Smashed Pear Muffins

pear muffin mountain

I was at the store this weekend buying a few things to round out our stashed food, as I am still trying to focus on using primarily the items we have stored from our summer bounty, when a smell hit my nose.

I followed it over to the pear section of the produce department and met my first Seckel Pear.

It smelled like honey.

I had to have it.

I went through them and chose 5 pears that felt right to me and smelled delicious. So often here in America when we walk through the produce department, we don’t smell anything. All over the world produce is chosen by look and feel – but primarily by smell. Here, we’ve somehow managed to sterilize the smell right out of our produce.

I got the pears home and unloaded the rest of the groceries, then, after making everyone in my family smell the pears I bit into one.

I was crushed – the pear was horribly over-ripe with that grainy, gritty texture that makes people dislike pears. (Try one when it is perfectly ripe and you’ll be a pear convert for life.)

I didn’t know what to do, I had all these little pears and they were all but inedible.

I didn’t want to throw them away because despite the horrific texture, the flavor was exactly what the smell had promised.

It was time to bake again.

pear almond muffins

I wish you could smell them through the computer.

I thought about doing a pear pound cake, but I wanted something I felt good letting my kids snack on, so ultimately decided to go with muffins.

I found a recipe for a ginger pear muffin, but it didn’t seem quite right, something was missing. Then I remembered making an almond pear quick bread back when our pear tree delivered its bounty and decided to track down that recipe.

The recipe used firm, slightly unripe pears that were cubed and folded into the batter, something that clearly wouldn’t work with these smushy Seckel Pears. It also didn’t have any spice, and I was craving some warming spices.

I decided to push ahead and adapt the recipe as I went and what I came up with is nothing short of delicious.

This recipe makes 24 muffins.

Here’s What You Need:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

2/3 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup butter – softened, or at room temperature
2 Tablespoons veggie oil
7 oz almond paste
4 small, mushy, over-ripe seckel pears – peeled and cored. (Or two larger, over-ripe pears also peeled and cored)
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled & grated (or 1 teaspoon dried ginger powder)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg

2 large eggs

1/4 cup milk

Here’s what you do:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees & line or grease your muffin tins.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder & salt.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the brown sugar, butter, oil, almond paste, pears, and spices until smooth and creamy.
Taste the batter! Your muffins will taste just like this so now is the time to adjust any spices.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating them into the batter until they are fully incorporated.

Sprinkle on half of the flour mixture and beat to combine.
Add the milk, stir to combine.
Add the rest of the flour and combine.

Your batter shouldn’t be too dry, if it seems too sticky and bread-like, add a little more milk 1 tablespoon at a time until you get a soft not-quite-pourable batter.

Put 2 Tablespoons of batter into each prepared muffin tin.

oven ready muffin batter

Pear muffin batter ready for the oven!

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.

Allow to cool in the pan and eat for breakfast, snack or any time you want the taste of delicious spiced pears!

pear muffin mountain

A small mountain of (very delicious) muffins.

Enjoy!

Crockpot BBQ pulled pork with roasted garlic mashers and green beans

We are still working with what’s on hand, and adding just a few ingredients to round it out.

For this meal, the starting point was a half package of hamburger buns that needed to be eaten. We all agreed BBQ pulled pork sandwiches were the solution.

In addition, I’m using a bag of frozen green beans from our garden and some carrots that were ready to be eaten. I’m adding the garlic mashers because – GARLIC MASHERS!

The restriction is that everything has to be cooked in the crock pot.

What you need:

To pull this off, you need my magic 3-top crock pot! If you have a regular crock pot night at your house, get one, they make crock pot night, and parties SO MUCH EASIER! (And yes, I still also have my large one pot crock pot for soup/chili/casserole nights, but the 3 top is great in that it allows me to create 3 separate dishes – a protein, veggie & starch – instead of Tuesday always being soup/casserole night!)

Ingredients:

1 lb. pork
1 bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce. We LOVE Grumpy’s Private Reserve Bold XX, and we always have Stubbs Spicy on hand.
Hamburger buns

4-5 medium potatoes
3 tablespoons of butter
1/4 – 1/2 cup sour cream
6 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon rosemary
salt, pepper

1 bag frozen green beans, or 1 lb. fresh green beans, chopped into 1 inch pieces.
2 carrots, scrubbed and cut into rounds
Butter
salt, pepper
Red wine vinegar

What you do:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Peel your garlic cloves and place them on a piece of tinfoil, drizzle with olive oil and wrap them up. Roast them for 20-25 minutes, until soft.

In one crock pot dish, put in your raw pork loin/shoulder/butt/cheap meat and about 1/3 of a bottle of your favorite BBQ sauce. Turn it on low in the morning, or high at noon. (If you’re starting this early in the morning, you can throw in a hunk of frozen meat and put it on low and by dinner time with be thawed & cooked through)

Cut your potatoes into small chunks and toss them in a pot of boiling water on the stove for 20-25 minutes or until soft enough to mash.

Drain and mash the potatoes.

Add the butter, mashed roasted garlic, sour cream, rosemary, salt & pepper

Put the mashers into the crock pot on warm, or low.

In the third crock pot dish, add the sliced carrots, thawed green beans and a little pat of butter.

Set to low.

Voila! Dinner will be ready in 6-8 hours!

To serve, drain the excess liquid from the pork and use two forks to pull it apart/shred it. Pour some fresh BBQ over it and stir to coat.

Sprinkle a generous dose of red wine vinegar over the green beans just before serving to brighten them up!

