Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mac 'n' cheese with dry mustard

For so many years, it was easy and fun to prepare “mac’n’cheese” out of a box. The slight cardboard flavor was overruled by the tremendous ease of boiling and either squeezing the tube of fake cheese or stirring in the powdered "cheese"!

Home-made recipes seemed to include lots of cheeses and more complicated steps that I “didn’t have time for” until this healthier gem was printed:

I made only slight modifications, by using fat free milk and sour cream, and adding onions and garlic. I’m grateful (pun intended) to the genius who marketed pre-shredded carrots to grocery stores. The first time I made the recipe, I hand grated them, got tired and used the blender blade to shred more, and finally decided that from here on out I’ll get the nifty bag of mass produced carrot shreds.

The dry mustard was a welcome and creative ingredient, adding depth of flavor. I used one bag of cheddar cheese and another cup of a pre-combined mix of cheeses (either "Mexican" or "Italian"). Positive reviews all around!
This last photo was before baking...forgot to take an "after" picture! The 9x13 pan was a double batch for a crowd. Do you have a favorite home made mac'n'cheese recipe that you can share?

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

More mushrooms and photography

I still haven't figured out where my affection for mushrooms comes from, but I really like to photograph any type, and consume edible fungi!
In preparation for a multi-mushroom dish (above). Crawling around outside in search of a great fungus portrait is also fun:
Starting to think about the next garden crop, months away yet, and realized that the least photogenic cat hasn't made his blog debut yet (he usually looks grumpy on film even when he's purring in real life):
They love to nibble on grass while safely attached to a harness and leash...
And finally, I send you New Year's well wishes, in case you are not on an island right now...ok, even if you are!
Yep, snapped that one (and all blog photos) myself, thanks for respecting copyright!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Polenta with Italian Seasoning

I’ve never cooked with polenta before, and appreciated the encouragement from (no polenta recipe there, just a shout out). When I first filled up the new & larger spice rack nearly a year ago, I found a bottle of “Italian Seasonin”. I suspected that it contained basil, oregano, thyme, maybe a few other spices. Truth be told, I though “hmmm, I’m preparing dishes with each of those separately, why would I want all my meals to taste the same by using the combined version?” Well, tonight was the right time to try the pre-mixed seasoning! I couldn’t find the piece of paper where I wrote down Alison’s directions, so I cobbled together the best of my recollection…

4 cups water, 1 ½ cups dry polenta, 1 bullion cube (I used chicken)- alert: this takes only about 5 minutes to cook- I got the “instant” polenta.

A bunch of vegetables, either roasted or sautéed – I used mushrooms, onion, garlic, zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, and the very last of the garden tomato minis that had been ripening in a paper bag since the end of October. PLUS…drum roll…Italian Seasoning, along with salt and pepper.

Spread a layer of cooked polenta in the bottom of a baking dish. Layer vegetables and any protein you like (could use hamburger meat or ground turkey, cooked)- I used fake steak from the freezer section of the grocery store. Add shredded cheese. Cover with another layer of polenta. Bake until the top is light brown…I once again forgot to look at the clock when I put it in the over at 350 degrees. But the time will vary anyway depending on the size of the dish you use. The vegetables released more liquid as the casserole baked, leaving the lower layer of polenta a bit soggy, which may or may not have been alleviated by baking longer or using a larger baking dish with a thinner layer to get crispy.
Do you have a favorite polenta dish?
I didn’t know that a seafood cooking class I would take after preparing this dish would include polenta with shrimp! And bacon!! Yummy…will make that again for sure.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Dabbling with paint

I've taken two painting classes recently. I felt nervous before hand, because I thought I "couldn't" paint anything recognizable. The results were good enough to put a smile on my face and I can look at the paintings with fond memories of the process.
 I felt discouraged in school when "art" teachers insisted that a (professional) work be reproduced by students. Though this years' experiences were practically paint by numbers, it was FUN! I encourage you to give it a try. I don't own any paints, so was glad to go to a couple of different storefront venues where all supplies are provided, along with music and instructors. One pump of red paint, three pumps of black paint, etc.
I CAN paint most of the canvas light blue, and the lower third dark blue! It doesn't have to be perfect. Who knew that a city skyline is painted with grey rectangles? Not too difficult, with the instructors' encouragement. Everyone's unique painting was interesting and an accomplishment.
Mixing colors is nifty, too. I had no idea about layering dabs of paint in various shades to look like water ripples. You can even use paper towels to speckle lighter and darker colors around, hoping to stop before the speckles look like mud! Give it a try and don't let people judge you compared with someone else's ability. 

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Cranberry sauce

Does your family have a “conversation” every year about serving cranberry sauce from a can and keeping the shape of the can intact? We’ve had two types of canned cranberry sauce available: the jelly type and one with whole cranberries. I have tried a bunch of different home-made recipes, and we’ve settled on this one as a favorite. 

The mandarin oranges, apples, almonds, and cinnamon add unique textures and flavors that are a hit with the non-can-shaped folk. I found it difficult to photograph the “during” step- it doesn’t look that exciting in the pot. 

