Plein Air Jelly

When our lunch at Plein Air was over last Saturday, I brought home all the Sangria fruit plus the cut up fruit that had been served with the crackers and cheese ball. It was a lot of fruit. Cantaloupe and watermelon balls, blueberries, apples, plums, nectarines, pears, and some thinly sliced lemons. I forgot to take a picture of what I had. I just couldn’t stand for all that good fruit to go to waste. #wastenotwantnot

I cooked it up, put it through the food mill and then strained that juice which had a fair amount of pulp in it. I didn’t put it in a jelly bag, but strained it through a colander with fairly small mesh. Some fruit particles came through so the jelly isn’t as clear as It would be if I’d used a jelly bag. I wasn’t going for jelly to enter in the State Fair.

I needed 5 1/2 cups of juice according to the “plum” SureJell recipe. I used that one because it was closest to the amount of juice I had which came from mostly stone fruits. I was a little short so decided to add some Peach Schnapps I had in the cupboard.

I think this was leftover from the year Laura and I rode in the Christmas in St. Michaels parade. It was bitterly cold and we decided we needed a flask. I must have used this for something else since there was only about a quarter cup left. But this stuff never goes bad, right?

I got all my canning supplies ready and put pint jars through the dishwasher.

I followed the recipe exactly as I wanted the best chance to have the jelly jell.

Eight pints went into the canning kettle for a 10 minute boiling water bath.

Several of the ladies from the Plein Air lunch will get a jar. It’s a beautiful claret color and is fruity with a hint of lemon. And it jelled…unlike my strawberry jam in June. Yum!

 

Spiced Pecans In My Kitchen

My kitchen was fragrant yesterday morning with an oven full of roasting sugared and spiced pecans I was making for the card party at the St. Michaels Woman’s Club. Apparently I have become known for my spiced pecans which have graced a number of luncheon salads at the club. These are really good so I only make them when they can quickly be removed from the house. We’ll get a handful and then they’ll be transported to the clubhouse. These are so good that even putting them in my car’s trunk might  not keep me from a stealthy run at them.

I meant to take a photo of the roasted pecans but got them out of the house so fast I forgot. You’ll have to make do with the package photo.

Mala’s Cinnamon Sugared Pecans (from Cookingclassy.com website who stole it from allrecipes.com. My tweaks included below.)

Ingredients

  • 1 lb pecan halves (4 cups)
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 Tbsp water
  • ½ tsp vanilla (up to 1 tbsp)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (can be half white, half brown)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (can add ½ tsp allspice, 1/8 tsp cayenne for kick)
  • ½ tsp salt (can be up to 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt)

Directions

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. (I am now baking them at 275.) In a large mixing bowl, vigorously whisk egg white with water and vanilla until very frothy. In a separate small mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, cinnamon, spices and salt. Add pecans to egg white mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour half of the sugar mixture over pecans and toss several times, then add remaining sugar mixture and toss until evenly coated. Pour coated pecans over a Silpat or parchment paper lined backing sheet and spread into an even layer. Bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Allow to cool, then store in an airtight container.

Notes

I use sheet pans to bake. The sides keep the nuts from falling out. Since I remove them from the oven for turning, this is crucial.

The final 15 minutes in the oven is what makes them crunchy. I checked them after what I thought was the final time and they still weren’t dry in the middle, so I put them in for another 15 minutes. The first two times you stir them they will be sticky.

I like adding that little bit of cayenne for a little heat. If you’re planning to use them as an appetizer with cheese and fruit, you could add  more salt as well.

Question: Where do you hide food so you won’t be tempted?

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

I get a lot of food and supplement related emails. Our diet tracks toward Paleo and a recent email trying to sell me a new cookbook had a simple recipe that I have now made several times. It’s quite easy which is what I want. If I can make something ahead of time and reheat for lunch or dinner, that recipe is a keeper.

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Here it is:

Set oven to 375

Cut squash in half, remove seeds, and place in oven dish cut side down. Add some water. Cook 45 minutes or until done. When cool peel and puree squash in food processor.

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In saucepan cook (over low heat) 1 tsp red curry paste and 1 tsp cumin for one minute. The first time I made this I was out of ground cumin, but I did have cumin seeds. I ground them as best I could in a mortar and pestle. It worked fine.

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Add 1 can full fat coconut milk. Bring to boil. Add juice and zest of 4 limes. (This sounded like way to much lime for me so I used 1 big lime. Maybe if I was in Key West using those tiny limes…)

Finely grind 1 cup Pepitas in blender. I didn’t use the  Pepitas. They are on my husband’s food sensitivity list so I passed. But I think they would have been good.

Add cooked squash and coconut mixture and blend. I had already pureed the squash in the food processor so just added it to the coconut mixture and didn’t re-process. Add water if too thick.

