Wednesday, December 27, 2017

French Cooking Class - Shellfish

The last class of 2017 was shellfish. We cooked 5 different shellfish dishes: A bouillabaisse with fish and shrimp with a potato topped crouton on top, shrimp calamari vegetable tempura, shrimp poached in broth with a cocktail mayonnaise, a tomato wine broth with mussels and garlic toast and scallops with corn ragu and salad.

We shelled and cleaned a lot of shrimp, mussels and clams for this class and everything turned out great. I really enjoyed the tomato wine broth. It was light and all the shellfish in it was filling.

So this was the last cooking class for 2017 and our 10 week of cooking. I've already learned a lot and my fellow classmates are fun to cook with so that makes it even more enjoyable. I'm looking forward to the remaining 20 weeks of this class in 2018.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

French Cooking Class - Fish

For two weeks we cooked fish. We learned a lot about what to look for in purchasing fish and of course how to cook it.

In our first class on fish, we learned what to look for when buying fish fillets or whole fish.

We sauted some trout in brown butter, lemon and capers and served it over rice with soft skillet fried croutons. We also made a clam chowder and a dish with fish and vegetables baked in parchment with wine. The fish dishes were both light and filling and easy to cook.

The second class, we made a flounder with mushroom sauce, a red pepper risotto, a lobster bisque and a salmon salad on crouton. The lobster bisque is very labor intensive. It's not really difficult to make but definitely time consuming. The risotto was also a bit labor intensive but 2 cups of arborio rice easily fed 12 people.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

French Cooking Class - Potato

It's week 8 of the French cooking class and we made 6 dishes with potatoes. Yep, 6 different dishes and it's the week after Thanksgiving and I'm pretty sure I don't want any more potatoes for at least 2 weeks.

We learned how to "turn" potatoes and make little footballs. This is an effort to make all your potatoes the same size so they cook evenly. We also made a spicy sweet potato soup, mashed potatoes, a gratin with rosemary and Gruyere, potatoes anna, and latkes. I'd say the most time consuming to make were the potatoes anna and latkes. The anna dish requires the potatoes to be sliced on a mandolin very thinly, layered around a skillet with clarified butter then baked. The latkes were made using shredded onion and potatoes on a box grater, squeezing the water out then frying. Of course a food processor would've saved us some time on the grating but we do things by hand so we learn. We also made a tossed salad with a honey mustard vinaigrette and some cooked apples.

Everything we made was quite good and carb loaded. I'll definitely be making more gratins and latkes in the future just to switch it up from a french fry or baked potato.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Turkey Stock

A lot of people are intimidated by gravy but you don't have to be. Once you do it, you'll see how easy it can be. Two things you MUST have when making a really good gravy is stock and brown bits. So in order to get ready for our gravy we need to make stock.

Yes, you can buy turkey or chicken stock to make this and you can even start with turkey stock from the store or start with water. Either one is fine but the stock you make at home will be 10x more flavorful then the store bought stock. And that's what you want - flavor.

So in my stock, I'm going to start with turkey stock bought at the store instead of water. I figure the more layers of flavor I can add to the stock the merrier. The purchased turkey stock (pictured below) was a nice dark color, which I was pretty happy with. You can use this as is or reduce it further to concentrate the flavor but I'm going to add more meat and vegetables.

I bought 4 turkey legs and 4 thighs for my stock but I also had in my freezer 3 chicken carcasses (2 uncooked and 1 from a store bought roasted chicken) along with some wings. I started by lightly coating the raw poultry in some olive oil then I sprinkled them with salt, pepper and sage and I put all the parts onto a cookie sheet and roasted them at 450 for 45min. - to 1 hour.

I got a lot of brown bits on the cookie sheet. Do not throw out the brown bits. That's flavor and that my friend is what makes gravy.  Deglaze the pan with a bit of white wine or even water will work and scrape those bits into a bowl.

Next, in a large stock pot, saute the onion, carrot, leeks and celery until the onion is starting to brown. Add your roasted poultry and add enough liquid (purchased stock  and/or water) until it covers the whole thing by an inch or so. You can use a lot of different vegetables and even herbs if you want to but for this stock, I went with just the basic veg and meat.

Now, simmer the stock. Do not boil. Simmer the stock and don't stir it for about 3 hours. During the 3 hours you can skim any fat that comes to the top and use that fat when you make the gravy. After the 3 hours is up, you can drain off the stock and start the process again starting with cold water. Take the meat off the turkey legs/thighs that you roasted earlier and pop those bones back into the stock pot. In the picture below, you can see that the stock reduced around 2 inches from where it started.

