Rice pudding

Rice pudding is one of those dishes that I never thought I would like until I tried it. Mixing something that’s usually considered savory with sugar and cream just seemed strange. But the first time I had good, chilled rice pudding I gave in completely.

My favorite recipe so far is from Barefoot Contessa. I believe she uses raisins and a splash of rum, but I skip those and have it plain.

Rice Pudding

3/4 c. white basmati rice
1/2 t. kosher salt
5 c. half-and-half (really)
1/2 c. sugar
1 large egg, beaten
1-1/2 t. pure vanilla extract
1/2 t. cinnamon

Combine the rice and salt with 1-1/2 cups water in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring it to a boil, stir once and simmer, covered, on low heat for 8 to 9 minutes, until most of the water is absorbed.

Stir in 4 cups half-and-half and sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer, uncovered, for 25 minutes, until the rice is very soft. Stir often, particularly toward the end.

Temper the egg by adding a few ladles of liquid before stirring it into the pot (this is optional — it will still taste great without the egg). Cook for 1 minute more. Off the heat, add the remaining cup of half-and-half, vanilla and cinnamon. Stir well. Chill and serve.

Shipwreck stew

This is one of those recipes that came out of a random cookbook, probably from the ’70s, and became a fixture in our home growing up. It’s called Shipwreck Stew, but it’s really a casserole you bake for two hours. Make it on a Sunday and you’ll have dinner a couple nights that week.

Originally it was made with ground beef and chopped tomatoes, which became really dry on top. I adapted it several times when I became vegetarian and am finally satisfied with this version.

Shipwreck Stew

1 large onion, chopped
4 ribs celery, chopped
2 T. butter
3 c. peeled and diced golden potatoes
1/2 c. uncooked basmati rice
1 28-oz. can dark kidney beans, drained
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
1 T. chili powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brown onions and celery in skillet in butter over medium heat. Mix Worcestershire sauce and chili powder into can of crushed tomatoes. Layer half of the onions/celery, then potatoes, rice, beans and tomatoes in 9X13 baking dish and repeat with other half. Cover with foil and bake for two hours. Check on it once to make sure the rice is not drying out.

To make it meaty: Add a layer of ground beef (raw, so it will cook in the 2 hours).

*Update! My dad shared with me the story of where this recipe came from. Thanks, dad!

In 1973 or so my girlfriend at the time in Manhattan lived in a kind of commune hippy house with several other people. They each shared cooking duties and prepared meals for the whole house. One of the members (a guy of course) had really no experience in cooking, so he began perusing cookbooks for something relatively easy that would serve 8 people. At last he found a recipe called Shipwreck stew in one of the cookbooks that belonged to my girlfriend. With its simple ingredients and preparation the resulting dish was much loved by all the hippies in the house! Anyway somehow the cookbook ended up at my apartment and didn’t make it back to her after we parted ways. So I kept the cookbook and now you and Megan have experienced the magic of the hippy commune Shipwreck stew. I’m sure that it will be shared with friends and future generations to come.

Bamboo cable knit hat

As a person who admittedly likes everything just-so, I like to have a hat and a pair of gloves in the pockets of all of my winter coats. I’m very likely to forget one or the other if I just grab a coat out of the closet. And I have lots of coats. So when I bought my newest coat, a long, black pea coat, I had a cute striped scarf and gloves but no hat. I have to knit another hat? Darn. I actually really needed something crafty to work on after a month of crazy weather, busy work and insane shopping trips.

I decided I wanted a super soft cream colored hat and I found the perfect yarn for it at Michael’s. It’s actually bamboo, which makes me even happier. I like to use sustainable materials when possible.

Anyway, I used the pattern for a basic cable hat from “Stitch ‘n Bitch Nation.” My yarn was labeled bulky, but it really isn’t much thicker than the Lamb’s Pride worsted I used the last time I made the hat. Plus, I have a big head. So the only adjustment I made was to add a couple of rows after the cabling was done because I wanted it slightly longer. It worked beautifully.

My first (big) blanket: finished!

So, 140 little squares later my blanket is finished. Sewing the squares together was not difficult, but it was tedious and it left a million little ends to deal with. I never really feel good about the ends hanging out, even if I have weaved them in, but oh well. That’s what makes something handmade.

Since I altered the color scheme I really didn’t know how this blanket would turn out. But I have to say, I love it. It achieved the effect I wanted, which was a blanket that was both old school and modern.

I’m now formulating some ideas for more granny square projects, possibly even some to sell.

My first (big) blanket

Months ago when I knew I was about to be laid up in bed for several weeks I decided to make a crocheted blanket. Well, that plan failed miserably, as the medicines I took knocked me out and made concentration on a craft all but impossible. But I did start the blanket, and I kept at it, picking it up every few weeks and making a few more squares. It’s a typical granny square afghan, except that it’s arranged in blocks of color. I adapted the pattern from on in my old fave, the Happy Hooker book. Theirs was supposed to resemble the pattern that appears when your TV goes out.

