Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Candied Lemon Peel

Let me begin this post by saying how much I love my gas stove. I was hesitant (okay let's be honest I was pretty freaked out) at the concept of a gas stove when we were in the beginning stages of buying this house. I had only used a gas stove once before and after much frustration burned the crud out of some Kraft mac and cheese. Why yes that was before I learned how to cook, how did you know? :) I love the complete control this stove gives me. No blinking between hot and warm, no getting progressively hotter if I go overboard with the quantity of French toast, and no rearranging pots to keep the right one covering the most recently hot burner. I turn off the burner and the boiling stops instantly. I could not have imagined it would be so neat.

My point is that now I feel extra adventurous in my cooking and was recently inspired by a photo in a cookbook (of lemon fudge) to make candied lemon peels. The process was pretty simple. I combined several recipes.  I used a vegetable peeler and tried for long strips. My peeler does wider strips than I wanted to use so I just cut them in half lengthwise.

Next time I'll repeat the water discard a second time - the peels turned out excellent but the syrup was a bit bitter still. The water replacement cuts down on the bitterness. I would also love to experiment with adding a small cheesecloth bag of lavender or ginger in the last batch of water. 

Candied Lemon Peels

Peel of one medium lemon
1 1/3 cup water, divided in half
2/3 cup sugar plus more for coating

Boil half the water in a small saucepan. Add lemon peels and boil for five minutes. Drain water and discard. Bring the rest of the water to a boil. Add lemon peels and boil for five minutes. Set peels aside and add sugar and ginger to boiling water, stir to dissolve. Put peels back into the sugar water, bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer on medium low until translucent (about ten minutes). Remove peels from water and spread, not touching each other, on a cooling rack to cool, 10-15 minutes.
Next, cover the strips in sugar. This was a little tricky since they are very sticky like honey. I found the easiest way was to pile sugar on a cookie sheet and press the sugar on top. Keep them separated so they don't clump.

Use as a delicious garnish for anything related to lemons! 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Food Art: Cherry Pie

Sometimes it isn't about the recipe, it is all about the act of love to create food for someone.
Sometimes there are not enough hours in the day.
Sometimes my sweet husband points to the kitchen and says, "Make me pie, woman!" ... to which of course I giggle and run to the kitchen... and may or may not end up making pie depending on how distracted I get by other shiny things in the pantry.  I do love cooking for him though. 

One of the most important parts of a pie is the presentation.  Okay it better taste good too but first impressions can make all the difference!   Little cookie cutters are wonderful for this.  After putting the top crust on, there always seems to be some leftover hanging over the edges that needs to be trimmed off.  Just ball that up, flatten it out, and make little cookie-cutter shaped pie crust to decorate the top with.  Cut slits in a decorative pattern and you have one amazing looking pie!  An egg wash with granulated sugar sprinkles, is a great touch too and makes a very impressive presentation.

Well, it came time for pie.  I had refrigerated pie crust calling to me from the drawer in the fridge.  You know, the kind you just roll out and it's already a circle?  It is two steps above the frozen pie crust in that you actually have to own a pie plate to use it, and have to use it before it goes bad.  This crust had been reserved to become a chicken pot pie but the store was out of the chicken I like (which happens far too often)... so it became cherry pie.

Something that amuses (and frustrates) me when using a can of pie filling to do a quick pie is that the directions on the crust usually say to follow the directions on the pie filling... and the directions on the can, if there are any at all, say to follow the directions given on the crust package.  These companies should communicate.  They might even be owned by the same corporation.  My directions in these cases are always found using Google for a recipe that sounds kind of close but it seems silly to have to do that.

Quick and Easy Cherry Pie

1 can of cherry pie filling
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional)
1 refrigerated pie crust (two crusts, top and bottom)
SPECIAL: Small cookie-cutter

1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Put package of pie crust on the counter to bring it to room temperature, then roll it out into a pie plate.
3. Pour pie filling into a bowl and mix in the extract.  Pour filling into crust.
4. Carefully roll out top crust onto the top of the pie.  Crimp the edges together so it looks pretty and the cherries don't leak.  Use the excess from the edges to make crust-cookies to decorate the top of the pie.  Cut slits in the crust.
5. Bake pie for 45 minutes, watching to make sure the edges don't over-brown.  (If the edges cook too fast, cover them with a ring of aluminum foil)
6. Serve pie and mumble about slaving over the stove for hours.   

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Zucchini Fritters

Zucchini fritters are a great side dish for fall... or appetizer, or breakfast, or snack.  They are earthy and green, use in-season vegetables, and make a lovely colorful contrast with the pumpkin soup I posted. They are also pretty easy.  I don't have a serving size listed because I can't get a complete count of how many are made - before the last batch is done the first batch doesn't have many left.  I'd guess that it serves about three, so the official servings is probably close to six... but why would anyone discourage the eating of delicious vegetables?

This recipe is adapted from versions from both Martha Stewart (who is totally one of my idols) and Cooking Pleasures magazine.  I make it a little bit differently each time, mostly because I tend to have zucchini when I have misplaced my recipe book, but now I have it typed in on and can access it from my phone.  So much easier!  Someday maybe I'll get an iPad and use that for cooking instead. 

I find it easiest to put all of the ingredients into a 9x13 casserole dish after draining the zucchini and onions, draw a grid in the mixture, and scoop up one forkful-sized square for each fritter.  This keeps the scoops from getting bigger and bigger until the last ones I make are twice the size of the first ones.  This trick works for cookie dough too!

