Sunday, November 5, 2017

Turkey soup with a Minnesota North Woods flair

Now that November is finally here, I can "officially" begin my Thanksgiving preparations. As much as I enjoy the work of preparing everything for our Thanksgiving dinner, I also enjoy the immediate post-Thanksgiving season of putting those turkey leftovers to good use.
As I have shared before, our Black Friday tradition is to make turkey and andouille sausage gumbo. With as much turkey as we prepare, however, we still have plenty of leftovers for sandwiches, additional types of soup, and even to put into the freezer for later. For us, working with the leftover turkey is part of our Thanksgiving weekend fun. We will typically oven roast a medium sized turkey and then smoke two turkey breasts. We smoke one with cajun spices and one with herbs from the garden.
This soup includes wild rice which provides the Minnesota North Woods flair. Wild rice is actually the grain that comes from a grass. Three species of wild rice are native to North America. The one I will emphasize here is Zizania palustris, which is native to the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. This species was historically harvested by the Ojibwa This picture illustrates the traditional harvesting process with one individual tasked with paddling the canoe with others threshing the grain into the bottom of the canoe.
Wild rice has a distinct flavor and is also highly nutritious. Wild rice contains 4 grams of protein per 100 calories and is second only to oats in terms of protein content among grains. Wild rice is also a great source of lysine, dietary fiber and B vitamins.
Here is how we make this post-Thanksgiving favorite.

Ingredients
2/3 cup uncooked wild rice
2 cups water
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 - 1 cup sliced carrots
1/3 cup flour
2 quarts turkey (or chicken) broth
2 cups chopped cooked turkey
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup half and half

Instructions:
1. Bring the wild rice and water to a boil in the saucepan. Simmer until the rice is tender, approximately 40-45 minutes (wild rice needs longer to cook relative to white rice). Allow the rice to set for about 5 minutes and fluff with a fork. Set aside until later.
2. Melt the butter in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until the onion becomes soft. Stir in the celery and carrots and cook until they are slightly softened.
3. Stir in the flour and cook until it becomes a pale yellowish color (something like in the picture below).
4. Whisk in the turkey broth until no lumps of flour remain. Simmer until the vegetables are tender.
5. Stir in the wild rice, turkey, salt, pepper, and almonds. Here's an approximation of the turkey. Of course, you can include as much as you want. Simmer for another few minutes until the entire mixture is heated through. We like to include a mixture of our smoked turkey and our regular roasted turkey.
6. Stir in the lemon juice and half-and-half. Bring the soup almost to a boil (avoids the half-and-half separating out). Serve warm. Note: you can also freeze this soup as well. We typically double the recipe, enjoy a meal's worth and then freeze the rest.

Wishing you blessings as we anticipate the Thanksgiving season.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Halloween Donuts

Although I am describing these donuts as "Halloween" donuts, they really are not exclusive to this time of year. As many of you have already discerned through my posts through the years, I am quite a connoisseur of fall and the colors and foods associated with this time of year. Donuts seem to be one of those treats that I associate with late fall. For the past few years, we have used the Halloween season as an opportunity to make them.
The origins of the modern donut (or doughnut) can be traced back to the Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam, which is now New York. The American author Washington Irving, who is best known for The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, described doughnuts as being present among the desserts being served at a Dutch gathering. He also noted that doughnuts were seldom seen anywhere other than in Dutch homes. On a seasonal side note, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is set in a Dutch settlement in New York. Perhaps Ichabod Crane ate a few too many doughnuts before setting off on his fateful ride.
So, back to the recipe for these donuts…
This recipe includes yeast, but you mix up the dough and let it rise in the refrigerator overnight. You then can fry up the donuts at your leisure either the next morning or whenever it is convenient for you.

1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105 - 115 degrees F) Note: if you are using rapid rise yeast, follow the package recommendations regarding water temperature.
3 1/4 cups flour
1/3 cup plus 1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup softened butter

Canola oil for frying

Cinnamon and sugar mixture 

I use my Kitchenaid stand mixer for these but, you can also use a regular hand mixer and then a spoon.

1. In a large bowl, stir together the yeast, warm water, and 1 tsp sugar. Let the mixture sit until the yeast starts to bloom. If it hasn't started "blooming" after a few minutes, discard and start over. Be careful to note the water temperature.
2. Add 1 1/2 cups of flour, the 1/3 cup sugar, and the salt. You can use either an electric mixer or the mixing blade on a stand mixer. Mix in the egg and softened butter.
3. For this next step, use a wooden spoon or the dough hook for a stand mixer. Stir in 1 3/4 cup flour until the dough is smooth. 
4. Cover the ball of dough and place it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Now it's time to roll out the donuts. Roll the dough out on a generously floured board or countertop to approximately 1/2 inch. I like using a donut cutter (pictured below) for cutting the donuts and holes. Prior to acquiring this gadget, I would cut out the larger circle and then find a small object to cut out the hole.

