Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Shapes and Pieces

As we come to the last day of March, I thought it would be best to get my second post of the month completed. For good or for bad, even with all of the other projects in my queue, I took on a new project for the year. Back in late January, I made a quick run to the quilt shop for a piece of fabric to finish a project. When all was said and done, I did leave the quilt shop with that one piece of fabric in tow. I also came out having signed up for a block of the week project. That's right - block of the week. Each week, I come to the shop (or send my husband to the shop) and pick up a fabric kit for a new block. By the time we get to the end of January 2016, I will have made 52 hexagon blocks. I haven't yet decided what I will do with them, but I am having fun putting them together and working with the different colors and designs in the fabrics.

These blocks are completed using the English paper piecing technique. Some of you may be familiar with what is often termed as the Grandmother's Flower Garden quilt pattern that features hexagons sewn together. This quilt pattern often features 1930s reproduction prints and makes for a great scrappy quilt.
The basis of these quilt blocks is the English paper piecing technique, however, the finished hexagon is compiled of a combination of many different shapes which may include hexagons, triangles, parallelograms, and trapezoids.
This next picture illustrates the basis of English paper piecing. In the upper left hand corner, you can see that the fabric has been cut about 1/4 inch wider than the shape itself. The card stock shape is pinned to the fabric using short appliqué pins. These short pins do a great job holding the shape and fabric together, and their short length keeps them from poking you as you fold the excess fabric around the shape and then tack down the corners with a basting thread as illustrated in the lower left. The right hand side features five shapes that have been hand-sewn together to create the pattern.  

This next photo shows the front side of the block in progress. You can see that the fabric for the trapezoids has been cut in such a way that the pieces are as identical as possible and create a bit of a kaleidoscope pattern around the edge of the center hexagon.
 Some of the blocks have featured fairly simple, straightforward pieces to arrange together such as these two.
 Others have involved a combination of shapes and involved what is termed as fussy cutting. In this block, I fussy cut the hexagon on the right and the diamond on the left to feature the sunburst/flower pattern in the center. For the lower right hexagon, I fussy cut the hexagon so that the flower was in the center.
This next block also featured some fussy cutting to center flowers inside the diamonds.
I like the kaleidoscope pattern formed by fussy cutting the three center hexagons to feature the identical pattern. Centering the pattern over the hexagon shape for each piece was a bit challenging.
This one featured some elongated pentagons and equilateral triangles arranged around a center hexagon.
 I like the pattern formed by fussy cutting the striped fabric for the trapezoids in this block.
With Holy Week upon us, I will simply close out this posting with a verse reflecting God's gift to us in spite of the shape that we were in. A very blessed and happy Easter season to you all.
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Savory Pi(e) Day

Since last year's pi day entry featured a sweet pie, I thought I would feature a savory pie or two for this year. Although most people don't always think of British cuisine in a favorable light, some British recipes can actually be quite flavorful. While I don't think I'm up to trying steak and kidney pie in the near future, here are a couple of British-style meat pies that my family gladly endorses. I made these pies a couple of weeks ago for a downstairs-style dinner to celebrate the close of Downton Abbey Season 5.
Pies supposedly date back to ancient Egypt with the outer crust made of some type of grain such as oat, wheat, rye, or barley and filled with honey. Later the Greeks and Romans would add varieties of meat within the pastry filling. Ultimately, pies spread across Europe. In some variations, the thick pastry crust had a more functional purpose, serving as a pan for the pie contents. The actual term "pie" was first referenced in the 1300s. 
Traditional British pies are made of stewed steak and gravy, although other meats may be used. Meat pies are traditionally served with "steak chips," thickly sliced fried potatoes - what we in the US describe as "steak fries."
I elected to try a couple of different meat pie recipes and will share them with you here.
The first is a chicken and leek pie. The quantities in this recipe will make a traditional 9-inch pie.
Chicken and Leek Pie
Start by making a white sauce with:
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 tsp powdered mustard
  • 1 tsp chicken bullion 
Melt the butter in a small saucepan and stir in the flour. Cook for a minute or two, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Add in the milk. Use a wire whisk to break up any lumps. Stir constantly and bring to a boil to allow the mixture to thicken. Stir in the mustard and chicken bullion. Remove from heat and set aside.
Prepare the filling with:
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 large leek, sliced into thick rings
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless  chicken breasts 
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a skillet. Stir in the leeks and sauté until softened. Stir in the chicken and cook thoroughly. Add salt and pepper as desired to taste. 