Zucchini Fritters
Serves 3-6 as a side dish, depending on how hungry you are

        3 medium zucchini
        1/4 tsp coarse salt
        1/2 to 1 medium onion
        1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (1 oz) (optional)
        1/2 cup flour
        1/2 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped (optional)
        1 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
        Salt and pepper
        2 large eggs, lightly beaten
        Olive oil, for frying
        Plain yogurt or sour cream (for serving)
        Applesauce (for serving)


1. Grate zucchini on the large holes of a box grater, then toss with 1/4 tsp coarse salt. Let rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, grate the onion.
2. Squeeze zucchini dry in a clean kitchen towel or press in a ricer. Repeat with onion.
3. Mix together zucchini, onion, cheese, flour, and herbs. Season with 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper. Stir in eggs just before frying.
4. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, coat skillet with 1-2 Tbsp oil. Scoop mounds (2 Tbsp each) of the mixture into skillet; flatten slightly using a spatula. Cook until golden brown and cooked through, 2-3 minutes per side.
5. Transfer fritters to paper-towel-lines plates to drain. Serve with plain yogurt and apricot jam or sour cream and applesauce.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tartar Sauce

I love fish.  I especially love crunchy breaded baked fish.  I haven't gotten to that section of my recipe book yet so I buy it at Costco.  Of course, I think fish isn't quite as good without tartar sauce, and the bottles at the store include unnecessary ingredients and end up with a few tablespoons used then the rest of the bottle taking up room in the fridge until it expires and my husband makes me throw it out because he knows I won't really eat it.  I can't be the only one, right?

Recently I had the brilliant idea that I can MAKE tartar sauce.  The recipe is pretty simple.  It can also easily be made as small portions so there is no waste and no taking up of fridge real-estate.  It's also pretty good and even better the next day. (cold fishy leftovers YES!)  So far I have been able to stop myself from eating it with a spoon, but just barely.  I really like tartar sauce.  I am also very happy to have a reason to use this adorable tea-cup in a food photo. 

Tartar Sauce
Recipe from

1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced onion (I didn't add this)
salt and pepper to taste (I didn't add this either)

Mix everything together.  Refrigerate.  This is best if prepared at least an hour in advance to let the flavors settle together, but pretty good even if you don't wait. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

Spicy Pumpkin Peanut Soup

The weather isn't cooling off much yet but already I am craving soup. Having a guest this past weekend gave me a great excuse to make one of my favorites, Spicy Pumpkin Peanut Soup. This is something that can be put together pretty quickly or more fancy depending on how much time and energy you want to put into it. The more time spent, the deeper and more complex the flavors get.

Roasted red peppers can be purchased in a jar to save time but they are even better when done fresh. To do this: lay a sheet of aluminum foil on a cookie sheet. Halve a red pepper and put it skin-side-up on the foil. Put this under the broiler until the skin turns black. Remove from oven and let cool completely. Peel the skin off (should be very easy to do by hand) then chop.

Pumpkin Peanut Soup
Homemade chicken stock, fresh lemon juice, and fresh ground pepper are completely worth the extra effort. Homemade pumpkin puree didn't make a huge difference so if you aren't already making it for something else, the canned is just fine.

If you don't have an immersion blender, chop everything finely so it keeps the smooth consistency. Do not be crazy and put hot soup in a regular blender.  It's tough to learn things the messy way but the lessons sure do stick!  Anyway, onward to the soup!

Spicy Pumpkin Peanut Soup
From Women's Health Magazine
Makes 4 servings

2 tsp butter
1 small onion, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp chili pepper flakes (adjusted because I like it a little spicier, use half for not-spicy)
1 can pumpkin puree (15 oz)
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
7 oz roasted red peppers, chopped (reserve 1 Tbsp for garnish) (1 whole red pepper)
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter (Adams brand or something organic)
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup sour cream (optional, for serving)
2 Tbsp chopped roasted unsalted peanuts (optional, for serving)
2 Tbsp chopped scallion greens (optional, for serving)

1. Heat butter in a 4-quart NON-STICK soup pot over medium-high. Add onion and cook, stirring, until golden, 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional 2 minutes.

2. Add turmeric, paprika, and chili flakes; stir. Add pumpkin puree, broth, peppers, and peanut butter; whisk to incorporate and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer for 5 minutes (or until ready to serve), then stir in sugar, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Remove from heat.

3. Using an immersion blender, carefully puree until smooth. Divide among 4 bowls and garnish with sour cream, peanuts, chopped peppers, and scallion greens.

Per serving: 270 cal, 18 g fat (4 g sat), 22 g carbs,
450 mg sodium, 4 g fiber, 10 g protein
(Nutrition Facts from Women's Health)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Jessica's Potato Salad

Labor Day weekend was excellent! We had a guest visiting from Portland and it was lovely weather for using the new grill (thank you to husband's parents!). My husband is the grill-guy and made delicious burgers with BBQ sauce and diced onions cooked in. What do burgers need? Potato salad! This is a family recipe so I don't measure anything and it's a little different each time. Nope, no eggs, which means all those people who hate eggs can eat this salad and also means I don't have to peel a bunch of eggs and prevent myself from immediately eating them.  Putting eggs into potato salad takes far too much willpower and it seems like double the work.  This recipe does double-duty too, because if you swap out the potatoes for diced hard-boiled eggs it makes a great egg salad.

No photos for this one... it's hard to take pictures of potato salad when there is a burger in my hand.  Still, I am amazed that I managed to sit down and eat without taking a picture first!

Jessica's Potato Salad

Potatoes, peeled is best (1-2 per person)
Sweet pickle relish
Yellow mustard
Mustard seeds (optional, gives a nice little extra crunch)
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish ideas: Paprika, fresh parsley sprigs, cherry tomatoes, red bell pepper slices

Cut potatoes into bite-size pieces. Boil in a large pot until soft but not mushy. Strain and let cool.
Add mayo, pickle relish, mustard, and mustard seeds. Stir and taste, then add salt and pepper as desired.
Garnish and serve!