Yesterday Andy asked for a simple baked chicken for dinner. I was good with that, and I was making a grocery run, so I could pick up whole chicken legs, which I would break down into drumsticks and thighs, and then bake them up. As I was wandering about the produce department, looking for something good and fresh looking, I came upon the leeks. It’s been a very, very long time since I found leeks that looked good. These not only looked good, they looked amazing! They were as fat as baseball bats, and bright and delicious looking. I bought a pair, not knowing at all what I’d do with them at the time, but golly, I couldn’t pass them up!
Fast forward to dinner prep time. I was thinking about this baked chicken, but my mind kept wandering to the leeks. Should I use them today? Should I save them for soup night? I love leeks in soup, but we did have a potato soup fairly recently… So I headed off to the Internets to look for some inspiration. I found it in MyRecipes.com from Real Simple magazine. A recipe that was truly simple, it combined drumsticks, thighs, leeks and apples and seasoned them all with rosemary, salt and pepper. Was it a coincidence that I also had picked up a bag of organic Rose apples yesterday? I was meant to make this dish!
It couldn’t have been easier. I got out a sheet pan, and as I seperated my drumsticks and thighs, I tossed them onto the pan. Then I quarted four apples, I ended up using two Braeburn, one Rose, and one Gala, as I thought a blend of apple might be nice. I took one of my gigantic leeks, removed the dark green part, and then cut it in half lengthwise for some good rinsing. After the leek was rinsed, and dirt removed, I basically cut them into quarters as well. Six rosemary sprigs were retrieved from the freezer, and then the whole pile was tossed with oil, salt and pepper.
I made sure the chicken was all skin side up, and then slid the pan into a 400ºF oven.
Forty-five minutes later, dinner was ready. We ate the chicken with potato wedges on the side. Oh, wow, was it good! And it was so simple! The chicken picked up amazing flavors from everything it was roasting with, and the leeks and apples were absolutely delicious and buttery, from having been cooked in chicken fat.
I wouldn’t change a thing with the ingredients, it was so much more than the sum of its parts. However, I might make a few changes in assembly for next time. I’m thinking that the leeks and apples were so good, that next time I might add more of them, and the leeks I’m thinking I would chop more finely and use them more as a bed for everything else. In that case, I would serve this with egg noodles or rice to soak up that leeky, chickeny goodness. It was quick, and it was really easy to throw together once I had my chicken in pieces. This was wonderful… We had leftovers, and I’m trying to decide how best to reinvent them for tonight’s dinner, the combination of flavors was THAT delicious. You should definitely try this one.
Roasted Chicken, Apples and Leeks
8 small chicken thighs and drumsticks (about 2 1/2 pounds)
4 small crisp apples (such as Empire or Braeburn), quartered
2 leeks, halved crosswise and lengthwise
6 small sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper
Heat oven to 400° F. On a large rimmed baking sheet (or in a large roasting pan), toss the chicken, apples, leeks, rosemary, oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper. Turn the chicken skin-side up. Roast until the chicken is cooked through and the apples and leeks are tender, 40 to 45 minutes.
Sometimes it’s really difficult to stick to your personal cooking convictions. Take, for example, my insistence that we eat homemade as much as possible. There are definitely days where I want to chuck that homemade part, walk down the convenience aisles of the grocery store, and fill my cart with boxes of food that will take little or no effort on my part to put together. I always look at those products, but for the most part, I just walk away.
About a month or so ago, though, we were given some groceries, for which I was quite grateful at the time. But one of the items in one of the bags was a box of Hamburger Helper- it was basic, the cheeseburger flavor, but it’s not something I make for my family. Ever. I put that box on the shelf for a while, and every time I walked past it, I would look at it. I really had a hard time with that silly box of flavored pasta! I couldn’t decide if I should cook it up, since it was given to us in the spirit of keeping my family fed through the winter, or if it would be okay to take that box and donate it. I went back and forth for about two weeks, before having a day where I needed a quick meal to take with us to dance. I quickly thawed a pound of ground beef and the Hamburger Helper was dinner.
And you know what happened? Abigail ate hers and said it was okay. I ate mine and thought to myself “Oh, that’s what processed tastes like.” Andy ate his (I assume, I wasn’t home to witness), but it was Zander who spoke the truth. “This does not taste good.” He ate two bites and chose to spend the evening hungry, rather than eat that abomination. I was both proud and frustrated at the same time. Honestly? I was kind of hoping we’d all like it so that I could consider stocking up on a few boxes, because it certainly was a quick and easy dinner. But no one really liked it, so lesson learned, right?
Well, a few weeks later, there I am staring at a sale on rice mixes. You know, those packages of rice and seasonings that you add to boiling water and you have tasty rice in twenty minutes? I wanted some. I looked at them, and what made me put them back, actually, was the serving size on the package. I would have needed at least two- even for a side dish- and that kind of negated the idea of these products being on sale and being a good deal for me.