Remove from heat and stir in the white sauce. Pour into a prepared pastry shell. Cover with pastry, seal edges, and cut slits in the top. Bake at 350 degrees until crust is a golden brown and filling begins to bubble through the slits, approximately 45 minutes.

Here is the recipe for meat pie featuring ground beef. I put this one together based on a combination of several recipes that I had found online. This recipe would also most likely fit a typical 9-inch pie pan. I elected to divide the filling into ramekins (see picture at the top of this blog post) and some "hot pocket"-style hand pies. Here is the list of ingredients:
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/4 tsp thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 2 medium potatoes, chopped
Melt the butter in a skillet and stir in the onion and celery. Sauté until the vegetables begin to soften. Add in the ground beef and cook thoroughly. Stir in the seasoning. Stir in the beef broth gradually. Note: if you have leftover beef gravy on hand, you could substitute it for the broth or use a gravy/broth combination. You may also wish to stir in some additional beef base or Kitchen Bouquet to season to taste. Once the ground beef has cooked, add in the chopped potatoes. Cook until the potatoes begin to soften. Pour the filling into a prepared pie pastry, top with pastry, seal, and cut slits in the top. As with the other pie, bake at 350 degrees until crust is a golden brown and filling begins to bubble through the slits, approximately 45 minutes.
 The following picture is of the smaller "hot pocket"-style pies that I made with this filling.
Here is a recipe for 2-crust pie pastry for a 9-inch pie. This is the pie crust recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook that I have been using as long as I can remember. I really don't mind the work of rolling it out because it tastes so good. Some hints to help you out with pie crust: chill the shortening in the freezer an hour or two before you make the crust and be sure to use cold water.
  • 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons shortening
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons cold water
Stir together the flour and salt. Use a pastry cutter to cut the shortening into the flour and salt mixture until the particles are about the size of small peas. 
Sprinkle in the water about a tablespoon at a time, stirring the mixture with a fork until all ingredients are blended and stick together. Do not overhand the pastry dough, or the crust will be tough.
Roll the pastry out on a floured surface until it meets the dimensions of the pie pan (or is the desired size for a pocket pie). Fold it into fourths to aid in transferring it to the pan. Unfold the pastry, ease it into the pan, and add the filling. Add the top crust, seal the edges, and cut slits in the top. 
Whether you eat pie today or not, enjoy an epic pi day 2015.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Designing a Quilt

Although I enjoy creating things, I don't necessarily think of myself as a creative person. I enjoy using materials others have created and following designs created by other people, I'm not the one to create them in the first place. Please don't think of this an attempt at self-deprecation for attention. I just don't see myself as having a knack for being the one to generate the materials and designs on my own. I do, however, enjoy pursuing possibilities once I have a guiding pattern.
Back in November, I shared some of my experiences as a block tester for Quiltmaker magazine. That was actually my second round of serving as a block tester. I thought I would use this post to share some experiences during my first round of block testing.
I learned about the opportunity to test blocks through a Facebook post from Quiltmaker. I do need to admit that I felt a bit like a fraud in responding to the call. They requested that those volunteering to be block testers be competent with multiple styles of quilting, including traditional piecing (no problem, here), appliqué (some confidence with hand appliqué, machine appliqué not so much), and foundation paper piecing (no prior experience, but willing to learn).
Fortunately, the first block pattern I received involved traditional piecing (whew!). The second one, however, required machine appliqué (feeling the anxiety now). Fortunately, it didn't involve too many multiple small pieces.

