Friday, September 28, 2012

Sew an old-fashioned tomato pincushion.

You can make all sorts of pincushions from scrap fabric you happen to have on hand.  They make a beautiful gift for anyone you know who likes to sew.  And don't think that just because they have one, they don't need another.  I have one near my regular sewing machine, one near my serger and one in my sewing basket, and there are still times when I feel like that isn't enough.  Of course, that's usually when I've forgotten to take one to whatever table I'm working at, but I digress.  The point is, anyone who sews would love another pincushion, and by raiding your fabric stash you can make one in their favorite color, or maybe in a color that would match their sewing box.  

Here's how to do it.
Start by cutting a piece of fabric on the bias. 
You can make it any size, just make sure it's twice as long as it is wide.
Mine was 6" x 12"
Fold it in half, right sides together and sew along the side using a 1/4" seam.
This forms the fabric into a tube, open at the top and the bottom.
Sew a running stitch around one end.
Pull this closed and knot it off.
Then run a few stitches through this gather.
This just reinforces it.
Next, turn it around and make running stitches around the other end.
Just make sure the thread comes out on the right side of the fabric.
Turn it right side out and fill with stuffing.
You can use regular fiber fill, but natural fiber fillings are kinder to your pins and needles.
When filling it, make sure you don't put too much in.  You want it nice and plump, but if you pack in too much it can become difficult to get the pins in quickly while you're sewing.
To help gauge, fill it as full as you want and then pull the threads to close the top.  If it's not full enough, open it up and add some more filling.  If you think it is full enough, stick a few pins in various places to make sure there's not too much stuffing for them to go in well.
Once you have it where you want, knot it off.
Then thread a long needle (I'm using a doll needle - available at places like Joann's or Hancock Fabrics) with some sort of thick thread.  I'm using pearl cotton embroidery thread.
Take off a nice long piece because you will be wrapping this around the pincushion to form the sections.
Draw the needle through the center of the pincushion, leaving a long enough tail on the other end that you won't risk pulling it through by mistake, and so you can tie the other end off.
*My thread was cut off the skein.  I just put the thread there so you could see it better.  I didn't realize until later that it looked like I had left it attached to the skein as I sewed.
Once you pull the thread through the pincushion, put the needle back through, slightly to the side of where you came out, pulling the thread until you flatten the pincushion slightly. Using the tail you left, knot it off, but don't cut either end of the thread yet.
Now we'll form the sections.  
Take the needle, that is now at the top of the pincushion, and wrapping the thread around the side, insert the needle back in the bottom of the pincushion.  Do this several times around the body of the pincushion, forming the sections. Odd numbers seam to be the most visually appealing, so I made five sections around this pincushion.  Knot it off using your tail.  Do not cut the threads yet, and leave your needle in as well.
Cut a star shaped piece of felt to make the cap for the top. Don't worry about being precise. In fact, it looks better if it's not perfect.
This is just an example - I didn't actually like any of the shades of green felt I had, so I made a cap out of another scrap of green fabric that better complimented the color of the "tomato".

If you want to do it the way I did, you need to apply fusible fleece to the wrong side of a small piece of fabric (about 4"x4") and, using fusible web, attach the wrong side of another piece of the fabric to the fleece side of the part you just made; in essence, sandwiching the fleece between the two layers of fabric.  Draw a star and use a narrow, close zig-zag, or a satin stitch to sew around the star, then cut it out. 
In all honesty though, if I had the right color of felt, I certainly wouldn't have gone to this much trouble for the cap, despite how nice I thought it turned out.
I'm sorry - please excuse the lighting change, which resulted in poorer photos.  A storm blew in and I lost all of my natural light.
To attach the cap, put your needle through the center of the cap and then push the cap onto the top of the tomato.  The tail thread will hang out from between the cap and cushion.  
Stitch the cap in place (I just go back through the entire tomato a couple of times).
For the record, if you ever have trouble getting the needle through, you can use something firm to help.  
Here I turned the pincushion over in order to use the table to push the cushion down onto the needle.  I wouldn't do this on a nice table top though. :)
You may also have a bit of trouble on occasion with pulling the needle out.  If you do, a needle pull (the small disk to the right in the picture) can help you get a better grasp on the needle.  If you don't have one (I've found them in the quilting section of the fabric store) you could use a small piece of non-slip shelf liner.
On the last stitch, push the needle out between the cap and the cushion, near where your tail is,
and knot it off, clipping the ends of the thread close to the knot.
Add a couple of pins and it's ready to go.

