Monday, November 15, 2010

Pear Butter with Orange and Vanilla

Like its more well-known apple alternative, this pear butter has an almost creamy texture, smooth and spicy.  This version is flavored with orange and vanilla, but there are many different spins you could put on the same basic recipe.  Try this version or try changing up the flavoring with cardamom or fennel.  Regardless, it will be delicious on a warm buttermilk biscuit this winter.  
-4 lbs pears, cored and cut in chunks
-2 c sugar
-juice and grated zest of one orange
-1 tsp vanilla or 1 vanilla bean
-1/4 tsp nutmeg

->  Put pears in a large pot with about one inch of water in the bottom.  Cook until pears are soft then put through a sieve or a food mill.  

Return to pot.  Add sugar, orange zest and juice, vanilla (or vanilla bean), and nutmeg.  Simmer over medium heat until thickened, stirring frequently.  Remove vanilla bean if using.  

Spoon into sterilized jars.  Remove air bubbles and seal with lids and rings.  Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.  
*~TIP:  For printable labels, check out this website or make your own and then print them on sticky labels.  *~

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Pear-Lime Jam with Ginger

This fresh and spicy pear jam will be something to use on more than just toast this winter.  This is a really simple recipe without any special ingredients.  The pears and sugar will thicken enough on their own without the need for any added pectin, making the whole process a lot more simple and less technical.  Try out the recipe below and either can it to use it all winter long or store it in the fridge to use within a couple of weeks.  I'll also be giving away jars for the holidays!  
-5 1/2 c pears, cored and chopped finely
-2 c sugar
-1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, grated
-juice and zest of 3 limes.  

->  Combine all ingredients in a large pot and simmer until thickened.  (It's that easy).  

If canning, pour into sterilized jars, seal with lids and process in a hot water bath.  
*~TIP:  To see if your jellies and jams are thickened enough, there are all kinds of tests you can perform.  I usually just put a little dab on a plate, and stick it in the fridge for a minute.  If it's the consistency I want after it's cooled, then I'm ready to stop cooking and start canning.  *~

Friday, November 12, 2010

Pears Mulled in Red Wine

For another twist on pears canned in plain sugar syrup, try mulling your pears in red wine with sugar and mulling spices.  Similar to the vodka pears, these pears and their syrup have all kinds of uses for this winter.  Serve them on their own as you would poached pears.  Add to a winter fruit compote, serve over ice cream, make a delicious holiday drink out of them and/or their syrup, or float them in your favorite holiday punch.  
-pears, peeled, cored, and quartered
-mulling spices (cinnamon sticks, whole cloves, allspice berries)
-1 bottle red wine
-1/2 c sugar

->  Pack pears into sterilized jars with mulling spices (one cinnamon stick, and 3-4 cloves and/or allspice berries).

Heat wine and sugar over medium heat in a medium saucepan until sugar is dissolved and wine is almost at boiling point.

Pour over pears packed in sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch of head space.  Remove any air bubbles, place lids on , and screw on screw bands.  Process in a pressure cooker for 10 minutes at 6 lbs of pressure.
~*TIP:  Don't use a wine to can with that you wouldn't drink on its own.  If you don't like the flavor before you sweeten and spice it, chances are you won't like it after either.  *~

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Herbed Vanilla Vodka Pears

This recipe puts a new intoxicating spin on plain pears canned in a sugar syrup.  Pears are packed in jars with either fresh basil or lemon balm from the garden.  Then, the traditional light sugar syrup is combined with vanilla flavored vodka before pouring over the pears.  The inclusion of fresh herbs will hopefully add an interesting flavor twist while providing a burst of summer flavor this winter.  When it's time to crack open a jar of these pears, the pears will be delicious in a winter fruit compote, over ice cream, or perhaps at the bottom of a pear upside-down cake.  The syrup could be used in cocktails, reduced to drizzle over that same ice cream or as a glaze to be soaked up by that pear upside-down cake.  Nothing goes to waste here.  

- Pears, peeled, cored, and quartered
-Fresh herbs such as lemon balm and basil
-1/2 Sugar
-1 c Vanilla vodka

->  Pack pear quarters and herbs into sterilized jars.  

In a medium saucepan, combine sugar with 4 cups of water  for a very light syrup (add more sugar if desired).  Heat over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and add vodka.  

Pour over pears in sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch of head space.  Remove any air bubbles.  Attach lids and screw bands to jars.  Process in a pressure cooker for 10 minutes at 6 lbs of pressure.  
~*TIP:  Tap jars on the counter and use a butter knife to release visible air bubbles in the jars before sealing.  *~

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pears in Light Syrup

This is a simple and classic canning recipe and method for canning lots of pears quickly and easily for use later all through the winter.  The taste of pears canned in a simple syrup may bring back memories from childhood fruit cups, but they provide a useful basic backdrop for the addition of many new and different flavor combinations that will carry you into adulthood.  Today's post will cover the basic recipe and method, but posts later this week will provide a couple of adult twists on a childhood treat.  
-Pears, peeled, cored, and quartered

How much sugar to water (in cups)?
Just Water, No Sugar
Very Light Syrup = 1:7 sugar to water ratio
Light Syrup = 1:3 sugar to water ratio 
Medium Syrup = 1:2 sugar to water ratio
Heavy Syrup = out of control.

->  Pack pear slices into sterilized jars.  

