Counting Blessings, Sharing Blessings

garden bounty

It’s been a long, wonderful summer filled with intense learning and amazing food and new discoveries.

We more than doubled our garden size this year from 3 large garden beds to 6 beds, plus a squash field and some hollowed out logs for edible herbs and flowers. Oh, and we still planted our edible front yard for all the neighbors to enjoy.

The funny thing is, our edible front yard has done its job so well that in the past two years we’ve inspired nearly all of our neighbors to start their own wee gardens, it doesn’t hurt that our new February survival tactic is to put seeds in dirt under fluorescent lights and start sprouting so that come spring we have wagons full of extra tomato and hot pepper seedlings to share…

winter sprouting

Surviving February

The point is we’ve been successful and so this year our neighbors didn’t need our front yard the way they have in previous years, which meant, more food for us! A blessing and a curse.

However, I am proud to report that after tonight I will have successfully used EVERY SINGLE TOMATO, including the green ones. They have all been eaten, turned into salsa or marinara or chutney and canned or frozen.

I had used all of the hot peppers, but then October decided to go warm and mild and they have continued to produce, so in addition to the regular tomato based salsa, I’ve now crafted three different types of hot sauce using Thai chilis, habenero chilis and cayenne peppers.And I’m looking down the blender barrel at another batch or two before the snows come and close the garden for the season.

I’ve pulled all our carrots and used most of them.

We still have beets in the ground, and in the fridge, and canned in the pantry. But, that is my fault. No one in my family but me likes the damn things, and I accidentally planted two batches, when I only needed 1/4 of a batch. Oops. Live and learn. (And ask your friends to PLEASE stop by and pick up some beets!)

Speaking of learning – here are some lessons from this year’s garden.

1. Baker Creek Seeds are WONDERFUL! BUT, pay attention to whether you can grow what you want in your area. I did get a few that were not designed for my climate/altitude and because I am a lazy gardener, they struggled.

baker creek seeds

All the lovely seeds.

2. Okra is a silly plant best left to people who are willing to grow acres of it. I planted 5 plants and it took a whole season of careful harvesting & storing to get enough for a single batch of gumbo.

3. As always, we should have planted more Jalapenos. It turns out there is no such thing as too many jalapeno plants.

4. And, as always, we planted too many tomatoes. But… When we’re still cracking open jars of home-made salsa in January, I doubt we’ll be upset about this.

overstocked

A well stocked pantry.

5. Next year, more carrots, more potatoes, more midget melons.

6. We need a cider press. That is definitely the top ticket item for next year.

7. Canning is expensive, but if I get all my jars back, or if people donate theirs to my cause (hint) it’ll all be worth it!

Last, the biggest thing I learned is that I really want to share more of what I know with people.

I love cooking and I love sharing food.

More than that, I love sharing real food, simple, yet delicious food. Food that the average person can make at home without too much stress or a pair of tweezers.

So, in the vein of sharing blessings… I am thinking about embarking on a new path with Kitchen Bravada and I’d love to feel you out.

I’d like to offer a new range of services and I want to hear what you think – are these services you’d like, what would you pay for them, are there related services I’m forgetting but that you wish I’d consider?

1. Getting Started with Rocky Mountain Urban Gardening

Face it, not all plants do well here, and some plants do great if you can just get the setup right. Others (mint, I’m looking at you) should NEVER be planted unless you want them to take over. I’d love to help people get started. Between me and my husband (though he doesn’t know I’ve just volunteered him) we can do everything from building garden beds to designing edible landscaping to planting rocky mountain friendly varieties of your favorite fruits and veggies and teaching you when to harvest and how to harvest your crops to get the most out of them.

2. Eating the Harvest

So you’ve got a garden and it’s producing food – now what? How do you turn raw veggies into delicious meals? I’d love to come over and introduce you to new recipes, new techniques, flavor combinations, dishes and styles. Let me help you broaden your palate and get creative in the kitchen with your garden bounty!

3. Preserving the Harvest

garden bounty

Too much good food. Is that even a thing?

Once you’ve gotten into gardening you’ll learn that everything tends to come in at once, in abundance. So what do you do when faced with gallons of tomatoes, mountains of zucchini, buckets of carrots, bushels of beans – all at once!?! I want to come to your house and help you survey your bounty and show you the best methods for preserving each food for later use. From pickling to canning to freezing to drying, different foods prefer different preservation methods. Let me come over and show you how to get the  most from your garden.

4. Eating Healthy for Less

I just wrote a BIG LONG post about this over on my ranty-pants site. I made a wish over there, but then I realized I could take steps toward realizing it right here with you all. I want to come to your home and spend some time with you. I want to learn what you like to eat, what you wish you were eating, what’s holding you back (money, time, kitchen skills, lack of equipment…) and then I want to dive in and help you. I want to create a plan with you and help you make your shopping list and go to the store with you and then I want to come home and show you how to turn good ingredients into GREAT food that your whole family will enjoy.

I want to be The Food Whisperer (Because somehow in our culture people who are good at things whisper… I don’t know. I don’t make the rules.) But that’s the idea. I want to come over and spend some time just consulting and then go home and think it over and come back and create a customized plan that fits your needs AND your available resources. (Because it won’t work if I come up with a plan that requires more time than you have, or more money than you have or skills that are too far beyond what you’re comfortable with in the kitchen.) And then I want to spend a day with you getting started, and then come back and follow-up and teach you some more tricks. I imagine this being something where I spend one day a week with you for a month and then maybe another follow-up once a month for the next three months. Something like that. I’m brainstorming, help me out. What do YOU think would work best?