I was greatly relieved that the next two blocks went back to traditional piecing techniques.
It was about this time, that I received an email from the Quiltmaker staff indicating that they were looking for individuals who would be willing to design a quilt involving the blocks that they had been testing. The quilts needed to include a minimum of nine blocks and use at least three different block patterns that we had tested. They would provide the fabric. We would design and create the quilt. For good or for bad, I decided to volunteer. 

In the mean time, I received some additional patterns to test - these two involving a helicopter and a bicycle. My daughter said that the bicycle one would look great with vintage fabrics if I had any hipster friends.
About this time, the fabric that I would use to make my test quilt arrived. I do have to say that I was a little nervous because I did not get to pick out my fabric. I needed to be willing to use whatever it was that they sent me. Here are some swatches from the colors I received. I was absolutely delighted with the colors and textures.
Now, the challenge was to decide which blocks to use and how to arrange them in a way that would showcase the feature blocks as well as the colors and textures in the fabrics. Although I would receive a few more block patterns to test, including these two, I decided to feature three of the first four block patterns that I received in my test quilt. 

When all was said and done, I decided to go with a simple 3x3 block layout with a 6 inch border. After I laid out all of the blocks, I was really pleased with the secondary design that the emerged around the center block. I also liked how the corner blocks created a pseudo-sashing effect. 
 My cat also offered his approval of the quilt.
Over the past seven weeks, I have been on a wonderful Bible study journey through the books of First and Second Thessalonians. During the past couple of weeks, our lessons have centered around gaining an understanding of and appreciation for the unique ministry to which each of us as believers has been called. To cite the author, "[Our] ministry is the ever-accruing collection of [our] life works for the glory of God." My role is not to belabor the areas where I have not been gifted for ministry but rather to appreciate and live out the unique ministry God has for me. I was particularly touched by the perspective of stepping out in faith and resolving to do some good in Jesus' name, even if we may feel inadequate. As Paul, Silas, and Timothy prayed for the church in Thessalonica,
To this end also we pray for you always that our God may count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with prayer; in order that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Monday, February 23, 2015

Mardi Gras Time! … With some chicken and sausage creole

While we are not exactly your typical Mardi Gras revelers, we do tend to revel in good New Orleans-style cooking. Mardi Gras season gives us an excuse to cook up some of our favorites to help celebrate the season. Although the 2015 Mardi Gras season is now officially past, we enjoy good New Orleans-style cooking any time of the year.
As I have shared before, we are the very fortunate owners of a pretty fantastic New Orleans cookbook from the Gumbo Shop restaurant. It has very quickly become one of our favorites. Within the next few years, I am very much looking forward to a "foodie trip" to New Orleans, and I will have to be sure to stop by the Gumbo Shop restaurant. If the food that we prepare based on their recipes is any indication, the food served in the restaurant must be absolutely fantastic.
Our Mardi Gras creation for this year was Chicken and Andouille Creole. It was based on a recipe for shrimp creole but we opted to go with a chicken and sausage combo. 
For a little bit of background, the term, creole, is derived from the Portuguese word, crioulo, which was used to refer to descendants of Portuguese settlers who were born and raised overseas. Over time, this term was applied to populations dominated by individuals of mixed ancestry. In Louisiana, the Creole people are largely descended from early settlers who lived in the area before it became part of the United States, including those of Spanish, French, African, Caribbean, and Native American ancestry. 
Creole cuisine retains the influences of its European, African, and North American heritage. While similar to Cajun cuisine, it is more likely to include a greater variety of ingredients (including tomatoes), in part, because of greater access to these resources.

And now, back to our recipe …
Like many Cajun and Creole recipes, this one begins with a roux. Typical of Creole style, this roux is made of butter and flour (vs. a Cajun oil and flour roux). I described more of the specifics of making a roux in the gumbo post from November. The pictures that I will be sharing are from a triple batch (yes, triple). The amounts that I will be sharing are for a single batch.

For a single batch recipe, make the roux with 1/2 cup butter and 1/4 cup flour. Don't try to go low fat and use margarine - go for the good stuff. You will make a medium brown roux that is the color of peanut butter.