Heat water and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and liquid is almost to boiling point. 

Pour over pears in sterilized jars. leaving 1/2 inch of head space.  Remove any air bubbles and seal with lids and screw bands.  Process in a pressure cooker for 10 minutes at 6 lbs of pressure.  

*~TIP:  One way to sterilize canning jars that beats boiling them all on the stove top is to use your dishwasher.  Load only canning jars into your dishwasher.  Run your dishwasher's normal cycle.  Use immediately when the cycle completes.  Your dishwasher will reach a temperature hot enough to sterilize your jars.  *~

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Spiced Pear Sauce

For the spiced pear sauce, I used the same basic recipe, and then spiced it in two different ways.  The first is a more traditional cinnamon pear sauce, and the second is a spicy ginger pear sauce.  Both are about the consistency of a slightly chunky applesauce but with a unique pear flavor and texture.  Make and eat right away or can for later.  
-about 3 lbs of pears
-about 1/2 c honey
-about 1 Tbsp cinnamon and/or about 2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and minced

->  Wash pears thoroughly.  Trim away blemishes, but leave the skin on for more color and flavor in this recipe.  No need to peel if you don't have to.  Core and cut into large chunks.  

Drain from soaking water (seek TIP below), and add to a large pot with about one inch of water to keep the pears from scorching.  Bring to a boil and let simmer until tender, stirring occasionally.  Put pears through a food mill (you could use a food processor if you don't have a food mill, but i prefer the texture the food mill gives the final product).  

Put the milled pear sauce back into the pot (or into two separate pots if making two differently-spiced sauces).  Add honey to taste, about 1/2 c.  Add cinnamon to one batch and ginger to the other.  Heat sauce(s) just up to the boiling point.  

Ladle into sterilized jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of head space.  Remove any air bubbles.  Fasten with lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath.  
~*TIP:  For any of the pear recipes to come, keeping the pears  in salted water while they await the cooking pot will keep them from oxidizing and turning brown.  *~

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Week of Pears!

My friend Genna and I picked all of these pears (see below) from an old pear tree behind a farmhouse where her boyfriend lives.  So many pears!  
We spent an entire Sunday peeling, slicing, and canning pears in all different forms (see below).  
For the next week, I'll be posting all of the recipes that came out of this abundance of pears...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Italian Vegetable Soup

This is one of my favorite ways to use up a big mish mash of vegetables hanging out in my fridge for a little too long.  Although some lend themselves better than others, you can throw in just about any vegetable, fresh, frozen or canned.  Adding some beans and serving it either over pasta or with a hunk of crusty bread will make it a meal.  The version below uses up some of the last of my summer crop as well as taking advantage of a few things stored in the freezer from season's past.
-1 large onion, chopped
-5 cloves garlic, minced
-1 yellow pepper, chopped
-1 large yellow squash, seeded and chopped
-1 bunch snap beans, chopped or snapped (or use canned)
-12 medium okra, stemmed and chopped
-2 Tbsp dried basil
-salt and pepper
-4 c vegetable or chicken broth
-1 quart stewed tomatoes or tomato sauce
-2 c garbanzo beans, pre-soaked (or 1 can, drained and rinsed)
-1 quart frozen corn
-1 c frozen kale
-several handfuls of fresh basil leaves
-whole wheat rotini pasta
-Parmesan cheese

->You can chop the vegetables as you go along.  Sauté onion in oil over medium heat.  Add garlic and pepper.  Add squash and beans and okra.  Season with basil, salt, and pepper.  Add broth, tomatoes, and beans.  Bring to a boil.  Add frozen vegetables and continue to simmer until all vegetables and beans are tender and broth thickens slightly.  Remove from heat and stir in handfuls of fresh basil.  Serve over pasta and top with Parmesan cheese.

~*TIP:  Using dry beans rather than canned beans is much more cost-effective, reduces waste, and protects you from the added sodium and presence of BPAs in canned beans.  I've been trying to switch over entirely to dry beans lately.  It requires a little more planning ahead in that you can either soak the beans overnight (long method) or boil them for about 2-3 minutes and then let soak 2-4 hours (short method) before using them.  Either way you will save money, have better flavor and texture, and protect yourself from nasty additives.  *~

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tomato Zucchini Pie

I made this veggie pie for one of my last dinners with my old roommates this summer.  The recipe is adapted from a combination of a few recipes from the Simply in Season cookbook that I adapted to what I had on hand.  It's a great way to showcase some of the delicious veggies coming to peak season in the middle of the summer, but is still something you can make now, as the last of the tomatoes and zucchini come in.  A savory pie filled with vegetables, cheese and eggs makes an ideal vegetarian entre for any season, and an impressive presentation!  

For the Crust:
-1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
-7 Tbsp butter, chilled
-1/3 c cheese of your choosing, shredded
-3-4 Tbsp water
-1/2 tsp salt

->Cut butter and flour together until crumbly.  Mix in cheese and salt.  Add water one tablespoon at a time, and mix until dough comes together into a ball.  Add more water if necessary.  Shape into a smooth ball, cover with plastic, and refrigerate 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, start the filling.  

