Thursday, November 26, 2015

Cranberry Creations … featuring sweet potatoes

To be honest, sweet potatoes or yams haven't been one of my favorite Thanksgiving foods. I'm not quite sure what it is about them. I remember having been served candied yams (probably the type out of the can) when I was little and that I didn't like those at all. I've never been crazy about having them with marshmallows or even just plain for that matter. I do, however, love cranberries in about any context.
A few years ago, I had some sweet potatoes that had been prepared with cranberries at a church dinner. During the past couple of years, we have done some experimenting with cranberry/sweet potato recipes. Here is one that we like and hope that you will as well. We like the added tart taste of the cranberries along with a little added sweetness of the glaze or sauce we pour over them.

First, a quick word about sweet potatoes and yams. My source is the North Carolina Sweet Potatoes web site
Sweet potato 
Although the terms "sweet potato" and "yam" are often used interchangeably, they are actually distinct from one another and belong to different botanical families.  Yams are native to Africa and grow primarily in tropical climates. Sweet potatoes are believed to have originated in South America where they have been grown for at least 5,000 years. Today they are grown in warm, temperate regions across the world, including the southeastern United States. Sweet potatoes are a great source of Vitamin A and beta-carotene. Although the dark orange-fleshed variety is the best known, sweet potatoes come in a variety of colors
Varieties of sweet potatoes
Now, on to the recipe. This is one that you can prepare ahead of time and then warm through in the oven just before serving.
5 sweet potatoes
1/4 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 cup fresh cranberries
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1. Lightly spray a 2-quart casserole dish with non-stick spray.
2. Boil the sweet potatoes until fork tender. If you want, you can stop just before they are fully cooked since they will cook a little more when you bake them.
3. Peel and cube the sweet potatoes and place them in the casserole dish. 
  • You can see from this picture, that I used two different varieties of sweet potatoes. When we went shopping at the commissary Sunday afternoon, there were only 3 of the dark orange ones left. I think that's because they were selling for 59 cents a pound and we were late to arrive. As a result, I picked up 2 of the more expensive ones. I actually like the variety and slight differences in taste, so it's all good by us.

4. Now to prepare the sauce, glaze, topping, or whatever you wish to call it.
  • Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the sugar, corn syrup, and vanilla until well combined. Stir in the cranberries and bring to a low boil. Allow the cranberries to "pop" open as you would if you were making cranberry sauce. Remove from heat and stir in the pecans. 
5. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes.
6. Bake in a 350 degree oven until heated through. If you wish, you can even do the "prep" work the night before, put the sweet potatoes & sauce in the refrigerator overnight and then heat through the next day before dinner time.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A small fall project …

Here we are at Thanksgiving Eve. Although Thanksgiving week is one of my favorite times of the year, I think that this November has sped by much too quickly for me. Just the same, I am still enjoying the season and am looking forward to good food and a day full of family tomorrow.
This post will be brief and feature a small project that I completed a few weeks ago. The pattern is from Buttermilk Basin, and I purchased the kit from my local quilt shop, K & H Quilt Shoppe
This project is one that appealed to me for a number of reasons - the fall colors, the primitive style, wool appliqué and a chance to incorporate some hand quilting in the process. 
Here are a couple of "tools of the trade" related to hand quilting - a marking pen and a stencil. There are multiple types of marking tools out on the market - some are heat-soluble and some are water soluble. I don't know that one is necessarily better than the other. The main rule of thumb is to be consistent in your choice of tool within the same project. For example, with this project I used both dark and light marking pens, both of which were heat soluble. I used the dark pen on the light triangles and the light pen on the darker fabrics. 
These next pictures feature some completed hand quilting and a pattern that has been traced. The choice of thread color is really up to the individual quilter. I chose to use a light thread for both the dark and light triangles in the center of the project, and I chose a brown thread for the pattern on the edges. 
In the below picture on the left, you can see some of the stitching within the triangles as well as the traced pattern. I stitched over the white lines using brown threads. When I was finished, I ironed over the area; and the marking disappeared, leaving only the stitching (below right picture).
After the hand quilting was complete, I tacked down the mini-quilt. It features the churn dash block which is one of my favorite traditional block patterns. The next step was to appliqué the owl in the lower left corner of the project (see the very top picture). I then sewed on the binding and a hanging sleeve so that we could have this mini quilt hanging in our house for the Thanksgiving season.
As I said at the outset, this is a short post. I wish you all a very blessed Thanksgiving Day. I am going to close with these words from the psalmist:
O come, let us sing for joy to the LORD
Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms
For the LORD is a great God
And a great King above all gods.
Psalm 95:1-3

