatula by gently cutting down to bottom of bowl, scraping up side of bowl, then folding over top of mixture.  Repeat until chocolate is incorporated.  Add to remaining chocolate, gently folding until combined and no steaks of chocolate remain. 
* Spoon chocolate mixture into reserved chocolate cups with small spoon, filling to top; refrigerate at least 3 hours or until firm. 
* Garnish with whipped cream and beans.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Quest for Coffee

I have declared myself on a quest for the perfect cup of home brewed coffee.  I am a coffee lover.  I love the aroma, flavor and the community of a well brewed cup of coffee.  I like it strong but smooth.  I like my roast dark, but not burnt. (Sorry, Starbucks.)  I use small batches of whole beans kept in an airtight vacuum canister and grind them fresh to order.  I use cold filtered water and favor a stainless or glass coffee urn, no plastic or aluminum, if you please.  I will likely try roasting my own beans soon.

I had a Kitchen Aid automatic drip brewer that we used for several years.  It brewed average to above average coffee into a stainless steel thermal carafe.  One day, something went wonky with the clock and without being able to get it to stop flashing, the coffee wouldn't brew.  I tried everything.  Finally, out of frustration, I smacked the button of the clock with the back of a spoon and it stopped flashing.  We were back in business!  We were never able to set the clock again, but we at least could brew our coffee.  I don't know why everything in the kitchen needs a clock anyhow.  There's the clock-clock, the coffee maker clock, the stove clock, the microwave clock, the phone clock...  Why do I need all this?  I think simple is better.  But, I digress.

After a couple of months of brewing with a mis-set clock, the clock went out entirely.  That was it.  We could no longer brew.  I got online and began researching coffee makers.  I spent time learning what makes good coffee so I could narrow down my choices.  One thing I kept reading over and over again was people declaring percolated coffee to be the best they ever had.  Suddenly, it occurred to me that I had an old percolator.

It was a Corningware pot that I had picked up at a garage sale years ago when I was maybe 13 and stored it in my "hope chest" for my first place.  I used it a couple of times when I was 16 but then soon got my first automatic drip brewer and packed it away again.

I pulled it out, ran it through the dishwasher, and brewed a pot.  It made the most amazing coffee ever.  It was smooth and rich and so perfect.  I was in love.  I would never need to buy another coffee maker again.  It had no electronic or moving parts to break.  It was a simple, practically indestructible stoneware pot with a stainless steel basket.  What could go wrong?

Well, unbeknownst to me, about 37 years ago, these pots were recalled.  It seems that the plastic they used to make the ring that gives the grip between the stoneware pot and the stainless steel collar melts.  I was leaving for an appointment one morning.  My pot finished brewing and I removed the basket, replaced the lid and began to fill my to-go cup.  Suddenly, the pot began sliding out of the collar.  I couldn't set it down fast enough to prevent the pot from dropping to the counter and the just boiled coffee from splattering all over my arm, melting my skin.  Honestly, I was more sad to be losing awesome coffee than the skin on my wrist.  Is that wrong to say?

My quest continued.  Now I was sure I wanted to buy another percolator but I didn't want an electric one.  While it may brew amazing coffee, the heating element in the base would continue to "cook" the coffee and spoil the flavor within minutes of the end of the brew.  I hate cooked coffee.  It had to be a stovetop version.  I didn't want aluminum due to the connection with Alzheimer's disease, which I already suspect is creeping up on me.  Plastic tends to transfer tastes so no plastic either.  I found a Coleman all stainless pot that looked beautiful, appeared well made, had good reviews, and could make 12 cups.

It's pretty, right?  It was about $40 on Amazon.  I couldn't wait for it to arrive.  As soon as I opened it, I washed it out and brewed a pot.  Just a short pot of 4 cups.  It was awful.  It never really perked and all I achieved was slightly brown water.  Then I tried an 8 cup pot.  Also awful.  It brewed, but it just wasn't good.  I experimented for days tweaking this and that trying to get it right.  It just never happened.  It took a long time to percolate also, so my husband never had time to make it in the morning to take on the train to work with him.  I wasted $40.  I am sad again.  The quest continues.

The more I research, the more I learn what I want and what I don't want.  First, I don't want a clock.  Evidently, they are trouble makers.  I want a cone shaped filter basket rather than a flat bottom basket, as I understand that this allows for a richer brew.  I want a permanent filter because they don't absorb the oils from the beans that should be in the coffee and there is no taste transfer.  I want the option to brew 2 cups or 10 cups as needed and still be happy with the results.  I want a thermal carafe.  I do not want a heating plate or element of any kind.  I want a water filter, if possible.  I have decided that a percolator requires more personal involvement than is practical for our lifestyle, particularly my husband's, so in fairness to him, I am seeking an automatic drip brewer again.  Most importantly, I want a brewer that operates at the correct brewing temperature for ideal flavor extraction.