Serve pork on your favorite buns with a generous side of mashers and green beans.

Enjoy!

My apologies, once again, I failed to get pictures. I am still working on creating the habit of cooking and serving with a camera at the ready – and, you know, actually using it!

 

Thai Inspired Red Snapper with Asian Fusion Veggies

red snapper fillets

This is another post in the “Working with what you have” series.

To be clear, I did not just happen to have Red Snapper laying around. It was an accidental splurge at the grocery store the other day. I was walking by the fish counter, as I do, and saw the most gorgeous, luscious, fresh Red Snapper in the case and just had to have it. It wasn’t cheap, but it was oh so worth it.

red snapper fillets

Red Snapper – such a lovely and delicious fish

You can make this dish with any firm white fish – cod, halibut, bass, etc. Skin on fillets are best, but if you can’t get them you can use skinless, just be sure to season both sides of the fish and then follow the cooking method described below.

So, here are the “on hand” ingredients I was trying to use: Frozen beet greens/ rainbow chard (Any hardy cooking green will work – spinach, kale, chard, mustard greens, etc.), dried black fungus (also known as wood ear mushrooms).

Also, I finally got a wok and seasoned it, so it was time to heat that baby up! If you don’t have a wok, you can make all of this in a large sautee pan.

Here’s what you need:

For the fish –
Four fish fillets, skin on Red Snapper preferred.
1 stalk of lemongrass, bottom white portion only. Cut into thin rounds
1 inch of fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and minced or crushed
1 kaffir lime leaf (optional as these are hard to come by – check your Asian market)
1 teaspoon of coriander
salt, pepper

For the greens –
1 pound of chopped greens, fresh or frozen and thawed
Sesame oil
Rice wine vinegar
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
salt, pepper

For the Mushrooms:
3-4 dried black fungus/wood ear mushrooms
Warm water to soak
1 large carrot
1/2 lb. snow peas
soy sauce
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled & minced
1 garlic clove, peeled & crushed
1/2 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice

To serve:
2 cups of cooked Jasmine rice. (1 cup uncooked + 1 3/4 cups water)

What you do:
Get the rice going first. Bring the rice and water up to a boil and then turn the heat to low and allow to simmer/steam for 20 minutes.

(Note, you can add a green cardamom pod, saffron or other whole spices to the water to infuse some flavor into the rice, or toss in some fresh chopped cilantro right at the end if you want.)

Get all your fresh herbs and spices and veggies chopped and ready -

Slice the black fungus, carrots and snow peas into thin strips of roughly equal size. Put together in a bowl with the minced ginger and crushed garlic. Set aside.

Chop your greens, add the crushed garlic, set aside

Slice the lemon grass into thin rounds, mince the ginger and garlic – put in a spice grinder and grind into a paste. (You can also use a mortar and pestle if you are a kitchen martyr.)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees

Begin heating your pans, one large skillet for the fish on medium heat and your wok or another large skillet for the veggies on medium high heat.

Rinse your fish and pat it dry. Sprinkle each fillet with a heavy pinch of kosher salt, pepper and coriander.

Rub each fillet with the Thai spice paste.

Make sure your pans are good and hot.

Add 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and swirl to coat.

Put the fish, flesh side down/skin side up in the skillet.

Throw the mushroom & veggie mix into the wok or other skillet, toss to cook. After about a minute, drizzle some soy sauce around the edges and sprinkle on the chinese 5 spice, tossing to coat the veggies.

After the fish has cooked for 2-3 minutes, use a fish spatula to flip it over skin side down. If your skillet is oven proof and held all the fish, pop it right into the oven to finish the fish. If it is not oven proof, transfer the fish, skin side down, to an oven proof dish large enough to hold all of it and put it in the oven to finish.

Taste your mushroom/veggie mix, add spice/soy sauce as needed, remove from wok and place in an oven proof dish and put in the oven to keep warm.

Rinse out your wok, reheat – once hot, add 1 tablespoon of veggie oil, swirling to coat. Toss in your greens & garlic.

If frozen, you are only heating them through. If fresh, you are cooking until wilted.

Add a heavy drizzle of sesame oil and a light drizzle of rice wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

Taste!! Add more sesame oil or vinegar as needed.

The fish should be done just as the greens are cooked through. Test the fish with a fork, if it flakes nicely it is ready. Pull it out and let it rest while you begin plating everything else.

To serve:

Give everyone a generous scoop of rice, a scoop of each type of veggie and one fillet of fish.

Enjoy!

Sorry I don’t have any pictures of this dish, we plated and devoured it without me getting a picture because it smelled SO GOOD.

As a side note/bonus – my kids ate ALL OF THEIR VEGGIES without complaint, without prodding, without me even having to ask! My youngin who normally hates cooked greens asked me what I had done differently this time and then asked me to please always make them this way with the sesame oil in the future! My biggun, who normally hates mushrooms and was pretty upset about them when she helped me make dinner, ate them all and told me she liked them.

Everyone loved the fish, the gentle aromatics of the lemon grass, ginger and garlic infused the fish as it cooked and the Red Snapper was delicate and buttery and delicious.

The rice was, well, you know, it was rice. ;)

Warming Winter Chicken Pot Pie

chicken pot pie and homebrew winter's best meal

This is part of my “Working with what you have” series.

The starting ingredients include: Leftover roasted chicken, the drippings from the roasting, leftover cooked potatoes (2 varieties, one batch of au gratin and another of roasted reds), aging carrots, wilting celery & frozen peas.

