Create / Enjoy

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Simple whole food cranberry sauce - cooked cranberry relish

Fresh real food cranberry sauce take 2!

Several years ago I developed/perfected a super basic recipe for fresh cranberry relish. No processed sugars, just sweetened with dates, apple, and orange. I love the fresh taste and no sugary aftertaste, and I can feel better about eating it.

I've made my fresh cranberry relish for the past few Thanksgivings, but this year I wanted to try something a little softer, less tangy... I looked into a few recipes, but I really liked how mine was SO basic and used no concentrated sweeteners.

I wondered, could I just cook my old favorite recipe? What would happen? Cooked cranberries? Good. Cooked apple? Good. Cooked oranges and dates? Not sure, but sounds okay!

I did find some other examples of fresh fruit cooked cranberry sauces, so I figured it would probably work out okay texture-wise. I went for it!!

It's really like a cooked cranberry relish, which I understand is an oxymoron (cranberry sauce vs. relish here). But it's not saucy and liquid/gel-ey like the basic sugar and cranberry recipe. I think of it like a cooked relish, still.

Simple Chunky Cranberry Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 c. - 1 c. whole dates 
  • 1 bag of cranberries 
  • 1 orange, peeled and chopped
  • 1 apple, chopped

    Instructions:

    1. Blend dates in food processor to chop them finely.
    2. Combine cranberries, orange, and apple into food processor and blend until combined.
    3. Cook in saucepan until berries and apples darken and become opaque.

    Serve warm or cold on turkey or other festive foods!

    When I made the raw version, I would add a handful walnuts when the mix was mostly blended. I'm not sure how good the nuts would be in this cooked version, but if you really like chunky relish, I guess it could be okay... let me know if you try it!

    P.S. The lovely oven mitts and cocktail napkins in these photos were a gift from Hen House Linens. They have adorable stuff perfect for the holidays! This one is the Greek Key Licorice pattern. So pretty and their quality is excellent, really nice 100% cotton and durable printing.

    And thanks to Macey for the photo help, and Jenni for the styling help! We had a fun day of holiday cooking and decorating this weekend.

    Friday, November 21, 2014

    Ski lodge winter party inspiration!

    Winter party planning!!
    I'm on the winter party committee at my company again this year, and I'm so excited. It's a ton of fun to plan a big party for 200 people with a budget and committee of excited architects and engineers plus a few people like me. (Last year was Great Gatsby themed-- see my party inspirations heredress I made here.)

    I definitely had a big hand in choosing the theme this year, and I always volunteer for the invitation/announcement subcommittee, food subcommittee, and decor subcommittee--of course!! (You know me.)

    This year our theme is ski lodge. Or lodge. Or plaid. Something like that. We went back and forth but decided that a general "lodge" theme would allow people to dress up for a lot of eras and sub-themes like 80's ski or 60's fur James Bond/apres-ski or Paul Bunyan. (These themes were all discussed as well.)

    The venue is this funky new downtown Portland place called Punch Bowl Social. Funny mix of hipster food and drinks with classic games/bowling/darts etc. and vintage video games. And the decor is what originally inspired the "lodge" theme--there are some glam retro couches and barstools and such but also lots of log tables and antlers and fireplaces. Oh, it's also on a top floor of the downtown Portland mall. (Confused yet? Here is a virtual tour.) BIG pro of this place? It's already so cool we don't need to decorate virtually at all, so we can free up some of the decor budget for other things like an awesome photo booth or activities!

    Anyway, I've been brainstorming about ideas (I collected a bunch of these photos to sway the committee to vote on my preferred theme!!) and also thinking about what to wear! (Should I make myself a plaid taffeta dress or something?? What is lodge-ey but also a cute party look?!?)

    I thought back to a New England blogger I know of who posts the most perfect preppy holiday scenes in goodness knows what amazing settings she puts together, complete with all her adorable coordinated friends. I pulled a bunch of photos from her blog to show the committee! And I wanted to show you, too; maybe you can help me decide what to make/wear!

    From Classy Girls Wear Pearls:

    How lodge-ey are these?! Plaid pants, anyone?

    Or this? I bet my husband would totally wear a plaid jacket like that. ;) (P.S. not for the winter party, but next time I get a chance I definitely want to tie plaid bows around my dining chairs!!)

    I can't tell if it's in a lodge for real, but I think this classic 50's style Haddon Sundblom painting captures it... called "Weekend in the Ski Country"!