But did you know that you can make your own rice mixes and store them in the pantry for a quick side dish? True story! I did just that last night, and it’s embarrassing how easy it was to do. I gathered my ingredients, three mason jars, a measuring cup and my measuring spoons. Then, assembly line style, I poured the ingredients into my mason jars, shook them up, covered them, and then added a label. I used one jar right away for dinner, but in less than a minute, I had two more jars of rice mix in the pantry, ready for another day. It just doesn’t get easier than this!
I only made three jars because I checked on the supplies I had on hand, and found I was running low on both dried thyme and dried onions. As easy as it was to make three jars, had I had enough on hand, I would have made at least six. One jar of mix was more than enough as a side dish for our family of four. Depending on appetites, anyway, I could have served six last night, as I had a bit leftover.
You can change this up however you want too- that’s another thing I love about it. The original recipe I was following called for one tablespoon of dried parsley, I didn’t have that at all, so instead I used 1/2 a teaspoon of dried tarragon. While I’m sure the parsley is good, I loved the flavor the tarragon brought to the dish. To make one jar of mix, you simply bring 2 1/2 cups of water to a boil with 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the mix, stir, cover with a lid, and then turn way down to a simmer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, stir with a fork, cover, and let sit for another five minutes. Perfect rice, perfectly flavored, exactly how you want it. If you don’t have chicken broth granules on hand, you could use beef, veggie, ham, whatever flavors you prefer.
Homemade convenience- now that makes me smile. Oh, and if you happen to be a fan of rice mixes with pasta- such as Rice-A-Roni, leave out 1/4 cup of the rice, and add 1/4 cup broken bits of spaghetti to your jar.
Chicken Rice Mix
makes 1 jar
1 cup long-grain rice (white or brown) (or use 3/4 cup rice, 1/4 cup broken spaghetti)
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon granules (or 3 bouillon cubes, crushed)
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried minced onion flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried garlic
1 tablespoon dried parsley (I used 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon) (use whatever herbs you like)
Combine the rice and all the ingredients in a pint size mason jar. Shake to distribute the contents. Cover, label, and store for future use.
To make the rice mix, bring 2 1/2 cups of water to a boil over high heat with 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the rice mix, stir, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork, put the cover back on, and let sit off of the heat for five minutes before serving.
Makes 4-6 servings.
After two weeks of bliss, we were back to a crazy schedule this week. I turned to my friend Stephanie O’Dea for some crock-pot inspiration for the week. I pretty much need two slow cooker friendly recipes a week, and all too often I seem to go back to the same ones. Hey, I can’t be blamed for wanting to stick with tried and true recipes because I would say that 4 out of 10 crock pot recipes I make are not repeaters. And yet, I keep trying, because having dinner ready when we walk in half an hour out from bedtime is priceless. It also keeps us from the drive-thru.
Anyway, this week I turned to the chicken recipes. I usually gravitate towards pork in the crock-pot because it’s a pretty forgiving meat. But this week I was in the mood for chicken. I scrolled through the recipes and a few stuck out. One is a Mediterranean Chicken that we’re having tonight, and the other was Apricot Barbecue Chicken Wings. I thought the apricot and barbecue combination sounded really good, and who doesn’t like chicken wings? My only problem with the recipe as a whole was the chicken wings. Those things have gone the way of the pork tenderloin, meaning that once upon a time they were a really affordable piece of meat. Now they are not. I can spend $3.50 on enough chicken leg quarters to feed my family two full meals. Whole chicken wings cost me $10 to feed my family one meal. Economical, it’s not. But I felt like a splurge, so chicken wings it was.
I sort of followed the recipe. I followed her recommendation to bake the chicken wings for just ten minutes before popping them in the crock-pot. I figured this gave me an opportunity to properly season the wings- so I sprinkled them liberally with salt and pepper and popped them in the oven to par-cook. While they baked up, I put together the sauce.
I poured out one cup of barbecue sauce and added my dried mustard. Then I pulled out the jar of apricot preserves. I was supposed to use the whole thing, but 18 ounces was a LOT of apricot preserves. I ended up adding just half of the jar. Then, instead of tabasco, I used a nice heaping tablespoon of my homemade hot sauce. A sauce which still needs a name, but is so incredibly delicious. This summer I’ll share how to make your own hot sauce when the hot peppers are in full explosion. For now, here’s a picture of my beautiful hot nectar:
I put the chicken wings into my crock-pot and then poured the sauce all over. I set it to low and walked away. An hour or two later, before we went out the door, I gave the wings one stir, but that probably wasn’t totally necessary. When we came home several hours later, the wings were done and we ate them with salad.
