Sunday, September 30, 2012

Playing with My Food: Harvest Pasta

It's a well-known fact in the Handyverger household that I am physically incapable of following a recipe.  I always start out with the best of intentions, with my recipe printed out and in hand, all my ingredients bought and ready to start.  And then I start.  And then partway through, I look at what I'm cooking and say to myself, "Hm, I wonder what would happen if I added..."

I'm going to hang my head in shame now, since I've been sternly told more than once that the first time you make a recipe, you should follow it to the letter - improvise the next time.  I just can't help myself!  I have poor cooking impulse control!

So, tonight, I improvised on a pasta dish I've made in the past, Val's Proscuitto, Asparagus and Parmesan Spaghetti.  I've varied the recipe a bit each time I made it.  It's particularly delicious if you take the time to caramelize the onions first, and I've also made it with shallots in place of the onions.  I've added more garlic.  More mushrooms.  Made it without the prosciutto.  Made it without the heavy cream - light cream works decently in this recipe, but fat free half and half, less so.  I'm still working out the kinks in making it a lower fat recipe.  I've also made it omitting the cream altogether and just adding in parmesan cheese.  All the variations have been fantastic.

I was going to make this pasta for my mother's visit right before we went to Alaska, but I couldn't find any decent asparagus in the grocery stores (in fairness, it's very much out of season in New England).  I started thinking about more seasonal food and then it hit me - butternut squash!   That was the first time I improvised my Harvest Pasta.  My mother helped me cook (and by help, I mean watched), and she remarked that watching me cook was like watching a dance.  I decided not to ask her what type of dance. She might've said the Funky Chicken.

Tonight, my shallots were a bit mushy, so a little more tweaking occurred.  I can't give an exact recipe, since I rarely measure things once I've made something once or twice.   Basically, you mince your garlic (I used 3 cloves), and if you want onions or shallots, caramelize them in olive oil over medium heat along with the garlic.  Add a container of pre-sliced mushrooms (or slice them yourself), and sautee until the mushrooms are soft and golden around the edges (in other words, cooked!).   Use either a 3 or 4 oz container of prosciutto, torn into smaller pieces, and add to the pan.  Cook until ... cooked.  (I'm so helpful, right?)

Once the prosciutto is cooked, add your squash.  I used frozen "winter squash" that comes already mashed up, rather than cut in cubes.  If you're not lazy like me, you could cook your own butternut squash for this.  I find that using the pureed squash helps give the sauce a creamy texture without adding heavy cream, though.  Stir the squash in thoroughly, and try not to be too horrified at the unnatural shade of orange your sauce is.  At this point, I added some golden raisins to the mix, and about 1/2 cup of fat free creamer to thin the sauce out a bit.

This is where it gets fun (for me).  I seasoned the sauce to taste with cinnamon, onion powder, black pepper, chili powder, curry powder and a few fresh basil leaves.   The key is to add only a little at a time, and to learn what tastes "go" together.  I used a decent amount of cinnamon, a good bit less of curry powder, a hint of black pepper and the tiniest smidge of chili powder.  I also added about 1/4 cup shredded asiago and 1/4 cup shredded parmesan.  You might want to add salt here, as well, but I prefer not to add salt to recipes in the cooking stage as much as possible.  I prefer to season at the table, and that way, each person can adjust to his own tastes.

While you're doing all this, you should have been boiling water and cooking pasta (oops, should have mentioned that earlier!).  For something with a heavy sauce like this, I like to use a good, dense pasta.  Angel hair pasta was great with the asparagus & parmesan version, but I used cavatappi for this one.

Once the pasta is ready, drain it and return it to a large bowl.  Spoon your sauce on top, and stir thoroughly.  I cut up some grape tomatoes and added them to my pasta, and sprinkled a little extra Parmesan cheese on top.

Feel free to send any questions along! And don't be afraid to play with your food a little.


Mrs. H.

Sharing at:
Alderberry Hill's Make the Scene Monday

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Caturday Quickie: Wreath Update

Hello, dearies!

Just a quick post on a dreary Saturday.  A couple weeks ago, before my trip to Alaska, I decided my feather wreaths needed a seasonal update.

This is, of course, the very same wreath that is pictured here:

I removed the blue flowers (made super easy by just pinning the flowers onto the styrofoam wreath form), made some new ones using the same technique, and voila!  A wreath that looks more fall than summer.

A few close-ups of the new flowers.  In addition to some quilting weight cotton prints, a shimmery satin, my chocolate and ivory zebra fabric, and some velvet, I tested tissue paper in the flowers.

Again, most of these are from the scrap pile.

I'll be updating some more of my feather wreaths around the house in the upcoming weeks, but here's a last shot of the wilder, more autumny wreath (is autumny a word?).

And since it's Caturday, Lancelot says hi from amidst his counter surfing.

Mrs. H.

Sharing at:

Chic on a Shoestring's Flaunt-it Friday party
Debbiedoos Newbie Link Party

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Autumn Pianoscape

Although I have a mantel, it's large, and I find it very hard to style, mainly because of the built-in shelves over it.  They're fantastic, really - I just don't know what to do with them!  A very unstyled collection of knick-knacks has built up there, needing some serious editing.

So, for now, I'm satisfying myself with styling my piano for fall.  This is how it started out at the end of August.  Let me also note that while I've figured out my camera for landscape photography, I'm still working on interior shots!  Sorry!

And now?

See the real mantel in the background?  Fantastic potential, but I'm at a loss!

I added some fall leaves, pumpkins and some spooky decorations.  Yes, I know it's a little early for Halloween, but why not live a little?   Let's take a closer look.

The pumpkin is an artificial, carvable one (as is the other on the piano).  That way, I don't have to worry about it rotting, and it'll be around for next year.  The rat is one of my ratues; I thought it was seasonally appropriate, in an Edgar Allen Poe sort of way.  And the owl is a find from Juneau, Alaska.  I popped into a cute little store called Trove, and there he was, just calling, "Take me home!" How could I resist?

 The leaf garland is from my wedding, 10 years ago.  It's in surprisingly good shape, and I bring it out every fall.  In the back, you'll see I've added a mercury glass looking skull.  Thank you, Target!

And finally, the candlesticks are from Mikasa; they were a present from my mother.  I never realized I'd get so much use out of them, but they're so simple and elegant - they go with everything!

Once again, sorry for the photo quality.  Like I said, I'm still learning my camera, and the weather outside is sort of gray, meaning that I can't get a decent photo without a flash.

Mrs. H.

Sharing at:
Centsational Girl's Autumn Mantel Link Party
DIY by Design's Fall into Fall party
Debbiedoos Newbie Link Party

Back from Alaska

Hello, all!

I'm back from my self-imposed hiatus to deal with life and a trip to Alaska.  The trip was fabulous!  The scenery was absolutely breath-taking, and I managed to snap more than 1000 pictures.  Quite a few of them turned out nicely - nicely enough that I'm considering having them printed for framing and hanging in the Handyverger home.  Here are the candidates:

Taken in Glacier Bay.  If that's not cold water, I don't know what is!

Another from Glacier Bay.  This is Johns Hopkins Glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier, outside Juneau, AK.

View from a float plane, headed toward the Misty Fiords 
National Monument outside Ketchikan, AK.

 Otters outside Sitka in Redoubt Bay.

 A view from Kidney Cove/Redoubt Bay (if memory serves me correctly).
Humpback whale, diving, taken in Sitka Sound.

 Sunset on the way from Ketchikan to Victoria, BC.

So, which ones would you have printed?  I'll be back later today with an updated fall piano-scape!

Mrs. H.