Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Don't panic...it's just soup

First off, yay!  I got my pin-cushion from the pin-cushion swap I was involved in.

It was made by Heather from Olive and Ollie http://www.oliveandollie.com/...totally cute stuff.  I love the fabric.  My Youngest has claimed it as her own tiny pillow, and keeps asking me if Mama sewed it.  Nope...Mama didn't sew this one.  Thanks Heather (sweet name by the way).

Back to business at hand...soup.

It is just soup, but look, let's face facts.  If you don't know proportions or what tastes good in soup, or how long to cook it...then it can be a little intimidating.  And I'll be honest, it's not an exact science for me.  It's a little of this and a dab of that and maybe a smidge more of something else...you gotta taste it as you go along.  So be like me and play like the chef's in Top Chef and have little tasting spoons that you can have a bite and then throw in the sink to wash later so that you continually check the flavors.  Or you could be really hard core and just dip your fingers in...gross.  I'll just wash a bunch of spoons, thank you.

I can't even give you an exact recipe, I can just give you the basics for making your own recipe.  Let me start by saying though to start early with soup.  It is best to pre-chop and pre-make certain items before you need supper in an hour, as it's a little time consuming to make soup.

I made Vegetable Beef and Barley Soup.  So at lunch time today I got out the skillet and I put a little oil in the bottom, I finely chopped an onion and an Anaheim pepper.  And I diced a celery into crescent moons, somewhere between 1/8 inch and 1/4 inch thick.  Started sauteing these over medium heat.  Then I added 1.5 lbs ground round 85 % lean, and browned until done, add salt and pepper as you feel is tasty.  Set aside when done.  In fact, do this the night before and just toss it in the fridge.

Start chopping your veg.  Again, you gotta go with what you like.  Carrots, potatoes, green beans, cabbage and zucchini for me.  I grabbed a medium-sized bowl and started chopping, aiming to fill it up.  I chopped approx: 6 carrots into half moons, several hand-fulls of green beans chopped into 2 inch pieces (please chop off the ends...they're kind of scratchy going down), 1 potato into 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch dice, 1/2 of a small head of cabbage chopped into 1 inch square pieces. and 1 zucchini quartered and then chopped approx the size of the carrots.  Set aside.  If you want, do this the night before or after breakfast even.  But give yourself enough time!  I wouldn't chop the zucchini or the potato ahead though.  Nasty brown potatoes are not delicious.

Prepare your barley if you're going to use it as early as you like as well.  If you want to use noodles, then obviously you don't have to prepare these in advance as they will cook in your boiling broth.  Just follow the instructions and set aside.

Now it's broth time.  I got my biggest pot as I knew this was an enormous amount of soup.  I dumped my chopped veg in the soup, minus the zucchini as it's a quick cooker.  I took the bowl the veg was in before and I filled it with water, twice, and dumped it in the pot.  Then I used beef bouillon base and just guessed how much to put in, but several good spoonfuls.  I added several dashes of Worcestershire Sauce and 2 large spoonfuls of tomato paste.  Taste.  Add salt and pepper and a bay leaf.  Turn on heat and bring to boil. 

Boil approximately 15 minutes.  You want the veg to be tender...it is not nice to take a bite of soup and have some under-cooked veg.  Gross.  Give yourself time to get them nice and soft.  Add the meat.   Add the barley.  Decide that maybe it isn't soupy enough and add another cup of water.  Looks good!  Slap on the lid, reduce heat to simmer and let it be.  Taste.  Add more salt, or another dash or two of Worcestershire.  Toss spoon into the sink.  Simmer for an hour or so.  Add the zucchini.  Taste.  Throw spoon into sink.  Slap lid on and let it go on very very low until dinner time.  Yay and yum!  Soup.

My Oldest declared this the BEST soup she has ever eaten.  And as a matter of fact,she actually ate her entire bowl...a zucchini included I do believe.  And the Youngest who is terribly picky, gobbled hers up as well.  I served it with bread that I buttered and then layered Pecorino Romano cheese on and broiled for a couple of minutes until nice and toasty and melted.  Dessert was fresh strawberries with a dollop of whipped cream.  So good.  So try soup.  It's not so hard.  Just use what you like and use common sense regarding the ingredients.  If it looks like there's not enough water, add some.  If it looks too watery, you can take it out!  If you love rutabaga, put it in! 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Who has styrofoam hanging around?

What a fun Easter!  Here's some gratuitous pics of a couple of amazing kids celebrating Easter...

What comes with Easter dinner?  Easter dessert.  Luckily I volunteered for dessert and salad duty at the relations tonight.  Fun for me.  I like to experiment with new techniques I've never tried and sweets make it so easy to try different things.  While perusing the blogiverse I came across carrot patch cupcakes.

