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Monthly Archives: March 2012

A good day for soup.

Let me begin by stating one of the basic facts of my life: I love soup.

I really don’t care what the season is, what the weather is, or even what time of day it is- I simply love soup!  There’s just something so wonderfully comforting and relaxing about a good (not out of a can) bowl of soup, preferably with some fresh bread alongside, and I refuse to limit that wonderful feeling to a set time, temperature, or season.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s always a good day for soup!

This weekend’s soup offering was one of my favorites, a variation on a Crock-Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe I found on DisneyFamily.com several months back.  I’m not usually a fan of soups that are heavy on the tomatoes, but something about this recipe pulled me in, so I decided to give it a shot.  Of course, as usual, I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand, so I made some changes along the way that I ended up liking better than the original!  You can see the first version of the recipe by clicking the link above, but here’s my version of Chicken Tortilla Soup:

 

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Ingredients

  • 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (I get them in packages of 6, so I put them all in)
  • 2 10-ounce cans of RO*TEL tomatoes, including juice (I use one Mild and one Mexican Lime & Cilantro, but you can use the spicier versions if desired)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 15-ounce can of petite diced tomatoes, including juice
  • 1 32-ounce box of chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon cumin (chili powder works in a pinch)
  • Kosher salt and pepper (as desired- I rarely add either)
  • Shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • Chopped fresh tomatoes (for garnish)
  • Fresh tortillas, cut into strips, or tortilla chips (for garnish)

Directions

  1. Place the boneless, skinless chicken thighs in the bottom of your slow cooker.  (I prefer to use a disposable liner in my slow cooker- it’s not perfect, but it cuts down the clean-up considerably!)
  2. In a large bowl, mix the RO*TEL, garlic, onion, canned tomatoes, cumin, and 1 cup of the chicken broth.
  3. Pour the tomato mixture over the chicken, spreading to distribute evenly. 
  4. Cover and cook on HIGH for 3 hours, or until the chicken is tender.
  5. Remove the chicken to a bowl and shred, using the tines of two forks to pull it apart.  (I occasionally will just attack it with my kitchen shears for a quick chop)
  6. Return the chicken to the slow cooker, along with the remaining chicken broth, and stir to combine.  Adjust seasoning as desired at this time.
  7. If desired, you can stir in your fresh tortilla strips prior to serving.  (I generally skip this step, because I’m just as happy without it, but then it’s technically not tortilla soup…)
  8. Serve hot with a generous helping of shredded cheese and some fresh tomatoes and tortilla chips to garnish.

 

I always double this recipe, because it freezes beautifully!  If you would like to freeze your soup, simply spray the cups of a muffin tin (I use a jumbo muffin tin) with cooking spray and fill the cavities about 3/4 of the way with soup.  Cover the tin with plastic wrap and freeze.  (You can stack several trays in the freezer if you put a piece of cardboard between them!)  When frozen, remove the soup pucks from the tin and store them in a zippered freezer bag (if the soup won’t come out, you can run a little bit of hot water over the back of the tin to loosen).  To reheat, simply put several soup pucks into a microwave-safe bowl or mug and cook until hot, stirring occasionally.  This is one of those tricks that I wish I’d known about sooner, because it’s just as easy to make a lot of soup as it is to make a little, and it’s fabulous to have a supply of home-made soup ready on a whim!

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Posted by on March 25, 2012 in Recipes, Soups

 

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Calling all quilters…

…Please help!!!

We are still in need of many more submissions for the Quilt Squares for a Cause Challenge, so I’m going to extend the deadline through the end of March and then re-evaluate where we stand. I really want this finished quilt to be incredible, since it’s going to support a fabulous cause, so please share the challenge with friends, family, bloggies, and anywhere else you can!

 

http://QuiltSquaresForACause.com

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in Random Acts of Craftivity

 

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Bringing Bagels to Bayern

Germany is a great place to live if you’re a bread addict!  (I’ve heard that it’s pretty cool if you’re a beer addict, too, but I tend to prefer my carbs in a solid format…)  Everywhere that you go, there are bakeries full of fresh-baked breads, pretzels, and pastries.  Even the supermarkets have great bread, and since the Germans tend to use fewer preservatives than we do in the States (yet another bonus of living over here), you just HAVE to go on a daily basis for fresh supplies!  (A serious hardship, don’t you know…)

Because of the baked abundance that’s so readily available, I don’t usually bother to make bread when we’re over here.  There are few things I would normally make that I can’t pick up at the bakery on a whim, so I tend to turn my baking time in other directions.  However, there is one thing that you just can’t get over here, and that’s a good, warm bagel.  The commissary on base sells the frozen (hockey puck) bagels, and there are occasionally some fresh bagels available in the bakery section, but I’ve been spoiled by my years on the East coast.  If I’m going to eat a bagel, I want a REAL bagel, and after looking over many, many recipes, I finally decided to take the plunge!

