Summer Pasta

Saturday, July 30, 2011 7 Comments »
Boing! Boing! You can almost hear those 'maters popping on the vine. We seem to have a very good crop this year of Bountiful 100's (cherry tomatoes), Italian plum tomatoes, Better Girls, and whatever else Mr. Green Jeans decided to plant. They are coming in all at once, and hubby is trying to pick them before the birdies peck too many holes in them!

My dad used to make a Summer pasta sauce that was quick, easy, required no cooking, and made good use of all of those yummy 'maters. Soory, but the "recipe" has no specific quantities.  My dad was an eyeball cook, usually dumping things in a bowl until it looked right; I cook the same way.

You'll need:
• Tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes.
• Green onions, chopped, with both white and green parts
• Garlic, minced
• Fresh basil, minced
• EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
• Balsamic vinegar
• Red Wine vinegar
• any other seasoning you like. I use fresh ground pepper, a little sea salt, Mrs. Dash Lemon pepper, and some of Penzey's Tuscan Sunset. If you've got fresh oregano (or dry), that works too.
• pasta. We are currently on a whole wheat kick, but any pasta will do.

Cut up the tomatoes. I cut the cherries into halves or quarters, depending on the size, and the other tomatoes into a large dice. I don't peel them. Throw in the onions, basil and garlic to taste. How much garlic do I use? Let's just say that there will never be a vampire in my neighborhood. If you have a surplus of zucchini or yellow squash, cut those into a small dice, or into very thin slices, and add those too.

Add EVOO, a splash of balsamic, and a little more of the red wine vinegar. You don't want the vinegar to scream at you, but you do want to taste the bite in the background. You want enough liquid in with the tomatoes to enrobe the pasta nicely later on. Add other spices to taste. Mix well, cover, and let sit at room temp for at least 3 hours. You want all of those flavors to become very very good friends. Yes, you can refrigerate overnight, but bring it back to room temp before you use it.

Cook your pasta. Don't overcook -- it should be al dente. Drain, put the quantity you want into a bowl & mix in ladlefuls of the room temperature tomato mixture. Top with freshly grated parmesan (or other sharp Italian cheese), and fresh pepper. My hubby likes to add those dried hot pepper flakes.

That's it! A super easy, make-ahead meal that has all of the wonderful flavors of summer. You can add a grilled protein (chicken, shrimp, or left over thinly sliced steak), but that's not necessary. Tonight I'll probably add a handful of the chickpeas I cooked up earlier in the week -- they will add some interesting texture. A loaf of crusty bread and a nice Chianti make the meal.  Hubby can take me out for a Rita's after!

Hurray for the Red White and Blue

Tuesday, July 26, 2011 5 Comments »
My friend Kathy's son,  Sam,  is in the military.   Kathy loves everything that's red, white and blue, and is a true, flag-waving quilt momma.  When I first met her, she was piecing a gajillion HSTs to go into a magnificent flag-themed quilt for her son.  I admired that quilt (heck, I coveted that quilt), so she knew I was attracted to patriotic themes as well.  She sent me a picture of a flag made with tumbler blocks.   I loved it.  I thought, wouldn't this be a great thing to make with my Accuquilt Go! Cutter? 

So when Kathy's church hosted a Quilt Day on Saturday, I thought it was the perfect project to try.  Here's the result: 

I used Civil War repro fabrics, but you could use any combo of R,W & B.  As a matter of fact, my hubby is not fond of these reds ("too brown", he says) and is pushing me to make another flag with brighter reds and brighter blues.  The other revision that I would make would be to increase the size of the field of blue by expanding it by one row to the right and one row down. 

The finished flag measures approximately 35.5" x 26".  Once it's quilted, I plan to bind it in a muted goldish print, keeping the wavy edges rather than cutting them straight.

The tumblers are cut using the 3.5" tumbler die for the Go!/Baby Go! cutter.  For the revised flag, you will need:

15 dark blue tumblers
15 medium blue tumblers
57 assorted red tumblers
50 assorted white/cream with red tumblers

When you lay out the blocks, pay attention to putting lighter blocks next to darker ones to give the flag an undulating effect. 

I am so pleased with the result, that I think I will send it to the Accuquilt folks.