They were really good. The apricot and barbecue played together beautifully. The hot sauce and mustard were perfect additions, because they kept the sweetness in check. They weren’t too hot for the kids, though Abigail did mention her tingly lips today when she had leftovers for lunch. And speaking of leftovers, I have a recommendation for this recipe. I suggest that when you make this, you allow an extra 15 minutes of time if possible. The reason for this is that when I put the leftovers in the oven today, magic happened. That delicious sauce really baked into the wings, and then they got this great sticky quality. They were good last night, but they were spectacular today. If you have an extra 15 minutes, toss the wings in a 400ºF oven, you won’t be disappointed.
Apricot Barbecue Chicken Wings
Adapted from a recipe from A Year of Slow Cooking
3 pounds chicken wings
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup prepared barbecue sauce
1 heaping cup apricot preserves
1 teaspoon dry mustard powder
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce or other hot sauce
Use a 6-quart slow cooker. Spread the wings out on a large cookie sheet, sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and bake in the oven for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees. This browns the skin and keeps it from getting terribly slimy in the crock.
Put the hot wings into your cooker. In a mixing bowl, combine the barbecue sauce, apricot preserve, dry mustard, and Tabasco sauce.
Cover and cook on low for 5 hours, or until the chicken is cooked throughout but still attached to the bone.
I’ve been trying to figure out over these weeks just exactly why I haven’t been enjoying cooking much lately. I am certain that part of it is a restricted budget, because there’s only so many things one can do with hot dogs, you know? But I think a bigger part of it is the circumstances surrounding some of the meal times. Specifically, the meals that we eat outside of the home.
You would think this would be a piece of cake. I mean, millions of people take lunches to work every day and thrive just fine. Once upon a time I would take relish in packing Abigail a lunch to take to school in her Laptop Lunchbox. But packing the most substantial meal of the day can be tricky for me sometimes, and I think one of those reasons is simply the packaging. Strange but true.
When I make a meal to be re-heated in a microwave, I struggle very much with the idea that I’m having my children heat up food in plastic containers. Mainly for health reasons, to be honest. But there is also a part of me that cringes when I pack a pasta in red sauce or a bowl of chili, knowing that the container will be stained red for some time after that dish goes in the microwave. I have long been a fan of using glass in the microwave, but food-to-go? There are a few issues there, but the biggest issue is that good, sturdy glass containers are not inexpensive. The up-front costs of a set of portable glass dishes is about 10 times the price of a pack of gladware.
Fortunately for me, one of our Christmas gifts this year was a rather nice gift card to Bed, Bath and Beyond, which can be almost like a little playground for Andy and I. Seriously. All those cooking gadgets, dishes, pots and pans, decor, towels, etc. Even better, there are always 20 percent off coupons floating around for that store, so yesterday I set out to finally pick up some of these glass dishes for our meals away from home. Here they are!
I just finished washing them up, and now have the horrible task of figuring out where to store these babies. But I’m really excited about them! In fact, as I unpacked the box last night, and Andy saw the dishes, we both agreed that we know we need a second set, so I may be heading back tonight to pick up a second package. These are Pyrex brand dishes, which means that they are really heavy duty and durable. They are oven, microwave and dishwasher safe, so I can use the smaller dishes to bake individual gratins and baked pastas, then add a cover and haul them to dance to be re-heated. Nothing heated up in them will stain them, the lids seem to be pretty spill-proof, and when we get back home at the end of the night, they can go right in the dishwasher for the next day.
They do nestle inside each other fine for storage purposes too, so they won’t take up as much room as it appears they would with their lids on. I’m excited to fill them up and put them to work!
And hello to my food blog, which I very much miss writing in regularly. Hello to you too, if you’ve popped in for a visit or to find an old recipe.
As I write this, I have a pot of beans simmering away on the stove. A combination of Navy Beans and Kidney Beans, they’re simmering with a bit of bacon fat, bay leaf and salt and pepper. And they smell fabulous. Later today, those beans will be combined with some fresh Polish sausage, home canned tomatoes, seasonings, carrot and onion, maybe a bit of red bell pepper, and I expect to have a delicious Sausage and White Bean Stew for dinner.
It feels good to cook. It feels great to walk into the kitchen in the morning and have all day to dwell on the dinner hour, to rummage through the freezer and pantry and create something delicious and nourishing. I’ve long thought that I was in a horrible funk of just not wanting to cook. It turns out, it wasn’t a lack of desire, it was a lack of time, and I’m not sure what to do to remedy that.
We are on the last day of a two week break which we’ve been lovingly calling our Winter Hibernation. Oh my gosh, I cannot express how wonderful two weeks of nothing has been. We drastically culled our schedule these two weeks in order to really enjoy the holidays and family, and we more than succeeded. It’s been blissful and very, very relaxing. And as I mentioned, I’ve really been enjoying cooking again. Real cooking, not having to plan ahead for what I can prepare in the short amount of time I have between schooling the kids and heading out the door for the evening. Not having to plan a meal that will re-heat nicely in a microwave. Not having to plan for it to be ready late in the evening when we return from our evening away from home- when we eat only because we’re hungry and not because we want to enjoy the taste of the food.
