Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dabbling

I like to try new things.  I have bound books, upholstered furniture (even convincing my darling husband to make furniture frames to cover, including a full size sofa, back in the day!).  I love to cook, dink around with photography, and show and train dogs.  I've had a dog training business, which was very successful, as well.  I like to can my own foods, sew, play around with carpentry (I wield a mean pneumatic nailer!) and even do a little graphic design.  I'm also one hell of an organizer.  I can organize a lot of things into small spaces, and still keep them functional.  I love any organization that gives dual purpose to an item.  It's the ultimate sign of organizational success, IMO.

I'm of the mind I can do anything I choose to try, and more often than not, that's true.  Of course, I'm reasonable about what tasks I take on, and I usually limit myself to my attention span, the tools I have on hand (or those I can acquire for little to no cost) and the space necessary to do the work.  Oh, and the willingness of my husband to provide some muscle power, when needed.

Several months ago I dabbled in sketching.  I shocked myself at just how good I actually was.  The first sketches were rough, and while I knew who my subjects were, they were anything but fantastic.  But I got the basics, in very rough form, and went from there.

I thought I might share a few here.  Sadly, sketches don't scan well, but at least you can get a rough idea of what I did.  These were all done within a month of my first effort.  Do I have some latent talent?  I doubt it, but I certainly impressed myself...and even some of my friends.  In looking at them now, several months later, I can't say any of them are particularly fantastic, but they were all fantastically fun, and I really enjoyed the experience of sketching each subject.

One of my early attempts.  This is my heart dog, Jet, doing his most favorite thing.  I sketched this from a photo I had that was horribly faded, and I knew if I didn't capture it in some form, I would lose it forever.  Good prints are important...digital photos printed on cheap photo paper don't last.  This I learned the hard way!


Things got a little less rough when I sketched Angie Hall's lovely blue dog, Levi.  I found the muzzle the most difficult part, and don't feel that I got it right here, but other areas of my technique improved over the jumping sketch of Jet.


I then decided to try a really dark dog.  Enter Kathryn Horton's Belgian Tervuren, McGwire.  This dog had passed young to a tragic accident, so I wasn't just working on the shading technique, I had to work on the emotional response to the sketch.  I was most worried about this.  I struggled and I struggled.  I just didn't feel I got it right, even after several attempts.  I put down my pencils, and just sat and studied the dog.  When I picked up the pencils again, it just came together.

I don't know that I got all aspects of the dog, but I nailed the eyes, and it was so dead on, it rendered Kathryn speechless...in a good way.  I'm really proud of this one.


For my next sketch, I chose a subject from a photo I took.  This is Am/Can/UKC CH Wistwin Equinox.  One of my most favorite little dogs.  Such sparkle, and joy this little guy imparts.  I just adore him.  As it turns out, the body would be very easy, but the eyes, and the expression, once again, would prove very difficult.  I never felt that I got this one exactly right, but I got fairly close one time, and decided to stop there.  Sometimes it's about knowing when to stop.


I'm 100% sure there are others in the world who are better artists, cooks, bakers, seamstresses, dog trainers and book binders than I, and for me, it's not about being the best.  It's about challenging myself to learn new things, and push myself to a rewarding result.  To me, that's the essence of the journey of life.  You don't have to be the best, you just have to appreciate and accept your best.

Here's hoping you have a wonderful Wednesday, and a wonderful leap day!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pesto pasta

Another dish made with my brussel sprout pesto.  One part pesto, one part ricotta cheese, a good drizzle of olive oil, and enough pasta water to make it come together.  A little shredded parmigiano and you're good to go.

 

I also added chicken to this same dish last night, substituting penne for the spaghetti.  The chicken was a nice add.  It seems the uses for this pesto are many.  I love when something can be used in a variety of ways.

Tonight I'm making pesto chicken pies.  More on that later...

Re-purposing...again

I needed a large cutting board 18" x 24" would do it, I figured.  I looked at some over the weekend, and I was shocked at the prices.  Wow!  I want wood, because it's easiest to work with, when rolling pastry.  Even for a 'cheap' board, they were $35, and up.  No, thank you!

