New Year, New Goals

Each year I take a look at what I’ve cooked/baked and what I’m hoping to learn in the future. This year I was unpleasantly surprised to find that I barely made any of my 2018 goals.

  1. Pulled Pork
  2. Roast Chicken
  3. Sourdough
  4. Quesadillas
  5. Scones
  6. Trifle
  7. Madelines
  8. Quiche
  9. Cocktail
  10. Salad with Homemade Dressed
  11. Cinnamon Rolls
  12. Steak and Mashed Potatoes
  13. Frittata
  14. A Homemade Condiment
  15. French Press Coffee

Out of these fifteen goals, I made roast chicken, quesadillas, scones, and mashed potatoes. I’ve never met every single goal in a year, but I’m usually more dedicated to my goals.

This year I’ll be trying something a little different. Keep following and I’ll be less mysterious! Updates to come soon!

5 Ingredient Strawberry Breakfast Pastries

When I first started cooking I began listening to the advice of the pro chefs. There’s a general disdain for products like pie crusts or processed cheese. I made my own pastry crusts, my own chicken broth, and tried to make everything from scratch. Naturally this led to several #foodiefails .

One day while watching Jacques Pepin’s cooking show on TV, I saw that he was using Sara Lee pound cake from the freezer section. He was cooking with his granddaughter. They made a lovely fruit compote from scratch to go with it. Since then I’ve questioned my prejudice toward more convenient options, especially when you’re just getting started in your cooking journey.

I will never shut up about how amazing recipes with less than 10 ingredients are for beginners. There’s less prep, fewer preps, and lower cost. Everything about these recipes is easier, and often you don’t sacrifice flavor. Puff pastry is available in the frozen food aisle. It is incredibly difficult and time consuming to make from scratch.  On a particularly productive Sunday morning, I bought some pre-prepared puff pastry for these strawberry breakfast pastries. It’s almost like making homemade toaster strudels.

Ingredients:

  • 1 sheet puff pastry, thawed
  • 1/4 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1 Tbsp strawberry jam
  • 1 1/2 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1 large egg
  • powdered sugar (optional)

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a Silipat (re-usable silicon baking covers for pans).

2. Cut the puff pastry into 6 rectangles by following the folds in the dough. First, cut the sheet into 3 long rectangles, then cut each rectangle in half.

3. Transfer the pastries to the baking sheet, about 1 inch apart.

4. Lightly score a 1/2 inch border around the edge of the dough. Prick the center of the pastry with a fork.

Scoring means lightly marking the dough with a knife.
5. In a small bowl, stir together the cream cheese and strawberry jam. Place a dollop of the cream cheese mixture in the centers of the pastry and spread it. Top with slices of strawberry.

 

Make sure your cream cheese is close to room temperature or else the cream cheese and jam will not mix easily and consistently.

6. Whisk together the egg with 1 Tbsp of water. Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg wash. Bake for 15-17 minutes, until golden and puffed.

 

I think it might be easier to put on the egg wash before the cream cheese. Also, I didn’t use all of the egg wash.

7. Remove the pastries from the oven. Dust with powdered sugar over the pastries if desired.

 

The best way to deal with powdered sugar is to use a sieve. Pour it in, then lightly tap the sieve over the pastry. It spreads a light layer with less mess.

 

Final Thoughts: These were a lovely sweet treat that I would consider serving for brunch or breakfast with friends or family. The best part is they look so fancy! They may not taste like the most incredible pastry in the world, but I was still impressed with the results. I would recommend these be eaten within a few hours of being baked.

The Next Step: Mise en Place

A dear friend of mine (who says I am no longer allowed to us him as an example in my blog) told me he felt inspired by my journey to learn to cook and become healthy. To get started, he invited me to dinner. He wanted to make Chicken Parmesan, but that’s a breaded dish (not as healthy). We opted for chicken picatta, which is dredged but not breaded. He surprised me by adding asparagus to the menu. I don’t usually recommend starting with double-tasking, but I figured he had a plan.
 
I love my friend dearly, but I haven’t seen such a disaster in the kitchen since my first attempt at spaghetti carbonara. He had bought chicken thighs instead of breasts, swapped stock for wine, and didn’t consult his recipe at all! Many people encourage experimentation, but beginners should start with instructions. There is a difference between simple substitutions and fundamentally changing a recipe. The chicken thighs looked cooked on the outside, but were completely raw on the inside. He put the chicken back in twice and it was still raw! Somehow he managed to cook the asparagus, so we essentially had wine and asparagus for dinner. It didn’t matter. I was happy to cook with my friend and enjoy some food, wine, and good company.

