Thursday, August 30, 2012

Ham, Cheese, and Vegetable Pie

When I started dating my husband, he was going to college and living with his family.  I usually went to see him after work, which was around the time his mother was serving dinner.  I of course am not the kind of person to refuse a delicious meal, so I partook of his mother's culinary delights.  A lot of what she cooked was not anything I grew up eating, so it was an interesting endeavor.


This particular pie was one of my husband's favorite, so after we were married and living together, I asked his mom for the recipe.  I had no idea what I was doing in the kitchen, so I needed all the help I could get.  This pie was simple and pretty much no fail.


The ready made pie crust saves a lot of time.  The rest of the ingredients, you basically do a quick prep and throw them in the pie shell.  It doesn't take much time to put together and you can go do some laundry while it bakes.


I just used a cookie cutter to cut a shape in the top pie crust, but you can also just make some slits to let the steam out.  My crimping is not the best, but I wasn't trying to win any contests.

My mother-in-law brushes her pie crust with milk and sugar to get a nice golden color.  It really does come out picture perfect.  I baked this in my Pampered Chef Stoneware pie dish, but I have also done it my Pyrex glass pie dish and have gotten the same results.

I hadn't made this pie in quite a while so hubby was happy to have some.  My cooking has gotten a little better than when we were first married.  It helps when I cook something he likes.

Ham, Cheese, and Vegetable Pie

by The Sweet Chick

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 30-35 minutes

Keywords: bake entree ham cheese vegetables

Ingredients (serves 8)

  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped red pepper
  • 1 cup chopped tomato
  • 1/2 lb. deli ham, sliced thin
  • 1 can peas and carrots
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (mozarella, swiss, or Italian blend)
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 box ready to bake pie crusts
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

Instructions

Preheat oven to 350º F

Place one pie crust at the bottom of pie dish.

Spread the onions, peppers, and tomatoes evenly on the pie crust.

Slice deli ham into short strips and spread evenly oven the veggies. Then cover with peas and carrots.

Next add a layer of shredded cheese.

In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, oregano, and parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Pour the egg mixture over the entire contents of the pie.

Cut slits or a small hole in the second pie crust and place on top of the pie. Crimp the edges by hand to form a seal.

Mix together the milk and the sugar. With a pastry brush, brush the top pie crust with a thin coat of the mixture.

Place pie in the oven and bake at 350º F for 30-35 minutes until the crust is a golden color.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Maple Zucchini Nut Bread


Before I left for vacation, I was given a very large zucchini from someone's garden.  I didn't want it to go to waste, so I shredded it and froze it in Ziplock freezer bags and put it in the freezer.  Today I was ready for some zucchini bread, so I took the bags out of the freezer and let them defrost on the counter. 

(Yes, I know..the zucchini is missing)
After draining out as much water as possible, it was time to put things together.  I fished out a recipe from my mom's archives and adapted it a bit.  I think maple syrup and zucchini get along very well together.  I put in a whole cup of pure maple syrup in the batch.  The smell of maple in the kitchen was intoxicating. 


(Pampered Chef Stoneware pan is 9" x 5".  Pyrex glass pan is 8.5" x 4.5")
And if that wasn't enough. I thought I would make some maple butter to go with these beauties. My first attempt at making it the Quebeçois way didn't come out so well, I think I didn't boil the syrup long enough.  Not to worry, I just did it the simple way.  Butter + maple syrup= maple butter.  The butter helped take away some of the sweetness.  I know what I will be spreading on my toast in the morning.

The bread came out so good.  It was full of maple flavor.  I am pretty sure my husband liked it since he ate almost an entire loaf by himself.  And then when I had the audacity to bring the other loaf to work, he called looking for it because he was in the mood for the some more.  If I leave the sweets home with him, he complains he is getting fat.  If I take them away, he complains because he wants more.  And they say woman are complicated. 