Remember the "holy trinity" of Louisiana cooking from the gumbo recipe? We will be using it again here. Add in 1 cup of finely chopped onion, 1/2 cup of finely chopped celery, and 1/2 cup of finely chopped bell pepper. (It helps to have someone working on the veggies while the other is stirring the roux to keep it from burning). Once the roux has reached the desired color, stir in the vegetables.
Cook the vegetables until they are soft and start to brown. Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan often. At this point, the house is starting to smell incredible. Here is what the combination will look like.
Now it's time to stir in some herbs and spices. Use the following:

  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp basil
Remember what I said earlier about the greater variety of ingredients in Creole cuisine?

Now, we are also going to add in:

  • 1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan frequently. Stir in 1 cup of chicken stock and cook for another 5 minutes. You now should have a nice batch of Creole sauce that looks something like this. 
  • On a side note, Creole sauce actually freezes quite well. We used up the last of our tomatoes last fall by making a big batch of Creole sauce and putting it in 1 quart freezer bags. It's great to have on hand for po' boy sandwiches - just grill up some onions, peppers, and sausage. 

Back to our recipe …
We are now going to turn our attention to the items we are going to stir into the Creole sauce. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and stir fry 1/2 cup of sliced onions, 1/2 cup of celery, and 1/2 cup of bell pepper strips. Stir fry for about 3 minutes until they begin to soften.
For a single batch, consider using about 3/4 pound of andouille sausage and 1 or 2 chicken breasts. You can see here that we sliced up the sausage and browned it in the oven. We grilled the chicken. Once the chicken is grilled, you will need to cut it up into bite-sized pieces.
 Now that the stir-fried vegetables and meat are prepared, it's time to combine all of these delightful tastes together.
Here is a picture of the stock pot with everything stirred together. As you saw from the very first picture, creole is commonly served over steamed white rice.
Don't let yourself be intimidated by the number of ingredients in Creole cuisine. Find a cooking buddy and share the work of the chopping, stirring, measuring, and grilling. 
One final thing, this dish tastes even better the second day. The flavors continue to meld together and it just gets better each time it is reheated. Of course, it is so good, the leftovers never last very long.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Once there was a snowman … or two or three or more …

Here we are at the close of January. Those of us living in the Intermountain West have had an unseasonably warm month. I'm starting to get the urge to get out and work in the garden, however, I am also aware that February and March have the potential to bring their share of snow and colder temperatures.
With the lack of snow outside, we have had to rely on snowman-themed decor on the inside to remind ourselves that we truly are in the midst of winter. When I put the Christmas decorations away at the close of December, I like to fill the void with winter decorations featuring snowmen. Two years ago, I began working on a wool appliqué snowman quilt. After completing the individual blocks, piecing the top together, and having it quilted, I am thrilled to have this quilt hanging in my parlor. 
For someone like me who doesn't like to sit without anything to do, working on the individual snowman blocks was a lot of fun and kept me busy on airplane trips. I also enjoyed building my skills in working with wool. Here are some up close pictures of the individual snowmen featured in this block:

Here is one wearing a warm winter scarf and another juggling some snowballs.

These next two blocks feature a snowman with a broom and another with hearts, perhaps for Valentine's Day.

Here we have a snowman with a birdhouse and another wearing mittens and enjoying falling snow.

These final two blocks feature a mama and baby snowman and a snowman with a bird.
The center block features the name of the quilt, "Warm Winter Blessings."

I was absolutely delighted with the exquisite work that my quilter did to make this such a wonderful quilt. The pictures really don't do it justice but here are a few close ups to give you an idea of the detail. Here is a look at the snowflakes that she stitched into the light blue sashing strips between the blocks.
This next picture of the back of the quilt gives you an idea of the overall detail with the off-white snowflakes outlining the snowman blocks, stars and snowflakes in the inner border, and the feathering in the outer border.
 These final two pictures feature the feathering detail in the outer border and more of the snowflakes in the inner border.
In the spirit of this quilt's title, I wish you "Warm Winter Blessings" as we continue through the winter season. In the words of the psalmist:
God be gracious to us and bless us, 
And cause His face to shine upon us - 
That Your way may be known on the earth, 
Your salvation among all nations.
Psalm 67:1-2