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(adapted from Cooking Light)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 lb. peeled gold or russet potatoes, cut into 1/4-in slices

1 tsp. salt, divided
olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced or pressed
1/4 c. flour
1 c. chicken broth
1 c. milk
1/2 c. grated Asiago
1/2 c. grated Parmesan
1/4 c. chopped chives (i used green onions on xmas)
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 bacon slices, cooked and crumbled (i didn’t use this on xmas, but it’s AMAZING with it in)
1/4 c. grated Parmesan

 

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350°.
1)  Place potatoes in large saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 5 min or until potatoes are almost tender. Drain. Sprinkle potatoes evenly with ¼ tsp salt; set side and keep warm.
2)  Heat olive oil in saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic; cook 2 min or until tender, stirring frequently. Sprinkle flour over onions and garlic. Combine broth and milk in measuring cup; gradually add ½ cup of mixture into saucepan, stirring with whisk until well blended. Add remaining liquid, stirring constantly. Cook on medium 9 minutes or until thick. Remove from heat; stir in ¾ tsp salt, cheeses, chives, pepper, and bacon.
3)  Arrange half of potatoes in bottom of 8×8 pan. Pour half of cheese sauce over potatoes. Top with remaining potatoes, then remaining sauce. Sprinkle with ¼ cup Parmesan. Bake for 35 minutes.

 

Easter is coming.  And what does that mean?  Another holiday to cook gobs and gobs of food for:  my favorite kind of holiday. 

 For some reason, ham is the traditional Easter meat.  Growing up, I don’t ever really remember having ham on Easter, though; I think we had either a turkey or a whole roasted chicken.  So ham was never really one of those food items that I grew up liking. Well, that and the only ham we did eat when we ate ham was the canned ham with a layer of goo gel around it.  It makes me shudder just thinking about it.  

Later in life, we discovered honey baked ham.  And that kind of ham I’m completely ok with.  Last Christmas I decided to finally undertake making my own ham.  So I researched a bunch of different recipes, and in the manner I cook best with, I created my own recipe based upon my research findings.  And believe you me, it was gooooood. Even my brother-in-law, who absolutely positively refuses to eat ham, liked it.  Thus, it promptly was added to my recipe box.

Don’t throw the ham bone away.  There are so many great recipes that you can make with a ham bone, such as split pea soup or baked beans.  After you finish eating, simply carve the rest of the meat off the bone and cut into little chunks.  Store ham chunks in a freezer safe ziploc bag, about 1-2 cups per bag, until ready to use.  Take ham bone and place into a large freezer safe ziploc bag, and freeze that until ready for future use.

In my opinion, and based upon my style of cooking, the key to making this recipe is to eyeball all the ingredients.  That way you can customize it to your taste buds. (Note:  This was more than enough rub and sauce for a 7lb ham, so feel free to use a bigger ham — like 10lbs — without making adjustments.)

Ingredients:
1 ham (I used a 7lb hickory smoked ham shank with bone)

Rub
2 T. brown sugar
(use measurements of the following ingredients based upon your ratio preference to the brown sugar and each other. With the sugar being the greatest amount, i used cinnamon and paprika as the second greatest amounts, then nutmeg, then cloves, then cayenne.)
ground cinnamon
paprika
ground cloves
ground nutmeg
cayenne
(i think some ground dry mustard would be good next time!)
Glaze
1/2 c. whiskey
1 c. honey
1/2 c. blackstrap molasses (cut back to 1/4 for a less molassesy flavor)
1 T. Dijon mustard
2 T. butter, melted
juice of 1 small orange, or of 1/3 large orange*
Instructions:
1)  Score ham in a criss-cross pattern, about 1 inch apart and ½ inch deep.
2)  Combine rub ingredients into small bowl. Rub all over the ham. Place ham into baking dish (roasting pan or a 9×13 casserole dish), cut side down and refrigerate. Let marinade for at least a few hours. 
Preheat oven to 325°.
3)  After ham has finished marinading, combine glaze ingredients in a bowl. Pour over ham. Create a foil tent over ham. 
4)  Bake at 325° until center of ham reaches 140°, basting every 20 minutes. (My 7lb ham took about 2 hours to cook.)
*try changing up the flavoring to apple, pomegranate, or pineapple juice, or even apricot preserves, although you would need to add a bit liquid to the preserves to make it a glaze consistency.

fake

I think I went a little overboard with the editing of this photo. But I actually kind of like it. It looks….fake, for sure…but it looks almost…comic booky. Or there’s a silverish tint to it. I don’t know; I can’t quite put my finger on it. But I like it, I know that much.