The second batch of stock may look really cloudy but that's okay. It probably won't be as dark as the first batch of stock but it will still have good flavor.

Once your stock is cooled let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. The fat will rise to the top and you can skim that off and use the fat to start the roux for your gravy. The stock will now look and shake like brown turkey flavored jello. It may look scary and weird but that's what it's supposed to do. The gelatin in the bones sets the stock up like... well jello. Below is a picture of the stock after 3 hours of simmering with the fat layer at the top.

Friday, November 17, 2017

French Cooking Class - Sauces

At my cooking class, we learned how to make emulsion type sauces. We learned how to make a hollandaise sauce, which we put over the classic poached egg and toast.

We also made a mayonnaise and roasted potatoes.

And we made a white wine sauce for our hamburgers with caramelized onions, along with a ceasar salad with dressing. All of that was in just one day! Needless to say, I'm usually stuffed at the end of class.

The following week was salad week and all we did was chop a lot of veggies and make salad dressings and a pumpkin soup. It was definitely a lighter meal but I was still just as full.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thanksgiving Countdown

It's less then two weeks before T-giving and I'm on cooking duty this year. It's been a few years since I've cooked and I've been taking a french cooking class so I'm ready to start planning and start cooking. We also have a couple of people with food allergies, so I try to be mindful of what everyone can or cannot have and make sure there's something for everyone.

There will be some new items this year and of course some traditional. I like to change things up a bit but others don't want anything but the same thing year after year but since I'm cooking it's my house, my food, my rules.

If you've never cooked Thanksgiving before here's a few tips:

Plan Ahead. Don't wait until the last minute to go shopping. Make a list of what dishes you're serving, under that write down your shopping list and under that list keep your recipes. Then under the recipes or next to them, write down the day you're going to make them. Also, find that roasting pan, gravy boat and extra plates and platters. Don't wait until the night before to find something.

Fresh Turkey. The holidays are a special time of year. Order a fresh free range bird that's dispatched the day before you pick it up. It won't cost $.99 per lb. but it's worth it. Also, let your turkey REST for at least 45 minutes after cooking.

Make 75% of your dishes before Thanksgiving. Have dishes prepared early and reheat on Thanksgiving. For example, make desserts, stuffing, gravy, casseroles and bread a few days before and reheat. Who wants to be making gravy (assuming you do) in dress clothes when everyone is sitting around the table. No thanks. Also, if you accidentally burn something you still have time to remake it or get something from the store.

Fresh Herbs. If possible use some fresh herbs such as thyme and sage. They will enhance any stuffing, gravy or bird.

Compound Butter. A compound butter is butter flavored with something, usually fresh herbs. At least 24 hours before cooking the bird. Take 2 sticks of butter, room temperature, and mix in some fresh herbs such as sage, thyme, parsley and rosemary (or any combo), about 1 Tbls of garlic some lemon juice and salt and pepper. Let this sit for 24 hours and use it under the skin of the turkey, inside the cavity, on bread rolls or even in the gravy.

Hopefully you'll give some of my tips a try this year if you're the one doing the planning and cooking.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Paradise in Bloom Quilt

When I first started learning how to sew, I decided to learn paper piecing. Paper piecing is very easy to learn. It's learning how to sew pieces of fabric together in a certain order and you sew them together by sewing on lines printed on the paper. Yes, you sew on a line so everything is straight and everything lines up fairly easily.

My first paper piecing pattern, was the 4th of July quilt pattern by Judy Niemeyer from Quiltworx. The hardest part is literally getting all the fabric cut and taking off the paper. But I learned a lot about 1/4" seams, trimming, sewing and piecing all the parts together. I thought the instructions for the pattern was really well done and was easy for a non-sewer to follow. After the 4th of July quilt and my sewing skills improved, I got another pattern called Amazon Star. This was a very, very big quilt. I think it was 98x98" and I really didn't like handling something that big. That one taught me that I don't like Y seams. I got them done but barely. It turned out good but I certainly couldn't quilt it.

So it's been several years since the Amazon Star and I've been looking at the pattern called Paradise in Bloom for several years now. Now, it seems manufacturers are including a lot of pre-cuts of the applique pieces which of course is driving prices up. The pattern used to be around $99.00 but the pre-cuts ran it up to more like $150.00. I know you get a lot for that but that's a lot for a pattern and foundation papers so I never bought it.

