October 28, 2013

Stuffed Carnival Sqaush Recipe

I am very excited to share this recipe with you today. I haven't enjoyed anything ad much as I enjoyed this in quite some time. At the pumpkin patch last weekend, I picked up a lovely carnival squash. They're similar to the acorn squash in size, with a slightly sweeter flesh.

They also look lovely!
I didn't know what to do with it at first. I looked around for recipes, but ultimately decided I had to make it stuffed. Many of the recipes were stuffed with sausage, which I just don't care for. Then I remembered a Lean Cuisine I had for lunch recently. They make a very tasty, very fall dish called Apple Cranberry Chicken. I like it a lot, and knew something similar would be the perfect mate for this squash.

I looked it up on their website, to see what they put in it, and sort of extrapolated from there. The only part I really had to guess on was the sauce, and it was simple enough to make with just a little guessing. The wheat berries are delicious, but I had a hard time finding them. I didn't even know the existed before I bought that lunch. I got mine at Whole Foods. You could definitely skip them if you can't find any, but I would recommend you try them if you can.

This is a little complicated to do all at once, so it'll definitely give your kitchen a work out. I would recommend cooking the wheat berries and pasta beforehand, but it's perfectly do-able all at once. You'll just be a little bit busy.

Stuffed Carnival Squash
Makes 4 servings

What You'll Need:
4 carnival squash (acorn squash works, too)
1 apple, any variety
2 carrots
2 cups green beans
1 cup dried cranberries
2 cups apple cider
1 cup dry orzo pasta
1 cup dry wheat berries
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tbs lemon juice

The Process:
     Put on a pot to boil 3 cups of water, add the wheat berries, cover, and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 1 hour, until tender.
     Carefully slice each squash in half, lengthwise, and remove the seeds and pulp. Place face down in a baking sheet with 1/4 of water and bake at 375° for 45-60 minutes, until tender.
     Bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta. Cook as directed, then drain. Simmer cider, lemon, and spices together and let reduce.
Meanwhile, slice vegetables and apple in to bite sized pieces. 
     20 minutes before the squash is finished, add vegetables, apple, and cranberries to sauce pot. Let cook on low heat until squash is ready.
     Toss pasta, wheat berries, and vegetable mixture together. Spoon into hot squash halves and serve immediately.

I want to make this every day.

October 19, 2013

Basic Bread Pudding Recipe

Been a little while, hasn't it? Sorry about that, life has just gotten in the way the last few months. Long story short, I'm a full time student again in addition to working full time. But I think I'm in a good position to get back to blogging (and crafting) regularly again. To kick things off, I have a delightful recipe that I love to make in the fall: bread pudding.

For me, bread pudding is always a fall dish, I rarely make it any other time of the year. My first experience with them was when I made a pumpkin bread pudding, but sometimes you really crave the basics. This recipe is easy to do and you don't need anything special to do it. You probably have all the necessary ingredients on hand already.

What You'll Need:

5-6 cups stale bread, cubed
4 cups milk
3 eggs, beaten in a small bowl
1/2 a stick of butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp vanilla (yes, tablespoons, it's most of the flavor)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp nutmeg

The Process:
Preheat your oven to 375°F. In medium heat in a large pot, combine the milk, butter, sugars, vanilla, and spices. Heat until sugar is dissolved, butter is melted, and spices are well incorporated about 10 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Take a 1/2 cup of your pudding mixture and slowly pour it into the bowl with the beaten eggs, whisking the entire time. Repeat once more. Then add the whole mixture back into the pot and mix well. This tempers the eggs so you can add them into the hot liquid without ruining the texture. It's a cool biology thing involving denaturing proteins, but basically you just don't want the heat from the liquid to cook the eggs. Same principle applies when making custards, too.

Put your cubed bread into a 9x13 or equivalent baking dish. Pour the whole pot over the bread, letting it soak in for a few minutes. Then put into the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until set. The top should be a little brown.

It's best to eat it the same day or the day after you make it. Bread pudding doesn't keep too well. You can refrigerate leftovers overnight and heat them up in the microwave.

Now, if you have fresh bread that you'd like to turn into bread pudding, you absolutely can. I like to cube it up, put it on a baking sheet, and bake it on a low heat, 200-250 degrees, for 15 minutes, checking it and stirring halfway through. Dry but not hard is the key here. Let it cool a few minutes and then it's ready to use.

June 8, 2013

Homespun Honey Quilt: All Done!

Remember this quilt? I do, believe it or not. It's one of my leftover 2011 (technically started in 2010) projects that I promised myself I would finish up before starting anything new. Please excuse me for a moment while I laugh and laugh and laugh.