Saturday, October 31, 2015

A colorful Halloween curry …

As many of you are well aware, we enjoy finding opportunities to create cooking traditions around various holidays or even events in general. Through the years, we have come to create some traditions around Halloween. The recipe I am sharing in this post is one we have more or less created on our own using a few assorted recipes as a bit of a starting point. We like it, most of all, because it tastes good. We have also found it a great recipe for this time of year because it is warm, filling, and features some great fall colors that add to the spirit of the season.
For a little background on curry …
Curry is a cuisine that originated in India. The term, curry, refers to a dish that is prepared using a number of characteristic herbs and spices such as coriander, turmeric, cumin, and chilis. Curry dishes can be "wet," meaning that they are covered in sauce, or "dry," meaning that the liquid has evaporated and the remaining meat or vegetables are coated with the spice mixture. Today, curry dishes are part of the cuisine across many of the southeast Asian countries, each with its own distinct style. The following picture shows a number of Indian vegetable curry dishes.
Curry powder itself seems to have appeared around the 18th century. It is proposed to have been generated by Indian merchants to sell to members of the British government and military. Although curry powders can vary somewhat based on region, most contain a mixture of coriander, turmeric, cumin, and chilis. The turmeric is what gives the curry its characteristic yellow color.
Given that curries can vary based on geographic region, consider this curry to be in the tradition of the Intermountain West of the United States. As I have said, we do like it, and I hope you will too. Here is how we put it together.

4 tbsp butter or margarine
One large onion
3/4 cup flour
6 cups chicken broth
Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1.5 - 2  tbsp)
2 cups cream
2 tbsp curry powder (we like the Hot Madras powder)
1 green bell pepper
4 or 5 potatoes
1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Cooked jasmine rice

1. Melt the butter over medium heat. Chop the onion and saute until the onions are soft and golden. The below picture gives you an idea as to how coarsely I chop the onion.
2. While the onion is cooking, go ahead and get the chicken started. I typically cut it up into about 1 inch chunks and cook it up in a pan on the stove. I add a little water and a tablespoon of oil, cover the pan with a lid and let the chicken cook until done. Once it is cooked, just turn off the heat and let it sit until you are ready to add it (and the resulting broth) to the curry mixture.
3. Once the onions are nice and soft, stir in the flour until well mixed. 
4. Slowly stir in the chicken broth and lemon juice so that the flour is dissolved into the liquid.
5. Stir in the cream and curry powder.
6. Now it's time to cut up the vegetables. Here is a picture of the carrots and the bell pepper so that you can see how coarsely I cut them up. My advice is to add the carrots first and let them cook a while before adding the bell pepper and potatoes. The carrots take longer to cook, and the potatoes require less time to cook so this is how I try to have everything cooked up nice at the same time. Once I stir in the carrots, I make a judgement as to whether the amount looks right to me. For this batch of curry, I ended up adding additional carrots. On a side note, I had plenty of carrots in the garden, many of which were a bit small so this was an easy opportunity to use a bunch of them.
7. Once the carrots are about halfway cooked, stir in the bell pepper and potatoes. Slowly simmer until the vegetables are cooked through. We love the taste of potatoes that have soaked up the flavor of the curry powder. Yum!
8. Stir in the chicken and the broth you created in the process of cooking it.
9. Heat through and serve over steamed jasmine rice.

Here is a picture of the curry cooking on the stove. We like that this recipe makes a batch that will give us leftovers for a couple of days.
Wishing you all a safe and happy Halloween with very few tricks and lots of good treats.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Primitive Piecing … part 2