And the simplest tastes have been like manna from heaven for us. Part of that is probably because Andy is laid off for the winter, and there is no extra money for treats and whatnot. We didn’t even make cookies and candies this year for Christmas. The kids each chose one favorite cookie, and we made those, along with iced sugar cookies and that was it. You know what, it may have seemed sparse written out, but it sure looked like an abundance on the cookie plate, and we enjoyed every one. I bought a pomegranate to go with our Christmas Eve meals… we never enjoyed a pomegranate like that one. Every kernel was enjoyed with relish. The homemade pierogi I made the day after Christmas was a real treasure- especially for Andy, who enjoyed the taste of his heritage very much. (Alas, the kids are still not fans.)
We also were given an abundance of cheese a few days before Christmas. Those grilled cheese sandwiches have never been more appreciated, or the homemade mac and cheese that evening. The kids have discovered that they really like the flavor of chipotle thanks to those cheeses, as one is a Chipotle Gouda which we’ve really been enjoying every way we can. When family stopped by and left us with a pineapple, some red pears and some Gala apples, we treasured that fruit and ate every bite with relish. A gift of homemade white chocolate dipped pretzels was never so delicious, as we nibbled them with glee and wondered why we don’t think to eat them more than once a year.
It’s just been a great time to reconnect, to take a step back and really appreciate the moments that seem so fleeting these days. Boy, have they been some great moments!
I have great expectations for 2013. I am hoping to keep this joy of cooking rolling and get the creative juices flowing again. I am making no resolutions this year, no lists of things to accomplish, no food goals. To be honest, if we can keep ourselves happy and healthy, that’s enough for me. But I do want to cook more, and then I want to find those pockets of time to share what’s been cooking, because when I discover a treasure, everyone should know about it. Like the cinnamon rolls we had Christmas morning. For years I’ve made Pioneer Woman’s cinnamon rolls, which are delicious, but I’ve always felt they were lacking something. This year, on a whim I tried a different recipe, and I swear the angel choir was singing for us as we dove into that pan of rolls. They were the cinnamon rolls of our dreams. They need to be made again soon, because I need to share them here.
And so I look forward to the year ahead! I am wishing all the best for you and yours, and I pray that this will be the year of great joy and happiness for all of my Tummy Treasure visitors. Thanks for popping by, I hope to chat again soon!
Straining the yogurt works great! After I let the yogurt sit in the fridge overnight to chill, I pour it into a colander that I’ve lined with coffee filters. Two hours later, I scrape the yogurt into a jar and we have nice, thick Greek style yogurt. I pour the whey that drained off into a seperate jar, and I’ve been using that in other ways. The whey makes a great addition to home baked breads, soups, and I even made a batch of lacto-fermented sauerkraut this week.
The thickened yogurt has become a favorite. The kids love layering it with homemade strawberry jam. I still pull out about 1/2 a cup of the yogurt and stir in a drop of vanilla and literally, half a teaspoon of sugar, and then layer it with the jam for the kids. Yes, I’m still adding sugar, but they are getting a mere 1/4 teaspoon per serving (well, maybe 1/2 a teaspoon with the jam included), instead of the 6 or 7 teaspoons that are in a serving of store-bought yogurt.
So far, too, I’ve made five batches of yogurt with just that one container of yogurt as my starter. I’ve been pulling out 1/2 a cup of plain yogurt to start the next batch, and it’s still working great!
It’s been a very long time since I pulled out my yogurt maker. In fact, I seem to recall not to long ago wondering if I should pass it on to someone who might actually use it. I didn’t, and this week, as I eyed a surplus of milk, I decided it was time to dust that maker off and give homemade yogurt another try.
In the past, when I’ve made homemade yogurt, I’ve just not been pleased with it. For one, it’s just not as thick as the store bought stuff- I like it nice and thick. It’s also simply plain yogurt. I’m the only one in the house who will eat plain yogurt, everyone else likes it flavored and fruity. And finally, I wasn’t entirely crazy about the process, which called for adding in powdered milk. My taste buds have a powdered milk sensitivity- I can taste it anywhere it’s used, and I really don’t like it. I would make up a quart of homemade yogurt, and on the back of my tongue I could taste that metallic taste that I identify powdered milk with. It’s yucky.
But this time, I was going to skip the powdered milk. I’ve long surmised that if I used a good Greek yogurt as my yogurt starter, that I could skip the powdered milk- which contributes to the thickness of the final product. It was time to test that theory. I started with one quart of good whole milk. This is local, hormone-free milk.
Not organic, but the hormone free part is the part I’m most concerned with. My recipe called a quart of milk, warmed to just below the boiling point, then cooled. I decided to simply warm it enough to take the chill off. I wasn’t sure if scalding played an important part or not. It could be that the scalding part of yogurt making hastens back to the days before pasteurization. You’d want to make sure any baddies in the milk are destroyed before adding live cultures to feed off them and turn them into worse baddies. So I warmed it to lukewarm and then gently, with the rubber spatula, stirred in one container of Greek yogurt.