He had a simple problem – his mise en place was very poor. What the heck is mise en place? It’s a French phrase meaning “everything in it’s place.” Once you’ve got your recipe, you need to organize your kitchen and ingredients before you start cooking. This will keep your kitchen clean and prevent any panicking or obvious blunders. You’ve probably read my first lesson in cooking: How to Read a Recipe. The next step is your mise en place!

As an example, I’ll be using pictures from my post Chicken with Lemon Cream Sauce.

1. Select and read your recipe.

2. Make sure you have all of the tools, dishes, and equipment you will need.

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Remember when I forgot my zester? That’s bad mise en place!

In some cases, you might be able to get away with substitutions. You may not necessarily need a stand mixer even if the recipe calls for one. The size of dishes and cookware can be important to all for proper cooking.

There’s no point making a dish when you don’t have everything you need. It makes it harder for you and more often than not, it won’t work out. Save the less obvious substitutions and sleight-of-hands for when you’re more experienced.

3. Do an inventory of your kitchen for the ingredients you already have. Shop for the ones you don’t.

I am adamant; it is important to stick to your recipe until you have more experience cooking. You might be able to get away with using sea salt instead of kosher salt, but the recipe was written that way for a reason. Make sure you don’t go shopping for things you already have. Then buy what you need as instructed in your recipe.

4. Defrost your meat!

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Save yourself the trouble of warming meat in the microwave or cooking half-frozen meat.

I usually put my portioned meat into a container and let it sit in the fridge over night. If it’s still frozen, I let it sit at room temperature for an hour or two.

5. Before setting up, make sure your kitchen is relatively clean.

Remove things from your counter tops and stove area. I store pans in my oven so I need to pull them out before I pre-heat my oven. You’ll want to work in a clean, uncluttered space.

6. Take out everything you need.

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All the ingredients are out. I won’t forget anything if it’s right in front of me.

Read your recipe. Take out all of the ingredients and equipment you’ll need. This always helps me figure out if I’ve missed anything. For example, the other day when I was making cupcakes, I realized I’d bought frosting, but forgotten cupcake liners!

7. Wash your vegetables.

This is a step I often forget. Produce should be thoroughly washed before being used. You can pay them dry with paper towels if you want.

8. Open cans and packages.

This is so that you can measure your ingredients. You don’t want to be measuring and prepping as you go. If you need a whole can of an ingredient, you won’t be fighting with the can opener when you should be mixing it into your food.

9. Chop, slice, and dice.

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Your veggies have been washed, so now they need to be cut accordingly. Mince garlic, slice onions, cut tomatoes. I like to separate them into bowls so they’re easy to pour into my food.

10. Measure out what you can.

I have little glass bowls that I like to put ingredients in for easy access. Eggs and yolks or whites, salt and other spices, vanilla, etc.

11. Double check. Is everything in it’s place?

Are your pans on the stove? Do you have all your ingredients? Are they all properly prepped?

12. GET COOKING!

It sounds a lot more complicated when you write it out step-by-step like this, but the key points are to follow your recipe and set yourself up for success. If you stay organized and prepare everything in advance, you’ll be less likely to forget things or make big mistakes.

Chicken with Lemon Cream Sauce

Starting Foodie Learns to Cook Version 2.0 doesn’t mean that I want to completely abandon the progress I’ve already made. From 2015 to the end of 2017 I’ve cooked and baked dozens of recipes. With my boyfriend’s photography skills and a little more experience under my belt, I’ll be re-visiting those old recipes and moving them here to the new blog.

When I first made this I only barely managed to make the pasta and chicken. At the end of my old post, I noted that I would have liked to have some vegetables with it. I made roasted asparagus this time, but I won’t share that here right now. If you want to make a full meal, you can use bagged steam-able vegetables or even canned vegetables.

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This recipe comes from Kevin & Amanda, a husband-wife cooking team. Check out their website for the full recipe and their instructions for Crispy Lemon Chicken Pasta.

