Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dollar Store and Internet: The Perfect Marriage

Still in recovery from Noro virus contracted on what will be my final cruise ship experience, all I feel like doing is web surfing and fiddling around with not-too challenging crafty ideas.
This blogger's instructions for paper napkin flowers are a gem. Easy peasy, fun, cheap, and effective. A spectacular giant-sized flower made in minutes from four two-ply paper napkins from the Dollar Tree, along with a twist tie from the kitchen junk drawer. And, since becoming enamored with magnolias since moving to Georgia a few years ago, I can hardly wait to try making her gorgeous paper magnolias for -- I dunno -- a ladies' luncheon centerpiece. I'll find something. Here's the link to her tutorial and photos:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shopping finds

I love Dollar Tree. This week's find was some really classy looking glass mugs that are perfect for soup-and-sandwich night, when a bowl of soup is too much. Tonight it was leftover Turkish Spinach and Lentil Soup, one of the first vegetarian recipes I ever made, from the Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant cookbook. We've strayed from 20-plus years of veggie ways, however, so tonight this healthy soup was paired with a not-so-healthy grilled kielbassa sandwich.
Last week's shopping find was at a gem and mineral show, a free-admission event I go to when it comes to town two or three times a year. I bought these lovely to use as coasters -- at only $4 per polished slice. It was fun poring through the display, looking for four that are of similar size and color. At the next show, maybe I'll find four more. And a set for my son, who shares my love of natural things.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Annual orange peel

It's Florida orange season and time to build a new stash of grated orange peel for the freezer. I love orange flavor in so many things -- cakes, cookies, clafoutis, bagna cauda for tilapia -- and hate having to run to the store for a single expensive orange just for a spoonful or so of grated peel. So every year I buy a big bag of 12 to 14 Florida juice oranges for two or three bucks, grate the skin with my marvelous Microplane grater, then stash it in a freezer container for measuring out throughout the year without the hassle. Then for a special personal treat, I pull out my great little Salton electric juicer and make myself -- oh, about a half quart or so -- of delectable fresh orange juice just the way I like it. This juicer allows me to adjust the pulp content, and I like it high.
The orange rind stash goes into the freezer next to the other two items I feel kind of virtuous about: one little plastic box of frozen cubes of canned tomato paste and another loaded with cubes of canned chipotle in adobe that I've pureed and frozen by the tablespoonful. I no longer throw away partially used cans of tomato paste or chipotle.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cupcake crazy

Well, crazy for mini cupcakes. Never did like too much cake under my frosting, and minis are just my cup of tea -- or, er, cup of cake . . . or something. Anyway, using the Food Network's recipe online for these little sweeties, I tested my decorating chops, too. A couple of days before, I made the candied carrot curls -- really not too tricky if, after cooking them in a simple syrup, you twirl them around a wooden spoon handle before baking them in a low oven. And, oh they're so cute as well as easier to make than piped frosting carrots, which I've done before with those store-bought frosting decorators.
Almonds ground with the dry ingredients, as well as some almond extract in the frosting, along with lemon juice, gave these cakelets a little different spin from the usual.
The fun was trying out one of the large Wilton star tips and a 16-inch disposable pastry bag. I think I'm finally getting the hang of it: remembering to fold over the bag before putting the frosting into it, using the left hand to hold it and the right to squeeze, squeezing from the top instead of the bottom (at least I think that's right).
Have to say that my favorite mini cupcake still is vanilla. Who knows? Maybe I'll even try to make elegant petit fours one of these days.

Hooked on Roses

It took practically no time at all to make these little sweeties -- only two to go -- for a crocheted cushion cover from the Drops Design website. Before struggling with what looks to be a challenging job of sewing them very close together for a cozily squished up look, I thought I'd enjoy them just as they are now -- and how they may remain, as just another gewgaw for a tabletop if I give up on the sewing-together part.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Retro-Fitted '50s Tamale Pie

I'm not generally a lover of most casseroles, but this one is a '50s nostalgia trip. Every time my husband has it, he comments that he's always surprised that he actually likes it. Sophisticated, it's not, but it is good comfort food.