Projects with no particular deadline in mind seem to languish on and on around here. I whipped up the Little Hexie Quilt in practically no time compared to this quilt (4 months). But it had a due date. While I will concede that it's much smaller, and should take less time, the design of that quilt was much more complicated. But, taking nearly 3 years to complete a quilt is certainly the longest time I've spent on one.

I made this one for hubby to use on the bed. As I've mentioned before, he's a terrible blanket thief so we don't share blankets, otherwise all my blankets end up no longer on me. He had been using a store-bought quilt I've had for ages, but it's been getting a little ratty. I finished this one just in time.

The pattern itself was fairly simple- just making 6" wide strip sets of three homespun fabrics and then cutting the strips sets into 6" squares. Then I stitched them together, alternating their placement vertically or horizontally. Not complicated, but time consuming. I had the strip sets sew up for a long time before I got around to cutting the squares.

I added a border to it with this nice green plaid that has nice stars on it. That wasn't in the original plans, but I really liked it when I went to pick out the backing fabric. This project, though, since it took a long time, does suffer a little bit in places. My skills in cutting and piecing have increased since I started it, and it was a little frustrating trying to work around mistakes I had made.

I did a simple stitch-in-the-ditch to quilt it all together. Nothing fancy, since I wanted it to keep the rustic feel of the homsepuns. I really like how they came together, I'd like to work on another project with them sometime in the future.

Of course, as soon as I set out the quilt, my "helper" had to test it. This quilt, like all other quilts, blankets, fabric, fabric scraps, and clothes left on the floor, is Piper tested and Piper approved for comfort. I eventually had to lock her out of the room to get a decent picture of the quilt on the bed without interference.

I'm glad this one is finally finished. Perhaps now I'll learn not to let projects hang over my head for ages and ages... but probably not.

May 25, 2013

Little Hexie Quilt All Stitched Up!

I usually have 2-3 projects that I'm working on at once, but sometimes (like now) I get a little carried away and it turns into 5-6. That's when I know it's time to pick up the most complete project and put the finishing touches on it.

For about two weeks, this quilt had been sandwiched and half quilted. The binding was even already pressed. So I had no excuse not to sit down for a couple hours and finish up the quilting. Of course, I also had a deadline to finish it by- the baby shower!

I'm very happy with how it turned out. It's my first time making a pattern like this, and I was worried that the corners of the hexagons wouldn't match up. For the most part, though, they matched up very well, it's only a few spots that are noticeably off. I did rip and restitch a few of them that were really bad.

The colors worked together far better than I had thought they would. I had a hard time finding enough bright reds and blues to fill out the quilt, but for the most part, all the colored fabric came from my stash. The white background, as it happens, came from my stash, too. A while ago there was a nice white quilting cotton on clearance, so I bought the whole bolt for almost nothing.

Choosing the binding was possibly the most difficult part. I couldn't find anything that I liked. I ultimately ended up with this stripe because it closely matched the tone of the prints. And I really do love cutting bias binding from a straight stripe pattern and ending up with diagonally striped binding. You can't go wrong with it.

The backing I bought after the top was finished. I wasn't sure which color would have the right feel until the top was finished. I brought it with me to the fabric store to hold it up against several colors. There was also a red that I liked, but ultimately, I went with this blue dot print because it looked better with the binding than the red did.

I really enjoy making quilts, but even better is when I give them away.  Here's the happy mama-to-be! I'm endlessly excited for my aunt and uncle- this is their first little one!

Now, only 4-5 more projects are on my quilting table. Time to finish a few of them up! I just started attending classes at night, after a year or so of thinking about it, and obviously my quilting time has diminished. But I have several almost-done quilts that won't take too long to sew up if I dedicate a few Saturday mornings to the effort.

May 17, 2013

Amaretto Pound Cake Perfection

While at my Trader Joe's recently, I came across this interesting carton of shelf stable whipping cream. I always seem to want whipping cream, but rarely have it on hand. For under $2, I thought it was worth giving it a try. But then, like magic, all my whipping cream needs vanished. I started stumbling around the internet, looking for interesting and creative uses of whipping cream.

Instead, I accidentally came across this pound cake recipe that says it was a favorite of Elvis Presley's and it looked too good not to try. People say a lot of things about famous people like that, but after having tasted it? Total truth, my friends. It must be. This cake is too good to be a lie.

I made a few small modifications to the recipe and it turned out beautifully. The originally recipe called for 7 eggs and that just seemed like far too many. Plus, I only had 6 on hand the first time I made it. The texture turned out great anyway, so I've been sticking with 6. I also added some amaretto, because all baked goods are better with a little booze.

