Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Moroccan Meal

While some people make lists of things to do during the summer, we make lists of things to cook during the summer. The items on our list may include a general type of cooking or a specific dish that we want to prepare. We will try to share some of our success stories with you along the way.








We decided to start our summer cooking adventures with a Moroccan themed meal. I find Morocco a very intriguing country and one I would like to visit some time. For those of you who are not familiar with its location, Morocco is a North African country which is just across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain. For a little added perspective, the area of Morocco is roughly the size of the Appalachian region of the United States. My earliest recollections of learning anything about Morocco go back to when I was about six years old. I have memories of an article in a junior-type National Geographic magazine titled "The Faces of Fez." I really don't remember much else about this article.
Morocco is officially known as the Kingdom of Morocco. It has a very ethnically diverse culture and has interacted with many other people groups throughout history. The Phoenicians drew Morocco into trade among other Mediterranean countries and cultural groups. Its indigenous people are the Berbers, however, its modern culture has been influenced by Arabian, sub-Saharan African, Jewish, Spanish, Portuguese, and French cultures.
Atlas Mountains
Sahara Desert
Morocco's geography is also highly diverse and includes fertile coastal regions, portions of the Sahara desert, and the Atlas mountains. The picture below of the city of Fez pictures date palms.
Tourism is an important aspect of Morocco's economy. Among its most noted landmarks is the Koutoubia mosque in Marakesh. 

Morocco's cuisine is also as diverse as its history, culture, and geography. A tajine is a typical North African dish which shares its name with the earthenware pot in which it is cooked. The first mention of a tajine dates back to about the 9th century. A Moroccan tajine is typically a stew that includes meat, fish or poultry as well as vegetables and/or dried fruit. The dish is typically seasoned with ginger, cumin, turmeric, saffron, and cinnamon. The tajine is often served with couscous or rice and bread.
Here is the recipe we used for our Moroccan meal. I hope that you will enjoy it as well.

Ingredients
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions - chop one and cut the other into large slices/chunks
1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped tomato
1-2 tbsp grated ginger (feel free to start with a smaller amount and add more to taste)
3 garlic cloves
1 large butternut squash peeled, de-seeded, and cut into chunks
1 quart of chicken stock (you may end up needing more)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
Moroccan seasoning (I'm including a picture of the blend we used and will explain how we used it in this recipe. If possible, it's nice to have two people working on this recipe together. Some of the steps can occur simultaneously so the extra set of hands makes for more efficient work.
1. First we are going to cook the chicken. Heat about 2 tbsp of the oil in a large Dutch oven. Rub the chicken with the Moroccan seasoning and cook it in the oil until done. Remove the chicken from the Dutch oven, cut into bite size chunks, and set aside.
2. While the chicken is cooking, mix the chopped onion, tomatoes, ginger and garlic together in a food processor. Here is what our mixture looked like after processing.
3. By this point, your kitchen is smelling amazing, but, there is still plenty to do so let's move on to the next steps.
4. Back to the Dutch oven - pour in an additional tablespoon of oil and sauté the sliced onion. As I mentioned earlier, I made wide, chunky onion slices that would hold up through the cooking process. Sauté until they are softening up and stir in about a teaspoon or so of the Moroccan seasoning - you can always adjust and add more later. Stir in the tomato mixture and cook for about another minute or so until everything is nicely combined. 
5. Now it's time to stir in the chicken stock and add in the squash, brown sugar, and vinegar. Cook for about 30 minutes or so until the squash is fork tender. Here's a picture of the sizes of the squash chunks.
6. Stir the cooked chicken into the mixture and adjust seasonings as needed. Depending on your preferences, you could also add in the individual spices that are part of the Moroccan seasoning mix. Here's the finished tajine.
7. Now, we're going to put together a garnish to sprinkle over the top of the individual bowls. Mix together some feta cheese, very finely minced red onion, some sprinkles of lemon zest and a few chopped mint leaves. Use whatever proportions you like. Here's what our mixture looked like.
8. Serve over couscous or rice. We also made some naan bread to go with ours. You could also try a more traditional Moroccan khobz flatbread.
Happy eating!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What's in a name?

