Thursday, May 25, 2017

Smoked Four Cheese Macaroni and Cheese

Who doesn't like good down home comfort food? If you know us or have followed this blog at all, you know that we definitely like to eat. We especially like good barbecue and sides to go with it. A few weeks back, we tried our hand at a smoked macaroni and cheese. You could also prepare this macaroni and cheese in the oven, but we were rather intrigued at the idea of using the smoker.
Macaroni and cheese is regarded as a dish of English origin. The cheese sauce most frequently features cheddar cheese. Recipes for pasta and cheese casseroles actually appeared in both English and Italian cookbooks dating back to the 14th century. In the United States, Thomas Jefferson is reported to have served a macaroni and cheese-type dish at a state dinner in 1802. A recipe titled, "macaroni and cheese," appeared in The Virginia Housewife, a cookbook published in 1824. 
The recipe that I am sharing features four types of cheese: cream cheese, cheddar cheese, Gouda cheese, and parmesan cheese. Each brings a distinct flavor to the macaroni and cheese. Although you can use any type of pasta that tends to hold its shape well such as shells, bowties, or penne, elbow macaroni is often the pasta of choice. I like using the Barilla brand elbow macaroni. The elbows tend to be a bit larger, and they are ribbed, which adds a little interest while keeping the classic look to the dish.
 


Here are the ingredients and instructions:
1 16 ounce package of pasta
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
3 1/2 cups milk
8 ounce brick of cream cheese (Don't use the low fat stuff as the consistency won't turn out right; we're talking comfort food here - go for the real stuff. Moderation in all things.)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded Gouda cheese
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Crushed Cheez-It crackers

1. Cook the pasta according to directions. Drain and set aside.
2. In a large Dutch oven, melt the butter and whisk the flour into the butter to form a light roux. Cook over medium heat for two minutes until the sauce is thick and bubbly.
3. Whisk in the milk and bring to a low boil. Cook five minutes until the mixture is thickened.
4. Cut the cream cheese into chunks and stir into the milk mixture until it is melted. Stir in the salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
5. Stir in 1 cup cheddar cheese, 1 cup Gouda cheese, and the parmesan cheese until they are melted. Stir in the pasta until it is well coated.
Here is a picture of the sauce before we stirred in the pasta
6. Spray a 11 x 9.5 inch roasting pan with non-stick cooking spray. Spoon the pasta mixture into the pan.
7. Combine the remaining cheddar and Gouda cheeses with the crushed Cheez-It crackers. Sprinkle over the top of the pasta.
8. Load the wood tray of the smoker with one small handful of wood chips. We recommend using a fruit wood such as apple or cherry. Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees.
9. Place the pasta in the smoker and cook for 1 hour until bubbly and heated through. If you don't have a smoker, bake in the oven at 350 degrees until bubbly and heated through, about 40-60 minutes.
Here it is on the shelf in the smoker
 Here you can see the crispy cracker topping.
We had our macaroni and cheese with some smoked pulled pork and vegetables. I'm thinking we will be trying this recipe again.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Happy DNA Day!

I've been looking forward to this post for quite some time now. First of all, because it would mean that I finally finished this quilt. Second, because I really am a nerd, and this post will remove any doubts you may have had.
So, just what is it that makes today DNA day? I'm glad you asked. April 25 marks the anniversary of the initial publication by Watson and Crick announcing the double helix structure of the DNA molecule in 1953. Here is their picture as well as a picture of their publication in Nature






Now, let's fast forward 50 years to April 25, 2003, when the announcement regarding the completion of the Human Genome Project was made.
DNA day is celebrated on April 25. The National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health organizes DNA day events to help students, teachers, and the public learn more about genetics and genomics. 
My first exposure to genetics and DNA was in my 10th grade biology class at Box Elder High School. I found myself rather fascinated with principles of Mendelian genetics and completing my punnet square exercises. Who could have known at the time that this initial exposure would ultimately lead to my participation in the NINR-sponsored Summer Genetics Institute during the summer of 2005 and teaching a graduate level clinical genetics course?
So, just what does all of this have to do with a quilt? Good question, and let's get back to the story. Fast forward to the spring of 2012. I purchased a copy of Quiltmaker magazine that featured a quilt pattern titled, "Chain Reaction." When I looked at the chain pattern, however, I saw DNA double helices rather than chains. I purchased some DNA-themed fabric from spoonflower.com (by the way, they have even more pretty terrific DNA and science-themed prints now), and began my work on this quilt. I decided to go for a scrappy look, and hunted down some additional prints that complemented chromosomes and DNA strands. Here's a look at the steps involved in making each individual block. Although the block construction wasn't that difficult, making over 60 of these blocks did get a bit tedious. I did find myself very grateful for the 60 degree cutting line on my cutting mat.
I started by cutting a 60 degree angle through my background block of fabric. Then I inserted a strip of one of my prints. For this block, I selected a print that included what I thought looked like a bunch of cells.












