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The Best Pumpkin Pie

Once I tried this recipe, I quickly ditched the traditional one made with evaporated milk. This one is so much creamier! Plus, since it isn’t as thin, it is easier to get it into the oven without spilling it. (Klutz alert!) Just be careful not to over beat it so you don’t beat too much air into the eggs.

The Best Pumpkin Pie

1 9-inch unbaked pie crust
1 (15 ounce) can solid pumpkin puree
1 (14 ounce) can sweetened condensed milk*
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
With a hand mixer on low, beat the pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, spices, and salt together.
Pour into prepared pie crust.
Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F; bake 35 to 40 minutes longer OR until knife inserted 1 inch from crust comes out clean.
Cool. Serve with whipped cream. Refrigerate leftovers.

*NOT evaporated milk!

Creamy Baked Apples

You’ve never had baked apples like this before! This is an old family recipe that is ‘required’ at Thanksgiving but eaten all year round. The original recipe from my husband’s great grandmother called for baking the apples in the oven. I was in a hurry one day and tried the microwave and no one could tell a difference. The smaller the apple slices, the quicker they cook. Be careful not to over cook them though, or they start turning into applesauce. Still tasty, but not as pretty.

It works fine to use light butter and/or reduced fat milk to trim a few calories. The leftovers are delicious cold or reheated.

Creamy Baked Apples

3-4 large granny smith or Winesap apples
butter
cinnamon sugar
1 1⁄2 tablespoons flour
1⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
cinnamon
nutmeg (optional)

Peel, core and slice apples. Place in a baking dish, and dot with butter.
Sprinkle generously with cinnamon-sugar.
Bake in microwave on HIGH for about 10 minutes or until fork inserts easily, stirring at least once.
Remove from microwave and set aside.
In saucepan bring flour, sugar and milk to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. It will be thick.
Remove from heat, add vanilla and stir well.
Pour over apples and sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg if you desire.
Serve hot or warm.

 

 

Stuffed Shells

Stuffed Shells is one of my daughter’s favorite meals. It is usually what she requests for her birthday. Which is okay with the rest of the family because we all love it. It’s an excellent choice when you need to serve something to guest, especially if you need a meatless dish. It can be made ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen. (Thaw on the counter before cooking.) I’ve even cooked them in the crock-pot. It works best to double the sauce so they don’t dry out in the crock-pot.

Stuffed Shells

Cheese filling:
2 lbs. ricotta cheese
1/2 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. parsley flakes
1/8 tsp. pepper

1 (32 oz.) jar marinara sauce
1 large box large shell pasta

Mix all ingredients for cheese filling thoroughly.
Cook manicotti pasta according to package directions. Drain; handling carefully, stuff each shell with 1/3-1/2 c. of cheese filling. (I use a large spoon and eyeball it.)
Cover the bottom of a 3 quart baking dish with a thin layer of spaghetti sauce. Lay shells side by side. Pour remaining sauce over stuffed shells. Sprinkle top with extra Parmesan cheese. Bake ate 350 degrees F for 40 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Buttermilk Doughnuts

Homemade doughnuts are the ultimate comfort food. Warm, fluffy, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth perfection.  Surprisingly, they are also fairly easy to make. I think the key to success is using in a Fry Daddy. It keeps the oil at the perfect temperature, which prevents the dough from absorbing too much oil. A word to the wise, don’t try substituting ANY of the ingredients called for or you’ll regret it. Don’t ask how I know…

Buttermilk Doughnuts

1 Tbls. dry active yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 cup buttermilk
3 Tbls. shortening, melted
3 Tbls. sugar
2 1/2-3 cup flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
Vegetable oil for frying
2 1/2 cup sifted powder sugar
1/4 cup milk

Dissolve yeast in warm water in a large bowl; let stand 5 minutes. Add buttermilk, melted shortening and sugar.
In a separate bowl combine 1 1/2 cup flour, baking powder and salt; mix into wet ingredients using a wooden spoon. Add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.
Turn dough onto a floured surface and knead several times. Roll dough to 1/2 inch thick and cut with a 2 1/2 inch doughnut cutter. Place doughnuts on lightly floured surface, (I use cookie sheets) cover and let rise 45 minutes or until double in bulk. Heat 2-3 inches of oil to 375°F. Drop in 2-3 doughnuts at a time. Cook about 2 minutes or until lightly golden in color, turning once. Drain well on paper towels.
Combine 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar with 1/4 cup milk, stir until smooth. Dip each doughnut in glaze while still warm; allow excess glaze to drip off. Cool on wire rack or serve warm.
Yields 12-14 doughnuts

