Month: April 2012

Pork and Pumpkin Noodles

  Uh oh.  I’m back on a blue cheese kick again.  Be warned, there may be a preponderance of the stuff in our recipes for a little while.
  Here’s what we’re making:
  Here’s what you need:
8 oz whole wheat linguine (or other thin noodle)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 lb pork loin, cut into 1/2″ thick slices
3 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbsp olive oil
12 fresh sage leaves (optional)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 cup pumpkin puree or frozen winter squash
1/4 cup blue cheese, crumbled
  Start by cooking your pasta according to the directions on the box.  Add your onion during the last 5 minutes of cooking.  Drain everything and keep it warm.
  Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat up your olive oil.  If you’re choosing to cook your sage leaves, cook them in this oil until crisp and then drain on paper towels.  This is the step to skip if you’re in a hurry, but make sure you try it at least once.  Fried sage is delicious.  Brush your pork with some soy sauce and generally season with pepper.  Add it to your skillet and cook for around 2 minutes on each side, or until golden on the outside and slightly pink inside.  Remove from the skillet and keep warm.
  In the skillet you just used, add the remaining soy sauce, garlic, 1/4 cup pumpkin/squash and 1 cup water.  Bring to boiling and allow to reduce slightly.  Add pasta and onions to the skillet and heat through.  Divide onto serving plates and top with sliced pork, sage leaves and blue cheese.
  We’ve made this dish both with pumpkin and with squash.  I’m a big fan of pumpkin, so I was surprised to come to the conclusion that I like it better with squash instead.  The squash has a slightly sweeter taste that plays wonderfully off the blue cheese, where the pumpkin, while still delicious, is more earthy, so it doesn’t have the same contrast.  One of the great things about this dish is that it’s really filling and satisfying while giving you a giant serving of vegetables.  The squash comes across as a really wonderful pasta sauce, so you don’t even notice!
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Thankful for silly technology

  Last night I went to a good friend’s birthday party.  We’ve known each other since middle school, and so even though I know I always wind up staying out too late and feeling like I’ve been hit by a bus in the morning, I make it a point to go every year.

  This year, on my drive home, I took a different route back.  You see, it’s no longer winter in Michigan, so it’s construction season.  The entire town I live in is currently covered in signs like these:
  …the idea was to take a route that avoided running into them on the way back.
  Unfortunately, our town isn’t the only one around that has decided to celebrate spring by ripping out all of their streets and I found myself butted up against several dead ends standing between me and the way I knew home.  …and please, before you say I should follow the detour signs, let me tell you that, for whatever reason, the people who put out “detour” signs in Michigan seem to have getting you as far from your original destination and as lost as possible as their sole goal.
This is not the kind of shortcut you take when you don’t know where it’s goin’
  It’s times like these that I have to stop and thank every star in the sky that I live in a time where I have a tiny computer in my pocket that not only can bring up a map of pretty much anywhere I want, but can pinpoint for me exactly where on that map I am.
  I could have gotten home without it.  There are several different options I had, but at 2 am on a dark, very cold night, the last thing I wanted to do was turn around and drive 15 minutes back to find the expressway route that was going to force me to deal with all the detours in my town. 
  Yes, technology is invasive and it has its flaws and I’m sure it’s rotting our brains and our personal relationships and and and.  But at the end of the day, when it’s used correctly…man is it awesome.

How to start hand sewing without knotting the thread

If you’re still tying a knot in your thread to start your hand stitching, today’s tip will change the way you sew forever.  Seriously.  I used to knot my thread, and it made me crazy that half the time that knot would just pull right through, and even if it didn’t, it left a lump in my garment where the knot was.  Ugh.  This method solves the issue of loose weave fabric and doesn’t give you the “this was made by a third grader” look that a big honkin knot in your thread does.

  Here’s how you do it:
How to start hand sewing without knotting the thread

 

Incredibly poor choice of thread color so you can see what I’m doing.
  Start by picking up 3-4 threads of your fabric with your needle.  You want a small piece of fabric, but 1-2 threads, depending on the fabric, may be too fragile.  Pull your needle and thread through the fabric, leaving a thread tail of around 2 inches.
How to start hand sewing without knotting the thread

 

  Pull your needle around and put it back through the exact same spot, making sure not to pull your original thread tail through.
How to start hand sewing without knotting the thread

 

  Start to pull your thread through.  Before it is completely pulled through, a loop will form.  Thread your needle through this loop and then finish tightening your thread.  This method works somewhat similarly to the Chinese finger traps you can find in dollar stores.  The more the thread is pulled on, the more it tightens around itself.
How to start hand sewing without knotting the thread

 

  Once you’ve finished tightening this, you can trim off the excess tail.  You can also use this method to tie your thread off when you’ve finished sewing.  No more knots, no more bumps and far less frustration.
  Now isn’t that better?
  If you’ve just found my blog, please, check out some of my other posts!  All of my sewing how to’s can be found here.