ADDENDUM:  I went on the Accuquilt forum and someone else had a flag picture posted. It wasn't nearly as nice (she said shamelessly), being made with a solid white and a solid red, and 2 different blues, but it was there none the less.  Y'all (sorry, in Philly we say "Youz") are welcome to make your very own variation too! 

When I finished the flag at Quilt Day, all of the other quilters broke out into a rousing rendition of God Bless America, complete with harmony and salutes.  Indeed!

Spray it!

Monday, July 25, 2011 4 Comments »
I'm addicted to spray starch.  I just love using it on my quilt blocks, and love spraying away as I put a quilt top together.  Yep, I use steam too, but spray starch is my real best friend. 

My very favorite is Mary Ellen's Best Press, in the linen or lavender scents, but it can be pricey.  Amazon has the best price that I could find.  I have Amazon Prime, and shipping is free, so the cost is the net cost.  It's $11.84 for a 16 oz spray bottle ($ .74/oz);  $14.95 for a 32 oz bottle ($ .46/oz); and a gallon (120 oz) jug for $38.63 ($ .32/oz).   It's probably cheaper at your LQS or craft store, but it's still not inexpensive. 

On the other hand, good old Niagra Spray Starch is $2.29 for a 22 oz bottle, or $ .10/oz.  I buy it when I see it on sale, and usually three bottles at a time -- one for my sewing room ironing, one for my  laundry room ironing, and one as a back up. 

I have a good friend who recommends spray sizing instead of the starch.   She is in the habit of washing, ironing & starching her fabrics before adding them to her stash.  Her hubby was in the military, so she's packed up and moved that stash more times than she could count.  Well, starch is cornstarch-based, corn starch attracts little buggies, and my friend learned the hard way that spray sizing was the ticket, not spray starch.   I could only find the sizing in an aerosol can, but prefer to stick to non-aerosol if it's available. 

I don't usually pre-wash, so I'm OK with starch, but if you are a washer/ironer/storer, you might want to stick with the sizing.  Are you a starch-oholic?

Hot Schnibbles

Sunday, July 24, 2011 5 Comments »
We are roasting here in the North East, but I've been doing a lot of sewing.  More for selfish reasons than anything else since my sewing room is one of only two rooms in our house with air conditioning!

Anyway, I've got one completed Schnibble, and one flimsy Schnibble to show for it.  The first is based on the Dulcinea pattern, but with a few extra blocks added to make it a rectangle instead of a square.  I'm not sure if I will hang it on my office wall at work or if it will be a table runner here at home.  I had fun practicing my free-motion machine quilting on it.

The fabric is mostly Tweet Tweet, by Kieko for Moda, but there are some interlopers as well.  Lesson:  if you are going to commit to using one line of fabric charm packs for a pattern, get an extra pack.  By the time you almost finished, and figure out you are short a few pieces, the charm pack will be out of circulation and you will be up quilters' creek without a seam ripper. 

The second is a flimsy that will probably be going to my friendly, local long-armer with a few other small pieces.  It's the Picnic pattern, and is made with fabric from Me and My Sister for Moda.  I just love the colors, and could work with stuff from those two sisters all day long.  Happy Happy fabric.  I have a crisp turquoise and white plaid for the binding.  It's a wall hanging, destined for Miss Maddie's room, which is in shades of ocean blues. 

If you want something interesting to watch while you are sewing, and have HBO OnDemand, you might want to check out The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.  Bobbi (used to be no blog but might be succumbing to bloggification) recommended it.  Loved the first (pilot) episode, and can't wait to watch more!

Under Pressure

Sunday, July 17, 2011 3 Comments »
When I was growing up, pressure cookers were objects of fear.  All those tales of PCs blowing up, dontcha know.  I've even got a friend who still bears the scars from a nasty accident she had while she was stationed in Germany with her husband and tried using a pressure cooker to do canning.  Well, it's a new era for pressure cookers, and boy can they be mamma's little helper!

Actually, cooks here in the US just don't seem to use pressure cookers much, although they are a great energy-saving essential in many countries.  A single pressure cooker, using a small, single heat source, can cook an amazing, multi-course meal.  They are a staple in many Indian kitchens, for instance.  I still have some residual fear of the old stove-top kind, but when I saw this on QVC a number of years ago, I took the plunge.  It's electric, and about the same size as a 6 quart slow cooker.