Every time a found a recommendation, I would read the reviews on various sites, like Amazon, Zappos, and Bed Bath & Beyond, only to be dissuaded.  People like to complain about their coffee makers.  Through a site I found called Hula Daddy which sells my favorite, Kona coffee, 8 brewers were recommended as being able to brew at the proper 200˚ F.   I read the reviews and researched them all.  The Krups recommendation was non-specific and I was not sure which model was being recommended, so I researched several.  One sort of stood out.  It was the Krups KT720D50 10-Cup Thermal Filter Coffee Maker.  

I found the negative reviews to be whiny and annoying and didn't really deal with the coffee brewer and the positive reviews to be very good.  And it didn't hurt that I loved the look.  I was just a little worried, by the photo, that it was going to be too huge for my counter or possibly not fit under my cabinets.  I pulled the trigger.  As you can see by the photos, it fit just fine under the cabinet.  The photos on the web made it appear from the side view that it would protrude on the counter also, but it didn't.  And look at the cool blue lights.  One light is under the water reservoir to illuminate the water so you can see how much is left to brew during the brew cycle.  I am really thrilled with the aesthetics of this machine.  

When it arrived, I couldn't wait until morning to brew a pot and try it out so I washed it out and made a pot immediately.  For some reason, I thought that this machine came with a water filter, but I was mistaken.  That was the only real let down upon unpacking.  I used the Aroma setting for our first pot, which is supposed to produce a richer brew.  It took approximately 10 minutes to brew approximately an 8 cup pot.  The manufacturer says that it brews 10 cups but don't believe it.  The water measures less than an 8 cup pot by Mr. Coffee standards.  I will measure tomorrow as my experimentation begins.  I used 8 scoops with the measuring scoop that came with the machine.  It was the equivalent of 4 regular coffee scoops.  The brew was a tad strong and a little bitter.  I tested the temperature immediately after brewing and it registered somewhere between 155-160 F.  

After a few days of breaking it in, I have decided that this machine makes pretty good coffee.  It's not the same smooth, rich brew we got from the Corningware pot, but then it doesn't fall apart and melt the skin off my wrist, either.  I am happy, for now.  I hope after some more time of breaking it in, the brew temperature will improve, as I have read that this happens.  As it stands, I give this brewer pretty high marks.  If you are in the market for a pretty and fairly good coffee brewer, I would suggest that you give this one a try.  I will post any updates that may change my recommendation in the future.  Stand by...

Friday, January 25, 2013

Computer Trouble

As happens with most computers, ours caught a virus.  My husband, through his research, determined that we had a particularly pernicious virus; one that would require him to download special software to remove.  So he downloaded the "special software" and scrubbed our computer.  He deleted all the infected files and then deleted our old browsers and installed new.

The problem arose when we tried to access the internet.  We knew we were connected because the computer told us so.  We had squeaky clean new browsers and we were cured of the awful virus that was diverting all our web searches to other pages, so now what was the problem?  My poor husband sat upstairs in our office for two days trying to figure it out.  Each evening he would come downstairs looking somewhat defeated and check his email on our other computer.

"Hon, would you take a look at the computer while I'm at work and see if you can get it to go online?" he asked.  Fine.  But if he couldn't do it with a master's degree in Computer Mumbo-Jumbo, what was I going to do?  So I tried.  Now we had each attempted tweaking and adjusting settings to find and fix the problem, each of us suspecting the other of having great technical abilities that neither of us apparently possessed.  Each of us failed.

The IT department at my husband's place of employment recommended PC eSupport.  They charge an affordable flat rate no matter how long it takes and they don't charge if the can't fix it.  I supposed it was worth a try.  So I called.

Don't mind the hookers on their web page.  (Hey, sex sells, you know!)  Despite the somewhat collegiate looking website, they were entirely professional and made an appointment to have a technician call me within the hour.  The technician called 20-30 minutes later, had me download a few programs to my laptop and move them to the desktop computer.  Then he walked me through starting the programs and running them.  The technician explained that the programs would need to run a few minutes and that he would call me back in about five.