Apple pie oatmeal

  Today’s recipe started out as one I was going to make for G.  I thought he’d really enjoy it, but as soon as I washed off the apple to chop it up he decided all he wanted was the apple.
  So, he got an apple and I got apple pie oatmeal.  He didn’t even want to try a bite, silly little boy.
  That was kind of fine by me.  I found the recipe on Family Feedbag and can’t wait to try more of their recipes.
  Here’s what you need:
1 apple, cored and diced
1 cup water
1/2 cup quick oats
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
  Start by boiling your water in a small pan.  Add the rest of your ingredients and lower the heat to low.  Simmer for 2 or 3 minutes while stirring.  Spoon into a bowl and top with brown sugar and milk.
  Or ice cream, if it’s that kind of morning.
  This isn’t incredibly sweet, but it is incredibly good.  It’s nice and filling and the combination of cooked apples, oats and cream….just mmm.
  Try it out.  This is a ridiculously quick dish to make, and if your kids won’t eat it?  You really won’t mind.  I promise.

Burned.

  This is a half-hearted apology.  There is no organizational tip this week, and I’m sorry for that.  Half-hearted because I’m exhausted and so entirely ready for this semester to be over, but I still have studying to do and an exam to take, so I can’t expend the energy to form a proper apology.

  Wait…here’s a tip I’ve found useful lately…don’t untie your head…you’ll lose it.  See!  Helping!
  I don’t want to leave you guys entirely without anything interesting today, so I thought I’d share some pictures.  I’m playing along with FatMumSlim’s picture a day challenge, and while I can’t say I’ve managed EVERY day, I’m probably averaging 5-6 days a week.
  Most of them seem to get done through Instagram.  The prompts are typically one word and fairly open to interpretation, so I find I get better results if I can think about it throughout my day, take a bunch of pictures as thoughts come to me and then pick which one I like the best later.  Obviously that sort of daydreaming photography is better suited to a cameraphone than an honest-to-god camera.
“Stairs”
“Cold”
“Vegetable”
“Something you don’t like”
“What you’re listening to” 
“Flower”
“Before and After”
(Water in a river in town, before and after the bridge)
  If you want to take a bunch of pictures and play along, I’m submitting my photos to a FB group here.  Join in!  I’d love to see your pictures!

Coconut oil face mask

  It’s that time again, where I get bored with my beauty routine and smear random grocery items on my head!  Today’s random goo is: Coconut oil!

  I’ve been seeing at-home beauty treatments with this stuff popping up left and right, so I thought it was about time I got some of my own and tried it out.  A peanut butter jar sized container ran me around $8, so it’s not incredibly cheap, but, remembering it can be used on skin, hair, or for cooking, I decided it was at least worth trying out.
  If you’re looking at the picture up there and thinking coconut oil looks a touch like Crisco, you’re right.  At room temperature, it’s ridiculously solid.  Solid to the point that sticking a butter knife in it yields unhappy little chunks, instead of the cream I had expected.  Think, really cold butter in a jar.
  I submerged the jar in some hot water in a bowl and it very quickly turned to liquid on the bottom and softened on top.  I wound up putting far more coconut oil into my bowl than I needed for my face, but not having done this before, I wanted to be sure I had plenty.  Around a tablespoon will be more than enough for face and neck.  I mixed mine with a bit of honey, since I have the occasional acne (honey is antibacterial) and rubbed it on my face.
  After about 20 minutes, the heat of my skin had turned the oil entirely to liquid and it was running down my neck.  I wiped off the excess that was threatening to ruin my shirt with a wash cloth and massaged the reminder around for 2 or 3 minutes.  After that I wiped off my entire face and neck and called it good.
  I’m pretty sure this unclogged several of the pores that my olive oil and castor oil cleansing have been working on for the past two weeks, and my skin feels sinfully soft.  Of course, since I just tried this mask this morning, I can’t guarantee I won’t break out in hives by tomorrow afternoon, (if I do, I promise I will update everyone via Twitter and Facebook) but right now I’m considering this a victory.  My skin feels wonderful and I smell like a tropical vacation.
  What more can you want from rubbing random goo on your head?

