Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Holiday Orange Cranberry Bread

What a wonderful time of year to bake for friends, family, coworkers, everybody!  This festive bread makes use of the cranberries and oranges that are abundant during winter, and no yeast which means no rising time.  Just mix and bake!  
Holiday Orange Cranberry Bread

I'll keep it short and sweet today; so many holiday things to get done!  The original recipe came from a Christmas card from a friend in junior high who must have known that I'd learn how to cook someday.  If any of you have kids in your lives I encourage you to include them in your kitchen, share recipes with them, and have them practice counting and measuring and mixing.

I made an extra loaf using applesauce from my canning spree this past fall, so I can enjoy both the cranberry goodness and my local ingredients.  

Local ingredient highlights this time are the basics:
Eggs - Clifford Farm
Flour - Lehi Roller Mills
Applesauce, homemade and canned this fall!

Holiday Orange Cranberry Bread

Makes 1 loaf

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
10 Tbsp orange juice (juice of 2-3 oranges) OR 10 Tbsp applesauce
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup cranberries (thawed)

Preheat oven to 350.
Prepare a loaf pan (parchment paper or grease the bottom only).
Slice all cranberries in half.
In a large bowl, mix together all dry ingredients.
Add all wet ingredients except cranberries and mix until everything is moistened.
Gently fold in cranberries.
Pour dough into prepared loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes; use the toothpick test.
Let cool for at least 5 minutes in the pan, then finish cooling on a rack or plate.  This bread does not slice well while hot so let it cool completely before slicing.

Toothpick test: Stick a toothpick into the center and pull it out.  If it comes out with any dough on it, bake the bread for another 5-10 minutes.  If it comes out completely clean, the bread is done.  If it comes out with cranberry on it, get a new toothpick and poke it into a different place. 

Slices of fresh orange cranberry bread, ready for breakfast!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Honey Gingersnap Cookies

This year I joined the Third Annual Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap!  I'd never done something like this before and loved it!  What is a cookie swap?  Well, a bunch of people bake cookies, send them to other people, and everybody donates money to Cookies For Kids Cancer.  It's a win/win/win ending in cookies!  How could I not be a part of that?  Over $14,000 was raised this year and I already look forward to next year.  Here's what I made!

Honey Gingersnap Cookies
Before I get to the recipe, thanks to my fellow bloggers who sent me cookies!  These were delicious and I definitely recommend checking out their blogs and recipes.

Alma Cucina - Apricot Almond Birds Nest Cookies
Cupcakes and Kale Chips - Oatmeal Cashew White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies
Kitchenette Blog - Salted Toffee Crunch Cookies

Honey Gingersnaps on the cooling rack
My cookie choice had to be something new to me, and you all know how much I love new recipes.  I wanted something to represent Utah, which is the Beehive State, so honey cookies were the obvious choice.  I hunted for the perfect recipe that would be crunchy outside, soft inside but not cake-like, and come out beautiful.  What I really wanted was gingersnaps but with honey... then it dawned on me that I ought to make gingersnaps, with honey.  Sometimes answers are so simple if we be quiet and listen to the universe. 

One of my favorite recipe books is a short collection of cookie recipes by Better Homes & Gardens that I've had for longer than I can remember.  I love opening it up and staring at the photos.  One of those photos was the inspiration for this recipe - the photo turned out to be a completely unrelated recipe, but it guided me to what I wanted!

These cookies are soft inside, crispy outside, and absolute perfection with a glass of cold milk or hot coffee.   Rolling them in sugar is what gives them the pretty texture  This is a basic gingersnap recipe with honey in place of the molasses.  They disappear quickly so you might want to double the batch. This is a great last-minute recipe if you want to make cookies but don't have time to let butter soften - no butter! 

Honey Gingersnap cookies
Local ingredients:
Neighborhood Beekeeping for the honey
Lehi Roller Mills for the flour
Real Salt for the salt

Also thanks to OXO, a sponsor of the cookie swap, who sent me bright colorful silicone spatulas that have been a great addition to my kitchen.

Utah Honey Gingersnaps
Makes about 3 dozen

2 cups white flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup olive oil or other light tasting oil
1 cup brown sugar1/4 cup honey
1 egg, lightly beaten
Extra sugar for rolling cookies in

1. In a medium mixing bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and spices)
2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the brown sugar, oil, honey, and egg.
3. Gradually mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.
4. Preheat oven to 375 and prepare cookie sheet (cover in aluminum foil or parchment paper to prevent sticking).
5. Using a Tablespoon as a scoop and leveling off each one, make a pile of little ball-ish shapes.
6. Roll each of the little shapes into a ball.  Roll in granulated sugar, place on a cookie sheet, and flatten slightly.  Give each cookie a bit of space, they spread out some.  A dozen at a time in the oven works well.
7.  Bake for 11 minutes.  Cool on cookie sheet for 1-2 minutes then move to baking rack to finish cooling. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Apple Custard Pie with Walnut Crust

Sometimes unexpected things happen in the kitchen.  Plans go awry.  I don't always double check my ingredients or recipe timing, and this can lead to happy things like making this pie.  My original plan was to make a cinnamon apple cheesecake for a pie contest.  Partway through this I noticed the instruction line about chilling overnight... oops.  Well, I signed up for making a pie, and a pie I shall make. Apples are the fruit of the season, and I like to shake things up a bit from the traditional apple pie.  

Apple Custard Pie with Walnut Crust and Cinnamon Glaze

Of course things can get a little too crazy in the kitchen for me when I try to bake two things at once, especially when the recipes are similar... my husband came to the rescue to help me out and so far so good with the two pies.  Might as well finish the second one too, right?  (Now we have cheesecake for breakfast mmmmm)  The original recipe didn't make enough glaze to cover the apples so I bumped up the ingredients there to make what I put on this pie.  People seemed disappointed that it isn't caramel, but the cinnamon-cider glaze is so good and I think caramel would overwhelm the delicate custard.  The glaze cooks up very quickly so do not take your eyes off of it while the heat is on.  Okay I did mine on medium not low... what can I say, it was one of those days. 

Local ingredients of the day:
Cameo apples from the Urban Farm & Feed store
Apple cider from Farnsworth Family Farms
Eggs from Clifford Family Farm

Also thanks to the Wasatch Cooperative Market and Salt Lake Culinary Center for hosting the pie contest for inspiration!

No, I didn't win, but I had a lot of fun and was very pleased with how this came out.  I've always wanted to be good enough at baking to be able to enter a contest and feel good about it! 

Apple Custard Pie with Walnut Crust
Pie adapted from Eagle Brand (Sweetened Condensed Milk).

1 1/2 cups ground walnuts
3 tablespoons butter 
2 tablespoons white sugar

In a medium mixing bowl, combine all ingredients. Press the nut mixture firmly into bottom and sides of a 9 inch pie plate. 

Bake at 325 degrees F (165 degrees C) for about 10 minutes, or until the edge is golden brown. Cool.

