Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili

I really love black beans (I may have mentioned this), and I think that black beans and sweet potatoes are an amazing flavor combination.  So this chili makes a natural pairing - I am almost surprised that I didn't come up with this a lot sooner than this year.  I had made chili with sweet potato or winter squash in it before, but usually multi-bean chilis with a lot of other stuff going on to distract you.  This version keep the focus on the black beans and the sweet potatoes, and it is earthy with hints of smoky sweetness.  It is moderately spicy, hot enough to be interesting but not so hot that it should make anyone squeamish.  I have made this chili several times this winter and finally remembered to write the recipe down, so I feel like it is already an old favorite and really overdue for posting here (especially considering the number of friends that have asked for the recipe).

I also realized that, since all our everyday plates/bowls/mugs are pretty much pots that I made, I am frequently posting pottery photos along with my recipes but rarely say anything about it.  So I may start highlighting some of the pots, too, and giving a bit of a backstory.   This bowl is one that I made in college, when I was first experimenting with carving on my pots.  I really like the simple basketweave type hatching pattern that I made on this bowl, and how it subtly shows through the matte glaze.  There is actually a small matching plate so I kind of think of this as a soup and salad set.  The earthy beige/brown color of this glaze is a great match for hearty bean and lentil soups like this one.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Chili
Makes 4 quarts
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil (or less, if desired)
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground chipotle chilis (optional)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and finely chopped into ~1/2"-1" pieces
  • One 28 oz can of diced tomatoes (or two 14 oz cans)
  • 3 cans black beans, drained and rinsed, or 1 lb bag of dried black beans, cooked (not drained)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste (optional)
Like most soups, this soup is best if you let it simmer for several hours (or simmer for a while and then refrigerate and serve the next day).  If you have a slow cooker, it is easy to start this soup on the stovetop and then transfer it to the slow cooker to simmer away.  If you don't have a slow cooker, you can also easily make this on the stovetop and just simmer it there.  If you are going to transfer to a slowcooker, start the first step in a large skillet, but if you are planning to cook entirely on the stovetop, you can start in a large stockpot/soup pot.

Heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions and saute until soft.  Add the peppers, celery, garlic, herbs and spices, and saute for another 5-10 minutes, until onions are slightly browned and vegetables start to soften.  If cooking in a slow-cooker, transfer this mixture to the slow cooker and add the sweet potatoes, tomatoes, beans, and tomato paste.  If the herbs/spices are stuck to the pan when you transfer the mixture, add some water to the skillet to loosen and add to the slow cooker.  If cooking on the stove, just add the ingredients to the pan and stir to loosen anything that has gotten stuck to the pan.  Add water until it is chili consistency - 6-8 cups if you used drained canned beans, and 2-3 cups if you used cooked dried beans and added their cooking water (or whatever amount seems to get you to the right consistency.  Simmer for at least 1 hour, ideally 2-4 hours or longer (Note - 1 hour may not be sufficient in a slow cooker - 3-4 hours or longer in slow cooker is probably best).

Note on optional ingredients:
  • The chipotle peppers add the slight smoky flavor and are really delicious.  If you don't have them though, you can make this without and just add a bit more chili powder.
  • If you omit the tomato paste, this is more like a black bean soup than a full blown chili, but also very good.  This is actually what I did the last time I made the soup.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Blogger's Pillow Party - Christmas Tree Pillows, Redux

OK, I am late to the game here but I decided I wanted to put my Christmas tree pillows up for the bloggers pillow party.  I was wavering on whether I wanted to, since I had already posted about these pillows and since it is totally no longer the holiday season (although, ahem, we still have some decorations up).  On the other hand, it is really snowing here today so it really feels like winter if not the holiday season.  Also, I have been having a really good time seeing other people's pillows (especially Shelley's on Rebel Homemaker - check them out!)... so in the end I decided to jump in too despite my reservations.  I hope to participate again next month with an actual new seems like pillows are the theme for February in the craft blogosphere!