Maple Zucchini Nut Bread with Maple Butter

by The Sweet Chick
Prep Time: 10-15 minutes
Cook Time: 45-50 minutes
Keywords: bake zucchini maple syrup maple butter bread 

Ingredients (2 loaves, 2 cups butter)
    For the bread
    • 2 cups whole wheat flour
    • 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
    • 1 cup granulated sugar
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
    • 4 eggs
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1/2 cup oil
    • 1 cup pure maple syrup
    • 2 cups shredded zucchini
    • 1 cup raisins
    • 1 cup chopped walnuts
    For the maple butter
    • 3/4 cup butter, softened
    • 1 cup pure maple syrup
    Instructions
    For the bread
    Preheat oven to 350º F.
    In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients.
    In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs. Then add the vanilla, oil, and maple syrup and whisk well.
    Next add the wet ingredients to the large bowl with the dry ingredients. Mix together with a hand mixer.
    Then shred the zucchini with a hand grater or food processor and add to the mix.
    Add raisins and chopped walnuts. Mix with hand mixer until all ingredients are well incorporated.
    Divide the batter into two loaf pans and bake at 350º for 45-50 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.
    Let loaves cool before slicing.
    For the maple butter
    Place the butter in a small microwave safe bowl and heat in the microwave for 20 seconds, until softened.
    Add maple syrup and mix together with hand mixer until smooth.
    Place in fridge for 1 hour to set.
    After it is set, slice yourself a piece of bread and spread it generously with maple butter. Enjoy!
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    Thursday, August 23, 2012

    Cabot Trail - Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

    The beginning of the Cabot Trail near Baddeck, NS

    I recently returned from a wonderful trip to Nova Scotia, Canada with my husband.  When my husband suggested we go on a driving trip, I mentioned Nova Scotia.  We have never been there before and while researching our trip, we found out about the Cabot Trail.  The Cabot Trail is a 185 mile scenic roadway that loops around the island of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia


    The views from the trail are astounding.  There are lots of lush green mountains.  And lots of blue water in the forms of gulfs, bays and coves, that lead out into the Atlantic Ocean.  We were fortunate to catch a bright sunny day for our trip after a recent rainfall.

    Ingonish Beach
    A portion of the trail runs along the outskirts of Cape Breton Highlands National Park of Canada. There are numerous hiking trails that take you further out on the mountains for better views of the coast or inland to see the forest and several natural waterfalls.  Originally we were going to do some hiking, but the weather was too hot and humid, so neither one of us wanted to venture out of the car much.  We did stop at Ingonish Beach to dip our feet in the water.  There were several people swimming, but for us Connecticut folk, the water was way too cold.

    Lighthouse at Neil's Harbour

    The car trip non-stop around the island trail is six hours.  With all our photo, snack, and lunch stops, we did it in nine hours.  We also drove off the trail a little to see the Bay of St. Lawrence at the top of the island. 


    Bay of St. Lawrence at Cape North
    Then we were off the the western side of the island at Pleasant Bay.  This was by far my husband's favorite part.  This side of the island featured a curvy, winding road that hugged the mountainside. 


     Every time we rounded one of the curves, my husband's face would light up like a kid on Christmas Day. 

    Pleasant Bay
    This part of the drive is what he had been looking forward to since seeing the pictures online of the roadway.  It was his "zoom, zoom" moment.  And he relished every minute of it.  I just made sure my seat-belt was secured.

     
    We reached an altitude of 1480 ft above sea level at the highest part of the trail. It did get a little foggy at times, but we could still see pretty far out.


    All in all, it was an amazing trip.  Definitely worth the drive.  The Cabot Trail has something for everyone.  There are so many cute, cozy towns to stop in.  There are plenty of photo opportunities and scenice vistas to admire.  There are beaches, lighthouses, golf courses, hiking trails, museums, whale watching tours, and more. Have I sold it to you yet?


    Thursday, August 16, 2012

    Mini Hot Chocolate Donuts

    When I saw these donuts on Love From The Oven, I had to try them.  Christi had the great idea of putting hot chocolate mix in the recipe.  It makes them so rich with chocolate flavor.  You have got to try them.

    (I already added vinegar to milk before picture)

    She just used the chocolate donut recipe from Babycakes and exchanged the cocoa in the recipe for hot chocolate. I went ahead and added mini chocolate chips to her recipe.  You can never have too much chocolate.