What's in a name? Well, in my case, lemon, azure, hyacinth, and light background. In case you are feeling a bit confused, I will back up a bit and relate a little more of the story.
Back in January, I was visiting one of my favorite local quilt shops, K & H Quilt Shoppe in Kaysville. On this visit, I learned of a quilt "challenge" they were issuing. Although I've heard of quilt challenges, I hadn't yet participated in one. This one intrigued me, and I decided to sign up.
For those of you who may not know what a quilt challenge is, here is my attempt at an explanation. A quilt challenge is issued to invite interested quilters to create a quilt, or perhaps just a quilt block around a given feature. Most often, I have seen quilt challenges involve a given piece of fabric. Those who elect to participate in the challenge, receive the piece of fabric and must incorporate it into their quilt. Sometimes the challenge also involves a theme so the quilter must design a quilt that incorporates the fabric and, in some way, relates to the theme.
So now, back to my challenge. The theme of this challenge was "What's in a Name?" Those participating were directed to construct their quilt using colors that started with the initials in their name. We were allowed to use middle and maiden names so that gave us some added variety. We were told that we could design our own quilt, use a kit, base it from a pattern, really whatever - it just needed to be at least 30 inches square and needed to just include the colors corresponding to our initials. We also were allowed to use a background fabric.
For my initials of L A H L, I let my husband pick out the colors. He selected lemon, azure, and hyacinth. I decided that the last "L" could stand for light background.
Next, I had to decide what my quilt would look like. I pondered through some patterns and magazines, but nothing really seemed to fit. After a while, I realized that I had some Civil War-themed block pattern books that I have been eager to use. I also had Civil War-themed fabric in my selected colors so I was off to work.
The next looming challenge was which blocks to select. With limited time, I couldn't use all of them. I also wanted a smaller wall quilt so I chose to use 6-inch blocks. The book I used, however, gave directions for 8-inch and 12-inch blocks. So, I took on the challenge of sizing down the pieces. Keep in mind that sizing down pieces for a 6-inch block isn't just a matter of using half the dimensions of the pieces for the 12-inch block. You also have to keep in mind the seam allowances. If a given set of patches is cut more than once, in the case of quarter-square triangles, you will need to account for that as well. (I can explain more in another post.)
Here is a picture of all of my completed blocks on the design wall before I added the sashing strips. I was very happy with how they turned out. I also had fun using different shades of my selected colors.
Here are a few closeups of some of the blocks with the machine quilting in place. 

I think this one is my favorite.like the way the fussy-cut lemon-colored rose is centered in the block.
Here's the back of the quilt so that you can see the edge-to-edge quilting motif.
Finally, here is a close up of my label. I'm not the most artistic at creating my labels, and I have a hard time getting my letters of uniform size and darkness.
As I've thought about "What's in a name?" I've also pondered what God's Word has to say about names. One particular Sunday School memory verse comes to mind, and I will simply close out this post by sharing it with you. 
A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, 
favor is better than silver or gold. Proverbs 22:1

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Smoked Four Cheese Macaroni and Cheese

Who doesn't like good down home comfort food? If you know us or have followed this blog at all, you know that we definitely like to eat. We especially like good barbecue and sides to go with it. A few weeks back, we tried our hand at a smoked macaroni and cheese. You could also prepare this macaroni and cheese in the oven, but we were rather intrigued at the idea of using the smoker.
Macaroni and cheese is regarded as a dish of English origin. The cheese sauce most frequently features cheddar cheese. Recipes for pasta and cheese casseroles actually appeared in both English and Italian cookbooks dating back to the 14th century. In the United States, Thomas Jefferson is reported to have served a macaroni and cheese-type dish at a state dinner in 1802. A recipe titled, "macaroni and cheese," appeared in The Virginia Housewife, a cookbook published in 1824. 
The recipe that I am sharing features four types of cheese: cream cheese, cheddar cheese, Gouda cheese, and parmesan cheese. Each brings a distinct flavor to the macaroni and cheese. Although you can use any type of pasta that tends to hold its shape well such as shells, bowties, or penne, elbow macaroni is often the pasta of choice. I like using the Barilla brand elbow macaroni. The elbows tend to be a bit larger, and they are ribbed, which adds a little interest while keeping the classic look to the dish.
 