Here are some rolled out and cut donuts and holes ready for frying

Heat the oil to 325 to 350 degrees F. Fry until golden brown, approximately 1 minute per side. When the donuts are adequately deep fried, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to a wire cooling rack or to a large plate lined with paper towels to help absorb excess oil. 
While the donuts are still warm, dip them in the cinnamon sugar mixture.
These donuts are best eaten fresh so they are a great treat for a gathering of people. Or, you can just have a good appetite on hand and be prepared to enjoy a bunch of them.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Halloween Cat

Halloween cat, Halloween cat
Why do you mew and mew like that?
Neither I nor the moon,
Like your tune 
So scat! Halloween cat!
At least that is how the preschool song goes. This was a favorite of my middle child who happened to be born in late October and always loved dressing up in his Halloween costumes.
Although I've created a number of fall-themed quilting projects through the years, this is the first distinctly Halloween quilt that I have made. The pattern is one that I picked up while quilt shop hopping in 2015. Although the example wasn't Halloween specific, I thought it would be a great project for using some of the Halloween prints that I had collected over the years. I also wanted to add a few embellishments of my own to give it a little more of a seasonal look. I do have to say that I was quite pleased with the end result. I hope you will enjoy a closer look at this creation as well.
I was able to find an outline of a bat that I could size down to fit the pattern. I made sure to include a purple cat and to find a way to use other fun prints such as the one with squiggly lines.
For the spider, I traced the oval and then used embroidery thread to free-hand the legs and silk strand. Note the plaid with bats and the polka dot print for the cats.
I borrowed the broom pattern from a snowman quilt pattern. Here the squiggle pattern is horizontal to add a little variety.

The pumpkin shapes are also borrowed from other appliqué patterns.
Picking out the quilting patterns was fun. Rather than a feather pattern for the border, I opted for this one called "Pumpkin Pie." I like the way it turned out.
For the middle, I opted for an edge-to-edge design that featured leaves and vines.
Here's another look at the quilting.
I know that among my readers there are likely to be multiple attitudes toward Halloween. This particular commentary is one that resonates with me and some of the attitudes I have toward this holiday: Signposts: How should Christians handle disagreement over Halloween? For someone like me who works in a pediatric hospital, Halloween is a fun day of dressing up and creating a fun atmosphere for celebrating our patients. Our day includes a parade around the unit with designated stops for trick-or-treating. At home, my husband and I enjoy using the evening as an opportunity to interact with our neighbors and to admire all of the great costumes that come to our door. We also enjoy the teenagers who come by later in the evening and make sure that we have some of the better treats on hand for them.
This particular October 31 happens to mark the 500th anniversary of what is regarded as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation when Martin Luther pinned his 95 theses to the cathedral wall in Wittenberg, Germany. One of the books of the Bible that was particularly meaningful to Luther was the book of Galatians through which he came to understand the freedom that he had through the grace that had been extended to him through Christ's death and resurrection. I will close this post with Paul's instructions regarding this gift of freedom. 
For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. Galatians 5:13

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Harvest Season

The project I am featuring in this blog post isn't new, but it is one that seemed fitting to close out September. I really did write this post in September, it took me until early October to get the pictures included. Throughout September and October our weekends tend to be filled with harvesting the produce from our garden. Here's a quick look at some of the tomatoes that became roasted tomato basil soup earlier this season. 
Last week I pulled some of the beets from our garden and chopped them to make borscht. In case you don't know what borscht is, it is a Russian beet soup, and it is very good despite what my daughter may say. You can also see some of the acorn squash from our garden behind the beets. We will be making them into stuffed squash with sausage and wild rice. 

So, let's get back to this project. This table runner is one that was included in a pattern published by Red Rooster Fabrics back in 2010 for use with their Harvest Town fabric line. Although the pattern is still available as a free download, the fabric is a little harder to find anymore. As August fades away, I'm one who is eager to bring out the fall decorations. That being said, the more overt Halloween items need to wait until October. For me, designs like this one are great for filling that gap during September and can continue to celebrate fall even through the Thanksgiving season.
This is also a project that features some of my attempts at machine quilting. I've shared some of the techniques for machine quilting using a walking foot, a machine quilting technique with which I am becoming more confident. I also used free motion machine quilting on this project, a technique with which I am much less confident. 
Free motion machine quilting can be thought of as drawing by having the pencil remain in place while the artist moves the paper around. The above picture illustrates the foot that is placed on the machine. Free motion quilting also requires that the feed dogs on the machine are lowered so that the quilt "sandwich" can be maneuvered more easily. Another challenge with this technique is keeping an even speed and motion so that the stitch lengths are equal. Let's just say that I am still developing with this technique. Here are a few close ups of my efforts. For some of the free motion work, I tried to trace along the print of the fabric. In other areas, I used more of a freestyle approach.