Until recently.

I found the pattern with no precuts and no extra sheets for the extra border so it was just the main pattern. I've waited a long time for it and I'm ready for another paper piecing quilt. So I bit the bullet.

Here's a picture of the finished Paradise in Bloom Quilt. This shows the extra border, which I'm not interested in. I'll probably add a border but I'll do my own.

Now, I just have to figure out what colors I want to do it in and go buy fabric. I'll probably have about 20-25 yards of fabric in it along with some blood, sweat and tears no doubt by time it's finished.

Sunday, October 29, 2017


Over the last few weeks of cooking class we've been learning how to make different stocks, binding of sauces and of course soup! We made 6 six soups last week and I got pictures of 4 of them below. We also made a salad with dressing and homemade butter to add to our bread.

We made a potato leek and a celery soup...

and a spicy vegetable soup with pesto..

... and a parsnip and pear soup with apple cider reduction. We also made a french onion and cauliflower soup which I didn't get pictures of. I've learned already after just 4 weeks of class to not eat breakfast (or very little) on Tuesdays. All of the soups were really good and I'm looking forward to more classes.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Art Quilt - 4 Horses Part 4

The fall horse was more difficult to paint than the other two but I think I did okay. I put fall colored leaves, flowers and grapes on vines around the legs and I might add more on the skin of the horse.

I also started the summer horse. I went with a black horse with blueish highlights and I'll probably add sunflowers and butterflies on it and maybe some cracked parched earth under it's hooves.

I took about 2 weeks off from painting to take a break from it but hopefully, I'll start the background area soon then onto the quilting.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

30 Week French Cooking Class

I can't believe I actually signed up for a 30 week cooking class! What was I thinking?! Okay enough whining. I signed up for the 30 week French cooking series offered by The Seasoned Farmhouse in Columbus and our first class was October 3 and should go through mid-May with a couple weeks off for holidays. I've never been the Seasoned Farmhouse but I knew about their cooking classes but believe me when they're announced they fill almost immediately so it's really hard to get in. When I saw this 30 week French cooking series I gave it a brief thought and discarded it. Signing up for a 30 week class isn't something to do on a whim and the cost was considerable for the class so I decided to watch it and if the class looked like it would fill then I'd sign up.

One class was offered on Monday nights and one on Tuesday during the day. So I watched and waited. When I saw the Monday night class fill within a few weeks I didn't think the Tuesday class would but it slowly filled. Before there was no spots left I decided that I would take the class. I do a lot with my dog but nothing just for me so I signed up. I wanted to get out of the house, meet new people with similar interests (at least cooking) and learn some cooking techniques and recipes.

At our first class, we all got chef jackets with our name the SF logo and a chef and pairing knives. We were put to work cutting onions and carrots, while Chef Tricia explained the outline of the class and a little about herself. We also made carrot soup, honey mustard chicken thighs, salad with pear vinaigrette and pumpkin cake. Not bad for our first class. Hopefully, I'll remember to take some pics in future classes. I'm still a bit intimated about signing up for a 30 week class but I think we're off to a good start and I'm looking forward to my weekly class.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Art Quilt - 4 Horses Part 3

Painting the horses continue. There's a lot of detail work on the Spring and Fall horses with a lot of vines, leaves, flowers etc. so that's more detailed and very slow going but I'm making progress.

When I'm tired of working on the small intricate areas, I started working on painting the fall horse so I can go back to painting a large area. I don't have the hooves or mane painted yet and no highlights but at least it looks like a horse.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Art Quilt - 4 Horses Part 2

I spent several days drawing leaves, vines, flowers, ice crystals and whatever else I could dream up on the horses using Frixion pens. They erase with heat so when I make a mistake or want to change something I just iron it away and start over.

I waffled a while on whether or not I would quilt the horses first then paint or paint first then quilt. So it took me a while to get started but I went with paint first.

I started with the Winter horse first, mainly since its the first horse from the right and rest of the quilt is rolled up onto a cardboard tubing. I decided to paint it gray with some kind of icicles coming up from the hoof landing on the ground. But for now, just trying to get the horses done and you know, looking like horses.

The second horse in the Spring horse and I decided to make it a palomino color which is a golden color with white mane/tail. Since white on white fabric never really shows up, I went ahead and added some gray to help it stand out. This horse also has green flowering vines crawling up it's legs.