1 1/2 cups sour cream 
1 (14 ounce) can Sweetened Condensed Milk 
1/4 cup apple cider
1 large egg 
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
3-4 medium apples, cored, pared and thinly sliced 
2 tablespoons butter

Apple Cinnamon Glaze:  
1/2 cup apple cider
4 teaspoons cornstarch 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1.  In small bowl, beat sour cream, sweetened condensed milk, apple juice, egg, vanilla and cinnamon until smooth. Pour into prepared pie crust. Bake 30 minutes or until set. Cool.

2.  Meanwhile, in a large skillet, cook apples in butter until tender yet crisp. Arrange the prettiest slices on top of pie.  Eat the other slices. 

3.  Combine apple juice, cornstarch and cinnamon in small saucepan. Over low heat, cook and stir until boiling. Boil for 1 minute. Keep a very close eye on this, it can burn easily. 

4.  Drizzle over cooked apples. Serve warm or chilled. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Roasted Chicken with Winter Vegetables

It's time to get practicing on roasting birds to get ready for Thanksgiving.  Chickens use the same method and make a beautiful presentation so if you aren't feeling quite up to par on your turkey skills, these are a great way to gain that confidence.  Go ahead, volunteer to do the turkey this year!

Get fresh whole chickens so you don't have to deal with the thawing. The veggies are a "whatever is on hand" sort of thing, so if you have onions (quartered), squash (small chunks), apples (halved or quartered), or small carrots available those would be delicious with these flavors too.  I happened to have a bottle of Apple Beer handy so I used that and it tied everything together.  Roasting the veggies with the chicken means only one dish to clean afterwards and no mashed potatoes needed as a side dish.  Bonus: Save the chicken carcass to make stock and freeze it!  Chicken stock gives many holiday dishes that extra oomph of flavor and it's always better when homemade. 

As always, thanks go to my local farmers for many of these ingredients - chicken, yams, potatoes, tomatoes, salt (woot for Salt Lake!), rosemary, and parsley. 

Photo coming soon. 

Roasted Chicken with Winter Vegetables

Whole Chicken, raw (5-6 lbs)
2-4 Yams / Sweet Potatoes
2 Tomatoes (optional)
1-2 Potatoes
1/2 cup beer (or other liquid such as apple juice or water)
4-5 Tbsp Salt
Ground Pepper
1 tsp Rosemary
Sprinkle of Garlic Powder
Sprinkle of Parsley Flakes
Big sprinkle of Oregano

1. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
2. Put the chicken into a roasting pan and pour the salt over it, getting salt on as much of the bird as possible.  It seems like too much but it isn't.  This is the secret to perfect skin and moist meat!
3. Let sit out on the counter for about 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, cut the veggies into large chunks, about twice bite-size.  Pre-heat oven to 425.  Arrange veggies around chicken in roasting pan.
4.  Sprinkle herbs and spices over chicken and veggies.
5.  Bake at 425 for 15 minutes then reduce the temperature to 375 for one hour or until the chicken juices run clear and the meat reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.  (Use a meat thermometer to be certain, and take it out as soon as it reaches this - hotter just makes it overcooked)
6.  Arrange on a platter and serve with pride!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Incubator Farm Support

I'm going to write about something different today, and that's where all of this beautiful food comes from.  Farms!  All over the country there is a movement happening, right now, toward locally grown and healthy food, unprocessed, unpackaged, just good old fashioned food.  That food is lovingly provided by farmers who feel the call to work the earth, plant seeds, harvest fruits and vegetables, and get them to local markets for us all to purchase and enjoy.

Have you ever thought about what it takes to be a farmer?  Getting started is tough - available land is much larger than a beginning farmer can afford or work, there is a big investment in tools and training, and farming as a business requires a strong network of relationships that beginning farmers just don't have.  It's daunting enough that the majority of farmers now are at retirement age.  Ten years from now, where will all of that beautiful delicious produce come from, if new farmers don't step up?

The solution to this is to support incubator farms, places where beginning farmers can use land to learn the ropes, have a shared set of tools and equipment with other farmers to reduce the financial burden of a startup, and take educational workshops on farming and business practices to allow them to really make a living off the land.  As the farmers gain the necessary experience they can move on to larger parcels of land and feel confident in their markets, expanding their businesses and purchasing their own land.

The Green Urban Lunchbox, a project of the Community Foundation of Utah,  is starting an incubator farm in Layton, UT (just outside Salt Lake City) on an old orchard.  Those of you not familiar with the Salt Lake area may not know that this is excellent farming land.  This 37-acre future farm is beautiful and ready to be leased in small parcels to new farmers wanting to get started in commercial agriculture.  The organization will provide training on farming skills, best practices, and networking with local restaurants and markets, and bring together the people who will grow food for the Salt Lake area for the next generation.  All they need now is tools, and this is what they are soliciting donations for.  Can you help?  Check out the video on Razoo (it's like Kickstarter for nonprofits) and please chip in if you can.  Every donation brings new farmers closer to their dreams and this parcel of land closer to being worked by loving hands to produce food.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Crock Pot Steel Cut Oatmeal

I haven't fallen off the planet!  I started a super exciting winter internship with the Green Urban Lunchbox so I will be cutting back my food posting for a few months.  I am still cooking, although I need to get a new memory card and card reader before I can get back to photo-taking.  Don't worry, it will happen. 

Busy days mean not much time for breakfast, so boy is it a nice surprise to wake up to oatmeal that's already cooked and ready to be served.  Crock pot to the rescue!  Every crock pot is a little different so I suggest trying this recipe out during the day first so you can verify the time and temperature for yours.  The Low setting on mine cooked it too much after 7 hours but keeping it on Warm works well.  This is a mish-mash of various recipes online, tweaked to my liking. 

This recipe has endless variation possibilities.  The canned pears have enough sweetness in them that I don't add any sugar.  Raisins can be thrown in if you like them big and juicy like grapes... not my thing but some people like that.  :)

Make sure to use steel-cut oats and not rolled oats, which get super mushy in crock pots.  Side note, Quaker is a unit of Pepsi, which is a GMO-supporting-company, so I avoid that brand. 

Crock Pot Steel Cut Oatmeal
Serves 2 very hungry people or 4 medium-hungry people

1 cup steel-cut oats, uncooked (I like Bob's Red Mill or McCanns in the round white can)
1 pint canned pears or 2 cups sliced/peeled/cored apples (fruit optional but delicious)
3 to 3-1/2 cups liquid, including liquid from pears (I use 2 cups milk, pear juice, and the rest water)
1/4 tsp cinnamon

1. Pour all ingredients in crock pot.  Stir.
2. Set to warm for 7-8 hours
3. Get a good night's sleep knowing you have a delicious hot breakfast waiting for you!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar... or not

I am participating in the October Unprocessed 2013 Challenge, which means no unprocessed food for the month.  More details are on the Eating Rules website if you'd like to learn about it and/or join me!