Aperture

So for my birthday last October, my amazing husband got me a Nikon D80.  I’ve always loved photography; I think I get that from my dad. I through my childhood, I remember he had this really cool Canon camera that was completely off limits to us kids — and was only brought on when the situation was worthy enough. Once I got older, he wold try to teach me things about aperture and exposure and ISO and light meters. But he might as well have been speaking Latin. I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand all that “photog” talk. For my college graduation, my parents bought me a Canon Rebel SLR (aka a 35mm film camera). And I loved using it…on auto mode. But it was also discouraging in the sense that whatever photo I took was final. No previewing, no editing. FINAL.  And not knowing any of the cool settings, I almost felt like it was a waste of film and money experimenting with the settings. And then by the time I actually did get around to developing the photos, I wouldn’t remember which photos were in taken in which settings.

And that’s the beauty of a digital SLR for the amateur photographer: you can actually learn the different settings hands-on and see the differences right there on the screen in front of you. On the day I took the above photo, I felt like experimenting with depths of field. I’ll post other comparisons a little bit later on. This one, while most of the photos I took are of Pepper in focus, I decided to get creative and focus on some of the wild grass in the foreground, thus making Pepper blurry. 

If you are the type that shoots on auto-mode, AND you have a digital, flip it to A mode (if you have Nikon) or Av mode (for Canon), and practice this depth of field. (A is for aperture, you know.) I guarantee it’s loads of fun!

Another fun tool on photographs: photo editing software. I use Adobe Lightroom (it’s gobs cheaper than Photoshop).

 

potato cheese soup

 

and yet another one of my favorite soups from my childhood. i think my mom got this recipe from one of those cookbooks that schools sell as a fundraising, so i know i am not giving proper credit to someone out there. i apologize! i don’t know who you are, but i love you…because this recipe is amazing! the perfect way to warm your insides (other than a shot of whiskey!) on a cold winter evening. you can serve this with bread, but i normally don’t just because of the carbs in the potatoes: it’s not exactly a bread-dipping soup.

 

ingredients:

4 c. potatoes, peeled and sliced
¼ c. chopped onion
2½ c. water
1 tsp. salt
¼ c. butter
¼ c. flour
¼ tsp. ground black pepper
½ tsp. dry mustard
1½ tsp. soy sauce
2 c. milk
1 tsp. fresh parsley
1 to 2 c. shredded cheddar (the original recipe calls for 12oz. velveeta, but i don’t like to buy processed foods)
2 c. milk

 

instructions:

1)  in a dutch oven pot, add the first four ingredients (potatoes through salt). Bring to a boil; simmer for 15 minutes.

2)  while simmering, melt butter in a medium saucepan; add flour and stir with a whisk until blended.  add pepper, mustard, soy sauce, 2 cups milk, and parsley; whisk to combine, until flour lumps are dissolved into the milk. cook, whisking constantly, until smooth and thick.

3)  add milk mixture to potato mixture.  add cheese and remaining 2 cups milk; stir until smooth. simmer for about 5 minutes.

 

yields: 6-8 servings.  freeze leftovers in an airtight container.

apricot brie dip

 

i first had this dip at my friend Rachel‘s house. with the first bit i took of this, i instantly knew what heaven must be like. it’s one of those foods you crave just thinking about it. even people (including men!) who have either never had brie before or don’t typically like brie like this dip. it looks and tastes classy, but is oh-so-simple to make.

(a Pampered Chef recipe)

 

ingredients:

1 brie round (with rind)

½ c. apricot jam

¼ c. pecans, chopped

1-2 jalepeños, seeds and veins removed, and finely diced

 

instructions:

Preheat oven to 400°F.

1)  cut brie in half side to side. place one half on a pizza stone or baking dish, cut side up.

2)  in a small bowl, combine apricot jam and peppers.  spoon half of jam mixture on top of cut side of brie. top with half of the chopped nuts.

3)  top with other half of brie round, cut side up.  top with remaining jam then remaining pecans.

4)  bake at 400°F for 8-10 minutes.

 

serve with toasted baguette slices, crackers, and/or pita chips.  if you are cooking this on a pizza stone, put the brie in the middle and arrange the baguette slices around the outside of it, then spray with a little bit of olive and bake according to directions.

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