I had intended to turn the leftover chicken into stock for soup, but honestly there was so much meat left on the bird that it seemed like a waste to just boil it to death. Another factor in the decision is that it is below freezing out again and I really wanted an excuse to turn on my oven so, voila! Chicken pot pies.

If you don’t have leftover cooked chicken laying around, don’t worry, you can cook up some raw chicken and then cube it and use that in your pot pie, or use any other leftover meat you have. You can also use a different blend of veggies, these were the ones I had on hand that looked sad and desperate to be cooked.

Pot pies are a bit of a process.

I recommend starting with the crust. I like a nice 1/2 whole wheat crust, especially in these winter months. It feels more hearty and nourishing which is what I need right now.

My recipe for pie crust is pretty simple:

Get out your food processor.

Put in 2 1/2 cups of flour (I do 1 cup of whole wheat and 1 1/ cups of white)

Sprinkle on 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Pulse together to combine.

Add two sticks of COLD butter, cubed.

Pulse about 3 times to just barely break up the butter

Next sprinkle on 1/2 cup of COLD water

Pulse until the dough just begins to look like wet sand. You should still have some clumps of butter, that is good, this is what makes the dough flakey and awesome.

Pour the dough out onto a clean work surface. Press it together into two even mounds. Wrap each mound in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

pie dough butter whole wheat

Dough after chilling, ready to be rolled

While the dough is in the fridge, you can start making the pot pie filling.

Dice up a medium onion and sautee it until it fragrant and slightly translucent.

Add your sliced carrots and cook them for 3-5 minutes until they are beginning to soften. (If you’re starting with raw potatoes instead of cooked leftover potatoes, add them at the same time you add the carrots.) NOTE: You’re not trying to cook these through, just season them and get them started.

Add your celery & frozen peas, stir in and cover the pan, remove it from the heat and let them cook gently in the residual warmth.

Meanwhile cube the cooked chicken and chop up your cooked leftover potatoes, add any other leftover cooked veggies to a large mixing bowl. Add the newly cooked veggies.

Scrape your sautee pan fairly clean.

Pour your jar of reserved chicken juices/roasting pan drippings to the sautee pan and heat up. (You should have about 1 1/2 cups of liquid/goo. If you don’t have enough, top it up with chicken broth.) When it reaches a simmer, sift 2-3 tablespoons of white flour over it and then whisk it together, the mixture should thicken right up. Add 1 cup of whipping cream to the mix and remove from the heat.

This is gravy.

I decided my gravy was boring so I added 1 1/2 tablespoons of Herbs de Provence, 1 tablespoon of whole grain mustard, 1/2 teaspoon of rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon of dried sage, 1/2 teaspoon of crushed juniper berries and a sprinkle of garlic salt to the broth at the beginning and let the herbs and spices infuse it with flavor. You can season it however you like. (I thought very seriously about using coconut milk instead of whipping cream and using curry spices until I remembered that my kids aren’t huge fans of curry and I wasn’t in the mood for tears at dinner.)

Once the gravy has cooled slightly, pour it over your meat & veggie mixture and fold them together. Set it aside. This will be your filling.

chicken pot pie filling veggies gravy

Chicken Pot Pie filling

Now, once your pie crusts have refrigerated for at least an hour, pull one out and place it on a clean, lightly floured work surface and roll it out. Next, use a bowl or cup with a slightly larger circumference than the ramekin or mini-pie pan you are using. I used some deep ramekins that I bought ages ago.

individual pot pie crusts

Pie crusts stuffed into deep ramekins.

Line your baking dish with the pie dough, making sure it spills over a little bit. Use one of your pie crust mounds to fill all your pie tins. You may have to re-roll the dough a couple of times, do not knead it together, just press it into a loose ball and roll so as not to lose the flakey quality you’re going for.

Next, fill all your pie crusts with your prepared filling.

chicken pot pies filled veggies gravy

Filled and capped chicken pot pies.

Finally, roll out your second mound of dough and cut out circles of dough that are the same size as your ramekin/pie tin and place them on top, use the excess dough from the bottom layer and tuck it over, pressing slightly to bind the layers.

Cut a small steam vent in the top of each pie crust, brush with an egg wash (beaten egg with a little water) and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes for small pies and 45-60 minutes for a large pie.

chicken pot pie and homebrew winter's best meal

Serve with a nice pint of homebrew, or your favorite beverage.

NOTE: you can assemble all of the individual elements ahead of time and them combine them just as you’re ready to bake the pies. Just be sure to keep the pie dough refrigerated until the pies are ready to be baked!

You can also use well seasoned mashed potatoes to top your pie with if you want to eat them right out of the ramekin/pie tin!

Ninja Inspired Honey Almond Muffins

fallen muffins

I really, really want to call these Honey Almond Cakes because they smell SO good and the crumb is so delicate and lovely, but I’m scared if I call them cakes you won’t let your kids eat them for breakfast, and these are definitely something that should be eaten for breakfast, and snack, and yes, dessert too.

This recipe was inspired by The Yankee Kitchen Ninja, she posted this recipe to facebook and it made the yum centers of my brain go all tingly. It took me a month before I had the time and space in my kitchen to make them. (The holidays filled my house with sweets and I just couldn’t bring any more into the world.)

This morning I woke up with a serious muffin craving and remembered that I had shared the Honey Almond Loaves recipe to my Kitchen Bravada facebook page to remind myself to make them. Today was clearly the day.