I had a lot of fun making these pillows, and I think the one with the big tree and the little tree is my favorite.  I already talked a bit about my process in the original post, but basically the trees are foundation pieced in a pretty free-form manner and then I built up the rest of the pillow around the trees.  I really like how the larger tree in the two pillow tree looks like an evergreen with drooping branches because of the piecing method I used.  I like the 4 tree block a lot too but I think it would look better if the trees were closer together on each row and if I had made the block smaller and the borders larger. 

I used pretty much entirely fabrics from my stash for these pillows, and the fabrics are a bit more muted and traditional than a lot of the things I have been making recently (especially for the borders and the backs).  I like how they turned out, though... but I may be tempted to make something alternate holiday pillows with a bit more modern of a fabric choice in the future.  These were out on our living room couch for all of the holidays but now they are going to be stored until next year.

Blogger's Pillow Party

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Handpainted Watercolor Valentines Cards - How To

I mentioned these cards in my post about opening my Etsy shop yesterday, but I wanted to come back and tell you a bit more about them.  There's not many steps to making them so this isn't a tutorial per se, but I will give you a quick overview of what I did and some of the designs I came up with.  One of my favorite things about these cards is that they are a great way to take advantage of the delicate nature of watercolor, but you don't have to be a watercolor expert (by any means) to make them.   These would even be a fun project for kids to make smaller valentines to give out at school (you could just paste them on a piece of cardstock, rather than a card).

The materials I used are pretty simple - 4 bar size cards from Paper Source,  watercolor paper, watercolor paints, a paint-mixing tray (optional), and glue (I used scrapbooking glue but regular craft glue should work too).  I cut the watercolor paper into rectangles about 1/4"-1/2" smaller than the top of the cards before I painted them, but then I trimmed them as needed to make the design centered etc after I had painted them.  I used the palette tray to mix up a range of hues of pink, purple and red, and different saturation levels.  I got my nice dark reds by adding a bit of green to the bright red/pink color that I got using the paint straight, and I added blue to the purple to get more of a lavender color (apologies if the color-mixing info is too basic, but thought I would include in case you have trouble with that part).  Another tip - if your hearts are turning out too dark, you can also rinse and squeeze out your brush and then go back (while it is still wet) and kind of suck up/lift off some of the paint with your brush.  After the watercolors had dried, I glued them to the cards and let the glue dry... Some of my edges curled up so I pressed them under books while they dried to make sure everything was nice and flat.

I think this card was my favorite.  I had fun coming up with a whole range of colors to include and finding places to tuck each heart.  For the larger hearts, I painted the outline first and then filled in... a nice thing about watercolor is that if it looks somewhat uneven, you can adjust while it is still wet to make one side a little bigger, and it won't show in the end.  If you are worried about painting hearts freehand a freeform card like this might be good to practice making lots of hearts and getting comfortable with it.

I also really like how this grid card turned out... kind of reminds me of those Mrs. Grossman's tiny heart stickers I used to get as a kid.  I like how the one red heart stands out among all the purple ones and how the orderly arrangement contrasts with the handpainted imperfect nature of the hearts.  For these little ones I didn't really outline first, I just painted one side and then the other and adjusted if necessary.  I did the grid design freehand, painting row by row starting at the top (and leaving a gap for the red heart), but if you would find it easier to have a guide you could cut a piece of scrap paper the same width as your watercolor paper, use a ruler to measure out markings (for both the even and odd rows), and then hold it just above or below the row of hearts as you paint.

These overlapping hearts were fun too (OK they were all fun! I really enjoyed making these)... For the overlapping hearts, I painted the left heart first (because I am right-handed, this was easier for me).  I let it dry and then I made an outline of the right heart and lightly painted over the overlap area, then waited for that to dry before painting in the rest of the heart so that the overlap didn't bleed into the second heart.  Or sometimes I painted it all at once but just tried to paint right up to the edge of the overlap area but not really connect them until it was mostly dry, if that makes sense.

I made a few different designs of individual hearts, this one is pretty simple - I just painted to large heart and let it dry, then painted the outline on top.  I also made one (don't have a photo yet) which has a kind of scalloped edge around it which is fun too.