I preferred the softer colors, specifically the ones in Cotton Ease yarn. So that’s what I used. At full price it’s a lot of money ($4.99 a skein), but I was able to find it on sale for $3 a skein a couple times at Michael’s.

At first the little squares took ages. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to follow the directions in the pattern for each square, or the one I learned on, which appears earlier in the book. Basically the difference is whether your center ring should be 4 or 6 stitches. I ended up going with 4.

Now I am nearly done with the squares and just have to sew it all together. The finished blanket is actually kind of small, more of a throw, but I’m proud of it all the same. And I’ve got to wrap it up as I’ve got aplenty of homemade Christmas gifts to get to work on.

Tiny pears!

Shortly before Thanksgiving I spotted the cutest little pears at the grocery store. They’re called Forelle pears, and I bought a bag so I could display them at my Thanksgiving dinner for 13 (!!). Well, in the rush to put everything together, I forgot all about the little pears. But after everyone left I found them in the crisper and decided to try them for a snack. They’re delicious! Definitely a little sweeter than regular pears, and with a thicker skin that sort of pops when you bite into it.

Office additions

When I get a chance (read: a few extra bucks) I try to upgrade my office/craft room a little. I got one of those 3×3 cubes from Target with the fabric drawers, which helped a lot. But I’m already in need of another one. So until I can get that put together, I’ve been focused on the walls.

I added these cork tiles (only $5.99 for 4 at Target) because I like them more than a plain cork board.

They are also great for showing off my little thumb tacks made with fabric covered buttons.

I also stole yet another idea from Real Simple and put up a piece of grosgrain ribbon to hold postcards and other fun mail with little clothespins.

My next plan is to add that second 3×3 cube and fill it with see-through jars filled with buttons, ribbon, and other supplies I can’t see when they’re shoved in a drawer.

Accidental pizza

I’m kind of obsessive compulsive when it comes to using up leftovers. I was raised not to waste food, and it drives me crazy when things languish in our fridge. So today when I was making dinner I realized I had the makings of a little pizza that would use up some soy sausage and homemade tomato sauce that were sitting in two little Glad containers.

I spread the sauce – a mixture of tomatoes, onions and basil – on a pita (cut in half so Mike and I could each have some) and then sprinkled the Italian sausage flavored soy crumbles on top. Then I added some shredded mozzarella and heated it in a 400-degree oven for about 5 minutes.

It was wonderful! One of the best things I’ve ever created with leftovers. And if you use the soy crumbles and only eat half, you can consider it a pretty healthy snack.

Pesto Genovese

As soon as you walk into our garden you smell the sweet basil, and it just brings a smile to your face. So now that our plants are thriving I decided to pick a bunch of leaves and make pesto.

I have a great recipe from my friend Alessandra, who is from Viterbo, Italy. It’s your classic basil pesto with a LOT of garlic. She tosses it with pasta, and that’s what we did, too.

I find that this makes just enough to mix with a pound of pasta and have a little left over to spread on a grilled veggie sandwich.

Pesto alla Genovese for 4

2 cups of fresh basil leaves, washed and dried
3 tablespoons of pine nuts
5 garlic cloves, peeled (Yup, that’s 5.)
2 tablespoons of Pecorino cheese
4 tablespoons of Parmigiano cheese (or use all parmigiano)
Olive oil (maybe 1/3 cup?)
Salt to taste

Toss basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, a pinch of salt and cheese in a food processor or blender.

Add olive oil and pulse a few times until blended. At this point you’ll want to taste it and make sure the texture is smooth and moist. If it’s too dry, add more oil and pulse again.

That’s it. You’re done. Pesto is ridiculously easy to make. You don’t even have to cook it. Just toss it with cooked penne (I like Barilla Plus) and top with a little more cheese.

*Pesto freezing tip: If you want to save some pesto to drop into sauces or spread on sandwiches later, prepare the pesto without the cheese, and freeze it in an ice cube tray. When you’re ready to use, thaw a couple cubes and mix in the cheese.

Scrapbookery

I’ve never considered myself a scrapbooker. I don’t go down that aisle. I don’t do stamping. I do not need a super duper puncher thingy.

But let’s face it. If you’re crafty and you need to make a photo album, you’re gonna scrapbook the hell out of that thing.

After my recent trip to Europe I made what I would call an album/scrapbook hybrid. It’s mainly photos with minimal labeling and a few ticket stubs/maps/etc. thrown into a straightforward red canvas book with 12×12 pages (Martha at Michael’s, of course).

I had a booklet describing the different stops on my cruise, so I grabbed the place names from each page to divide the sections.

I stuck the photos on with cheap-y photo corners that proved difficult to use, to say the least. But I like the way photo corners look.

I thought the pages looked a little dull so I added some decorative tape here and there. I thought the patterns looked sort of Mediterranean.

Then, in the front I tucked in my travel journal. It’s just a little Moleskin lined notebook that I about half filled. I created a little pocket for it by cutting the backing off just the edges of a piece of decorative tape and sticking it down over the notebook.