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Years ago, I found a recipe for Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins in a Taste of Home magazine. It quickly became one of our favorite quick breads. They are excellent for breakfast, as a snack or even dessert. I’ve tweaked the ingredients and amounts over the years to make them healthier and tastier. Below, is the version we prefer.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

4 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil or light-tasting EVOO
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 (16 ounce) can solid packed pumpkin
1-2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
12 ounces semisweet mini chocolate chips

In a large bowl, mix first 6 ingredients together with a wooden spoon. (You can use any combination of oil and unsweetened applesauce, as long as it totals 1 1/2 cups. I’ve found that you need to use at least 1/4 cup oil, or the muffins end up gummy.)
Separately, mix dry ingredients in another bowl. Blend the dry ingredients into the wet mixture by hand, fold in chocolate chips. (Regular sized chocolate chips work fine too. We just prefer mini.)
Generously fill 24-30 greased muffin cups.
Bake at 400 degrees F for 16-20 minutes.

If you double bag them in Freezer Zip-loc storage bags, they freeze beautifully. Just let them thaw on the counter for a couple hours.

If you’d like to make mini muffins, bake them for about 10 minutes.

A Lesson in Lighting

We all know lighting can set the mood, or ruin it, in real life. While taking photos this morning of my Avocado Toast, I was reminded of how true this is in photography as well. The ambiance you are trying to express may dictate how you light your shot.

These images were taken within minutes of each other with the exact same light source; a window on my left. The early morning sunlight was streaming in brightly. It made for some harsh shadows with a lot of contrast. Because of this, it is easy to establish the setting as early morning.

Adding a diffuser between the plate and window and a reflector on the right to bounce some of the light back, and the same setting becomes a little more generic.

It could still be morning, but how early or late in the day? It could also be a midnight snack or supper.

Lighting plays a very important role in establishing or removing a set time in your images, as well as, in creating mood.

Avocado Toast

While thumbing through a magazine in a waiting room, my attention was grabbed by a food presentation I had never seen before. I didn’t know what the dish was, but I knew I wanted it. The caption informed me it was “the latest crazy on Instagram” i.e. Avocado Toast. Apparently, I wasn’t hanging out in the right corners of IG and was being deprived of this amazing discovery.

I slipped the magazine back in the rack when my name was called, forgetting to make a note of what issue it was. The delectable memory was called to mind recently when I spotted some lovely avocados in the grocery store. After returning home, I searched the internet in vain for the image I had seen in the nameless publication. I finally gave up and decided to just try creating my own version. The results were aesthetically pleasing and satisfyingly delicious.

Avocado Toast My Way

  • 1 slice, multi-grain bread
  • 1/2 avocado
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes, sliced lengthwise
  • fresh basil, chopped, to taste
  • fresh garlic chives, chopped, to taste
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Lightly spray a small frying pan with EVOO. Heat to medium. Add the prepared tomatoes, chopped herbs and fresh ground pepper to pan. Stir and cook until slightly soft. Meanwhile, toast the bread. Mash half the avocado onto the toast. Spread the cooked tomatoes mixture over the avocado. Return the frying pan to the stove top. Fry the egg to your liking. Transfer to the plate and top with fresh ground pepper, salt and additional herbs if desired.

Blueberry Mojitos

A refreshing poolside drink that helps use up the over abundance of blueberries right now.

Original recipe found on Inspired Taste.

Blueberry Mojitos

  • 8 blueberries, plus more for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 8 fresh mint leaves, plus more for garnish
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) white rum
  • Ice
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) cold club soda
  • Lime slices for garnish

Place blueberries, lime juice, sugar and the 8 mint leaves in a cocktail shaker. Use the end of a wooden spoon or cocktail muddler to muddle the mint into the lime juice and sugar, releasing the oils. Add rum, stir well to dissolve the sugar. Pour into a glass filled with ice, leaving about an inch of room then top with club soda. Stir carefully to combine. Garnish with extra blueberries, mint leaves and a lime slice.

These amounts are for 1 drink. To make enough for four people you will need: 1/2 cup blueberries, 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice, 3 tablespoons sugar, 32 fresh mint leaves, 1 cup white rum, 4 cups ice, 1/2 cup club soda, and additional blueberries, mint leaves and limes for garnish.

 

Hot Bacon Dressing

My husband asked me to serve a spinach salad with hot bacon dressing for a dinner party we were giving for friends. I found this one online. It easy to prepare and delicious. I served it over a simple salad of spinach topped with shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese and served it with a Viognier blend wine from Australia. Everything paired beautifully! It also pairs well with a Riesling.