Now, while I was busy in the sewing room, Bree was busy in the kitchen.
Don't these look delicious?
You will just have to excuse me - this one has my name all over it.

I've linked this post with the Farm Girl Friday Blog Fest
I'm so pleased to have been chosen as one of their featured posts last week.  You should check it out.  There are plenty of good ideas being shared over there. 

I've also linked with the Homestead Barn Hop.  There is always plenty to be learned there too.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Canning: Blueberry Cinnamon Applesauce

I decided to try something new this year with our applesauce.  It was a very bad year for apples, so they weren't particularly consistent with regard to flavor.  That being the case, I thought it would be best if most of my applesauce for the year was flavored instead of plain.  With that in mind, and plenty of blueberries in the freezer, I tried my hand at making a blueberry applesauce, along the same lines as my strawberry applesauce.  Since cinnamon pairs so well with blueberries, I thought that would be a good addition as well.

Here are approximate ratios for the sauce:

Blueberry Cinnamon Applesauce
14 - 15lbs apples
2 1/2lbs. blueberries
(if you really like blueberries, you could use a bit more)
1/4c. lemon juice
2 1/2c. brown sugar
2-3tsp. cinnamon

Everything except the sugar and cinnamon go in the pot to cook down.
Here, you can see I tried to use my immersion blender, but those blueberries were just too elusive.
The regular blender was needed. 
I also ended up a bit more pleased with how finely it chopped up the blueberry skins.
Be careful transferring that hot applesauce.
 After it's all blended well, return it to the pot and add your cinnamon and sugar.
Bring it back up to a simmer, stirring often to keep from scorching.
It's best to taste this while it's cool, to see if you need more cinnamon or sugar.  You can transfer a bit to a small bowl and set it in the freezer for a few minutes in order to cool it down for a taste test.

Once you've got it the way you like, go ahead and put it in jars, leaving a 1/2" headspace.  Wipe your rims, place lids and rings, and process in a water bath for 20 minutes once your water has reached a full boil, with steam escaping from under the lid.
Here is some of the blueberry cinnamon applesauce.
That's strawberry applesauce sitting to the right.

I really liked this sauce.  Maybe even better than the strawberry - but then again, I like blueberries better anyway.  The acid test was the girls.  All of the ones who like blueberries, liked this sauce, and one that doesn't declared it to be, "Pretty good".  A firm recommendation if I ever heard one.

I've linked this post with the Carnival of Home Preserving,

and the

I have also linked up with the Homestead Barn Hop,

and with the blog hop at Simple and Joyful.

There are lots of good ideas being shared through these link-ups. You should check them out.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Traveling with food.

One of the things I was never really taught, was how to take food to a potluck.  As kids, you go to family dinners to have fun with the cousins you only get to see a few times a year.  You never really stop to think about how all that wonderful food managed to appear, mouth-watering and intact.  I'm sure it just didn't occur to my mother to teach me about how to get everything to the dinner without getting green bean juice all over the trunk of the car.  But, I've lived and learned, and cleaned up green bean juice.

Here are a few things I've used to help manage potlucks.

1 - This is actually something my mom did.  It's the one thing I remember her doing, and now I know why.  We had a, not-too-large pressure cooker that she used to carry anything that had a lot of liquid in it.  The seal kept it from spilling in the car.  I don't have one, and try to avoid making anything with a bunch of liquid in it to start with, but my most recently purchased slow cooker has a rubber gasket and locking clamps that will do the same thing.

2 - Clean, gallon jugs, especially if they have screw on lids, are much better than most pitchers for carrying tea or other drinks.

3 - I use a heavy duty laundry basket to carry things in when I have a lot that needs to go.  Laying a towel on the bottom can help if the dish is hot, but it also helps keep it from sliding around in the basket.  Also, if your dish is hot, the towel can be folded over the top and it will keep it warm.
4 - If you have something that has been cooked in a 9"x13" casserole dish, you can put a cookie cooling rack on top, and stack other things on top of it.  If the dish is still very warm, just throw an extra towel on top before putting anything else in the basket.  It's a great place to put bread, if you happen to be taking that to the dinner.