This is a simple meal to put-together, but it may not be the healthiest of all recipes. The chicken is “dredged,” meaning the chicken is coated in flour prior to being pan-fried in butter. This creates some texture contrast between the pasta and the thick, creamy sauce.

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Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. angel hair pasta
  • 1 lb. chicken breast, pounded to about 1/2 in. thick
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 5 Tbsp butter, divided
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

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Some notes about these ingredients. I don’t think it really matters what kind of pasta you use. If you have shells or bow-ties in your pantry, they’ll work just as well. I love angel hair, so that’s what I used, but even fettuccine noodles are an acceptable substitution.

Also, you will need a way to zest the lemon. Zesting means taking either a zester or cheese grater to the rind of the lemon and grating off a bit of the peel. I didn’t realize my boyfriend didn’t have one so I had to make due. Trust me it’s much easier to just use the zester.

Directions

1) “Cook your pasta according to the package.” Boil lightly salted water. Add the pasta and cook as directed. Drain and set aside.

2) Pound your raw chicken flat. You can do this with a meat mallet or rolling pin.

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If I remember correctly, I actually used a hammer the first time. It was all I had.

3) Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and garlic salt on both sides.

There are measurements in the ingredients if you’re not sure, but this is fairly simple to do without measuring. Pour a little into your hand and rub it directly onto the chicken. I completely forgot the garlic salt, but it didn’t drastically change the flavor of the chicken.

4) “Dredge” the chicken. Pour some flour onto a plate. Once the chicken has been coated in spices, place the chicken onto the flour and coat it thoroughly.

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5) Heat 2 Tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. When the butter is hot and starts to turn brown, add the chicken and cook for 3-5 minutes. Then flip the chicken onto the other side and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Once the chicken is cooked, remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Do not clean out the pan!

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I had my heat higher and still needed longer than 3-5 minutes per side. I ran into this problem the first time I made this chicken. My chicken may not be pounded thin enough. When I first removed the chicken, it was still underdone. (I don’t care what the Internet says, there is no such thing as “medium rare” chicken.) There’s no shame in putting it back in the pan to finish cooking. Add extra butter if you need it.

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6) In the same pan, add the remaining 4 Tbsp butter. Once the butter is melted and foamy, add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cream and bring to a simmer (meaning it should be bubbling).

7) Add the lemon juice and zest. Whisk to combine. Reduce the heat. Add the Parmesan cheese and whisk until smooth.

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Here’s another part where you can take the recipe as a suggestion. Add cheese a little at a time. Taste it! If you think it needs more cheese, add some more. If it tastes just right, then it’s ready to serve. It should be slightly thick, creamy, and have a light lemon flavor.

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8) Serve hot!

You can lay the chicken on top of your pasta, then drizzle the sauce. It’s up to you!

Cooking my lunches every week had gotten to the point where cooking seemed more like a chore. Going back to one of the first recipes I ever made, then cooking it all over again really shows the progress I’ve made. A good photographer doesn’t hurt either.

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What I Learned:

My mise en place was a mess. I was cooking in someone else’s kitchen with ingredients that someone else purchased for me. I didn’t have garlic salt and nearly forgot to put pepper on the chicken. I love garlic so I think it would have put this dinner over the top.

My boyfriend’s house is still something of a bachelor pad. He didn’t have a zester. I’m so used to having one that I didn’t think to ask until it was time to zest the lemon. We ended up using a vegetable peeler then essentially mincing the zest.

Cooking the chicken all the way through seems to be a recurring issue with this recipe. I would err on the side of caution and cook each side for 5 minutes at least, then cook more if needed.

I’m very proud that I was able to balance everything and cook a full meal. All of the food finished around the same time so I could serve it hot. This isn’t the first meal I’ve ever made for my boyfriend, but it is one of the most put together. Looking back I never thought I’d be able to make a real meal for my boyfriend. It may have taken a little longer than expected, but at the end of the day we got to sit and share a tasty meal.

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Give this recipe a try! What mistakes did you make? Did you change anything about the recipe? Comment and share the pictures of your food!

Gooey Grilled Cheese

Most American kids grew up on grilled cheese. It may not be a part of the most balanced diet, but it is easy (and cheap) to make. Though the concept is simple, it can very easily be customized and dressed up with different breads, cheeses, or even adding extra ingredients. For now we’ll be starting with a very basic plain grilled cheese. Once you’ve mastered the art of grilled cheese, try mixing it up!

