Friday, February 27, 2015

Foodie Fridays: Skillet Shrimp and Sausage Jambalaya

I meant to take a picture of my own dish, but somehow we managed to
 finish off the jambalaya first!  This is an image from The Foodie Physician
 (if you have more time, try the healthy recipe on this website).

February seems to have a disproportionate number of holidays for such a short month, especially for us as my husband and I both have February birthdays.  Last week almost every day was an occasion to celebrate -- Valentine's Day on Sunday, President's Day on Monday, Mardi Gras on Tuesday, and the Chinese New Year on Thursday.  We ate out at a small local restaurant for Valentine's Day, which was serving a special menu for the day (we like to support our local businesses and their food is fantastic).  Just for fun, on Monday we made a spur of the moment decision to eat a meal appropriate for each of the other holidays.  Since it was a busy day, we felt the need to get fast food, and wanted something that seemed like a typical all-American meal for President's Day.  Since we live in the South, we chose fried chicken, and who better than the Colonel to cook for us (we actually almost never eat fried chicken, so this really was an occasion)!

I described our Chinese New Year table earlier this week, so that just leaves Mardi Gras.  We have never celebrated this holiday before, and I wanted to make the meal myself as we were eating way too much restaurant food, so I found an easy Skillet Shrimp Jambalaya recipe and changed it a bit to suit our tastes.  I was lucky to find a King Cake at our local Publix, which was a dessert we had never eaten.  I bought the cinnamon version (there was also one with cheese) and it was really tasty, although the icing was a little excessive and the colored sugars are downright garish!  It also came with a little pink plastic baby toy that was positively creepy.  I later found out that the toy is meant to represent the baby Jesus and it is supposed to be hidden under the cake.  The person who gets the portion with the toy is then responsible for providing the next year's King Cake.  Originally the King Cake was baked with a large bean or even a tiny porcelain baby inside, but with the advent of plastics and lawsuits, the baby now ends up on top of store-bought cakes.  My only complaint is that the plastic baby is truly creepy -- in fact, my husband and I have started jokingly referring to this cake as Creepy Baby Cake!  Couldn't the manufacturers come up with a nicer-looking baby?

The creepy baby surrounded by
colorful sugar crystals.
(from Wikipedia)

Seriously, could you eat a piece of cake with this sticking out?
(from National Geographic)

Anyway, enough about the creepy baby, and on to the jambalaya recipe, which really is quick, easy, and excellent!

Skillet Shrimp and Sausage Jambalaya

4 T. olive oil
6 oz. andouille sausage link, sliced (I used a turkey version)
1 C. chopped onion
1/2 C. chopped celery
1/2 C. chopped bell pepper (I used a tricolor blend) 
3 C. vegetable broth
1 1/2 C. uncooked long grain rice
2 tsp. Creole seasoning*
1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce 
1/8-1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 cans (14 1/2 oz. each) diced tomatoes, drained
1 lb. cooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined**
1 1/2 C. frozen peas (optional and not traditional, but tasty)

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the sliced sausage and cook for a few minutes, then stir in the onion, celery, and bell pepper and sauté until tender.  Add the next six ingredients and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 15-20 minutes or until the rice is tender.  Stir in the tomatoes, shrimp, and peas.  Heat through and serve (my version is not very spicy, so put a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce on the table for those who like it hotter).  Serves 6.

*If you do not have Creole seasoning, substitute 1/2 teaspoon each salt, garlic powder and paprika (I used my favorite smoked paprika) plus about 1/4 teaspoon each of dried thyme, ground cumin and cayenne pepper for the 2 tsp. seasoning called for in the recipe.

**I used frozen cooked shrimp, but next time I will buy uncooked shrimp and cook it briefly in boiling water seasoned with a seafood boil for more flavor.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

This 'n That Thursdays: Orchid Daze: Pop! at the Atlanta Botanical Garden

A couple of weekends ago my husband and I headed to Atlanta for the opening of the Orchid Daze: Pop! exhibit at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.  The theme for this annual event was pop art, in particular the art of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Keith Haring.  The orchids were dazzling as usual, and the vibrant theme showcased brilliant colors which brightened a winter day.