 So cute and perfect for Easter day dessert (but also perfect for spring dessert of any kind).  http://frogprincepaperie.com/2011/04/tutorial-carrot-patch-cupcakes.html 

I started with my faux gourmet cupcake recipe.  I used triple chocolate with fudgy chips.  Yum!

My trick to melting the butter, but not leaving it too hot at the end: take it off the heat when there's still a hunk of butter un-melted and let the residual heat take care of the rest.

Remember to only fill your cupcakes 2/3 full.  Very important step.  Nobody wants their cupcakes to not be charmingly domed.  I did not originally have mine filled properly as muffin tin spot #24 was mostly empty, so that required me to fish batter out of the wrappers that looked extra full.  It worked out fine.

Necessities for the carrot tops.  I had never heard of edible grass before.  It's a wacky candy from Germany and while not particularly tasty, it just made the look.  If I hadn't found it I was going to pipe green frosting as the carrot tops.  As always, use adorable cupcake wrappers.  In the tutorial, they recommended sticking the marshmallows on toothpicks and then sticking them in styrofoam for the candy melt and sugar to set.  First of all, who just has styrofoam hanging about?  Not me.  Second, I found this unnecessary anyway.  I didn't use a toothpick, just my fingers and I laid the finished carrots on parchment paper and they set up just fine.

See.  No need for styrofoam.

I did have one issue though with the mini marshmallows...where are all the orange ones?  I found a huge discrepancy in the colors.  Less orange ones.  Tricky when making carrots for cupcakes.

The best part of the cupcake though had to be the milk chocolate frosting.  Yum!!!!  I got this off of America's Test Kitchen and have adapted it to suit my tastes.  I have found that it needs a little more powder sugar to keep it from being too rich and buttery.

     Milk Chocolate Frosting

20tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter , softened (60 to 65 degrees)  This is a slightly tricky step as I have discovered.  You don't want the butter to be too soft because the frosting doesn't set up firm enough.  So I have found that it still needs to be quite cool in the middle.  Don't let it come completely to room temp.
1 1/2cup confectioners' sugar 
3/4cup powdered cocoa
Pinch salt
3/4cup light corn syrup 
1teaspoon vanilla  
8ounces milk chocolate , melted using a double broiler and cooled slightly (I used guitard real milk chocolate chips.  You want to make sure you use good chocolate for this and no artificial stuff.  I didn't go out of my way to use really excellent chocolate, but I've found these chocolate chips are the best and they melt great. See my post on oreo truffles to see how I melt chocolate)  http://why-because-i-can.blogspot.com/2011/03/chocolate-dipped-oreo-truffles.html
In mixer, process butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt until smooth, scraping sides of bowl as needed (this takes a bit of patients and a lot of scraping...eventually it will come together)   Add corn syrup and vanilla and process until just combined. Scrape sides of bowl, then add chocolate and mix until smooth and creamy.

After you get the frosting made, make sure to frost your cupcakes as desired.  My sister would only place the smallest whiff of frosting on her cupcakes.  Others might put 2 inches of frosting on theirs.  I prefer a nice layer of frosting, not too thick and not too thin.  Just right.

Now it's time to add the green carrot tops.  Pick them up one at a time, the candy melt and sugar should be hardened by now.  With a toothpick, drill a hole in the top and then break off two pieces of Edible Grass and stick them as you please.  Then place on top of cupcakes in a pleasing manner...and you have carrot patch cupcakes.

So, don't be afraid to try new things.  It's fun and not as hard as you think.  That's the moral of this story.  If you come across something that looks tasty or adorable, just make it.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.  And if it's a total failure...you can always bring something store bought.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Gardening Staff

I have two of the best gardeners anyone could ever hope for!  One look at the state of our vegetable patch left them in a fuss and something had to be done.  ASAP!

The Head Gardner went right to work industriously digging a giant hole.  Clearly just what was needed to combat those pesky weeds. 

For every worm she came across, she first showed it to the Under Gardner who proceded to be very unhappy when said worm was thrust into her face, and then the Head Gardner would run to the house so I could examine it.  Whether a baby, or the fattest worm ever or the wiggliest worm ever or whatever, she was excited every time she came across one.  I have seen many worms today.

The Under Gardner decided that piling up the dirt into castles was the best way to combat the scourge of the garden...but then quickly abandoned that method to make mud balls...

And bring each new one she made into the house.  Just like the Head Gardner and her worms, the Under Gardner was equally excited about each and every mud ball she made and yet thoroughly distressed at having mud on her hands.  Go figure.

