Sunday, September 25, 2016

Potato Leek Soup

One of our favorite things about fall is enjoying the harvest from our backyard garden. This time of year, our attention turns to the root crops. This is the second year that we have included leeks in our garden. Last year, we turned them into some pretty good potato leek soup. Today, I'm working on this year's first batch, which actually a quadruple batch of the recipe that I am sharing. Our style of cooking is to make soup in extra large batches, keeping some for a meal or two and freezing the rest. With our family's busy schedule, we love having a freezer full of ready-to-go meals.
Before the recipe, a word or two about the two key ingredients in this soup …
First of all, leeks.
Leeks have been grown for at least several thousand years. In the Old Testament book of Numbers, the children of Israel grumble to Moses remembering, "… the fish we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic, …" Other archaeological evidence also supports leeks being consumed in Egypt and Mesopotamia by at least 2000 BC. Leeks have also become an important part of Welsh cuisine and is one of the national emblems of Wales. One legend relates that a Welsh king had his soldiers wear leeks on their helmets to identify themselves in a battle agains the Saxons that took place in a leek field.
Nutritionally, leeks are a great source of vitamin K, iron, manganese, copper, and folate. They are grown in a manner similar to onions. In early spring, I set out the small seedlings that are rather thin and then leave them to grow throughout the summer and into the fall. In contrast to the bulb of the onion, the leek is more cylindrical in shape. Leeks also have a more complex root system than onions. The edible portions of the leek are its white base and the light green portion of the stalk (similar to green onions). Here is a picture of a few of the the leeks I pulled from my garden.

Second, Yukon gold potatoes.
While you probably could use other types of potatoes in your soup, we are rather partial to the Yukon golds. The Yukon golds are actually a new variety of potato that was developed in  the 1960s in Ontario, Canada, and officially released on the market in 1980. This potato was patterned after a smaller yellow potato that was indigenous to Peru. It is a great source of iron and vitamin C.
Now, on to the recipe …
I am providing an ingredient list for a single batch of soup. This amount will feed our family of four for two meals, provided no one has seconds. We love serving this soup with warm crusty bread.
3 tablespoons butter (yes, just go for the real stuff, it tastes so much better)
4 leeks (This is based on the size of leeks that are typically available in the grocery store. The leeks from my garden are slightly smaller so I will pull enough leeks to equal the amount that I would get from four leeks from the store.)
3 cloves garlic (roughly one tablespoon of chopped garlic if you're like us and just buy a big jar and spoon out what you need)
2 quarts chicken broth (you can make your own from bullion cubes or base or buy the Swanson's brand quarts)
2 bay leaves
sprig of fresh thyme (about 1/4 to 1/2 tsp if you are using dried thyme)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 cup heavy cream

Melt the butter over low heat in a large pot. Add the leeks and garlic and sauté for about 10 minutes until the leeks are wilted. Be careful not to have the heat up too high so that the leeks brown and burn. Here is a picture of how we chopped up our leeks for this stage of the process.
Add the potatoes, chicken stock, bay leaves, thyme, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Boil over low heat for at least 15 minutes or until the potatoes are very soft.
Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprig. Allow the soup to cool a bit and use an immersion blender to puree the ingredients together. Immersion blenders cost about $30 - 40. If you like making soups like this one, it is a great investment. We bought ours a few years ago when we started making butternut squash soup. We've definitely put it to good use!
Add the cream and bring the soup to a slight simmer. You don't want to bring it to a full boil or the cream will start to separate. Adjust seasonings as desired and enjoy!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Hip to be a floating square