I was recently lucky enough to stumble on a Pin of a post from The Wednesday Chef that featured a bagel recipe from Peter Reinhart.  My inner bagel skeptic was hesitant to believe that they could be as good as they looked in The Wednesday Chef’s pictures, until I read the following:  “…you’re going to have a tray of gorgeously brown and crisp-skinned bagels in your kitchen, making your house smell like H&H (I used to live across the street from their 80th Street outpost – I know that smell like I know my own mother’s).”  That’s right, this recipe was passed along by someone who’d been to the source, someone who should know from bagels!  With that golden endorsement, I decided that it was time to jump in, hands first, and end my bagel drought once and for all.

Peter Reinhart’s Bagels

Makes 6 to 8 bagels according to the original recipe specs, but I tripled the recipe below and ended up with 16.  (I like big bagels, I cannot lie…)
 

Ingredients

  • 3 1/2C (1 LB) unbleached flour (You can use either bread or all-purpose, but I used the Gold Medal ‘Better for Bread’ flour.  I also used my digital scale for the measurement- much easier and more accurate!)
  • 3t salt (I used Kosher), divided
  • 3/4t instant (rapid rise or bread machine) yeast
  • 1T honey or barley malt syrup (I used honey- apparently you can get the barley malt syrup in health food stores, but I have no clue where I’d even begin to look for that over here!)
  • 1C plus 2T water
  • 1t baking soda
  • Poppy or sesame seeds, kosher salt, or whatever else you want to use as a topping

Directions

  1. In a nice, big bowl, mix the flour, 2 teaspoons of the salt, the yeast, honey and the water by hand until the ingredients form a stiff, coarse ball of dough, about 3 minutes. (Just a tip- the honey will be MUCH easier to work with if you spray your measuring spoon with a little bit of oil first!)  If necessary, add a little more water (carefully- I over-added, so I needed a touch more flour to balance it out). Let the dough rest 5 minutes.

  2. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until the dough feels stiff yet supple, with a satiny, slightly tacky feel, 2 to 3 minutes. If the dough seems too soft or too tacky, sprinkle over just enough flour as needed.

  3. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to several hours. Keep in mind that the bagels must be shaped before proofing overnight.

  4. When ready to shape the bagels, line a baking sheet with lightly greased parchment paper or a silicone baking mat (I used parchment with a light spray of oil).

  5. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and divide it into 6 to 8 equal pieces (again, I tripled the recipe above and made 16 total- it all depends on how big you want your bagels to be). Form each piece into a loose, round ball by rolling it on a clean, dry work surface with a cupped hand; do not use any flour on the surface. If the dough slides around and won’t ball up, wipe the work surface with a damp paper towel and try again – the slight amount of moisture will provide enough “bite” for the dough to form a ball. When each piece has been formed into a ball, you are ready to shape the bagels.

  6. PLEASE NOTE:  I did NOT follow step #6 or the first part of step #7!  Based on something said in the blog comments over at The Wednesday Chef, I opted to form my bagels by pinching a hole in the center of each doughball and then spinning the dough hula-hoop style around a floured finger until the opening was the size I wanted.  Much faster than rolling out ropes, and (in my opinion) more fun, too!  However, for those of you who want to re-live your Play-Doh snake making days, I’ve left the original directions, shown in blue, for your enjoyment…Using your hands and a fair amount of pressure, roll each dough ball into a “rope” 8 to 10 inches long. (Moisten the work surface with a damp paper towel, if necessary, to get the necessary bite or friction). Slightly taper the rope at the ends so that they are thinner than the middle. Place one end of the dough between your thumb and forefinger and wrap it around your hand until the ends overlap in your palm; they should overlap by about 2 inches. Squeeze the overlapping ends together and then press the joined ends into the work surface, rolling them back and forth a few times until they are completely sealed.

  7. Remove the dough from your hand and squeeze as necessary to even out the thickness so that there is a 2-inch hole in the center.(Okay now, back to the regularly scheduled recipe…)Place the bagel on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat with the other pieces. Lightly wipe the bagels with oil (I used spray), cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.

