Sunday, February 16, 2014

Savory Sausage Stew

It's winter.  It's cold.  Freezing cold.  And when it is freezing cold, I want a nice, steaming hot meal to put in my belly and warm me from the inside.

With the prices of beef raising, I've been buying a lot more pork.  Actually, my mom has been raising and butchering pigs for a couple of years now and the last time we purchased a half hog it came out to be about $1.79 per pound - you can't beat that price, not compared to beef.  Believe it or not, I actually prefer the taste of sausage as the meat over beef.  I think it has a lot more flavor.  So if you don't have any health or religious concerns with eating pork, then dig on in...

Anyways, we love this stew.  It's so easy and it comes out to be about $6 and lasts us for 2 full meals plus an extra serving or two left over.  That's feeding one very healthy husband, one growing and voracious 4-year old boy, and myself.  The best part about stew is that you can modify the recipe as much as you would like to your own tastes.  Omit certain spices or ingredients, and throw in others.  Throw some caution to the wind and get cooking!

Chunky stewed tomatoes are my favorite part about stew.

1 lb. pork sausage
2 Tbs savory seasoning
2 Tbs minced onion (or you could use a medium onion)
1 tsp fennel
1/2 to 1 tsp of salt - depending on personal preference
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Cinnamon?  Yes, I said cinnamon.  If you're afraid, just skip it.  Cinnamon actually goes really well with pork.  Like I said previously, the best part about stew is that you can modify it however you would like.  The cinnamon adds just a touch of depth and sweetness that I personally enjoy.

If you're sensitive to spice, you can also omit the ground cayenne pepper.  My 4-year old will eat this stew without complaining that it's spicy.  It's just enough hint of spice, but not hot enough that he can't eat it.

Look at all those delicious spices.

All you need to do is ground the sausage and drain the fat.  In a large pot, combine the cooked sausage with the spices and a can each of: stewed tomatoes, green beans, sliced new potatoes, carrots, peas, and corn.  Bring to a boil then let it simmer on the stove for about an hour, covered so too much water doesn't evaporate.  Serve it up with a side of yeast dinner rolls or some biscuits, and you have comfort food at it's finest.

The general result of this meal at my dinner table.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Blooming Potholder

Man, I just love girly stuff.  Pink roses, lace tablecloths, fresh cut lilac in a stoneware pitcher on the bedside table, and ruffles.  RUFFLES.  I love ruffles.  My wedding dress had layers of ruffles and not coincidentally, the curtains I want to buy for our bedroom are ruffly.

I also love flowers, with my absolute favorites being fresh cut lilac, zinnias, french marigolds, carnations, and pink and peach roses.

Keeping this in mind, when I saw this adorable crochet pattern called Fanciful Flowers Potholder, I kind of did a super-giggly-flip on the inside.  And oh-my-stars it is so easy!  If you have experience crocheting in the round, it will be a snap.  This pattern was really easy for me because I have so much experience crocheting round rugs and the base of the pattern is the exact same.

Potholder from the front.

A view of the back.

Now, the first question I had for myself was, "Is this a practical design for a potholder?"  It's certainly thick enough when it's doubled over, like when you're holding it in your hand.  So that's not a problem.  But I think for this to be used practically, your pan or baking sheet needs to have handles so you can get a good grip.  When I made my dinner rolls yesterday, I used glass pie pans.  One pan didn't have any handle and the second one only had a very shallow lip of a handle.  This potholder didn't work so well for that, but it did make an awesome hot pad for setting the pie plate on top of!

Thick and cushy when doubled over.

Even if you personally think this potholder isn't the most practical, it really does serve well as a great hot pad or trivet.  And it's so stinking cute and so easy to make, that it would be beautiful hanging on your kitchen wall or turned into some stocking stuffers at Christmas time.

Another great thing about this potholder is that you can do any color for however many numbers of rows you want.  You could do a rainbow flower if you wanted to.

This pattern calls for cotton yarn in DK weight.  I didn't have DK weight yarn, so I used some Sugar 'N Cream cotton yarn that I had on hand and some of Hobby Lobby's I Love This Cotton Yarn.