The next step was to remove a portion of the block - more 60 degree angle cuts and insert another strip of fabric. This time I chose a print that featured chromosomes and their bands.

Part of the challenge with this quilt was to make sure that I was incorporating enough variety into the quilt. This included making sure that I was using different combinations of prints in the individual blocks and then arranging the blocks in such a way that I had plenty of variety in the quilt. This meant having adequate space to position and reposition the blocks. This stage of the process pretty much consumed my entire design wall and forced me to bring this project to completion. 
Here are a few close ups of some of the blocks and science-themed prints included in the quilt. The DNA double helix print was my favorite. Here it is paired with a yellow and green leafy print as well as a print with dots on a black background. I think that the dots resemble the pattern of a microarray - a means for evaluating gene expression in a given tissue sample.

Here we have some chromosomes as well as a print that features paramecia.  
 











A science-themed quilt wouldn't be complete without  a prints that included insects and frogs. To me, the blue fabric on the right featured centrifuge rotors. The yellow fabric on the right featured linear thread-like nuclear DNA. Remember, I did warn you that this post would provide evidence of how much of a nerd I am.
 











On this DNA Day, I enjoy contemplating what a privilege it is to be living in an era where we are able to discover so much of the inner workings of our cells and how four bases, adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, arrange themselves in such a way as to comprise our genomes. It's amazing to think of the complexities of the processes that regulate DNA replication, RNA transcription, and its subsequent translation into functional protein products. It's also humbling to realize how even one small error, the substitution of one base for another, can result in significant disease. I'm also awed to think that the One who knows the number of hairs on my head and knows each star by name also knows every base sequence of my DNA. As Paul reminded the church at Colossae many years before anyone had an inkling of the DNA molecule,
For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. Colossians 1:16-17

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Aebelskivers - a Danish breakfast treat.

I love Saturday morning breakfast. During the weekdays, I'm usually up and on my way so early that breakfast is more of a grab-and-go affair. For our family, we've also found that big Saturday morning breakfasts also help make the weekend cooking a little more efficient. A big, mid-morning Saturday breakfast means that we can get by with just one other meal for the day. For days when we have plenty of Saturday yard work and chores, getting by with fixing just two meals is a good thing.
One of our breakfast favorites is aebelskivers. For those of you who haven't heard of aebelskivers, they are a round Danish pancake. The word, "aebelskiver," actually translates as "apple slices." I've seen some recipes that include apple bits in them, but, more often than not, they don't include apples.
I was first introduced to aebelskivers during my elementary school years. Because they do involve a bit of work to prepare, we didn't have them very often, but they were a fun breakfast treat. During recent years, I've acquired an aebelskiver pan and have enjoyed making them for my family as a way to share a bit of my own Danish heritage. 
Because I am half Danish, I've been known to describe myself as a "slightly domesticated Viking." You are free to interpret that however you wish. My Danish ancestors immigrated to the United States near the turn of the last century and settled in northern Utah and southern Idaho. I honestly do not know to what extent any of my more remote ancestors engaged in any types of Viking raids or other activities that we tend to associated with Vikings.
Some fun facts about Denmark: 
  • Denmark is the smallest of the Scandinavian countries.
  • The Kingdom of Denmark actually includes Greenland and the Faroe islands which lie between Denmark and Iceland.
  • The current Danish monarchy traces its origins back to the 10th century.
  • Hans Christian Andersen, author of The Little Mermaid and The Emperor's New Clothes, was Danish. 
  • Legos were first produced in Billund, Denmark
  • Danish embroidery, features intricate cutwork as illustrated below. Perhaps that will be a topic for a future blog.