Since I posted part 1 a few weeks ago, it seems only fitting that part 2 should follow. As you may recall, at the close of the last post, I had created some rows of pieced blocks and a center. The center included three pieces of homespun that had been sewn together.
The next step was to begin work on the "picture" that would emerge on this center. This meant the addition of three pumpkins, each in a different pattern of orange fabric. I used a turned edge, or needle turn, appliqué technique to secure them to the background. Alternatively, I could have used a fusible technique and machine stitched around the edges. Given the primitive style for this piece, I felt that the turned edge technique would be more consistent with the look I was trying to achieve - more about the turned edge technique later in this post.
Now it's time to add the lower border. What do you think?
Next, I cut out the cat and stitched him on the "ledge" sitting in front of the pumpkins. The wool stars actually weren't added until the very end, but I had forgotten to take a picture of just the cat in front of the pumpkins. I used a turned edge appliqué technique with the cat as well.
Next came the task of creating one final border. This vertical border includes five turned edge appliqué stars. I will just say that working with pieces such as these stars can be quite daunting and is not for the faint of heart. These stars feature some very tight angles that can be difficult to navigate. I will attempt to illustrate in the next few pictures.
This picture shows step 1. The white line indicates the actual finished shape of the star. The task at hand is to turn the edges under and to stitch the star to the background fabric. You can also see the short appliqué pins in the picture. I like this shorter length as it helps avoid getting stuck multiple times while working on a small piece. At the same time, they are somewhat heavy and will easily leave holes and snags in very fine fabric. For pieces such as this one, they do just fine.
This next picture features a star that is in process. You can get the idea as to how the edges are turned and the need to clip some of the fabric to allow the concave angles to turn under as they should. The points are where things get tricky. As you turn the fabric under, you also need to manipulate it such that it tucks under at the point. With these narrow angles, that is no easy task. While the top point of this star turned out pretty good, you can see that the two side points are somewhat rounded and the one on the left sort of swings upward. Let's just say that I am still very much in the process of developing my skills.
Here are some pictures of a completed star block as well as the vertical row to be attached to the left side of the quilt. You can see that, in some of the blocks, the right point ended a little close to the edge and got a bit "chopped off" once it was sewn to the quilt.

The final step in completing this quilt will be to get it quilted and bound. I'm actually thinking that I am going to be brave enough to attempt the machine quilting on my own using the walking foot for my machine (perhaps my adventures in machine quilting will be a future post). 
As I look over some of the challenges and my perceived inadequacies in completing this piece, I am also reminded that, in life, I am inadequate in my own strength. At the same time, I can be confident in the One who has made me adequate. My adequacy is not based in the accuracy of the angles on my star points or whether the points escaped being chopped off by the seam allowance. My adequacy is based solely on what Jesus has done for me. 
The verses that I am sharing are ones that were included in a Student Week talk by during the summer of 1988. They continue to to shape my perspective today:
Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:5-6.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Filling Soup for a Fall Day

Soups are one of our favorite aspects of fall. They also provide a great opportunity to use the garden produce that is needing to be harvested this time of year. We have had tremendous success growing carrots in our garden. I'm not really a fan of peeling and chopping carrots for freezing or canning so I'm always glad to find a soup recipe that includes carrots. 
The recipe that I will be sharing is one that features not only carrots, but lentils and garbanzo beans as well. It also includes curry powder. While we are not exactly the "earthy" vegetarian types, this is a soup that we very much enjoy. The inclusion of the curry powder leaves the whole house smelling good and provides a nice accent to the flavors of the vegetables. I will admit that this isn't the most "aesthetically pleasing" soup that I have prepared, but it is quickly becoming a fall favorite with us.
Before I proceed to the recipe, a quick word about lentils…
Lentils are a member of the legume family and were among the first crops that were cultivated in the Near East. They are commonly consumed in western and southern Asia as well as in the Mediterranean region. Among legumes, their protein content is second to that of the soybean. Lentils grow on short busy plants that produce pods. The pods typically contain two seeds. Lentils are available in multiple colors, depending on the specific variety.
Lentil plants

Three colors of lentils

In India, lentils are commonly prepared with rice, often as part of a curry dish. In Ethiopia, lentils are include in a stew that is often the first solid food fed to babies. You may be surprised to learn that the top lentil-producing country in the world is … Canada. That's right. The province of Saskatchewan produces 99% of the nearly 2 million metric tons of lentils grown in Canada each year.
So, let's make some curried carrot and lentil soup …
Here are the ingredients:

Soup base:
2 tbsp olive oil - add more if needed
1 medium onion, chopped
4-5 carrots, chopped
2 large garlic cloves
2 tablespoons curry powder (feel free to add more to taste)
2 cups lentils
2 quarts of water - add more as needed. I would imagine that you could include a vegetable stock or chicken broth if you wanted. We have just used water.

