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

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Beef and Barley Soup

As late December gives way to early January, I find myself experiencing an interesting dichotomy. On one hand, I am eager to begin the new year, resume our normal routine, and get the house back in order. At the same time, I find myself in no huge rush to get all of the Christmas things put away and have the season come to an end.
These same sentiments also apply to the food of the season. One the one hand it's nice to be cleaning up the treats and party foods. On the other hand, we miss all of the good food of the season. 
For a number of years now, we have elected to prepare a prime rib roast for our Christmas dinner. It's really quite easy to prepare, and we prefer not to spend a whole lot of time on Christmas Day preparing dinner. Even with our family's appetite, we can typically get a good meal or two of leftovers from the roast. After that, I use the final remnants of the roast and the gravy to make beef and barley soup. Knowing that we will be making soup, we tend to leave a rather generous amount of meat on the rib rack and we set aside an additional slice or two of roast as well. I've really not used a recipe to make the soup so I will do my best to describe the process as I go. As a point of reference, I am making my soup in a 12-quart stock pot, and am using the remnants of a 3-rib roast.

Step 1: Cover the rib rack with water and simmer in a large stock pot for about an hour or so. This will allow any extra meat to fall off the bones. Boiling the bones also helps create the stock for the soup.

Step 2: Remove the bones from the broth. Skim off and discard any excess fat from the broth. Cut off the remaining meat from the bones and cut into smaller pieces. I tend to make my pieces rather small since this is a soup rather than a stew. Cut up any reserved slices of beef as well. Return all beef to the stock pot. Discard the bones.

Step 3: Stir in any leftover gravy and beef broth that you may have from preparing the roast. These tend to add some great extra flavor to the soup and limit the need for any additional seasoning.

Step 4: Now for the vegetables. To be honest, you really can just go with what you like in a soup. Here is what I included in this batch.
  • One heaping soupspoon of chopped garlic
  • One medium sweet onion
  • Celery. (Note: we had bought a bag of two celery hearts, both of which were rather small. After I chopped up the first one and added it to the soup, it wasn't enough so I  chopped up and added the second one.
  • Green beans - approximately 1.5 - 2 cups (Note: I used a bag of frozen green beans, and this is the approximate volume of green beans that I put in a freezer bag when freezing vegetables from our garden. You could also substitute fresh.)
  • Carrots - approximately 3 - 4 cups. (Note: I used 2 of our prepared freezer bags. Feel free to substitute fresh in their place.)
  • One 11 oz. can of Niblets corn.
Step 5: The seasonings. Again, feel free to use what you like. For the most part, I just use salt and pepper to taste and add about 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme. Allow the soup to simmer together until the vegetables are cooked.

Step 6: Prepare the barley. You can actually start this step at any point in the process. I always prepare the barley separately and then stir it into the soup. Use one cup of barley and 2.5 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil and cook until done, about 45 minutes. Once the barley is cooked, stir it into the soup.

Step 7: Adjust seasonings as desired. If the beef broth is tasting a little weak, add a beef bullion cube or two, a spoonful of beef base, or some Kitchen Bouquet.

Serve with warm bread or cornbread. This soup also freezes well. With fewer of us living at home these days, we often find it convenient to make a large batch of soup and then freeze some for another meal or two later. We use the 1 gallon Ziploc freezer bags, and they hold up well in the freezer.