I just love this thing.  For some recipes, like those for stews and pot roasts, it produces a much tastier result than a slow-cooker.  My non-scientific brain attributes this to the pressure pushing all those flavors into the meat (picture tiny men, with hammers, pounding the flavor in).  You CAN'T turn it on in the morning and come back 8-10 hours later to a pot full of whatever like you can with a slow cooker, but if you prep your ingredients ahead of time, you CAN have a very tasty, used-to-take-forever meal in about 1/3 the time it would take on the stove top.  And because it's electric, your kitchen isn't 500 degrees hotter.  Beef stew in the PC, is outstanding, as is pot roast and sauerbraten. 

This morning I made black beans, ranchero style.  From scratch.  Dry beans are cheap, cheap, cheap, and are wonderfully versatile.  This bag o' beans cost anywhere from $ .99 to $1.29 where I live. 

Since I restrict the salt in my diet, making beans from scratch eliminates all that nasty sodium you get from the canned kind.  And you don't have that suspicious, gooey sludge that the beans are packed in.  The menu today called for black beans, but I've done pinto beans for chili, kidney beans for red beans & rice, great northern beans for fantabulous picnic baked beans, and garbanzo beans (a.k.a. chick peas) for hummus.  Do you know how good home-made hummus is?   And beans, combined with certain other foods (like rice) make a complete protein.  It would do us all good to eat less meat, no?

Here's my recipe for black beans, ranchero style.

Patti's Pressure Cooker Black Beans
  • 1 bag of black beans
  • water
  • a container of fresh salsa (I use mild, from the refrigerated section of my grocery store.  If you are brave, you can use medium, hot, or even chipotle)
  • cooked bacon, drained and crumbled
  • liquid* -- enough to not quite cover the beans
Dump the beans into a pot & add enough water to cover them by about 3".  Bring to a boil, remove from heat & cover.  Let them soak for 45 minutes, then drain. 

Put the beans in the pressure cooker, along with the salsa, the bacon, and enough liquid to not quite cover them.  You just want some of those bean heads poking through the surface.  What kind of liquid can you use?  I usually use a mix of water and chicken stock (home made, or low sodium), and sometimes add a touch of beer if I'm feeling frisky.  Beef or veggie stock might be good too, or a little V8. 

Put the cover on the cooker and set on high for 15-17 minutes.  Bigger beans (pinto, kidney, calico, lima) take a little longer, but I usually don't set it for more than 20 minutes.  Hit "Start", then go do something else, like chain piece or cut fabric.  The 15-17 minutes is actually the time it takes to cook once the appliance has achieved the necessary pressure; it translates to about 25-30 minutes elapsed cooking time.  Let the cooker cool down, release the pressure & open it up.  Yum. 

The variations are endless.  You can leave out the bacon & the salsa, and just use liquid.  You can add left-over ham.   You can saute a little onion and green/red pepper to add.  You can add a can of fire-roasted tomatoes, or some chopped tomatoes from your garden.  Chopped cilantro is awesome.  How about some corn stirred in at the end?

For more recipes and ideas on cooking under pressure, you can go to Miss Vickie's web site, or search for "pressure cooker" on your favorite recipe site.  I'm fond of and

Summer Gardens

Sunday, July 10, 2011 2 Comments »
Just finished de-leafing a ton of green and purple basil in preparation for pesto making.  DH should have picked this crop a week ago; 7 days made the difference between nice, full leaves, and a lot of semi-chewed leaves.  It all gets ground up anyway, but it isn't nearly as satisfying to do the same amount of leaf stripping & only net half as much.  We'll pick earlier on the second crop!

Now if you really want to be green with envy, take a look at the garden in my SIL's father's house; he's recreated a Mexican courtyard right here, in eastern Pennsylvania.   

This is only a small part of the garden.  What you can't really see in the picture, is the large koi pond buried in the middle of it.  And it's just one of 3 ponds!  The garden is lit in various places as well.  See that tin star hanging in the very back?  At night it is lit from within, and creates a lovely, twinkling highlight.   What a lush and delightful place!