Well, anyone who has ever worked with technical support and actually sat by the phone waiting for the technician to call you back in "five" knows that you have time to shower, run to the grocery store, start dinner, and walk the dogs before you will hear back from them.  So I went downstairs to make a pot of coffee and wait.  As I am rinsing out the pot, my technician calls me back.  He tells me that (not asks me whether) the program has completed.

Thinking there would be more action required of me, I explained that I needed to go back upstairs.  "No need," he said.  "I just wanted to let you know that the program worked and I am in your computer repairing it now.  I will call you back when I am finished."  I didn't know what to say.  I think I managed to eek out, "Um, OK," before hanging up.

I made my coffee and went up to watch.  I am always fascinated by the "ghost in the machine" when they take control via remote access.  I watched as he deftly moved programs around and deleted and added things to my computer.  After a total of about fifteen minutes or so, he called me back and told me it was working now.  Additionally, he had found a few more viruses and removed them and then gave the whole computer a "tune up."  I was dumbfounded.

When he asked if I wanted to purchase six months of ongoing virus support from them, I immediately replied in the affirmative.  OMG!  These guys are awesome!  I would call them again in a heartbeat, especially now, since I am pre-paid.  So now you know.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Brave Little Animal

First, I will tell you that I am the proud owner of two dogs and two cats.  If I were running a contest on which animals do a better job at protecting the family from harm, intuitively, I would hand the award to the dogs.  If anyone even thinks about walking past our house, they both lunge at the window and bark their fool heads off.  But a recent discovery may have changed all that.

This morning I awoke and, as usual, headed for the back door to let the dogs out.  As I passed the French doors in the dining room, I spotted a long, black, furry thing on the carpet.  I thought, at first, that it was one of the dogs toys that Chloe, our Golden Retriever, had chewed all the stuffing out of and had then continued to chew the fur carcass until it was soggy and slobbery looking.  This is not an unusual occurrence with her.  But I couldn't recall having given her a toy with such dark fur.  I didn't see any stuffing lying around, either.

I moved in closer.  I could see a paw.  With claws.  There was a tiny amount of redness at the middle of the thing, so I deduced that it had, at one time, contained blood, not fluffo-fill.  I look at Chloe.  She is looking at it and then me.  The expression on her face is one of guilt, although, I believe it is guilt because she knows she was licking the thing, not because she killed it.  Chloe is a poor inbred puppy mill victim with severe hip dysplasia.  On her best day, she might catch her own tail.

Penny, my Chow mix is standing behind me.  Her expression is one of confusion.  She doesn't appear to even realize there is a dead animal on the floor.  She had been shut in my bedroom with me sleeping and we got up together, so she is apparently oblivious to the current situation.  She simply wants to know what the hold up is.  Why haven't I opened the door and let her out?

The cats: Boo, the black and white male, is MIA and Wookie, our grey stripy female, is acting curious. I head to the kitchen to get a paper towel to pick up the dead thing and see if I can figure out what it is.  Wookie follows me.  I put the dead thing on a bed of paper towels on the counter and Wookie is all over it.  I push her away and try to get a good look at the thing.  It appears to be a black squirrel by the tail, but I am still not sure.

I put the thing in the garage for my husband to ID when he comes home from work.  I email him the situation.  He believes that the dogs probably found it dead in the yard last night and brought it in when he let them out for their final pee.  His theory is flawed, however.  Chloe is very impulsive and can't leave a chewy thing alone.  When we give the dogs chewy treats, Chloe eats hers immediately and without reservation.

Penny has always liked to savor her treats.  When she was young, and before we had Chloe, I would give her a chewy treat like a bone, and she would lick at it a little and then walk around the house with it in her mouth, setting it down here and there until finally she could get outside with it.  Then she would bury it in the back yard for later.  Sometimes later would never come and doing yard work, I would find buried a green pig's ear or something.

She's an old girl now, but she still likes to take it slow.  Unfortunately, she doesn't hide her treats anymore and the minute she looks away, Chloe, having already inhaled her treat, steals Penny's and devours it.  Penny's a good sport about it most times.

Anyhow, after the dogs came in from their evening potty break, they laid at our feet and slept while we watched TV and then went to bed.  There is no way, if there had been a kill in the house, that Chloe would not have been caught licking the stupid thing all night.  So where did it come from?

My only theory at this point is that, somehow, the squirrel broke into the house and one of the cats, most likely Boo, did their job and caught him.  He broke into a house with two cats and two dogs.  That is like a burglar breaking into a house where a cop with his loaded service revolver lives.  That was one brave little animal... and dumb, too.  Score one for the felines.  Viva la Cats!