Apparently there was a run on plain Greek yogurt when I went shopping, because this was the only single-serving container I could find in the grocery store. I could have bought a larger tub of a myriad of brands, but since the plan was to MAKE yogurt, a single serving was what I wanted. This is a great yogurt, so I went with it. My only beef with it was that it was a reduced fat version, normally I prefer full fat.
So I stirred them together, which took quite a while. You have to be careful stirring in the yogurt, because beating destroys the beneficial bacteria apparently. I remember the one time I took a whisk to the yogurt and milk, and my reward at the end was yogurt flavored soup. So it took a while to get the yogurt stirred in, and then I poured it into my yogurt maker.
This maker is really a treasure. When I first bought it, it was on a BOGO sale, so I got two machines for just $20 plus shipping. I passed one on to a friend and kept mine for myself. It’s really no frills- it simply keeps the culturing yogurt at a nice warm temperature, allowing the bacteria to do its thing. Today there are dozens of options out there in the yogurt machine category- many that make individual jars, which is cute, but for me impractical. I like making a quart at a time. I poured the milk/yogurt mixture into my machine and set a timer for six hours. I plugged it in and walked away.
Six hours later, I lifted the top and gave the container a gentle jiggle. I was just looking to see if there was any evidence of the mixture turning into yogurt- and it did jiggle a bit. So without disturbing it, I pulled out the container and set it right into the fridge to chill overnight. The next morning, I opened it up and discovered that I HAD made yogurt successfully! It thickened up nicely actually.
I pulled out a good 1/2 cup to start another batch later this week, and we’ve been enjoying the yogurt ever since. I pulled some out and stirred a touch of vanilla and the tiniest bit of sugar in to layer with jam for the kids. They absolutely loved that- they licked their containers clean- but by stirring something in to the yogurt, it rendered it completely runny. It reminded me very much of the drinkable yogurt that Organic Valley makes. It was delicious, but I really wanted to be able to eat this yogurt with a spoon.
So I’m playing with it. Overall, we’re all happy with the results. One of the biggest reasons I shied away from the homemade yogurt for so long was because I didn’t think the kids would eat it. Now that I know they love it, I suspect this may make a more regular appearance. With all my homemade jams and fruit butters on hand to stir in, we can make a different cup of yogurt every day for three weeks and not have a repeat. The Greek yogurt worked awesome, and I’m eager to see how pulling out my own starter works for a future batch. I think I’ll be doing that tomorrow.
Cold arrived early this year in the Tummy Treasure gardens. Though our first REAL cold day seems to be today, the ripening in the garden seemed to all but come to a halt at the end of September. Where I was walking out to the garden and picking a bucketful of tomatoes every day, it was down to just one or two a day- and those weren’t even very ripe. As the frost threatened here and there, I decided I didn’t want to bother with having to cover and uncover my plants, so I went out and picked the tomato plants clean. I ended up with two busboy buckets full of green tomatoes.
I was certain some of them would ripen, but in the meantime, I thought it very prudent to not let any go to waste, and I sought about for some ways to preserve green tomatoes. I’ve made salsa in the past, and while good, it wasn’t really our favorite. What I wanted was a pickle or two. I have very fond memories of my mom making green tomato pickles once. Or maybe Grandma made them, I guess I’m not sure. But what I remember is that they were very delicious- though they ended up quite soft and mushy. As I would go through my pickling books I kept being drawn to two recipes in particular. One was for a curried green tomato pickle- and that one I’ll hopefully share another day. But the one I wanted to make most was called Green Tomato-Hot Pepper Mix. I had the green tomatoes, and I certainly had an abundance of hot peppers in the garden. So after hemming and hawing a lot, I decided to just go for it and make this recipe.
I decided to cut the recipe in half, because if it wasn’t successful, I didn’t want five or six quarts of not so good pickles floating around. But then once I had all the vegetables cut up and soaking in salt, it looked to me like I had a good four quarts worth of vegetables. I wonder if the recipe was written with much smaller green tomatoes or something. Because I was very particular about weighing out 3.5 pounds of the tomatoes, and I was also precise with measuring the peppers. Instead of using a cup of pearl onions, I opted for a cup of vidalia onion, cut vertically, so I had strips of onion instead of just a few pearls scattered amongst the jars. For the peppers, instead of using 2 cups each of specific kinds of pepper, I simply measured out six cups of peppers. Some were hot, some were mild, but you could certainly follow the recipe and use the specific peppers- just don’t go over the specified amount called for.
So as I looked at the quantity of vegetables, I thought that there wasn’t going to be enough brine if I followed half a recipe, so in the end I had half the vegetables called for, but 3/4 of the quantity of brine. I was worried about not having enough brine to cover the vegetables in the jars. There are a few steps to this recipe, but once I had everything chopped and sliced, it was no more difficult than any other pickle I made. I made the brine, cooked the vegetables in it for just a few minutes, and then packed it all into my quart jars. I DID end up with four quart jars, though I probably had about two cups of extra brine when all was said and done.