I skimmed the recipe, made some mental changes and dove in.

The biggest change I made was for flavor purposes. Normally I’m all about the spices, but for some reason when I read the Ninja’s recipe and saw the cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg I thought, “Yeah, those go great with honey, but they’ll drown out the almond,” and I was really excited about the almond.

I eliminated the spices, punched up the almond and added some poppy seeds for crunch (and because I like the almond-poppy combination).

Here’s my version – (Note, this recipe includes some ingredients that not everyone has laying around, so I recommend skimming the list and making sure you have everything ready before you get out the mixing bowls!)

This recipe made 24 standard size muffins. In the time it took me to proof read this post, I ate three of them…

What You Need:
2 cups all purpose flour (Normally I’d mix in a little whole wheat flour, but because this recipe includes almond flour which adds protein, vitamins and minerals to the mix I didn’t need to!)
3/4 cups almond flour (also sold as almond meal – You can find this in the specialty flours section of your grocery store, in the baking aisle. Bob’s Red Mill produces it, as does the King Sooper’s Simple Truth brand.)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (I prefer Rumford’s aluminum free baking powder)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons poppy seeds (optional – but YUMMY!)

3 eggs
1 1/2 cups honey (If you can get local, raw, unfiltered honey – use that, if you can’t buy local at least get the raw, unfiltered honey otherwise you are really just buying liquid sugar without the health benefits of honey.)
6 oz. plain yogurt
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter – melted
1/3 cup coconut oil – melted (The coconut oil enhances the almond flavor as well as adding some nutritional punch.) (Note – you’ll find coconut oil in the oils section of your store, it is naturally solid at room temperature, don’t let that fool you into thinking it is unhealthy/trans fatty – it is not. Coconut oil is GREAT. If you’re going to buy it, try to get virgin pressed, unfiltered/unprocessed to get the full benefit.)
1 Tablespoon almond extract

Slivered/Sliced almonds

What you do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Melt the butter & coconut oil, set aside to cool slightly until ready to use.

Whisk the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl and set aside.

dry ingredients

Dry ingredients with poppy seeds on top!

In another bowl or stand mixer, beat the eggs until they are light and fluffy.

lots of honey

That’s a lot of honey!

Add the honey, yogurt, butter, coconut oil & almond extract, mix until well combined. It will be VERY liquidy.

Gradually add the flour mixture and stir/beat until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl if necessary.

Pour 2 Tablespoons of batter into prepared muffin tins (Butter & flour them or use liners)

honey almond muffins

All ready for the oven!

Sprinkle some slivered almonds over the top and bake at 350 for 17-20 minutes until the edges are slightly browned and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (Note: Test them in the oven. I pulled mine out too early and the lovely, perfect peaks collapsed. They still taste delicious, but they don’t look as perfect anymore.)

fallen muffins

Fallen little muffins.

Allow to cool completely & devour your share before your family comes home and eats them all!!

If you want to make these as a quick bread, you’ll need to increase the baking time to about 35-40 minutes.

And now, a little bonus –

As I was making these I was thinking about the fact that despite (and partially because) of the insane amount of honey in them, these actually have some real health benefits baked right in and I wanted to share what I knew.

Honey – Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know about the health benefits of honey? Raw, unfiltered honey has natural anti-biotic properties and has been used in many cultures throughout time in caring for wounds. It is a natural and superior cough suppressant, clinical studies have shown that a spoonful of honey is more effective than the over-the-counter cough suppressants available to us. There are also credible claims that local, raw honey can help people with allergies re-train their auto-immune response and decrease the severity of their allergic reactions.

Note – They say never to give honey to a child under the age of 1 because of the risk of botulism.

Almonds – Almonds are one of the healthiest nuts out there. Almonds are high in protein and healthy fats, YES there are healthy fats out there and the fats in almonds have been linked to better heart health. They are also high in vitamin E, which helps circulation and is also good for your skin. Almonds are rich in magnesium, another heart calming mineral. (Also, if you suffer from “Charlie Horses” or severe muscle cramps, there is a good chance you are suffering from magnesium deficiency. Eat some almonds. Lots of almonds.) Almonds are also high in Folate (The B-vitamin linked to lower levels of heart disease, and also one of the big ones that pregnant people are told to bulk up on for healthy fetal development.) Last, almonds are high in fiber, which good for cleaning up cholesterol.

All of those heart healthy benefits of almonds also make them really good at helping to control high blood pressure!

BUT WAIT, we’re not done with the health benefits of almonds yet, because it turns out that people who eat a handful or two of almonds every day also have an easier time maintaining their healthy weight. (Note, I said their healthy weight, because everyone has their own healthy weight. Health comes in all sizes and shapes and most bodies will tend to gravitate toward their healthy weight if given the chance.) Snacking on almonds was shown to help ease cravings for unhealthy foods, helping people who wanted to lose weight do so, they are also calorie dense helping people who wanted to gain weight do so in a healthy way. (As opposed to the Homer Simpson method.)

Coconut Oil – Coconut is another high calorie, high fat food – but it’s another HEALTHY high calorie, high fat food. The fats in coconut meat, and coconut oil are of a type that are metabolized in your liver, rather than going through your bloodstream to turn into fat cells in your body for later use. The metabolizing process gives you a boost of energy, and also helps your body use other stored fat cells.

Coconut milk and oil both contain natural anti-biotic properties. They are not general antibiotics though, they actually target bad bacteria while leaving important bacteria alone. Coconut oil also has anti-inflammatory properties and has been found to be helpful to people suffering from Crohn’s disease. Last coconut has anti-fungal properties and can help people with chronic yeast infections to combat them.

