Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Thank You!

Uncommon Artistic Endeavors just received its 10,000th hit today! I am amazed and overwhelmed by that and I want to thank all of you for coming and visiting and actually being interested in whatever I have to say. Please keep coming by and tell your friends about me. And please comment! I really like input. This has been a tremendous creative outlet for me and the interest it has generated has been my motivation. A special thanks to Amby who had the idea for me to do this to begin with. Thanks everybody!

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Rice Cooker

For many years I avoided buying a rice cooker. I did not see the need for one because they seemed silly and unnecessary. My Aunt Peggy brought one to my house one day and I watched her use it and quickly changed my mind. Not being one to resist change, I bought this inexpensive Salton brand (Bed Bath & Beyond $14.99) to try it out, and I have enjoyed it so much that I will probably invest in a more elaborate one soon.

There is not a timer on it, but it will automatically shut off when the rice is done. The way it works is, water boils at 212 degrees, and as long as there is water in the pan, the rice cooker will continue to cook. When the rice absorbs all of the liquid, the temperature will begin to rise. When the thermostat in the rice cooker senses that the temperature has risen above 212 degrees, the machine turns off the heater automatically and switches to the “keep warm” cycle. It's actually a very cool invention.

In this post, I am not only recommending the rice cooker, but a particular kind of rice, which is a brand called Royal Blend Whole Grain Rice, and the blend I chose was Texmati Brown & Wild Rice with Soft Wheat & Rye Berries (both pictures, above). I bought it at Publix. Go by whatever your particular rice cooker recommends, but I use the same amounts that I would if I were cooking rice the conventional way. I use chicken broth instead of water, and this time I added about 3 tablespoons of butter. It was truly the best rice I have ever eaten. Very nutty and flavorful. And 100% whole grain.

I served it with boiled shrimp, which was a nice combination, but I could have eaten just the rice.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Beer Cheese Soup

For those of you who grew up in Birmingham, you probably remember a restaurant called Baby Doe's Matchless Mine. It was actually built on the side of a mountain inside a mine shaft. It was a very cool place with great ambiance, which would be expected for a mine shaft eatery. They even had wailing miner music in the background. To me, it sounded like Baby Doe calling back from the dead. Then there was the kidnapping that occurred outside their doors one night in 1983. They closed the place not too long after that. Anyway, they had the most fabulous beer cheese soup I have ever had, and this is a recipe I created that comes pretty close to theirs. Though I am not a big fan of it, I use Velveeta cheese in this because it makes a nice, smooth texture. You can adjust the amount of beer you want according to taste. This is wonderful to serve before a meal, or as the main dish.

Beer Cheese Soup

1 stick butter
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup all-purpose flour
2- 32 oz cartons chicken broth
1 32 oz pkg Velveeta cheese, cubed
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 1/2- 2 cans beer
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 lb bacon, cooked and crumbled

In a large pot over medium heat, melt butter. Saute onion and carrots until tender. Add flour and stir into mixture until smooth. Slowly add chicken broth, stirring with a whisk to prevent mixture from forming lumps. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Add cheeses and beer, stirring until well blended. Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Run soup through a blender in batches until creamy and smooth. Garnish with bacon.
Yield: about 10 servings

Note: When running the hot soup through a blender, use small batches (1/2 -3/4 full) because it could explode out of the top of the blender if it is too full. Unfortunately, I learned this the hard way.

Incorporate flour into sauteed vegetables and stir in chicken broth with a whisk until smooth:

Cut cheese into cubes:
Blend in small batches until smooth and creamy:

I served cheese oregano muffins with it.

Top with bacon. All that's missing is the wailing miner music.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Oven Roasted Potatoes

This is a recipe that I have had for years and it is a family favorite. It requires very few ingredients, so it is easy to throw together at the last minute. For this post, I used Yukon Gold potatoes, but the small new potatoes are actually my favorite.

Oven Roasted Potatoes

1 stick butter
1/2 cup water
4 baking potatoes, skins left on (or about 8 new potatoes)
Lawry's Seasoned Salt

Preheat oven to 450. Place butter and water in baking dish and place in oven while it is preheating and allow to melt. Meanwhile, scrub potatoes and chop into small pieces. Place potatoes into melted butter, stir well, and sprinkle fairly generously with seasoned salt. Bake at 450 for about 30 minutes. Bake about 15 minutes longer for browner potatoes.

Place butter and water in baking dish and place in oven while it is preheating:

Chop potatoes into small pieces. Leave the peeling on. It is good for you and it also adds flavor and texture.
This is how they look after 30 minutes. Bake a little longer if desired.

These go well with everything, particularly grilled steak or chicken.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Get the Party Started

Whenever we have a dinner party during the warm months, we like for it to be fun and casual, and always outside on the porch. I found these animal napkin rings at Pier One several years back, and I use them often. I like them because they are whimsical and unexpected, and what is really funny is that almost without fail, our guests will choose where they sit based on the animal that is holding their napkin. It just adds to the fun.

I also have been collecting Fiesta dinnerware for several years. I bought it all at a place here in Birmingham called B &B's China, where they sell it at a discounted rate. They are factory "seconds" but it is easy to find pieces that are nearly flawless. B & B's is a huge place with a vast selection of restaurant supplies and tableware. If you live in or near Birmingham, and like to cook and entertain, I recommend that you check them out. You can also find Fiesta dinnerware online. One site is

I like a color variety, but you could buy a whole set in one color, if you were so inclined. I bought a set for Amby, as well, and she uses hers during the summer.

