Friday, September 26, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Super Easy Macaroni and Cheese

I love macaroni and cheese.  I will happily eat it in any form, even the boxed mix with the neon orange powder (although I do try to limit that option and have not had it in years).  I have several favorite recipes, but I recently found one called Revolutionary Macaroni and Cheese which has to be about the simplest version ever.  The secret to this simplicity is boiling the pasta in just enough milk to make the pasta tender and then create a sauce (there is no excess liquid to drain off).  You simply stir the cheese into the cooked pasta and eat.  It just doesn't get any easier!  If you prefer, you could pour the whole thing into a baking dish and create a baked casserole, but as far as I am concerned that sort of defeats the purpose of this simple recipe, so I say just go ahead and serve it straight from the pot.  It truly is delicious!

Super Easy Macaroni and Cheese

2 C. dried shell pasta (I used whole wheat)
2 1/4 C. whole milk
1/4 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1 C. shredded cheddar-mozzarella cheese blend*
1 tsp. Dijon mustard (optional - I did not use it)

Combine the pasta and milk in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and cook for about 15-20 minutes until the pasta is tender, stirring frequently.  Do not allow the milk to boil.  Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese, salt, and the mustard if using.  Add more milk, 1 T. at a time, to cool the pasta slightly and keep the mozzarella cheese from becoming too stringy (I used a total of 2 T. more milk).  Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a main dish.

Note: Stir in any additional ingredients you like (bacon bits, peas, diced tomato, ham, etc.).  For a baked casserole, pour the pasta and cheese mixture into a greased baking dish and sprinkle a generous amount of additional cheese over the top to cover completely.  Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes until the cheese topping is melted.

*Since I used pre-shredded cheese, I chose the cheddar-mozzarella blend for better melting (according to the original recipe source, pre-shredded cheddar can be too grainy because of the anti-clumping agent added).  This blend worked perfectly!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: Shades of Turquoise and Orange for Fall

Ocotober Skies by MsBellePhotography
(from Etsy)

As you must realize by now, autumn is my favorite season, and every year I like to choose one color to emphasize for the season.  This year, because of my current fixation on shades of blue, I have selected turquoise as that color.  Turquoise can range from almost green to quite blue, but I am particularly drawn to the bluer shades of turquoise paired with orange hues, and apparently I am not the only one.  There are a few images in my post of two weeks ago which feature this color combination, and take a look at the host of images I found while doing a quick Google search for this beautiful color pairing:

From Celebrations

From Young House Love

From Meghan Carter

(from Society6)

From Abby Hook Jewellery

From Coastal Shore Creations

From Wendy's Art and Craft Journal

From The Inspired Room

From McKenzie Creek Jewelry

From Simple Daisy

From Indian Summer

From The Inspired Room

Orange is one of my favorite colors and I already have a fair amount in my home décor, but I seriously need to add more of the color turquoise to my life!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Striped Throw from The Art Institute of Chicago

My blue mood continues, this week with a lovely Striped Throw ($125) from The Art Institute of Chicago.  The stripes, in shades of blue interspersed with muted red, orange, and yellow, would work with almost any color scheme.  Best of all, this 60-inch square throw of lightweight wool and silk would make a comfortable wrap for the fast approaching chilly evenings of fall, perfect for settling in with a good book and a mug of hot cider or chocolate!

Monday, September 22, 2014

On the Homefront: Trip to the Greek Isles Table

Blue-eyed Dalmatians Apollo and Athene welcome you to
a Greek feast fit for the gods!

Before I start thinking about autumnal table settings, I felt the need to set one more summery theme based upon the color blue which has been obsessing me lately.  I have also been wanting to do a table featuring some pretty mosaic fish and starfish-patterned plates I have had for many years but rarely seem to use.  Mosaic patterns make me think of the Mediterranean, and Greece in particular for some reason.  I have also been craving Greek food like the sort we had in New Mexico a couple of months ago (you would think that living near a town called Athens we would have at least one Greek restaurant nearby, but no such luck!).  For these reasons, I decided to do a "Trip to the Greek Isles" table featuring lots of blue and white with a coastal Mediterranean feel:

Unfortunately all of the dark colors, especially the blue
tablecloth, resulted in very dark photos.  The table truly
was not so somber-looking as the pictures seem to suggest!