I came home, and swiftly forgot about it, but when I rolled pie dough this weekend, I was reminded that my 12" x 18" board is just not quite big enough.  This morning I remembered a 18" x 24" board I had in the garage that I had used for something else, but was no longer using.  It had a few, small drill holes in it, but no biggie.  Could I just add some 'feet', and call it good?  Well, it's not hardwood, and I have no idea if it would stand up to real cutting, but for what I want, which is just a large board to roll pastry, I think it might work.  I brought it in, bleached/cleaned it, and when it dried, I re-purposed some rubber feet I had in my toolbox, and now I have a large surface to roll pastry.  Oh, and I still have that $35, too.  =)



Thoughtful Tuesday: every endeavor is an unfolding dream

I fancy myself a planner, a thinker (some call me an analyzer, and others just call me 'anal retentive', or, more commonly, 'anal Annie').  For all the thinking and planning I do, I more often follow what's presented vs. what I deliberately create, so there is an element of a 'fly by the seat of your pants' girl in my spirit somewhere.

This year it will be 13 years since I acquired my first Sheltie.  His name is Jet.  He's still with me, thanks to God.  When I look back on that acquisition, I'm reminded that so much of my life, in the ensuring years, would be dictated by what Jet presented to me, as far as options.  He was a busy puppy, so we attended some agility classes.  He would go on to become an agility star.  Quick, agile, smart and responsive, he would take me on one hell of a journey.  Other dogs would follow, but their path was predicated by the path Jet paved for me, and for them, as well.

Yesterday we had a good dumping of snow.  It was late in coming, and in many ways, I feel as though we should be preparing for spring, though winter finally did make an appearance.  We took some shots yesterday, after letting the dogs out to play in the snow, and one of the shots just hit me full in the face.  My almost 13 year old Jet, with that 'look' of knowing he has always had.  An old soul, coming through in his aging, yet bright eyes.  Today I made a tribute from that photo.  I posted it on FaceBook, but I want to memorialize it here, too.

There really are no words to express the love I have for this dog.  I have tried to come up with them many times, and I fail miserably every time.  But, my heart knows how I feel.  And so does my beloved Jet.

I can only look to the Heavens, and thank God for the gift of Jet in my life.  So few gifts have been as profound, pivotal, and completely fulfilling.  Life is sweeter because of my special boy, my heart and soul dog - Jet...


Sunday, February 26, 2012

Madeleines

Wikipedia calls them 'cakes'.  I've also heard them referred to as 'cookies'.  No matter what you call them, there's no mistaking the Madeleine.  Starbucks made them famous, when they started selling them years and years ago in the United States.  Oh, geez, who am I kidding! I don't know exactly when they started selling them, or if they can even take credit for making them famous.  All I know is I first heard of them when I saw them, two to a package, for sale at a Starbucks in California.  I think they still do sell them, or at least I recall seeing them fairly recently.

 

Call them a 'cake' or call them a 'cookie', just do yourself a favor, and try out these delightful little fluffy pillows of lemony goodness.  These delicious little cakes are one of the simple pleasures of baking.  Easy, light and lemony, they are a delight, and very easy to make.  Aside from a specialty pan, there really is nothing extra needed, aside from your ingredients, to make Madeleines.

I can't take credit for this recipe.  I found it on 101cookbooks.  The link can be found here.

A few of my own photos, as I was making them...









Saturday, February 25, 2012

Brussel sprout pesto

Today I woke up determined to create something special.  My husband, who is the best human being I know, loves brussel sprouts.  In every way, he and I are a perfect match...except when it comes to his love of those miniature cabbage-looking, dirty sock smelling things.  I hate them.  I have always hated them.  I have been told that such and such a dish will get me over my distaste of them.  Until this morning, I can say I have never tasted a brussel sprout dish I wanted to be-friend.

 

Well, enter my idea of a brussel sprout pesto.  I have never seen one, nor heard of one, and while I'm sure a Google search would turn up a recipe, or two, I can tell you this one is all my own.  I encourage you to try it.  It's truly delicious, and this coming from a former brussel sprout hater.

Ingredients:

12 brussel sprouts
1/4 cup oregano leaves
1/4 cup roasted almonds
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup shredded parmigiano reggiano
3 cloves garlic
Kosher salt (to taste)
Fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
1/2 cup olive oil

Directions:

Cut brussel sprouts in half and trim off the end.