Homemade Apple Cider Vinegar: Day 1
This coincided with my discovery of a recipe to make apple cider, and a quick Google search confirmed that lots of people make their own.  Part of the October Challenge is only using ingredients that a home cook could reasonably make (or grow etc) and I love learning about how to make common things that a lot of people don't think about where they come from other than the grocery store.

I never thought that my cooking education would involve trying to make something get moldy, on purpose, but here we are.  I remember as a kid when it came time to clean out the fridge running into moldy things and we all joked that it was okay because it was a science experiment.  Now it really is one!  I don't know whether I will be able to bring myself to try the vinegar or not once it's done... or to ever want to eat anything with vinegar in it again... but I do think it's important to see where our food comes from and eat with that complete knowledge.

This is apple season here in Utah and I'm pretty excited that vinegar uses the leftover peels from coring and peeling apples.  A weekend canning project gave me a nice big pile of peels to get started.  The whole process takes a couple of months. 

UPDATE Six weeks later:  I think it's too cold in our house to make vinegar.  The apples are still hardly molding at all.  The peels have shrunk to about half the volume and were bubbly for a while, but the fermentation seems to have completely stopped at this point.  On the plus side it doesn't have a smell like I thought it would after the first few days.  Next year I will try this earlier in the summer when it's still nice and hot outside with longer days of sunshine. 

Step One
Peel your apples and make a big pile of the scraps.  Leave them exposed to the air so they turn brown.  The is the beginning of the fermentation process.

Step Two
Find a large glass jar to make your vinegar in.  Plastic works too; do not use metal!  Mine is in a sun-tea jar that was about to go into winter storage.  Pile up the brown scraps in the jar, cover with water, and put a loose paper towel or thin cloth over the top.  I rubber-banded mine on so no little flies would find it but if you can leave it just gently sitting on top, even better.  That lets more oxygen in. 

Now, put the jar in a warm draft-free place and leave it alone.  I suggest a place where you won't mind the smell; after only a few days I am already wondering how bad that will get but I'm pretty motivated to do food experiments at least once!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jessica's Meatloaf

Meatloaf is a great dish to pop into the oven when you don't want to spend the evening in the kitchen.  This recipe started out my mom's from when I was little and I added some personal touches to make it my own.   Pair this with some mashed potatoes and green beans for a plate of ultimate comfort food. 

Jessica's Meatloaf with fennel and parsley

When I was old enough to be able to help in the kitchen, Mom let me tear the bread into little pieces, which I thought was the greatest thing ever.  I especially like rye, either dark or Jewish, they lend an extra oomph of flavor.  Any other bread can work in a pinch.  The only kind I don't recommend is the bread with whole seeds or nuts, as those can throw off the meatloaf texture.  If you are short on the ground beef, add an extra slice of bread to make up some volume.

As I got older - and less likely to put things in my mouth - I was the designated mixer of the ground beef.  This is still my favorite part of the recipe.  I love the squishing of all the different textures, and the way the ingredients get my hands cold so I take a couple breaks to wash my hands in hot water before going back to the mixing.  Longer mixing makes a better meatloaf.  A note about the spices, I rarely measure these and do it a little differently each time, the recipe is very forgiving.

I use a broiler pan instead of a loaf pan so the loaf doesn't sit in a pool of fat while it cooks; the fat drains off to the underneath section and the meatloaf is much healthier.  As a bonus, there is now more surface area to cover in ketchup, which I'm pretty sure is my husband's favorite part. 

Jessica's Meatloaf
Makes one loaf

1 1/2 to 2 lbs ground beef
2 slices rye bread, broken into very small pieces
1/3 cup ketchup + 1 cup ketchup (separated)
3 Tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 egg
1 tsp fennel seeds
3 Tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder

Broiler pan (like this one, see link)

1.  Preheat oven to 350.

2.  Mix all ingredients except 1 cup ketchup in a large bowl, by hand.  Mixing extra well and making sure to really squish the ground beef gives the results a nice consistent texture.  If your hands get too cold, wash them in hot water then continue mixing.

3.  Form the mixture into a loaf shape in the center of a broiler pan. Spread the remaining ketchup over the entire surface - you may need more depending on how your loaf is shaped. If desired, sprinkle garnishments over the ketchup (parsley, fennel seeds, etc).

4.  Bake at 350 for 60-70 minutes or until no longer pink in the center.  Use a very large spatula to transfer to a serving plate. 

Note - If you double the recipe, both can be cooked on the same broiler pan.  Add an extra egg (three for two loaves) and 15 minutes of cooking time.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Canning: Fresh peaches

I have a secret.  Inside me lives a sweet little old lady with a penchant for crocheting on the porch, doing crossword puzzles, kneading bread by hand, and preserving food.  If I could spend all day pruning roses and baking cookies I'm pretty sure I would love it.  Well, something I've always wanted is a pantry with food in it that I have preserved myself.  It brings an amazing level of satisfaction and kitchen-confidence that you just can't get at the grocery store.  Plus, having just planted fruit trees in my backyard, I want to be prepared to do something with the fruit next year. 

Canned Peaches in Light Syrup

I finally bought a water-bath canner so I can preserve the many wonderful local fruits.  Canning has a bit of a learning curve but oh such great rewards!  I have taken a couple of classes and felt ready to try my own hand at it.  Challenges were faced and conquered and now I have glass jars of peaches that taste exactly like canned peaches so this makes me happy.  I expanded on this experience and canned a batch of dill pickles - I'm counting down the days until I can open a jar and try them.  I went a little nuts and canned half a bushel of Bartlett pears and then pickled Asian pears. If I'm going to do something, I want to do it until I am good at it!

The first and most important thing about canning is to find a recipe - preferably in a book because the internet isn't terribly reliable - and follow it exactly.  I am enjoying the Ball Blue Book of Preserving.  The instructions are very clear and easy to follow and I recommend it to anyone beginning canning.  I won't post all of my canning adventures since that will probably bore to tears anyone without a canner, but I do hope to encourage those of you with any interest to try it out.  I have been amazed at how many friends and strangers have shared fond memories of canning as a child, the house smelling like one fruit or another, and the warmth and happiness that canning gatherings promote.  If you're thinking about it but don't want to invest in the gigantic pot just yet, ask around, I bet you know somebody with a canning pot or with a parent or aunt or uncle who has one. 

I found peaches at the farmers market that were just perfect for eating and beautifully sweet and ripe, which is exactly what you want for canning.  The point is to preserve them at their peak.  Unripe peaches are hard to peel and overripe peaches will be icky.  Peach season is in full gear now so go get some! 

By the way, there are 2 pints to 1 quart, and you're about to get good at eyeballing how many peaches will fit in that box of glass jars. 

2-3 lbs peaches per quart
Sugar (no substitutions) and water - for a light pack, use a ratio of 5 1/4 cups water to 2 1/4 cups sugar (makes about 6 1/2 cups of syrup). 