Two months ago, I shared a picture of a "floating square" block. This was one of several blocks I created for this quilt. A few days ago, I put the final stitch on the binding , and I am ready to share the quilt with you. It has been a fun project to put together this summer. One of the nice things about it is that the blocks are rather easy to cut and then piece together. If you are efficient, the top could be finished in a weekend.
As I shared earlier, my daughter and I saw a quilt using this pattern during our visit to Corn Wagon Quilt Company during the Utah Quilt Shop Hop back in June. This is one of our favorite shops along the Shop Hop route. It's probably a good thing for my bank account that this shop is about an hour and a half drive away from my house. They have a great selection of fabrics and patterns in many styles. My favorites are their wool projects and Civil War reproduction fabrics.
So, back to the story of this quilt …
The pattern for the quilt is found in the book Piece of Pie by Pie Plate Designs, which is based in Fountain Green, Utah
The patterns in this book are described as layer cake friendly. In this case, a layer cake is not a dessert but rather forty-two 10-inch squares from a given fabric line. For this quilt, the fabric line was Chic Neutrals.
One of the nice things about layer cakes is that you get a sampling of the different fabrics without having to buy a significant amount of yardage. They are great for smaller wall quilts and even up to lap size quilts. They also make it easy to match shades and colors. You can see the variety of related patterns and colors that were included in this fabric line. I will note that, in addition to the layer cake package, I also needed to purchase additional fabric for the borders - just something to be aware of when working with pre-cut fabric such as layer cakes.
Because this quilt was for my teenage daughter, I elected to use minky fabric for the back. Minky is a type of plush fabric. It is softer and thicker than fleece and isn't prone to "pilling." Minky fabric does tend to slip apart when you are trying to sew it together. When I was piecing the backing for this quilt, I found it easier to use a 1/2 inch seam rather than a typical 1/4 inch seam. I also pressed the seams open rather than to one side. A fun thing about minky is the way in which the machine quilting design shows in the fabric. I elected to use an edge-to-edge geometric pattern for this quilt. Here is what the back looks like.
In case you were wondering, my daughter was rather happy with her new quilt.
As I contemplated the term "floating" in the name of this quilt block, the image of something fleeting or temporary came to mind. In the New Testament, James reminds us that this life is temporary, like a vapor, and that we do not know what tomorrow will bring. Paul also reminds us in his second letter to the church at Corinth that, "the things which are seen are temporal." I will close with some excerpts from Hebrews 11, also known as the "Hall of Faith." As we live our our lives in this temporary world which is seen, we are reminded to walk by faith with an eye to the eternal things which are unseen.
 By faith Abraham … went out, not knowing where he was going … for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 
Hebrews 11:8,10

Sunday, August 14, 2016

An Olympic Meal: Brazilian Pork and Black Bean Stew (Feijoada)

As I've shared in previous posts, I love the Olympics, and I enjoy creating meals around events. During the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, I shared our recipe for borscht, a Russian beet soup. For these Rio games, I did a little work to find a Brazilian recipe that we would enjoy. I settled on a pork and black bean stew. While this recipe is a little similar to the Cuban Black Beans & Rice recipe, I shared earlier this year, it also has its own distinct flair. The name of this stew is Feijoada and has been described as the national dish of Brazil. It can be made with either pork or beef. In Rio de Janeiro, it is most commonly prepared with black beans, other regions of brazil may use red beans. Feijoada also can include vegetables such as kale - we used collards, and it is often served over rice.

Before moving on to the recipe, here are a few fun facts about Brazil:

  • Brazil is the 5th largest country in the world in both area and population
  • Brazil's official language is Portuguese. Portuguese explorers first arrived in Brazil in 1500.
  • Brazil is divided into 5 regions. The north region includes the Amazon rain forest.
  • Brazil's plant and animal species are highly diverse. Over 1,200 species have been identified in the Amazon rain forest alone.

  • Rio de Janiero, the site of the 2016 Summer Olympics, is the second largest city in Brazil. The Christ the Redeemer statue is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. 

Here is our recipe for Brazilian pork and black bean stew. We've enjoyed it, and we hope you will, too. 

1 pound of black beans
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Large sweet onion, chopped - set aside about 1/4-1/3 of the onion to use later
1-2 teaspoons chopped garlic
2 or 3 bayleaves, crushed
2 ham hocks - these really are going to provide flavor as much as anything so it's okay if they don't have a lot of meat on them
1 pound sausage - we used andouille, but you could use another smoked sausage such as linguica if you like
1/2 pound bacon
2 bunches of collards
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Soak the black beans overnight in cold water. The next day, drain and rinse them, cover with water, and cook until tender. As the beans are cooking, you can continue with some of the other steps. Note: do not drain the beans after they have cooked. 
2. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté about 2/3 of the chopped onion along with the garlic. Stir in the crushed bay leaves and sauté a few minutes longer. 
3. Cover the ham hocks with water and add the remaining onion. Simmer until the meat is starting to fall off the bones. Remove the ham hocks from the liquid and allow them to cool until they can be easily handled. Pour the broth from the ham hocks into the beans.
4. Now to prepare the meat. Pull the meat from the ham hocks and discard the bone and fat.  Slice up the sausage and bacon and place all of the meat on a baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes at 375 degrees until the meat starts to become slightly crispy. Drain off any fat and stir the meat into the bean mixture.
5. While the meat is cooking, you can prepare the collards. I rinse them off well and then separate each leaf half from the stalk. I then stack up the half-leaves (will create several stacks) and roll them up tight like a cigar. Next, I make 1/2 to 1-inch cuts through the collard cigar. In a separate pot, heat another 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the collards to the oil and slowly sauté them. You can add the collards to the oil in stages, allowing some to cook down a bit before adding more. The collards will cook down quite a bit (well, a lot) as you sauté them. You can also add a bit of water if you wish to keep them from sticking to the bottom of the pan. I also covered the pot as the collards were cooking. After they are nice and tender, stir into the beans. You will now have a pot of stew that looks something like this.
6. Ladle your stew over some steamed rice and enjoy your Olympic dinner!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Visiting States