 

To the bowl of your food processor, add brussel sprout halves, oregano leaves, almonds, the cheeses, garlic, salt and pepper.

 

Process until you have a fine mince.

 

Add olive oil and process until well blended.

Serve with crackers, chips, add as a condiment to a sandwich, or toss with fresh cooked pasta (adding a bit of pasta water to bring it all together).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Rice pudding

Without doubt, this is one of our most favorite dishes here.  It's creamy, delicious and very easy to make.  It's also very light on the pocket book.  It's so easy, my husband makes it with success, and while I love and adore him, cooking isn't his strong suit.


What I most like about this recipe is that all ingredients are easily available, and aside from milk and eggs, the rest of the ingredients can be purchased and stored in the pantry.  As for the milk and eggs, few cooks I know are ever without these staples, so if you have the other items in your pantry, it's a good 'go-to' recipe, if you need something sweet, or a 'make it the night before' dessert for guests.  Sprinkled with cinnamon, in a pretty dessert dish, it makes a nice presentation, too.

Rice pudding:

1 cup long grain rice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 egg
3 cups whole milk
14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

To a large sauce pan, or dutch oven, add the rice.  Add 4-1/2 cups of water and kosher salt, cover, and soak one hour.

Beat together egg, whole milk, sweetened condensed milk and vanilla.  Set aside.

Place rice/water on a burner, and heat to medium.  Allow rice to cook until most all the water has been absorbed, but before any of the rice begins to stick to the pan.  I suggest a non-stick pan for this recipe.

 

Add the egg/milk mixture, turn heat up to medium high, and stirring constantly, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium, and keep stirring until it begins to thicken just a bit, about 3-4 minutes.

 

Do not simmer more than a few minutes, or your pudding with be too thick and gummy when completely cooled.

Remove pan from heat source, drape a clean tea towel over the pan, and cover with the lid.

 

The towel will absorb the steam, and keep the rice from getting watered down.  Allow to cool for 30 minutes.  Remove lid and towel, and stir.  The pudding will have started to thicken.

 

Put the towel and lid back in place, and cool another 30 minutes.  Remove towel and lid, stir, and transfer to a storage container, cover and chill several hours, or overnight.

Serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon, or plain...whatever you like.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thoughtful Tuesday: the price of gas and the lack of snow

As I listened to the news this morning, I was reminded, once again, of the sorry state of our economy.  Instead of taking control, we just sit in resolved silence and accept it.  I have no idea what the answers are, but I know one thing for sure.  The meat lies with 'we the people', not the government.  It really matters not who's in office, it only matters that our system of government is seriously broken.

When Bank of America tried to assess banking fees, 'we the people' took a stand, and Bank of America stepped aside and small, local credit unions saw an increase in membership.  When NetFlix jacked around with their well loved rental system, 'we the people' said "I don't think so..."  Things haven't been the same for NetFlix since.  When Verizon thought it a wise idea to charge us for paying our bills, 'we the people' said "uh, wait a minute!"  In all cases, 'we the people' took a stand, and won those small, yet very important victories.

Why is it we can't take a stand against our government?  I really don't know, but when I ponder the sorry ass state of our lives, I'm reminded of the great Warren Buffet who proposed a 'pay for results' compensation package for our government leaders.  I love that idea.  That's how my husband gets paid.  That's how I get paid.  That's how my friends get paid.  Why should our leaders get paid under any other structure?

Why, when a barrel of crude oil soars past $100, is a bushel of wheat still pennies on the equivalent dollar?  That's our export.  Have we signed some idiotic agreement that says we will never raise the price of our most valuable export?  Kind of like when we signed over the Panama Canal?  Idiocy abounds in our government...I don't care if there is a (D) or an (R) after our elected officials' names, they actually *do* have something in common?  They all have the proverbial "L" stamped on their foreheads.  All of them.

In my opinion, food is far more important than fuel, yet fuel is many times more costly.  Our farmers are dying.  For every .50 that fuel goes up at the pump, our economy loses...sit down, it's going to shock the shit out of you, $150,000,000,000.  That's like lighting money on fire, just for the hell of it, to the tune of 150 BILLION dollars.  That's what our economy loses in spending power, when gas goes up just 1/2 of one dollar, which the experts predict will happen by May, just 3 months from now.  That's 150 BILLION dollars that won't find it's way into our economy.