Just imagine the sound of cranberries popping gently as they simmer, and the fragrance of three types of fruit melding. After cooling, it still looks rather pink, but tastes great!
The only change to the recipe I made was using three packets of sugar substitute that I have on hand for my morning coffee, instead of the larger quantity of sweetener for baking called for. Do you have a recipe for home-made cranberry sauce?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Multi-spice cranberry orange muffins

I’ve been eager to make these muffins again, using my new zester and different types of flour (though they were just fantastic the first time I prepared them exactly as directed, before I started this blog). I was thrilled with the new zester- it made the job a joy compared with past struggles.
I used one cup of white flour, half a cup of whole wheat flour, and half a cup of toasted hazelnut flour*. I used half a teaspoon of cinnamon, and a quarter teaspoon each of nutmeg and ginger. I chopped the cranberries roughly and added an extra tablespoon of hot water due to the whole wheat flour. I used only ¾ cup of sugar, which was ok for my taste buds, but I might add some honey or maple syrup next time to make up for the reduction in sugar from the original recipe.

The alternate flours tasted super. I will make these muffins many times in the future, and may mess around with pumpkin filling, apples, coconut, chocolate chips- who knows?

*I didn’t have enough mix for waffles last week, and used about a quarter cup of toasted hazelnut flour to replace the mix I was short on, and the waffles were heavenly! The hazelnut flavor was just right and the texture of the waffles was the same…I think I’m going to make the same substitution every time! 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

When life hands you egg shells

One of my goals is to be more optimistic. I used to be (and maybe still am to a lesser extent) a "hope springs eternal" kind of person. Then life and stress got in the way!
I don't have any photos of lemons or lemonade, but I have plenty of other cooking adventure pictures, such as these egg shells from making stuffed eggs. I realize that sometimes things have to change or "break" for something else good to emerge. 
I can't have cake, or custard, or an omlette without scrambling up a bunch of eggs! Call me weird, but I really like how the yolks contrast with the bowl...kinda cheerful.
Note to self: take time out of the daily routine to relax for a minute, take a walk, swing like a little kid. Be grateful for the many blessings in my life, and stop whining about the difficulties.
Plan B: get some unconditional love from a pet! She is leaning into my hand for some neck-scratching while sitting on my scrapbook.
Do you cook to relieve stress? Favorite recipe?
Thanks for respecting copyright on all photos.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Photography- pausing to see

I've always loved taking photos, and wish I did so more often. It's fun to mess around, especially since choosing which digital shots to print results in fewer and better actual photos than taking your chances with 35mm film. I've taken two photography classes at Squam, and admired some fancy cameras...
On occasion, a shot just works out really well, and the desired effect comes across beautifully...
Other times, someone or something gets in the way. I'm working on not getting too annoyed or frustrated, and every once in a while, it's kind of funny...
I used this flower from my garden as an accent in a recipe I prepared for this blog, and I was messing around with the background. Food styling doesn't come easily, but I can only laugh at my cat:
Thanks for respecting the copyright on these photos. Do you have a favorite camera to recommend? I'm looking for better manual settings than average digital cameras have. Maybe a new polaroid?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal (dairy free, lower cholesterol)

I’m beginning to post “through the spice rack” AGAIN recipes as I discover new uses for spices I’ve already blogged about. I was impressed with a recipe in Reader’s Digest by a blogger I follow,
I modified the recipe with several key ingredients, and since I did not see it listed on Heidi’s blog, here is how I prepared the apple cinnamon baked oatmeal:

Mix 2 cups oats (I used a 5-grain cereal that is sold near the oatmeal in the grocery store), 1 tsp baking powder,
 ½ cups toasted & chopped walnuts, 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1 tsp cinnamon (I omitted the ½ tsp salt called for in the original recipe).

In another bowl, I combined 2 cups almond milk, ¼ cup egg substitute and 2 tsp vanilla.

Spray a 9x13 inch baking dish, and place four cut up apples into the dish.  Sprinkle blueberries (I had 4 ounces) on top. Cover with oat mixture, then pour milk mixture over the oats. I jiggled the dish to check if the milk was evenly distributed around the pan.

I baked the dish at 350 because I was fixing dinner at the same time, but Heidi instructs 375 degrees with an 8x8 baking dish. The 40 minutes I had the dish in the over for worked out well.

The maple flavor was lovely with the cinnamon and vanilla. I will prepare this again as soon as the current batch runs out, and will see how it tastes with chocolate extract instead of vanilla! In future versions, I will also add some nutmeg, allspice, hazelnuts, pecans, coconut, etc.
Would I serve my modified version to guests? Probably not, unless they were on a health kick, too. I bet the original version with regular milk, egg, etc. tasted creamier. The plump blueberries turned mushy while baking (tasted great but didn't look glamorous enough to photograph the "after" version of the dish). Hence, an unrelated photo reminding me -and you- to slow down the hectic pace of life from time to time and breathe!