Prepare canning supplies:
The logistics here can be tricky because you kind of need five stove burners and most people only have four, and the giant canning pot takes up so much space I can only use three at a time.   Don't panic, there are other options!  What needs to happen: lids and rings need to be heated to almost boiling (do NOT let them boil or they won't seal), jars need to be heated to almost boiling, water should be getting ready in the giant pot (it takes a long time to warm up), a pot of water for the blanching/peeling, and yet another pot for making the light syrup.  If you have a dishwasher, put the lids and rings and jars in it and run them for a full cycle then keep it shut so they stay hot and sterile.  If you have a crock pot that can keep jars at 180 degrees that will work too.  I prefer the dishwasher method now that I've figured out the timing.

Prepare syrup:
I made a light syrup.  Mix sugar and water in appropriate amounts in a pot, stir until dissolved, and keep it hot (also not boiling) until you're ready to use it. 

Peel peaches:
Boil a pot of water that's big enough you can dip a whole peach under the water.  Use a slotted spoon to dip the peaches in for 20-30 seconds each; mine turned slightly darker colored when the time got close.  That seemed like it would take forever so I plopped in a whole single layer of peaches so I could do five or six at a time.  Pull them out (I used tongs) and stare at them until they are cool enough to pick up.  Rub them gently and the peels should come right off.  A few of mine gave me trouble so I used a paring knife but mostly they were super easy.  They don't strictly need to be peeled but the fuzzy skin is not appetizing once canned and the enzymes can make peaches not last as long. 

Slice peaches:
Using a sharp knife on amazingly slimy round objects is slow going.  Mine wouldn't come away from the pit in halves so I quartered them and things went pretty quickly from there. 

Put peaches into jars and process:
Do one jar at a time from this point until the processing, peaches then syrup then cleaning then lid before going to the next jar.  Most recipes say to put the peaches face-down in the jars (the side that was facing the pit) but I haven't figured out why unless it's for aesthetics.  In any case that is darn hard to do with hot jars.  Pack them as tightly as you can, up to the 1/2" mark on your jar.  They will shrink and float to the top, as you can see in my photos.  I will be packing them more tightly next time.  Carefully pour the syrup into the jar up to the 1/2" mark.  Run a plastic knife or tiny rubber spatula around the inside of the jar to get out any air bubbles.  This is very important, don't skip it!  Use a clean paper towel to wipe off the edges and rim of the jar to make sure they are completely clean and dry.  Pull the lid and ring out of the hot water (a stick with a magnet on it is great for this) and place it on the jar, and tighten the ring fingertip-tight.  I don't know exactly what that means but my jars sealed properly and didn't blow up so I must have done okay.  Put the jar onto the canning rack (which should be above the water at this point not in it) and do the next jar until you run out of peaches or jars or syrup or space.  Place the jars across from each other so they balance and don't tip the whole thing over, that would be bad.  When all jars are in place, process in a boiling-water canner - pints 15 minutes, quarters 30 minutes, and remember to adjust for altitude if needed.  

After processing, pull the jars out (I used a canning-specific doodad that is for picking up hot jars) and place them in a location for cooling where they will not be disturbed for up to 24 hours.  Keep at least an inch of space between them so they will cool evenly.  Keep the jars away from drafty places too, that can cause the seals to pop.  If the screw-lids loosened during processing that's fine, don't fix them.  When the jars are room temperature (I let mine sit overnight), tap on each lid to see if it sealed.  You'll know, it is pretty obvious if you find one that isn't, it does that little button popping-up thing like jelly jars.  Those are still fine to eat but have to live in the fridge not the cupboard. 

Success!  You have now canned peaches!  You know exactly where they came from, what is in the jar, and have something beautiful to put in the pantry that you can be proud of.  Yeah, I basically feel made of magic now.  :)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Refrigerator Pickles

This is a super easy way to make pickles, no canning equipment needed.  This was my first foray into canning something all by myself.  The success gave me enough confidence to move forward and try out my shiny new water bath canner (next recipe!) so I count it as the beginning.  I was inspired by The Hip Girl's Guide To Homemaking and went from there.  This lets you enjoy yummy pickle-ness without added dyes that seem to be in everything. Take advantage of all the sales at the farmers markets on cucumbers and enjoy homemade pickles in the fridge for several months!

Pickling cucumbers being sliced

You will need jars to put your pickles in.  These don't have to be new, don't have to be special - whatever washed out glass jars with lids will work just fine.  I used an old pickle jar and  jelly jar.  You can also do just a couple of cucumbers at a time so it doesn't have to be a day-long thing.  I made mine on a weeknight and still got to bed on time. 

Cucumbers ready to go into jars
Pickling cucumbers are in season and readily available at many farmers markets right now, but they aren't available year round.  You can still make pickles!  Regular cucumbers will work just fine; they have thicker skin so you may want to peel them. 

There are many tricks to getting crunchy pickles.  Veteran picklers have told me that some years they come out crunchy and some years they don't, so if they don't get crunchy on your first try blame it on the rain and make some more.  The first and most important is to choose the freshest cucumbers available, picked that morning if possible.  The second is to scrub the heck out of the cucumbers and especially make sure there is no remnant of the flower, since the flowers have enzymes that destroy crunchiness.  That isn't exactly scientific but it's the important bit.

Both with the easy pickles (this recipe!) and regular ones that get processed for shelf-safe canning, you can play with the spices all you want without affecting the food safety.  Prepackaged blends can be purchased, but it's pretty fun to make something up and you are only out a few cucumbers if it's terrible.  I also added a garlic clove to each jar for some extra pizzazz.  (I totally want to play that word in Words With Friends now)

Local source for pickling spices: Pars Market & Restaurant in Holladay (do yourself a favor and try out their restaurant too, they have great middle-eastern food!)
Favorite local source for pickling cucumbers: Urban Farm & Feed / Wasatch Front Farmers Market

Jessica's Pickling Spices

Jessica's Pickling Spice Blend
2 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 Tbsp whole peppercorns
2 Tbsp allspice
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp dill seeds
1 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf, crumbled

Mix all spices together, omitting any you don't want and adding anything else you think sounds good.

Refrigerator Pickles
Makes about 2 pints
Note: this recipe does not make shelf-safe pickles, they must be kept in the fridge!

3-4 medium or large pickling cucumbers, as fresh as possible (fresh = crunchy)
1-2 tsp pickling spice blend
2 cups water
2 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
1-2 Tbsp pickling salt or kosher salt or sea salt (not table salt)

1. Start making the brine: boil salt, water, and vinegar
2. Get your jars hot - bring to a not-quite boil until you're ready for them.  Handle carefully!
3. Wash cucumbers, paying special attention to the flower end.  Cut cucumbers into whatever shape you want.
4. Pour pickling spices into glass jars (1/2 to 1 tsp per jar, whatever looks good)
5. Stuff cucumbers into glass jars, no closer to the top than 1/4"
6. Pour hot brine into glass jars, up to about 1/4" from the top - make sure cucumbers are covered, but it's okay if they float to the top. 
7.  Run a thin plastic knife or spatula around the inside edge of the jar to let hidden air bubbles escape.  This makes better pickles.  Wipe the edge of the jar clean. 
8. Put lids onto jars *loosely*, so the gases can escape.  Write the date on the jar lid!  Sharpie markers work well for this. 
9. Put jars into fridge, in a place nobody will move them or knock them over.
10. Leave them alone!  Do not eat for at least 3 weeks!  (trust me they are not good yet!)
11. Put them on every sandwich you make because they are delicious.  