Let's get back to aebelskivers. To make aebelskivers, you will first need an aebelskiver skillet. Mine is a cast iron one, however, Nordicware makes a cast aluminum one that is available at Amazon.com. A typical aebelskiver pan will allow you to make seven at once.
So, now for the recipe. From what I've been told this is my Danish grandmother's recipe. Even if it isn't her exact one, it is similar to other recipes that I have found online.
Aebelskivers
Ingredients:
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp soda
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs separated
2 quarts buttermilk

Directions
Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the egg yolks and buttermilk. Beat until smooth. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into the batter. Fry the aebelskivers in the aebelskiver skillet.

Now for the art of frying the aebelskivers:
I use non-stick spray on the inside of my skillet. You could also use vegetable oil if you wish. Heat the skillet over medium heat. Test it the way you would for making pancakes by sprinkling a few drops of water and see if they sizzle and skitter around. As with pancakes, it may take the first batch to get the heat just right.
Fill the cups of the skillet about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way full. Also as with pancakes, you will see the bubbles forming on the top of the batter.

When the aebelskivers have browned, you will need to flip them over. I've seen some sources say that aebelskivers are traditional turned with knitting needles. I just use a fork.
After you have flipped them over, allow the underside to brown and remove them from the skillet. I typically put them in a large serving bowl and place the bowl inside a warm oven while I am frying all of them. Aebelskivers are often eaten with jam. You can also top them with any of your favorite pancake and waffle toppings.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Picking Up Pieces

Believe it or not, I actually had very good intentions of completing both of my March blog posts by mid-month. Now, here we find ourselves at March 31. 
I've been looking forward to sharing this newly-completed quilt and some of my journey in creating it. I first referenced the quilt featured in this post back in January 2014. Fortunately, I do tend to get around to finishing quilts, even if it takes several years. This is a project that had some initial momentum and then took a few fits and starts to get going. 
This project is called Settlers Puzzle and was designed by Pam Buda. You can visit Pam's website and blog at http://www.heartspunquilts.com. Her designs and fabric lines feature 19th century prairie-style designs and prints.These definitely resonate with someone like me who has always loved pioneer stories. I also have family who homesteaded in South Dakota and Minnesota near the turn of the last century.
Here is a picture of my initial efforts getting started with this quilt. I do love traditional piecing. Even though the measuring and cutting process can be tedious, I do enjoy being able to sit down with stacks of pieces and put them together. I especially enjoy this type of quilting on a Friday evening when I am tired at the end of a long week. I like having the pieces set out in order so that I can relax and de-stress with less risk of making a significant mistake. I definitely do not do complicated measuring and cutting on evenings when I am tired.
This next picture features the basic block unit of this quilt. When I picked out the stripe patterned fabric to use with this quilt, I really hadn't given any thought to some of the potential consequences of working with a stripe.
One of the fun things about this quilt is that the basic repeating block unit is rotated and joined together to create this pattern with a pinwheel at the center. Hence the "Settlers Puzzle" name. I like the way the rotating stripe pattern gives interest to this larger block.
As can be the case, other time-sensitive projects come up, and once-current projects get set aside. Then comes the challenge of re-orienting oneself to the project and the rhythm of putting the pieces together. Finding the bags of the individual pieces and getting them organized sometimes can feel a bit overwhelming.
This picture provides a sense of how the individual strips are composed and then joined together to make the basic repeating blocks.
This picture shows some of my favorite tools in the piecing process: My cutting mat, ruler, and Frixion pen. If you haven't used a Frixion pen, you are missing out. They are great for marking stitching lines, as indicated here. The ink is heat soluble, so when you press the pieces, the marking goes away. One word of caution, though, is to avoid using the black ink on dark fabrics. Not only is the black mark hard to see on the dark fabric, when you iron the fabric, a sort of bleached out line is left behind. For dark fabrics, I tend to use a white Clover marking pen. It is also heat soluble, is visible on the dark fabric, and doesn't bleach out the fabric.
Just as picking up the pieces of a stashed away project can be challenging so can picking up pieces of other aspects of our lives. These "pieces" may represent unfinished work or even a broken relationship in need of repair. While the easier option may seem to be keeping the pieces stashed away, the project or issue will remain incomplete. Picking up those stashed away pieces may represent the need to clear away space and clutter. Picking up the pieces may mean the need to renew and refresh our perspective - or to bring about restoration. 
The gospels provide two accounts of the disciples picking up pieces. In each of these occasions, the disciples had witnessed Jesus feeding large crowds of people, first five thousand and then four thousand. After the crowds had eaten, the disciples picked up basketfuls of pieces - 12 baskets following the feeding of the five thousand and 7 baskets following the feeding of the four thousand. These baskets of pieces served as object sessions to instruct the disciples in Jesus' sufficiency. 
Even so, in scenarios where we may feel that we are picking up leftover pieces or recovering stashed away pieces, Jesus provides the strength to do so and remains our source of sufficiency. As Paul reminded the church at Corinth in his second letter to them:
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed. 2 Corinthians 9:8

