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.