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Asian Pear Crisp

This post has been moved to my new blog at Someplace That's Green!  Please check it out and follow my new adventures on my very own website!

Local kudos:
Green Urban Lunch Box for the Asian pears
Slide Ridge Honey - Honey wine vinegar

Monday, August 26, 2013

Pear Turnovers

Mini Pear Turnovers

Utah is a wonderful place to be during pear season.  Thanks to a volunteer afternoon with The Green Urban Lunchbox, I got a large bowlful of fresh pears that all turned a lovely yellow which is of course the best time to enjoy them.  I have memories of a pear tree in my backyard as a kid and although I didn't care for the scent of the flowers, biting into a perfect sun-warmed yellow pear was pure joy. 

This batch of pears called out for something extra special and I was struck with inspiration... probably a Pinterest photo of something else that made me think of turnovers.  I didn't feel like looking up a recipe so I made one up.  This makes 18 so I had some to play with variations; the recipe below is for the best one.  :)

I used frozen puff-pastry.  I'm not one to spend time rolling and re-rolling pastry dough.  Pull it out of the freezer and unwrap it so it can thaw on the counter for 10-15 minutes, unfold it onto parchment paper and let thaw another 5 minutes or so, and you're all set.

The frozen pastry I get comes in a tri-fold so there are already marks to split it into three.  Split each one of those into three so you have nine small squares from each sheet.  Put a small slice of pear in the center of each one (more won't fit) and fold the edges over into a triangle, pressing the edges together. Note, don't mash the pears, use a whole slice; it holds together much better during baking.

Make an egg wash (beaten egg with a tablespoon-ish of water) and brush over each pastry.  This makes them shiny and crunchy.  Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar over the tops of them.  I made some with this and some without and it makes a huge difference.  Serve warm or cold, with Caramel Sauce for dipping.  Yum!

Mini Pear Turnovers
Mini Pear Turnovers
From Someplace That's Green
Makes 18

18 slices of ripe pear - Bartlett preferred.  (3-4 pears)
Box of frozen puff pastry (I use Pepperidge Farms)
1 Egg
1 Tbsp water

1.  Thaw the puff pastry and cut into squares.  There are two packages per box and each makes 9 squares.
2.  Put a small slice of pear onto each pastry.  Fold the edges over and press closed.  If the pear is too large to let it close, cut it smaller.  Closing is important.
3.  Arrange triangles on parchment paper on a baking sheet.
4.  Gently beat egg and water together in a small bowl to make egg wash.  Brush this over every pastry.
5.  Sprinkle cinnamon sugar over each pastry.
6.  Bake in 400-degree oven for about 15 minutes or until golden brown and puffy.
7.  Serve with caramel sauce and smiles.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Caramel Sauce

Caramel Sauce over pears and toasted walnuts
My husband made this wonderful caramel sauce to serve over fresh pears and toasted walnuts.  It's sweet and perfect.  It was also delicious over chocolate ice cream... and the couple of spoonfuls that I ate plain (shhhh).  It's pretty thin while it is hot then thickens up more as it cools, but who can wait that long?  The photo was taken before the sauce thickened, it turns a beautiful medium brown color. 

This is another winner from the Food Network with lots of happy reviews and five stars.  WIN!

Caramel Sauce

1 packed cup brown sugar
1/2 cup half-and-half
4 tablespoons butter
Pinch salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Mix the brown sugar, half-and-half, butter and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat.
Cook while whisking gently for 5 to 7 minutes, until it gets thicker.
Add the vanilla and cook another minute.
Turn off the heat, cool slightly and pour the sauce into a jar.
Store covered in the refrigerator.  Stir before using.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Mama Graciela's Flan (family recipe)

Mama Graciela's Flan
My husband and I recently had the pleasure of attending a cousin's wedding and I got to meet some wonderful extended family members.  This traditional Puerto Rican flan recipe has been passed down through several generations and we are very happy to have the opportunity to share it.  Thanks go to cousin Gracie for writing it down for us, and for giving my husband such great memories of eating it many years ago that he remembered to ask. 

Both of the variations - Coconut Flan and Cheesecake Flan (yes you read that right) are absolutely delicious.  The coconut is subtle and would be a great choice for ending a tropical dinner.  Cheesecake flan is yummy and creamy and I don't have enough descriptive words that don't involve drooling on my keyboard. 

We also tried the recipe with and without flour.  I prefer the smoother texture without and my husband prefers it with.  Both are awesome.  The shard of caramelized sugar in the photo is from pouring hot sugar syrup into an extra ramekin, waiting until it cooled, then breaking the stained-glass-looking sugar.  I'll admit that was an accident but it was sure tasty.  For presentation the ramekins make it much prettier but spreading out the hot sugar is a bit trickier, so I recommend using a single dish.  We have a glass 8x8 pan that fits perfectly inside a larger glass rectangle baking dish with enough room for water to surround the square.

Get bright happy colorful ramekins.  They make everything more fun.  :)

Mama Graciela's Flan
Equipment needed: heavy saucepan, bain marie (or a reasonable replacement), 8x8" square pan that fits inside the water bath pan
Optional: 6-8 Ramekins depending on the size of your bain marie pan - this fits eight 4.5-oz ramekins

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup sugar to caramelize (in addition to what's listed above)
2 12-oz cans evaporated milk
1 tsp vanilla
6 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1 Tbsp flour (optional)

Alternate: Coconut Flan - Add a can of coconut milk with the other wet ingredients. (can size is not terribly important, just don't use a giant one)
Alternate: Cheesecake Flan - Add 8 oz softened cream cheese with the other wet ingredients.

Traditional Flan
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Prepare pans - use either an 8x8 square or 6-8 4.5oz ramekins, and a larger baking dish with high sides.  Put the smaller dish(es) inside the larger one and fill the larger one with water so it's about 3/4 to the top.  This will be heavy and awkward to get in and out of the oven so make sure to have good hot pads/mitts handy.  
3. Mix evaporated milk, vanilla, egg yolks and whites.
4. Slowly add flour and 1 cup sugar.  Prepare the flan mix before the sugar so it's ready to pour when the sugar is done.
5. Caramelize sugar: Put 1/2 cup sugar in a heavy saucepan on low to medium-low heat.  Watch this constantly, as it can burn very quickly.  Do not stir, just let the sugar do its thing; it will turn liquid as it heats up, bubble, and turn a lovely golden brown (takes 8-10 minutes).  When this happens, remove from heat immediately.
6. While it is still very hot, carefully pour the caramel into the smaller oven pan and tilt the pan around so it gets all covered.  Pour flan mix into this pan over the caramel.
7. Fill larger oven pan about 1/3 with water and place the smaller oven pan into it so the water surrounds the pan, then place pans in the oven.  
8. Bake at 350 for 75 minutes.
9. Serve warm or cold.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chocolate Chip Cardamom Zucchini Brownies

This blog post and recipe have been moved to my new blog home at Someplace That's Green (this link goes straight to the recipe).  Please visit me there! Thanks and enjoy! 