If these ideas sound good to you, sound like things you wish someone would come help you with – please, let me know in the comments.

Here are the big questions –

1. Do these sound like services you’d like to use? Is there anything you’d change about them?

2. If so, how much would you be willing to pay for them? (If that is different from what you would be able to pay, feel free to note that. I understand that sometimes services are worth more than we can afford, personally I suspect this is one of those things for most people.)

3. For those who are able, would you be willing to pay more if you knew that a percentage of your payment went into a scholarship fund to help people in need access healthier food options and education?

4. Did I miss anything?

Kitchen Meditations and Wildflower Jelly

wildflower jelly

It’s been a really stressful summer, as evidenced by the fact that my last real post was WAY back in April.

The last month or so I’ve been meaning to get back to this blog and share my new kitchen creations with everyone, but I’ve been so darn busy keeping up with the garden, and with my girlgoyels getting back to school, and all the other usual life madness that this piece just hasn’t made the list.

But, I love food and I love writing and I love stories – so here I am, back at last.

To talk a little about how I found my peace again after losing it pretty hard.

It started with making time for a daily walk through my garden. Barefoot. Even over the prickly weeds.

earthing in the garden

Barefoot gardener

Getting my hands into the bushes, brambles and delicious produce.

Bringing in the daily harvest, and celebrating it with a quick picture, even when looking at it felt overwhelming because it was all just SO MUCH!

garden bounty

Too much good food. Is that even a thing?

And then, breaking it down – seeing what could be stored for a day or two and what needed to be processed, preserved or eaten right away.

overstocked

A well stocked pantry.

This year I really felt like in tending my garden, I was tending myself.

I was learning to see what I had in abundance and how to use it effectively to get the most from it.

I was learning to see that some days I had a lot of one thing, and not enough of something else, but that with a little patience, the other pieces of the recipe would come around just in time to make the perfect meal. (Or salsa. Mostly salsa.)

I was learning about pacing myself.

In the meantime I was learning a ton about food preservation techniques, from the very old school fermentation to canning and freezing.

I was learning how to use salt and sugar to preserve foods, how to use heat and cold to keep foods safe. And I was learning what foods liked which methods best.

I have learned patience, as I wait, toe tapping, for six long weeks before I try my first ever home-grown, home-made dill pickles. And another six weeks before I try my curried yellow squash relish/chutney.

trusting pickles

My 7th batch, and I haven’t even tried the first batch to know if they are good! That’s a lot of faith!

I have learned trust as I brewed my first edible wildflower infusion for jelly and wondered whether it would really be deliciously edible or just a wasteful novelty. (Spoiler – It is hands down the BEST thing I created all summer and I’ve already made a second batch, ever so different from the first as all batches will be when you are dealing with nature’s whims.)

I have learned to enjoy the time I spend with myself in the kitchen, thinking up new ways to enjoy old foods, like pickling eggplants and limes… or adding hot peppers to sweet fruit jams.

I’ve learned to follow my instincts and let my curiosity guide me as I experiment with new flavor combinations and stretch past the tired trends driving so many kitchens.

And now, after a month of experimentation and preservation, I feel whole again. I feel full. I am ready to share myself, my kitchen, my food and my stories.

So…

I suppose I should start with the most meditative and perfect thing I learned to make this summer – that wildflower jelly.

wildflower jelly

Undeniably the best thing I have ever created!

Wildflower Jelly is a long process. It begins early in the spring, or even the fall before you wish to make the jelly.

First, you have to do the research – NOT ALL FLOWERS ARE EDIBLE. Some WILL KILL YOU. Others will just make you REALLY sick and uncomfortable. Also – be aware of your allergies when selecting flowers.

Second, if you’re me, after you do the research you have to decide which flowers you want to plant and grow – this way you can be sure that they remain free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals that you don’t want in your jelly! You can also be sure that you won’t mis-identify these plants in the wild. I planted a whole slew of wildflowers this spring, and I’m planning even more for next year.

Third – the harvest. This, for me might be the best part of the process. Harvesting wildflowers for jelly is such a meditative, connecting, grounding moment. Yes, it makes me go all foo-foo.

I have edible flowers growing throughout my garden and yard.

I usually start harvesting with the borage, because I love the way those tiny blue flowers come off in my hand. More often than not they remain intact, which makes them perfect for sprinkling in the bottom of the jars as garnish. (I use a second, fresh, harvest for this task.)

borage in jars

A sprinkle of fresh borage

Then I move to my sunflower forest and select the brightest petals from the healthiest looking flowers. After that I meander over to my rose-bush and my snapdragons. Sometimes I sprinkle in some cinnamon basil flower heads for kick. Next I add in some wild dandelions, my Calendula, some chamomile, a little bee balm if it’s in bloom… I dig through my unruly honeysuckle and find any available flowers hiding in the foliage…

Last I go out front and see if I have any Hibiscus flowers that are just starting to wilt. They add bright red color and a delightful tartness to my jelly.

edible hibiscus flower

Add a flourish to your jelly with this beautiful edible flower!

I’ve heard that my scarlet bean flowers are edible, but they don’t have the kind of flavor I want in my jelly, they would be better served atop a fresh garden salad sprinkled in with some fresh chive flowers…

scarlet beans and flowers

Scarlet beans are my favorite crop.

When I have three packed cups of mixed flowers and petals, I take them inside and boil up some water. I pour an equal amount of boiling water over my flowers, cover with a mesh splatter guard and let them steep for 24 hours.

wildflowers for jelly

A small sample of the flowers that go into my jelly. Each batch is unique.