Here are the ingredients and instructions:
1 16 ounce package of pasta
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
3 1/2 cups milk
8 ounce brick of cream cheese (Don't use the low fat stuff as the consistency won't turn out right; we're talking comfort food here - go for the real stuff. Moderation in all things.)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded Gouda cheese
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Crushed Cheez-It crackers

1. Cook the pasta according to directions. Drain and set aside.
2. In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter and whisk the flour into the butter to form a light roux. Cook over medium heat for two minutes until the sauce is thick and bubbly.
3. Whisk in the milk and bring to a low boil. Cook five minutes until the mixture is thickened.
4. Cut the cream cheese into chunks and stir into the milk mixture until it is melted. Stir in the salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
5. Stir in 1 cup cheddar cheese, 1 cup Gouda cheese, and the parmesan cheese until they are melted. Stir in the pasta until it is well coated.
Here is a picture of the sauce before we stirred in the pasta
6. Spray a 11 x 9.5 inch roasting pan with non-stick cooking spray. Spoon the pasta mixture into the pan.
7. Combine the remaining cheddar and Gouda cheeses with the crushed Cheez-It crackers. Sprinkle over the top of the pasta.
8. Load the wood tray of the smoker with one small handful of wood chips. We recommend using a fruit wood such as apple or cherry. Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees.
9. Place the pasta in the smoker and cook for 1 hour until bubbly and heated through. If you don't have a smoker, bake in the oven at 350 degrees until bubbly and heated through, about 40-60 minutes.
Here it is on the shelf in the smoker
 Here you can see the crispy cracker topping.
We had our macaroni and cheese with some smoked pulled pork and vegetables. I'm thinking we will be trying this recipe again.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Happy DNA Day!

I've been looking forward to this post for quite some time now. First of all, because it would mean that I finally finished this quilt. Second, because I really am a nerd, and this post will remove any doubts you may have had.
So, just what is it that makes today DNA day? I'm glad you asked. April 25 marks the anniversary of the initial publication by Watson and Crick announcing the double helix structure of the DNA molecule in 1953. Here is their picture as well as a picture of their publication in Nature






Now, let's fast forward 50 years to April 25, 2003, when the announcement regarding the completion of the Human Genome Project was made.
DNA day is celebrated on April 25. The National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health organizes DNA day events to help students, teachers, and the public learn more about genetics and genomics. 
My first exposure to genetics and DNA was in my 10th grade biology class at Box Elder High School. I found myself rather fascinated with principles of Mendelian genetics and completing my punnet square exercises. Who could have known at the time that this initial exposure would ultimately lead to my participation in the NINR-sponsored Summer Genetics Institute during the summer of 2005 and teaching a graduate level clinical genetics course?
So, just what does all of this have to do with a quilt? Good question, and let's get back to the story. Fast forward to the spring of 2012. I purchased a copy of Quiltmaker magazine that featured a quilt pattern titled, "Chain Reaction." When I looked at the chain pattern, however, I saw DNA double helices rather than chains. I purchased some DNA-themed fabric from spoonflower.com (by the way, they have even more pretty terrific DNA and science-themed prints now), and began my work on this quilt. I decided to go for a scrappy look, and hunted down some additional prints that complemented chromosomes and DNA strands. Here's a look at the steps involved in making each individual block. Although the block construction wasn't that difficult, making over 60 of these blocks did get a bit tedious. I did find myself very grateful for the 60 degree cutting line on my cutting mat.
I started by cutting a 60 degree angle through my background block of fabric. Then I inserted a strip of one of my prints. For this block, I selected a print that included what I thought looked like a bunch of cells.












The next step was to remove a portion of the block - more 60 degree angle cuts and insert another strip of fabric. This time I chose a print that featured chromosomes and their bands.

Part of the challenge with this quilt was to make sure that I was incorporating enough variety into the quilt. This included making sure that I was using different combinations of prints in the individual blocks and then arranging the blocks in such a way that I had plenty of variety in the quilt. This meant having adequate space to position and reposition the blocks. This stage of the process pretty much consumed my entire design wall and forced me to bring this project to completion. 
Here are a few close ups of some of the blocks and science-themed prints included in the quilt. The DNA double helix print was my favorite. Here it is paired with a yellow and green leafy print as well as a print with dots on a black background. I think that the dots resemble the pattern of a microarray - a means for evaluating gene expression in a given tissue sample.

