Sea Creature Floor Pillows 1 of 2 (with Cheater Box Cushions)

Whale Floor Cushion 44

Let it be known here that I hate sewing and I’m really, REALLY bad at it. One hundred percent of my sewing projects here at Ali Does It could be done one hundred percent better than they are. But I don’t have the patience or desire to do a better job, nor do I have the money to purchase these sorts of finished projects instead of doing them myself. I’m hoping that rather than being a direct how-to for all y’all out there in the hinternets, these sorts of half-assed half-assery will be more inspiration than instruction.

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That said, I can still do pretty awesome stuff sometimes.

I’ve been moving these old pillows from place to place. They’re not useful to us and they have a weird shape. But I thought they’d make nice little floor pillows, and now that LongJohn is spending more time on the floor it’s a good way for those of us with less flexible knees and older backs to join him. And because everything we make for him tends to be marine-related, I thought I’d make the cushions into sea creatures.

Whale Floor Cushion 1

What inspired that idea was this dress. This is a bridesmaid dress I wore to a wedding over a decade ago. I hated it then. I hate it now. It was really expensive to purchase the fabric and I had to have it professionally made because the pattern was too complicated and the fabric too finicky for my mother and I to deal with. And after it was done I felt like a WHALE in it. So let’s make a whale.

Whale Floor Cushion 2

This first cushion turned out wayyyy better than I expected, especially since I totally half-assed everything, didn’t measure a thing, and considering that this stupid stretchy velour crap is THE worst material in the world to work with. It didn’t even PHOTOGRAPH well. Every picture turned out BLURRY. GAH.

Whale Floor Cushion 3

With LongJohn looking on, I “measured” the pillow to the dress to gauge how much I was going to need to cut off.

Whale Floor Cushion 4

Cut made! Time to unpick all the stitches.

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Now I needed to kind of square off the pieces I had removed.

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See? KIND OF square. If I wasn’t catering to the patience of a seven-month-old, I would have used my rotary cutter and mat and done a better job. But meh. Cutting this stuff left little flecks of gray velour everywhere. Ick.

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I had some bits here from what I cut off that I thought could make a decent little tail for my whale. This is not going to be an anatomically correct whale – more the cartoonish sort.

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I took a Sharpie and drew a basic shape on the back.

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Then tried my best to cut it out of two pieces at the same time. This material is so slidey and stretchy though … The other piece there is for the bottom of the tail, to make it more substantial.

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And here is my poor approximation of a cartoon whale’s fin. I’m only doing the one fin because this whale is more like a flounder or sunfish and is entirely one-sided.

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Even pinning these pieces is next to impossible ….

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Sewing them together and getting the bottom panel in involved much swearing. Good thing LongJohn wasn’t listening.

Whale Floor Cushion 14

Then I grabbed some polyfill loft (actually I used twice what you see in the picture) and gave the tail and fin a thorough stuffing.

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They ended up looking way better than I expected them to.

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Then I hemmed the two back pieces of the cushion so that I could overlap them and have an opening without having any raw edges. I like to make my cushions so that I don’t have to add snaps or a zipper – just a little overlapping envelope of fabric. I’m lazy.

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But there’s still the front of the cushion to do, and that cushion needs a face.

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Here’s my attempt at a face. It’s really hard to sew non-stretchy materials to stretchy materials.

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So it ended up being all wrinkly like this. But it looks like a happy whale, right?

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Now to put the square pieces together. Again, nothing lines up, but it doesn’t matter because everything is so stretchy and impossible.

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I had to seal in the edges of the tail in order to sew it on without a disaster.

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And even that was tricky.

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Here it is all sewn together finally.

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With the cushion in place I put a pin where I wanted the fin to go. I ended up hand-sewing the fin on because it was impossible any other way.