Poppy Seeds – Poppy seeds have many of the same health benefits of almonds and coconut. They are high in fiber, healthy fats and all the B vitamins. Poppy seeds are also rich in essential minerals like iron, copper, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and manganese – many Americans are mineral deficient, poppy seeds can help. They also contain trace amounts of opium alkaloids – not to a level that would get you high or hurt you, but enough to help your body to sooth nervous irritability.

Plain Yogurt – Good quality plain yogurt is filled with helpful bacteria that are essential for the healthy operation of our bodies. Eat lots of good yogurt!

If you stuck with the original Kitchen Ninja recipe and used her spices, they pack a lot of awesome too –

Cinnamon – This wonderful spice can help balance your blood-sugar levels and has been shown to be helpful to people managing diabetes. It has also been shown to lower the risk factors of developing diabetes! Along with this, it can help with preventing spikes in blood sugar and energy after a meal, evening out those highs and crashes that some of us experience.

Cinnamon is another spice with natural anti-biotic and anti-fungal properties and has been shown to aid in food preservation.

There are preliminary studies showing that cinnamon may help people fight cancer, recover after a stroke and other brain injuries and it can also speed the healing process on wounds. (Though it is spicy, so… OUCH!)

Clove – If you’ve ever bitten into a clove, you know how powerful this spice is. It has a natural compound in it that numbs your mouth, or any other mucus membrane it touches. As such it can be used to sooth oral pain and is as effective as benzocaine. It also improves circulation and is an anti-inflammatory and natural antibiotic making it a near essential natural first aid remedy for wounds. Clove is a formidable remedy for many oral diseases such as tooth pain and gum disease.

Once it gets to your stomach, clove has been shown to be effective in fighting Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria responsible for causing stomach ulcers and which are linked to stomach cancer! It has been shown to be helpful to people managing herpes and Hepatitis C. Clove helps break down blood clots and have been shown to be more effective than aspirin for this purpose. Clove is also showing promise in stopping cancer cells from multiplying.

If all of that doesn’t make you want to put cloves in everything you make – mosquitos HATE it!

Nutmeg – Nutmeg has been shown to improve memory, combat depression, decrease anxiety and increase sex drive! Sounds like my kind of winter mood boost!!

So, now that you know how truly good for you these sweet muffins are – go forth and bake some! Enjoy, from me and today’s Muse, The Yankee Kitchen Ninja (Who you should totally be following.)

Making awesome with what you have

taqueria carrots

I should open this post by admitting that I am a spoiled, spoiled cook. I have a huge urban lot with a massive garden that produces a ton of food for me every summer and fall.

This year I went a little nuts, doubled the size of the garden and spent the summer months harvesting, processing and putting up all the food. Now here we are in January and I am missing the taste of summer, and my grocery bill is ready to break under the weight of winter veggie prices.

The solution seems obvious – use all that good stuff that I spent the summer putting by.

With that in mind, I spent yesterday taking an inventory of our freezer and pantry to see what I was working with.

LOTS of beet greens/ Also, yellow squash, zucchini, GOBS of pesto in two flavors, original basil pesto and arugula pesto, green beans, edamame, okra, and scarlet beans. Not to mention the pomegranate molasses, preserved lemons, lime pickles, dill pickles, salsa, marinara, chutneys, etc. And all the jams and jellies…

The truth is, there is so much food that I shouldn’t have to shop for anything for dinners for the next month, easy.

I’m hoping that by reducing my grocery shopping to just bread, milk, eggs and sandwich meat I’ll be able to cut my grocery bill in half, or more, in the next month.

And, in the meantime, I am hoping to be able to share some awesome recipes with all of you that will help you use up any food you’ve put by for the winter. Or, if you’re just looking for cheaper produce, I’ll teach you how to use frozen and canned veggies in new and delicious ways.

Some of this I am learning as I go too, so there are bound to be some disasters – that’s okay. We’ll learn together from that too.

I want to start this new winter series with a discovery that I made last night regarding some Mexican style taqueria pickled carrots I made this fall.

taqueria carrots

Spicy Taqueria Carrots

One of my most favorite crops to grow is carrots. Every year I swear I’m going to plant more, and every year my husband convinces me that half a garden bed is plenty, and every fall I am sad when we eat the last homegrown carrot before Thanksgiving even rolls around.

This spring – I am planting a whole bed of carrots and no one can stop me!

And these taqueria carrots are so good, I think even my husband will agree they deserve more space!

This is a simple recipe and it not only helps preserve your carrots, they are DELICIOUS on burritos, on their own, and would be a divine accompaniment to just about any meat. They are tart and tangy and just hot enough with a blend of spices that really tantalizes the tongue and wakes it up.

They are perfectly bright on these cold winter days.

So – last night’s meal started with a giant leftover T-Bone steak (Did I mention, we also shove half a cow in our freezer every spring…)

It was crock pot night, so I decided to go with a burrito bar. I have this awesome 3 top crockpot, so I tossed a can of beans in one spot, mixed up some quick Spanish rice in another (leftover rice from Chinese takeout night with 1/2 a jar of our favorite salsa to rehydrate/flavor), and then sliced up the steak and stirred in some sauteed onions, bell peppers and zucchini strips seasoned with cilantro, lime, cumin and a little salt.

I set each crock to low and went about my day.