I have always enjoyed learning about other places. When I was in my middle elementary school years, I could amuse myself for hours on end with a tablet of tracing paper and a set of encyclopedias. I enjoyed learning about different states and countries, and I particularly enjoyed tracing and coloring the maps. 
When I was in the third grade, I was in a combined class that included all of the third graders and half of the fourth graders. One of the fourth graders' assignments was to write a report on a given state. I decided that I didn't want to be left out and asked my teacher if I could write a state report, too. He agreed, and I was delighted to prepare a report on Alaska, the state where I was born. 
Fast forward nearly 40 years to late 2015. While visiting my local quilt shop, I learned of a Block-of-the-Month pattern that would be released in 2016. This project was a quilt made of fabrics featuring the state flowers of each of the 50 states. I very quickly put my name on the list to be included. 
From January through May 2016, each month I received fabric to make 10 blocks. At the end of May, I was ready to put the quilt together. As you can see from the picture at the top of this posting, this is a HUGE quilt. It measures 86.5 x 102.5 inches, so roughly a queen size quilt. The machine quilting was done by Kerrie Curtis from Utah Valley Quilting who did a great job with an all-over design that complemented the designs of the individual blocks.  
The fabrics used in this quilt featured art deco-style prints. The block pattern is the granny square block, a traditional quilt block pattern that has appeared in many quilts through the years. One of the nice things about this quilt pattern is that it didn't require additional sashing strips. As the blocks were sewn together, the white triangles on the outside edges of the blocks joined together to create full size squares that gave the look of sashing between the blocks. 
I thought I would share a few of the blocks with you. I've selected blocks featuring the state flowers of the states that we recently visited during our family's summer vacation. I'm starting with the Utah sego lily. 
From Utah, we crossed over into Wyoming, whose state flower is the Indian paintbrush.
After a long drive through Wyoming, we crossed over into Nebraska. Their state flower is the goldenrod.
The border between Nebraska and the neighboring state of Iowa is defined by the Missouri River. Iowa's state flower is the wild prairie rose.
After a brief drive through Iowa, we reached Minnesota, home to the lady slipper.
After staying for several days in Minnesota, we needed to head for home. Our journey westward took us to North Dakota, who also selected the wild prairie rose as their state flower.
Our travels also included a few days in South Dakota. South Dakota adopted the pasque flower, also known as the May Day flower as their state flower. From South Dakota, we journeyed back through Wyoming and then home to Utah.
Although this post has featured states as physical locations that can be visited, I would also like to reflect, for a moment or two, on non-geographic states. These "states" may be considered our state of mind, state of the heart, or even our spiritual state. I will readily admit that it is easy for us to allow these "states" to be influenced by our circumstances, including other people, the weather, finances, current challenges, uncertainty within our nation or the world - really about anything. In contemplating these "states," I've found myself reflecting on Paul's words in his letter to the Philippians in which he relates his state of contentment despite the widely disparate circumstances he experienced during his ministry years. Of note, too, Paul penned these words while in prison. Perhaps they, too, will challenge you as you contemplate your own circumstances and the "state" in which you are finding yourself.
Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. Philippians 4:11-12

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus … a great snack made with a pretty cool gadget

As I've shared in a few other posts, during the summer time, we enjoy foods with a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern taste to them. Previous posts have featured tabbouleh as well as a pasta salad that includes Kalamata olives. This month I thought I would write about hummus and how we acquired the kitchen gadget that we find useful in making hummus.
For those of you who may be less familiar with hummus, it is a spread or dip made from chick peas, also known as garbanzo beans. Hummus is actually taken from the Arabic word that means "chick peas." Archeological evidence suggests that chick peas have been part of humans' diets since about 6000 BC. Today, they are grown throughout the Middle East, southern Europe, north Africa, and India. Here is a picture of chick pea plants and pods. Note that the pods typically contain only 1or 2 peas.

