Friday, August 29, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Pantry Raid Pasta Salad

Lately I have been eyeing my pantry with a mixture of astonishment and disgust.  My relentlessly growing collection of tableware has been vying for domination with the shelf-stable comestibles for quite some time now, almost like a boring kitchen version of some international sporting event.  Meanwhile, the cleaning and home maintenance products have barely managed to hang on to what little space was allotted to them when I first set up the pantry.  Something has got to give before this competition turns even uglier, and that something will be the edible items.  Much as I would like to blame this situation on my hoarder husband (and he has in truth contributed his share of mayhem by purchasing inordinate amounts of canned goods and pickle jars), I have to admit that I have been stockpiling far too many cans, jars, bags, and boxes of food for too long.  Even pantry items have a shelf life, and many on my shelves are in serious danger of expiring.

All of this leads me to the point of my post.  Pantry Raid Pasta Salad is a direct result of my resolute determination to thin the ranks in the pantry by grabbing as many compatible ingredients as possible and combining them into a meal.  The result is a surprisingly tasty southwestern-flavored pasta dish that can be served as an entrée or as a side.  It is not one of the healthiest recipes I have ever made (where did that bottle of ranch dressing come from?), but my shelves now have a bit of elbow room between items and I can actually delve into the far reaches to further reduce accumulated foodstuffs.  If only I could find a similarly painless way to winnow out the tableware collection, which has recently caused one of my shelves to collapse in defeat under the weight of excess table linens!

Pantry Raid Pasta Salad

1 box (about 13 oz.) whole wheat macaroni, cooked and drained
1 can (10 oz.) Rotel tomatoes and green chilies (we had mild)
1 can (about 15 oz.) corn, drained and rinsed (we had unsalted)
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
6-8 scallions, sliced
8 oz. queso fresco, crumbled
1 C. (8 oz.) ranch dressing
1 T. Mrs. Dash Fiesta Lime Seasoning (chili powder would also work)
salt and pepper to taste

Combine the first five ingredients.  Allow the pasta to cool a bit, then add the remaining ingredients, seasoning to taste.  Chill and serve.  Serves 8.

Oh, the shame!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

On the Homefront: Dalmatians in Paradise Table

Decked out in Hawaiian shirts and cool shades, Delilah and Dexter
Dalmatian welcome you to a casual Hawaiian celebration for
Dalmatian Appreciation Day!

Well, it's that time of year again -- my own holiday creation, Dalmatian Appreciation Day!  This year I included both brown and black with white for the table colors, in honor of our current Dalmatian who is liver-spotted, the rather atrocious name for brown spots (I prefer to think of her as the "chocolate chip Dalmatian").  Our girl Gia is a senior who is starting to suffer from some health issues and I don't know how many of these holidays she has left, so I felt now was the time to make her the focus.  Since we had some brown, black, and cream-colored kapa or bark cloth place mats from Hawaii, what better theme for the day than the tropical island paradise that is Hawaii?  Gia will never actually set foot there, but I can create the ambience that will have her feeling like a Dalmatian in Paradise!

The Karen Donleavy Dalmatian dinner plate in the foreground
will hold the dessert cookies.

Kapa (bark cloth) place mat from Hawaii many moons ago; white square dinner plate by Denmark Tools for Cooks from HomeGoods this year; Dalmatian salad plate by Karen Donleavy Designs; spotted flatware from Cow Depot Cow Kitchen; brown napkin; black-stemmed wine glass; white coastal design water glass from Big Lots eons ago; green paper tropical leaf from Oriental Trading.

Twin Dalmatians on either side of a moth orchid placed inside
a Dalmatian dog bowl, another Karen Donleavy creation
(sorry about the color -- my little digital camera could not
compensate for the abundant sunlight coming in
from the window).

A pack of Dalmatian pups surrounds the centerpiece candle.

A white tea light in a coconut shell candle holder sits atop
still more green paper tropical leaves.

Gia has always been an opportunistic eater (i.e., if it can't get away from her she will consume it!), so I decided to create a menu for Dalmatian Appreciation Day full of foods that are listed as potentially harmful to dogs, as a warning about what edibles to help your dogs avoid since they are not very sensible about such matters.  Besides, doesn't every Eden paradise have its forbidden foods?  And don't forget to check out the entire list, as my menu does not include all of these temptations!