    I also found, in my Google image search for lodge parties, that a few people have had this idea before and documented it. (Duh/yay.) One of my faves was these company party photos of a "Sexy Ski Lodge" themed holiday party.

    These employees all did an awesome job of dressing the part! And how cool it this party setting? Complete with a cool lodge-ey photo background!

    Obviously, for a great ski lodge costume, you need a hat and something fur on or near you.

    So now I'm conflicted! Should I make a plaid dress, or go all out with leggings and fair aisle print??

    Hope you enjoyed these inspirations as much as I do!

    Tuesday, November 18, 2014

    A very cool woven ribbon pillow DIY

    This is quite the project! I have a very interesting tutorial for you today, one I tried without much practice or thorough thought before jumping in. You may know how that goes. But I learned as I went, and am happy to share my tips with you!

    Here's my tutorial for a woven ribbon pillow.

    I think the inspiration for this project was woven paper hearts I remember making for Valentine's Day as a kid. I think we made paper baskets out of them once? I don't know. I remember liking weaving the pieces together, and being very intent on matching the corners up tightly.

    So when Offray reached out to me to celebrate the launch of their new website, and I thought about a cool project using ribbon, the over-under basic weave was the first thing I thought of!

    Woven Grosgrain Ribbon Pillow Tutorial


    You will need:


    • Grosgrain (or other) ribbon (pronounced GROW-grain, not GRAWS-grain) (I used two colors, two white pieces for every grey piece)
    • Sturdy home dec or bottomweight fabric for pillow base and back (Do not use knit or something lightweight, as it needs to hold up to lots of pins and still stay flat as you add each ribbon.)
    • Zipper (invisible recommended)
    • Pillow form

    I used an 18" pillow form so I used an 18" zipper and less than 3/4 yards fabric.


    Calculating ribbon needs:

    Sometimes sewing projects = lots of math. To calculate how much ribbon you need, divide the width of the pillow by the width of the ribbon. For example I used 3/8" wide ribbon (0.375") on an 18"x18" pillow form and assumed 1/2" seam allowances on each side but no ribbon in those areas. For each direction:

    • 18" divided by 3/8" wide ribbon lined up perfectly = 48 pieces
    • 48 pieces, each 19" long for seam allowances = 912"
    • 912" divided by 36" = 25.3 yards
    So 25.3 yards per side, so 50.6 yards total. 

    (I did 2/3 white ribbon and 1/3 grey ribbon, so I used about 17 yards grey and 34 yards white.)

    I'm pretty sure the fabric store is the most expensive place to buy ribbon, so ordering online is definitely the way to go for large orders like this. (Offray.com now has an online shopping feature.)

    Instructions:


    1. Prepare the pillow base. (I used the same fabric for the front and back.) If your fabric is all or mostly cotton, pre-wash it and press it before cutting. Once washed and pressed, cut two pieces to fit the pillow form. (I used 1/2" seam allowances for my 18" pillow, and wanted a snug fit, so I cut 19"x19" squares.)

    Fold the pieces in half and notch the centers on all sides.

    2. Cut ribbons. I started out cutting 10 or 20 pieces, then pinned some and cut more as I went. Kept them from getting too tangled.

    My pillow was 18" with 1/2" seam allowances and I wanted a little extra room, so I cut 19.5" pieces.

    3. Pin ribbons along one side. You can see my alternating pattern here--two whites, one grey. Put on a good movie or podcast! Lots of pinning.

    Leave at least 1/2" at the side for seam allowance and wiggle room.

    **If your ribbon is thicker like velvet ribbon, you may want to give each piece a few threads' worth of space to accommodate the bulk when you weave the other direction.

    With each piece, on a flat surface, follow the ribbon piece to the opposite end and pin flat.

    4. Baste ribbons down. You can use the longest stitch your machine has, since it just needs to take the place of the pins for now while you weave. Use about a 3/8" seam allowance.

    5. Pin and sew ribbons on the perpendicular side. Pin only on one side, not across as well.

    If you used spacing for thick or fluffy ribbon, match that spacing on this side.

    Sew these pieces down with a basting stitch and 3/8" seam allowance as well.

    6. Weave! With a consistent pattern, weave each piece through under-over-under-over-etc. all the way through.

    My ribbon was stiff enough that I didn't need a needle or anything to weave it through the perpendicular pieces. I found that I could just fold each piece in half or so and use the loop as a pusher to get under the pieces as I wove through. I made a twisty mess most of the time, but the ribbon had enough body to bounce back when I flattened it.