The next day I pour the infusion through a fine mesh strainer, squeezing the petals to get the most bang for my watery buck.

I measure the liquid to the nearest cup (My goal is three to four cups of “flower juice” if I come up short, I top off my infusion with a little filtered water to get me where I need to be.) and pour it into my jelly pan. (Any large heavy bottomed pot will do.)

Next, I add two boxes, or one 4.7 oz jar of pectin to the infusion, sprinkling it over as evenly as I can to help prevent clumping. I also add 1/8 cup bottled lemon juice per cup of wildflower infusion. (Bottled juice has a consistent acidity which makes it better for this purpose than fresh squeezed lemon juice.)

I bring this mixture up to a rolling boil – a boil that cannot be stirred away. Then, I add 6 cups of sugar – or two cups of sugar for every cup of flower infusion – all at once.

Keeping the heat up, I stir constantly until the sugar dissolves and the new jelly/syrup reaches a full boil again. I quickly set the timer for 1 minute and keep stirring until it goes off.

Then I kill the heat and begin to ladle the jelly into my prepared jars.

One of the things I learned last year is that jelly making is a very scientific process – it relies on the perfect combination of four factors – sugar, pectin, acidity and heat. Flowers have none of these things, so this jelly relies on you being willing to accept your flower infusion as the flavor enhancer to the other required ingredients.

This jelly is SO precious that I like to use small 4oz jars for it because they remind me to savor it and use it as a special treat.

wildflower jelly

Undeniably the best thing I have ever created!

That said, this recipe makes more than a dozen jars, so I usually put the leftovers into the larger 1/2 pint jars which are the ones I keep for my family to use while I sell or gift the smaller jars.

This is a LOVELY gift, sure to bring smiles.

To can this jelly, use a waterbath canner and process for 10 minutes (adjusting for altitude – add 5 minutes for every 5,000 feet).

A pot of Jam

flavors of jam

When I was 11, my parents took me and my sister to France for a 5 week, 1,000 mile bike ride.

It was, to say the least, epic.

One of my favorite parts about the trip was breakfast – not just because I woke up STARVING every morning, but because even though we ordered the exact same thing every single morning for 5 weeks – it always came out a little different.

See, none of us actually spoke French. My sister had a semester or so under her belt, but that just got us to the town library, and to a bathroom.

Breakfast, food in general really, that was a whole other box of frogs.

So, every morning we would ride to the nearest cafe and order “Pain de la confiture” or, bread with jam. It was the only thing we knew how to ask for.

And everywhere we went we got that town’s, that cafe’s jam. It wasn’t like America where no matter where you go, you get the same little basket of Smuckers jam in single serving plastic trays and the standard 4 flavors – Strawberry, Orange Marmalade, Grape Jelly and Blackberry.

Nope, every morning we would wait to see what kind of jam we got, and how it was presented.

Sometimes we got a wee bowl of jam with a spoon. Sometimes it came in a jar.Some places served jelly, some served a runny home-made jam, some offered a chunky conserve.

Every now and then we would get mass-produced packets – but that was exceedingly rare.

And the flavors!! We got berry jam, apricot jam, apple jelly, wine jelly, all kinds of jams and jellies that I can’t even name.

I’ve been thinking about those breakfasts a lot this week and last as I’ve ramped up my own jam production, trying to catch the best of the season and trap it in jars for when winter hits.

flavors of jam

So many flavors.
So much deliciousness!

In the past two weeks I’ve made strawberry jam, with a twist of citrus, vanilla rhubarb jam, spiced pear jam, cherry cayenne jam, and hand-harvested wildflower jelly.

wildflower jelly

Undeniably the best thing I have ever created!

That all gets added to my existing collection of ginger peach jam, mint jalapeno jelly, bourbon pumpkin butter and lime ginger marmalade.

jam for sale

Today’s Flavors

I love knowing that every morning for breakfast I can sit down and open a new pot of jam and have a new flavor and texture experience.

pear and strawberry jam

Some days I just can’t decide.

It brings me back to my first summer in France and the joyful surprise each morning brought with my “Pain de la confiture.”

I’d love to hear about your favorite food memories, and the ways they shape the food you seek or create now.

The Best Dairy Free, Gluten Free Cobbler

dairy free gluten free cobbler topping

This post is dedicated to my friend “Binky Toes” who was lamenting her lack of a good gluten-free cobbler the other night.

Last year my husband was living gluten and dairy free. He was trying to resolve some digestive issues and had been told by his doctor that eliminating those foods from his diet might help.

He went gluten-free first, and while it definitely upped the grocery bill, it did seem to help him. Then he went dairy free as well. That one was a bit harder, at least for me. I live for cheese. And yogurt. And ice cream. And… But again, it made him feel better, so it was worth it.

accommodating his restricted diet during dessert was a challenge. I love baking (with real butter and cream) and finding a good gluten-free flour substitute really is a challenge. A blend that works for pizza dough won’t work for pie crust and what works for pie won’t work for cakes… Mixing your own blend is still the best option for most things. It took some doing, but by the end of his year of special eating, we had a few things down.

This cobbler recipe is one that we loved so much we still use it, even though we don’t have to anymore.

It’s an adaptation of my mom’s cobbler recipe, the one I ate and LOVED as a child. We served this as a special occasion weekend breakfast dish. And then again as a dessert with ice cream. Some people would probably say it’s more of a crumble than a cobbler. I say it’s delicious, so hush up and eat it.