A few weeks later, we finally cracked into these pickles last night. I wanted to wait long enough that the flavors fully bloomed and co-mingled. And WOW were these tasty. They’re a bit hot though, as I grew some exceptional peppers in the garden this year. So when I make these again with an abundance of hot peppers, I will make sure to use a better proportion of mild peppers too.
The blend of pepper, onion and green tomato is perfect. Each bite is absolutely delicious, although the whole mixture did end up on the soft side. I suspect that is the nature of the beast. Andy wishes there was a bit of a crunch, but unfortunately, I don’t really see how to add that to this mix. Maybe using the pearl onions would make that difference, but two cups of pearl onions in a full recipe is only a very few per jar anyway, so I don’t really think that would matter.
But overall, these are a winner. Even though I found them hotter than I like, I had to keep going back for another bite, because the overall flavor is spectacular. These are a very good pickle, and I highly recommend it if you have green tomatoes floating around begging to be used.
Pickled Green Tomato-Hot Pepper Mix
from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
1/4 cup Pickling Spice (store bought, or make your own)
2 Tbsp mustard seeds
7 lb green tomatoes, cored and cut into eighths (about 21 medium)
4 cups sliced seeded Hungarian or red bell peppers (about 4 large)
4 cups sliced seeded hot yellow banana peppers (about 4 large)
4 cups sliced seeded Anaheim, poblano or fresh New Mexico peppers (about 4 large)
2 cups pickling or pearl onions, peeled (about 25 small)
5 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp pickling or canning salt
8 cups white vinegar
4 cups water
1 cup granulated sugar
5 quart glass preserving jars with lids and bands
Prepare boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.
Tie pickling spice and mustard seeds in a square of cheesecloth creating a spice bag. Set aside.
Combine tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic and salt in a large glass or stainless steel bowl. Mix well and set aside.
Combine vinegar, water and sugar in a large stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add reserved spice bag, reduce heat and boil gently for 10 minutes, until spices have infused the liquid. Add vegetables and boil gently for 10 minutes, or until vegetables are heated through and slightly tender. Remove from heat. Discard spice bag.
Pack hot vegetables into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Ladle hot pickling liquid into jar to cover vegetables leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot pickling liquid. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Apply band until fit is fingertip tight.
Process jars in a boiling water canner for 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.
It could be.
Though, I said that at the beginning of October, and since then I’ve put up nearly 25 quarts of tomatillos, tomatoes and assorted green tomato pickles. So who knows what a few more days will bring. I AM still on the prowl for some good deals on cranberries. It was supposed to be a bumper year for them, and I have yet to see any. I’d like to make a batch of Cranberry Chutney yet this year if I can.
But for the most part, I think canning season is over. What I have left in the garden is carrots, beets and greens- not things that you can in a boiling water canner. Unless I pickle some carrots. but we like those for fresh eating.
But overall, despite the wonky weather, it was a productive growing season. Here is today’s picture of the basement pantry with all the home canned goods.
Isn’t it lovely! I did much better at putting up this year than last year- and that is despite missing a few things. All those empty jars were earmarked for applesauce and canned peaches. We never got around to ordering our Michigan peaches due to finances this year, and the apples were more costly than gold. We went to the orchard once and picked enough apples to make one pie, and a few for fresh eating. And that was it. Next year we’ll have a better year, and the peaches and applesauce will make it to the shelves.
I made more jam this year than last year- more varieties, I should say. But the salsa tally is quite a bit less over last year. However, since we still have quite the number of jars carrying over from last year, I think we’ll be just fine on salsa. We may have a little more restraint, though, when it comes to sharing. First priority will go to those who actually return the jars. I can’t believe how many cases of pint and half-pint jars I had to purchase this year.
Anyway, I wanted to share this picture today, because it’s one of my happy places. I walk past this almost daily- either to do laundry or get to the freezer. I can’t walk past these shelves without pausing and smiling. I’m most excited right now about the tomatoes. I harvested all the green ones at the end of September, and began plotting pickles and fried green tomatoes, because I didn’t think they’d all ripen. Lo and behold, every single one (that hasn’t already been turned into a pickle) has ripened. I’ve had so many tomatoes that I’ve run three batches through the canner and now have 11 quarts and 7 pints of canned tomatoes on the shelves. I don’t think I’ve ever harvested all my green tomatoes before- usually I let the frost take them. Clearly, I won’t be making that mistake again! I may have enough yet to do just one more batch of salsa, but I’m thinking they will probably go into the last batch of fresh tomato soup.
So what have you put up this year? I would love to know. There’s nothing like enjoying all the hard work of the harvest come January or February. Fresh, homemade biscuits slathered with homemade jam? Or a lovely ham baked with a glaze made from mustard and Zesty Red Onion Jelly? Or a batch of nachos, loaded up with homemade salsa. Bring it on. I’m hungry.