For the Filling:
-2 medium zucchini, sliced
-1 medium onion, chopped
-1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved OR 2 medium tomatoes, sliced
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-salt and pepper
-large bunch fresh basil, chopped
-5-6 large eggs, beaten
-2 c cheese, crumbled or shredded (pictured above is mozzarella) 
-4 tsp mustard
-1/4 c Parmesan cheese, grated

->Saute zucchini and onions in oil in a large skillet.  Add garlic and season with salt and pepper and cook until soft.  Take off the heat and stir in basil.  Combine beaten eggs and cheese in a separate bowl and then stir into zucchini mixture.  

-->While zucchini is cooking, take out chilled dough.  On a floured surface, roll out dough ball until it is a circle big enough to cover your pie pan and turn under the edge.  Press crust into a pie pan, turning under edges and flouting them by pressing with your thumb.  

Spread mustard over bottom of pie crust (from above).  Pour zucchini mixture into prepared crust.  Top with Parmesan cheese.  Arrange tomato slices on top of pie.  

Bake at 375 degrees until center is set and crust is golden (about 20 minutes).  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.  Slice and serve!  

~*TIP:  Make variations of this pie all year long by changing up the vegetables, herbs, and the cheese.  In fall and winter, fill it with roasted butternut squash, season with sage, and mix in some goat cheese.  In spring, fill with peas, spinach, broccoli, and/or asparagus, season with thyme, and mix in your favorite swiss or cheddar. It's a simple dish with endless possibilities.  *~

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Cumin Roasted Chicken with Cucumber Salsa over Cracked Wheat Pilaf

Derek and I made this fresh, seasonal dinner using ingredients from the farmers market and our gardens.  Making it with two people is a big help because one can focus on the chicken while the other works on the pilaf.  He was in charge of the chicken with cucumber salsa, while I experimented with cracked wheat for the first time. 
Cracked wheat is similar to bulgur wheat in that they are both made by cracking the whole wheat kernel, but bulgur wheat is steamed and toasted before cracking, whereas cracked wheat is not.  Both bulgur wheat and cracked wheat are more nutrient dense than many other grains, as the nutrients and fiber of the wheat germ and bran are not removed.  But it's not just the nutrient breakdown that made us want to try experimenting with cracked wheat more in the future...  it's the nutty flavor and light texture that will make it a staple in our kitchens from now on.  

For the Chicken:
-2 chicken breasts, bone-in, skin on
-2 Tbsp butter
-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
-1 tsp cinnamon
-1 1/2 tsp chili powder
-1 tsp cumin
-1/4 tsp paprika
-salt and pepper to taste

->Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Melt butter (about 10 seconds in the microwave should do it).  Whisk in spices with a fork.  It should be a brownish liquid at this point.  Rub this butter mixture under the chicken skin and all over the outside.  Place chicken in shallow baking dish.  Bake until golden brown and juices run clear.  

For the cucumber salsa:
-1 cucumber, finely chopped
-1/2 large tomato, chopped
-1 red pepper, chopped
-1/4 of a medium sweet onion, finely chopped
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-chopped cilantro
-juice of one lime
-salt and pepper

->  Combine all vegetables in a mixing bowl.  Add cilantro and lime juice and season with salt and pepper.  

For the Cracked Wheat Pilaf:
-2 c cracked wheat
-2 tsp cumin
-1 tsp coriander 
-4 c water or broth
-salt and pepper
-juice of one lemon
-olive oil
-1 medium zucchini, grated
-1 red pepper, finely chopped
-1/2 large tomato, chopped
-salt and pepper

->  Toast cracked wheat in a dry skillet over medium heat until it gives off a nutty aroma.  Add spices, and allow to toast with wheat until aromatic.  Add water or broth.  Bring to a boil.  Cover and reduce heat, simmering approximately 15 minutes.  Do not stir or peak.  Remove from heat when all water is absorbed, still not stirring.  Place a dish towel between the lid and pan, to form a tight seal.  Allow to rest 5 minutes.  Add lemon juice and a good drizzle of olive oil.  Fluff with a fork.  Add chopped vegetables and season with salt and pepper.  Top with cilantro.  
-->Serve chicken on a bed of the cracked wheat pilaf and top with cucumber salsa.  Enjoy!
~*TIP:  Chop up any leftover chicken after dinner and mix with leftover cracked wheat and salsa for a delicious cold cracked wheat and chicken salad for lunch the next day.  Mmmm.  *~

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cornbread Shortcakes with Maple Blueberries and Drunken Cream

My roommate recently threw a dinner party and requested that I make a dessert using cornmeal.  He had acquired some white cornmeal from a camp that mills their own corn where he used to attend as a kid.  I wasn't quite sure where to go from there, but Derek's mom had just invited us to a "pick-your-own" blueberry farm that same day, so I knew the berries would be involved somehow.  From there, start with a corny take on an old summer favorite, add a little Matson-family maple syrup here and there, and a few simple components turn into something mouth-watering...


Cornbread Shortcakes:
-1 c flour
-1/2 c sugar + additional for sprinkling 
-1 tsp baking powder
-1 tsp baking soda
-1/2 tsp salt
-1 c cornmeal
-8 Tbsp butter, cut up
-1/2 c milk or cream

Maple Blueberries:
-2 c fresh blueberries
-juice and zest of one lemon
-1/4 c maple syrup

Drunken Cream:
-1 pint whipping cream
-maple syrup

->  Mix the dry ingredients together.  Add the butter, either cutting in or using a mixer at medium speed until dough is the texture of course meal.  Add the milk until a crumbly dough forms.  Form into a ball of dough and then flatten into a thick disk.  

Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.  

Meanwhile, coat blueberries with lemon and maple syrup.  You can adjust the amount of maple syrup to your taste and according to the natural sweetness of your berries.  

When dough has chilled, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Roll chilled dough out to a 3/4-inch disk.  Cut the disk into eight wedges.  Place on a cookie sheet, allowing enough space for wedges to spread.  Brush with milk and sprinkle with sugar.  

Bake for approximately 15 minutes or until somewhat firm and golden.  

While shortcakes cool, whip cream to stiff peaks, then add as much whiskey and syrup as the cream will hold and as your tastes prefer.  

Plate shortcakes with cream and berries on top and enjoy as a decadent but fresh summer dessert!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Orzo Fennel Salad

Pasta salads have come to be a symbol of summer.  No summer picnic, potluck, or celebration is complete without one.  With that much pasta salad in demand each summer, there are plenty of opportunities to change it up each time, incorporating a new type of pasta, sauce or dressing, and fresh vegetables and herbs each time.  The orzo salad below makes use of the gorgeous red and yellow cherry tomatoes that have been so prolific at our farmer's market all summer as well as fresh fennel straight from my garden.  Mix and match the ingredients from this version with whatever fresh local veggies and herbs you have on hand.  And don't forget, just like with my grandma's famous potato salad, the key is always to dress it while it's hot...  :)
-1-2 c orzo
-2-3 c cherry tomatoes
-chopped fresh herbs, such as fennel fronds, mint, and basil
-juice of one lemon
-olive oil
-salt and pepper

->  Cook orzo in boiling salted water until al dente according to package directions.  Meanwhile, halve your cherry tomatoes and chop your fresh herbs.  Mix the lemon juice and olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.  When the orzo is finished and drained, mix it while it is still hot with the tomatoes, herbs, and dressing.  Dressing the pasta hot is key for the flavors to really mix and be absorbed well.  Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and/or pepper if needed.  Refrigerate until cold or eat room temperature.  

~*TIP:  This winter when there are fewer fresh herbs and vegetables on hand, but you still crave cool, refreshing pasta salad, try a different version of this orzo salad that makes use of canned and preserved vegetables, etc.  You can incorporate sliced roasted red peppers, pickled artichokes, calamata olives, or even some tuna packed in olive oil.  If you're growing parsley in your garden, you'll probably be able to find some still green even with snow on the ground to chop up and include.  Throw in some feta cheese, and it will be a hit.  My roommate Rachel makes something similar to this, and we can never get enough of it. *~

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Veggie Skillet

This is one of my favorite breakfast, brunch or even dinner dishes to throw together.  For this one, I used red and yellow grape tomatoes from the farmers market and kale that I had blanched and frozen from my garden. But you can use just about any vegetables that are in season and finish with your favorite fresh herbs and cheese.  I love finishing with fresh basil and an herbed goat cheese.  mmmm....
-1-2 eggs per person
-1/2 c veggies per egg (tomatoes, kale, spinach, summer squash, zucchini, sweet potato, onions, or anything else you enjoy!), chopped
-chopped fresh herbs (basil, cilantro, thyme, rosemary, etc.)
-cheese (herbed goat cheese, parmesan, cheddar, etc.)

->  Saute veggies in a hot skillet in olive oil until tender.  If you're using a harder veggie like sweet potatoes, you may want saute them in a covered pan and cook until fork-tender, adding quicker-cooking veggies later.  Season with salt, pepper, and any dry herbs you may be using.  Meanwhile, scramble eggs and season with salt and pepper.  Add eggs to veggies and stir periodically until scrambled and cooked.  Finish with fresh herbs and cheese.  
~*TIP: One of the great things about gardening and buying locally and seasonally is that produce is at its most delicious, most abundant, and therefore generally least expensive at this time.  Sometimes your favorite garden veggies are too abundant to use all at once, or you buy up a good deal at the farmer's market.  To save time, money, and veggies, you can freeze them for later use.  Just chop the veggies how you will use them for your favorite recipes, blanch them in boiling hot water, plunge them into ice water to stop the cooking, and pack them into freezer-safe containers or ziploc bags in the amounts you usually use them.  Pull out a bag whenever your favorite recipe requires!  *~

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Savory Kohlrabi Bread Pudding

The kohlrabi never ends...  I made this recipe to use up some of the last of it from my garden, but it could also be made with broccoli, asparagus, artichokes, or any number of your other favorite veggies.  Savory bread puddings like this one are also great ways to turn stale bread and a few eggs into a delicious entre.  My favorite part of serving it for dinner is that I can make it up ahead of time, letting the bread soak up all of the egg in the fridge, and then pop it in the oven at dinner time.  This makes bread puddings ideal for nights on which you're expecting dinner guests.  If you make it ahead of time, you can focus your attention on creating a yummy dessert or tasty sides or just greeting your guests instead of slaving away up to the last second in the kitchen.  Try it out.  
-olive oil
-1 large onion
-1/2 tsp of dried thyme
-4 cloves garlic
-2 c thinly sliced baby bella mushrooms
-2 medium kohlrabi, halved and thinly sliced
-1 bunch kohlrabi greens (about ten leaves), thinly sliced
-8 eggs
-1 c milk
-2 Tbsp dijon mustard
-small bunch parsley, chopped
-5 c cubed stale bread
-4 oz goat cheese, crumbled (herbed or plain)

->  Saute onions in olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until softened.  Add thyme and garlic and mix.  Then add mushrooms and kohlrabi.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cover and cook until kohlrabi is fork-tender, stirring often to prevent sticking.  Remove from heat, add kohlrabi greens, and cover until wilted.  