DANGEROUS-FOR-DOGS Menu (dogs should avoid all items in bold red):

Green Salad with Avocado, Tomato, and Red Onion/Creamy Garlic Dressing*
Salt-Roasted Salmon** (but no raw salmon)
Parmesan Cheese-Roasted Green Beans***
Walnut and Chocolate Chunk Cookies****

*Creamy Garlic Dressing

1/2 C. buttermilk
1/4 C. light mayonnaise
1 1/2 T. lemon juice
2 T. grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
pepper to taste

Combine all of the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.  Makes about 1 C. dressing.

**Salt-Roasted Salmon

1 T. olive oil (plus extra for serving)
1 1/2 lbs. salmon filet (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inch thick), center cut and skin on, cut into 4 equal pieces
8 eggs, whites only
4 C. kosher salt

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers.  Add the salmon pieces, skin side down, and cook 2-3 minutes until the skin begins to crisp.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs whites and salt with your hands until the mixture resembles wet sand.  Cover the bottom of a roasting pan with a layer of the salt mixture.  Lay the fish on top and then mold more of the salt tightly around each piece of fish until they are entirely sealed up.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 6 minutes for medium-rare (sides are cooked but top looks lightly rare).  Remove from the oven and brush the salt away from the fish.  Transfer the fish pieces to a clean work surface and brush away all remaining salt.  Plate each serving and drizzle the tops with olive oil.  Serves 4.

Note: I prefer my salmon more completely cooked, and I used bigger filets, so I roasted my fish for 12 minutes.  I also quickly rinsed off my filets with water and patted them dry to get more of the salt off.  It was still excellent (and I don't even like salmon!).

From For the Love of Cooking

***Parmesan Cheese-Roasted Green Beans

1 lb. haricots verts (thin green beans), trimmed
1-2 T. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1 C. grated Parmesan cheese

Place the beans on a rimmed baking sheet.  Toss with the oil, salt, and pepper and spread out in a single layer.  Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top.  Bake at 400 degrees for about 10 minutes, until the cheese melts and forms a crisp shell over the beans.  Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.  Lift the beans out onto a platter and serve.  Serves 4.

Note: Don't overdo the oil as the cheese will add even more and you will end up with beans swimming in oil!  Also, cheese is not actually toxic to dogs, but too much can cause digestive problems.

****Walnut and Chocolate Chunk Cookies

1 C. plus 2 T. flour
1/2 Tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 C. butter, softened
3/4 C. sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
4 oz. dark chocolate, cut into chunks
2/3 C. coarsely chopped walnuts

Combine the first ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.  Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy.  Add the egg and vanilla and beat until well blended.  Gradually stir in the flour mixture until well mixed.  Stir in the chocolate and nuts.

Drop the dough by heaping tablespoonfuls one inch apart onto ungreased baking sheets.  Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes until the edges are lightly browned.  Remove from the oven and cool the cookies for one minute on the baking sheets.  Remove the cookies to a wire rack and cool completely.  Makes about 3 dozen.


The candies on the table today are chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, courtesy of my thoughtful husband, who ordered them online for me when I mentioned that I could not find them anywhere in our area.

He also ordered me a bountiful supply of red torch ginger from Hawaii (my favorite flower!) to enhance the Hawaiian setting in our dining room.  What a great guy!

Have a happy Dalmatian Appreciation Day, Gia (dog-appropriate snacks will be provided)!

This is Gia in 2012 (and notice her non-Dalmatian sister's nose
on the right as she sleeps on her dog bed almost out of camera
range, hoping no one will notice her lack of spots!).

This 'n That Thursdays: UO Guest Bedroom Wish List, and More!

From TripAdvisor

This is my last HGTV Atlanta Urban Oasis wish list post, so I thought I should finish with a flourish! First up is the guest bedroom, furnished as usual with items from AllModern.  This time, rather than creating a rustic contemporary space, I decided to shake things up with a more urban, sleek, modern design and some fun accents.  My inspiration was the animal portrait graphic art of Dean Russo.  I selected nine out of dozens and created a collage to use as artwork above the bed.  I also threw a cute panda pillow on the bed as a nod to the baby panda twins at Zoo Atlanta:

Clockwise from top: Collage of animal portrait graphic art by Dean Russo; Lite Source Bellona Table Lamp in Orange; Modloft Mulberry 1 Drawer Nightstand in White Lacquer; DG Casa Lexington Platform Bed; Missoni Home Bubble Lamp in Mocaie 156 Fabric; Center top: Naked Decor Giant Panda Pillow; Center bottom: Missoni Home Pat 59 Bedding; Center background: Missoni Home Leedstown Rug.