    Who knew that flinging dough around could be so much fun?


  8. Remove the bagels from the refrigerator 90 minutes before you plan to bake them. Fill a large stockpot with 3 quarts of water (be sure the water is at least 4 inches deep), cover with a lid, and slowly bring the water to a boil. When it comes to a boil, add the remaining teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda, reduce the heat and simmer with the lid on.

  9. Thirty minutes before baking, heat the oven to 500 degrees.

  10. Test the bagels by placing one in a bowl of cold water. If it sinks and doesn’t float to the surface, return it to the sheet, wait 15 minutes and then test it again. When one bagel passes the float test, they are ready for the pot.

  11. Gently lift each bagel and drop it into the simmering water. Add as many as will comfortably fit in the pot. After 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to flip each bagel over. Poach for an extra 30 seconds. Using the slotted spoon, remove each bagel and return it to the lined baking sheet. Continue until all the bagels have been poached.  (I noticed that the bagels that I put in at a full boil puffed up better than the ones I did at a simmer- not sure if that was just coincidence, but I’m going to go for a heavier boil next time.)

    Bubbling Bagels


  12. Generously sprinkle each bagel with a topping. (Note: If you want to do a cinnamon sugar bagel, you need to wait until the bagels come out of the oven- see step #14 for further instructions.)

    Poppy Seeds...

    Sesame Seeds...

    Kosher Salt...


  13. Place the baking sheet in the oven and reduce the heat to 450 degrees. Bake for 8 minutes and then rotate the sheet (if using two sheets, also switch their positions). Check the underside of the bagels. If they are getting too dark, place another sheet under the baking sheet. Bake until the bagels are golden brown, an additional 8 to 12 minutes.

  14. Remove from the oven and transfer the bagels to a rack for at least 30 minutes before serving.  If you’d like to top your bagels with cinnamon sugar (1 part cinnamon to 5 parts granulated sugar), immediately brush the top of each hot bagel with melted butter and then generously sprinkle with the mixture so that it is coated. It will form a nice cinnamon crust as it cools.

    Seriously, I have to wait 30 minutes???

Now that I’ve made these, I’m kicking myself for waiting so long.  The hardest thing about this recipe is the waiting!  They may not be as pretty as the bagels I used to grab for breakfast every morning, but the taste and texture were exactly what I was hoping for.  Next time around, I’ll probably make a few aesthetic tweaks (putting them on the slotted spoon to lower them into the water may preserve the shape, and waiting until I have some caffeine in my system would probably help, too…), but over all, I’d call this a success.  The inner bagel skeptic has been put to rest, and my cravings have been satisfied.  Or, at least they were satisfied this morning- now that I’ve written this and put up all of these pictures, I think it may be time for another bagel or two…

 
 

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Quilt Squares for a Cause

Some of you may know that I also have a group on Facebook that’s dedicated to sewing, crafting, and general fabric addiction- appropriately enough, it’s called ‘I don’t have a problem, I have a well-rounded fabric stash!’  Each month we run some kind of a fun challenge (mainly to gain inspiration and keep the creative juices flowing, but there’s also a prize to be won), but this month’s challenge is extra-special in my eyes, because it’s designed to help the Fisher House Foundation, a fabulous organization that helps military families!

From March 1st through March 19th, we will be accepting photo entries of 12” quilt squares.  The top entries will then be collected and assembled into a quilt that will be auctioned off on eBay to benefit the Fisher House Foundation (see the end of this post for more information on the Fisher House Foundation).  Anyone is welcome to enter, and we would really appreciate your support!