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This photo is from the second time I made this soup. I opened the Harissa I’d finally found (in Baltimore) to make a more enticing presentation. The pea shoots came from a local farmer who raises greens in her winter fields and in an unheated greenhouse (where the pea shoots grew.)

I like having another easy way to incorporate winter squash into our diet. If you wanted to make this even faster, you could buy cubed squash. I wonder what this would be like with canned pumpkin? I’m going to try that and I’ll let you know.

What is your favorite fast recipe?

In Search of Harissa

I’m blaming this cooking adventure on Jamie Oliver and YouTube.

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Here’s the backstory. For some reason, I wanted fried calamari. It’s something I order in restaurants, but it didn’t seem like it would be too hard to do, even though I hadn’t deep fried anything for thirty years. Frying – yes. Deep frying in inches of oil – no!

I went online in search of recipes. The difference in most was the spices added to the flour in which you dredge the calamari. Anne Burrell’s recipe had 3 Tbsp of Cayenne. That was going to be way too hot for me. Giada De Laurentiis (my son calls this show “Cooking with Cleavage) added some dried parsley. Another recipe suggested some Old Bay. So my mixture was a compilation of Google suggestions and what I had on my spice shelf. I added some Cayenne, but I don’t like food that makes my sinuses run.

Then I went on YouTube because I wanted to see how you fried the calamari. Jamie Oliver’s video came up, and that’s where the problem started.

His calamari had way bigger tubes than the ones in my frozen package so I fast forwarded through that part until I came to the part where he’s making the dipping sauce.

He mashed a clove of garlic in a mortar. (I used to have one of those, but after not using it for a decade I sent it to the thrift shop. Should have kept it.) Note to self: stop throwing out cooking utensils just because you never use them.)

Then Jamie stirred several big spoonsful of mayo into the garlic and ladled it into a serving dish. Over the top he added a teaspoon of rosewater. Over that a spoonful of harissa. The red-tinted oil was gorgeous on the silky cream colored mayonnaise. Jamie took the tip of a knife and drew the oil out into the mayo. He must have done a turn as a barista at Starbucks. It was gorgeous. That’s what I wanted to serve with  my calamari.

My calamari was thawed, the flour was spiced but I had no harissa or rosewater. So I got in the car and drove fifteen minutes to Easton. I wasn’t thinking I’d find rosewater, but If anybody was going to have harissa it would be Harris Teeter. Four employees later we all gave up the chase. Apparently they used to carry harissa, but didn’t any longer. When they suggested I sort through four shelves of clearance items, I headed home.

I stopped at Graul’s in St. Michaels on the off chance they stocked it. Graul’s carries a lot of odd things, but they didn’t have harissa either.

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I made dipping sauce out of mayo and sweet hot chili sauce. It was good, but not as pretty as what I saw on Jamie Oliver’s YouTube video. I roasted green beans and got out the mandolin to make sweet potato slices which I threw in the hot oil. The calamari are fried just before serving as they take only a minute. They were tender and wonderful. I suppose we didn’t really miss the harissa, but I’ll keep looking. Or go on Amazon…

Has anyone else cooked with harissa?

New Year’s Day Bean Soup

My friend, Diane, from my morning yoga class gives us yogis bags of beans at Christmas so we can make New Year’s Day Bean Soup. She told me she started doing this as gifts her children could give their teachers – apparently much to the kid’s chagrin that first year. But then the teachers and friends and neighbors started asking for the bags of beans. I suspect there is some ratio of the different kinds of beans, but the combination has evolved over the years, Diane told me

Their must be fifteen kinds of beans (including black eyed peas for wealth and happiness) in the Ziploc bag which included a recipe sheet. I didn’t realize how beautiful beans could be until I took this photo.

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To make soup, soak the beans overnight, then drain the following morning. Add two quarts of water and a ham hock. The recipe says you don’t have to use a ham hock and you would have a tasty vegetarian version. Diane told me they often use kielbasa.

Bring the beans to a boil and simmer slowly for two hours. Then add 1 large chopped onion, a 28 oz can of tomatoes, and celery and carrots if you’ve got them on hand. Season with1 tsp chili powder, lemon juice, salt and pepper and (the directions say) any other spices that spark your fancy (basil, oregano, etc.).  Remove ham hock, cut up ham and return to the soup.  Simmer slowly for one hour or more. This soup is even better the second day.

Even if you didn’t get a bag of beautiful beans this Christmas, check out your grocery store to see what kinds of beans are on the shelf and make a kettle of nourishing winter goodness. This is a soup that begs for improvisation. I found some forgotten pulled pork in my freezer last week and that’s what I’m going to use instead of a ham hock. I’ll used my canned tomato sauce instead of store bought tomatoes. And I have have a bag of carrots from my garden that grew in wonky shapes. Chopped, they’ll be perfect for this recipe. I might even throw in some finely chopped Red Russian kale from my community garden bed. Oh, and  couple of those Hakurei turnips I harvested before the first hard frost. It’s going to be delicious.

