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.