5 - Non-slip shelf liner can be rolled out in the trunk, or other storage area, to help keep things from sliding around. 

6 - Find some way of labeling your dishes and utensils.  You can write directly on plastic containers with a sharpie marker, you can use a label maker, if you have one, or you could even write your name on a piece of masking tape and put that on your items.  Whatever method you use, it really helps everyone keep up with what goes with who - or helps the host(ess) know who's spoon was left at their house.

7 - Take some aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and/or ziploc bags with you.  You never know what you may need to wrap up.  It's almost a necessity if you're at a community center, or other, similar place, but it's also a good idea if you'll be at a friend or family members home.  Many family dinners are held at my house, and I know from experience, the supply of these things can be exhausted in a hurry.  Most people, myself included, don't really mind, but having to replace all your wraps and bags at once can be pretty pricey.  It would just be a thoughtful way to help out whoever is hosting the get-together.

8 - If you, or other members of the family have kids, make one of your dishes macaroni and cheese.  Then, no matter what anyone else brings (like the eggplant casserole "Aunt Bessie" constantly shows up with), you know there'll be something there for the kids to eat.  Trust me, if you do this enough, you'll become one of the kids' favorite relatives. :D

9 - Crock pots are great for taking food to functions where you'll have to wait awhile to eat.  They can be plugged in and left on warm until it's time for dinner to be served.  Most of the families at our church do that for the potluck meal we have the first Sunday of every month.  

My final tip is for when you need to take food to someone for reasons other than a get-together.  Maybe there was a death in the family, a new baby was born, or someone just had surgery, or moved.  It's wonderful to be able to bless others in this way, but sometimes people are left with a bunch of dishes they need to return.  I like to use aluminum pans, or the reusable Glad pans for the regular food, and bakery boxes for cakes.  There'll be nothing to clean up, unless they want to reuse the pan, and they don't have to worry about getting my dishes back to me.

I hope you found a useful tip in there somewhere, and if you do find yourself with a spill in the car, carpet cleaner works wonders.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Canning: Oven Roasted Barbecue Sauce

I decided to do something different with my barbecue sauce this year.  I didn't have a huge quantity of tomatoes to work with this time since most of my plants contracted viral problems during all the heavy rain, but I diligently saved the extra tomatoes we have gotten in for the past few weeks.  We cut them up and put them in containers in the freezer until we had enough to actually try and make something.  Then I decided to try and cook it down in the oven, the same way I had made tomato sauce earlier this year.  I think it worked out really well, so I'm ready to share what I did.