By 6:00 when we were all home and hungry, everything was warmed through and ready to eat.

Then I remembered that I had made a jar of these potentially awesome taqueria carrots and that it was time to try them.

This is the biggest problem with making pickles your first few times – they have to sit and soak in their own juices for at least 6 weeks to reach peak flavor, which means you’re taking a huge gamble with your produce. If they don’t turn out, you’ve wasted all that time and energy and food for nothing…

This year I made A LOT of pickles. Most of them came out well, a few… not so much.

These spicy pickled carrots – THE BOMB!

I made a one quart jar of these lovelies, and I wish I’d made a few more. Math it up if you want to scale up your production.

What you need for 1 quart of AWESOME!!

In the bottom of your quart jar put:
2-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced (I think I actually did more like 4-6 cloves because I LOVE garlic)
1 medium white or yellow onion sliced in thin strips
1 hot pepper, sliced into thin rounds (I used 2 habanero peppers from our garden, it’s spicy. If you don’t like that kind of heat, use one cayenne or even milder, use a jalapeno. Also, removing the seeds will help make your mix more mild.)
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
I might also have added a teaspoon of whole allspice. It was months ago, it’s hard to remember…
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves

Top with 1 pound of cleaned carrots (skin still on as long as you’ve really scrubbed them) thinly sliced into little rounds.

The quart jar should be packed to 1/2 inch from the top.

Next, in a small sauce pan (Or a larger one if you are making more than one quart and are mathing up) mix the following ingredients:
1 1/4 cups apple cider
3/4 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (Note – don’t ever use iodized salt for pickling, it clouds the pickle juice and the iodine kills off helpful bacteria.)
1 1/2 tablespoons of brown sugar.

Bring this mixture to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Once the mixture is at a boil and everything is dissolved, take it off the heat and pour it over your carrot & spice mixture. Make sure that your carrots are fully covered and check for air bubbles.

Process in a water bath for 15 minutes (Add 5 minutes for every 1,000 feet above sea level) and then label and mark the date. You need to wait at least 6 weeks for the flavors to meld before you eat these lovely treats!

Want to play around with this recipe – add some sliced radishes! Make a couple of jars each with different peppers and see which one you like best. Play with the seasoning. Try a different commercial vinegar (Always use commercial vinegar for pickling because they have reliable Ph, homemade vinegars can vary and may not be acidic enough to keep your food safe.)

Serve with your next Mexican inspired feast!

(Starting ingredients: Leftover steak, taqueria carrots.)

12 Days of Candy! Mikey’s Holiday Hard Candy!

This is another annual favorite from my uncle Mikey. And again, there are no pictures because we devoured last year’s batch and this year’s batch hasn’t arrived yet. (And I didn’t want to steal copyrighted images from the internet.)

Sorry.

The good news, at least my kitchen doesn’t look like this anymore –

My kitchen elves quit when they saw the mess we'd made together.  It's a well loved kitchen!

My kitchen elves quit when they saw the mess we’d made together.
It’s a well loved kitchen!

Here’s what you need:

A candy thermometer, a large heavy bottomed sauce pan, a rimmed cookie sheet.

Ingredients:
2 cups of sugar
1 cup of water
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon oil (depending on how spicy you like your cinnamon candies) OR use mint oil. My uncle makes 2 batches, one of each flavor! (If you can’t get cinnamon and/or mint oil, use extract, but be aware you’ll need to use more to get the same flavor!)
1/2 teaspoon red food coloring (or green if you’re making the mint candies!)

What you do:
Combine the sugar, water and corn syrup in a large sauce pan. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cover and cook for 3 minutes. Uncover and cook over medium heat WITHOUT STIRRING until your candy thermometer reaches 310 degrees F. (Hard-crack stage).

Remove mixture from heat and stir in the flavor and food coloring, be careful to keep your face away from the steam as it will be carrying weaponized cinnamon or mint oil!

As soon as the flavor and color are fully incorporated, pour the mixture into a greased rimmed cookie sheet.

Allow to harden.

Turn the candy out onto a cutting board and drop it allowing it to shatter.

(Alternately you can pour little drops of the candy out when it is in the liquid shape to make little circle candies, or use a silicon candy mold to make shapes, or… But my uncle always sends us shattered candy chunks and that’s the way we like it.)

Toss the candy in a little powdered sugar and store in an airtight container or plastic bag at room temperature until you’re ready to share/gift/eat and ENJOY!

Obviously, you can tinker with the flavors using other oils and extracts to get nearly any flavor candy you want. The basic hard candy recipe works for making homemade lollipops and other hard candies year round.

12 Days of Candy! Mikey’s Chocolate Nut Clusters

This is my Uncle Mikey’s recipe, so I don’t have any pictures because, well, we ate last year’s batch and this year’s batch hasn’t come in the mail yet, but this a treat we look forward to all year long.

Even better, it’s super simple to make!

Which is great, because this is what my kitchen has looked like for a few days running: (Every time I get the dishes cleaned, I just dirty them all up again – but isn’t that what the holidays are about?)

My kitchen elves quit when they saw the mess we'd made together.  It's a well loved kitchen!

My kitchen elves quit when they saw the mess we’d made together.
It’s a well loved kitchen!

Ingredients:
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 bag butterscotch chips
1 cup chopped walnuts (or pecans or peanuts or almonds…)

What you do:
Melt the chocolate and butterscotch chips in a large microwavable bowl. (Remember, 20 second increments, stir, 20 seconds, stir, until you have a nice, smooth mix.)