What You'll Need:
3 cups sugar
2 sticks of butter, softened
6 eggs
3 cups cake flour, sifted OR make the DIY cake flour (see below)
1 pint whipping heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup amaretto liquor (optional, but amazing)

DIY Cake Flour:
You'll need all-purpose flour, cornstarch, two medium bowls, and a mesh strainer (or flour sifter)

Take out a 1 cup measuring cup. Put two tablespoons of cornstarch in the measuring cup. Add all-purpose flour on top until the measuring cup is full. Dump it out into a bowl. Repeat twice and you'll have the correct amount of flour for this recipe. Put your strainer over the second bowl, and slowly add the flour/cornstarch mixture to the strainer as you shake it back and forth, which both sifts the flour and mixes the flour and cornstarch together. And voliĆ ! An excellent cake flour substitute.

April 18, 2013

Homemade Garlic Butter and Toast Recipe

I've known about the deliciousness of making garlic butter at home, but it wasn't until recently that I tried it myself. I don't know what took me so long, it's delicious and simple to make!

There are so many uses for garlic butter, chief among them for me is garlic bread. But you can also use it on baked potatoes, to saute shrimp, to make croutons, over steamed vegetables, on steak or an endless amount of other ways. I certainly haven't thought of them all.

What You'll Need:
1 stick softened, salted butter (not melted!)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp Italian herb seasoning

The Process:
Make sure your butter is well softened. With the warm days I've been having, it didn't take long. Mix all ingredients in a small bowl with a fork until well combined. You can use it immediately, but the flavors enhance after it's been mixed a while. I like to line the top half of my butter dish with cling wrap, scoop the garlic butter into it, and chill it in the fridge. After it has hardened, you can pop it right out of the dish and it's stick-shaped and ready for slicing.

You should store it in your refrigerator. It keeps for quite a while, just like regular butter.

My #1 use for it is to make ridiculously good garlic bread. I've been slicing up a baguette, buttering up a few slices, and toasting them in my toaster oven at 400 degrees for 5-6 minutes. That's plenty for just my husband and I to enjoy... or to just make as a snack. For superior garlic bread, use a sourdough loaf.

However, if you're feeding a crowd, you can do it in the oven. Slice the baguette, but without cutting through all the way to the bottom- leaving about 1/2 an inch attached. In each slit, place a generous pat of garlic butter. Wrap the whole loaf loosely in tin foil and bake at 250 degrees for 8-10 minutes.

All this talk of garlic bread is making my hungry for some spaghetti and meatballs. Looks like I know what I'll be making for dinner!

March 25, 2013

Duct Tape Dressform Blues

Over the weekend, a friend threw a duct tape dressform making party. If you haven't heard of the duct tape dress form, it's a really cool and cheap alternative to buying one of those more expensive adjustable dress forms. You put on an old shirt, have a friend wrap you up in duct tape, cut the tape/shirt off, seal it up, stuff it with fluff, and voila! An easy double of you.

But it isn't pretty.
It sounded like a fabulous idea. My friend bought all the duct tape and fiber fill in bulk so we could save money and a good time was had by all during the event. About twelve of us participated, we took turns wrapping each other and in the middle, we took a nice tea and cookies break.

But when I got home, I took out my measuring tape and measured my new "me". And it was off. Horribly, horribly off. In some places it was more than 5" too large. I was aghast, but I figured I could still salvage it. I took off the bottom, pulled out all the stuffing, and stored it in two garbage bags for safe keeping until later.

I recut the seam in the back, and cut two princess seams up the front so I could take it in as best I could. After about two hours of cutting, taping, measuring, retaping, measuring, and retaping again, I finally got the form to roughly where it should have been in the first place. Then I ran out of duct tape before I could finish it up.

I went out to get some more, but they only had a black kind that was more expensive. I bought it anyway, but I was feel pretty frustrated by the project so I decided to call it a day and do other things. I woke up this morning, however, to discover that all the seams I painstakingly cut, measured, nipped and tucked had all busted open in the night. I didn't have enough tape to reinforce them completely, so they all popped in the night.

So, I had to tape everything back together again (that's the black tape you see in the image). But somehow, it didn't fit back together the same way. The underbust is too big (I couldn't fit the bra I'm wearing right now on it and I could before) and there's a weird thing going on in the space between my breasts and the neck. It's sort of popping out in a strange way. I remain confident that my actual chest/neck area doesn't do that, but I don't know what to do about it.

I'm strongly considering taking all the fluff out of it again and ditching this entire one and starting over. But that would be a lot of time and a lot of tape, with no guarantee that it'll come out better the second time. For now, I'm too frustrated to even look at it so I'm just going to let it sit for a few days while I figure out what I want to do next.