Two more areas also need to be furnished in the Urban Oasis.  One is the balcony, which is a semi-enclosed space with spectacular views.  I chose furniture that had what I considered to be a subtly tropical feel:

Clockwise from top left: Jonathan Adler Okura Wide Mouth Planter; Snug Lo Rider Sofa; Privilege Ceramic Garden Stool; Woodland Imports Metal Lantern; Lo Rider Coffee Table; Snug Lo Rider Coffee Table; Snug Lo Rider Lounge Chair; Wayborn Decorative Pillow; Center background: Oriental Weavers Bali Grey/Gold Geometric Indoor/Outdoor Rug.

Lastly, I would furnish the entry foyer with a runner, table, mirror, and lovely but unusual chandelier.  There is a shallow alcove immediately adjacent to the front door and initially I was not sure what to put there, but then I found a unique wall coat rack that is as decorative as it is functional.  I decided that a grasscloth wall covering would be perfect in the alcove, with several of these interesting racks placed at various heights serving as both art and a place to hang outerwear!

Clockwise from top left: Feiss Montana Mirror; ARTERIORS Home Dove 8 Light Mini Chandelier; Brave Space Design Coat Rack (for alcove); York Wallcoverings Tommy Bahama Grasscloth/Tom Color Wallpaper in Tan/Brown (for alcove); Jeffan Natura Console Table; Jeffan Varo Table Lamp; Center background: Calvin Klein Rugs Room Select Camel Runner.

I had so much fun creating all of these style boards, but the real 2014 Urban Oasis at the Hotel Mandarin Atlanta has now been revealed in all its glory, so be sure to check out Lindsay Pumpa's luxuriously chic design here.  Also, don't forget to get your entries in every day!

A view from the dining room into the living room
at the 2014 HGTV Atlanta Urban Oasis
(from HGTV)

HGTV has also just announced the location of the 2015 Dream Home, which will be built on the island of Martha's Vineyard at The Field Club (see the video here).  This home promises to be something truly special, and I will enjoy watching as construction progresses.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Gump's Owl Wine Glasses

Even though we just had one of the hottest spells of the summer, fall is not that far off.  The days are already getting shorter and the nights cooler.  For some reason, owls make me think of fall, possibly because they are often associated with Halloween.  These cute Owl Wine Glasses ($58 for set of four) from Gump's would be perfect for a casual autumn table setting.  Each one has a different design, and none of them are scary, so there is no need to wait until Halloween to use them!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Couscous with Golden Raisins, Macadamia Nuts, and Scallions

I seem to be obsessed with side dishes lately, and today's post is no exception.  Couscous is a tiny little pasta that cooks up quickly and adapts well to all sorts of flavors, especially those of dried fruits and nuts.  In my recipe I used golden raisins and macadamia nuts, but just about any combination would work (try chopped dried apricots and Brazil nuts, as in the original recipe).  Serve the couscous with any grilled, broiled, or sautéed meat, poultry, or fish for a quick and easy meal.

Couscous with Golden Raisins, Macadamia Nuts, and Scallions

1 1/4 C. chicken stock
1 C. couscous
1/3 C. golden raisins
1/3 C. roasted macadamia nuts
1 T. lemon juice
2 T. olive oil*
2 scallions, sliced
salt and pepper to taste

Bring the stock to a boil.  Remove from the heat, stir in the couscous, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes.  Fluff the couscous with a fork and stir in the remaining ingredients.  Season to taste.  Serves 4.

*I had macadamia nut oil, believe it or not, so I used that instead.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: UO Living Room Wish List


The official floor plan for the HGTV 2014 Urban Oasis has been posted, and it is not that much different from the floor plan I mentioned in an earlier post:

From Atlanta Skyrise Blog

Be sure to check out the time lapse photos of the UO construction progress.  It will be a real race to the finish line for this project to be completed by the official start of the sweepstakes entry period on August 28th!

As promised, today I am presenting my UO living room style board based on furnishings from AllModern:

Clockwise from top: Knoll SM Sofa in Volo Leather Ayers Rock (photo from Vastu); Oggetti Showtime Coffee Table; Knoll SM2 Chair in Volo Leather Ayers Rock with Classic Boucle Neutral seat and back cushions; ARTERIORS Home Trump Wood/Rustic Iron Floor Lamp; Urbia IE Series Cone End Table; DwellStudio Hans Leather Chaise in Reynolds Caramel with French Oak leg finish; Ren-Wil Gold Rush by Charlene Lynch Painting Print on Canvas; Urbia Naturals Freeform Console Table; Center background: Noble House Elegant Beige Rug.