Blue place mat; fish and starfish mosaic dinner and salad plates (made in Italy) from Pier 1 many long years ago; blue fish print napkin and blue fish chopstick/knife rest, both gifts from my husband a while ago; white-handled-flatware and blue goblet from Target ages ago; white coastal design water glass from Big Lots years ago.

(Using the flash helped lighten the look in close-up shots, but there was too much contrast for photos taken at a distance.)

A closer look at the dinnerware.

Two blue fish-shaped bowls will hold the side dishes.

The mosaic dessert plates are for the baklava.

Aqua-colored glass beads resembling sea glass
surround a large white candle.

A white and blue tray depicting a sea life scene holds the
two little Dalmatians, blue salt and pepper shakers, and a
blue vase filled with white daisy mums.

White votive candles in blue starfish-shaped holders flank
the tray.

(The light was so tricky from this angle that none of the
photos came out well, with or without flash.)

The menu is simple and easy to make.  Fish is the main course for this coastal-themed table, served up Greek-style (adapted from a recipe for salmon) with side dishes of rice and salad.  I love the eggplant-based dip called Baba Ganoush and it is not difficult to make, but you could serve hummus instead.  Though I have made Baklava from scratch before, it is a bit tedious and time-consuming.  I can often find it in some of the local grocery stores, so I prefer to purchase it rather than make it myself, although I have linked to The Pioneer Woman's recipe in the menu if you are feeling adventurous (she gives detailed and easy to follow directions, as well as lots of photos).

Trip to the Greek Isles Menu:

Baba Ganoush*/Pita Chips
Greek Style Baked Cod**
Greek Rice
Greek Salad I

3 T. olive oil
2 eggplants
1/4 C. tahini (see Note)
juice of 1 large lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. cumin
salt and pepper to taste
2 T. minced fresh parsley

Rub the outsides of the eggplants with 2 T. olive oil and place in a foil-lined baking pan.  Bake at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes, until the eggplant skin is charred and the flesh is tender.  Cool the eggplants and then remove the peel (discard the seeds as well if you prefer).  Roughly chop the flesh and place in a food processor.  Add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, some salt and pepper, and 2-3 tsp. water (I used the liquid left behind in the baking pan by the eggplants).  Process the mixture to a coarse paste, adding more liquid as needed if the mixture is too thick.  Adjust the seasonings.  Spoon into a bowl, cover, and chill for at least an hour to allow flavors to meld. When ready to serve, bring to room temperature and top with the minced parsley and remaining 1 T. olive oil.  Serve with pita chips.

Note: If you do not have or do not care for tahini, try using cashew or almond butter instead.  Stir in about 2 T. toasted sesame seeds for the flavor if you like.

**Greek-Style Baked Cod

2 T. olive oil
4 cod fillets (about 4 oz. each)
salt and pepper to taste
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1/4 C. crumbled feta cheese
1/4 small red onion, diced
2 tsp. chopped fresh oregano (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
4 kalamata olives, sliced
2 tsp. lemon juice

Coat the bottom of a glass baking dish with the olive oil (choose a dish size in which the fish will fit snugly but without touching).  Add the cod fillets and turn to coat on all sides with the oil.  Season to taste with the salt and pepper.  Sprinkle the remaining ingredients evenly over the top of the fish.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, until the fish just starts to flake with a fork.  Serves 4.

Greek Rice

1 C. uncooked long grain rice
2 1/4 C. chicken stock
2 tsp. minced fresh mint or oregano (or 1/2 tsp. dried)
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. garlic powder

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 12-15 minutes until the rice is tender and all of the liquid is absorbed (remove the pan from the burner and let sit, covered, until ready to use to ensure the rice is completely cooked).  Fluff the rice with a fork.  Serves 4.

Greek Salad I

3 T. olive oil
1 1/2 T. lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
3 tomatoes, cut into chunks
1/4 red onion, cut into slivers
1/2 English cucumber, cut into chunks
1/2 bell pepper, cut into slivers
4 oz. feta cheese, crumbled or cut into cubes
16 kalamata olives

Whisk together the first six ingredients in a small bowl.  Place the remaining ingredients in a large bowl.  Pour the dressing over and toss gently to combine.  Serves 4.

Dove milk chocolate candies in blue foil wrappers were lined up on two white ceramic fish-shaped plates:

(Just a bit of trivia - did you know that the dove is one
of the sacred animals of Aphrodite, the Greek
goddess of love, as is the fish?)