Calling All Techies!

Thursday, July 07, 2011 3 Comments »
Robert Kaufman Fabrics has helped developed a set of 8 very handy quilting calculators that are available for iPhones and iPads through the iTunes AppStore.  The set, called The Quilter's Little Helper  is also available for smart phones with the Android operating system.  The app is FREE!  I tried to poke around the RK site to see if the calculators were available just via the web, but I didn't have much success. 

Here is a link to a full description of the app.  And here is what it does:
  •  Fabric Measurement Conversion: Converts between inches, yards in decimal form and yards in fractional form.
  • Backing and Batting Calculator: Determines how much yardage from a bolt of fabric is needed to make the backing for a quilt.
  • Piece Count Calculator: Shows the number of fixed-sized pieces of fabric that may be cut from a larger piece.
  • Pieces to Yardage Area Calculator: Indicates how much fabric is needed in order to cut a given number of fixed sized pieces.
  • Binding Calculator: Tells you the amount of fabric required to bind your quilt based on the quilt’s dimensions and the binding strip width.
  • Border Calculator: Shows the amount of fabric required to create borders, based on a quilt’s dimensions and the width of the borders.
  • Square in a Square Calculator: Works out all the key dimensions of a square in a square block.
  • Set-in and Corner Triangle Calculator: Determines the size of the square piece you’ll need to cut in order to create both unfinished set-in triangles and unfinished corner triangles.
 RK also has a nifty little blog and a newsletter you can subscribe to.  Just what we need -- more temptations!

Guild-ty Pleasures

Monday, July 04, 2011 0 Comments »
phillymodernquiltguild  I've joined a guild.  I've wanted to join a guild for a while, but most have meetings that are not very inconvenient for my schedule.  I work in Center City Philadelphia, commuting on the train, & not arriving home until 6:00 PM; that makes getting to a meeting difficult, especially if the meeting is some distance away.

The Philadeplphia Modern Quilt Guild meets about 15 minutes away, and at a time that is doable.  Bobbi no blog asked Nancy, Near Philadelphia and I if we wanted to go to the June Meeting, where Jay McCarroll, a former Project Runway winner, was speaking.  You betcha!  I am addicted to PR, and this was the perfect excuse to dip my toes in the guild pool.  Nancy already belongs to another guild, but Bobbi and I both ended up joining PMQG.  We are now both card-carrying guilders!

Jay has a new fabric line, Habitat.  Were we game for a challenge?  The resulting quilt would benefit Quilts for Japan.  If we chose to participate in the challenge, we were given a paper bag with cuts from one of the colorways from his line, and charged with making a block for a group quilt.   I finished mine yesterday.  It was my first challenge ever, and used fabric that just didn't speak to me, but here's what I came up with. 

Yep, I used my Go! to cut those drunkards path blocks.  I'm not wild about the block, but I have to tell  you that the pieces were a cinch to cut and went together easy peasy.  

One more item from my quilting-things-I've-never-tried-before checked off the list!  And Jay McCarroll?  He's about the nicest, sweetest guy you'd ever want to meet.  AND he's from Pennsylvania!!!

Sister Suzie's Runner

Sunday, July 03, 2011 5 Comments »
My golfer sister had a birthday in May.  She asked for a summer table runner for her breakfast room table, in "modern fabrics".  My sister is an incredibly talented, wonderful woman, and a gifted athlete, but her knowledge of fabric is about as great as my knowledge of golf.  "Modern fabrics"?   What exactly did she mean?   Hmmmm.

This is what I came up with.  4-patches, set on point, with solid center squares. 

Many fabrics are from Sandi Henderson's Meadow Sweet line for Michael Miller.  Looks "modern" to me, and very summery.  I'm wishing those "eyes" didn't bunch together at the one end, though.  That's what I get for being in a hurry.   I'll just tell her it's my way of keeping an eye on her. 

I did most of it while we were using her beach house in North Carolina. The binding was completed yesterday -- just in the nick of time for a progressive dinner party with her golf buddies tonight.  I snuck (sneaked?) into her house when she wasn't home and put it on her table.  Wonder if she's noticed.....