Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Bag, a Tag, and a Nickname

Bags like this are a labor of love, taking dozens of hours to knit, an hour or two to felt, and several more to design and sew a lining. They are the ultimate in relaxing knitting - no pattern, no rules, just create a palette and start knitting. Throw in some shaping, increase here, decrease there, change a color, and make an edging dictated by how much yarn you have left. (Don't save the i-cord handles for last. You might not have enough yarn to make the two long pieces needed. Ask me how I know that.)

I already loved this bag and wasn't aware that I could love it even more until I was asked if it could be monogrammed. Ok wait, back up. Not just any monogram, but the nickname Nanchantress. Nanchantress! How great is that for a term of endearment? Annachantress. Doesn't have the same lilt, but I could ask everyone to give it a shot.

While I have a nicely equipped sewing room, none of my machines embroider beyond the basics. My friend Eleanor, however, has a Bernina artista 640. It is a sewing machine with magical computer capabilities, allowing her to do crazy things like scan a picture/resize it/embroider it onto fabric. Hands-free, while she sips a coffee and watches it work. I'm pretty sure it vacuums up the room when she finishes. She was, as usual, willing to help. We brainstormed and came up with a plan for a luggage tag for Nanchantress.
It was fascinating to watch Eleanor and the Bernina work, so I started taking pictures with my phone to show my husband so I could start dropping hints document the process.

I will try to walk you through it with a minimum of pictures (phone-quality, sorry). Before the actual stitching she had used her software to find a luggage tag shape, decided on the font, and digitized the design. 
Eleanor sprayed some temporary adhesive to my white fabric and placed it on a hooped piece of stabilizer.  She used a grid to mark what would become the center of the design.

Bernina drew an outline box, which would later be satin-stitched, and Nanchantress emerged from the needle.
The hoop was removed from the machine and a piece of lining fabric was placed, face up, on top of the design. The original outlining box was stitched on this fabric as well as a larger outline of the tag itself. Eleanor cut along the original box, below, revealing the name.
See the outline of the luggage tag shape, before trimming?
Bernina satin stitched the small box.
At this point Eleanor trimmed along the perfect satin stitching then turned the whole thing over and affixed a piece of lining fabric on the back of the hoop, creating a sandwich of my lining fabric on both sides, and Nanchantress in the middle. Again the machine stitched the larger outlining box, and Eleanor cut away the excess in order for the machine to satin stitch the edges.

The machine stitched perfectly along the edges, then went back and created an eyelet along the edge, which I later cut to insert a swivel hook.

Front and back, the finished tag. Notice the eyelet in the picture below, on the right, with a tail still attached.

A beautiful finish to the bag; a lovely gift. I have ordered a few luggage tags for myself now, after seeing this one!

Nanchantress, enjoy!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chickpea Deliciousness

This dish, from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, ranks as one of the most delicious stews I've ever made. Every bit of it disappeared from our bowls with unanimous approval. It was involved, but not difficult, and while I made my chickpeas from dried, canned may be used. I made a big pot of chickpeas and divided them between this recipe and a Mark Bittman bowl of chickpeas, their broth, homemade bread crumbs, garlic, and toasted almonds. Also delicious.

I didn't stray far from the original recipe so I could get a feel for the dish, and I won't next time, either. There are three parts to this dish: the stew, the Romesco sauce, and the picada. No major orchestration required as far as timing, just the usual organized prep, then proceed. 

The recipe is written to serve four. I thought I'd make it into five servings and send someone off with lunch the next day, but it turns out it really is four. At least, if it is a main dish for hungry vegetarians!

Potato and Chickpea Stew
1 pound waxy-fleshed potatoes*
3 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 generous pinches saffron
2 large red bell peppers, diced
1 large yellow or red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch wide strips
1 heaping tsp sweet paprika
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup medium-dry sherry
2 cups crushed tomatoes with juice
2 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or two 15-oz cans, rinsed)
3 cups chickpea broth, stock, or water
1 1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
chopped parsley for garnish

*If using fingerling potatoes, halve them lengthwise. Large round potatoes can be cut into thick rounds or quartered.

Warm the oil in a wide pot with the onion, garlic, saffron, peppers, and potatoes. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring gently every now and then, until the potatoes are tender-firm, about 25 min. Add the paprika, parsley, and red pepper flakes, and cook 3-4 minutes. Add the sherry and cook until the juices are thick and syrupy, about 12 minuntes.

Add the tomatoes, chickpeas, and broth, stock or water to cover. Season with salt and plenty of freshly ground pepper; cover and cook over low heat until the potatoes are completely tender, about 20 min. If the stew is soupy and you plan to serve it right away, stir in 1/4 cup picada (or more if necessary) to thicken it. If you don’t plan to serve the stew for 1 hour or more, it may not need the bread crumbs since it will thicken as it stands. Serve in soup plates with any additional picada sprinkled over the top along with the extra parsley. Add a spoonful of the Romesco sauce to each bowl and pass the rest.

Soaked and cooked chickpeas; I also spent a quick minute rolling them between a towel to remove the skins. 
Romesco Sauce
2 red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, and seeded
1/4 cup almonds, roasted
1/4 cup hazelnuts, roasted and peeled
1 slice country-style white bread
olive oil for frying
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp ground red chile or red pepper flakes
4 small plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 tbsp chopped parsley
1/2 tsp salt
freshly ground pepper
1 tsp sweet paprika
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
This Catalan sauce is utterly delicious served with chickpeas, roasted potatoes, or grilled vegetables.
To roast the peppers, place them under a broiler or over a gas flame until the skins are charred. Put them in a bowl, cover with a plate, and set aside for 15 min. Peel and seed the peppers.
Roast the nuts in a 350°F oven for 7 to 10 min., or until they smell toasty. Let them cool slightly, and then rub the hazelnuts between the folds of a towel to remove loose skins. (The almonds don’t need peeling.)
Fry the bread in a little olive oil until golden and crisp. When the bread is cool, grind it with the nuts and garlic in a food processor or a mortar until fairly fine. Add everything else but the vinegar and oil and process or work with the pestle until smooth. With the machine running, or your arm working if you’re using a mortar and pestle, gradually pour in the vinegar, then the oil. Taste to make sure the sauce has enough salt and plenty of piquancy
The excitement of roasting a pepper over the stove's flame!
Deborah's picada, which I didn't use because the stew looked just the way we'd like it, is as follows:
Toast 1/4 cup peeled almonds until pale gold. Slowly fry one slice of white country-style bread in 2T olive oil until golden on both sides. Grind bread, almonds, 2 cloves of garlic, and a pinch of salt in a food processor to a crumbly paste.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Spice Cake

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme are lovely, but why aren't there songs about spices?
With or without frosting, this is my go-to recipe for spice cake. It's quite nice to bake it in two 8 inch square pans and freeze one while the other is served simply with a powdered sugar sprinkle.  

For my husband, who loves spice cake, there must be cream cheese frosting. I bake it in a 9x13 then, as the frosting will not support a double layer.
Quite a treat!