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Brownies

These were especially fun to take photos of so here is another one.  Hmm looks like I have another plate of brownies to eat...

Brownies with coffee

Friday, July 26, 2013

Whole Wheat Zucchini Muffins

Whole wheat zucchini muffins plus sunshine
It's zucchini time!  How best to savor the zucchini goodness?  There are SO many ways, so take advantage of your farmers markets and gardens!  Can't use it all at once?  Muffins and biscuits freeze well, and here is a link to freeze your fresh zucchini (you can blanch it or not, depending on what you're doing with it in the future).  I hear stories of overwhelmed gardeners who leave extra zucchini in vehicles with windows down or on random doorsteps and I hope to get the word out that my doorstep is zucchini-friendly.  :) 

Some previous excellent zucchini recipes:
Cheddar Zucchini Biscuits
Zucchini Fritters
October Chicken Soup and Stock

I have been looking forward to zucchini season to test out some bread and muffin recipes and the first one I tried is a winner, from 100 Days of Real Food.  This is a great blog with all sorts of information and ideas for cutting processed foods out of your diet.

Now, onward to the making!  If you're short on time, you can grate the zucchini a day or two before and refrigerate it so everything is ready to go.  Yellow squash would work well too, either in addition or in place of the zucchini, and next time I may add a handful of grated carrots for extra veggie goodness.  I used coconut oil instead of my usual olive oil or applesauce.  Did you know Costco sells this now?  I have also found it for a reasonable price at a local middle-eastern market, so if you don't want to pay the regular grocery store price keep an eye out, there are other options.  As always, look for ingredients at ethnic-focused stores, you might be amazed at how much money you can save, and a lot of these are small family owned places who I love to support. 

Local kudos go to the Wasatch Front Farmers Market for mountains of zucchini, Clifford Farm for the wildflower honey and fresh eggs, and Spoons 'n Spice Kitchenware for the beautiful plate/tray.

Zucchini Muffins, ready to eat!

Whole Wheat Zucchini Muffins or Bread
From 100 Days of Real Food

3 cups whole-wheat flour
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup oil (or coconut oil)
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped nuts or raisins (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees F for small loaf pans or 325 degrees F for large loaf pan or muffins.
2.  Blend the dry ingredients.
3.  Make a well (or hole) in the center and pour in the eggs, oil, honey and vanilla. Stir just until mixed – do not overmix.
4.  Fold in the grated zucchini and nuts or raisins.
5.  Pour batter into greased loaf pan(s) or muffin holders and bake until a toothpick comes clean in the top/center of the loaf or muffin.  (this is a thick heavy batter and it doesn't rise much in the muffin shape so go ahead and fill those babies!)
 - If using smaller pans bake for 30 – 40 minutes. (fills approx. four small loaf pans)
 - For one larger loaf pan bake for 50 – 60 minutes.
 - For muffins bake for 15 – 20 minutes. (mine were perfect at 20 minutes, makes about a dozen and a half)

6.  Serve warm with butter, cold for breakfast, or in lunch bags for afternoon pick-me-ups.  Enjoy and don’t forget to freeze the leftovers!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Beer Shakes and Chocolate Ice Cream

Beer... shakes?  That's the response that this phrase usually gets.  YES is the answer.  It isn't complicated.  It's a milkshake, with beer and ice cream.  The art is in the pairing.  Dark beers go perfectly with a rich chocolate ice cream.  Strawberry ice cream with a cherry beer?  I think so, yes.  Making a beer shake is as easy as putting both in a blender, or putting both in a cup and stirring vigorously (careful, beer gets pretty excited and likes to make a mess!).  Our chocolate ice cream below went well with a Uinta Hoodoo Kolsch-style ale. 

Hooray for iPhone cameras!  This beer shake didn't last long.

If you have one of your own wonderful ice-cream making contraptions this is an even more pleasing dish, as this chocolate ice cream is amazing.  Yes, Alton Brown with Food Network again!  Almost 150 reviews, all five stars?  That's the one!

After cooking the mixture, there may be some clumps at the bottom - you can strain these or pretend they don't exist and get out a spoon because they are a delicious taste of things to come.

Chocolate Ice Cream
From the Food Network
Special equipment: Ice cream maker.  A candy thermometer is also helpful.

1 1/2 ounces unsweetened cocoa powder, approximately 1/2 cup
3 cups half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
8 large egg yolks
9 ounces sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Place the cocoa powder along with 1 cup of the half-and-half into a medium or medium-large saucepan over medium heat and whisk to combine. Add the remaining half-and-half and the heavy cream. Bring the mixture just to a simmer, stirring occasionally, and remove from the heat.

2. In a mixing bowl whisk the egg yolks until they lighten in color. Gradually add the sugar and whisk to combine. Temper the cream mixture into the eggs and sugar by gradually adding small amounts, until about 1/3 of the cream mixture has been added (this cooks the eggs without having cooked eggs).  Pour in the remainder and return the entire mixture to the saucepan and place over low heat. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens slightly and coats the back of a spoon and reaches 170 to 175 degrees F. Pour the mixture into a container and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.

3. Stir in the vanilla extract. Place the mixture uncovered into the refrigerator and once it is cool enough not to form condensation on the lid, cover and store for 4 to 8 hours.

4. Pour into an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's directions. This should take approximately 25 to 35 minutes. Serve as is for soft serve or freeze for another 3 to 4 hours to allow the ice cream to harden.

5. Mix with a beer of your choice and enjoy!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Candied Ginger (Crystallized Ginger)

I love ginger.  I eat candied ginger, well, like candy.  I've always purchased it until now, but ran out and wanted some RIGHT NOW.  Good thing it's easy!  Homemade candied ginger holds its spicy flavor much better than the prepackaged variety so if you are a fan of ginger at all, you owe it to yourself to try this and keep the recipe in your pocket for holiday gifts to ginger-lovers. 

Homemade Candied Ginger

Candied ginger is great in banana bread, chopped and sprinkled over oatmeal, yogurt, cupcakes (yeah that got your attention didn't it!), fresh fruit, pumpkin or apple pie, in cookies, scones, truffles... just throw a handful into anything you're baking and chances are it will be great.  The flavor pairs beautifully with fruits or chocolate.

To find fresh ginger, look in the produce section of most grocery stores.  In the stores I frequent, it's usually near the mushrooms.   Asian markets will probably have the best prices since it is mostly associated with Asian foods but it's pretty easy to find even in Salt Lake City.  Look closely and make sure there is no mold before you buy it.  If you notice a blue color or a blue ring inside when you slice it, this is just fine and is specific to a Hawaiian species of ginger - and you just scored because this species is extra flavorful!