Andy Warhol's iconic Campbell's Soup Cans (1962) inspired the entrance display,

which featured a long wall covered with rows of soup can replicas planted with two types of colorful orchids, Cattleyas and Paphiopedilums:



Orchids were given the Andy Warhol celebrity treatment:

These beauties give Marilyn Monroe some serious competition!

From iCollector

Some Andy Warhol wisdom:

After passing through an orchid-filled walkway,

the next exhibit featured orchids displayed in the style of Keith Haring:

Two works by the artist for comparison:

Untitled (1983) multicolored characters
(from Passion Estampes)

Untitled (1980)
(from Gladstone Gallery)

Some Keith Haring wisdom:

We unfortunately managed to miss the exhibit devoted to the art of Roy Lichtenstein, but the Garden's Fuqua Orchid Center blog posted these photos as the display was being assembled:

From The Orchid Column

Words of wisdom from Roy Lichtenstein
(from The Orchid Column)

Roy Lichtenstein is known for his comic book art-style works, of women in particular:

Girl in Mirror (1964)
(from Christie's)

Commissioned April 1966 Newsweek cover by Roy Lichtenstein
(from Blouin ARTiNFO)

Here are a few more photos of lovely orchids:

The exhibit is on display through April 12th.  If you are suffering from the winter doldrums right now, a visit to Orchid Daze 2015 at the Atlanta Botanical Garden is guaranteed to chase them away!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wish List Wednesdays: Dalmatian Print Table Runner

Given my love for Dalmatians and tablescapes, this Exotic Velboa Dalmatian Print Runner ($21.99) is a definite must-have for me!  The extra-long runner is 12x108 inches, and the easy-care fabric is a short-pile faux fur.

I have actually already placed my order, and I am happily planning future table settings incorporating this wonderful new find!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

On the Homefront: 2015 Chinese New Year Table

I had no goats, but I do have little glass sheep (from Pier 1 last year),
so I guess we are celebrating the Year of the Sheep!

Last week was one with many holidays, including the Chinese Lunar New Year.  2015 is the Year of the Goat/Sheep/Ram.  Apparently the word translation for this sign of the Chinese zodiac is vague, even in Asia, and different countries often choose either the goat or the sheep/ram as the year's symbol, with China preferring the goat and Japan opting for the sheep.  The goat/sheep/ram is supposedly my sign, but even this is confusing, as the Chinese Lunar New Year does not coincide exactly with our western calendar, so until recently I thought I was born in the Year of the Monkey!  Even so, I am happy to have any excuse for a party, so we celebrated the day with a Chinese meal.

The zodiac year in which you are born is supposed to be your unluckiest year, and ours did start off in an unusual way, as the restaurant was so busy that they accidentally handed my husband someone else's order as well as our own.  He did not realize this until he got home, so we ended up with more food than we ordered.  I do not know if this is a good or a bad sign for us, but our apologies to Bailey, whoever you are, as you seem to be the unlucky one this year!  At the very least our table was auspicious, with lots of red for luck and gold for wealth!

Sunburst Medallions Table Runner and placemat from Pier 1 last year; square white dinner plate from HomeGoods last year; red Waechtersbach bowl from Pier 1 decades ago; stainless steel flatware; red lacquer chopsticks and red wooden chopstick rest; red napkin; clear water and stemmed beverage glasses.

Lots of lucky red for the centerpiece -- a red candle surrounded
by red foil-wrapped milk chocolate Lindt Lindor truffles.

Gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins and white chocolate Lindt Lindor
truffles for prosperity in the new year!

My interpretation of the Tray of Togetherness for the new year.

Tangerines for luck and wealth in the new year.

As I mentioned earlier, we got Chinese takeout for our celebratory meal, and tried to include foods that have some association with the new year (for example, rice symbolizes abundance, long noodles represent longevity, dumplings bring wealth, shrimp are symbols of happiness and good fortune, etc.).  Even though a whole fish is considered essential to the meal, however, I still cannot bring myself to serve a dish that stares back at me!

Chinese New Year Menu:

Sizzling Rice Soup
Pan Fried Dumplings
Eggplant in Garlic Sauce
Mu Shu Shrimp
Vegetable Lo Mein
Steamed Rice
Sesame Balls

I've already described all of the sweet foods on my table, which are said to bring a sweet life to the coming year.  The sesame balls, which are deep-fried and expand while cooking, are also representative of the way our luck should expand as the year progresses!