March 18, 2013

Guinness Pot Roast

 Nothing says St. Patrick's Day quite like putting beer in all your food. I just opted to add it to my main dish, as I wanted to reserve some of my Guinness for drinking. I decided on a pot roast, since Costco had a good deal on a pair of them recently, I had one handy.

It's a fun St. Patty's Day twist on the usual slow cooker roast. Instead of just beef broth, you add a bottle of Guinness to the cooking liquid. If you don't have any Guinness on hand, you could certainly substitute any beer you like, but I would stick with dark beers like stouts and porters for their strong flavor.

For some crazy reason, it's still winter here around DC, despite being March. I intended to make this pot roast for St. Patrick's Day, regardless of what silliness the weather had in store. However, the clouds spent the better part of the morning dropping snow on us, so now the leftovers will make a nice hot lunch on this snowy afternoon.

Guinness Pot Roast
makes 4-6 servings, depending on roast size

What You'll Need:
2-3lb pot roast
small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 carrots, sliced
1 lb of small red potatoes, halved
12oz Guinness beer
2 cups beef broth, low sodium if possible
1 package onion soup mix
2 tsp thyme
2 Tbs coarse salt
2 Tbs cracked pepper
2 bay leaves

The Process:
   Heat up a skillet on medium heat with some olive oil and let it get nice and hot. Combine the coarse salt and pepper in a bowl and then rub the mixture over the surface of the roast. Sear each side of the roast for 3-4 minutes per side. Place into the crock.

   In the same skillet, cook your onions for 5-6 minutes until soft and then add the garlic. Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes. Make sure to scrape the bottom for the burned bits from the roast. Add to the crock along with the carrots and potatoes.

   Put the onion soup mix, thyme, and bay leaves into the crock. Add the Guinness and beef broth over top and mix it up to combine the onion soup mix. The roast and vegetables should be almost completely covered. If not, add a little more broth or water. Cover the crock and cook on low for 6-7 hours, until the roast is fork tender and the potatoes are soft. Remove roast from the crock and let it rest, tented with foil, for 10-15 minutes before carving.

   If you prefer a thick broth, as I do, remove 2 cups of liquid from the crock and thicken it in your preferred method. I use arrowroot starch, but cornstarch or flour work just fine. Stir the thickened liquid back in with the rest of the liquid and vegetables while the roast is resting. Carve the roast, spoon vegetables and broth onto your plate, and serve.

   Don't forget to have some bread on hand to sop up the broth on your plate!

March 17, 2013

Feeling Lucky: A St. Patrick's Day Mini Quilt

In the spirit of the holiday, I made a little luck charm for my house- a four leaf clover mini quilt!

As with the other mini quilts, it took just an afternoon to make. That's my favorite part about them. You start with your uncut fabric and thread and just a few hours later you have a finished product. It's a lovely break from working on the bigger and longer quilting projects.

I really enjoy St. Patrick's Day, as it gives me a good excuse to wear green and make some excellent potato-laden foods. In the crock pot right now is a pot roast with carrots and potatoes, but instead of using all beef broth, the liquid is part Guinness! I'm quite looking forward to the results this evening. If it's good, I'll post a recipe to follow.

Have a lovely day, and if you're going out to raise a pint to Ireland, please be safe!

February 26, 2013

Little Hexie Quilt WIP

Lately I've been working pretty furiously on a really cute quilt. How I found the pattern is an interesting story. One of the quilting magazines I follow posted an image of a hexagon quilt, discussing the quilting on it but not the pattern. I asked if they had it, and another woman who follows it responded with step by step instructions on how to make it! I am so thankful to her for that kindness.

So far, I have the top quilt nearly entirely together. You see some horizontal lines going across the colored hexegons? That's because instead of sewing the whole hexagons together and doing y-seams (pain in the butt), you stitch half a hexagon to the one above it, making long strips which you then sew together to make the whole top. Isn't that clever?

I had a few 2" strips laying around from a UFO and I took two, stitched them together, and used them to test out the instructions the woman gave me. It worked like a charm, and the test block turned out to be pretty cool.

The fun thing about this pattern is that depending on how to sew the blocks together, you can get a completely different looking quilt. For the test piece, I simply cut 6 triangles out, flipping my 60 degree ruler as I went and then stitched them all together, alternating center colors. I will definitely be doing a tutorial for this quilt after I've finished it up.

The Little Hexie uses white as one strip for all of them, and I cut enough triangles from each color set to end up with 12. That allowed me to make two hexagons from each strip set, one with the color on the outside, and one with it on the inside like this:

The color combinations and placement choices are practically endless here. I was so inspired by the purple and black test quilt, that I decided to make one for myself using that color scheme. The bright and colorful Little Hexie quilt is being made as a gift.
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