In addition to being super delicious, ginger is incredibly good for you.  It helps with nausea and gastrointestinal issues, lessens joint soreness, reduces motion sickness, and even boots your immune system against bacterias, fungi, and some cancers.  Now, half of this recipe is sugar, so it sure isn't a health food, but if you don't already use ginger this great candy might just grow on you and encourage you to use the root in other dishes.

This recipe is from Alton Brown on the Food Network. It seems like any time lately that I search for a recipe, Alton Brown's version appears in the top five.  This makes me wonder whether he has some kind of magic Google-Fu or if he really does just specialize in everything I want to make - either way, he does an amazing job. 

1.  Spray a cooling rack with nonstick spray and set it in a half sheet pan lined with parchment. I don't know whether the nonstick spray is really needed, but I had some, and making things not stick is always nice.  The parchment paper is needed, you'll see why by the end. 

2.  Peel the ginger root and slice into 1/8-inch thick slices using a mandoline.  I estimated the ginger root by picking up a bunch in one hand and picking up a 15-oz can in the other hand (a pound is 16 oz) and it was about the same.  Like my scientific-ness?  I used a vegetable peeler to peel it - the edge of a spoon will work too, the peel is very soft - and a regular knife to slice the roots.  The 1/8" is a good guideline but I just eyeballed it.  For a long thin section of ginger, cut at a diagonal to make bigger oval slices instead of little circles.  Bigger is better (note, not thicker) so that the pieces do not fall through the drying rack. 

3.  Place into a 4-quart saucepan with the water and set over medium-high heat. Cover and cook for 35 minutes or until the ginger is tender. I started the timer as soon as I put the lid on. 

4.   Transfer the ginger to a colander to drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. I drained it into a container so it was easy to pour out the needed 1/4 cup, plus now I have ginger-liquid to do something else with.  Likely another cooking experiment. 

5.  Weigh the ginger and measure out an equal amount of sugar.  After the peeling and slicing I took out the bad parts and had less than my estimated almost-pound, so I dropped the sugar to about 1 3/4 cups. This is a very forgiving recipe. 

6.  Return the ginger and 1/4 cup water to the pan and add the sugar. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar syrup looks dry, has almost evaporated and begins to recrystallize, approximately 20 minutes. This was a fascinating process to watch.  The tiny amount of water looks like it will evaporate in a few minutes but with the sugar and ginger it multiplies and the whole thing becomes kind of a soup.  Keep stirring.  Bubbles form, and more bubbles, and so many bubbles it started to look like a meringue.  Keep stirring.  All at once the bubbles turned into sugar - dry, crystalline sugar - and the ginger was all in separate pieces and not sticky-looking at all.  I kept it on the heat for a couple extra minutes to encourage the drying-out; total this step was about 25 minutes. 

7.  Transfer the ginger immediately to the cooling rack and spread to separate the individual pieces.  To do this, you can just dump the whole pot onto the cooling rack.  The sugar falls through to land on the parchment paper and the ginger sits on top. 

8.  Once completely cool, store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Save the sugar that drops beneath the cooling rack and use to top ginger snaps, sprinkled over ice cream or to sweeten coffee. The sugar keeps the amazing ginger flavor very well. 

Condensed recipe:

Candied Ginger
by Alton Brown / Food Network

Nonstick spray
1 pound fresh ginger root
5 cups water
Approximately 1 pound granulated sugar (1 lb is about 2 1/2 cups)

Spray a cooling rack with nonstick spray and set it in a half sheet pan lined with parchment.

Peel the ginger root and slice into 1/8-inch thick slices using a mandolin. Place into a 4-quart saucepan with the water and set over medium-high heat. Cover and cook for 35 minutes or until the ginger is tender.

Transfer the ginger to a colander to drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Weigh the ginger and measure out an equal amount of sugar. Return the ginger and 1/4 cup water to the pan and add the sugar. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar syrup looks dry, has almost evaporated and begins to recrystallize, approximately 20 minutes. Transfer the ginger immediately to the cooling rack and spread to separate the individual pieces. Once completely cool, store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Save the sugar that drops beneath the cooling rack and use to top ginger snaps, sprinkled over ice cream or to sweeten coffee.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Almond Milk and Gluten-Free Almond Cookies

Like many other foods and drinks, homemade almond milk is tastier than the commercially-made kind.  Making your own lets you avoid preservatives and is pretty satisfying in the self-sufficiency realm too.  Add a smidgen of sugar or honey helps to sweeten it if you don't like it plain.  Almond milk has a thinner consistency than cow's milk, but does not involve cows so I consider that a plus and well worth a purposeful shift.

I enjoy almond milk in my morning coffee or it makes great chai tea.  

What do you do with the leftover ground almonds?  Make cookies!   These are also great with coffee.  Thanks to my awesome cousin Natalie for the cookie idea.  The lack of flour in this quick and easy cookie recipe is on purpose - these are gluten-free!  These are a lot like macaroons with almonds instead of coconut.  I think the chocolate is an important part of the recipe and brings a special pizazz to the cookies, it really bumps up the texture contrast.  Besides, if cookies are too healthy what's the point?

Gluten-Free Almond Cookies

Homemade Almond Milk
Makes 2 to 3 cups of almond milk

Cheesecloth - the kind for making cheese, not the kind for making crafts

2 cups raw almonds
Sugar, to taste

1) Soak almonds in about 4 cups of water overnight, either on the counter or in the fridge.  This is to get the almonds soft enough to blend and release their flavors. 
2) Drain the water.  Water plants with it.  This contains the bitterness from the almond skin.
3) Put the soaked almonds in a blender with 2 to 3 cups of fresh water and blend until the almonds are in very small bits.
4) Arrange several layers of cheesecloth over a container; a tallish one with a wide mouth is best.  Slowly pour the blender contents into the cheesecloth and let the almond milk drain out, ten minutes or so.  Bring the cheesecloth edges up so the almond mush is in a ball and squeeze out the last of the milk.  Save the almond mush for making cookies!  The milk will keep in the fridge for 3-5 days.  Add sugar to taste as desired (optional)

Almond Cookies
Makes about 2 dozen

2 cups almond mush (from making almond milk, recipe above)
2 eggs
2 Tbsp coconut oil
2 Tbsp sugar or Stevia to taste (I use sugar)
2 Tbsp honey
1/4 tsp Almond extract
3-4 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

1. Mix all ingredients together except chocolate.
2. Press spoonfuls of mix tightly into shape on a teaspoon, then carefully slide off onto a cookie sheet to keep in shape.
3. Bake for 35-40 minutes at 325 or until desired crispiness. They turn golden around the bottom edges and make the kitchen smell like toasted almonds.  
4. Melt chocolate by putting in a microwavable bowl and microwaving 10 seconds at a time, stirring in between until it's completely smooth.  Dip the cookies in chocolate, then set on parchment paper and refrigerate until chocolate hardens. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Cherry Amaretto Tart

If cream cheese had a superhero it would be marscapone cheese.  There are so many wonderful flavor highlights here - fresh cherries, glazed cherries, shortbread cookie crust, with rich amaretto to tie it all together.  This is a dessert for after the little ones go to bed, that's for sure.  I just saw today that fresh cherries are coming to the local farmers market this weekend so it's time to post one of my favorite desserts.  I look forward to cherry season for THIS:

Cherry Amaretto Tart with Shortbread Crust

I discovered this recipe on Serious Eats (one of my favorite food blogs) and knew I had to try it.  Yes it's a heck of a lot of work to halve and pit this many fresh cherries, but it is SO GOOD. When I first made it I told my husband that the flavor was too strong and I didn't think I liked it, and put it in the fridge overnight.  I then proceeded to eat most of the tart myself and I think he got a piece or two.  I'm not generally a person who enjoys liquor but with the cherries it's good enough to make me want to randomly capitalize letters, and those who know me know I don't do that lightly. 