    I also found I could do up to four or five pieces at a time, under-over-under-over-etc. all together, but then just had a slightly harder time doing the next pieces individually.

    The hardest part was keeping the weave straight as I went. Lots of pulling with my fingernails, pretending to be the pusher on a loom. At the end of each weave, pin the ribbon flat in grain.

    Keep weaving until the very end. For the last TWO pieces, I pulled out a big tapestry needle and used it to help me.

    But then I realized I had too many ribbon pieces for the seam allowances and I pulled out the four edge pieces (the outer one on each edge), which gave me more room to weave. (After I took this picture--sorry. Just trust me.)

    Anchor the pinned edges of the bottom of the weave with a basting stitch and 3/8" seam allowance.

    7. Assemble the pillow. As you would any pillow, install the zipper, then sew the faces right sides together. Clip corners, press.

    8. Insert pillow form and display proudly!

    Here's mine!

    Really cool texture to play with as you hang around relaxing on the couch.

    (Next to another DIY pillow, of course.)

    Because it is so unique and takes more labor than a basic printing or painting project, I think these would make GREAT holiday gifts! I'm always looking for interesting DIY gifts, and this would be a great one. Particularly if you have someone who loves a specific color. Offray sells this basic grosgrain in like every color ever.

    Do let me know if you try it!!

    Friday, November 14, 2014

    Why, how, when - making mirepoix

    I've learned so much about cooking in the past couple years, and there are a few things I've taken on that have really helped me save time and make more delicious food. I didn't learn a whole lot about cooking from my mom, and I had such a limited diet for so long that I didn't expand my horizons much on my own until a couple years ago when we started eating a balanced, nutrient-dense, real food (paleo) diet. Now, I love that I can resurrect classic recipes from family members, literature, wherever and put together delicious foods of high quality ingredients (and I can easily modify things to be grain-free and processed food-free).

    So I have a kitchen tip for you! I realized what a benefit this was one weekend when I was cooking a soup, a roast, and a stir fry all on one day (we pack lots of leftovers and I love having things ready to cook). So often for me the barrier to cooking is the chopping. Especially messy things like broccoli and carrots, which fly everywhere if you're not careful. And onions require a special cutting board, so yet another step. But so often I find myself chopping up the same few ingredients! Onions, definitely. Also, for wintery stews and roasts, carrots & celery!

    And so have many people, over many years! Since as early as 1757, people have been calling this mix "mirepoix" and using it as a base for many, many recipes.

    Seriously, I looked up the definition and origins of "mirepoix." (I love definitions. Especially specific ones like this!) Mirepoix (pronounced "meer-pwah"), is:

    a sautéed mixture of diced vegetables (as carrots, celery, and onions), herbs, and sometimes ham or bacon used especially as a basis for soups, stews, and sauces

    So simple, right?!

    Even more simple if - and I realized this when I put together all those recipes that one day - I make a bunch of mirepoix and spread it out over several recipes!

    There are a million different variations (around the world, even--read this post) and a million things you can do with it. Some of my faves are:
    • Roasted chicken
    • Shepherd's Pie
    • Soups
    Mmm. Great way to add flavor and set up a base for delicious dishes. (Especially during the season when we get onions, carrots, and the most flavorful celery ever from our CSA!!)

    So recently when my photographer friend Aubrie came over to take some photos, we got these as I prepared a mirepoix base for a couple dishes for dinners.


     1. Chop vegetables.

    2. Combine.

    (My suggestion, optional 3. Prepare several containers, and save one for the next night to save you some chopping time!)

    (I always use my designated garlic/onion cutting board for garlic, onion, and spicy peppers... nothing worse than onion-flavored cantaloupe! I swear the taste/smell never really goes away.)
     Image Source: Stocksy
    Photos by Aubrie LeGault.
    Food & Editorial Business: Aubrie LeGault Photography
    Twitter: @aubrielegault
    Instagram: @aubrielegault

    Try it!

    Tuesday, November 11, 2014

    Black knit print drop waist dress

    This dress was inspired by several others I've seen. A girl at work wore a cute heather grey knit drop-waist dress a few weeks ago that I liked, and then I realized I've seen a lot of black/white/grey dresses in straight up-and-down or flapper shapes this year. Plus this leopard print one I've seen on several blogs.

    These lovely party and daytime dresses all have a similar feel, right? Contrast, pattern, interesting skirt or sleeve shapes...
    anthropologie, Banana Republic, J.Crew, Kate Spade

    And I had this awesome heavy, soft black and white patterned knit I used for this maxi dress. Knits are so comfy, and this one is a sturdy enough weight for a simple dress or standalone skirt.