While greens wilt, whisk together eggs, milk, mustard, and parsley.  Season with salt and pepper.  

Now, in a buttered 9x13 pan, layer the sauted vegetable mixture, bread, and goat cheese like lasagna.  Layer half of the bread cubes, then half of the veggies, one third of the goat cheese, the other half of the bread, the other half of the veggies.  Save the rest of your goat cheese for later.  Pour egg mixture evenly over top.  Cover and refrigerate anywhere from 20 minutes to overnight, but I think a few hours is ideal.  

After chilling, remove the pudding from the refrigerator, allowing it to come back to room temperature while the oven preheats at 375 degrees.  Sprinkle the last two-thirds of the goat cheese over the top and bake for 45 minutes until firm in the middle and golden brown on top.  Let stand about 10 minutes before slicing and serving.  

~*TIP:  I throw any stale bread I have into a bag in the freezer to be later reincarnated as croutons, bread crumbs, or in yummy recipes calling for stale bread like the one above.  Check out these general savory bread pudding instructions from the Splendid Table  *~

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Blackberries

It's getting pretty melty in the photo below, but it was still delicious.  This panna cotta uses buttermilk so that it comes out a little lighter and more tangy than traditional panna cotta made from mostly cream.  As my note below mentions, that means this dessert also comes along with buttermilk's many health benefits to boot.  I top this panna cotta with a blackberry sauce and fresh blackberries, as that's what was in season and free at the time thanks to our recent urban scavenging.  But you could top it any number of sauces, jams, or fresh fruits depending on what's in season.  
-3 Tbsp water
-1 packet (1 1/2 tsp or 7 grams) unflavored gelatin
-1 1/2 c heavy cream
-1/2 c sugar
-2 c buttermilk
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-blackberry jam
-juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
-fresh blackberries

->Sprinkle gelatin over water in a small bowl and let stand until soft, about 10-15 minutes.  

Meanwhile, combine 1 cup of the heavy cream and the sugar in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Once sugar is dissolved and cream begins to simmer, remove from heat immediately.  Add the dissolved gelatin to the cream-sugar mixture.  

Mix remaining cream, buttermilk, and vanilla together in a large bowl.  Add hot cream-sugar mixture.  Pour mixture into 8 ramekins or other small dishes/bowls, dividing equally.  Refrigerate until set (like creamy jello), which will be several hours or overnight.  I did mine in the late afternoon, and it was set in time for an after-dinner dessert.  

When ready to serve, add lemon juice and zest to jam.  It should be the consistency of a thick syrup.  

Then unmold your panna cotta by dipping the ramekins in hot water for about 30 seconds (no longer!).  Invert the serving plate over the ramekin, and flip the panna cotta over onto the serving plate.  If this step scares you, you could also just serve the panna cotta in the ramekin.  

Top with blackberry jam mixture and garnish with fresh blackberries to serve.  

~*TIP:  As mentioned above, buttermilk is brimming with added health benefits that make it a great choice over other milk products.  Traditionally, buttermilk was made by allowing the liquid left over from the butter churning process to ferment naturally.  However, today's buttermilk sold in stores is generally made by adding live active bacteria cultures to milk, similar to how yogurt is made.  Therefore the "live active cultures" that everyone seeks out in yogurt lately are also present in buttermilk, along with all of their health benefits.  Try subbing buttermilk not just in pancakes, biscuits, and muffins, but also in many recipes that call for cream or sour cream.  Everything from what you top your bake potato with to what you make your ice "cream" out of...  Trust me, you won't be disappointed, and your digestive tract and immune system will thank you for it.  *~

Friday, August 20, 2010

Quick-"Pickled" Beet Salad

This spring and summer, I've grown an abundance of Golden and Chioggia beets.  If you slice into the Chioggia beets raw, you'll be delighted by a pattern of alternating red and white rings.  Cooked, they come out pink like the ones below.  Just like with pickled beets, coating them with vinegar is a great way to bring out their natural sweetness.  Here I use apple cider vinegar, but Balsamic vinegar, which already has its own natural sweetness, is a great way to dress beets as well.  One of my favorite pairings is beets with goat cheese, so a salad using both has become a staple at my house.  
-2 beets, cooked until fork-tender and peeled
-1 small onion, sliced thinly
-vinegar (here I used apple cider vinegar)
-Dijon mustard
-salt and pepper
-2 c shredded greens (here I used the beet greens)
-1 oz almonds
-2 oz goat cheese

->Combine equal parts oil and vinegar with a small spoonful each of spicy mustard and honey.  Season with salt and pepper.  Cut your cooked beets into large chunks.  Combine with sliced onions and cover with oil and vinegar dressing.  

Meanwhile, as beets soak in the vinegar, shred or tear your greens and plate them.  Here I use the beet greens, but spinach or lettuce  would also be great.  Toast whole almonds either in a dry pan on the stove top or in the toaster oven (one of my favorite shortcuts), being careful to toast them only until they are slightly darker brown and aromatic, not letting them burn.  Either crush or chop the toasted almonds.  