Over the past few weeks, I've become more convicted of a different type of harvest - this one involving people. Through some recent conversations, I've seen evidence of how God is at work in the lives of people, seeking them and drawing them to Himself. These encounters have reminded me of Paul's instruction to Timothy to "be ready in season and out of season." I've also been reminded of the need to pray for others to join in the work of the harvest and that the harvest is not mine, but God's. I will close with Jesus' instructions as he was sending out the seventy:
The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Luke 10:2

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

As we move into the harvest season of late summer and early fall, keeping up with the abundance of produce from the garden can be challenging. I always appreciate recipes that will quickly use large quantities of whatever is currently "on." This weekend, I found myself with nearly 10 pounds of ripe tomatoes and resolved to put them to good use. 
That "good use" turned out to be a triple batch of roasted tomato basil soup. We certainly enjoyed it, and I hope that you will, too.
Before I proceed to the recipe and instructions, here are a few background comments about tomatoes and basil – 
Tomatoes actually had their origin in the Western Hemisphere and were cultivated by people living in Mexico by around 500 BC. The Spanish conquistadors brought the tomato to Europe in the 1500s and also distributed it among their colonies in the Caribbean and even the Philippines. In the mid-1500s, tomatoes were cultivated primarily as ornamental plants in Italy, however, by the end of the 1600s, published recipes using tomatoes began to appear. By 1710, tomatoes were being grown in present-day South Carolina. Whether they arrived via Great Britain or the Caribbean is unclear.
So are tomatoes fruits or a vegetables? Although, botanically speaking, tomatoes are a fruit, that question became significant for financial reasons in 1887. At that time, US tariff laws placed a duty on fruits but not vegetables. To address that issue, the US Supreme Court declared the tomato a vegetable based on its use in 1893.

Basil seems to have a little less controversy regarding its classification. It is believed to be native to India and has been cultivated there for about 5,000 years. Basil grows best in warm, dry climates and is very sensitive to cold. This probably explains its widespread use in Italian and Southeast Asian. Here in the Intermountain West, I generally wait until late May to plant mine. Although sweet basil is the most commonly grown type of basil, over 160 varieties are available. The term basil is derived from the Greek word basileus, meaning king, and many regard it as the king of herbs. 
Now, let's put this soup together. This recipe will yield about 8 servings.
Ingredients:
3 pounds of fresh tomatoes cut into halves or quarters
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
6 minced garlic cloves - feel free to use less if you wish
1 medium sweet onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes or 1 quart of home canned tomatoes with the juice (Note: if you have additional fresh tomatoes that you want to dice up and substitute for canned ones, I anticipate that would be just fine)
1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh basil leaves (depending on your preferences, you can use more or less)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 quart chicken stock or water (I use chicken stock)

Steps
1. Combine the fresh tomatoes, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic together such that the tomatoes are coated with the oil. Spread the mixture out onto a baking sheet and roast at 400ºF for 45 minutes. What to do about the tomato skins: I kept the skins on for about 2/3 of the tomatoes and peeled the other 1/3. I chose to peel the ones with cracks or rougher areas on them. As you boil the ingredients together and then use the immersion blender, the skins really don't become an issue at all. Here is one of my pans ready to go into the oven.

Here they are after having been roasted. I really liked tossing the minced garlic in to be roasted along with the tomatoes.
2. Saute the chopped onion in 2 tbsp olive oil, the butter and red pepper flakes until the onion becomes translucent.
3. Stir in the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, chicken stock, and the roasted tomatoes (including the juice). Don't worry about cutting up the basil leaves, you will be blending them later. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 40 minutes. Here is my soup simmering on the stove. Remember that I made a triple recipe - hence the large, nearly full cooking pot.
4. Allow the soup to cool and blend with an immersion blender to desired consistency. I blended ours to be fairly smooth with a few tomato pieces remaining.
5. Enjoy with a grilled cheese sandwich or some good warm toasted bread.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Summer Flowers