Hot Bacon Dressing

8 slices meaty bacon
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup white vinegar

 

  1. Fry bacon until very crisp. Drain, crumble and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the sugar, cornstarch and salt, and slowly pour in water and vinegar, whisking constantly.
  3. In a medium pan, add the crumbled bacon and pour the vinegar mixture over it. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens slightly.
  4. Remove from heat and allow to cool for about 15-20 minutes. It will continue to thicken.

Serves approximately 10-12. I cut the recipe in half without any problems.

Cheesy Cauliflower

While we love macaroni and cheese, we do not love the carbs. When I ran across George Stella’s recipe for Cauliflower “Mac” and Cheese Casserole, I knew I had to try it, even though I’m not a huge cauliflower fan. It’s actually even better than it sounds!

As usual, I tweaked it a bit to suit my cooking habits and our tastes. Since I don’t use garlic in any of my Mac & Cheese recipes, I skipped it here too. We both felt the consistency was more comparable to potatoes than pasta. I have a feeling if you used the garlic, the comparison would be even closer to an au gratin potato type dish than macaroni and cheese.

I served it with ham steaks, steamed sugar snap peas and pinot grigio. We are both hooked and I can see a lot of it in our future!

Cheesy Cauliflower

1 large head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1 cup heavy or light cream
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
8 oz. shredded 2% extra sharp Cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray an 8x8inch baking dish or similar sized casserole dish with vegetable oil spray.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the cauliflower in the boiling water until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well in a colander while preparing the sauce.

Warm the cream in a small saucepan, and stir in the cream cheese and mustard until smooth. Stir in approximately 6 ounces of the shredded cheese, salt and pepper and stir until the cheese melts, about 1 to 2 minutes. Meanwhile, transfer the cauliflower to the baking dish. Remove the sauce from the heat, pour over the cauliflower, and stir to combine. Top with the remaining cheese and bake until browned and bubbly hot, about 20 minutes.

Easy Refrigerator Rolls

Freshly baked bread is my absolute favorite comfort food. A lot of times, homemade baked goods go stale quickly since they lack all the preservatives their cousins, store-bought bread, contain. That’s the beauty of this recipe. You can prepare the dough up to 3 days ahead of time and just store it in the refrigerator until you bake it. Or, you can bake a little bit each day and have 2-3 days of warm, fresh rolls on hand. Win, win, win!

I did just that this week. I prepared the dough on Wednesday and baked 12 of these golden orbs of delight to go with my homemade Vegetable Beef Soup. Then on Thursday, I prepared the rest of them up to take to a friend who had recently lamented not being able to eat her Grandmother’s dinner rolls anymore. She deemed them “perfect!”

Easy Refrigerator Rolls

1 cup warm water
2 Tbls. yeast*
1⁄2 cup real butter, melted
1⁄2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
4 1⁄4 cups bread flour

Combine water and yeast in a large bowl. Let stand for 5 minutes.
With wooden spoon, stir in the melted butter, sugar, eggs and salt.
Add flour, 1 cup at a time and mix to combine thoroughly. I use the dough hooks on my handheld mixer. Do not overwork.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or up to 3 days.
Grease a 13×9 baking pan or two 9-inch cake pans. Divide dough into 24 equal pieces, rolling into smooth round balls.
Place in prepared pan. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for about 1 hour; or until doubled.
Preheat your oven to 375°F. Bake until golden brown, about 18-20 minutes. Best served warm. ♥

*do not use rapid rise yeast

You can easily eat them without anything on them, thanks to all the butter already in them, but I love them with a good, homemade jam.

 

Adventure!

Have you ever wanted to throw caution to the wind, quit your job and head off on an adventure?? Yeah, me too.

Of course, we usually don’t think such bold, daring moves are possible. Or, maybe we think they are possible, but we aren’t capable of them because of the size of our bank account or other limitations imposed on us by society. And then I met these two…

My niece, Vicki, has been a responsible adult for several years. Day after day, she went to work to earn enough money to save up for another trip. Having a job, however, also limited how much she was free to travel. She was stuck in the never-ending cycle of being a hardworking adult with bills to pay and little time or money leftover for big trips.

In December of 2017, all that changed. She quit her job and is currently enjoying life “down under” on what could be described as a true working vacation. She first learned of this ‘work exchange’ program through a friend. Basically, you agree to do manual labor in exchange for room and board. Her day consists of a variety of chores on a ranch in the Australian mountains. In her free time, she’s exploring this intriguingly different continent and blogging about her adventures.

One of Vicki’s inspirations was her good friend Heather. When I first met Heather about a year ago, she was contemplating a daring adventure of driving across America in a van she had converted into her home away from home. She was obviously nervous, but determined to give it a go. She’s been on the road now since July 2017 along with her faithful 4-legged companions plus old and new friends along the way. She has zigzagging her way across the entire country enjoying one escapade after another. For those of us left home to dream, we can enjoy her spectacular photography of our great nation via her Instagram feed.