Pour your quick "pickled" beet mixture over the greens.  Top with almonds and crumbled goat cheese.  Enjoy as a main course (as with the nuts and cheese, it will fill you up just fine) or as a side.  
~*TIP:  One way I save time when cooking my beets is, rather than roasting them, I steam them in the microwave.  To do this, I slice off the tops and bottoms of the raw beets, put them in a microwave-safe bowl, fill the bowl up with water to cover the beets halfway.  Cover with another bowl to form a dome over the top.  Microwave for about 5 minutes at a time until beets are fork-tender.  Remove from liquid and peel.  The liquid itself makes a great base to dressings and sauces as well or just a refreshing drink.*~

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Cabbage Au Gratin

This is a tasty way to use up lots of cabbage if you're getting an influx of them in the garden.  It makes a great side dish or vegetarian entre.  You'll be so caught up in eating this comfort food casserole that you won't even notice that you're getting a big healthy dose of cabbage for dinner.  It's also great because cabbage is almost always in season.  Mix it up by using your favorite cheese or favorite herbs, and enjoy.
-1 1/4 c shredded cheddar
-1 small head cabbage or 1/2 a large head
-3/4 c broth (vegetable is what I used, but use whatever you have around)
-1/2 c cornmeal
-2 Tbsp thyme
-1 Tbsp dill
-2 Tbsp dijon mustard
-salt and pepper

->Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Toss 1 c of cheese with remaining ingredients.  Pour into an 8x8 inch pan, and bake covered for 45 minutes.  Uncover, add remaining 1/4 c cheese, and bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until cheese is golden and bubbly.  

~*TIP:  I try to keep vegetable broth on hand in the freezer at all times.  I just save up any vegetable pairings, especially garlic and onion peels, parsley stems, and celery ends, keeping them in a container in the freezer.  Avoid pepper pairings as they will make your broth bitter, and note that beet pairings will make your broth purple.  Whenever my container fills up, I empty it into a sauce pot, cover with water, and bring it to a boil.  Then I reduce the heat and simmer until it reduces down to a nice golden color and the veggies are all a mush, about 30-40 minutes.  Strain.  Let cool, and then store in containers in the freezer for future use!  *~

Monday, July 19, 2010

Going a fruiting...

My roommates and I have been on the hunt for fruit hanging in public (or "semi-public") spaces lately...  This began with blackberry season down here, and since then, we've also found mulberries, wild apricots and plums.  Figs are next.  The pictures below are just the beginning.  We've dried plums on the roof...  I've made apricot butter and blackberry jam...  as well as a few other recipes that will be following in future posts!  

Fennel and Scavenged Blackberry Tart

I made this tart one night for dessert with some friends.  The fennel from the garden is a nice backdrop to the scavenged blackberries.  The local goat cheese may seem unexpected for dessert, but works well here.  All of this is on top of an almond tart crust.  Try it out with any or all of its pieces and parts.  

-1/2 c whole wheat flour
-1/2 c almond flour
-1/3 c butter
-2 Tbsp powdered sugar.  

->Blend flours, butter, and sugar until it is crumbly, the size of small peas.  This is quick and easy to do in a food processor.  

Press the crust into a 9-inch tart or spring-form pan, forming short edges about an inch and a half high.  

Bake bake at 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool while making filling.  

-2 medium fennel bulbs, halved lengthwise and sliced
-2 Tbsp butter
-1/2 c sugar
-2 c blackberries
-juice of 1/2 lemon
-2 oz goat cheese, crumbled
-fennel fronds

->Cook sliced fennel in boiling salted water until fork tender.  Drain.  Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add fennel and 1/4 c sugar.  Saute until fennel and sugar caramelize together.  Add blackberries and the rest of the sugar.  Cook until sugar is dissolved and liquid is evaporated.  Finish with lemon juice.  Mix.  

-->Add filling to tart shell.  Crumble goat cheese over it and garnish with fennel fronds.  

~*TIP:  You can also make the almond flour by blending almonds in a food processor until powdery, but don't let it go too long, or you will have almond butter.  *~

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Seed Saving Efforts!

We've made a big effort this year to make seed saving a regular part of our gardening efforts.  I've tried to minimize inputs (and thus also cost) to have the garden be as self-sustaining as possible.  Seed saving is one strategy we've implemented to "close the loop."  It's pretty simple and easy and altogether pretty fun.  

For starters...  we've started letting at least a couple of each type of plant go to seed.  So... we have blooming lettuce, cabbage, radish, beets, etc. that form seed puffs or pods that we later collect and crack open to get the seeds out.  We are also sure to save a few pea pods or bean pods to be able to replant the peas/beans the next year.  

For any of these seeds, we let them dry out completely before collecting them and putting them in envelopes.  

For envelopes...  we've started saving some of our "junk mail" envelopes by tearing off one of the short ends, taking out the contents, and reusing them as seed envelopes.  (This is also good because a lot of curb-side recycling programs won't take your junk mail envelopes unless they are opened up).  Then just label them with the name of the plant and the year.  
Now, all you need are the seeds.  So far...  I've saved easy things like the little onions off of the tops of Grandma's Egyptian Walking Onions...  
Or teeny tiny seeds from the pods of this cabbage plant...