In addition to being the main ingredient in hummus, chick peas are used in a number of dishes throughout the world. Chick peas are a nutrient-dense food and a great source of protein, dietary fiber, folate, iron, and phosphorus. Their protein quality is ranked higher than that of many other legumes and cereals so they are a great option for those of you who prefer a vegetarian diet. 
In addition to pureed chick peas, key ingredients in hummus include tahini, lemon juice, and olive oil. Tahini is a paste made of ground sesame seeds. You can generally find it in the ethnic foods section of the grocery store. It can be rather messy to work with, and I will share how I go about measuring it for this recipe. Depending on your tastes, you can add other spices and flavorings such as garlic. 
So, now for the story of how we got ourselves involved in making hummus …
A little over a year ago, my husband was marking his 15th anniversary with his current company. He wasn't going to pick out an anniversary gift, but I encouraged him to look through the catalog anyway. One of the choices was a nice Cuisinart food processor. I reminded him that our daughter enjoyed making smoothies and other similar concoctions during the summer months so it might be a nice choice. At that time, we had also made an attempt at hummus using our tiny food processor. Here is a picture of this gadget. Please excuse the Apple product power supply cables in the background.
Now, for the recipe and instructions for roasted red pepper hummus
2 red bell peppers
2 15-ounce cans of chick peas, drained. Reserve some of the liquid from one of the cans in case you want to add it to thin out the hummus mixture a little.
1/3 cup tahini
1/4 cup lemon juice (you may want to add a little more to taste after you have mixed the ingredients together)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons crushed garlic
salt to taste
sprinkling of cayenne pepper to taste

Step 1: Roast the red peppers. This is really the most time consuming part of the process. It's also a bit messy, but the end result is great so hang in there.
Start by brushing the peppers with olive oil, poking a few holes in them and then placing them on a pan under the broiler.
As they broil, you want the outer skin to get nice and charred. Turn them every few minutes so that all of the sides are evenly roasted. When they have finished roasting, they will look something like this.
Place them in a plastic bag and allow them to cool. This cooling process will also allow the skins to loosen. After they are cool enough to handle, peel off the outer skin, cut them open, and remove the seeds. Place the pepper strips in the food processor and puree.
Step 2: Add the chick peas, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic to the food processor and puree. Quick tip: here is how I measure the tahini. 
As you can see from this picture, the tahini is pretty oily and can be messy to work with. Often times, the oil will separate from the paste so you will need to stir them together before measuring. I have a long cake frosting spatula that I like to use for this purpose. Because the tahini is so thick, I don't want to bend one of my regular spoons. When I go to measure the 1/3 cup for this recipe, I get out the 1/3 measuring cup so that I can get a visual image of how much it is. I then use the spatula to scoop out the approximate amount and put it right into the food processor so that I don't have a messy measuring cup to deal with.
Step 3: Here is where you add additional seasonings as desired. I often add in another teaspoon or two of lemon juice, some salt, and a sprinkling of cayenne pepper. I don't want to overwhelm the hummus with too much spice, but a little hint of cayenne is nice.
Step 4: Eat and enjoy. You can serve hummus with about anything - flatbread, pita bread, pita chips, vegetables - whatever it is you prefer. 
I've had some complements on this hummus from two Middle Easterners who are rather discriminating in their tastes. I take that to be a good thing, and I hope that you will enjoy this recipe as well.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Summer Stitches

Rather than write about a specific project or technique, I thought I would share a few snippets from some of my current projects. For good or for bad, I do tend to be one who often has multiple simultaneous projects. (This is something that is true in my work life as well as my stitching life. I will leave it to my readers to determine the merits of this characteristic.)
Here in Utah, our northern quilt shops have their annual "Shop Hop" in early June. This is always a fun event that is based around a given theme. This year's theme was "Travel Through Time," and each shop was assigned a given time period around which the owners and staff would decorate their respective shops and design a quilt pattern. My daughter and I decided to take a road trip day to visit the shops and check out some local food along the way. Our first stop was Corn Wagon Quilts in Springville, Utah. I love the historic building where this shop is located, and they also always do a great job with their shop hop assignment. To get to the point of this post, my daughter found a display quilt that she really liked. Although the shop was out of the fabric (it turned out to be a fabric line from last year), we were able to buy the book that included the pattern. Fortunately, we were able to locate the needed fabric online, and I've gone to work getting the quilt done. Here is a look at one of the blocks from this "Floating Square" quilt. I will wait to share a larger picture when it is finished. In case you are wondering, I'm liking how it is coming together.
Moving on now to a project that has been in the works for a few years. This is actually a project that I have been looking forward to working on and getting completed. I had a lot of fun picking out the different fabrics to include in this somewhat scrappy looking quilt. The challenge has been just getting it done. A few weeks ago I was making some pretty impressive progress, but I seem to be losing steam again. My challenges have been twofold (I think): 1) the blocks require several stages of measuring and cutting as you go and 2) I need sufficient space for laying out the completed blocks so that I can get a sense of which fabrics I have been using the most as well as which combinations I want to put together. I've started and stopped this project about three times now, but it's on a list of 2016 quilting resolutions that I am being held accountable to complete. Here is one of the blocks. Like the previous project, I will keep you guessing until the entire project is complete.