I am sure you can think of lots of other design ideas here too - both with just hearts or what about a heart as a little flower with a leaf and stem or a heart as a balloon?  Have fun!  And if you love these but don't have time to make them, you can always pick some up in my Etsy shop :).

Have a great day!

Linking up to some linky parties:

Today's Creative BlogTute yourself tuesday red and white

Monday, January 24, 2011

Big news! I opened an Etsy shop!!

I am super excited to let you all know that I have opened an Etsy shop!  I have felt a bit like I was keeping a secret, as I was crafting away making a bunch of stuff to post in my shop and not blogging about any of it.  But now that my shop is up, I can tell you all about what I have been making!  Here is a quick rundown of some of the stuff that I have put up or will be soon... 

I made a number of pouches from my pleated pouch tutorial, some of which are shown above.

I also made some really fun patchwork clutches, similar in size/construction to Noodlehead's gathered clutch but with a fun patchwork stripe on the front instead of the gathered piece.

I got excited about valentines day and made some valentines gifts and cards...

More patchwork clutches in a fun pink color with some of my favorite pink and red fabrics in the patchwork stripe.

And I had so much fun making these cute little watercolor valentines!  I make homemade valentines for a few special folks in my life each year and these are a reprise of a past favorite.

I am also listing some pottery that I have made.  Most of the pots I am going to put up will be celadon-glazed porcelain vases, including the ones above, very similar to the pots that I had at my wedding.  I haven't blogged too much about my pottery I realize, so it is fun to get to show some more to you.

Finally, I think I am most excited about this messenger bag!

I loved doing free-motion embroidery/applique on my needlebook and was excited about the leafy vine design, so I made a similar design on the flap of this purse.  The purse incorporates some of my favorite design features including an organizer pocket under the flap and a zip pocket inside.  Check out all the details here.  I definitely plan to make more of these purses and hope to even write up a pattern to sell in my shop!

I'm so excited about having the shop up (did I mention yet that I am excited?), especially because now I can share all my projects as I make them!  As you can tell from the initial set of items I listed, I am planning to sell items that run the gamut of my crafty interests.  I am not sure this is the best business plan as a lot of successful etsy shops seem to specialize in certain types of products, but I like making so many different types of things I just can't really imagine limiting myself to making just one type of thing.  Check out my shop and let me know if you have any thoughts or advice for me!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fabric Produce Bags

I have been planning to make these fabric produce bags (from this tutorial by Daisy Janie) since I first saw the post in December, but just got around to it this week.  I have long been a big proponent of reusable shopping bags and got funny looks from grocery store cashiers for many years... I was thrilled this past year when DC instituted a 5 cent plastic bag tax, not only because it helped push more people to use reusable bags, but because I no longer got the weird looks.  We even came up with a system in our household of keeping the bags in the trunk of the car so that Lawson wouldn't get to the store and realize he had forgotten to bring them.  I also am a huge fan of the roll-up/stuffable lightweight grocery bags and generally have at least one if not two or three in my purse (including the ones I made from my tutorial) so that I am never caught without a bag when out and about.

But... I have never had a good solution for produce bags, short of holding on to them and reusing them (which I have done inconsistently).  So I was super excited when I saw this tutorial, both because it meets that need and because it has a great design.  Check it out - you loop the handle through the shorter loop as a closure, securing the fruits and veggies inside but leaving room for a cashier to peek inside and see what you have.

And the same handle and loop can be used to roll up the bag for ease of carrying - love it!

Best of all, you can loop the bags into a chain to keep them all organized and together so you aren't digging in the bottom of your purse in the produce aisle!

I have recently been going through my stash and weeding out some of the more old-fashioned fabrics that I got when I first started quilting/sewing over 10 years ago.  This yellow print was one that I didn't want to just give away but that I also didn't see myself using anytime soon... although as I used it for this project I realized I actually did like it pretty well.  I made coordinating blue and red bags (and actually a few other blue ones that aren't shown here) with other fabrics from my stash, so we have really a pretty good set of these bags now! I made the first 3 or 4 with squared off bottoms and then got lazy and didn't bother for the rest, but they all seem like they will work fine.