I wish I could take credit for such a darling pattern, but I can't.  Go HERE for the full pattern.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Yeast Dinner Rolls From Scratch

 I'm kind of obsessed with baking crap from scratch and the delectable comfort of homemade yeast dinner rolls.  I didn't grow up eating them from scratch (but I bet my grandmother did), so when I learned how to make them around the age of 14, I decided I was never going back to store bought rolls - like never, never, EVER.  Oh, except for the times when I procrastinate and don't get them made in time for Christmas or Thanksgiving.

There are a zillion yeast dinner roll recipes out there, but they all have pretty much the same stars: flour, milk, sugar, salt, eggs, butter, and the most important rock star of them all: YEAST.  And they all pretty much follow the same basic procedure.
Oh yeast, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.

Let's get baking.  It's not hard.  A little time consuming, but not hard.

I should mention beforehand that you can make your dough with or without an electric mixer.  I've made stuff from scratch for years without an electric mixer and today I did it again.  Do I own an electric mixer?  Why yes, yes I do.  But it's packed up somewhere, so I went old school.

Crack out your ingredients:

  • 4 - 5 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp of active dry yeast (I buy my yeast by the jar, you could use a packet.)
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • 1/3 cup of butter
  • 1 tsp. of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbs melted butter to brush on top after baking

Grab a large mixing bowl and add 2 cups of the flour plus the yeast.  Gently whisk together and set aside.  Easy enough.

 Now you're going to grab a small saucepan and add the milk, sugar, butter, and salt.  Heat it just until the butter melts.  You don't want to boil it or burn it.  I tend to stand by the stove and watch it like a hawk and as soon as it looks melty, I take it off.  

Add the milk mixture to the flour and yeast, and with your whisk, whisk it together real quickly.  Make sure all those ingredients are mixed well.  Then add the eggs and whisk together some more.  Continue to mix for a minute or two just to be sure everything is combined well.

Eggs always remind me of eyeballs.  Strange?
After mixing in the eggs.
Switch over to your wooden spoon.  Add another cup of flour and stir.  You will already notice how much thicker the dough is.  If you don't notice, I bet your arm will.

Continue adding flour by the half cup and stirring each time.  I usually stop around having 4 cups of flour total because I like my dough a little stickier when I start to knead.

After 4 cups of flour total.  When the dough "balls up" on the spoon, it is probably firm enough to be turned out and kneaded into a ball.

Flour a nice,  clean, sturdy surface.  Start small, maybe 1/4 cup of flour. 

Now we come to the fun part - kneading.  At this point I would recommend throwing on an apron, ensuring your hair is pulled back and out of your face, and that your wedding rings (or any other hand jewelry) is removed and in a safe place.

 Turn the dough out onto your flour surface and begin to knead.  Everyone has their own style - punch, pick, tickle, stretch, etc., but basically you want to repetitively fold the dough over and push down with the heel of your hand.  Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, but not so sticky that it sticks to the surface or your hands.  Continue to sprinkle flour onto your kneading surface or onto the surface of the dough if you need more flour.  Usually you only need to knead for about 5-7 minutes to get it smooth and elastic.

Not perfectly smooth, but it will do nicely.

Grab a second large mixing bowl.  Pour a little oil in there of some sort - olive, light olive, vegetable, etc. - and with your fingers just rub it all around the bowl so it is well oiled.  Plop your dough ball in there, swish it around, and flip it.  This way the entire ball of dough is well oiled.  

Then you're going to want to place a towel over the top and let it rise somewhere warm until it is about doubled in size.  Depending on how warm it is will depend on how quickly it will rise.  It is winter time here and even with the heat running nonstop, it feels like an ice cube in the house.  So this time I set the oven to "warm" for just a few minutes, then shut it off.  I put the dough in there and shut the door to keep some of the heat in.

Dough after the first rising.

Now that your dough has risen, give it a good gentle punch and plop it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface.  Let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Dough after being punched down.

Lightly oil your baking sheets or baking pan, whichever you are going to use.  Shape the dough into balls and place on baking pans/sheets about 1 inch apart.  How many rolls you get depends on how big or small you make them.

This time I made 19 rolls,

Cover again and let the dough rise again until doubled in size - about 30 minutes or so.

Heat the oven to 375 Fahrenheit.  Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until the tops are a lovely golden color.  I like to brush the tops with some butter as soon as I pull them out of the oven.