Ingredients:

  • 2 slices of sandwich bread
  • 2-3 slices of cheese, room tempera
  • Butter or margarine, softened

You can use virtually any kind of bread. I’d recommend starting with large pieces of sandwich bread. You can also choose any kind of cheese. For this blog post, I chose Havarti, and my boyfriend chose smoked Cheddar. Most often, I use gouda.

Instructions:

1) Spread the butter or margarine onto your bread. I only did one side (because there’s less mess), but many people I’ve met prefer to butter both sides. You’ll want to thoroughly coat the bread.

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2) Heat up a skillet over medium to medium-high heat.

3) Place one piece of bread butter side down in the skillet. Place your cheese on top of the bread. Add the second piece of bread, butter-side up.

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Some people like to add extra butter to the pan, but I find that makes my grilled cheese soggy and greasy.

4) Let the one side cook for a bit (depending on how dark you like the bread). I usually wait until the cheese droops and I can smell the butter. Using a spatula, quickly slide it under the bread and flip the sandwich to the other side.

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Don’t worry! You can flip it over as many times as you need to get the right done-ness.

5) Make more and serve!

Optional: Get creative with your grilled cheese! Add a condiment like mayo or mustard on the inside of the sandwich. Use mulitple kinds of cheese. Add bacon! Or even try different kinds of bread. We bought some garlic bread and made smaller grilled cheese packed with buttery, garlic, cheesey flavor!

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Now I realize that grilled cheese is not a full meal. I’ll be making tomato soup from scratch soon, but for now open up your favorite can or carton of soup and heat it up on the stove. Or even go buy some from the local deli, grocery, or restaurant (like Panera).

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Got any favorite unique additions to your grilled cheese? Comment your suggestions below!

Looking Back and Looking Forward

Every year I’ve made cooking goals for myself. There are always new recipes to try, new techniques to learn. I’ve posted a list of goals in 2016, 2016, and 2017. With my new blog, I figured I’d keep up this tradition, even if I haven’t met all of my goals in the previous years.

Before I started this blog, my repertoire was limited to pre-made foods that could be boiled, microwaved, or toasted in a toaster. I started Foodie Learns to Cook in July 2015. By the end of the year, I could make some basic breakfast foods, including eggs, bacon, smoothies, and coffee. I could also make some simple meals like grilled cheese and mac and cheese from scratch. It was also around that time that I discovered my affinity for baking. Even though I could barely fry an egg, I could bake cakes from scratch without much trouble. My crowning achievement was a completely homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving.

Starting in 2016, I was looking forward to expanding my abilities beyond breakfast. I learned to make some classics, like hamburgers, roasted veggies, and spaghetti with meatballs (well, sauce). I tried more complicated dinners like spaghetti carbonara (one of the first notorious foodie fails) and spaghetti squash. Meanwhile, my baking continued to improve. I’m now pretty famous at work for my Nutella stuffed chocolate chip cookies.

Last year, although I made many many new dishes, there were several dishes I didn’t share with my readers. They were edible, but they weren’t the kind of food I wanted to be cooking. I got a bit ahead of myself. I was so proud of my progress that I started getting grandiose in my goals. I made a list of nineteen foods to bake and cook, mostly requiring more advanced kitchen skills. I only ended up making six.

Once I started cooking this year, I realized that I still make plenty of mistakes. I’m still learning and my goals should reflect that. For 2018, I have compiled a list of fifteen foods committed to the basics, as opposed to rushing to make as many dishes as I can. It’s my hope that I’ll be able to cook through the fifteen basics and these goals before the end of the year. Fortunately some of them overlap:

  1. Pulled Pork
  2. Roast Chicken
  3. Sourdough
  4. Quesadillas
  5. Scones
  6. Trifle
  7. Madelines
  8. Quiche
  9. Cocktail
  10. Salad with Homemade Dressed
  11. Cinnamon Rolls
  12. Steak and Mashed Potatoes
  13. Frittata
  14. A Homemade Condiment
  15. French Press Coffee
Have you made a goal list? Are you hoping to learn your favorites or challenge yourself? Comment with your own goals!

Eggs Three Ways

Enough reviews and lists! Let’s get cooking!

Many of us eat breakfast at home. We make some toast or a bowl of cereal, something low effort. Some of us may head to Starbucks for a coffee and a morning coffee, just to avoid stepping foot in the kitchen.

