A few years ago I made my own taco seasoning by way of default. I simply forgot to buy a taco seasoning packet and I didn’t want to run back into town to buy that one missing ingredient to an easy dinner. So of course I realized I have everything I need in my spice cabinet. The great thing about making your own is that you can control the heat and the salt by adding as little or much as you like. When I make it I’ll go ahead and make a few at a time. I use a piece of butcher paper and measure out what I need for the equivalent of one packet. The reason I put it on paper is so that I can then crease it and easily pour it into my jar. Clean up is easy and I’m halfway to dinner!
Homemade Taco Seasoning
1 heaping tablespoon chili powder (my favorite chili powder is Dean & DeLuca)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (adjust to taste)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
It does not feel or look much like Spring. The sun is out, but there’s still snow and ice on the ground. It’s this time of year that I just need to get going with Spring Cleaning. Our house is old, really old and that makes for a house that needs a good spring cleaning. I start by making or adding to my master list so that I cover every inch and so that I can cross things off. (yeah, I like that part the best). For years I bought new products that claimed to be the best out there to clean everything inside and out. For the last few years this is what I use. The original Dawn Dish Soap, Heinz white vinegar and hot water. I’m not going to show you before and afters….I’m trying to keep it LOVELY around here, but if you have not tried this, I highly recommend it. Sometimes I boil the water and add the Dawn and vinegar. If you are putting it in a spray bottle, it’s best just to use hot tap water.
My friend Elizabeth told me about Lemi Shine. I’m not sure how I managed without it! If you live in an area where hard water is a problem, this will take care of it in one dishwasher load. Even the inside of the dishwasher will look like new. When we still lived in California I was telling my friend that every dish and glass had a horrible white/gray film. We don’t seem to have the same problem in Connecticut, but even here, I will load my dishwasher with glassware and it will come out sparkly every time. It’s great for things you find at flea markets or thrift stores or for Spring Cleaning! I just started my dishwasher full of glassware and am off to pick up some spring plants (for the house, way too cold to be thinking of outdoor planting yet), a couple of house plants and maybe some branches for my clean house!
This dish, this pasta is absolutely delicious and has many emotional ties to it as food often does. It was on the cover of Bon Appetit Magazine in February 1995. I remember it because our friend and neighbor brought us over two large servings one night, back in 1995. We had actually just met after having both moved into our brand new homes on a cul-de-sac in Laguna Niguel, California. We lived next door to each other for four wonderful years before we relocated to Northern Virginia. We arrived in February and Patrick was born in April. A new friend from McLean, VA that we had only met a month or so before Patrick was born brought us dinner one night. The same pasta! We couldn’t believe it. Two friends in two completely different places and four years apart, brought us the same exact dinner. So when I make this dish I can’t help but think of the kindness of two friends, Dana in California and Susan in Virginia.
Penne with Tomatoes and Two Cheeses, recipe adapted from Bon Appetit
- Three large cans diced tomatoes
- 2 small or one large onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 pound penne pasta
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 8 ounces Havarti Cheese
- about one cup grated parmesan
Dice the onion and saute in olive oil for about six or seven minutes. Add the garlic, stirring to make sure the garlic does not burn. Add the dried basil, crushed red pepper and salt and pepper. Add the three cans tomatoes, drained. Stir often and let cook for about an hour. Meanwhile, cook the penne pasta in salted water just until cooked al dente. Slightly undercooked is better. Drain and then put back into pot and mix in about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add the tomato and onion mixture and stir. Mix in the grated Havarti Cheese and sir to mix. pour into a prepared baking dish that has been buttered and top with the grated parmesan. Bake uncovered for about 25 to 30 minutes in a 375 degree oven. This dish can be made ahead. It’s best to bring to room temperature before baking or bake for slightly longer and cover with foil at the end so it does not burn. Add a little more freshly grated parmesan and fresh basil just before serving. I made it most recently when Madeline was home for a quick visit.
oh and one more thing….the original recipe is Penne with tomatoes, olives and two cheeses. For years I added the olives when I made this dish. The black olives add a nice contrast, it was pretty. But you know what? We don’t like olives. So now when I make it just for us, I leave them off, but when I bring this dish to a friend as I often do, I put the the olives on and wrap it up.