I admire these two women more than I can express. They are living a travel experience that most of only dream of having!! They dared to dream big AND make those dreams come true.

There’s a saying that our lives are empty journals. What will you write in yours?

 

 

Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese

There’s not much more appealing in the category of comfort food then a plate full of Mac and Cheese. This version is an easy stove-top variety with the added plus of having been tweaked to make it more waist friendly without losing any taste. The secret is the hot sauce and dry mustard.

Dress it up a bit for adults by serving it with a buttery, oaked Chardonnay. It makes an excellent side dish for grilled ham steaks or enjoy it as your main course.

Stove Top Macaroni and Cheese

8 oz. elbow macaroni
3 tablespoons light butter
1 egg
6 ounces milk
1⁄2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh black pepper, to taste
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
8 ounces 2% extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded or cubed

In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to desired tenderness and drain.
Melt the butter in the pan on low. Return the pasta to the pot and toss to coat.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and dry mustard. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese. Stir over low heat until cheese has melted and creamy.

Flat Lay Backgrounds

Flat lay photography is extremely popular in the stock photo world. A flat lay is when several items are arranged aesthetically and then photographed looking straight down on them. It is also known as an overhead shot.

A couple years ago, a friend who works with reclaimed wood got me some planks that I use frequently in my photography. (see above) The only problem is, they are uneven. That is an issue especially when I am using them as a “table.” I not only have to arrange items to look balanced and artistic, I have to make sure nothing like a bottle or glass are sitting on an uneven seam.

While remodeling our laundry room, we contemplated the popular peel-and-stick vinyl planks for flooring. While we decided against putting it on a bumpy concrete floor, it dawned on me that I could use them to create my own backgrounds.

The first one I made, I attached to the back of my white Masonite boards that I’ve mentioned before.

I laid it out in thirds like you would a floor. I realized afterwards that might not have been the best idea. However, I was pleased with results in my first desk flat lay shoot.

I immediately went back to the store for other colors and textures. I found some wider and longer planks that looked more like a table when I was finished laying them out evenly rather than staggered.

Even though it is difficult to see in the photos, this actually covers about 50% more space than the first background as it is on a much larger Masonite board. I have been extremely pleased with the results.

I had also found some lighter gray planks on that second shopping trip. Right before I was going to start mounting them on a board, I had a brainstorm. I decided to just trim the edges of the paper backing with a box cutter and leave them as individual planks.

This has allowed me to vary my layout depending on the look I need in a photo.

I have found this background works well when I need a lighter overall feel in an image.

So while the individual planks are more versatile, one advantage I found to them being mounted on a board is I can also use them as a “wall” in the background of a photo.

Considering how inexpensive and versatile these backgrounds are, I am a huge fan! If you decide to try making your own, please share your results.

Cheers!

Tangy Salmon Fillets

Salmon is one of my favorite types of fish. I especially like it marinated and then grilled, broiled or baked so the edges get crispy. This tangy mustard, vinegar, sesame based marinade is a favorite. I usually serve it over a non-seasoned rice medley with roasted asparagus or roasted green beans on the side, if I am baking the salmon anyway.

Tangy Salmon Fillets

1-2 lbs salmon fillets
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon EVOO
1 teaspoon spicy brown mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
3 green onions or chives, sliced

Combine vinegar, soy sauce, honey, oil, mustard, and ginger in a microwave-safe measuring cup. Warm slightly, 15-20 seconds, to help the honey dissolve and blend with the other ingredients. Stir well.
Place the fillets in a Ziploc bag and pour the marinade over them. Seal and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, turning over at least once.
Drain and discard marinade.
Bake on a foil-lined baking pan at 450°F for 20 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds and onions or chives.

Broil: Place under a preheated broiler for 8-10 minute. Turn over and continue broiling for 5-10 minutes or until it flakes easily with a fork. You will need to keep an eye on it as it may start smoking if too close to the broiler element. If your fillets have skin, broil the skin side first. It will bubble and crisp up with makes separating it from the meat a lot easier.

Grill: Grill covered, over medium high heat for 15 to 20 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

If you want to roast asparagus or green beans at the same time, place trimmed and washed ones on another foil-lined pan. Mist with EVOO and stir lightly to coat. Add fresh ground pepper and salt to the green beans or just salt to the asparagus. Bake at 450°F for about 12-15 minutes or until tender.

PLEASE NOTE: I have a convection oven which enables me to bake both pans at the same time with even results. If you don’t, you will probably need to switch and rotate pans halfway through.