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Baked Ziti - a great pasta dish for a potluck

Even though we like to cook and eat, I do have to say that I don't always feel the most confident when it comes to selecting something to prepare for a potluck or to bring as a meal to someone. 
Here's a picture of the ingredients you will be using:
1 pound dry ziti pasta - If you can't find ziti in the store, feel free to substitute penne or rigatoni
1 pound Italian sausage - You can decide for yourself whether to go with mild or spicy
1 onion, chopped - If the spaghetti sauce has onions in it, you can omit the onion if you wish
1-2 teaspoons chopped garlic - Again, if the sauce is already heavy on the garlic you can omit this 
2 (26 ounce) jars spaghetti sauce - We like the Paul Newman Sockarooni kind; we've also  – mixed and matched two different kinds to blend in different flavors – e.g. a roasted garlic and a peppers & onions
8 ounces of sliced provolone cheese 
1 1/2 cups sour cream
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Directions
1.   Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add ziti pasta, and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes; drain.
2.   In a large skillet, brown onion and Italian sausage over medium heat. 
3.   Add spaghetti sauce, and simmer 15 minutes.
4.   Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Use a deep 9x13 inch baking dish. Layer as follows: 1/2 of the ziti, Provolone cheese, sour cream, 1/2 sauce mixture, remaining ziti, mozzarella cheese and remaining sauce mixture. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.
5.   Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until cheeses are melted.

Here are some of the hints for making the baked ziti a bit easier. First of all, is this amazing Pampered Chef chopper tool that makes browning the sausage much easier. I highly recommend it.
.
Note: for step 3, spread out the provalone cheese slices so that they cover the pasta. That makes spreading the sour cream over the provalone cheese easier.
If you don't have a deep 9x13 inch pan, consider using a regular oblong cake pan and a square 9x9 pan. That way, you have something to bring to the potluck and dinner for yourself for another night. 
This picture shows an oblong pan with the second layer of ziti set down and ready for the mozzarella cheese and more sauce!
Here we have a 9x9 inch pan with the ziti that has been baked and is ready for eating!
Serve with a salad and breadsticks. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February Fancies

Given that February is a rather short month, it seems only fitting that I close it out with a rather short post. Believe it or not, I did have good intentions of having both posts up by mid-month. 
I'll start off with a photo of a "make it and take it" heart that I created at K&H Quilt Shoppe in Kaysville, UT. The idea of a "make it and take it" is that the project is a small one that can be completed in in a rather short period of time. You just drop by the store at the designated time that the project is happening, pull up a chair and the materials, make the project, and take it home. This heart is only about 6 inches wide and can be used to accent a table or to serve as a "mug rug" or coaster. I had fun combining wool appliqué and embroidery techniques to create it.
This second project is actually one I created a year or two ago. This little wool mat is only about 9 inches across. The cats and hearts are made from wool scraps. They are one of the reasons I justify holding on to even small scraps from my varied wool projects. You never know just when you might need a piece the size of a quarter or even smaller.
 
If you look closely around the edge, you will see that the stitching in the border features a variegated thread. About the time I was working on this project, I was introduced to "twisted tweed" Valdani pearl cotton. Rather than just buy one ball, I opted to purchase a box with different shades and combinations of colors. They have been fun to incorporate into different projects.
Some of you know that we have a cat who we are rather crazy about - one might argue, against our better judgement. He is actually coming up on his eighth birthday - time definitely flies!
I said from the start that this would be a short post, and so it is. I hope that February has been a good month for you. Given that we associate love with February, I will close out this post with a definition of love, courtesy of the apostle John.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 1 John 4:10