Last year I didn't have amaretto and of course all the Utah liquor stores are closed on Sundays when I had the time set aside to make it, so I used Frangelico instead (a hazelnut liquor) - this was not sweet enough and if I did it again I'd at least double the sugar, but the amaretto is a much better flavor match. If cherries are out of season, the recipe creator suggested pears which also sounds delicious and I'll be adding that to my future to-cook list.

The biggest trick to this - and maybe it isn't so much a trick as a reminder to myself and anyone who cooks like I do - is to have all of the ingredients prepared beforehand.  I tend to get halfway through a recipe before noticing that I don't have all the ingredients and that's especially frustrating when there isn't even a place to go buy them.  The recipe itself is pretty straightforward despite using ingredients I wasn't terribly familiar with.  Consider it a grocery store treasure hunt! 

For an extra food adventure (and to save some money) you can make the marscapone cheese too!  I haven't done this yet but have seen it on Pinterest several times.  Here is a good link with detailed instructions: - Marscapone Cheese.  I'll probably do this next time so I can avoid driving to four separate stores to find the stuff.  The one that had it?  WinCo.  They have a surprisingly good cheese section; kudos to the WinCo cheesemonger!

Cherry Tart with shortbread crust

Cherry Amaretto Tart

10" round tart pan with removable bottom
Grinder for almonds

        2 cups shortbread cookie crumbs (See Note)
        6 tablespoons light brown sugar (divided 4 Tbsp + 2Tbsp)
        1/2 cup toasted almonds, finely ground
        3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
        1/2 teaspoon salt (divided 1/4 tsp + 1/8 tsp + 1/8 tsp)
        1 1/2 pounds fresh cherries, stemmed, pitted, and halved
        3/4 cup Amaretto liqueur (divided 1/2 cup + 1/4 cup)
        1/4 cup white granulated sugar
        2 tablespoons water
        1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
        2 cups mascarpone cheese
        1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

NOTE: I used Lorna Doone shortbread cookies and crushed them with a heavy rolling pin. I get two boxes and I'm pretty sure some are leftover but I eat them so I don't know how many.

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In medium bowl, combine shortbread crumbs, 4 Tbsp brown sugar, almonds, butter, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Press into bottom and up sides of tart pan. Bake until light golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer to cooling rack and cool completely, about 30 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, bring 3/4 cup cherries, 1/2 cup Amaretto, white sugar, and 1/8 teaspoon salt to boil in small saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until thick and syrupy, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to large bowl and cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Add remaining fresh cherries and toss to coat. Set aside.
4. Combine water and gelatin in small bowl. Microwave until gelatin dissolves, about 20 seconds. Cool to room temperature, about 5 minutes.
5. In medium bowl, whisk together mascarpone, remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar, remaining 1/4 cup Amaretto, vanilla, remaining 1/8 teaspoon salt, and cooled gelatin mixture until smooth.
6. Spread mascarpone mixture in cooled tart shell and top with cherry mixture.
7. Chill at least 30 minutes before serving or removing the pan ring (see below).
8. Share.  At least one piece, so people will believe you when you tell them how amazing it was and why only two pieces made it to the potluck.

Here's another photo for good measure!  This is the reason for the tart pan having a removable bottom, so it can still sit on the solid metal bottom and have the beautiful crust showing and make it much easier to cut.  Just put your hand on the bottom (after it's completely cool of course) and very gently, nudge the metal ring away from the crust until it drops down onto your elbow, then set the tart down on a decorative plate with the pan bottom still underneath it.  Then go wash your elbow, it's sticky.  :)

Cherry Amaretto Tart... because it's so darn pretty.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Blueberry Lavender Lemon Popsicles

Hot weather plus plentiful lemons and blueberries means it's time for popsicles!  This is a favorite recipe that brings in the flavor of lavender for an unusual and refreshing combination.  The original is from Women's Health Magazine so these are even good for you!  Hello antioxidants!

For lemons at a good price in the Salt Lake City area, I've had great luck at Rancho Markets.  They aren't grown locally (obviously) but they are delicious.  Lavender grows wonderfully in Utah - make sure to get this organic so it hasn't been sprayed with anything not edible. 

Blueberry Lavender Lemon Popsicles

Blueberry Lavender Lemon Popsicles
Makes about six popsicles

1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp culinary lavender
1 1/4 cups water, divided
3 Tbsp lemon juice (or juice of 1 to 1 1/2 lemons)
1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

1. Juice the lemons, if using fresh.
2. Bring sugar, lavender, and 1/4 cup water to boil in saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and steep for at least 30 minutes. 
3. Mix the remaining 1 cup water with lemon juice.
4. Strain lavender from sugar syrup, add syrup to lemon water, and mix well. 
5. Evenly distribute into ice-pop molds, filling each about three-quarters full. 
6. Option 1 - Drop several blueberries into each mold, until the liquid reaches the top. These will be white with blueberry spots.
Option 2 - Mash blueberries in a dish and drop a spoonful into each mold, stir into the lemonade.  These will be purple and have a stronger blueberry flavor. 
 7. Insert sticks and freeze for about 8 hours.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Berry Maple Syrup

We're getting close to berry season!  This makes a special treat for breakfast and is a great way to use up that giant container of berries that's on a great sale but won't get eaten before they go bad.  This will definitely get eaten. 

Fresh strawberries are a great breakfast combo.  I love this with cranberries and like to get a stash for the freezer when they go on sale in December.  Blueberries work very well too, or a combination!  The only thing I don't recommend is frozen strawberries since they lose their color and texture when frozen, those are better saved for smoothies. 

Cranberry Maple Syrup on sourdough French Toast

Berry Maple Syrup
Serve over french toast, pancakes, waffles, ice cream, etc.

2 cups any kind of berries, fresh or frozen
2 cups maple syrup - go for the real stuff!

1. If frozen: Mix ingredients together in a pot on medium-high, shaking/stirring frequently, until the cranberries are defrosted.  If not frozen, start at step 2.
2. Turn down to medium and stir occasionally until the mixture gets bubbly.  Some berries will pop when they heat up so make use of those kitchen aprons!
3. Turn burner to low and keep warm until ready to serve.

(tags: cranberry syrup, blueberry syrup, strawberry syrup)