We recently had friends over for dinner. We had Grilled Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo, Homemade Rolls, Salad, and Chocolate Cheesecake. This is how I decorated the table:

The napkins shown in this picture are some that I found at Hobby Lobby a couple of years ago. They were actually bandanas. They are 100% cotton, which I think is needful for a napkin, and they came in a large variety of fun color combinations. I've used them countless times. I have found that it is always good to be on the lookout for tableware and accessories, even if you don't have a party planned in the immediate future.
So have fun with your next dinner party! And definitely don't take life too seriously.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

My Guest Room

I love having company, especially when they spend the night with us. Amby's room doubles as a guest room and I have endeavored to make it cheerful and cozy for our guests. Amby and I chose a peachy-pink color for the walls, which we painted the summer before she and Nathan were married. Although I am not fond of strongly-themed rooms (unless it is a child's room), I wanted it to feel a little like Seaside, which is our favorite place to vacation. I found these pictures which feature houses that are very reminiscent of Seaside, and I put a few seashells in the lamp to continue the beachy feel.

I wanted the bed to be really comfortable and plush, so I bought a thick mattress pad to go under the sheets. I like soft, white cotton sheets which I wash just a few days before the guests arrive so they will be really fresh and clean. I iron the sheets so they will be nice and smooth.

Fresh flowers are also nice, and don't have to be extravagant. Some sweet friends gave Amby's bridesmaid brunch at Ross Bridge and used these cute vases with a single gerbera daisy in
each. I loved that idea and I have done it often since.

The cozy theme should carry out into the bathroom. Fluffy white bath sheets are nice.

You will find that even just small touches can help to create a warm and cozy atmosphere for your guests.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Chocolate Cheesecake

This originally was a Southern Living recipe that I altered slightly. I have made it many times over the years. I have never had chocolate cheesecake as amazing as this.

Chocolate Cheesecake

1/2 pkg Keebler Simply Sandies cookies
3 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp butter
3/4 cup butter
4 oz Ghirardelli semisweet baking chocolate
1 cup Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate morsels
1 (8oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
1 (3oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/3 cup cream of coconut (optional - it is still great without it)
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla

Crush cookies into fine crumbs in a food processor. Stir in sugar and 3 tbsp butter. Press into bottom of a greased 9" springform pan. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce oven temperature to 300.

Combine 3/4 cup butter and chocolate and microwave in 30 second intervals until melted. Allow to cool slightly.

Beat cream cheese until creamy. Add 1/2 cup sugar and beat well. Add eggs, one at a time, until blended. Stir in cooled chocolate and cream of coconut. Pour over crust and bake at 300 for about 40-50 minutes, or until barely set. Cover and chill for 8 hours.

With chilled beaters in a chilled bowl, beat whipping cream until foamy. Add sugar and vanilla and beat until stiff.

Remove sides of springform pan. Top with whipped cream. Chill at least 1 hour.

Combine ingredients for crust:

Press into a springform pan:

Beat cream cheese and chocolate mixture :

Pour over crust. I always cover the outside of my springform pan with foil to prevent the butter from leaking into the oven:

Serve with fresh fruit. It will leave you speechless.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Create a Custom Mat

Gil had a layover in Paris a while back and he bought me two really nice prints. I found some frames I liked for them, but the only problem was that the prints were an odd size and they didn't fit into the frames perfectly (as you can see). I had some scrapbook paper that had the look and texture of leather and I decided to fashion a sort of free-form mat to give it a custom look.

The frame had a piece of cardboard in it and I glued the print to it with a glue stick:
I cut the scrapbook paper into long strips and glued them to the print:

Then I framed them and hung them in my study. Yes, the look of rich, Corinthian leather.

Forget custom matting and framing. Do it yourself.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes, like sweet tea, are a southern tradition. It is typically difficult to find green tomatoes in the grocery store, so I buy them from a farmer who sells fresh produce at a stand near my house.
First, slice the tomatoes. I like to slice them fairly thin because they end up being more crunchy after they are fried than the thickly-sliced ones.

Then let them sit for a few minutes in a mixture of buttermilk and beaten egg.

Dredge them in a cornmeal/flour mixture. I do about 3 parts meal to one part flour.

Fry in hot oil until golden brown.

Drain on paper towels.

I usually serve these as a side dish, but tonight I made bacon, lettuce, and fried green tomato sandwiches, with a few crumbles of feta cheese.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Uncommon Pillows

I had some cloth purses which Gil brought back from Thailand, and a couple of tunics from another source, and I wanted to use them in some way because I really liked the fabric and the embroidery. I decided to make pillows out of them for my back porch, which is where we spend most of our time during the spring and summer.

To make a pillow out of a purse, I first cut off the handle, leaving enough fabric to turn it and match the finished edge of the middle of the purse:

I pressed down the raw edges:

Then I stuffed it and pinned the top edge. For this pillow, I simply sewed the top together with a zigzag stitch.
I think that these purses make particularly fun and unusual pillows because of the fringe:

To make a pillow of out a tunic, I measured it out and marked it with a fabric marker. I decided to make it 15" wide. I chose the length to include all of the embroidery. Then I cut it out, using the back of the tunic for the back of the pillow.

To square off the neck, I placed a piece of leftover fabric behind the neckline and stitched it on along the embroidery:

I added rickrack to this pillow and then I sewed it together the traditional way, which is: right sides together, turn, stuff, and slipstitch the opening.

They added some nice splashes of color to the porch:

Pillows are really easy to make. Even if you don't have the odd, random items I used to make these pillows, maybe this will inspire you to use something you do already have.