First – use whatever fruit fits your mood or the season. I LOVE peach cobbler, apple cobbler, apple blueberry cobbler, mixed berry cobbler… Cobbler is the bomb. Especially if you love pie but are scared of making pie crusts. Cobbler is my go-to answer for too much good fruit.

Millions of peaches!

Millions of peaches!

So, preheat your oven to 350 and get cooking!

For a 9×9 baking pan, you’ll need around 8 peaches or 6 apples or lots of berries… You’ll want to slice or dice them up to your preferred size.

cut peaches

Just peachy

For fruits that seep a lot, add a tablespoon or so of instant tapioca and stir it in. Add a sprinkle of sugar. (I prefer brown sugar in my cobblers, but white sugar, honey, agave – it all works.) I also like to spice up my apples (and my peaches) with a little cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger & clove.

spiced peaches

Sugar & Spice and everything nice!

The real magic of a cobbler is the topping.

For a gluten-free, dairy free cobbler topping to cover a 9×9 pan of fruit you’ll need:

4 Tablespoons of good coconut oil (Solid at room temperature.)
1/2 cup brown sugar. I prefer Dark brown 100% pure cane sugar.
1/2 cup of your favorite gluten-free flour blend (your own, or we liked King Arthur’s Gluten free multi purpose flour the best, though we did wish it came in a bigger box.)
1/2 cup of almond flour (Bob’s Red Mill has the goods.)

Mash and clump these ingredients together. You should end up with clumps about the size of peas.

Last, add 1/2 cup of gluten-free oats OR 1/2 cup of hulled raw hemp seeds! (Added nutrition, low carb, high protein, and AWESOME flavor!)

Toss together and sprinkle over the top of your fruit.

dairy free gluten free cobbler topping

Sweet, crumbley, cobblery yumness!

Bake at 350 for about 25/30 minutes or until the top is brown and crispy and the fruit is bubbling under the crust.

I’d show you a picture, but we ate it too fast and I didn’t get one. Sorry.

Generally, you should let it cool for 10-15 minutes before serving, but we have NEVER once had the will power to do that.

Enjoy!

P.S. Ice cream helps with the tongue blisters. And we fell in LOVE with Luna & Larry’s Coconut Bliss ice cream while my husband was on his restricted diet. We still splurge and buy a pint every now and again. (Though… My daughter got an ice cream maker for her birthday this year, so expect to see us experimenting and creating more of our own flavors this year!)

 

Mercurial Spring Moods Meet Their Match

avocados

February is a hard month for me. Spring isn’t quite here, but I am so very done with winter.

Then March comes and reminds me that it is not, in fact, a miracle month. If anything it is even moodier than February, at least in terms of weather. So far just this week we’ve had 70 degrees, bike riding in shorts and a tank top. Then snow. Then sun. Then rain. Then sleet. Then snow again. Today is freezing. But only until about noon, when I should be able to strip down and take a sun filled bike ride again.

With all those external changes and the complete inability to really plan or be consistent with my exercise routine, it’s no wonder I get a little moody myself.

This year though, I discovered something that feels miraculous. I am a MUCH better, more stable, more motivated, productive and clear thinking person if I eat an avocado every day.

avocados

An avocado a day keeps the grumpies at bay!

This morning I dove into some research to see if I had discovered something that only applied to me, or if just perhaps I had discovered something that might help others who are battling with their own mercurial spring moods.

It turns out, eating avocado for a mood boost is not psychosomatic. It’s real. It’s tested and researched and scientifically confirmed.

Eating avocado really can help uplift and stabilize your moods.

My first google search brought me to a slew of articles that simply listed Avocado as a “Good Mood Food” (Say that 10 times REAL fast!)

Many of them listed Serotonin as the active chemical responsible for the happy glow that avocados bestow on those who eat them. But, I couldn’t find any sources in these fluff articles. So I dug deeper, and I’m glad I did because there’s more to it than that initial shot of serotonin.

Sure, serotonin is a “happy drug”, but how does that explain a whole day of mood stability? It doesn’t.

Here’s what does:

Avocados are high in healthy fats. Fats that help us absorb other fat soluble nutrients from the foods we eat with them. They also contain a number of beneficial fat soluble nutrients all on their own. (For those of us who enjoy them with just a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of lime.) Among these vitamins – The B vitamin family. Known for lowering stress & balancing moods.

Also… Avocados are high in fiber. Fiber plays a couple of important roles in our body that can affect our mood. First, as it passes through us, it helps clean out our guts, scraping away some of the junk we’ve put into ourselves. It also helps balance our absorption of sugar so that we don’t get those spikes and crashes.

Avocados also have a high amount of protein – for a fruit. This, along with those good fats and high fiber, helps make the energy we get from eating an avocado last longer. Again helping us to avoid crazy highs and lows.

Studies have shown that the effects of eating an avocado last up to 24 hours. So, eating one a day really can help keep you stabilized.

So, knowing that I’m not making this up and wanting to spread the joy that I’ve been feeling, here are some of the ways I’ve been enjoying getting my daily dose of avocado:

Almost every morning lately I’ve been enjoying an Avocado Sihn to Bo (A Vietnamese shake)

avocado smoothie

Because Avocados are a fruit!

I had my first one at a Vietnamese restaurant in Broomfield right next to my favorite Asian market.

That one was just avocado and vanilla ice cream. It was delicious, but not quite breakfast/healthy snack food.

So, when I got home I started playing with the blender.