Chickpea puree (to be added after the lentils have cooked through)
2 16-ounce cans chickpeas
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1-2 garlic cloves (optional)

Heat 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until the onion is nearly translucent. Add the carrots and garlic and continue to cook until the carrots are starting to become soft. Add the curry powder and stir until fragrant. Add the lentils and water. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium. Simmer until the lentils are tender, which will take approximately 30 minutes. Add additional water as needed. 

Here is the amount of carrots I used from the garden. You will see that they are various sizes. I chose a combination that would be equivalent to about 4 large carrots from the store.
We like this Hot Madras curry powder. It's easy to find in the grocery store.
I'm not sure what "variety" or "color" you would call these lentils. They were what was available in the dried beans section of the grocery store and labeled as "lentils."
While the soup is cooking, prepare the chickpea puree:
Puree the chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, water, and additional garlic together. The mixture will look much like hummus only you wouldn't have included tahini, a key ingredient in hummus along with the additional seasonings.
Once the lentils have cooked, stir the puree into the soup. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional curry powder. Add additional liquid as desired.
Serve with a salad and warm bread. 
The amounts that I provided here will make a pretty big pot of soup. You can look forward to 1) being able to feed a large group, 2) leftovers for a few nights, or 3) freezing some of the extra for a ready-to-go meal at another date and time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Primitive Piecing … part 1

I absolutely love fall! I love the cooler temperatures and changing colors on the mountain sides. Perhaps there is something about the fall that calls us to slow down a bit and return to the comforts of the familiar. Fall colors are also among my favorites for quilting projects. For me, there is something familiar and comforting in the colors and textures of homespuns and reproductive prints. For this post I will share a primitive style quilting project.
Primitive style in the quilting or textile arts world refers to a folk art style. Primitive style may have features that are characteristic of early America; however, it also can have a more contemporary look. Regardless of whether it takes on a more period or contemporary look, primitive style typically features muted colors and a rough and simple look. As was emphasized in a wool appliqué course I took a few years ago, "primitive" is a distinct style and is not to be confused with poor workmanship. The rich fall colors in the top picture are well-suited for inclusion in a primitive style quilt.  

The quilt that I am going to share through this and subsequent posts is one that was featured in the Fall 2012 "Primitive Quilts and Projects" magazine. It was designed by the ladies of Country Threads Quilt Shop and Pattern Company who operated their quilt shop from a farm in Iowa. We had a chance to visit the shop during our trip to Minnesota in the summer of 2012. I bought the magazine that featured the pattern as well as the accompanying kit. For good or for bad, other projects fell into the queue ahead of this one and it lay dormant in my sewing room. A few weeks ago, I needed a project for Midnight Sew night, and decided that the time had come to get busy on this one. 
There is no better place to start than at the beginning, right? Here are the initial three pieces sewn together to create what will be the center of the quilt. It's okay if you are thinking, "Hmm, that looks a little plain." Hang in there until the next sewing post and see what becomes of them.
Now to add a border strip or two …
What do you think of this border featuring half-square triangles? The picture also includes the magazine that features the pattern for this quilt. If you look closely, you can see that the cover features a Halloween quilt that includes churn dash blocks. The churn dash is one of my favorite traditional quilt blocks and one that is well-suited to a primitive style quilt. Some day I hope to make that quilt, but today is not that "some day" and it's time to get back to the feature project.  
Here are three cute pieced blocks that will form part of the upper border.
And, finally (for this post, at least), here is the pieced strip that will form one of the side borders.
As I look over this post, perhaps what I enjoy most about fall, as well as primitive style quilting is its peaceful simplicity. To me, there is something comforting and reassuring in both the colors and style. This peaceful simplicity calls me to pause and rest in the midst of a hectic, fast-paced schedule. 
During my Sunday School class this past week, we also reflected on the simple, foundational truths of our faith. So often in the Christian walk, it is easy to be troubled and distracted by a schedule full of peripheral issues that divert our focus from keeping our eyes on Jesus. Perhaps that is why Jesus instructs us to…
Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness … 
Matthew 6:33