Add the nuts and stir again.

Use a large table spoon to scoop out the chocolate, nut mix and drop it onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Allow the clusters to set completely.

Store in an airtight container until you’re ready to serve/gift/eat and ENJOY!

(Told you that was easy!)

12 Days of Candy! Turkish Delight!

turkish delight

Anyone who has ever read the Narnia books knows about Turkish Delight, but up until last year I thought it was just something that C.S. Lewis made up, I had no idea it was a real treat or what kind. (I actually always assumed it was similar to a turtle – chocolate and caramel and salty nuts…) Then last year I went in search of a recipe to make those aplet/cotlet things that I used to love as a child and I learned that they are basically a west coast version of Turkish Delight. I checked around my house for ingredients and saw that I was much closer to being able to make Turkish Delight than Cotlets, and so… Turkish Delight it was.

turkish delight

I can almost understand why Edmund threw Narnia under the bus for this stuff.

Personally, I loved this treat. It’s a wee burst of fresh flavor in a season smothered in chocolate. Plus – NARNIA!!! (Even if it was the treat the white witch used against Edmund.)

You don’t need any special equipment for this recipe, just the usual pots and pans and implements of kitchen destruction.

Ingredients:
3 cups pomegranate juice – divided (You can substitute cranberry juice in a pinch, I use Ocean Spray’s 100% juice, which still adds apple and grape juice as sweeteners I believe.)
4 envelopes (3 Tablespoons) unflavored gelatin
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons corn starch – divided
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon or so rose water
1 1/3 cups white sugar
1 cup almond slivers

What you do:
Place 1/2 cup of the juice in a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over it and set aside to allow the gelatin to soften.

softening gelatin

Softened gelatin looks rather brainy, doesn’t it?

In another small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the corn starch, the lemon juice and the lime juice.

In a medium heavy sauce pan, combine the remaining 2 1/2 cups of juice and the sugar. Bring to a boil stirring with a long wooden spoon to dissolve the sugar. Continue cooking for 15 more minutes to reduce and concentrate the juice.

boil the juice

Boil, boil, toil and trouble.
Okay, wrong book, but… You get the picture.

Remove from the heat, add the rose water and gelatin mixture and stir until the gelatin has completely dissolved.

stir in the gelatin mixture

Did I mention, ALL the stirring?

Return to the heat and add the citrus and cornstarch mixture, bring to a boil.

stir in the corn starch

When in doubt, keep stirring!

Boil, stirring constantly for 10 minutes. The mixture should be VERY thick.

Stir in your slivered almonds.

stir in the nuts

Still stirring.

Remove from the heat.

Rinse an 8×8 baking pan in cold water, shake to remove excess water and pour in your Turkish Delight mixture. Let the jelly harden at room temperature for at least 12 hours, or over night.

turkish delight

I can almost understand why Edmund threw Narnia under the bus for this stuff.

Use a lightly oiled knife to cut the jelly into 1 inch squares, remove from the pan with a soft offset spatula and toss the squares in the remaining 1/2 cup cornstarch coating them completely.

turkish delight

Turkish Delights all ready to serve.

Place the candies in baby muffin cups or fluted candy cups.

Store in an airtight container for 1 week at room temperature or up to 3 weeks in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before serving.

ENJOY! (And use to trick gullible children into bringing everlasting winter to your fantasy lands! Mwa-ha-ha!)

BUT WAIT! What about flavor variations!?!

I’m so glad you asked!! Because of course you can change this recipe up – substitute apricot juice to make cotlets, apple juice to make aplets, raspberry juice to make raslets… Really any 100% juice flavor that you love can be used – omit the rose water! (Though you could substitute orange blossom water…) And substitute your favorite nuts to match – walnuts are the standard in aplets and cotlets (You can also stir some finely diced dried apricots into your cotlets if you’re so inclined) you can use pistachios instead of almonds in the Turkish Delight, or with the raslets…

I’ve even heard that you can use this recipe as a way to get rid of cheap red wine. Personally, I just drink it, but if that’s not your thing – voila! Winelets!! You’re welcome!

Get creative, HAVE FUN! You have the technique, now you get to experiment with the flavors and textures!

12 Days of Candy – Chocolate Mousse Cups!

accidental lavender mousse

The first year that I made these was completely on accident, I was trying to make chocolate lavender truffles for my kids, but I didn’t have food grade essential oil, so I used this lavender simple syrup that we had instead – the problem is, it took so much syrup to get the flavor right, that the truffle filling never set – I had created a light, fluffy chocolate lavender mousse instead.

accidental lavender mousse

An accidental mousse.

And then… Last year, I learned how to make a real mousse on purpose and it was perhaps the best thing I’ve put in my mouth.

So… This year, I used that recipe, and fiddled with the flavors because in case you haven’t noticed, fiddling with flavor is sort of my thing.

And now, I bring you – Chocolate Mousse Cups in multiple flavors!

Here’s what you need:
ALL the mixing bowls – at least two medium/large and one super large and one microwavable or double-boilerable.
Electric mixer with whisk attachment
Pastry brush
Small foil cupcake liners (At least 50)
Having the baby cupcake pans helps but is not required
Pastry bag with a large star tip

Ingredients:
16 oz. semi-sweet or dark chocolate
3 Tablespoons butter, cut in small pieces
3 Tablespoons powdered sugar
3 eggs – separated
2 cups heavy cream
Flavor (I’m going to tell you how I made my most amazing fresh mint mousse cups this year, and then at the end I will tell you ways to substitute other flavors.) For mint mousse: 1 packed cup of fresh mint leaves, chopped.