I am not sure I will use them for everything - some foods like greens I really think store better in the fridge in a plastic bag - but I will definitely use them for the bananas/apples/potatoes types of foods.  Luckily I have been doing more of the shopping lately, I am not sure I could convince Lawson to go for fabric produce bags, much less yellow flowered and red polka-dotted ones.  I think we may be about to start getting weird looks at checkout again, but that's OK, I can deal.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Baby Pants

Lately it seems that everyone we know is having babies!  We are super excited for all the soon-to-be parents... and I have of course been thinking about baby gifts.  I fell in love with both the big butt baby pants and the newborn baby pants patterns on Made By Rae so I have been sewing up some baby pants.  The two pairs above are the simpler newborn pattern, which sews up really quickly.  I decided to pep both of these up with a contrasting cuff, inspired by some of the photos on the blog and on flickr.

I made the pants below for my nephew (sent with his sweater last week) using the big butt pattern.  I made them in the 12 month size but put a generous cuff on so hopefully he can wear them rolled up at first (as shown in photo below) and then grow into the length.  I love this riley blake cars/trucks fabric!

I decided not to do a contrasting butt for these but may have to do one in the future!

Finally, I made another pair of newborn pants and a matching set of reversible shoes (showing both sides below).  The fabric choices on both are intentionally androgynous since a number of the folks we know who are expecting don't plan to find out the sex of their baby in advance.  The shoes are from this pattern that I have made a number of times before - highly recommend!

PS - I finally switched out the Christmas blog header (and also made some other design tweaks on the blog... we are now sans serif all the way!).  The Christmas decorations on the house are still up, on the other hand... baby steps.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Free-motion Embroidery Needle Book

Now that I have a sewing machine with a free-motion quilting foot and other great features (wahoo!) I have been having fun experimenting and learning different techniques.  The free motion quilting definitely takes some practice, I have to say.  I had seen various folks trying out free motion embroidery/applique and wanted to give it a try, so yesterday I put together this cute needle book for my hand-sewing needles.

I love tree/leaf/vine designs, so that was what I went with... plus I figured it was a great way to use all of the green scraps that I had in my scrap bag (many from making my Christmas tree bunting).  I originally envisioned this on more of a linen/natural fabric, but this light yellow was what I could find in my stash... I think it works though.  It was fun to try out the technique, and let me tell you, did I ever need a little book for my needles.

I am ashamed to admit this was my old needle storage system...  much better now!

Linking up to a few linky parties...

PhotobucketToday's Creative Blog

Friday, January 07, 2011

Little Man Baby Sweater

OK, so I am a little late here... I just finished up my last Christmas gift, a sweater for my 4 month old nephew.  It is from the L'illo pattern on Knitty, and as the author says, it really looks like a sweater for a little man.  It almost seems like it should have elbow patches or something.  I love the way the slip-stitch patterns give it an almost woven/tweedy texture.  I used Knitpicks' Comfy Sport yarn, and was pleased that I was able to make a 12 month size (so he doesn't outgrow it instantly) with only two and a half skeins.  Also I realized this is first saddle-shoulder sweater I have made (well... if it counts - it is kind of a raglan/saddle shoulder hybrid).

I thought this sweater would be pretty quick to knit but it was a pretty complicated pattern for such a little item, in between the two stitch patterns, the complicated construction, and the seaming... oh, the seaming.  This is what it looked like after I had seamed the front shoulder raglan seams:

It's a good thing this was time-sensitive both in that it is a Christmas present and in that the recipient is growing rapidly, because if this were just for me I am sure this amount of seaming would have caused me to take one look and stick it in a drawer somewhere for several months (or seasons).  I have gotten in the habit of knitting in the round as much as possible, so that when I cast off a sweater I am pretty much done.  I do have a great reference book, the knitter's book of finishing techniques, which helps to reduce my seaming-angst, since it clearly lays out how to do all different kinds of seams (not to mention other helpful things like the kitchener stich, which I can never remember how to do or how to spell).  Armed with said book, I sat down and seamed away and remembered... seaming is actually strangely satisfying.  It is amazing how neatly everything lines up and goes from being a bunch of discombobulated parts to become a real garment.  Maybe I should be less seam-averse in future projects!