Next year, when it comes time to plant them, we can put them in water to see which seeds are viable. Those that sink are generally viable, and those that float generally are not.

Now, to us, it's like a whole new part of the harvest!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Shoots Update - How does my garden grow?

Like my library books and movie rentals, updated pictures of the summer garden are long overdue.  I haven't posted pics of the garden for quite some time...  Needless to say it has changed a LOT from the spring planting pictures earlier this season.  Here in NC, I can generally get at least three separate plantings into three seasons.  My spring planting has already yielded beets, cabbage, peas, lettuce, carrots, strawberries, green onions, herbs, and copious amounts of kale and kohlrabi.  I'm still transitioning from some spring crops, but my garden is quickly filling with a second planting.  So here is a long overdue overview of my transition to my second season garden!

Polenta Pizzas

This is another great way to use up leftover polenta, but these polenta pizzas are well worth making a fresh batch of polenta wedges if you don't have any on hand.  I've made a couple of different variations here, but there are countless more to be tried.  Use the polenta as a new base for your old favorite toppings or let it be your inspiration for trying new combinations!
-polenta wedges, cakes or triangles of any shape or size
-olive oil
-pizza sauce
-goat cheese
-cherry tomatoes, thinly sliced
-red onion, thinly sliced
-basil and/or oregano

->Slice your polenta cake into 1/2-inch thick slices if it is any thicker than that to begin with.  Coat a pan with olive oil and heat over medium heat.  When oil is hot, but not smoking, add polenta slices, browning on either side until crispy and golden.  Remove from oil.  Top them with your favorite pizza toppings.  I had two variations:  

One: topped with sauce and mozzarella

Two: topped with garlic, olive oil, and goat cheese

Both were then topped with cherry tomatoes, red onions, a little parmesan, and some dried basil and/or oregano.  Pop them in the toaster oven (or regular oven) at about 425 until cheese is melted and golden.  Enjoy!

~*TIP: Keep some garlic olive oil on hand by crushing a whole head of peeled garlic cloves and submerging them in 1-2 cups olive oil.  Keep in an air-tight jar in the fridge.  Use it anytime after it infuses for a few days.  It will last *indefinitely* (at least so far), so you can just pull it out whenever you need it.  Great to brush on pizza, use in salad dressing, etc.  Also makes a great aphid killer mixed with a few drops of dish soap and warm water!*~

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Polenta got your goat?

Stone ground grits and local goat cheese are really the stars of this dish.  It capitalizes on our easy access to local stone ground grits down here, by using them to make polenta triangles - same grain, different name on opposite sides of the pond.  I've cooked up this relatively simplistic dish by topping polenta cakes with cremini mushrooms, local cherry tomatoes, my final kale harvest, and crumbled local goat cheese.  You could of course sub in any number of summer veggies or other types of mushrooms here...  roasted eggplant would be a welcome addition when it's available!  
-2 c (roughly) of cherry tomatoes 
-4 cloves garlic, minced
-olive oil
-2 c corn grits or polenta (same thing)
-6-8 cremini mushrooms, sliced 
-1 large bunch of kale, stems removed and chopped
-4 oz goat cheese, crumbled

->Toss cherry tomatoes with olive oil, 2 cloves of minced garlic, salt, and pepper to coat.  Put in a toaster oven (preferably to save energy and keep the kitchen temp down) or a regular oven.  Roast at 400 degrees, stirring occasionally until slightly browned and most of the liquid is gone (about 30-40 minutes).  

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of 6 c of water to a boil with about 1 teaspoon of salt.  Gradually stir in polenta.  Do not dump it in all at once, or you will have polenta chunks to break up.  Reduce heat to simmer gently and continue stirring until polenta becomes very thick and pulls away from the sides of the pan when stirred (about 20-30 minutes).  At this time, you can add a couple of tablespoons of butter and/or some parmesan or goat cheese if you want.  Pour/spoon polenta into a 9x9 square pan or a 9-inch pie pan.  I like to flatten it at this point by pressing another pan the same size down on the top.  Refrigerate polenta until firm (or stick it in the freezer for a bit to speed this process along).  

Coat a pan with olive oil and heat over medium heat.  Add mushrooms and garlic and saute until mushrooms are somewhat browned.  Add roasted cherry tomatoes.  Cook a few minutes until mixed.  Add kale, season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (if desired).  Cover, stirring occasionally until kale is wilted.  

When polenta is firm and while veggies are cooking, heat a pan coated with olive oil over medium-high heat.  Slice your polenta into triangles or wedges (depending on square or round pan).  Brown the polenta wedges on both sides.  

Plate the polenta wedge, top with sauted veggies, and crumbled goat cheese.  Garnish with green onion or sliced basil if you have some on hand.  Enjoy!
~*TIP: If you have more polenta wedges than you can handle, see next recipe or try the following:  Slice your polenta wedges into thirds, each slice about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.  Cut the slices into smaller triangles about the size of a chip or cracker.  Coat with oil and season with salt, pepper, red pepper, and rosemary.  Pop them in the toaster oven and cook until brown and crispy, turning halfway through.  They will make delicious little chips or croutons!  Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.  My roommates demolished them in minutes.*~

My Birthday: June 3rd, 1985 or 1885?