And you're done!  So easy!  And delicious.  Try not to eat too many before your family can enjoy them with dinner tonight.  

Friday, February 7, 2014

Testing Out Red Heart Boutique Unforgettable Yarn

I've been eyeballing this yarn for a couple of months now.  It is the Red Heart Boutique Unforgettable.  I thought about using this to make a Christmas present for my sister, but then I thought I would want to keep it for myself so I should probably wait to buy it until I know what I'm actually going to do with it.  Or who I'm going to give it to.

Every time I saw this colorway, my mouth would water and I just wanted to have it.  I read some comments on Ravelry about this yarn and I would say this seems to not be too popular with the knitters and crocheters out there.  Knowing this, I bought it anyways and decided that I would test it out and decide for myself.

 First of all, those colors!  Those glorious colors!  This colorway is fittingly deemed "parrot" and I'll say it does look something tropical with a rich, hot pink combined with a sort of minty turquoise and a gentle lavender.  This yarn has quite the gradient when it comes to the colors, which you will notice as you work it up.  Pink is the primary color, which I assume is okay if you bought this yarn in the first place.  Myself, I'm kinda batty when it comes to pink - I can never get enough.

 This yarn is 100% acrylic and a category 4 yarn.  It does have a little bit of "thick and thin" characteristics, but so far I cannot tell enough of a difference to where it would matter.  Others do not feel the same as this seems to be the number one complaint I have read and some believe this is more of a category 3 yarn.  It comes in dye lots and is instructed to machine wash cold on a gentle cycle and tumble dry low.
 Now I've started to work up my cowl scarf using a very simple repeat pattern of 2 rows of single followed by 1 row of triple crochet.  I'm noticing that this yarn likes to twist on me a bit, which can be annoying because I'm constantly having to stop and unwind it as I go.  As you can see in this image, the working yarn is twisting on itself and also the piece is curling up on itself.  It's kind of strange.  I don't know if this is something that will work itself out or not, or if it will just get worse.

Here you can see the different gradients of color.

 This yarn has a nice sheen to it, but it is extremely fuzzy and has quite the "halo" effect.  Due to this, some people feel that it doesn't have very good stitch definition.  I'm not doing any intricate stitches, so I can't speak for all, but I feel like the yarn has a decent stitch definition.  I like the fuzziness of the yarn and how shiny it is - but I do wonder if it will pill a lot after washing.  I also wonder if it will be extremely annoying against the skin.

The drape is also kind of strange due to the fact that it does stick to itself quite a bit, as you can see in the photo to the right.  I'm holding it up and you can see how it is curling.  Once again, I don't know how it will look once I finish the cowl and do some blocking, but I am hoping for the best.

It does look oodles more lovely in the sunlight, doesn't it?

So far I'm a little nervous as to how it will turn out.  I have a lot of questions that won't be answered until the piece is finished, blocked, and washed.  For now I am keeping my fingers crossed and hoping for the best.  I only purchased 2 skeins of this yarn and at only $5.00 a skein, it's not a too costly experiment.  We will see how it goes.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Work In Progress: Elliott's 4th Birthday Blanket

I've decided to start a new tradition for my children.  For each birthday, I would like to make them a special blanket.  It may be a little over-ambitious, so it may not happen exactly as I plan.  But the thought is nice, correct?

My oldest, sweet 3-year old Elliott, will be turning 4 towards the end of this month.  Back in January I got on Ravelry to pick out a pattern - or 50 patterns - and decided on this very simple, classic shell stitch pattern called the Beachcomber Baby Blanket.

He's not a baby, so I'm making his much larger.  I will go into more details later, but for now here is a preview of how it's turning out - enjoy!

The decided to go with blues and a tan that reminds me of the color of sand.  In 2013 we took him to the beach for the first time and this blanket is going to serve as a memory of that.

The biggest booger about this blanket is that you change colors every row - oh man, do you see all those loose ends to weave in?  That's going to take me a week at least.

At this point I'm only about 25% of the way done.  Moving into our brand new home AND having a new baby has really put a damper on my crochet time.  Oh well - one of these days I will be an old woman sitting in my rocking chair every morning and then, yes then, I will have plenty of time to crochet.