Oven Roasted Barbecue Sauce
9 - 10 quarts cut up tomatoes 
1 large, sweet onion
2 medium yellow onions
4-6 stalks celery
1 green bell pepper
4 yellow gypsy peppers*
6 cayenne peppers
6 cloves of garlic
1c. white vinegar
1c. packed, light brown sugar
3Tbls. Worcestershire sauce
1tsp. paprika
3tsp. smoked paprika
4tsp. salt
3tsp. ground mustard
2tsp. Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning
1/2tsp ground black pepper
4Tbls. Instant Clear jel (optional)
This is one of the gypsy peppers.  
*You can use any sweet pepper you want, I just happen to have these, along with the bells, still going strong in the garden, so that's what I used.  As you can tell, it's smaller than a regular bell pepper, so if you wanted to use yellow, orange or red bells, I'd use one bell in place of two of these.
Just kind of roughly chop the onions, celery, and peppers, and mince the garlic.  You can get out the biggest part of the pepper seeds, but don't worry about getting every single one.  We'll run this through a food mill later.
The tomatoes, onions, peppers, celery, and garlic all go in a large roasting pan.
This is the one I cook my turkey in for Thanksgiving.
As you can tell, I didn't bother to thaw out the tomatoes.
You'll cook this at 350 degrees, until almost all of the liquid has evaporated out.  This helps to keep from having to cook it down again later.  
It took several hours to cook it down that far, but since it was in the oven, I didn't have to watch it as closely as I do when it's done on the stove top.  I just came in a gave it a little stir every so often and let the oven evaporate all the excess liquid.
Remember too, mine started off frozen in a solid block, yours will not take as long if the tomatoes aren't frozen.
Then transfer it to a food mill and run the solids through several times.  I think we did it 4 times. 
This still wasn't as thick as tomato sauce, but it was pretty close.
After that, you'll put the sauce in a large pot over medium heat, and add your vinegar, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce.
I was going to get a picture of the next part, but I got busy with the doing of it and completely forgot about the photographing of it. :)
At any rate, put your clear jel (if you're using it), paprika, smoked paprika, salt, ground mustard, Tony Chachere's, and black pepper in a small bowl and mix it well, making sure there are no clumps.
Quickly whisk this into the sauce and bring it to a boil.
Get your canner, jars, lids, etc. ready, because once it has come to a boil, it's ready to can.
Fill your jars, leaving 1/2" headspace, wipe your rims, fit your lids and rings, and process in a water bath canner for 20 minutes once the water has come to a full boil.**
You can tell how thick the sauce is by the way it's clinging to the side of the funnel.
This turned out a bit different from most other barbecue sauce I've had, but I really liked it.  It's a little more tomato-ey than most.  And it has everything else - a bit of sweet, heat, and tanginess.
My only problem was that it only made 4 pints.  I ended up liking it so much, I wish I could have made more. But, we didn't have enough tomatoes, and since this was a trial run on this recipe, I wouldn't have wanted to risk a huge batch of tomatoes on something that may not have worked out anyway.

You don't have to use clear jel in this if you don't want.  You can reduce the sauce to whatever thickness you like by cooking it down (I've done that in the past), but since I didn't have a lot to begin with, I didn't want to reduce it, thus making less sauce.  The clear jel thickened it up nicely.
I think one of the reasons this had so much flavor is because I cooked it down instead of draining off the liquid, which is what I did for my oven roasted tomato sauce.  The water evaporated out, and the flavor stayed in.  
I'll have to plant another row of tomatoes next year, just so I can make more sauce.

**These are by no means complete instructions for canning.  If you've never canned before, you'll need to review the instructions that came with your canner. 

I was really happy about the fact that almost all of the produce for this came from our own garden.  We grew all the tomatoes, peppers, celery, and garlic.  Only the onions came from the store since we've already used all the onions we managed to grow.  
Next year we'll shoot for growing everything that goes in the jar!

I've linked this post with the Carnival of Home Preserving.

I've also linked with the Homestead Barn Hop.

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

North Carolina Style Chicken and Dumplings

I've had all types of chicken and dumplings, and unfortunately, I don't like most of them. I'm probably biased.  I'm perfectly willing to admit that. The only kind I really like are the ones my parents and grandparents made. So here is the way we make them in our family.

Chicken and dumplings
1 whole chicken
all-purpose flour
shortening (I usually use organic palm shortening) or lard
salt and pepper

