Monday, July 10, 2017

A Summer Stand-by Salad

As I've shared over the past few summers, our family enjoys cool salads as we cope with the peak heat season. One of our standbys is, what is for us, a traditional macaroni salad. The recipe I will be sharing is my attempt at quantifying the recipe that I have been using since my elementary school days.
For fun, I tried to get a sense of the history of the macaroni salad. In general, a "macaroni salad" differs from a "pasta salad" in that the macaroni salad is traditionally a mayonnaise-based salad whereas the pasta salad is traditionally a vinaigrette-based salad. 
I was able to locate a recipe for macaroni salad dating back to 1916. This recipe uses a combination/mixture of whipping cream, horseradish, sugar and salt in place of the mayonnaise. Another interesting thing about this recipe is that it seems that, at that time, macaroni was sold in long sticks. After the sticks were cooked, they were then cut into pieces for use in the salad. Another interesting thing is that the cooked pieces were placed in pickled beet juice to "dye" them a pink color before mixing them into the salad.
I've also found a wide variety of ingredients that have been included in macaroni salads. These include chopped eggs, onions, potatoes, shrimp, sweet or dill pickles, olives, or chicken. Most sources indicate that the typical pasta that is included in macaroni salads is elbow macaroni. I've typically made my salads with ditalini (also called salad macaroni) or small shell macaroni.
Here's how I put my salad together:
First, a picture of the ingredients. Trying to quantify what I have just put together over the years is a bit challenging. A picture of what will go into the salad might be more helpful.
16 ounces of pasta - I have a preference for small shells but use what you like
1 bunch of green onions
1 bunch of radishes
1 chopped cucumber
Chopped, cubed cheese
Salt and pepper

1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain, rinse, and chill.
2. Slice the green onions and radishes. I like to include some of the green parts of the onions. Depending on how big the radishes are, I may cut the slices in halves or quarters.
3. Now to cut up the cucumber and cheese. Here you can get an idea as to how much cheese I typically use and the size of the pieces I use.
4. Stir in some salt and pepper and mix the ingredients together.
5. Stir in the pasta and the mayonnaise - use as much mayonnaise as desired to moisten all of the ingredients.
6. Serve with a favorite main dish. We enjoyed our salad with some grilled teriyaki burgers.
Happy summer and happy eating!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Gettysburg Sun

One hundred and fifty-four years ago today, Union and Confederate forces were gathering on the eve of what would prove to be a 3-day battle that would result in the largest number of casualties in a single battle, the most in United States history. This battle would also prove to be the turning point in the United States Civil War.
The quilt that I am sharing in this post is titled "Gettysburg Sun." Its pattern is featured in the book Civil War Legacies II, and I purchased the kit to make this quilt at Corn Wagon Quilt Company in Springville, Utah. On a side note, this is an absolutely wonderful quilt shop in an historic building in Springville. 
During this 3-day battles, temperatures became progressively warmer each day. A math and science professor at Pennsylvania College, now Gettysburg College, recorded the temperatures three times daily during the course of the battle. The mid-day temperatures were 76 degrees on July 1, 81 degrees on July 2, and 87 degrees on July 3. Rain would fall on July 4 which would result in flooding in low-lying areas and contribute to even more deaths, this time from drowning, among those stranded in these areas.
The progressive heat along with the fatigue of the battle certainly would have added to the misery of all involved. At the end of the three days, the armies had suffered combined casualties of more than 50,000 casualties. As the armies pulled out, the citizens of Gettysburg were left to quickly bury those who had been killed and to begin to recover from the devastation left behind.
Fifty years later, in July 1913, more than 50,000 Union and Confederate veterans would  gather at Gettysburg at what would be the largest ever Civil War veteran reunion. Despite concerns of animosity, the event was a peaceful one. President Woodrow Wilson addressed those in attendance. His remarks included the following: "We have found one another again as brothers and comrades in arms, enemies no longer, generous friends rather, our battles long past, the quarrel forgotten - except that we shall not forget the splendid valor." 

With that thought in mind, let's move on to some of the features of these quilt blocks.

Each sun block began as 31 individual pieces. Here are all of the pieces for a single block set out on my design board. I thought it might be fun to illustrate how these all come together to create a sun.
Let's start by making hourglass blocks from the triangle pieces. We will need four pieces (two in each color) to create two hourglass blocks.
After sewing these two sets of triangles together, we will cut them in half.
Now, we need to pair up the matching sides to create our hourglasses. (Otherwise, we would just be sewing the original block back together.)
These pictures gives a better perspective on how the matching sides pair together to create the hourglass.

Now, we are going to move on to a tool that will make some of our next steps much easier. The piece of plastic that is taped down is a great resource for sewing diagonal lines. (Sorry for the rather dark lighting.) After aligning the tool, you will position your fabric squares so that the points follow the vertical lines to support the stitching. The sides of the fabric square will align with the marked diagonal lines on the plastic.
This picture probably makes a little more sense. In this picture I am attaching a gold square to a blue rectangle. You can see how the points of the square align with the center vertical line. As the stitching advances, you want to keep the lower point aligned on the center line. The sides of the square advance evenly along the diagonal lines.
I'm hoping that you can see the stitching lines for these eight units. You will see that for four of them, the diagonal proceeds in one direction. For the other four, the diagonal proceeds in the opposite direction.
After trimming the dog ears, and pressing the gold piece over the seam allowance, here is what these pieces will look like. You can also see that our total number of individual pieces is decreasing.
Let's move on to construct the center of our sun. This center block is also what is known as a "snowball" block. As shown in the picture on the left, we will place four square pieces in each of the corner of the gold patch. We will use the angler tool to stitch along the diagonal of each corner square. We will then clip the dog ears and press the navy pieces out. 

Let's get back to our hourglass blocks and the set of eight units that were created by stitching on the diagonal. Now you can see why the diagonal went one direction for four of them and the opposite direction for the other four. We are going to create a total of four units by combining sets of these three pieces.
We will also stitch two solid patches to the sides of two of these units.
Now, it's time to combine these units into our block. When all is said and done, this block actually mimics a traditional nine-patch block. The differences are that five of the nine patches needed to be constructed and that the nine patches are not equal in size.
Here is our completed sun.
Earlier this year, I shared that I have been working to memorize the verses in Ephesians chapter 6 that address the armor of God. Over the past few weeks, in particular, I have been reflecting on how applicable these verses have been to me in the midst of a given season of my life. Specifically, I've been reminded that the battle is not against individual people and that I need not to view given individuals as the enemy. I've also been keenly reminded that I need to rely on Christ's righteousness and not my own to guard my heart. The portion of the armor that has been most pertinent to me has been the footwear. While this may seem odd, it is the purpose of the footwear, with the preparation of the gospel of peach, that has resonated with me over the past few weeks and months. For me, this means going out each day as a peacemaker who is conveying the message of the gospel through my words and actions. As I prepare to leave the house each day to face the challenges that may come, I need to check my spiritual footwear to ensure that I am prepared to face situations with the preparation of the gospel of peace rather than with contentiousness. As we close this post and this month, I will leave you with this verse.
and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Ephesians 6:15

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.

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 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.