I tossed in half an avocado, some R.W. Knudsen pineapple/coconut juice a squeeze of fresh lime and hit liquify.

easy avocado eating

Easy breakfast in a glass

It was pretty darn good. At least the sip I got before my daughter stole it and drank it all was good…

Sometimes I add mango, banana (only half of one though or it takes over), greek yogurt. If I want extra protein but not the dairy, I’ll add some of my husband’s hemp milk. (Shhh, don’t tell! It’s his precious!)

I haven’t found a combination I didn’t like yet. The avocado makes the smoothie fluffy and creamy, like a fruit mousse. And the while the fruit juice does give me an initial burst of energy, the fats in the avocado do seem to prevent any sort of crash from coming.

If you’re not a smoothie drinker, slice half an avocado and put it on your morning bagel. Add some smoked salmon for an extra mood & flavor boost. (Or bacon if you don’t mind being sacrilegious.)

guacamole on tostadas

Loaded Tostadas!

For lunch I like to just slice up an avocado and put it on my sandwich, or mash it into guacamole, add a scoop of my favorite salsa and eat it with chips or on a tostada. Alternately, I’ll make myself a giant salad and top it with half an avocado and some sunflower seeds.

I’m a big fan of snacking. I’d rather eat 5 good snacks a day than 3 full meals. So, for a great afternoon snack, take half an avocado, fill the seed pit with Cholula and then dive in with your spoon! It’s creamy, sweet and spicy. And… GREAT for you!

My step-mother-in-law (Ah, modern families!) taught me to fill the seed cavity with cottage cheese. She’d sprinkle it with pepper – I go back to Cholula. When in doubt – Cholula.

If you prefer your avocado with dinner, make fresh mango avocado salsa and serve it with easy grilled fish tacos.

fish tacos

Fish, avocado, mango… It’s everything delicious in one meal.

For the salsa, take one firm avocado, cube it and put it in a large bowl. Add one peeled and cubed firm mango. Dice one small red onion, crush two cloves of fresh garlic, squeeze one lime, chop one bunch of cilantro, sprinkle on a dash of salt and pepper. If you like it spicy, you can also dice up some jalapenos and add them in. When tomatoes are in season, I’ll add one dice roma tomato as well.

For the fish – take your favorite white fish – skinless, boneless fillets. We often use tilapia because it is cheap and cooks fast, but cod works just as well. We’ve also tried salmon, which changes the flavor considerably but is still yummy.

Marinate it in:

1 tablespoon lime juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon each: cumin, coriander, lime zest, fresh crushed garlic. Add a dash of pepper.

I broil my fish under the broiler for 3-5 minutes on each side or until done. (The time variance is due to varying thicknesses and densities of your fish choices.)

Serve on small corn tortillas with a side of black beans & spanish rice or just lettuce and avocado mango salsa.

fish tacos family style

It’s a family style Fish Taco Feast!

Not a fan of fish tacos? No worries, try rolling your avocado into some fresh, delicious sushi!

However you do it, getting that avocado, or even half an avocado, per day can really help you, and those around you, keep smiling!

 

Happy π Day!

chocolate mousse yumness

That’s right, it’s π day!

I wanted to cook up a batch or two of mini pies to celebrate, but I just don’t have time to do it today.

So, instead, I’ve rounded up a bunch of awesome looking pie recipes from around the web to share with you.

The first one that I found that made me WISH I had more time to devote to pie baking is this one from the Brown Eyed Baker.

bourbon pie

Bourbon Pie – Irrationally Crave Worthy!

It’s for a Bourbon Chocolate Walnut pie. It’s the bourbon that sold me on it, though I’d use Bulleit bourbon instead of the Jim Beam shown in the picture. It looks and sounds phenomenal. And… Bourbon. In a pie. That’s always a win.

Over the holidays my friend Charlie introduced me to the joys of a Southern classic – Buttermilk Pie! (Which the same Brown Eyed Baker just happens to have a recipe for!) Charlie gifted me her recipe but I haven’t had a chance to make it yet. But its day is coming.

The very first pie I ever learned to make was Strawberry Rhubarb. It was my dad’s favorite and where I grew up, in the mountains of Colorado, we had a patch of wild rhubarb that we would hike up and pick from all spring and summer long. I linked back to the Brown Eyed Baker since she had a recipe – AND she even did it right, using tapioca as the thickener. That’s the real key to a successful strawberry rhubarb pie. Admittedly, I prefer mine with a whole wheat crust, but then again, I was raised by hippies. Also, in my opinion – strawberry rhubarb pie requires a lattice top rather than a full crust top. But that’s just my upbringing showing again.

One of my personal favorite “pies” is actually a tart from Provence, France.

Winter Pear Frangipane from Pleasant Eats

Winter Pear Frangipane from Pleasant Eats

The recipe for “Winter Pear Tart Frangipane” comes from one of my first ever, and well-loved, cookbooks – Sunday’s At Moosewood and someone on the internet was kind enough to make it and repost it so I can link you to it! It’s delicious and creamy and tart and spicy and… You can use the pears to make some sort of fun Pi pun!

This year I learned how to make Banana Cream Pie for my husband. It was delicious – and I don’t even like bananas! (This isn’t the recipe I followed so… I will track down mine and post it at some point. Promise. In the meantime, the one I linked to looks pretty good.

Last, I would be silly if I didn’t link back to at least one of my own recipes. So –

Those Kahlua Mousse Pies! Triple the recipe and make 314 of them. I dare you! ;)

chocolate mousse yumness

Kahlua Mousse pielets.

How are you celebrating π day?

Comments, photos and recipes welcome in the comments!

 

Spring is in the house!

whole fish

I must’ve been feeling the spring weather last night. I just couldn’t resist cooking up one of my favorite late spring/summer meals.