I recently celebrated my big 2-5...  but my friends thought that my birthday presents indicated that my actual date of birth must have been in 1885 rather than 1985.  What 1885 woman wouldn't be just as thrilled with her new pitch fork and antique sewing machine?  But alas, I can also go vote after I turn my compost pile.  ;)  

D and I going all American Gothic:

Me on my new old sewing machine from the 1930s:

Friday, June 4, 2010

Celebrate Good Kale Tofu Stir Fry

I have almost an entire bed of kale this year so I am thinking of any way I can to use up this nutrient-packed green.  The variety of kale I planted is called Dinosaur Kale.  Dark green, almost black.  Bumpy not curly like the kale you usually find in the grocery store.  And, I think it's more succulent and better tasting.

My latest kalebration was this delicious stir fry where it is paired with tofu and then served over soba noodles.  Tofu gets a bad wrap from a lot of people (including my co-blogger here), but I think if we stop thinking of it as a "meat substitute," and start thinking of it as its own thing, we'll find it surprisingly delicious.  Added bonuses are that it's much cheaper than meat (especially good meat), it's rich in omega-3 fatty acids, and there's no worry about disinfecting every surface after you're done preparing it.  Here's a great way to try it out along with a couple of its other "super food" companions if you've been hesitant thus far!
-One block extra firm tofu (12 oz), drained
-1/4 c soy sauce
-1/4 c rice wine vinegar (or whatever kind you have)
-2 Tbsp sesame oil
-6 cloves garlic, minced
-2-inch piece of ginger, minced (or 2 tsp dried)
-red pepper flakes
-2 Tbsp honey
-Soba noodles
-1/2 large onion, chopped
-2 green onions, sliced
-basil, chiffonade
-sesame seeds, toasted

->  A few hours before you plan on cooking it, I like to wrap my tofu in a tea towel or cloth napkin and then sandwich it between two plates, placing weight on the top.  This will press out any excess liquid, making your extra firm tofu even more firm, eliminating a complaint many people have about the "mushy" texture of tofu.

An hour before you start cooking, mix up your marinade for the tofu.  Marinating tofu is another way to add flavor to it, making it more desirable to the new tofu eater.  Mix the soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil, 3 cloves of the garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes.  Slice the tofu in half-inch slabs, lay flat in a pan, and pour marinade over top.  Half an hour later, flip your tofu so that the marinade penetrates both side evenly.  When it's time to get cooking, cut the tofu slabs into half-inch cubes.

Now it's time to get cooking!  Dump your remaining marinade into a small sauce pan, add honey and about 1/2 c water.  Bring to a boil and then simmer until slightly thickened and ready to add it to the stir fry.

Also at this time, put water on to boil for your soba noodles, and cook them according to package directions until al dente.

Meanwhile, saute onion, and garlic together in about a 1/4 c of oil until almost translucent.  Push to the sides of the pan, and add tofu to the center.  Brown the tofu cubes in the oil, keeping them in the center (where it's hottest) while your onions stay on the edges.  Once onions are translucent and tofu is browned, add the kale, season with salt and more red pepper flakes if desired, and cover, stirring occasionally, until kale is wilted and well-mixed with tofu and onions.  Top with the sauce you've had simmering.

Serve the kale-tofu stir fry over the soba noodles.  Top with green onions, basil (I used local purple basil here), and toasted sesame seeds.  Enjoy!

~*TIP:  Using soba noodles instead of rice or pasta is a good way to boost the filling power and nutritional content of your meal.  These whole-grain buckwheat noodles, traditionally found in Japanese cooking, contain significantly more protein than their rice and pasta counterparts, as well as many other valuable nutrients.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Spicy Sausage Kohlrabi Bake

It all started with a difference of opinion.  On one side, sausage, rice, onions, finished.  The other, a masterpiece, or shall I say, a matsonpiece, waiting to be created.  Kohlrabi, kohlrabi, kohlrabi.  That's all she said, and that's all it took.  So here we are folks!

This is a fusion of two intertwined (unbeknownst to them) dinner destinies.

-2 links chicken sausage (whatever flavor you desire), chopped
-1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
-3 cloves garlic, chopped
-1 freshly picked kohlrabi, leaves removed with bulb and stems peeled and chopped
-1 (32 oz) can stewed tomatoes 
-basil, oregano, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper to taste
-kohlrabi greens (leaves), chopped finely
-handful of spaghetti
-grated mozzarella and Parmesan cheese

->Brown sausage in oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and garlic.  Cook until onions are translucent. Add kohlrabi stems and bulb.  Cover and cook until well mixed.  

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti until al dente.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  

Add tomatoes and spices to the kohlrabi-sausage skillet and simmer until kohlrabi is fork tender and tomatoes have reduced into a thick sauce.  Add kohlrabi greens and mix until wilted.  

Mix spaghetti and kohlrabi-sausage sauce together.   Pour into a large casserole dish.  Cover with desired amount of grated mozz and parm (we desired lots) and a sprinkle of basil and oregano.  Put casserole into preheated oven.  Bake until cheese is bubbly and golden.  

Serve with a fresh garden salad, and enjoy!

~*TIP:  If you don't have access to kohlrabi for this recipe, you can as always use kale or collards in place of the greens and broccoli (especially the stems) in place of the bulb.  However, a great alternative for later in the summer would be replace the kohlrabi with fresh, chopped peppers and eggplant.  Mmmmm....*~