 

 

I Cook Calamari

I occasionally try new recipes, but the old stand-bys that I have in my head are now pared down to feed 4-6 so that there are leftovers. (When I was cooking for four hungry teens, I made lasagna in restaurant sized pans.) And the tried and true recipes have been modified for food sensitivities we have. I have several friends whose husbands won’t eat leftovers. If my husband ever started down that road, he’d have to fix himself a bowl of gluten-free cereal for dinner.

My writing partner, Laura Ambler, is an inventive cook and recently told me that she frequently makes Calamari. I often order calamari in restaurants, but didn’t even know where to find it in my supermarket. But recently, on a foray to our local big box store, BJ’s, I found it next to the frozen salmon. Turns out calamari is a fairly inexpensive protein. Be adventuresome, I told myself as I bought a box.

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I went on line to see how to fix it and was glad I did. High heat and short cooking times keep calamari from overcooking which leads to a rubber tire result. This recipe, which  I found on Chowhound.com) made a quick and tasty dinner. Cooking the jasmine rice for 18 minutes took the longest. This recipe will go into my rotation. And since what I usually order in a restaurant is fried calamari, I need to try that, too.

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Calamari with garlic and parsley

  • 1 lb squid, cleaned (it came that way in the package but I rinsed it), cut into 3/4″ thick rings, tentacles left whole
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter (1/4 stick)
  • 2 tsp finely chopped garlic
  • 1 tbsp coarsely chopped parsley (I still had some in the garden)
  • salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges

Instructions:

  • pat squid dry with paper towel
  • heat oil in a large frying pan over high heat until smoking. Carefully add squid in a single layer, then add butter, garlic, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Cook, tossing frequently, until squid is opaque and cooked through – about 1 to 2 minutes (do not overcook). Season with additional salt and pepper and serve over rice.
  • garnish with lemon wedges

Have you pursued any cooking adventures recently? Successes or epic fails?

 

 

 

 

My Green Thumb Eats Apple Cake

Last Friday was my monthly Green Thumb meeting. This is a group of gardeners who are members of the St. Michaels Woman’s Club. We get together for informational meetings, gardening workshops and road trips. This year I am co-chairing Green Thumb with my friend, Carol, who is terrific to work with. We have some different skill sets which makes for a good partnership. Plus, she always makes me laugh which is a very good thing.

The speaker at this month’s meeting was a local floral designer, Nancy Beatty. She was showing us ways to use greens to fill our outdoor containers and window boxes. And she also demonstrated some fantastic indoor arrangements. The tillandsia (air plant) in the arrangement below acts like a bow, but it’s a tropical plant that would not tolerate outdoor freezing temps. Replace the tillandsia with a red bow, however, and this arrangement would easily transition to the winter holidays.

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Nancy lives in the country and scavenges the fields and forests near her house for plant material and interesting embellishments. She found the turkey feathers and even the deer antlers used in the arrangement below. Nancy assured us that she gets permission from her neighbors to forage in their woods. The  scrolly things are copper wire.

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An outdoor container with the summer plants removed makes a perfect foundation for a tall, sculptural arrangement that will last through the winter. The plant materials are just stuck into the potting soil. The wrought iron tower is wrapped with honeysuckle vine Nancy found in the woods. When it’s fresh, she told us it doesn’t have to be soaked. A white pine cone garland drapes the edges of the pot. She showed us how to make them with only pine cones and wire.

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We always have refreshments at our meetings and women take turns being “hostesses.” At this meeting another friend, Diane, baked an Apple Cake that was outstanding. She said I could share the recipe on my blog. I think I sent my bundt  and angel food cake pans to the thrift shop. Seems every time I do something like that I need the darn things later.

This recipe might just make it to the Thanksgiving table.

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DIANE’S APPLE CAKE**

3 c. unsifted flour                  2 ½ tsp vanilla

2 ½ c. sugar                          1 tsp baking powder

1 c. oil                                    4 large apples, thinly sliced

4 eggs                                    2 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp salt                               4 T. Sugar

7 T. orange juice

  1. Lightly grease large angel food or bundt pan
  2. Beat together until smooth: flour, sugar, oil, eggs, salt, orange juice, vanilla & baking powder
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together apples, cinnamon and 4 T sugar
  4. Alternate layers of batter and apples in pan, beginning with batter and ending with apples
  5. Bake approximately 1 hour, 45 minutes at 350

** Also known as “Jewish Apple Cake”

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