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And I also attacked my super pointy corners. The pillow has rounded edges so I didn’t want those corners to stick out too far – whales are roundish after all. If you were doing this for real you’d be taking the corner of the cushion here (inside out) and flattening it at an angle that the seams you’ve sewn match up, one on top of the other. Then you iron it to make a pleat, and you pin it. I did none of those things, save more or less lining up the seams.

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Then you measure the height of your pillow or box (because in the assembly of your pillow you’ve left enough room to account for this) and you sew across the pillow corner to match that height. Again, I eyeballed this. I’m a terrible person.

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But then when you flip it inside out again, all those pointy corners have disappeared! If you have stretchy material and a round cushion, you now have rounded edges. If you have non-stretchy material and a square cushion you now have box edges. Congratulations!

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Everything turned out with a few gathers and wrinkles but I blame the fabric for that.

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LongJohn doesn’t care. He just likes to punch it a bunch while yelling. And that’s really all I was going for.

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The next cushion will be a box fish – wish me luck!

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Spinach and Mushroom Stuffing

Mushroom Spinach Stuffing 25

We made this for our Canadian Thanksgiving celebrations, but maybe the next time you cook up a turkey (say, for American Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or various other turkey-related feast days), you could try this stuff(ing) out.  You can make it all the day before and chuck it together at the last minute, which is awesome for big dinners.  It’s also the kind of stuffing that doesn’t actually go into the bird, so you can feed it to vegetarians, too!

Start with your bread.  You can buy bags of pre-cut, pre-toasted bread chunks specifically for making stuffing, but I kind of like to make them myself, because I can decide what kind of bread I’m going to use in my stuffing.  Here I used a loaf of Italian sourdough.

Mushroom Spinach Stuffing 1

I ripped each slice up into bite-sized chunks and spread them out across two baking sheets.  Shove them in your oven and bake them at 350°F until they’re dried out and lightly toasted, about 12 minutes.  Make sure to stir them occasionally.

Mushroom Spinach Stuffing 2

Dice up about a pound of fresh mushrooms.  The wilder the better.  Unfortunately all we had around were some oyster and regular white mushrooms, but feel free to experiment.  You should have about 9 cups diced mushrooms when you’re done.

Mushroom Spinach Stuffing 8

Chop up as well 2 large onions, so you’re left with about 3 cups chopped onions in total.

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And while you’re at it, go to town on 4-5 stalks celery, ending up with about 2 cups chopped celery in total.

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Find yourself some herbs.  These were all growing in our fall garden: sage, parsley, and thyme.  I thought about adding some rosemary to add to the “Scarborough Fair”-ness of the whole thing but managed to restrain myself.

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Chop up a couple bunches of each.  You can never have too many fresh herbs in your stuffing, so just go with what feels right.

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Dump 1/4 cup of butter and a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a large skillet and melt over medium heat.

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Plop in your mushrooms and sprinkle them lightly with salt and pepper.  Sauté those suckers until they’re all squishy and starting to brown, about 8 minutes.  Dump them in a large bowl for now.

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Slide another 1/2 cup butter into that skillet and let that melt.

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Add in your onions and celery and cook, stirring, until the veggies are tender, probably 12 minutes or so.

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Sprinkle in your herbs and cook for another minute.

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Then plop in a whole package (5oz) fresh baby spinach.  Toss in the skillet (maybe use a lid) until the leaves are just wilted.

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Chuck all that stuff into the bowl with the mushrooms.  If you’re making this ahead of time, this is where you stop.  Let the stuff cool, cover it, and bung it in the fridge overnight.

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When you’re ready to get this on the go, preheat your oven to 350ºF and butter a large casserole dish or 9″ x 13″ baking pan.  Whisk 2 eggs and some salt and pepper in a bowl.

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Pour in 1 cup low sodium chicken broth (you may need more if you find it dry) and stir that around.

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Toss your bread bits with your vegetable mix and pour your broth/egg stuff over top, stirring to make sure it makes it all the way through.

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Jam that into your baking dish and bake without covering until it’s brown and crusty on top, about an hour.  Let it stand a few minutes before serving (like, take it out when you start to carve up your bird and you’re set).

