Here's the bare minimum of what I do to install a kernel the debian way:
1. Unpack the kernel tarball to a directory under my home directory -- there is absolutely no reason to be root just to compile a program.
cp linux-2.6.16.tar.bz2 $HOME/projects/kernel
tar xfj linux-2.6.16.tar.bz2
2. Configure kernel options.
3. Issue make-kpkg command.
time fakeroot make-kpkg --append-to-version='-1' --bzimage kernel_image
4. Install new debian package, install initrd with yaird, and update grub assuming you have sudo permissions to run the necessary commands.
sudo dpkg -i ../linux-image-$KERN*.deb
sudo yaird -v --output=/boot/initrd.img-$KERN
Now, what I actually do every time I want to install a kernel the debian way is after unpacking the kernel source and configuring it, I run a script I wrote that calls make-kpkg to also create packages for additional modules e.g. unionfs, cloop, nvidia-kernel. I then install all the resulting packages into a local apt repository with reprepro, and then install using aptitude. That may be too advanced yet, but if you're interested about either my extremely simple make-kpkg wrapper script (which I wrote so I wouldn't have to remember make-kpkg syntax all the time, and do a lot of extra manual work wrt extra kernel modules), or anything else I mentioned, feel free to ask.