You'll start by boiling your chicken until it's falling apart - that will make it easier to pick later.  Then scoop out the pieces and set it aside so it can cool down while you're making the dumplings.  You need to make sure there is plenty of broth in the pot.  If my liquid level looks low, I'll add water and let it cook a few minutes before I pull the bird out.  Your pot should be at least 2/3rds full once the bird has been removed.
Now we'll make the dumplings.  I don't measure.  I haven't ever measured, but  if you'll use about 1/3c. shortening to every 2 cups of flour, that should be about right.  It's been a long time since I've made a small, or even an average size pot of chicken and dumplings, but 4 cups of flour may make enough for the average family.  If you can make biscuits, you can make dumplings.  
As usual, I was making a lot.
Put the flour in a large bowl, add the shortening, and then work the shortening into the flour with a rubbing motion.  You want it worked through thoroughly.  Visually, it should remind you of cornmeal.  If you squeeze some in your hand it should hold together, but break apart easily when you rub across it.  If it stays together there is too much shortening, and if it won't hold together in the first place, there isn't enough.
Once you have the texture right you can add your milk.
I have no measurements for the milk, just add some in and start mixing.  Don't add too much at once - you can always add more, but you can't take it away, and if you have to add a bunch of flour that doesn't have shortening in it, the texture of the dumplings won't be quite right.  
Don't worry - unlike working with biscuits, extra stirring will not adversely affect the dumplings, so you can start with a little milk and keep adding until the dough comes together.  You'll eventually get the feel of about how much milk to add right from the start.
Another way this is a little different from biscuit making is that you do knead this a little after the dough is formed.  Kneading it helps the dough toughen up some by activating the gluten (which is why you don't knead biscuits), so the dumplings will hold together better in the pot. 
After the dough is finished, pull smallish pieces (about the size of a tennis or baseball) off the larger dough ball,  and place them on a well floured counter or cutting board, and flour the top.  Also flour your rolling pin and sprinkle a bit more flour as needed as you work with the dough.  Roll thin and slice into strips about an inch wide.  I do it right on the counter because I have and old, dull, long knife that I use specifically for cutting dumplings.  It isn't sharp enough to damage the counters.
As you cut each batch of dumplings, place them on a plate, platter, or, if you're making a lot, a large baking sheet.  Once you have one layer down, sprinkle the dumplings with flour and then lay the next layer down perpendicular to the first.  This will help keep them from sticking together and make it easier to pick them up and add to the pot.
Now here's the crucial part.  Your broth must be boiling hard.  If it's not, you'll end up with a sticky, doughy mess in the bottom of your pot.  Keep a spoon nearby to stir it down if it starts to boil up too far.
Then add the dumplings a few at a time.  You don't have to do it one at a time, but you shouldn't add more than three or four at once.  The cold dough can drop the temperature of the broth so that it's not boiling hard enough.  If the boil starts to slow, stop adding the dumplings for a second so it can get back up to temp.  The dumplings will sink for a second and then float up to the top.  As the pot gets full, you'll need to stir it from time to time to open up a hole to drop the dumplings through.  It won't take as long as you think once you get the hang of it.  
When all of the dumplings have been added you just need to keep an eye on it.  You don't turn the temperature down unless it's threatening to boil over, then you only turn it down enough to keep that from happening.  You need this to keep boiling pretty hard until the dumplings have cooked for awhile.
Stir very often, and when you feel them start to stick to the bottom of the pan you can turn them down very low, again stirring often to keep them from burning.  At this point the dumplings should be done, or very close to it.  I've even taken them completely off the heat and just put a lid on the pot. With the residual heat in the pot, they'll continue to cook without the risk of burning.  
While the dumplings are cooking, pick the meat off the bones of the chicken and pull it into small pieces.  Add it back to the pot once the dumplings are done, and add salt and pepper to taste.
I would suggest picking the bird during the first part of the dumpling cooking.  The pot needs to be watched fairly closely during the final stages of cooking, and if you wait to pick the bird, it might burn while you're busy.
When things go wrong.
This batch of chicken and dumplings was actually started in my really big stock pot.  They weren't watched closely enough near the end of cooking and they started to scorch in the bottom of the pot.  All is not lost if you catch them soon enough.  As soon as you notice them sticking badly, dump them out into another pot (or two if you're first pot was your largest) and let them sit for a couple of minutes.  If the scorching isn't too severe, getting them out of the pot will keep the remaining dumpling from picking up a scorched taste and they will be fine.  Just don't scrap the bottom of the pan.  The dumpling that are stuck to the bottom are the ones that are scorched and will have that flavor.  If you get them in your new pot, they will taint the whole batch.  Return them to the heat if they need it, and keep a close eye on them.
As long as your dumplings were thin to begin with, they should really be just about done by the time they start wanting to stick to the bottom of the pan.  To test for doneness, pull a dumpling out, let it cool for a second, and bite into it.  It should not taste or feel doughy at all.  It will be kind of soft and fluffy on the outside and a bit firmer inside.  If it looks kind of bread like, or noticeably darker inside it needs to cook a little more.  

On another note - for the amount of chicken and dumplings in the picture above, I cooked two birds.

I don't know if all of North Carolina makes chicken and dumplings this way, but that's how we do it in this neck of the woods, and they are VERY good.

I've linked this post with the Homestead Barn Hop.

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