An additional 6 – 8 oz of high quality dark (70% cocoa) chocolate, I recommend Lindt for this. Do not use chocolate chips as they will not temper correctly.

What you do:
Heat the cream in a medium sauce pan until just below a simmer, about 175 degrees F. Sprinkle the mint leaves on, cover and let steep for at least 20 minutes.

infusing cream with mint

Steep the mint leaves in the cream.

Taste the cream. If it isn’t minty enough for you, you can repeat this process with more fresh mint if you have it, or use a peppermint tea bag (Just make sure it is pure peppermint, not a mint green tea or anything like that.) or you can add a bit of mint extract. (As you can see from the picture above, I forgot to chop my mint, so I ended up having to re-steep my cream.)

Be careful not to let the cream get too hot at any point, you don’t want it going above the 175 mark because that will change how it whips up later.

Once you’ve got your cream as minty as you want your mousse to be, put it in a medium/large mixing bowl and return it to the fridge to cool completely. (I infused my cream the night before I wanted to make my mousse)

While that’s cooling – make your chocolate cups. Melt your 6-8 oz of quality dark chocolate in the microwave in 20 second intervals, stirring at each interval until you have a smooth, creamy, liquid chocolate.

Using the pastry brush, paint each baby cupcake foil with melted chocolate and place into the mini-muffin tin to help it keep its shape.

painting chocolate cups

You can also drop your chocolate painted liners into baby pie tins.

When you’ve finished painting all the cups, check the sides, often they will be thin as the chocolate tends to gravitate toward the bottom of the cup. Use any remaining chocolate to paint up the sides again to make them decently thick. (If you have to remelt the chocolate, do so – again at 20 second intervals.)

Allow the cups to harden completely.

Once the whipping cream and chocolate cups are both completely cooled – get out ALL your mixing bowls and your electric mixer and get ready to hustle!

In a small pan or microwavable bowl, melt the 16 oz of semi-sweet chocolate with the butter. (If using the microwave, use the standard 20 second interval, stir, 20 seconds, stir technique – if using a double boiler, make sure the pan with the chocolate rests above the water bath without actually touching it and stir often until the chocolate is smooth and creamy.)

In your largest bowl, combine the confectioner’s sugar and the egg yolks. Stir the melted chocolate into the eggs a little bit at a time.

Whip the heavy cream until stiff peaks form.

Take about 1/4 of the whipped cream and whip it into the chocolate mixture to combine.

Gently fold in the rest of the whipped cream.

Wash your whisks well and dry them.

In a spotlessly clean medium bowl, whip the egg whites until just stiff. Be careful not to overbeat them.

Fold them into the chocolate mixture.

folding in egg whites to mousse

Fold in the egg whites gently until you have a soft, airy, silky smooth mousse.

Fill your pastry bag 1/2 full with mousse and gently squeeze it into your prepared chocolate cups. Refill your pastry bag as needed.

Once all your chocolate cups are filled*, pop them into the fridge for at least 4 hours to set.

chocolate mousse cups

Fill and chill your mousse cups.

You can also decorate these with things like white chocolate flowers, crushed candy canes, sprinkles, candied fruit, etc. to enhance flavors and make them extra gorgeous – or just put a wee dollop of fresh whipped cream on them just before serving.

NOTE: This treat is CRAZY rich – yet light and airy when fresh. The longer it sets the more dense it becomes, so make this one no more than a day before you want to serve it unless you’re okay serving more of a mint chocolate fudge cup. (Which is still super delicious!)

OKAY – VARIATIONS!! Because it’s no fun if you can only make one flavor, especially if it’s a flavor you don’t love!

So – Coffee Kahlua Mousse – this is the flavor that started it all.
First – don’t steep mint in the whipped cream. Clearly. Leave the cream plain. Add 4 Tablespoons of Kahlua and 1 teaspoon of instant espresso powder to the chocolate mix when you add it to the egg yolk. Do everything else the same.

Chocolate Amaretto Mousse- I bet you can guess…
Use plain whipped cream. Add 1/4 cup of amaretto and 1 teaspoon of almond extract to the chocolate when you add it to the egg yolk. Do everything else the same.

Chocolate Orange Mousse – Yup, you guessed, add 1/4 cup of Grand Marnier to the chocolate & egg yolk mixture.

If you don’t want to add booze to your chocolate for some reason, you can also add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of any flavor of all natural simple syrup to the chocolate mix at the beginning to create those flavors.

Alternately, you can add any flavor extracts – vanilla, almond, mint, cinnamon, orange, etc. to the whipped cream and fold it in to the chocolate to create those flavor profiles.

I imagine you’re getting the idea – add most flavors to the chocolate mix at the beginning. For subtle flavors, infuse the cream and then allow to re-chill overnight before whipping and folding in to the chocolate.

Above all - HAVE FUN! Enjoy the creation process, and drop your favorite new flavor in the comments!

*If you have leftover mousse that does not fit into your prepared chocolate cups – DO. NOT. PANIC. Just get our some small wine glasses or other attractive small bowls and scoop leftover mousse into them (one for each family member living under your roof) cover them and pop them into the freezer for a special dessert tonight! Pull them out of the freezer about 5 minutes before you plan to serve them, top with a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle with crushed candy canes! (This is a CRAZY rich dessert. 3 oz is about all anyone in my family can eat in one sitting and I live with a couple of chocoholics!)