Breakfast is supposed to be simple, a daily ritual that most people partake in. Breakfast can also be special. On Sundays, we get brunch. We pay for the food someone else made us. On Valentine’s Day or anniversaries, people make their significant others breakfast-in-bed. Mothers make their kids big breakfasts before important tests or sports games.

It seemed like a good idea to start with breakfast. We start our days with breakfast, so maybe we should start learning to cook breakfast first.

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Scrambled Eggs

Scrambled eggs are pretty hard to mess up. It’s the easiest way to cook eggs.

You will need:

  • A few Tablespoons of butter
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • A frying pan & spatula

1) Break the desired amount of eggs into a bowl. Whisk with a fork to break the yolks. Keep stirring until you get a fairly consistent yellow color.

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Add some salt and pepper now or after they’re cooked. It’s up to you. I tend to flavor both so I get enough flavor.

2) If you want, add a few splashes of milk. You can add 2-3 Tbsp if you’d prefer a specific measurement.

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This supposedly helps make the eggs more fluffy. It’s how I’ve always eaten them, so that’s how I’ll be cooking them. Of course, you can omit the milk. The eggs will cook the same way.

3) Heat a skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Once it’s warm, add a few Tablespoons of butter. Melt the butter in the pan.

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4) Pour the egg mixture into the pan. Let it sit for a minute. When it starts to solidify at the edges, gently push the eggs around the pan with a spatula.

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5) Continue pushing the eggs as they cook. Cook until the eggs are the desired consistency.

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The consistency depends on how much moisture is left in the eggs. If you can press down with a spatula, you should see some Eggs scrambled hard have less moisture. Master these and maybe we can try them the way Gordon Ramsey makes his scrambled eggs!

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Fried Eggs

These are “sunny side up” eggs or eggs “over easy.” You will need:

  • A few Tbsp of butter
  • Eggs
  • Skillet with a lid & spatula

1) Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add 2-3 Tbsp of butter.

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Medium heat is a pretty important detail. My heat was cranked a little too high, so I ended up with burnt edges and browned butter.

2) When the butter stops foaming, crack an egg into the pan.

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It’s a habit for most people to crack an egg against a bowl or pan. Most chefs and recipes that I’ve seen recommend using a flat surface like a table or counter.

3) Cook for about 4 minutes. You can put a lid on the pan to help set the white quickly.

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Bonus: Over-Easy

Over-easy eggs are a type of fried eggs. Most recipes recommend flipping a fried egg with the yolk down. I’ve read something that makes it less dangerous and more accessible for those of us afraid to flip an egg.

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The technique is apparently called “blasting.” Use a spoon to scoop some of the hot butter from the pan onto the yolk.

Poached Eggs

This may be the most complicated technique for some people, but it is my favorite. I’ve posted a live video on my Instagram. For me, it’s easier than frying eggs, but I guess that’s up to personal preference. You will need:

  • A pot of water
  • Eggs
  • Small glass bowls

1) Crack an egg into a small bowl, preferably glass. Be careful not to break the yolk.

2) Bring a saucepan of water to a light boil. You can add a small splash of vinegar to the water if you’d like; it’s an old Julia Child trick.

3) As soon as the water boils, lower the heat to low or simmer. Stir the water gently to create a swirl.

4) Take the bowl of egg and gently lower the egg into the water while the water is swirling.

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You’ll want to get as close to the water as possible to avoid splashing or breaking the yolk. I find dipping the glass bowl into the water makes it easiest. The glass won’t break either.

The swirling will help the egg white wrap around the yolk.

5) Let the egg cook for 4-6 minutes at the low heat.

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You may need to experiment with time. Less time means a runnier yolk.

6) Use a slotted spoon to remove the eggs from the after once they’re done.

You can put them on a towel or paper towel to help them dry. If you use a paper towel, the white may take on the shape from the texture of the paper.

7) Enjoy!

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Eggs may not be a complete breakfast, but it’s a start! Serve some eggs on top of some toast for a small meal for one. If you’re cooking for two or more, try microwaving some bacon. If you’re feeling confident, fry or bake some bacon instead. I can post instructions for cooking bacon if any one is interested.

How did your eggs turn out? Do you have any helpful tips? Post your progress, questions, and comments below!