Though the work they are doing is really really good....something tells me I will be out in the garden filling in a giant hole, smushing mud balls and soothing the nerves of several dozen worms tonight while I....weed.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Random Pattern

Since I focused on my oldest's daughter's crib blanket yesterday, I thought I'd give equal time to my youngest's crib blanket today.  I've never felt the constraints of only using traditional colors and fabrics for my children.  I love bold colors!  Sometimes I love bold colors too much and it bites me in the end, but in the case of this crib blanket, I think they work perfectly.

I love the orange too!  I have little redheads and so deep inside I love to emphasize their beautiful hair...and nothing does it like orange.  Their hair looks even redder next to something orange. 

The random pattern on this one makes me happy!  Seemingly random, that is.  Until I made this pattern, I couldn't figure out how people attached so many different sized pieces together.  Here's the trick, you just make several  panels with random pieces that all meet up at the edges and then sew the panels together.  Voila!  Random.

My one regret is not using more of the cute polka dot print throughout.  I had consulted my loving husband, who is usually pretty spot on in his assessments of color arrangement and if I have too much dark or light or color in a particular area.  He felt the white would be too distracting and take the eye away from the rest of the quilt.  Then after it was made, he loved the look of it.  Sad!

I quilted hearts inside the individual blocks and stiched in the ditch around the perimeter of each block.  In the smaller blocks I did a single heart.

In the larger blocks I did it Grinch-style.  You know, his heart grew 3X that day.

Here's the back with racing stripes!

So that is it for baby blankets for now.  As I only have to babies, I only have two crib blankets to show.  I could steal my sister's crib blankets for a day and take pictures of them.

Thanks for stopping by.


Thursday, April 7, 2011

The original Hexi

Do you ever feel like you were so there first before a trend really hit?  I got braces way before anybody else in my 7th grade did...I had a sweet poof in my hair before Snooki...uhhh... anyway, that's how I feel about Grandmother's Garden...aka hexies.  Can I just say this was maybe the 3rd quilt I'd ever made...and it only took me 10 years.  Hexagons are one of those quilting techniques that you can just bring a few things with you wherever you go so that when you have a little bit of time to spare you can quilt.  You can pack just a few essentials: enough of your fabric of choice, hexagon patterns, thread and scissors.  So consequently as it was my "work on it every once in a while" quilt, it took a while to complete.

I had always planned on this being a queen, but then I got preggers and realized too late that I had not made my future child a baby blanket.  As a quilter I could not let that be and realized that I had just enough done on my hexi quilt for it to be a crib blanket...if I turned it sideways.  So what was meant to be the horizontal sides became the vertical sides and vice versa and a crib blanket was born!
I bound it with red...because I figured a mostly green quilt needed a little punch.

And instead of a coordinating fabric on the back of the hexi quilt, I ofcourse chose purple...logical.  This really began my love affair of putting a completely unrelated fabric on the back of my quilts.  I think it's kind of a fun surprise for people...Oh what lovely green hexagons...turn over quilt...BAM it's purple.

So...I guess what I'm trying to say is...these hexies were brought to you by the letter H...for Heather....and hexagon.

One more tip, don't be afraid of the ugly fabrics.  Once they're all mixed in, you don't even know they're ugly they just add some extra oomf.

See ya!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Well enough

Take 3.

I can't leave well enough alone...until now. I have made 3 pincuchions now for my swap partner.  I pretty much have a week to get my pincushion mailed, but of course I've yet to be satisfied with what I've made.  I'm giving it to somebody other than myself and so I have to fret and ponder and think about it...to death. 

So I'm done!  My exchange partner is just getting into quilting and I will say I have a pretty good knowledge of quilting and so I wanted to give him something that celebrates the diversity and beauty of one of my favorite arts.

The top is Grandmother's garden (a personal favorite) and fun and quick to make. The best part of this little pincushion is that I used my scraps.  I found all the cute fabrics that I've used recently and combined them into a pleasing little arrangement of adorability.  I also patterned this after the traditional tomato pincushions and crocheted and attached a little strawberry!  Personally I think it's a hit...so much so that I made one for my mother-in-law and sister-in-law for their birthdays...and my sister-in-law doesn't even sew.  Who cares, everybody needs a cute pincushion even if they just sew buttons occasionally, right?

The bottom is a snazzy little log cabin, again using scraps.  My favorite of the bunch has to be the gooseberries, it's the tiny little strip on the far left.  I made my Grandma a quilt where the focus was gooseberries because I have many a childhood memory of picking gooseberries and taking off the stem and fluff ends.  So fun!  Quilting is just so personal and I love it.

There you go Thomas I am sending it!

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