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Sauteed Mushroom and Leek Crepes

I made these crepes for dinner a few weeks ago, and wasn't totally thrilled with the seasonings, so I made them again and tweaked the recipe this past weekend, subbing other herbs for the terragon.  I liked them a lot better this way, but Lawson says he liked the original way better, so I am including both variations... I guess it depends if you are a terragon person or not.  These are from a crepe cookbook that a friend gave me a few years ago, and looking through these recipes made me want to make crepes more often!  I am looking forward to experimenting with different fillings and different ways of wrapping/putting together the crepes.  We served the crepes for brunch with an old favorite french lentil salad, green salad and mimosas.  We're starting the new year off right around here!

I made the crepes with King Arthur Flour's white whole wheat, and I found that they had a full, nutty flavor but weren't as heavy as regular whole wheat (and I didn't use any regular all purpose mixed in, they were 100% white whole wheat).  King Arthur says it is a different variety of wheat than regular whole wheat, but is still a whole grain, so that is good news for those of us trying to incorporate more whole grains into our diets.  This is the second time I have had this flour, the first time was actually an accident - I had asked Lawson to get unbleached white flour at the store and this is what came home - so I used it a bit and decided I liked it.  I am looking forward to doing some more experimenting with this flour.

Sauteed Mushroom and Leek Crepes
Adapted from Crepes, Sweet and Savory Recipes for the Home Cook

For the crepes:
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 cup flour - I used white whole wheat, if you don't have that, you could use 1/2 regular whole wheat and 1/2 white flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter, plus some additional butter for coating the pan
Blend all the ingredients together in a blender or food processor for a few seconds, stopping and scraping down the sides if needed to make sure that everything gets well mixed together.  Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours or longer (overnight is fine).  Stir the batter to mix it back up, then heat a crepe pan over medium heat until hot (if you don't have a crepe pan, you should be able to use a regular skillet, particularly if it is non-stick), coat the pan lightly with butter.  With the pan off the heat, pour 2-3 tablespoons of batter on one side and then rotate the pan to get the batter to spread over the whole surface.  Cook on the heat until the crepe is nearly dry on top and the edges start to brown - 1-2 minutes.  Use a metal spatula to lift the edge and flip the crepe, then cook the other side for 15-30 seconds, until lightly browned in spots.  Stack the crepes on a plate when they are done and repeat until you have used all the batter.  You can make the crepes in advance - they should keep in the fridge for a few days if covered with plastic wrap, or you can freeze them in zip-top bags.

For the filling:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5-6 leeks, washed and chopped (white and light green parts only)
  • 6-8 ounces cremini mushrooms or wild mushrooms (if available), chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup - 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded gruyere cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves and 1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram 
  • OR 1/2 teaspoon dried terragon instead of herbs above (depending on your preference)
  • salt
To make the filling, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium to large skillet, then saute the leeks over medium heat for about 15 minutes, until they are soft and starting to brown.  Add the mushrooms and the herbs and saute until the mushrooms release their juices, 4-5 minutes.  In a large bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients together with the mushrooms and leeks.

Preheat oven to 350 F and and grease a 9'x13' baking dish.  To assemble the crepes, put 1/3-1/2 cup of filling in the center of each crepe and fold the sides in, and then fold the top and bottom over as shown above.  Place the folded crepes with the open side down in the baking pan and then either brush the tops with more olive oil, or spray with olive oil spray (this is what I did and it worked fine) - or you could probably skip the brushing/spraying and it would be fine.  Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until fully heated through.  Enjoy - they taste best warm but would also be fine at room temp, I think.

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