The recipe came from a Frito Corn Chips bag, circa 1953 or thereabouts. It was one of my mom's quick suppers that was super quick and easy to make. The original called for a 29-cent bag of Fritos, and when I first started making it I had no idea how many chips that was, so I simply put a generous layer of tortilla chips on a casserole dish that's about 9"x13". These days, my favorite chips are from Atlanta's Willie's Mexican Grill, so I use theirs which I deem superior to the supermarket varieties. The original also calls for a can of chile, but these days I simply use a container of my homemade vegetarian chile that I've frozen -- about 16 ounces. And, the old version may have called for American or cheddar cheese; I use a mix of sharp cheddar and jalapeno jack. Measurements really aren't that important with this no-brainer of a dish that I fall back on when I don't feel like really cooking.

Retro-Fitted '50s Tamale Pie

corn tortilla chips, enough to absorb most of the chile
12-ounce can chile with or without meat (or equivalent homemade chile)
8-ounce can tomato sauce
medium onion, chopped
green pepper, chopped
about 3/4 cup ripe olives, roughly chopped
grated cheese, about 1/2 cup each sharp cheddar and pepperjack
Spread chips in an oiled (for easy cleanup) casserole dish. Heat chile and tomato sauce together until they're simmering and spread over the chips. Top with onion, pepper, and olives. Bake at 350 for 15 minues or until bubbly, then top with cheeses and bake another 5 minute.

It couldn't be easier.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Desserts this week

Just about all of my favorite desserts -- with the possible exception of caramel flan -- are built around fruit. And this week was no exception. The Pavlova (which I've made with all manner of berries as well as peaches) really kept a nice shape for filling, so I snapped a photo of it. Too bad the prettiest one I ever made was with raspberries and blackberries, and darned if I didn't forget to take a picture that time.

And tonight I tried a clafoutis with plums (sprinkled with brown sugar) for the first time. Usually I make it with a jar of cherries from Trader Joe's or fresh apples or pears. Plums weren't quite as good, but they made a more photogenic dessert. I like plums better in a rustic tart or a cobbler.

Both desserts created through the magic chemistry of eggs. For one, egg whites beaten really, really stiff with sugar to create a lovely, marshmallowlike meringue, and for the other whole eggs just lightly whisked to make a rich custardy dessert.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Home Spa Lunch

Although every evening I prepare a full dinner from scratch, I just graze during the day, unless I'm going out to lunch. But the grazing too often is a few slices of cheese and a couple of cookies, or, of late, reduced-fat potato chips with sour cream. Bad in so many ways.

So today I decided to make the two of us a spa lunch after our respective runs (well, mine is more of a dreadmill shuffle, but it beats nothing).

I made Giada's Spinach and Cannellini Bean Dip and her homemade pita chips and cut up what is probably almost the last of the good watermelon of the summer. I thought her dip a little bland, but the "real runner" said it was good and I don't like anything but spicy Mexican or Indian anymore, that I'm losing my tastebuds. At any rate, it was pretty and pretty healthy, the only fat being a bit of olive oil in both the dip and the chips. Quite a balanced plate, with protein in the beans, green in the spinach, and antioxidants in the melon (not scientific, but I think that's right). Better than the usual alternatives, and I'm striving for more lunches like this.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Stuffed Shells for Two, Times Four

I love stuffed shells when my daughter makes them; we cook similarly, but somehow hers taste better to me; and, anyway, they're almost as fiddly to make as lasagne. However, this afternoon, I got an early start --one of the perks of retirement -- and got my shells oven-ready before 2 p.m. Using yet another great dollar store product -- a packet of three foil baking pans with lids -- I made three dinners for two to freeze in addition to tonight's supper. I love that.

Here's how I make my version, based on a combination of Rachel Ray's recipe and the one on a shell box:

Cheese-Stuffed Shells

Large onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped fine
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
One28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
3 fresh tomatoes, chopped, or a 15-oz. can of chopped tomatoes
Shredded basil

Two 15-ounce containers ricotta
Two 8-oz. packages shredded mozzarella
½ cup grated Romano
1 egg, slightly beaten
¼ cup chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped basil
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper

1 box shells, cooked about 15 minutes, al dente, drained and spread on cookie sheet

Simmer sauce for about 10 minutes. Mix stuffing thoroughly with granny fork. Spread small amount of sauce over the bottom of each of four 9-inch baking dishes. Place about 10 stuffed shells in each dish. Spoon remaining sauce over the shells. Freeze or bake. To bake, top with additional Romano cheese and cover with foil. Bake in a 375-degree oven for about 30 minutes

Yesterday's dessert and today's bargain

One of my favorite desserts on our last Holland-America cruise was mango mousse -- light, barely sweet, fluffy, refreshing. So after doggedly pursuing a recipe made with fresh mangos that looked okay, I found one. It uses pureed mangos, sugar, lemon juice, and unflavored gelatin (something I'm not very experienced with). Okay, so I got it a little undersweetened for my husband's taste, but that's the way I like desserts -- as they are at the local French bakery. I had planned to make a "napoleon" by baking some homemade lime-flavored pizzelle, but laziness won and I used some Pepperidge Farm puff pastry and added powdered sugar for the family sweet tooths. I forgot to get out the camera before it was half demolished, so it's not so pretty, but herewith anyway. I love the lovely pale yellow-orange color and the brightness of chopped mango.