I am sure the actual Urban Oasis décor will be much more modern in style than my design, but I am still enjoying creating my ideal spaces.  Next week I will show my version of the guest bedroom, which is very different from the rest of the rooms I have done.  HGTV should also be revealing the completed UO by then, so it will be fun to see just how much my ideas differ from those of designer Lindsay Pumpa!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Looking Ahead to the Holidays at Uno Alla Volta

Is it too soon to start thinking about the holidays?  Maybe so, but that couldn't stop me from doing just that when I received my latest issue of the Uno Alla Volta catalog!  Labor Day is fast approaching, and the Sunflower Serving Bowl ($250) shown above would look great on the holiday table.

Halloween is not that far off, and how fun would it be to toast its arrival with these Jack o' Lantern Wine Glasses ($65 each)?

Your Thanksgiving guests will feel welcomed indeed when they arrive and behold a beautiful bouquet of fall flowers in the richly colored Forest Sunset Vase ($248).

When it's time to set up the Christmas tree, I would love to nestle these adorable Owl Gourd Ornaments ($60 for a set of 6) in amongst the branches.

If you're out on the town for New Year's Eve, you can be sure that at least your hands will be warm in these lovely Peruvian Alpaca Gloves ($58).

I know it really is way too early to be planning for Valentine's Day, but ladies may want to start dropping hints to their significant others when it comes to the delicately attractive Intertwined Hearts Necklace ($248).

My goodness, where did the time go?  I just zipped through the next six months' worth of holidays!  And even though their prices may take your breath away, that big December gift-giving holiday will be here before you know it, and one of these items may just end up on your wish list!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

On the Homefront: Modern Yellow Hedgehog Table

My husband had the black, grey, and white deer design serving
tray when I first met him -- I have no idea where it came from!
Dalmatians Spike and Barb have their own little black and
white cups by Cache La Pottery.

Dalmatians Spike and Barb join some hedgehog pals on a bold modern table where the color yellow stands out against a neutral grey, white, and black background.  Neon yellow Hedgehog Candleholders from CB2 (the younger and edgier version of Crate and Barrel) were the inspiration here, as were a set of Block Print Charcoal Napkins from the same source.

The marble pastry/cutting board will hold the
Hedgehog Shortbread Cookies.

Grey linen table runner (birthday gift from my husband); yellow place mat from The Cupboard in Fort Collins, CO, years ago; square white dinner plate by Denmark Tools for Cooks from HomeGoods this year; small black bowl from MacFrugal's (now Big Lots) eons ago; white-handled soup spoon from Target years ago; Yellow Dots flatware by Cambridge Silversmiths from HomeGoods this year; Block Print Charcoal Napkin from CB2; black-stemmed wine glass; plain water glass.

Four bright yellow hedgehog candleholders with white tea lights
sit on a silver tray, surrounding a white pillar candle amid
clear glass beads.  On either side is a squat yellow candle on
a square white plate with a black swirl pattern by BIA from
HomeGoods a few years ago.

White snapdragons in a yellow vase dominate
the foreground in this photo.

A yellow table calls for a yellow menu, and the dishes I have chosen to serve all have yellow ingredients (the soup is almost blindingly yellow!).  Even the Hedgehog Shortbread Cookies are pale yellow in color, and are about the cutest dessert ever!  Check out the original recipe for detailed instructions on shaping the dough for these cookies.

Modern Yellow Hedgehog Table Menu:

Hedgehog Shortbread Cookies*

From The Little Spork

*Hedgehog Shortbread Cookies

1 C. butter
3/4 C. sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 C. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 C. semisweet chocolate chips, melted (use more if needed)
1/2 C. finely chopped walnuts or pecans (use more if needed)

Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.  Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl.  Add to the butter mixture and mix well.

Mold the dough in the palm of your hand into an oval shape, using enough dough to fit comfortably in your palm.  Place the oval onto an ungreased baking sheet and pinch one end to form a pointed "snout".  Place the cookies 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.  Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes until set but not browned.  Cool on wire racks.

Gently dip the back three-quarters of each cookie in the melted chocolate and then roll the tops in the chopped nuts (you could also spoon the chocolate over and sprinkle the nuts on top).  Place some of the melted chocolate in a plastic sandwich bag.  Cut off a tiny snippet from a corner and squeeze dots of chocolate onto the front snout end to form two eyes and a nose (you can also use a toothpick dipped in the melted chocolate).