A barrel of crude hovers around $100/barrel, and a bushel of Red Hard Winter Wheat hovers around $8/bushel.  Driving our cars is more important than eating?  Yes, yes, I realize I'm over symplifying things, but we really need to stop and take a look at our priorities, which have been grotesquely out of whack for a long time.

And, on another note...the snow report.  For the record, we have had about 1/4 cup total snow fall for this year.  As I contemplate my spring banner for the blog, I'm reminded winter never really made an appearance.  Not like it usually does, anyway.

Happy 'thoughtful' Tuesday.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Great flavors, great texture

I make my own hummus, from my own canned garbanzo beans.  It's one of the best things to have on hand.  The spices are all canned with the beans, so making the hummus is quick.  Yesterday I was busy doing other things, so Cliff offered to whip up the hummus.  He made it with artichoke hearts and garlic, and to say it was wonderful, would be putting mildly.


I decided to use it today on pitas, with an assortment of vegies, bacon, feta cheese and some chopped sun-dried tomatoes.  Wasn't sure how well all the flavors would go together, but it worked.  The flavor profile was superb, and it just plain tasted fresh.  Cliff had made the hummus yesterday, so it was matter of slicing the pita, filling the pocket with the hummus, and adding all the other ingredients.  I had intended to add an avocado, but forgot about it.  I will try it with the avocado tomorrow, but I must confess, I didn't miss it.


Breakfast burritos: One and done!

I love breakfast burritos.  They are simple, tasty and filling.  Full of protein, wrapped in a tortilla.  Just a great way to start the day.  The only trouble?  I really don't like to do the dishes for just a couple.  Thanks to a FaceBook friend, Patti Jackson, I got hooked onto making many, and freezing them for use throughout the week, or even longer, depending upon how many you make, and how often you eat them.


My husband leaves for work early every day, and I like to send him off with something filling, so he's not snacking on crap throughout the morning, and into the afternoon.  Enter the bag of pre-made, individually wrapped and frozen breakfast burritos in the freezer.  He can either take one and go, or he can have it at home before he heads out.

My recipe is far from unique, and in this case, it's not about being unique, it's about stocking the freezer for a quick breakfast on the 'go'.  We have also taken them in a cooler, and warmed them in the microwave of our hotel room, before we head to the show site at any number of dog shows we attend.  There's no reason you can't save money, and eat well, while on the road.

Breakfast burritos:

2 lbs. ground breakfast sausage (use the off-brand, it saves money)
24 large eggs
1/2 lb. cheese, shredded
24 burrito sized tortillas

Directions
:

Heat a very large skillet over medium heat.  Add sausage, and brown, breaking it up as you go along.


While sausage is cooking, crack eggs into a large bowl, and whisk until well combined.  You can also use an immersion blender, if you have one, or an electric beater.  By hand works just fine.  After the eggs are whisked, set them aside, and return to your sausage.

When sausage is cooked through, and browned nicely, drain into a strainer.  Return sausage to skillet, and place skillet back on the burner.  Add eggs.


Cook over medium heat until firm, set and slightly dry looking.


Remove skillet from heat, and set aside.

Grate cheese, and set aside.


Using a 1/2 cup measure, scoop sausage and egg mixture onto the middle of a tortilla.  Add cheese, and roll up, tucking the ends in.  I heat the tortillas in the microwave, individually, for about 20 seconds, to soften them and make them pliable for rolling.



Roll the tortilla into either foil squares (I buy them in bulk, pre-cut), or plastic wrap.  I find the foil is far easier to work with, and you can re-use it, if you like.

Continue rolling until all the sausage/egg mixture is gone.

This makes approximately 24 breakfast burritos, and the cost is less than .50/each!  Can't beat that for a quick, easy breakfast, and they are nice sized, too.  I try to buy the tortillas in bulk bags of 40, and that brings the price way down.  Grocery Outlet is a great place to check for the big bags.  You can use smaller sized tortillas, but I find one is just not quite enough of the smaller burritos.

Once rolled up, place into freezer bags, and keep in the freezer until ready to use.


Before heating, remove foil, and warm in the microwave for about a minute, or until heated through.  If you carefully unroll your burrito from the foil, you can smooth it out, and re-use it for the next batch.