Andy had a birthday yesterday. I had been planning on making him his birthday pie (blueberry this year) but thought it really wouldn’t be a birthday without cake. And then I thought about how much he really likes Bill’s Big Carrot Cake, and that led to thoughts of how I really didn’t have the time or the ingredients to devote to such a cake, delicious though it may be. But surely there was a recipe out there for a basic carrot cake that I could turn into a dozen cupcakes to help make the day a little more special for him.
I actually found a recipe for a light carrot cake that I decided to use. I changed it up a little because it called for whole wheat flour, and while I was all for using whole wheat flour in the pancakes I was also making at the time, I did not want that flavor in my cupcakes. I also cut the recipe in half, and then I put my daughter to work peeling and grating carrots. In reality, it was probably slave labor, because I gave her the worst task when making the cake, but she got to help make Daddy’s birthday cupcakes and that made her happy.
The recipe I found also called three eggs, which were separated and then the whites beaten. Whoops! I didn’t see that direction at all! And instead of measuring my egg, (because how do you use one and a half eggs?) I used one grocery store large egg, and one small fresh from the farm egg that friends had given us. Truly, other than grating the carrot, I liken this adapted recipe to that of a carrot cake mix. Really, it was about that easy. I just plopped everything into the bowl and mixed it up and then baked it. A smear of cream cheese frosting went onto the cupcakes and they were proclaimed good.
While they may not be the loaded carrot cake experience that is Big Bill’s Carrot Cake, they actually turned out really good. I wouldn’t hesitate to make these again if a carrot cake craving strikes and time is of the essence. They had a nice light crumb that was moist and full of that spicy carrot cake flavor. This one was a winner!
You can easily make this a layer cake or a sheet cake too. As is, you can bake it in a 9-inch round or square pan for about 35 minutes. If you want to make layers or want a bigger cake, double the recipe. The cupcakes took about 25 minutes to bake, and one batch makes a dozen.
Easy Carrot Cake Cupcakes
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 large egg and 1 small egg (alternatively, use two large eggs, beat together and then measure out 1/4 cup of egg plus 1 1/2 tablespoons)
1/3 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 carrots, peeled and grated on a box grater
Preheat oven to 350ºF and line a muffin pan with cupcake papers. If you’re using a baking pan, spray the pan with cooking spray.
Combine the cake flour through the allspice in a mixing bowl. Mix together with a whisk. In a small bowl or measuring cup, combine the egg, buttermilk and oil. Mix together and add to the dry ingredients.
Mix together until just combined, and then fold in the grated carrots.
Divide the batter among twelve cupcake papers- they should be about 2/3 full once you’ve used all the batter.
Bake in a 350º oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow to cool completely before frosting with your favorite frosting.
I warned the kids a few weeks ago that my goal this winter was to get them to like beans. Not the green beans that they eat with abandon fresh from the garden- but dried beans. I don’t exactly remember what we were eating that night- burrito bowls I think, and as Zander dodged the pinto beans, I told him to scoop up a bean with the rice- that eating the rice with the beans made all the difference in the world. While I still don’t think he cared for them, he did appease me by taking a few more bites of the bean and rice combo. Neither kids has ever been a fan of beans, although Abigail does have a fondness for store-bought baked beans. One day we’ll get her converted!
Anyway. Last night’s dinner was thanks to the Epicurious app that I downloaded to my iPod. It’s one of the very, very few apps that I’ve actually paid for- they really need to sparkle and shine for me to want to purchase them. I love the Epicurious website- that is my go-to spot for recipes that impress. Epicurious started as a conglomeration of recipes and advice from both Bon Appetit and Gourmet magazine, so they have a high standard of quality to live up to. I have a big recipe box on there full of saved recipes, and this app lets me access that recipe box, plus search hundreds of thousands of recipes. Last week I spent some time perusing the “Dinner Tonight” section, and came across this recipe for Chickpea Stew. I read the reviews, looked at the recipe, and it intrigued me. I knew I was going to make a few tweaks, (mostly add more chicken), and I was going to serve this over rice. Would this be a recipe that got my kids to eat chickpeas?
For the most part, I did follow the recipe pretty exactly. My changes were actually quite minor in the grand scheme of keeping the integrity of the dish. My first big change was that I made my own chickpeas from dried instead of using canned ones. I urge anyone who hasn’t done so to give dried chickpeas a try- you’ll be amazed at the difference. My second change to the recipe was to use six chicken thighs instead of just two. I did appreciate that in this recipe the chicken was more of a condiment, but if I wanted the kids to take more than a few bites, I needed more chicken to entice them. And finally, instead of water, I used chicken broth. Many of the reviews recommended it, and that likely would have been my inclination as well. Broth equals flavor, water equals no flavor.