     

    Then she dipped them in glaze, topped them with a marshmallow creme frosting recipe from Kraft Foods and a chocolate glaze recipe from Heather Christo Cooks.


    Then sprinkled them with Jet Puffed Marshmallow bits.  Oh my goodness, so many layers of flavors.


    Christi has a lot of wonderful recipes, go check out her site.  In the meantime here is the recipe for the donuts.


    Mini Hot Chocolate Donuts

    by The Sweet Chick
    Prep Time: 10-15 minutes
    Cook Time: 4-5 minutes per batch
    Keywords: bake dessert hot chocolate chocolate chips chocolate marshmallow bits donuts 







    Ingredients (24 mini donuts)
      For the donuts
      • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
      • 1/2 cup hot chocolate mix
      • 1/2 cup sugar
      • 1 tablespoon baking powder
      • 1 egg
      • 1/2 cup milk
      • 2 tbsp white vinegar
      • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
      • 1 teaspoon vanilla
      • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
      For the glaze
      • 1 cup powdered sugar
      • 1 tsp vanilla extract
      • 4 tbsp milk
      For the marshmallow creme frosting
      • 1/4 stick (2 tablespoons) butter/margarine, softened
      • 1/2 jar (3.5 oz.) marshmallow fluff
      • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
      • 8 oz. powdered sugar
      • 1 tablespoon milk
      For the chocolate frosting
      • 1/2 cup light cream
      • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
      • 4 oz. chopped dark chocolate
      Toppings
      • Jet Puffed Marshmallow Bits
      Instructions
      For the donuts
      Mix milk and vinegar together and set aside for 5-10 minutes until it forms curds.
      Meanwhile using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat together oil and sugar. Add egg and vanilla. Stir in the milk/vinegar and mix well.
      In a medium bowl stir together the flour, hot chocolate mix, and baking powder .
      Slowly add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, making sure to have a nice smooth mixture. Then add the chocolate chips and make sure they are well blended.
      Use a piping bag or a Ziplock bag with tip cut off to fill each donut reservoir of your Babycakes donut maker with about 2 tbsp of batter.
      Bake for about 4-5 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of donut comes out clean.
      Place hot donuts on cooling rack with a wax paper underneath and prepare the glaze.
      For the glaze
      In a small bowl mix together powdered sugar, vanilla, and milk. You want the consistency to be runny, not thick.
      Dip each donut in the mixture and flip it around by hand or with a fork until the whole donut is covered. Then place back on the cooling rack until the glaze is dry.
      For the marshmallow creme frosting
      Place butter/margarine, marshmallow fluff and vanilla in a small bowl. With a hand mixer, beat on medium speed until well blended. Slowly add sugar and mix well.
      Then add milk and mix again. The mixture should be smooth enough to spread, but not too thin that it will melt off the donuts.
      I spread it on the donuts with a knife.
      For the chocolate frosting
      Place chocolate and cream in a microwave safe bowl and heat for 30 seconds, stir, then heat for another 30 seconds until chocolate is all melted.
      Remove from microwave and add corn syrup. Stir until well mixed and smooth.
      Dip each donut in the chocolate frosting or spread on with knife.
      Toppings
      While chocolate is cooling sprinkle each donut with marshmallow bits. When cooled, eat and enjoy!
      Note:
      If you are using a mini donut pan, bake your donuts in the oven at 425ºF for 4-6 minutes or until toothpick inserted in middle of donut comes out clean.

      (recipes adapted from Babycakes, Love from the Oven, Kraft Foods, and Heather Christo Cooks)
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      Monday, August 13, 2012

      Props

      Just like I try to keep my equipment simple, I also try to keep my props simple.  I bought these cute fabric pieces at Joann's craft store.  The were in the quilting aisle.  They are just big enough to use as a faux tablecloth on my kitchen cart, or I can fold them to use as napkins, or I can hang them over a chair and use them as a background.  They fold and store easily.

      For dishware, I usually go to my dining room hutch.  I have some colorful plates I bought for display.  They come in handy.  As well as my white everyday dishware.