August has been described as the gateway to fall. Even though we are still in the full swing of summer, we experience those subtle reminders that summer's days are numbered. Here in the Intermountain West, ninety-plus degree days are on the decline, and the evenings become cooler. As we find ourselves now at the end of the month, the sun has not fully risen as of 6:30 in the morning, and we find the sun setting by 8:00 pm. 
Although some aspects of summer are fading away, I find that the colors of the annual flowers become deeper and richer in August and September. Perhaps it is more of my imagination, but I do enjoy these lingering colors as the countdown to the first frost of the season begins.
This post features another row. This one features the row that Sewing Seeds Quilt Company in New Ulm, Minnesota created for the 2014 Row x Row experience. The theme for 2014 was seasons, and they created a row that featured wool appliquéd flower baskets on reproduction-themed fabrics. Considering that this combination features some of my favorites, it was rather enjoyable to put together. The machine quilting was provided by Utah Valley Quilting. If you look closely, you can see some of the detailed flower motif in the corners of each block and the stippling around the flowers in each basket.
Here we have some avens,
Some daisies, 
Geraniums,
Clematis,
Poppies,
And, carnations.
For fun, I thought I would add a few pictures of some of the flowers in my garden. Each year, I plant a color border around our garden. I hope that you enjoy them. I am grateful for my husband's photography to be able to share them with you.






In light of the turmoil of recent weeks and the ongoing aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, I was hoping to provide some type of uplifting or encouraging words, but I seem to be at a loss. As Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for every event under heaven. Presently, it appears that we are in a time of mourning in light of what has been torn down. Perhaps these current events also remind us that our time here on earth is also but a season and that the deepest desire of our hearts lies elsewhere. I will close with King David's sentiments in Psalm 27.
One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek;
That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the LORD
And to meditate in His temple.
Psalm 27:4

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Zucchini Bread in a Bundt Pan

Ah August. That time of year when garden produce is in abundance, and about everywhere you go, someone has zucchini to offer. The zucchini in my backyard garden isn't exactly thriving, so I was actually glad to find an opportunity to bring home one of these summer squash. By the time I had made my way over to claim mine, only the largest was left. Just the same, I brought it home, peeled and shredded it, and have been making multiple batches of zucchini bread - hence the topic of this post.
Zucchini belongs to the plant family Cucurbitacea, which includes other squash species, pumpkins, and cucumbers. Like other squash, zucchini has its origins in the Americas, however, the development and harvesting of the zucchini, as we know it today, occurred in northern Italy sometime around the second half of the 19th century. Its description first appeared in a publication in Milan in 1901. The first description of zucchini in the United States dates to the 1920s. It is assumed that immigrants from Italy brought seeds with them and began cultivating zucchini after their arrival. 
Although zucchini can grow to be rather large, most are harvested at around 8 inches in length when the flesh and seeds are still soft. Zucchini is most often cooked, however, I have seen some vegetable trays with very young, raw zucchini. Zucchini can be stewed with tomatoes and onions, deep-fried, or baked. Larger zucchini can be sliced, have the seeds removed, and then stuffed with a mixture of meet, rice, and herbs.
Of course, zucchini bread is always a popular option for managing a surplus of large zucchini. Multiple recipes exist, but here is one that we have come to enjoy this summer. I like baking it in the bundt pan mostly for the effect of presentation. It's also pretty easy to slice a small wedge for breakfast or a between meal snack. 
Zucchini Bread
Ingredients:
4 eggs
2 cups brown sugar - If you like it a little less sweet, feel free to decrease the amount of sugar to 1 1/2 cups. Depending on your preferences, you can use regular or dark brown sugar or even a combination of both
2/3 cup oil
2 cups shredded zucchini (I just use the grater attachment on my food processor)
3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 

Directions:
1. Beat eggs together until nice and frothy. I use the whisk attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer to do this.
If you are using a Kitchen Aid mixer, switch to the regular mixer attachment for the rest of the process.
2. Mix in the sugar and oil at medium speed.
3. Mix in the shredded zucchini at low to medium speed. Don't worry that the batter is rather stringy in consistency.
4. Fold in the dry ingredients. If you have been using a hand mixer, just stir them in with a wooden spoon. If you are using a Kitchen Aid mixer, use a low speed to more closely approximate stirring them in with a spoon.

Prepare the bundt pan by generously greasing the Bundt pan with Crisco and then flouring it. 

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 to 55 minutes. After baking, place the pan on a wire rack to cool and allow it to cool completely. After cooling, invert the pan on the rack. If the cake doesn't release right away, allow it to sit and let gravity help release the zucchini bread. I've had pretty good luck with this one releasing without too much trouble.

Enjoy! I would imaging that this would taste good with a light cream cheese icing or even with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. We just tend to eat it for breakfast.