Tuscan Macaroni and Cheese

  Fellow carb-lovers, today’s recipe is for you.  Atkins followers, just turn away.
  Here’s what we’re making:
  I’ve been making this recipe for a few years now, and every time I forget just how good it is.  Pasta, cheese, gooey bread, olives AND tomatoes…it’s sorta of like somebody took my favorite things list and used it as an ingredient list.
  Here’s what you need:
8 oz sweet or hot Italian sausage
2 cups cooked, drained macaroni
8 oz cream cheese, softened and cut into cubes
4 oz crusty bread cut into 1″ cubes
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs all-purpose flour
1 Tbs fresh sage OR 1 tsp dried sage, crushed
1/4 tsp dried thyme, crushed
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 cup milk
1 medium tomato, sliced
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees.  If you haven’t done it already, cook your pasta.  As always, I am of the opinion you should use what you have.  The original recipe calls for elbow mac, but we tend to wind up using penne.  Next, brown your sausage in a skillet and drain the fat out.  When you’re shopping, you want ground beef type sausage, not links.  In a big bowl, mix your sausage, cooked pasta, cream cheese (don’t worry about getting it into perfect cubes, you just want it in smaller bits so it’ll mix more easily), bread cubes, olives and mozzarella.  Set aside.
  In a medium saucepan, melt your butter (medium heat).  Stir in your flour and spices.  Dump your milk in and cook until slightly thickened and bubbly, stirring constantly.  Pour the sauce over your sausage mixture and stir gently.
  Pour everything into a large casserole dish.  Bake, covered with tin foil, for 35 minutes.  Uncover and top with tomato slices and parm and bake uncovered for another 15 minutes.  Let everything cool for around 15 minutes before serving to avoid seared off faces.
  I love this recipe.  You can spice it up by using hot Italian sausage or just use sweet and enjoy the creamy cheese and olives.  Plus, it freezes wonderfully.  We typically eat one half the pan for dinner and then save the other half in the freezer.
  *sighs* Well now I’m hungry…

Improving food photography

  As I’ve been working on improving my photography, one of the places I’ve seen the most drastic improvement has been in my food shots.  When I first started this blog I thought that perhaps the problem was that I was making food that just wasn’t particularly photogenic.  Now that I’ve got a better handle on what I’m doing though, I have been going back and retaking photos of those first few recipes to have something better for the post.
  I personally find it much easier to learn from explanations of how to improve artistic composition when I have both the poor and the good examples side by side so I can compare the two.  With that in mind, I thought I’d show you guys some of the pictures I’ve redone.  The first, awful pictures (which will no longer be found anywhere else on this site!) and the new ones I’ve replaced them with.
  The first thing I’ve learned is that you need to get close.  And by close, I mean, if you’re photographing hot soup, your camera lens should be steaming up.  This first set of pictures, I haven’t actually gotten around to photographing this dish a second time.  The only difference is where I cropped them.  The second photo is still darker and muddier than I’d like, but just simply cropping out 3/4 of the picture (and a portion of the food itself) makes the dish look significantly more appetizing.
  The next thing I’ve learned is to avoid taking photos from straight above.  It completely flattens the dish out and makes the shot boooooring.  Depth adds movement to the picture…makes people want to jump from sausage slice to sausage slice before dumping the whole delicious bowl on their head.
  The next picture has a ton wrong with it.  I love this chili, but the first shot is downright nauseating.  It’s flat, the lighting was bad so the coloring is off, the background is boring, the melted cheese looks awful and there’s no texture at all.
  The second shot is the same exact recipe, with the same exact ingredients (except the cheese is colby jack instead of cheddar).  I used natural lighting, stuck the lens of my camera right into the bowl to complete eliminate the background, took the shots before the cheese turned into lava goo and added a cornbread muffin for texture.  Kind of amazing the difference it makes, isn’t it?
  My goulash shot had a lot of the same issues as the chili.  It took me several atrocious pictures to realize that, gee, melted cheese is incredibly delicious, but it looks godawful.  Do what you can to take the picture before the cheese melts.
  The last thing is the simplest, but also the one I’m going to have the hardest time with come fall.  Use natural light.  All of these second time around shots were taken using light from a window, and you can see how it gives the food more subtle shading and deeper colors…less of the harsh technicolor look.
  Right now, with the sun staying up til after 8, that’s fine.  I can cook dinner, dish it up and take a photo in the sunlight before sitting down to eat.  But come next December when the sun is down before my chicken is thawed, I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to handle it.  I will, of course, give you guys an update when I figure it out.
  In the meantime, play around with your camera in your kitchen.  Don’t your family recipes deserve beautiful pictures just as much as the ones in your cookbooks do?