Having branched out from Publix to Kroger, depending on who has the best deals on fresh produce on shopping day, I've discovered Kroger often feature's "manager's specials" on fresh flowers. This time I got one of my faves: a dozen white roses. They are already looking a bit past their prime, but then who isn't.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A White Sport Coat and

A Pink Carnation -- crocheted, that is.

While trying to decide what to do for the last couple of 6-inch flower squares (of 56 planned), I had a hankering for a pink carnation and -- unable to find a pattern that I liked -- devised this one myself. Once you've made fifty-some different flower squares, it's pretty easy to "ad lib" your own non-botanically-correct fantasy flowers derived from several basic types of crocheted flowers.

My carnation turned out so poufy,though, that I think I'll save it for a little girl's hat. It could be "squared" by adding a ch 1 between each petal on Row 3, then add a round where you sl st and ch about between and behind each petal. Then on the next rowmake a corner in every other ch sp and a row of dc in the alternating 4 ch sp. I have seen a pattern for an afghan made up of all carnation squares, where the flowers are really high, but I'm not sure I'd like that for an afghan that would actually be used as a coverlet.

H crochet hook
Small amount of pink worsted weight yarn

Finished size: about 4-1/2 inches in diameter and about 2-1/2 inches high

Round 1. Ch 6 and connect with sl st to form a ring.
Round 2. Sc, ch 3 eight in ring 8 times. At the end of the eighth ch 3, connect with first sc.
Round 3. In each ch 3 sp, sl st, ch 4, 8 dtr, ch 4, sl st.
Round 4. In each ch and in each dtr around, sl st and make a ch3 picot, ending with sl stitch in first sl st. Fasten off.

For a fuller carnation, in Round 3 do 10 instead of 8 dtr.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Rattatooty, or TMZ (too much zucchini)

Back in the '70s when we had a great vegetable garden in the New Jersey suburb's wonderful rich black soil, it was a challenge to use up all the zucchini and tomatoes, and by feeding half the neighborhood, in exchange I got some really good ways to use up this bounty. One Italian-American neighbor taught me this one -- so quick and deceptively simple to make. It's not quite ratatouille (no eggplant or celery), but similar. I've named it for the way my mom pronounced ratatouille. Since it's faux ratatouille, I've given it a faux name. And it's still a family favorite after all these years and using store-bought produce. I like it as a side dish, but it's also good on pasta.

Mary Ann's "Rattatooty"

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, sliced

4 or 5 zucchini, summer squash, or both

5 or 6 cloves of garlic finelly chopped -- the more, the better

3 or 4 juicy tomatoes, roughly chopped

about 10 basil leaves, shredded

pinch of red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)

Salt and pepper

In a medium pot with some olive oil, start sauteing onion and squash Add red pepper, salt, black pepper, and garlic. Cook for 5 or 10 minutes, turning and stirring. Add tomatoes and basil. Cook uncovered on medium heat until veggies are tender and flavors are melded, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pavlova: the Recipe

A rare visitor to my blog asked for this recipe, so here it is. Wish I'd photographed one I made a week or so ago; the top was covered with strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. A thing of beauty for Fourth of July week.

New Zealand Pavlova

Unsalted butter for pie plate
Whites of 6 very large eggs, room temperature
1 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, sifted if necessary to remove any lumps
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon malt vinegar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup whipping cream
1 pint strawberries, washed, halved, and thoroughly drained, or fresh peaches, peeled, sliced, and drained, or raspberries