      I buy bits and pieces when they are on clearance at Target.  The cake stand was given to me by my sister-in-law.  It was her grandmother's.

      I also check out Marshall's and T.J. Maxx.  That's where I found these cute cupcake stands.  The ceramic berry container was on clearance at Sur La Table.  The milk jug I found at Pier 1 Imports.  It wasn't on sale, but it was too cute to resist.  

      When all else fails, I just go to my mom's house and see what she has that she no longer uses.  I found this wood carving board and mini glass jar in her cabinet.  They worked perfect for this shoot.

      My favorite "wood" surface to shoot on is actually two pieces of 12 x 12 inch scrapbook paper.  The other day I found this roll of wood grain contact paper at the dollar store.  For $1.00, I'll take it.

      Paper straws are all the rage these days.  I love all the colors.  I bought the two big boxes on Amazon.com.  They are made by Kikkerland.  The small packages I bought on clearance at Sur La Table.

      I have also used "milk bottles" that are actaully Starbucks Frappuccino bottles with the labels removed. 
      I bought mine at Target.  They usually come in a four pack.  So where do you get your props?

      Wednesday, August 8, 2012

      Behind the Scenes

      I thought it would be fun to show you all how I go about taking my food photos for this blog.  I am by no means an expert on photography, but I have learned some new things over the past year that have helped improve my overall images.  I have been able to get my photos featured on Tastespotting, Foodgawker, and Tasty Kitchen.  I am quite pleased with that accomplishment.  It means my hard work is paying off. 

      This is my camera, a Nikon d50.  I bought it over six years ago before my daughter was born to take pictures of her.  Now it has been re-purposed.  This poor camera usually ends up with bits of food on it as I try to take pictures of my treats as I am in the process of making them.  Thankfully it has been a good sport.  It may be old, but it is still a good camera.  I do not have a need to upgrade yet.

      When I first started this blog I was mostly taking pictures at night when the kids were asleep, so I depended on my flash to brighten things up.  I know, shame on me.  I have since learned that  flash is such a no-no when it comes to food photography.  It just makes the food look unreal and unappetizing. Now I wait for the weekend to bake and take pictures during the day, so as to capture all the natural light I can get. 

      Since my kitchen is not very sunny, I take my pictures in the dining room.  I have found that between 2pm and 3pm (Eastern Time Zone) I have the best lighting.  Of course, some weekends we have plans and I have to make do with whatever light I can get.  The less light, the closer I get to the window.  Sometimes I use some white foam boards to bounce light off of.  I just prop them up on some chairs next to my table.  I don't have any fancy light boxes.  I really try to keep equipment down to a minimum.  I don't want to clutter my closets anymore than they already are. 

      I bought this kitchen cart at Walmart to use as my "table" for taking my food photos as well as hold some of my props (and now my daughter's Easy Bake Oven).  It is just the right size and it is easily moveable.  When not in use, it stays in the dining room as a furniture piece.

      Even though I have had my camera for over six years, until this year, I have never taken it out of "auto" mode.  After reading many tutorials online and actually downloading the manual for my camera onto my iPad, I have learned how to use natural light and set my camera properly to achieve better quality photos. I am still learning what all the buttons do.  I should probably take a class, but with a full time job and two small kids, that isn't convenient.  Plus, I am stubborn by nature, so I like to learn my way.

      What works best for me is a 50mm lens and the aperture priority auto("A") setting.  It gives a nice blur to the background, while keeping the subject in focus.  You do have to use a tripod to get crisp, clear photos.  I bought mine around the same time I bought my camera.  It was not expensive, but it does what I need it to.  It holds my camera still and I can adjust the height. I like to keep it simple.  I still have a lot of learning to do, but I am happy with my progress thus far.

      I would like to thank my production team for all their help.  Here is my Chief Technical Engineer, he always makes sure my tripod is in working order by randomly turning knobs and waiting for a reaction.

      And here is my Assistant Photographer.  She is in charge of taking test shots to make sure the camera is working properly and that my set looks good.  I don't know what I would do without them.  Well, except maybe take my pictures a lot faster.

      So how do you take your food photos?  I'd love to hear from you.






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