Here we have some chromosomes as well as a print that features paramecia.  
 











A science-themed quilt wouldn't be complete without  a prints that included insects and frogs. To me, the blue fabric on the right featured centrifuge rotors. The yellow fabric on the right featured linear thread-like nuclear DNA. Remember, I did warn you that this post would provide evidence of how much of a nerd I am.
 











On this DNA Day, I enjoy contemplating what a privilege it is to be living in an era where we are able to discover so much of the inner workings of our cells and how four bases, adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, arrange themselves in such a way as to comprise our genomes. It's amazing to think of the complexities of the processes that regulate DNA replication, RNA transcription, and its subsequent translation into functional protein products. It's also humbling to realize how even one small error, the substitution of one base for another, can result in significant disease. I'm also awed to think that the One who knows the number of hairs on my head and knows each star by name also knows every base sequence of my DNA. As Paul reminded the church at Colossae many years before anyone had an inkling of the DNA molecule,
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Colossians 1:16-17

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Aebelskivers - a Danish breakfast treat.

I love Saturday morning breakfast. During the weekdays, I'm usually up and on my way so early that breakfast is more of a grab-and-go affair. For our family, we've also found that big Saturday morning breakfasts also help make the weekend cooking a little more efficient. A big, mid-morning Saturday breakfast means that we can get by with just one other meal for the day. For days when we have plenty of Saturday yard work and chores, getting by with fixing just two meals is a good thing.
One of our breakfast favorites is aebelskivers. For those of you who haven't heard of aebelskivers, they are a round Danish pancake. The word, "aebelskiver," actually translates as "apple slices." I've seen some recipes that include apple bits in them, but, more often than not, they don't include apples.
I was first introduced to aebelskivers during my elementary school years. Because they do involve a bit of work to prepare, we didn't have them very often, but they were a fun breakfast treat. During recent years, I've acquired an aebelskiver pan and have enjoyed making them for my family as a way to share a bit of my own Danish heritage. 
Because I am half Danish, I've been known to describe myself as a "slightly domesticated Viking." You are free to interpret that however you wish. My Danish ancestors immigrated to the United States near the turn of the last century and settled in northern Utah and southern Idaho. I honestly do not know to what extent any of my more remote ancestors engaged in any types of Viking raids or other activities that we tend to associated with Vikings.
Some fun facts about Denmark: 
  • Denmark is the smallest of the Scandinavian countries.
  • The Kingdom of Denmark actually includes Greenland and the Faroe islands which lie between Denmark and Iceland.
  • The current Danish monarchy traces its origins back to the 10th century.
  • Hans Christian Andersen, author of The Little Mermaid and The Emperor's New Clothes, was Danish. 
  • Legos were first produced in Billund, Denmark
  • Danish embroidery, features intricate cutwork as illustrated below. Perhaps that will be a topic for a future blog.

Let's get back to aebelskivers. To make aebelskivers, you will first need an aebelskiver skillet. Mine is a cast iron one, however, Nordicware makes a cast aluminum one that is available at Amazon.com. A typical aebelskiver pan will allow you to make seven at once.
So, now for the recipe. From what I've been told this is my Danish grandmother's recipe. Even if it isn't her exact one, it is similar to other recipes that I have found online.
Aebelskivers
Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp soda
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs separated
2 quarts buttermilk

Directions
Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the egg yolks and buttermilk. Beat until smooth. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into the batter. Fry the aebelskivers in the aebelskiver skillet.

Now for the art of frying the aebelskivers:
I use non-stick spray on the inside of my skillet. You could also use vegetable oil if you wish. Heat the skillet over medium heat. Test it the way you would for making pancakes by sprinkling a few drops of water and see if they sizzle and skitter around. As with pancakes, it may take the first batch to get the heat just right.
Fill the cups of the skillet about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way full. Also as with pancakes, you will see the bubbles forming on the top of the batter.

When the aebelskivers have browned, you will need to flip them over. I've seen some sources say that aebelskivers are traditional turned with knitting needles. I just use a fork.
After you have flipped them over, allow the underside to brown and remove them from the skillet. I typically put them in a large serving bowl and place the bowl inside a warm oven while I am frying all of them. Aebelskivers are often eaten with jam. You can also top them with any of your favorite pancake and waffle toppings.