These two horses are not finished by any means. I still need to darken and highlight some areas and of course no flowers or vines painted in yet. This is more like a good rough draft.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Kaleidoscope Quilt

I came across a video from Red Heart Designs on YouTube demonstrating square triangles. It's basically a kaleidoscope quilt, which I have never done before. It was nice to be able to listen to the video multiple times especially for figuring out how much fabric you need and how to do the measurements. Basically, you get 8 repeats of a fabric pattern and cut it into strips then into squares then cut those in half to get triangles. Each group of triangles is 1 block that you sew together. Remember to keep everything pinned together and you're good to go.

The most important thing about selecting a fabric for this type of quilt is contrast not colors. So fabric that is black and white is usually a good pick. You just have to make sure that there's an interesting pattern not just plain stripes or something.

This is the fabric I selected. It's Kaufman Lumina Metallics Floral Bouquet Peacock, which is a mouthful. There's very dark blue to light cream colors with pinks, purples and greens. There's leaves, flowers, petals, heart shapes and vines in the pattern. The fabric pattern also doesn't have a lot empty space. This maybe bad/good depending on what you want. I also selected another fabric from that series Starry Blender to use as sashing. You don't have to use sashing but I think it frames the blocks nicely.

My fabric repeat was 23 1/2" so I got about 8.5 yards of fabric. I wanted a little extra fabric for borders and got cutting. The cutting of the fabric is really important. You want the repeat of the pattern to be stacked on top of each other exactly. To find the repeat of the pattern simply look at the selvage lettering and pick the first letter. Slid your finger down the selvage until you find the exact some letter again and that's the repeat. You can also do this by locating a particular item, say a heart, in the fabric pattern and slid your finger along the fabric in the exact same location until you find the heart again.

This is after I cut my fabric into strips, squares and then triangles. You can see along the center cut there are several layers of fabric and they are all the same.

Each triangle is one block, so at my sewing machine, I laid the triangles out with the same point into the center. Then I would flip one triangle to the right laying it on top of the neighboring triangle.

Just line up the two pieces as accurately as possible then sew from the tip down. Starting at the tip can be hard since that little tip of fabric might get jammed down into the feed dog so be careful.

After sewing two pieces together, open up the seam and iron. Notice you will have some dog ears. It's the only time you get them but you need to trim them away. Continue sewing until you have 4 sewn pairs instead of 8 triangles. Remember to iron each seam open. This helps keep everything flat.

Continue sewing two pairs together to get a half. Line up the seams.

Now, sew the two halves together to make 1 block. Line up the center seams and pin and pin again at the two ends. You can add more but I didn't feel the need. Here's a good tip from the video. Start at the CENTER and sew out and then flip it over and sew the other side starting from the center.

After you get them all sewn together they need trimmed down into a square. I trimmed mine down to a 9.5" square and I got 30 squares. Here's some of the trimmed blocks.

I laid all 30 squares out and put them where I wanted them. I put a pin in the right side of each square where I needed sashing and sewed the rows together. Next, I cut sashing for the long horizontal sections of the rows and sewed that on. I cut my fabric into 1.5" for 1" finished sashing.

I also wanted to use the main fabric for the border. That way you can see the fabric as a whole. I chose 5" borders so I cut the strips 5.5" wide. I also decided to add a flange in aqua between the sashing and border. Think of the flange as a mini border. I cut some aqua batik in 1" strips, fold it half and ironed. I placed the raw edges along the sashing edge and sandwiched it in between the border and sashing. Place the flange on the top/bottom of your quilt and baste/pin it in place then do the sides. Then you can attach your border. I just pinned my flange on and I really should've basted just to make sure it doesn't slip around.

This quilt was really fun to make. One fabric produced 30 different blocks and not knowing what the quilt was going to look like when I started was new to me and I'm glad it turned out so well. I don't have the binding and quilting done yet but here are some pictures of the finished top.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Four Patch Charm Quilt

You know how your looking around on the internet and you might be on Pinterest, a magazine website or a blog post and you see a particular quilt pattern that you really love and you bookmark that webpage and tell yourself, "one day I will do that quilt, it's awesome!" and within a week or so you forget all about it?