Trout with wild mushrooms, asparagus and roasted potatoes.

My husband too has fond memories of this meal.

Both of us were raised in camping families, with dads who were known to fish from time to time. So for us, this meal brings back all kinds of warm family fuzzies.

Dona Abbott Solitude

A portrait of my father in law fishing, by his late wife, the remarkable Dona Abbott.

In the last few years we’ve slowly gotten our own kids hooked (Pun intended.) They dug the fish right away. Asparagus took a little longer, and for our youngest the potatoes didn’t happen until last night. Seriously. How does that even happen?

So last night was my oldest kiddo’s night to be my co-chef. We agreed our home-grown mushrooms were ready for harvesting and while I was originally going to cook them up with rice and white wine in a mushroom risotto, she reminded me that she HATES rice, so could I please make the mushrooms as a topping for the trout like I usually do.

Back to the roots mushroom kit

Home grown Oyster Mushrooms

I’ve learned not to argue with my co-chefs.

Since we weren’t doing rice, we decided roasted potatoes was the starch of choice.

My family (minus the youngin’ who hates all potatoes with an equal and unbiased passion) likes red potatoes most of all the store-bought options. (We like planting and eating purple potatoes though!) So we washed and sliced up 4-5 medium reds. I didn’t want to make too many, because I knew the youngest wouldn’t eat them (I was WRONG!). But I did want to have a couple left over for breakfast this morning. (Which I didn’t get, because the youngest LOVED these potatoes and ate them ALL.)

Potatoes take the longest to cook, so we started with those. I got the oven preheating at 350° F (Side note, why did “They” make it so freaking hard to type the ° symbol?) while my co-chef cut the potatoes in half and then sliced them into thinnish half-moon slices.

We tossed the potatoes in olive oil, a generous sprinkle of my new favorite thing – hickory smoked salt (about 1.5 teaspoons) from Savory, some seasoned pepper and a generous scoop (about 1 tablespoon) of Christopher Ranch chopped garlic. (You could use fresh pressed, but I find that for this as well as the asparagus my kids like the mellower, sweeter flavor of Christopher Ranch.)

roasting potatoes

Ready to Roast!

Then we spread them out on a cookie sheet and threw them in the oven. I set the timer for 10 minutes, which was how long I thought it should take us to prep everything else.

The next task was cutting down our home-grown Oyster Mushrooms from Back to the Roots and chopping them up for the fish topping.

oyster mushrooms

Slicing off the shrooms

We added a few of our store-bought brown beech mushrooms and a couple of crimini mushrooms to round out the serving.

mixed chopped mushrooms

Mixed Mushrooms

We tossed these into a pan with a little olive oil. I sprinkled on some thyme, tarragon, parsley, black pepper and a dash of salt. Then we fired up the burner on medium until the mushrooms started to sweat a little.

herbed mushrooms

Sweaty Shrooms

While we waited, I rinsed the trout and patted it dry – normally I recommend one trout per person, but the ones at the store were pretty big and trout does not make good leftovers (unless you’re smoking it, and then the more the merrier) so I opted to only buy two. Plus I had a baby brookie that my husband caught in the dead of winter when cabin fever almost killed us all. It ended up being the perfect amount.

trout

Don’t forget to include your one in particular’s little brookies!

Once the trout were prepped I put them in a baking dish with a little olive oil to keep them from sticking and had my helper stuff each cavity full of fresh lemon slices. We sprinkled in some Colorado Plateau Citrus Pepper from Savory and a little dill. We covered the baking dish with tin foil and slid the fish into the oven.

lemon stuffed trout

The lemon keeps them moist and juicy. And adds yumness.

By this time the potatoes had been in the oven about 15 minutes. I took them out, gave them a quick stir and popped them back in.

I set the timer for 10 more minutes.

Then, I poured a little cheap white wine over our mushrooms, turned them on low and let them simmer until the white wine all evaporated.

whie wine mushrooms

A generous splash of cheap wine makes all the difference.

Meanwhile my helper was snapping the ends off the asparagus and getting the garlic butter ready. We used 2 tablespoons of butter and a tablespoon of Christopher Ranch chopped garlic, melted them together and then poured them over the asparagus spears. We set those aside until everything else was almost ready.

Garlic butter asparagus. What could be better?

Garlic butter asparagus. What could be better?

When the timer went off we checked the fish, it still needed a bit more time so we put it back in for another 7 minutes.

I set my helper free and tried not to watch the pots.

When the timer went again, everything was perfect.

Would you like a nice cooked fish head?

Would you like a nice cooked fish head?

I turned the oven off and the broiler on and slid the asparagus under the flame.

The goal was to melt the butter and slightly char the asparagus. I left the potatoes in so they would crisp up on top too.

It took between 5-7 minutes to get the asparagus just right.

At last, everything was ready.

fish halves

Heads or tails?

We like to serve our fish with the heads still on. Partly so we can ask silly questions like “heads or tails?” and partly so we can remind our kids from time to time that their food once had a face. It was an animal, alive and doing its thing at one time and now it is giving that life to them so they can grow. (And also so our kids can use the heads for macabre dinner puppet theater… But I didn’t just type that out loud.)

 

whole fish

Can I have both? Heads AND tails?

We served up dinner and it was all so good we were almost done before we realized we’d forgotten the mushrooms!

white wine mushrooms

Lonely, delicious mushrooms.

Luckily they were great all on their own!

We had not a single bite of food leftover with this meal, but everyone claimed to have gotten just enough after we finished fighting over the last of the potatoes! That’s a rare thing around this house. I usually cook for an army. Maybe I’m finally learning?