    So I used a pattern I've been using a lot this year, Simplicity 2584 and my cool black patterned fabric for this edgy, swingy dress. The pattern is very plain if you don't give it the neck treatment it suggests, so I just use it as a base with bust darts and slight shaping at the waist. I cut long-ish short sleeves and a modified partial circle skirt.

    And gave it an exposed zipper!

    Pretty proud of that zipper.

    I think it can go to work or for a weekend outing.
    Jacket: Ross (similar). Necklace: Jules Smith c/o Favery. Booties: Dolce Vita (similar). Dress: DIY!

    (First tights day of the year!!)

    Thursday, November 6, 2014

    Easy Thai red curry butternut squash soup recipe

    Several years ago now, I found a curried butternut squash soup recipe to make when friends came over to dinner. It turned out great but took forever and was quite messy! We've made it several times again since then, and it is always a big hit with guests and husband but the amount of time and tools it takes makes me nervous.

    But, we've accumulated a lot of squash from our CSA this fall, and I saved a big butternut one for our beach rental last weekend with friends. I knew I would have limited kitchen tools and only the ingredients we brought with us, but I managed a very simple recipe using whole ingredients, even lots of local stuff from our CSA!

    So many Thai curry dish recipes use storebought curry paste, which I have never had good experiences with. I can always taste some weird oil they use to keep it from going bad. I don't know what it is but it's just not as good as mixing the flavors yourself. Plus, I don't usually have it on hand so have to cobble something together!

    Creative DIY curry paste-in-squash


    But I got very inventive this time. Typically this squash soup is blended, but you add all the ingredients together in the pot together to cook the squash, then blend in the blender. So you have to have another pot going for the blended part while you transfer very hot chunky un-blended soup into the blender... it's just not a great system.

    So this recipe is much easier because 1) you can make a simple version of curry paste yourself in the blender, and then 2) you can cook the squash beforehand and blend only the squash portion (not the steaming hot liquid portion too) in the blender. Way less volume that way.

    Because I am all about making things easy. Especially while we were on vacation! So I ended up with not the most authentic Thai red curry (I don't usually have galangal and Kaffir lime leaves on hand), but a dang good one.

    Easy Thai Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

    Ingredients:

    • 1-2 tbsp coconut oil, butter, lard, or tallow
    • 1 garlic clove, minced
    • Generous sprinkle salt
    • 3 cups chicken or beef broth
    • 3/4 cup full fat coconut milk
    • Squash and curry paste mixture:
      • 2 garlic cloves 
      • 1-2 shallots
      • 2 stalks fresh lemongrass (outer stalk pieces removed), chopped
      • 2-4 red chilis, seeds removed
      • 1 tsp chopped fresh ginger (or galangal if you have it)
      • 1 tsp cumin
      • 1 tsp coriander
      • 1 tbsp fish sauce
      • Juice of 1 lime
      • Optional: 2 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves (or use as garnish)
      • 9 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash (about 3 lbs) 

    I know it looks like a lot of ingredients, but after making this for at least three winters now, I've got it down for an efficient, low-stress method that you can put on the stove while other things cook. And it's always delicious and impressive!

      Instructions:

      1. Halve butternut squash, scoop out seeds, and bake with a little water on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.
      2. In a large soup pot or dutch oven, saute garlic in fat of choice with sprinkle of salt until soft.
      3. Add broth and coconut milk to soup pot and simmer on low while you prepare cooked squash/curry paste mixture.
      4. Add all of the curry paste ingredients (excluding the squash) to a blender and blend/chop. Mine didn't have enough liquid to make a paste on its own, but I was able to chop all the big pieces. (I imagine this works best with a super powerful, high speed blender like a Vitamix or Blendtec, but you could also try a food processor. (We have this basic Vitamix and love it, plus the smaller (48 ounce) container.))
      5. Scoop the squash out of the shells and add about 1/4 of to the blender at a time, blending with the curry paste mixture as you go. Once all of it is combined in the blender...
      6. Put squash/curry paste mixture into the soup pot and stir to combine. Let simmer for several minutes while you make a delicious salad or other side and main dish to go with!


      Like most Thai flavors, I promise this soup is magically good! The flavors harmonize so well and it has the perfect amount of spiciness and creaminess. So great on a rainy night in the fall or winter. Try it with your next butternut squash!

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