Lovely blue-eyed Dalmatian Aphrodite hopes you will
return again soon!

As they say in Greece, "καλή όρεξη", or bon appétit!

Breathtaking coastline on the Greek island of Santorini.

Seasonal Style: Autumn Bewitching

From Trend Fashion Designer

Once again the change of seasons has arrived, and with the onset of autumn comes my latest Seasonal Style post.  This time I've chosen styles in the colors of the popular fall holiday known as Halloween.  Even though almost everyone associates black and orange with that spooky celebration, these two colors can look quite stylish together.  Just check out the fashionable ensemble shown above, as well as the dramatic living room below:

From BresponZive

If you are in the mood for glamour with a bit of enchantment, this color combination may be just what the (witch) doctor ordered!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Foodie Fridays: Salsa Verde Chicken

The minute I saw the recipe for Super Simple Salsa Verde Chicken, I knew I just had to try it.  Lazy cook that I am, I could not resist a three-ingredient, one-pot recipe that involves nothing more than dumping everything into a pan and sliding it all into the oven.  Best of all, the result is so very satisfyingly delicious!  I made this on a busy weekday evening and it was absolutely effortless.  There will be a lot of very liquid sauce in the pan, so be sure to serve this dish over something that will absorb it.  I served the chicken with rice, but couscous would be a good and even quicker alternative (quinoa would also work).  I have a feeling this recipe will be making regular dinner appearances at our house from now on!

Salsa Verde Chicken

1 package (about 1 lb.) chicken tenders
1 jar (16 oz.) salsa verde (also known as tomatillo salsa)
1 C. shredded Mexican blend cheese

Coat a 7x11-inch baking dish with cooking spray.  Place the chicken tenders in the dish and cover completely with the salsa verde.  Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.  Sprinkle the cheese over the chicken and return to the oven.  Bake for an additional 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool slightly before serving over rice.  Serves 4.

Note:  The original recipe calls for two boneless, skinless chicken breasts, filleted to create four pieces of chicken, but I am so lazy that I prefer chicken tenders, which require no additional preparation at all!  I also used the whole jar of salsa verde, or about 2 cups.  If you prefer a less liquid sauce, drain some off from the jar before using.  If you are not a lazy cook, make your own fresh salsa verde and use that instead (the jarred version can be rather salty, and making your own lets you control the amount of seasoning).

Thursday, September 18, 2014

This 'n That Thursdays: In the Mood for Fall Food

From Desktop Nexus

I am so tired of hot weather.  I have never been a fan of summer (my least favorite season) and am more than ready for it to end.  Luckily, cooler temperatures are finally on their way here in the South.  I am especially looking forward to cooking and eating the comfort foods of fall.  A few of my favorites include macaroni and cheese (baked, not stovetop),

From The Soul Mom

a big pot of chili,

From The Distilled Man

hearty soups and stews,

From The Culinary Review

casseroles of all sorts,

From Pillsbury

hot cereals for breakfast,

From Quaker Oats

freshly baked breads,

From Dalhousie Gazette

cool weather vegetables such as winter squash, potatoes (both white and sweet), carrots, and all of the wonderful crucifers such as cabbage, kale, and Brussels sprouts,

From Food Network UK

and fall fruit desserts like apple crisp

From Food Network

and pumpkin pie!

From Baker's Treat

Light summer fare such as salads are all well and good, but I am craving the rib-sticking, soul-satisfying hot meals of autumn, and the only ice cream I want to see would be on top of a slice of warm apple pie!

From Land O'Lakes

(Hungry now?  So am I!)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Wish List Wednesdays: Indigo Rug from King Ranch Saddle Shop

I normally prefer warm colors, but for some reason I find myself attracted to shades of blue and turquoise as we head into the fall season.  I have already commented on a lovely set of turquoise Dog Bookends, and this week I am obsessing over the Indigo Rug ($184) from King Ranch Saddle Shop.  The colors on this southwestern-style wool beauty are deep but the shades of turquoise keep it from being too dark.  The 30x60-inch rug can be used on the floor or as a wall hanging, and King Ranch Saddle Shop has many rug rail options available.  My favorite is the studded Wood Rug Rail ($71):

The beautiful Indigo Rug has me ready to start singing (in praise of) the blues!