Yeah, we've all done it, don't lie. Anyway, I was going back through my bookmarked webpages basically cleaning out what I don't want anymore and I found this Four Patch Charm Quilt from Tamarack Shack. I bookmarked this quilt years ago and I since I re-discovered it, I decided to get my backside in gear and get it done. It's a simple quilt yet very interesting, which I think is it's appeal. Tamarack Shack was also kind enough to put up a PDF file with instructions on how to make the quilt.

This quilt uses 96, 5" squares. So look for some charm packs or get your scrap fabric out and get sewing! I couldn't find any charm packs that I liked so I bought some fat quarters to cut up. Yes, this will make more cutting for me but cutting 96 squares isn't that bad. I decided to go with Gemstone Stonehenge gradation fabrics because of their rich color. I also bought 7.5 yards of bali batiks handpaints sunflower oyster fabric for the top, binding and backing from If you've never shopped on, I urge you to check it out. I love saving the fabrics to the design wall and when I have enough for whatever project I'm making, they're all saved in one place. I just hope they're all still available when I do want to buy them.

This quilt is a bunch of half square triangles which I didn't realize just looking at the photo of the quilt but the instructions on the PDF are very clear on how to go about making this quilt so I won't reiterate what's on the PDF.

I washed all the fabric, iron everything and got cutting my fat quarters into 5" squares. Next, I cut up my background fabric according to the instructions and once I had all my pieces together I started sewing.

I didn't have any trouble sewing the blocks together or cutting them on the diagonal but I did find I had a lot more trouble with the squares being stretchy after cutting everything on the bias. I had more trouble than what I'd of liked to have had anyway so if your a beginner sewer try to have a more experienced sewer around to help out. Another area I had some issues with was the bulk at some meeting points. Some were super thick to try to sew through so I trimmed out the bulk a few times but some were still really thick to have to deal with.

I laid out my squares according to the diagram and got sewing. I was very pleased with how everything was coming together but I will say making sure your seams lined up correctly was a bit difficult. I consider my sewing skills to be intermediate and I had some trouble and some of them look pretty "off" in some places but I can't help it. I'll rack that up to learning experience and I'm sure I'll do better the second time around. I also noticed after I got borders sewn on that I have 2 blocks out of position. Needless to say it's a glaring mistake in the quilt top and I'm going to have to fix it. It's really frustrating because I checked each row after sewing them together if everything looked okay but even checking it, I still messed up.

Anyway, I completed this quilt top working on it for a few hours each day and got it done in about 6 days. I'm sure if you really wanted to get it done quickly you can do it in a long weekend. I'm hoping to get it quilted soon and I'll post a photo of the quilt completely done in the coming months. My quilt top measured 63x69" when finished to give you an idea of size.

All an all a really nice quilt and the instructions were clear.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Art Quilt - 4 Horses Part 1

Yes! I've started my 4 horses art quilt. I've made some additional decisions since my last post so here they are.

I bought 4.5 yards of PFD (prepared for dyeing) fabric. This fabric hasn't been treated with any stabilizers and I've not washed it. The fabric is supposed to hold onto paints/dyes really well. I didn't wash it but I did throw it into the dryer on the refresh cycle so a little steam was added but that was it.

I created my own image of four horses and projected it onto the fabric and made an outline of the horses. I decided to make the horses realistic in coloring and decorate each one with seasonal themes. So for example, I decided the Spring horse will be a palomino color with white mane/tail and then I'll decorate the horse with flowers, leaves, ribbons and whatever else I can come up with. I might applique them on or just quilt them. I'm not sure about that yet.

I'll probably take some scrap fabric and do some experimenting and see which one my art brain likes the best. There's no right or wrong way to do anything, it's just a matter of which way you prefer to do it. If you're really good at applique that way might be your preferred method if you're better at quilting and painting images then go with that. So I'll have to decided what to do. Might be a combo of both in the end. I'm also kicking around the idea of painting some kind of theme related scenes on the horses. For example, I've been thinking about Summer. How you draw summer? What reminds you that time of year? I think hot, dry weather. So I'm thinking about drawing a hot sun and desert scene on the rump or belly of the horse. I want the viewer to see "hot" when they look at the horse and trying to convey that is going to be a bit tricky. But you get the idea. Not sure if I'll do it or not but I want that to be subtle too so no applique. It would have to be painted image on the horse. But it's just an idea so I have to kick it around a bit.

If I do paint, I've decided on using Jacquard Textile paints. They're opaque, blend well and you can get the paint in bigger quantities than what I used the last time. So I better get to it!

Here's a few pictures of my horse sketches.