Sunday, February 19, 2012

The nose knows...

I love this puppy.  She is everything I had hoped for, and so much more.  She was laying upside down, in Cliff's arms, and I couldn't help but snap a few photos of her.  She is special, beyond my wildest dreams.





Saturday, February 18, 2012

Seven apples


When the husband comes home from the grocery store with 7 granny smith apples, and neither you, nor he eats that variety (unless they take on another form), what message should one take away?  Well, since the apple pie recipe calls for exactly 7 granny smith apples, I think we can safely guess at what it means.  I think that crust in the freezer has found a partner.  =)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rigatoni with eggplant tomatoe puree

This recipe is a long time favorite.  I saw a variation of this dish many moons ago.  I can't even tell you where I saw the original recipe, and I don't even have this one in my cookbook, it's so easy to remember.  Easy to prepare, too.  t's a lightly flavored, fresh tasting dish, with just a tiny 'bite' from the red pepper flakes.  It has always been at the top of my list of 'go-to' recipes


Ingredients:

1 eggplant, cubed (leave skin on)
1 pint grape tomatoes
3-4 cloves garlic, coarse chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Fresh, ground black pepper
1 lb. rigatoni or penne pasta
Parmigiano reggiano

Directions:

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

Set large kettle of water to boiling.

Layer cubed eggplant, tomatoes, garlic and red pepper flakes on a baking sheet.  Drizzle generously with olive oil, and toss to coat.  Salt and pepper to taste.


Drop pasta into boiling water, and cook to desired doneness.

Roast vegetables in pre-heated oven for 13-15 minutes, or until very lightly charred.


Remove from oven, transfer to the bowl of your food processor, and puree until a chunky sauce forms.  If needed to smooth out consistency, or if sauce is too thick, thin with a bit of olive oil as you pulse your food processor.

Drain pasta and transfer to a large bowl, toss with sauce.


Plate and top with fresh grated parmigiano reggiano.


This dish re-heats well in a microwave oven.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Westminster Kennel Club

Tonight starts coverage of the 2012 Westminster Kennel Club dog show.  I love this show, for all the pomp and circumstance, and for the fact it's held at Madison Square Garden.  It saddens me it won't be at this legendary venue after this year, and while I understand the reasons why, I still find myself disappointed.

None the less, as is the case with everyone, I have my favorite breeds, and hope one of them will come to the fore, but even if they don't, I can enjoy the event for what it is.  A showcase of purebred dogs.

Best wishes to all competing over the next two days.  I hope it's an experience of epic proportions!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Sweet cream blueberry pancakes

A few years ago I ordered a dish in a local restaurant - sweet cream pancakes.  They were delightful.  They were sweet, creamy and had great texture.  The recipe, I would learn, was a closely guarded secret.  Not long after, I forgot about it.

Last spring I remembered those pancakes, and started the search for a recipe.  Unfortunately for me, all I found was a link to the restaurant that wouldn't provide the recipe to me, in the first place.  Hum...perhaps it was time to develop my own.  After about 3 attempts, I came up with something that had the same creamy sweetness, but had a hearty taste and texture, as well.  I actually liked my recipe better.  I made them again this morning, and thought I would share the recipe with you.


Ingredients:

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1-1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 eggs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup frozen blueberries

Directions:

Pre-heat an electric griddle to 400 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine your dry ingredients.


In a separate, small bowl, combine milk, sour cream, eggs and melted butter, and whisk until smooth.

Make a well in your dry ingredients, and pour in the wet ingredients.  Whisk until smooth.


Add frozen blueberries, and gently fold until just distributed throughout the batter.  I use frozen so the juice of the berries doesn't bleed into the batter, making it blue.


Using a 1/4 cup measure, drop batter onto your pre-heated griddle.


When pancakes begin to bubble, and the edges appear dry, carefully turn them with a spatula.


Serve warm, with butter and warm maple syrup.

Note:  This batter will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days, but if you do that, I would suggest adding the frozen blueberries to the batter as you make the pancakes vs. allowing them to thaw in the batter, as you keep it for later use.  Thawed blueberries will turn the batter blue, and while it won't affect the taste, it will affect the consistency and texture of the batter.