It really was easy enough once I had my chickpeas cooked up. You begin by browning up the chicken thighs, and once brown, you take them out of your pan and add garlic, tomato paste and cumin, and let that get all cooked up and toasty. Then you add chicken broth, bay leaves and the chicken, and let the whole thing simmer away for twenty minutes or so. The chicken thighs come out at that point to cool a bit, and the chickpeas slide into the broth. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, the bones and skin are discarded and the meat shredded up and added back into the broth, along with a half cup of chopped roasted red peppers. Just before serving I added the juice of half a lemon, and then served extra lemon wedges on the side, along with a scattering of parsley. And while the recipe suggested serving this over bread cubes, I used rice. I ended up using plain white rice as I didn’t have the time to wait for brown rice to cook up. Brown would have been the way to go.
Don’t skip the lemon juice at the very end! This was absolutely delicious and full of flavor, but the extra lemon juice and parsley really brightened up the whole dish. Surprise, surprise, the kids actually ate these chickpeas. Not entirely, their plates were not clean, but they both made a hearty effort and didn’t complain about it. They really liked the extra lemon wedges for squeezing over.
With a few modifications, I think this would make a great crock-pot dish as well, and I may play around with that in the future, but for now, this was a real winner. Now the decision to be made is whether to eat the leftovers as is, or get creative and add a few things to make a nice leftover soup. We’ll see what the next week brings.
adapted from a recipe on Epicurious.com
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 chicken thighs- bone in and skin on
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes ( you can use a lot less- I used a pinch)
2 bay leaves
4 cups chicken broth
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed, drained (or 1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas, cooked from scratch)
1/2 cup chopped drained roasted red peppers from a jar
2 tablespoons (or more) fresh lemon juice, plus extra wedges for serving
2 cups 1″ cubes country-style bread (or 2 cups cooked rice)
3 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium pot over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt; add to pot and cook, turning once, until browned, 8–10 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Reduce heat to low and let oil cool for 1 minute; add garlic and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, 30–60 seconds. Add cumin, tomato paste, and red pepper flakes; stir until a smooth paste forms, about 1 minute. Add reserved chicken with any accumulated juices, along with bay leaves and 4 cups chicken broth. Scrape up any browned bits. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, occasionally stirring, until chicken is tender, about 20 minutes.
Transfer chicken to a plate. Add chickpeas to pot; bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Once chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin and bones and shred chicken; add to stew. Add red peppers. Stir in 2 tablespoons lemon juice; simmer for 1 minute. Season with salt and more lemon juice, if desired. Divide bread cubes or rice among bowls. Ladle stew over. Garnish with parsley and serve with extra lemon wedges.
Of all the cookies out there, I have to believe that an M&M Cookie is the one cookie that most everyone can agree is delicious. It appeals to everyone- young and old. They also happen to be incredibly easy to make! M&M Cookies have become my cookie of choice when it comes to giving cookies away or baking for a bake sale. I’ve spent a bit of time perfecting my recipe just so. It gives you a bit of chew, a bit of crisp around the edges, and loads of delicious M&M candies.
My favorite thing about this recipe though has to be that you can adjust the size effortlessly. Making cookies for a crowd? Use a tablespoon cookie scoop and bake the cookies for 11-12 minutes. Making cookies for the bake sale? Use a 1/4 cup measure to scoop the dough and bake for closer to 15 minutes. You’ll get cookies the size of your head, and perfect in every way. They are the first to disappear off the bake sale table every time.
Do use both the butter and the shortening. I’ve played with this quite a bit. Use all butter and your cookies will spread too much, and will also have a greasy texture. Use all shortening and the cookies don’t spread enough- they also taste bland from the lack of buttery flavor. I have not tried butter flavored shortening, but I just recommend using a combination of the two for the best of both worlds.
I haven’t tried using Dark M&M’s either yet, as Zander is not a fan of dark chocolate. But I bet those would make even better cookies.
Perfect M&M Cookies
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar
1 stick butter, softened
1/2 cup of solid shortening
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
2-3 cups plain chocolate M&M candies
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the sugars with the butter and shortening. Beat with a mixer on low speed until well combined and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and vanilla.
Add the flour, baking soda, salt and baking powder and mix into the butter mixture with a wooden spoon. Fold in 2 cups of the M&Ms.
Portion your dough onto baking sheets as desired. For normal sized cookies, measure out generous tablespoon sized balls of dough. For very large cookies, use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop out the dough. (Six of the large dough balls will fit on a half-sheet pan perfectly.) Pat the dough into rough balls and then flatten slightly with your fingers. For both sizes of cookie, press a few M&M’s directly into the top of the dough.
Bake the smaller cookies for 10-12 minutes or until the just begin to brown around the edges. For the larger cookies, they can take as long as 16 minutes to reach the perfect stage of doneness.
Remove to cooling racks to cool completely.
Makes between 12-36 cookies, depending on the size made.