Butter the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan. Dust lightly with sugar. In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites with an electric mixer to soft peaks, about 1 minute. Gradually beat in sugar, sprinkling in 1/2 teaspoon at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition, especially while adding the first 1/2 cup of sugar. The second 1/2 cup can be added a teaspoon at a time. The batter should be thick and heavy, like a cake batter. Beating could take up to 10 minutes. Mix in 1 teaspoon of vanilla and the vinegar, then sprinkle cornstarch over all and beat until thoroughly mixed. Heap the mixture into the pan, heaping it high in the center and spreading to the edge. Bake 1-1/2 hours at 250 degrees. When done, It will puff slightly and be the pale beige color of old ivory. Remove to a rack and cool at room temperature. It will fall slightly. Before serving, whip cream until very stiff peaks form, and mix in 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. When ready to serve, mix fruit with whipped cream, reserving some for garnish. Spoon into the meringue. Present at the table and slice into wedges. Or, plate before serving, drizzling raspberry coulis over it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Not so ho-hum hominy

Last night I wanted to use up a couple of ears of corn that were a little too old to just steam, and I had a craving for hominy, so I devised this dish to serve with a Costco rotisseried chicken. When I was growing up, my mother would sometimes simply heat up a can of hominy as a side dish. And I still like it so much right out of the can that I have to hold back so there’s enough of it left for dinner. There’s a lot of flexibility in the ingredients: for heat, you can use whatever pepper you prefer or have handy; you could even use grated Romano cheese – or pepperjack and leave out the peppers; and you could add some ground cumin or maybe some ground chipotle pepper. But here's how I made it:

Hominy ‘n Corn

1 can hominy, rinsed and drained
2 ears fresh corn, cut off the cob
2 tablespoons butter
½ large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 or 2 scallions, sliced
¼ cup Italian parsley or cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped 1 or 2 tablespoons fresh jarred, minced jalapenos, rinsed and drained – or, 1 or 2 fresh jalapenos, seeded and minced, or a roasted, peeled poblano, chopped
2 or 3 tablespoons vegetable broth
2 or 3 tablespoons heavy cream
Dollop of Boursin or cream cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion in butter until soft; add garlic for another minute and cook without browning. Add hominy, corn, scallions, parsley, and peppers. Cook for a minute or two; add broth and cream; cook on medium high to reduce to about half. Stir in cheese to thicken. Cook, uncovered, for 3 to 5 minutes, on medium heat, stirring frequently.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A pineapple upside-down cake that rocks

Fine Cooking, IMHO, has the best recipes on the web, overall. Here's the latest one I've used, along with the review I posted on its site:

As a nut case (so to speak) who objects to pieces of nuts in baked goods, I'd been searching for a long time for a cake with ground pecans in the batter. And, for years I've tried making a satisfying pineapple upside-down cake. This recipe filled the bill on both counts, and I really like it. The cake itself is far more interesting than the usual bland one that makes up pineapple upside-down cake.

Even though I knew from experience that the pecans could turn to butter, mine were just marginally dry enough, and I didn't want to start all over with the toasting, so I went ahead. That may be a reason that a very small center portion of the cake (1-1/2 inches in diameter, perhaps) didn't seem as done as I'd liked. But the rest had a great texture. I used fresh pineapple slices and in hindsight probably should have paper-toweled them dry before using. That little wetness may have caused the center to seem a little underdone.

I thought at first that I didn't have a 10-inch pan, but then realized that I have a pretty scalloped 10-1/2-inch pan from Ross that I use for flan, and it was perfect -- and made a very pretty cake. I think next time I'll try making the same cake with a caramel icing and without the pineapple topping.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Another kind of tailgater

What, I'd like to know, is the psychology that drives people to tailgate? Why the overwhelming urge to push people to go faster? Most people who tailgate me, then finally pass, wind up at the same red light at the same time.

Yesterday one of those irritating people was in back of me at my favorite Indian buffet. Now I know I'm old, but I am not a slow driver, nor do I dawdle when making my food selections. But I could feel the woman behind me at the buffet tailgating. No, really, it's true; I could feel it.

Like the big-bellied guy at Microcenter the other day waiting behind me in the checkout line, who kept inching closer, tailgating, generating heat and invading my space. What I did there was stick my foot out in his direction and lean forward as if to shift my weight to rest the other leg. Didn't do much good though. The line was long and slow, but why on earth did he think it would move any faster when he was tailgating. I didn't say anything to him, because he looked a little like a "Deliverance" type who could have been packing.

In reflecting on the buffet tailgater, though, I should have asked her in my best passive-aggressive tone, "Why don't y0u just go ahead of me? I'm in no hurry." But then I've always been too slow on the uptake. If I run into another one of her ilk, I'll know what to do. Meanwhile, I fully expect to see this woman in my rearview mirror next time somebody is hugging my rear bumper.