Sunday, August 23, 2015

A summer salad with a Mediterranean flair … Tabbouleh

For the past two years, my August cooking post has featured a summer salad. I decided to keep the tradition going and share another summer salad that takes advantage of the vegetables and herbs that are widely available from backyard gardens this time of year.
This year, I am featuring tabbouleh, a salad with Mediterranean/Middle Eastern origins that is becoming more popular here in the United States. Depending on the specific region of the Mediterranean or Middle East, tabbouleh takes on its own regional variations. The recipe I will be sharing here is somewhat of a conglomeration of multiple recipes. We enjoy this recipe, and I hope that you will, too. 
Before I proceed to the recipe itself, here is a little background on some of the key ingredients …
Bulgur - Bulgur is a Turkish word and refers to the hulled kernel of wheat, also called the groat. It is typically sold parboiled and dried. I've found bulgur wheat both in the grains and the organic foods sections of the grocery store. Here's a picture of what I usually buy, and here is a picture of a couple of large pots of bulgur parboiling in Turkey.

Bulgur is widely consumed throughout the Middle East, extending north into some of the Balkan states and east into India. Bulgur is a common ingredient in a number of both sweet and savory dishes. It is high in fiber and protein.
Parsley - Parsley is a well-known herb that is native to the Mediterranean region, but is widely used throughout the world. It is frequently used as a garnish, but is also used to flavor soups and stews. Parsley is also a great source of flavonoids and antioxidants. Parsley is also a home remedy for indigestion. If you have ever read Peter Rabbit, you may remember that after Peter had gorged himself on Mr. Macgregor's vegetables and was "feeling rather sick," he went to look for some parsley.
Mint - The good news about mint is that it is an herb that is very easy to grow. The bad news about mint is that it is an herb that can be very difficult to control. Their root system sends out runners which cause this herb to expand very rapidly. Consider using a closed container as shown in the picture if you want to limit the expansion of your mint. I grow what I term as "regular" or "plain" mint, peppermint, and spearing in my herb garden. The "regular" mint is what I use in tabbouleh. I like the flavor that it adds. Mint is also said to be able to relieve stomach aches.

Now here are the list of ingredients and directions:
1 cup bulgur wheat
1 1/2 cup boiling water
1 bunch of parsley (roughly 3 cups chopped) - see note below
1 bunch of green onions, sliced (include white and some green parts) - also see note below
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
1 large cucumber, seeded and chopped
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
black pepper

1. Place the bulgur wheat in a large mixing bowl. Pour the boiling water over the wheat, cover, and let stand for about one hour so that the wheat can absorb the water. I have Tupperware mixing bowl that is probably over 30 years old. I like to use it for this recipe because the lid closes securely and helps retain the heat from the boiling water.
2. While the wheat is absorbing the water, chop up the parsley, onions, mint leaves, cucumber, and cherry tomatoes. Here are a few notes regarding these ingredients:
Chopped herbs and veggies for tabbouleh
  • Parsley: Sometimes the amount of parsley I end up using depends on what I have available in the garden. If I am buying a bunch of parsley from the grocery store, I just use the whole amount unless I have a planned purpose for the rest of it. More often than not, if I don't use all of the parsley, I just end up throwing it away so I might as well just use it all up.
  • Onion: If you want to substitute a medium onion from the garden, go right ahead. I've used small-medium red or yellow onions, and they work just fine. Keep in mind that my garden onions are much smaller than the ones you buy in the store. Mine are typically larger than a golf ball, but smaller than a tennis ball.
  • Mint: I typically go out to the garden and pick a few stems. I then pick off the leaves, chop them up and decide if the amount looks like roughly 1/4 cup.
  • Cucumber: Go with what you have in the garden - two small cukes or a medium and a small are just fine.
  • Tomatoes: For me, this is a great way to use the multiple cherry tomatoes that tend to accumulate this time of year. If I am making tabbouleh in the "off-season," I will just buy a container of cherry or grape tomatoes at the store. If you don't have cherry tomatoes in the garden, no problem. Just chop up 2 or 3 medium-sized tomatoes. I would advise doing what you can to remove the seeds to avoid having your salad get too juicy. The halved cherry tomatoes tend to do just fine with the seeds left in.
3. After the wheat has adequately absorbed the water, lightly "fluff" it, and stir in the vegetables and herbs.
4. Prepare the dressing by mixing together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Stir these ingredients together, pour over the salad, and mix well.
5. Enjoy with other Mediterranean or Middle Eastern foods such as hummus, pita bread, or gyros.