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Turkey and Leek Pie

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

While you’re spending the day prepping for your big turkey feast (or, if you celebrated yesterday, cleaning up afterwards), why don’t you consider what you can do with the leftover bits of that big bird?

I cooked this little baby up after watching a Jamie Oliver Christmas special on the plane home to Ottawa last December, and I served it to the lovely folks at our annual potluck.  It’s super easy, super tasty, and a great way to eat up all that leftover turkey.  And the best part about Jamie Oliver is he’s big on improvisation.  If you watch the videos for his recipes they never end up matching the recipes themselves, and that adds immensely to his charm.

Make sure you have a good package of unthawed frozen puff pastry lying around. I get the President’s Choice brand stuff and it comes in two blocks, which is perfect for our purposes here.

Then you’ll need 2kg leeks.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Leeks are super dirty. My mother told me that as the leeks grow they bury the stems in more dirt in order to keep that stem as pale and tender as possible.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

This means you’ll need to clean them well. I find the easiest way to do so is to cut off the scraggly top ends and then slice the whole thing in half lengthwise. Pop those babies in a sink full of water and swish away until all the dirt is gone. Then give them a good shake to drain out the excess water.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Now, chop up those leeks. Make the pale ends a bit chunkier, but slice the tougher green ends up really thin.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Now, take a large, fat saucepan with a lid and chuck in the leaves of about half a bunch of fresh thyme.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Chop up a couple of slices of nice bacon, add a glug or two of olive oil, and cook that for a wee bit on high to medium-high.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Pour in your chopped leeks and let them cook for about three minutes on high.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Then add in some salt and pepper, pop the lid on, and turn the heat down to medium. Let that cook for about thirty minutes, stirring every 5-10, to make sure nothing sticks.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

While that’s on the go, chop up your leftover turkey. You’ll need about 800g grams of turkey, chopped or torn into big chunks. Light meat, dark meat, whatever floats your boat. I like half and half, because the dark stuff has more flavour. If you have leftover stuffing it will make a great contribution as well. Huck that into your leek pot when the leeks are done.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Sprinkle on 2 tablespoons flour and stir that to fully combine it with the leeks and turkey.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Then add in 2 pints of stock — turkey, chicken, vegetable, mushroom, whatever you want.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

And 2 heaping tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream (or even plain greek yogurt if that’s what you have).

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Give that a good stir and bring it back to a boil for a minute. Add more salt and pepper to taste if you like, then turn off the heat.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Pour your leek mixture through a sieve into a pot to get some lovely gravy out of this. Removing the gravy now will also make sure your pie doesn’t end up soggy, and if you drain it directly into a pot then you can easily heat it up before you serve it.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Preheat your oven to 375°F and lay your leek mixture out in a buttered 9″ x 13″ baking dish.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Dust a work surface with flour and roll out a segment of pastry so that it is a few inches larger than your pan size on all sides. If you just have one piece of pastry, then roll it out so it’s double the pan size (you will then fold one side over the other).

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Crumble some chestnuts and fresh sage leaves over the pastry (or half the pastry if you’re folding).

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Fold the other half on top or roll out the other piece and place it on top of the first and press down a bit to seal the chestnuts and sage inside.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Lay the pastry across your pan and tuck the ends in underneath the mixture on all the sides.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

With a sharp knife score the whole pastry surface diagonally.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

If you wish you can put an egg wash on at this point by beating an egg, adding a pinch of salt, and brushing that over the top of the pastry, but I didn’t bother. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until your pastry is puffy and golden brown. Serve warm with the reheated gravy. It is so excellent.

Turkey Leek and Bacon Pie

Sausage Stuffed Turkey with Gravy

For years, my health-food nazi, roughage-eating parents bought only free-range organic turkeys.  And I hated them: so dry, tasteless, and without any juices with which to make gravy.  Turkey without gravy is a travesty in my family, so my parents gave up about three years ago and started buying the unstuffed Butterball turkeys.  Shocking, I know.  But the difference has been night and day.  I actually kind of like turkey now.  Which is good, seeing as I always seem to be the one who stuffs it, roasts it, and then makes the gravy.