Lest you think that all I do is start projects, here is a project that I actually finished this week. It's probably no big surprise that it is a sheep. In addition to my machine-pieced projects, I like having a handwork project close by for when I am traveling or watching TV. Yes, I'm one of those who can't just sit and not do anything while watching TV.
One of the fun things about this wool appliqué project was using different decorative embroidery stitches to embellish the individual pieces. Here's a close up featuring a row of stars and a modified herringbone stitch. I also created some blades of grass on the green hillside.
This photo lets you see some of the different textures in the threads I was using as well as some different stitches. The gold on the branch is an overdyed thread. If you look closely, you can see the variegated tones in it. 
I hope that you are finding the time to enjoy a few summer stitching projects of your own. I am looking forward to spending some of the hottest summer afternoons in my cool basement sewing room. 
For fun, I thought I would find a verse that addresses summer. Here is a simple verse from Psalm 74 that is a reminder of God's sovereignty. In the midst of times that can feel troublesome and uncertain, I find security and peace resting in His sovereignty.
You have established all the boundaries of the earth; 
You have made summer and winter. Psalm 74:17

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Sun Safe Salad - and a colorful one at that

 With summer now upon us, many of us are finding ourselves participating in summer gatherings of one sort or another. One of the great things about these gatherings is sharing food with friends. Unfortunately, one of the downsides of such gatherings is the potential for bacteria to be lurking about in food. These bacteria can certainly wreak havoc on picnic gatherers as temperatures rise and the right growth medium is present in the food.
The recipe I am sharing in this post is one that is is relatively sun safe in that it doesn't include ingredients that tend to serve as a growth medium for bacteria that can cause food poisoning. It also is one that is rather colorful and tends to be a crowd pleaser. It does include some raw red onion so younger children and those with more sensitive tastes may not enjoy it as much. Nonetheless, this salad has a bit of a southwest flavor and makes a nice addition to outdoor summer picnics as well as indoor gatherings. It is also very easy to put together.
Corn and Black Bean Salad
Combine the following together in a large bowl:
  • 3 cans of black beans (I like to use the low sodium kind)
  • 2 cans of niblet corn (The picture below shows what the bean/corn mixture looks like using the proportions I have stated here.)
  • 1/2 of a large red onion, finely chopped (You can use more or less depending on your taste preference. It is raw so be aware of the strong taste. Here is a photo showing how finely I chop mine.)
  • 1 large or 1.5 medium red pepper, coarsely chopped (As with the onion, feel free to use more or less depending on your taste preference. Because the pepper adds a "sweet" taste, I tend to chop more coarsely.)
Here's an idea of what all of the vegetables will look like when you stir them together:
Now for the dressing part. I just pour the following over the chopped vegetables and stir it all together:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 or 3 splashes of Tabasco sauce
Stir it all together and give it a taste. Adjust the seasonings as you wish.

Since we are on the topic of summer foods, here are a few food safety pointers courtesy of the US Food and Drug Administration.
When packing and transporting food
  • Keep cold food cold - use ice or frozen gel packs with a goal of keeping food at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less.
  • Organize your cooler contents - consider keeping drinks in one cooler and perishable foods in another. This helps limit the number of times you will need to open and close the cooler with perishable food.
  • Don't cross-contaminate - keep raw meats securely wrapped to avoid juices from them leaking onto food items that are intended to be eaten raw.
  • Clean your produce - wash fresh fruits and vegetables before eating them.
When serving food 
  • The main thing is to keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. In general, do not allow foods to sit out for more than 2 hours. Shorten this time to one hour if the outside temperature is above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Cold foods - keep them refrigerated until it is time to serve them. You can also set dishes in a pan of ice to help keep them cool.
  • Hot foods - wrap them well and keep them in an insulated cooler until serving time. 
  • Avoid cross contamination do not reuse a plate or utensils that have been used with raw or uncooked meat, poultry, or seafood unless they have been thoroughly washed in hot, soapy water

Have a fun and healthy summer!