Sewing in-seam pockets

  Last week I showed you the dress I’d made based off of my drawstring waist top.  I mentioned that I had added some pockets into it, and a few of you had mentioned you’d be interested in learning how to add pockets to seams in a garment, so I’m going to walk you through it today.

  First off, let me say that I had hoped to have photos for you, but with finals next week, I just simply didn’t have time to cut out and construct everything while taking and editing pictures.  So you get some of my drawings.  Hopefully they’ll be clear enough you’ll be able to understand what’s going on.  If not, as always, don’t be shy about contacting me to ask questions.
  To get the shape of your pocket, start by tracing the general shape of your hand (or the hand that will be going into the pocket).  Make sure you leave some wiggle room and add seam allowance.  The shape should wind up looking sort of like an egg that has been flattened on one side.
  Once you’ve traced your shape, you will need to cut out two pieces of fabric in that shape for each pocket.  Determine where on your garment you would like your pockets to be and pin each piece.  You want the right side of your garment piece and the right side of your pocket (the part that will show if you pull your pockets out to show you don’t make any money sewing) to face each other.  Make certain that your pocket pieces are the same distance down the seam of your front and back pieces or they won’t line up when we sew those pieces together and you’ll wind up swearing at me.  Stitch the pocket pieces to the garment pieces with a smaller seam allowance than you will use for the main seam.  For instance, if you will use a 5/8″ seam allowance for the side seam, use 3/8″ to attach the pocket piece.
  Open your pocket piece flat (so both right sides of the fabric are showing) and press.  Now place the garment front piece and garment back piece (both with pockets attached and pressed outwards) right sides together and stitch side seams.  When you reach the pocket pieces, follow the curve of your pocket piece, not closing the opening.  Continue stitching side seam below the pocket as normal.  If you find that the opening for your pocket is too large when you finish, you can go back and stitch up along the side seam to close a portion of the opening, as shown above.
  Turn your garment right side out, press and enjoy your new pockets!
  Keep in mind when choosing material to use for your pockets that they will add some bulk to your garment.  Soft, thin cottons are typically a more flattering choice than stiffer, heavier fabric.

Curried peanut butter

  When I was pregnant with G my Mr and I discovered flavored peanut butters at a local spice shop.  I hadn’t been putting on as much weight as the doctor wanted, so we were looking for healthy ways to add fat to my diet.  Chocolate peanut butter is pretty hard to beat, but we found a curried peanut butter that was a pretty close second.
  I ate a lot of curried peanut butter.  I suspect it may be a part of why G is such a curry fiend.  Now that we’ve moved out of town and I’m no longer pregnant, it hasn’t seemed to be worth the hassle to drive back to that spice store for just a jar of fancy peanut butter.  Parking is a pain, trying to find the time to make the trip is annoying and frankly, it was a little pricey to be worth it.
  But the other day, I found myself craving curried peanut butter toast.  So I made my own.
  To create your own, here’s what you need:
~1.5 cups creamy peanut butter
1 Tbsp-4 tsp curry powder
  In a small bowl, slowly stir your curry powder into your peanut butter.  I added about a tsp at a time.  If you add too much at once it can be difficult to mix into your peanut butter and will poof up into your face…on your counter…no good.
  Once your peanut butter is thoroughly mixed, scoop it into an empty jar and store.  I used an emptied jelly jar.
  If you share this peanut butter with a little one (and I suggest you do, G loves this) watch them like a hawk and have a napkin on hand.  The turmeric in curry powder will stain anything it comes in contact with bright, bright yellow.
  This peanut butter is great on toast, with veggies or as a spread for cooking with.  I don’t think I’d suggest it for putting on a pb & j, but perhaps if you found just the right jelly it would be good.
  Try it out.  Peanut butter isn’t that expensive, live a little, try something new!