OFFICIAL RULES

  • Entries must be made of quilting-weight cotton fabric, must be sewn in some way, and the finished size must be a 12” square (PLEASE NOTE: you will actually be making a 12.5” block, because there will be a ¼” seam allowance on each side when assembled- the 12” is the space that will be visible in the assembled quilt).  Beyond that, they can be quilted, embroidered, appliqued, dyed, painted, bedazzled, or otherwise embellished in any way that the contestant chooses!  (Please remember that the finished product must be washable.)
  • In order to have a coherent final product, we are limiting the color palette to red, white, and blue (we understand that there are tons of variations and shades within that range- basically, if the tones would work with the American flag, they’re fine).
  • Entries can be submitted from March 1st through March 19th, 2012.  Voting will take place from March 20th through March 26th, and a winner will be announced no later than March 28th.  (In the unlikely event that there is a tie, a run-off vote will be held from March 27th through March 29th, and a winner will be announced no later than April 1st.)
  • Each contestant may enter as many as five (5) submissions.
  • Entries must be the work of the contestant submitting them.
  • One lucky winner will receive a $30 gift certificate to the online fabric store of his or her choice!
    • If that fabric store doesn’t offer gift certificates (and if an arrangement can’t be made with the shop owner), the winner will receive $30 via Paypal to shop to his/her heart’s content.
    • If the winner is in a country outside of the U.S., he or she will receive the equivalent of $30 USD in the appropriate currency.
  • The top 25 squares will be sent in to be assembled into a quilt that, upon completion, will be auctioned off via the eBay Giving Works programto benefit the Fisher House Foundation.
    • Participants whose entries have been selected will be notified no later than March 28th (April 1st if a run-off is necessary) and provided with a shipping address.  
    • Squares should be shipped out (with Delivery Confirmation where possible) no later than April 9th, 2012.
    • If the response is great enough, we may opt to either do a second quilt (also to be auctioned off) or increase the number of squares selected to make a larger quilt.

HOW TO ENTER

  • Entries can be submitted from March 1st through March 19th, 2012
  • If you haven’t already, please join this group!  (It allows you to add photos)
  • Please be sure to include the following in your picture’s description:  Your name (as it’s shown on Facebook), a name for your submission if you have one, and what materials/methods you used.  (ex.  Kristin Brattlie Garst, ‘Stars and Stripes’, quilted and embroidered cotton)
  • If you used a tutorial or online pattern that you’d like to share, please provide the link in your entry’s comments.  Also, if there’s a story behind your entry, please feel free to share!
  • If you submit more than one entry, please either give them different names or number them.

HOW TO VOTE

  • Voting will take place from March 20th  through March 26th.
  • Each voter can vote only once, and additional votes will be disqualified.  However, please feel free to click the ‘like’ button for as many entries as you want so that we can share the love! 🙂
  • Please feel free to invite your friends, family, neighbors, acquaintances, and random people passing on the street to vote- they’ll simply have to join the group in order to have access to vote (you can add them yourself on the top right side of the page if desired).  We won’t get our feelings hurt if they ‘unlike’ us later, but we’d be thrilled if they decide to hang around!

To add this button to your blog or website, copy and paste the following code:


<a href=”http://tinyurl.com/QuiltSquaresForACause&#8221; target=”_blank”><img src=”http://i43.tinypic.com/2f096ro.jpg&#8221; border=”0″ alt=”Join the Quilt Squares for a Cause Challenge- open for entries through March 19, 2012!”></a>



Good luck, and happy creating- we can’t wait to see what results!  If you have any questions, please comment on this post or email me at FabricProblem@aol.com.  We would really appreciate it if you could share this challenge with your friends, family, and associates- there is code for a blog button below that will link to the event page (http://QuiltSquaresForACause.com).  Also, please feel free to share ideas, inspirations, anecdotes, and work-in-progress pictures with the group as you work on your submissions!

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If you own a fabric/quilting/sewing store or other business and would be interested in donating additional prizes, please contact me at the email above- we’d love to promote you, and would greatly appreciate anything that you can give!

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About Fisher House:  The Fisher House program is a unique private-public partnership that supports America’s military in their time of need. The program recognizes the special sacrifices of our men and women in uniform and the hardships of military service by meeting a humanitarian need beyond that normally provided by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs.

Because members of the military and their families are stationed worldwide and must often travel great distances for specialized medical care, Fisher House Foundation donates “comfort homes,” built on the grounds of major military and VA medical centers. These homes enable family members to be close to a loved one at the most stressful times – during the hospitalization for an unexpected illness, disease, or injury.

There is at least one Fisher House at every major military medical center to assist families in need and to ensure that they are provided with the comforts of home in a supportive environment. Annually, the Fisher House program serves more than 12,000 families, and have made available over three million days of lodging to family members since the program originated in 1990. By law, there is no charge for any family to stay at a Fisher House operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs; and Fisher House Foundation uses donations to reimburse the individual Fisher Houses operated by the Army, Navy, and Air Force. No family pays to stay at any Fisher House!

In addition to constructing new houses, Fisher House Foundation continues to support existing Fisher Houses and help individual military families in need. We are also proud to administer and sponsor Scholarships for Military Children, the Hero Miles program, and co-sponsor the Newman’s Own Award.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2012 in Random Acts of Craftivity

 

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