A Taste of the Middle East

middle eastern meal

Last night for dinner we had a FEAST! It was my “exotic ingredient” night and the ingredient we tried was Pomegranate Molasses. A gift from a friend, to whom this dinner and post is dedicated. Thanks so much Nichole!

real food birthday gifts

Pineapple vinegar, preserved lemons, pomegranate molasses

We used it to marinate some beef kebabs served over a red onion salad. We rounded out the meal with some sweet, spicy cauliflower “rice” and spiced cooked greens.

At first glance, this set of recipes might seem intimidating. But, my youngest daughter and I whipped it all up in about 45 minutes from start to “Let’s eat!” (Which means if I’d been cooking on my own it would have all taken about 30 minutes, plus time for marinating the meat.)

This meal is gluten-free, grain free and vegetable rich! It’s also rich in healthful spices, so eat up, guilt free!

This meal started on my birthday when my friend Nichole gave me a small jar of her home-made pomegranate molasses. I couldn’t wait to try it and I had some ideas for it, but then another set of friends pitched in to last night’s dinner by gifting me some amazing books.

This one, Small Bites by Jennifer Joyce rounded out the main course inspiration for the night.

small bites jennifer joyce

Delicious delicacies from around the world!

Note: If you’re not blessed with friends who make their own pomegranate molasses and share it with you, you can order it through Savory Spice Shop, or if you have the time and inclination, you can make your own.

To make this meal, you want to start with the meat.

We used beef, because every year we buy 1/4 of a cow and stuff it in our freezer, so that’s what we had on hand. The original recipe from Small Plates used lamb. I was originally planning on using chicken which I think would also be fabulous.

Pomegranate Cumin Kebabs:
Start with about 1 pound of quality meat from your favorite species cut into nice bite sized chunks.

Mix up the marinade -

4 Tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon powdered cumin
4 crushed garlic cloves, or 2 tablespoons of Christopher Ranch crushed garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

spiced pomegranate molasses

Stir in the spices

Combine the meat & marinade tossing to coat the meat and set aside for 30 minutes to 2 days

Red Onion Salad –
1 medium-sized red onion, quartered and sliced very thin
Juice from 1/2 lemon. Or 2 tablespoon of lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 large handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped. (Or 2 Tablespoons dried parsley)
1/2 teaspoon paprika (I like using sweet smoked paprika, but whatever kind you have on hand will do.)
1 Tablespoon olive oil

Put the sliced onion in a medium bowl. Squeeze the lemon juice over the top, add the salt and pepper and stir to coat. Let sit for a couple of minutes (While it’s resting, you can start soaking your kebab skewers if you are using wooden ones.) Add the parsley, paprika & olive oil. Stir again and set aside.

(Sorry, I forgot to get a picture.)

Now, get started on the cauliflower “rice”.

I stumbled on this recipe by accident. I’m not paleo or carb free, or even carb light – but I liked the idea of using cauliflower in a new way. I’m so glad I tried it. It was DIVINE. Light, almost fluffy. It felt good on my tongue – and in my stomach. And the flavor… Yeah. This, for the win!

I did something that I basically NEVER do too – I actually followed the whole recipe, mostly.

The big change was that I only had 1/2 a head of cauliflower. It turns out for my family of 4, that was plenty. Also, I used more spices, because I like spices.

So –
Spiced Cauliflower “Rice”
Take, 1/2 a head of cauliflower (or the whole head if you’re feeding an army.) Pull off all the florets and toss them in a food processor. Pulse them a few times until they’re about the size of large grains of rice.
(My daughter LOVED this part!)

Mix up the spices in a small bowl – (Note, this made VERY spiced, fragrant cauliflower “rice” – not hot spicy, but very flavorful. Normal people may want to halve the spices.)
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
black pepper to taste

Next add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a small skillet (or a large one if you used the whole cauliflower) and warm it up. (This would also be AWESOME using coconut oil!)

Add in the mixed spices and stir, letting them warm up and become fragrant, about a minute.

middle eastern spices

They’re ready when you can’t help but smell them.

Toss in the cauliflower and stir until the spices are evenly coating the “rice”. I also added a couple of tablespoons of water at this stage to help the process along.

spiced cauliflower rice

Coated in yumness!

Once everything is coated, turn your stove down to medium low and…

Get started on those greens!

Last night I used one bunch of collard greens and one bunch of mustard greens. Chard, beet greens, spinach or even (sputter) kale would work as well.
You’ll want to clean them, remove the tough stems (unless you’re using chard or beet green and then keep those, they are the BEST part!)
Roughly chop them up. (Another job my 8-year-old took care of.)
Put them all in a large skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter in the bottom.

spiced greens

Mountain of Greens!

Add 4 mashed/pressed garlic cloves or 2 tablespoons of Christopher Ranch chopped garlic.
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon of Berbere seasoning (Or: 1 dash each – ground ginger, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves,paprika, cayenne, coriander, black pepper)
2 tablespoons of water

Cook on medium high heat until the greens wilt. Stir often to blend the spices and ensure even cooking.

Now – back to the MEAT!

You’ve got your cauliflower “rice” simmering, your greens are wilting – it’s time to fire up the kebabs.

Get your broiler going. While it’s heating up, skewer your meat cubes. (Or have your helper do this.)

Place them on a pan with a wire rack so they don’t touch the pan.

pomegranate beef kebabs

Skewered meat!

Toss them under the broiler. Stir the cauliflower. Stir the greens. Heck, stir the onion salad.