From Ooopic

Happy Chinese New Year, everyone!  Wish me luck in this Year of the Goat/Sheep/Ram, because it looks like I am going to need it!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Foodie Fridays: Veggie Chili

I decided to make a slightly modified version of the recipe for Veggie Chili I found on The Pioneer Woman website one bleak and rainy day, and it was the perfect comfort food antidote.  It does take a little time to make, but the end result is worth the effort.  Best of all, you would never know that this hearty dish was so good for you, chock full of vegetables and beans and made with very little oil.  I make no apologies for the mountain of shredded cheese atop my portion, however -- I just happen to be one of those people who likes a little chili with my cheese!  Top your own serving with anything you like, but do be sure to give this recipe a try.

Veggie Chili

2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2-3 red bell peppers, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 C. stock, any flavor (I used unsalted chicken)
2 small cans (8 oz. each) tomato sauce (I used unsalted)
1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes (I used unsalted)
1 can (4 oz.) diced green chilies
1 tsp. oregano
1 T. cumin
2 T. chili powder
1 tsp. ancho chili powder
salt to taste
4 cans (about 14 oz. each) beans, any type, drained and rinsed
2 medium zucchini, diced
1/4 C. masa or cornmeal (I used white cornmeal)
1/2 C. warm water

In a very large pot, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onion, peppers, carrots, and celery.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until starting to soften.  Stir in the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes longer.  Add the oregano, cumin, chili powders, and salt to taste.  Stir and cook a few minutes longer.

Pour in the stock, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and diced green chilies.  Stir and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.  Add the beans and zucchini, stir, recover, and simmer for 30 more minutes.  Mix the masa or cornmeal with the water and stir it into the pot.  Simmer for 15 minutes.  Taste and adjust the seasonings.  Serve with your favorite toppings (cheese, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, cilantro, black olives, etc.).  Serves 12.

Note:  This recipe can be varied any way you like.  Add your own favorite vegetables (just about anything would work).  Vary the herbs and spices to suit your preferences (I don't like really spicy foods, but if you do then add hotter peppers, both fresh and ground).  Stir in 2 T. tomato paste for more tomato flavor, and/or replace some of the stock with Mexican beer.  I served this chili with corn muffins, but warmed tortillas, corn or tortilla chips, or even baked potatoes or spaghetti would also be good, and any leftovers would taste great on top of a plate of nachos, or even over eggs for breakfast!

I also wanted to add a comment about the use of so many canned products in this recipe.  Whenever I use processed foods, I like to minimize the amount of unnecessary preservatives and additives.  Here are a few helpful tips:

1) try to use products with five or fewer ingredients;
2) if possible, avoid anything with additives you can't pronounce and/or don't recognize;
3) I like to use unsalted or at least reduced sodium versions if available;
4) avoid added trans (hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated) fats.

The original recipe called for a can of Ro-tel tomatoes.  I did not have any on hand, and don't really use this ingredient as it has a lot of salt and I could not find a reduced sodium version.  I simply substituted a can of diced tomatoes and a can of diced green chilies for the Ro-tel tomatoes, but feel free to use the real thing if you prefer.  I tend to use very little salt when cooking, so season the chili according to your own tastes, adding salt as needed (it is much easier to increase the saltiness of a dish than it is to decrease it!).

Thursday, February 19, 2015

This 'n That Thursdays: Birch Lane Lodge Style Living Room

From Birch Lane

I recently discovered Birch Lane, a home décor website, and was quite impressed with what they have to offer.  Their furniture is mostly traditional, which is attractive but not really my preference.  However, I did find quite a few items more suited to a rustic lodge look, and I do enjoy that style.  Take a look at the living room style board I put together from the Birch Lane collection:

Clockwise from left to right: Newberry Side Table; Fletcher Sofa; Newberry Coffee Table; Louise Wool & Jute Pillow Cover; Risa Wool & Jute Pillow Cover; Antlered Deer Framed Print; grommet top Lola Curtain Panels in Flax; Owl Framed Print; Angelique Bowl; Surrey Table Lamp; Fletcher Love Seat; Center: large Industry Mirror; Center background: Farrah Rug.

This look makes me feel like I am back in the Rocky Mountains, warm and cozy by a crackling fire in a sturdy lodge-style home while snow falls soft and silent outside.  I do miss those mountains, even in the winter!