Pizza dough in 5 minutes. Seriously, why would I buy it when it takes only five minutes to throw together? My husband is the one who then shapes the pizza dough into rounds and he swears that our own pizza dough is better than anything we buy. I’ve tried to trick him a few times, but he can always tell. In the winter when it’s cold it does take a bit longer for the dough to rise, but even then I sometimes speed it up by warming up the oven and then placing the bowl near the oven or even on the hearth of the fireplace. In the summer months, it can take as little as an hour to rise. Here’s how we make it and it has never failed, not even once.
5 – Minute Pizza Dough
3 to 3 1/2 cups flour
1 cup warm tap water
1 package yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for bowl
Put three cups of flour into a large bowl and add the salt and mix with a spoon. Add the package of yeast to a cup of warm water and stir with a fork to mix. Add it to the flour and salt and mix with a spoon. Add the olive oil and mix again. It will be very clumpy, yes clumpy. Pour it onto a floured surface and knead with the heel of your hand for a couple of minutes shaping it into a ball. Place the formed ball into a bowl that has been lightly coated with olive oil. The bowl should be large enough for the dough to rise and double in size. Place a clean dish towel over the bowl and find a warm spot. That’s it. Once it has doubled in size take the dough from the bowl and divide into two parts and shape by pulling and pressing it out with your hands or a rolling pin. Then transfer it to a pizza peel that is coated with a very thin layer or sprinkling of yellow corn meal. This makes it easier to transfer the pizza to the pizza stone in the oven.
I love to send mail, probably because I know how happy it makes me when I open my mailbox and there’s something with familiar handwriting from a friend. So this year I worked with tinyprints and used their gift tag stickers and return address labels to make them really special. Tinyprints has so many great designs, but the simplicity of these are exactly right for this project. I used a combination of Love stamps, an idea I got from Karen at Home Sweet Hollywood.
I filled each kraft mailing tube with a cellophane bag of Mike & Ikes and hot hearts, then put a small package of shortbread cookies that I made using the Ina Garten recipe, but then made them slice and bake instead of rolling the dough and using cookie cutters. So much easier and less time and mess! I wrote about that here. Then I added a few dark chocolate hearts and squares from Lake Champlain Chocolate I found at Whole Foods Market.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
I’m making DIY Valentine Card Kits for a few of my friends (or for their young children actually). When my kids were little we always had a Valentine party. I would put out stacks of paper cut into squares and hearts, stickers, felt and fabric and just about anything in red, pink and purple… Since my kids are big, I thought why not put together a few supplies for my friends with young children and make each their own little Valentine card making kit. So while making risotto last evening and in between stirring, I gathered all my supplies. This morning I just cut the paper into shapes and divided the supplies into four groups. I’m using boxes that I already had and just covered the label with a little washi tape. It’s amazing the combinations you can come up with to create one-of-a-kind Valentine cards.
The supplies are simple….red, pink, white, black & purple construction paper cut into squares, rectangles. Circles and hearts using a punch. Felt and fabric squares, small envelopes that I found at Muji, tissue paper, paper dollies, stickers, mini clothespins and paper clips, velvet and grosgrain ribbons, red twine and pink bakers twine wound around small pieces of cardboard, stickers and a few other things like graph paper cut into squares. Just about anything can be turned into a Valentine!
The personalized gift tag stickers are from tinyprints. They are for another project that I’m working on for next week, but I could not resist using a few today. I’ll be using these Valentine return address labels from tinyprints as well. You can check out their Valentine items right here.
This is a project that kids of all ages can do with just a few supplies. Make watercolor hearts for your Valentine. You can include them in a card or on their own. They look beautiful in a vellum envelope. You can write messages or just send a handful of hearts. Simply paint a piece of watercolor paper with shades of pink and red or any colors you choose. The imperfections in painting is what makes the patterns in the hearts, so don’t worry about your technique. We’ve painted both sides of the paper. Once the paper is dry, use a heart punch and cut out your hearts. Each one is like a miniature abstract painting. Who wouldn’t love to open their Valentine and have a whole bunch of mini masterpieces fall out?
Note: It’s best to use watercolor paper because it is a little thicker and the texture of the paper adds to the look of each heart. The watercolor set I use for so many projects was less than $8 and I purchased it at Michaels.
“The thrill is in the hunt…” I think that’s how it goes. It’s true. I love flea markets, tag sales, estate sales, thrift stores and I simply cannot pass up a great find. But, what do I do with all the “stuff” I collect? I mean do I really need eight or nine amber bottles? The answer is a resounding no! I kept one and the rest are in my etsy shop.