Give the kebabs about 2-3 minutes under the broiler then pull them out and flip them. Stick them back under the flame/heat and give them another 2 minutes. Stir everything again and sample it all.

If you want milder cauliflower, you could take this moment to add a little coconut milk. (or just use fewer spices to begin with!)
If you want milder greens, add a cup of cottage cheese and stir it in warming it through.

Okay – everything is done. Time to serve it up!

middle eastern meal

Your taste of the middle east!

Put a small dollop of the onion salad on each plate. Top it with a couple of cubes of meat.
Add a scoop of the cauliflower rice and a scoop of the greens.

Enjoy!

 

 

Easy Tortilla Soup

tortilla soup with avocado

Calvin Trillin has a great line about how for 30 years his mother served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.

We don’t have it quite that bad around my house, but I do tend to create more leftovers than my family cares to eat. Turning those leftovers into something that looks new is the trick to keeping everyone satisfied. Our food budget appreciates it, our waste not want not philosophy appreciates it, and the family is always relived to know it’s not officially “leftover night.”

There are a few things I deliberately make too much of, specifically because there is so much I can do with the leftovers.

Fajitas are one of those things.

Once you’ve marinated the meat and veggies and cooked them up, they are good for so many things. We use them to top tostadas, I put them on salads. But, my very favorite thing to do with them is make tortilla soup!

tortilla soup with avocado

Easy Cheater Tortilla Soup

This is my super easy “cheater” recipe. And yes, you have to have fajita leftovers to make it. Mwa-ha-ha!

leftover fajitas soup

Leftovers for the soup

For the broth I start with Spicy V8. (Told you this was a cheater recipe.)

If I’m making soup for the whole family, I’ll start with one of those 46 oz. jugs of it. If I’m just whipping up a bowl for myself, or a thermos for my kiddo, I use the little 8 oz. cans.

Next, I add about 1/2 as much chicken broth. (Veggie broth or just plain water works too for the vegetarians/vegans in the room. You just want to thin the V8 a little.)

Then, I chop up all our fajita leftovers (or enough for a serving if I’m only making this for one person.)

Our fajitas usually have onion, bell pepper & zucchini plus either chicken or steak. But whatever your favorite fajita combo is will work. You want to cut everything into small bite size pieces. And you want to make sure you get the seasoning/juices in there too, they help round out the V8 flavor!

Next I add a squirt of lime juice.

tortilla soup ingredients

Almost Instant Tortilla Soup

Heat everything through – a microwave works if you’re making this for one person, or you can stove top cook it, or even crock pot it. This is also the time to add anything extra you want in there. Sometimes I throw in some corn. A little cumin. Spicy peppers if the kids aren’t eating it.

heating the soup

Warming it up

If I’m making this for the whole family, I’ll cut some corn tortillas into strips and fry them.

frying tortilla strips

Fry, fry, baby!

If I’m only making it for one person, I don’t usually want to heat up (and throw away) that much oil. So I use my griddle (a cast iron pan would also work) with a generous coating of oil on it and toast the corn tortillas that way before cutting them into strips.

toasted tortillas

Toasting tortillas

To serve – we often add a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of cheese.

This last time I added sliced avocado and I think it was my best yet!

tortilla soup with avocado

Quick, easy & nutritious tortilla soup with avocado!

Enjoy!

Starting with what you have

real food birthday gifts

Perhaps it’s because I’m starting to feel spring in the air, or perhaps it is because I got my first shipment of seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds yesterday – but I’m feeling a familiar shift in how I approach the endless question of “What’s for dinner?”

In the winter months I try to get everyone in my family to pitch in one thing they want to eat each week and make a sort of meal schedule and then a grocery list of the ingredients I’ll need. We leave a couple of days open each week in case something grabs my eye at the store and also to take care of the inevitable leftovers.

preserved duck eggs

Chinese preserved duck eggs.

But this morning, before I could check the schedule or ask the family what we should have for dinner, I noticed a lonely cucumber in the veggie drawer. I remembered the avocado and mango I bought in an emergency trip to the store yesterday. And I knew EXACTLY what I was making for dinner – Sushi.

Building dinner around what is on hand is much more of a summer habit for us, once the garden starts producing we like to take an afternoon stroll through the garden and pick the ripest veggies to use as the starting point for dinner. But in winter, without that creative boost, we tend to plan and shop ahead.

But, changes in weather are encouraging a change in eating and I find that I have a few other ingredients laying around that I am excited to build some meals around.

For my birthday a friend gave me a jar of home-made pomegranate molasses, some pineapple vinegar and also some preserved lemons.

real food birthday gifts

A very happy birthday indeed

I have BIG plans for the pomegranate molasses. A new cookbook some other friends got me had a bunch of middle eastern recipes that use that. I’m thinking kebabs of some kind. Lamb or chicken. Served on a bed of spicy arugula…

But the preserved lemons… My friend’s husband says they are delicious right out of the jar, and I don’t doubt that. But, I want to dabble in something that requires a little more work than opening a jar! It turns out that preserved lemons are a big part of Moroccan cooking, which is something I love! And which feels like just the ticket during this transitional month.

preserved lemons

Preserved Lemons, a Moroccan Staple

I’ve also got a batch of marinated mozzarella just waiting to be munched, as well as some marinated scarlet beans.

mozzzarella in herbed olive oil

Snack time!

All in all, next week is looking like a Mediterranean adventure with stops in Morocco, Italy, and Lebanon. Then, just to appease the masses, we’ll have to fly around the world for taco night.

Here’s to a weekend in the kitchen creating new delights!