Note:  Substitute any chopped nuts you like for dipping, or even chocolate sprinkles (and if you are feeling really crazy, try multicolored sprinkles!).

Instead of chocolates, bright yellow Lemonheads are the candy of choice for this table!

Summer may be coming to an end soon, but this sunshine yellow table lets me savor the season just a little bit longer.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Happiness Soup

Happiness Soup is another warm-weather recipe from Nigella Lawson's Forever Summer cookbook.  The color alone makes this soup worth trying, but the flavor will not disappoint.  It is also extremely easy to prepare with ingredients that are readily available (here in the South yellow squash is a summer staple).  Brighten your day with a bowl of this cheerful soup soon!

Happiness Soup

3 T. olive oil
1 lb. yellow squash, finely diced
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp. turmeric
4 C. chicken stock
1/2 C. basmati rice
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add the squash and the lemon zest and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the squash has softened.  Add the turmeric, stock, and lemon juice.  Stir in the rice and simmer, uncovered, for 10-20 minutes until the squash and rice are tender.  Season to taste.  Serve warm (not hot).  Serves 4.

Note:  Substitute zucchini for the yellow squash and/or vegetable stock for the chicken if you like, although you will obviously not get a bright yellow soup with those ingredients!  You could also add a finely diced small onion at the beginning if you feel ambitious.

You can top this soup with shredded cheese (I used an Italian blend, but cheddar would be nice), or with dill and a dollop of sour cream (we had some dill paste in the fridge, so I used a few dabs of that) as in the photo below:

My photo is not quite as eye-catching as the bright yellow
image at the top of the post!

If you are a novice when it comes to knife skills, then you may have trouble finely dicing the squash. The best instructions I have ever seen for dicing vegetables was demonstrated on "Chasing the Yum", a show on the Veria Living channel hosted by Jet Tila.  Watch the video below as this chef explains how to mince ginger --  the technique is exactly the same for a vegetable like summer squash:

Just remember to cut the squash into a manageable size first (I usually cut mine into thirds crosswise).  Also resist the urge to cut each third in half first, which is what I always want to do for some reason.  Stand the squash upright on a cut side.  Start at one end and begin slicing your tiles (long thin slices) toward the other end, cutting straight down.  Then take half of the tiles, lay them long flat end down, and cut the matchstick slices the same way.  I am right-handed, so I find it helps to hold the tiles in place with my left hand between the thumb and last three fingers, using my index finger to hold the matchsticks in place when pulling the knife back up so that they stay in place.  Finally, dice the matchstick pieces, only this time instead of cutting straight down, bring the knife down tip first and cut in a sort of rocking motion (this keeps the  pieces from scattering all over the place).  After that, you're done (really, it is much easier doing the cutting than trying to explain it)!

I highly recommend watching more "Chasing the Yum" episodes on both the Veria Living site and YouTube.  Jet Tila is a fantastic teacher, and provides numerous useful tips that can often be used for all sorts of cooking, not just the four Asian cuisines he highlights on the show.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: UO Master Bedroom Wish List

View of Atlanta (from HGTV)

Last week I featured a style board wish list for the dining room décor of the 2014 HGTV Urban Oasis in Atlanta, using only items from AllModern, one of the sweepstakes sponsors.  This week I present my AllModern master bedroom style board.  The floor plan used shows a spacious room with a separate seating area as well as room for a dresser and even a television stand in front of a large window.  My inspiration for this space started with the Mash Studios PCH Series Canopy Bed, and the color scheme was based on the Eastern Accents Dawson Bedding Collection I chose for the bed:

Clockwise from top left: Eastern Accents Dawson Bedding Collection; Maxwell Dickson "Horses on the Wall" painting; ; Urbangreen Smith 3 Drawer Nightstand (Maple with Amber finish); Adesso Hamptons Floor Lamp; DwellStudio Hans Leather Chaise (Stargo Brown Sugar leather with French Oak leg finish); HGTV Home Textured Pedestal End Table; Jeffan Moza 57" TV Stand; Urbangreen Smith 10 Drawer Dresser (Maple with Amber finish); Mash Studios PCH Series Canopy Bed; Center background: Inhabit Pyrus Rug in Persimmon.

Next week you get to see my AllModern living room choices.  These style boards are so much fun!