So let’s do that today, shall we?

First we’re going to do some gravy pre-preparation.  Take the neck and giblets from your turkey and plop them in a pot with some garlic and enough chicken broth to mostly cover them.  Simmer that for an hour or so, then take out the giblets and neck (feed the giblets to your dog if you have one, or purée them and add them back to your broth), and set the broth aside.

Now for the stuffing.  Take three sausages of your choice (I prefer a spicy Italian), remove the casings, and squish the contents into a pan with some olive oil and garlic.

Add in a diced onion.

Pour in a generous amount of savoury.  I love my Newfoundland savoury.  The Pie brought this along specially for this stuffing when he came to Ottawa for his Thanksgiving visit.

Add in two chopped apples as well.

Sauté that stuff until the sausage is broken up and cooked through and all the other ingredients have had a chance to get to know each other.

Plop it in a bowl and allow it to cool a bit.  Add in some large dried bread crumbs.  

You can make these yourself by cubing bread slices and baking them at 200°F until stale, but we had enough to do so we bought them pre-made (I can’t do everything by myself, now, can I?).

Stir that mess up and shove as much of it as you can into the cavity of your turkey.  You can make removal easier later by lining the inside of the cavity with cheesecloth, but I didn’t have any on this day.

Close the opening with a slice of bread.  This will keep the stuffing near the opening from drying out and burning.  It’s a bread shield.

Put the remaining stuffing in a greased casserole dish and douse liberally with chicken stock.

Drape your turkey lovingly with a few strips of bacon.  This will keep the skin from drying out and it will save you from having to baste the darned thing while you’re entertaining, as the fat from the bacon will drip down gradually and keep everything moist.  You can truss your turkey if you wish, but with big poultry I prefer to leave it all hanging out there to ensure even cooking.  I don’t cover it with foil either.  Well, not until much later.  You’ll see.

Chuck your turkey into the oven at 325°F and roast the sucker.  Your cooking time will vary with the size of your bird, but for some reason I find no matter the size, mine always cooks in between three and four hours.  Keep a close eye on your thermometer.  The turkey is cooked when the thigh temperature is 180°F.  Check the stuffing inside the turkey, as well — it should be around 165°F for safety’s sake.

If you plan it right your turkey should probably be done about an hour or so before it’s ready to serve.  Clear a space on your counter and lay out two or three old towels.  In the centre overlap a couple of pieces of aluminum foil.  Once the turkey is done, remove it (with the aid of a poultry lifter) to your improvised platform.  Pull up the edges of aluminum foil and add more to cover it all around tightly.

Pull up the towels and add more on top, wrapping it with care and tucking under the edges.  Resting the turkey like this will keep it hot for a couple of hours, and will ensure that none of the juices get lost.

Now that you have your turkey pan free, carefully scrape all the juices and bits of stuff into a fat separator.  Let the liquid settle and drain off as much fat as you can.

Pour whatever juices and solid pieces you get into the pot with your reserved chicken broth from the giblet boiling.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.  Scoop out a little bit of broth and make a slurry with some flour, then whisk it back into the gravy and keep stirring until the mixture thickens.  You can remove it from the heat, cover it, and let it cool while you do other things.  You can always heat it up again later.

Your extra stuffing can be roasted, covered with aluminum foil, at 350°F (or higher, depending on whatever else you are cooking at the time) for about half an hour, until the bread crumbs are crusty and brown.  Everything in it is pre-cooked so you needn’t worry about temperature in your casserole dish.  Just cook it until it looks good.

You can unwrap and carve your turkey at any point that’s convenient to you.

Reheat your gravy, pour it into gravy boats and serve over your hot stuffing and turkey!