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Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Morning Stollen

 Good Morning and Merry Christmas!

 Come on in for a cuppa and a treat!

 It's not a White Christmas, but it's chilly.

We can pick a lemon for your tea or put a dollop of molasses in your coffee.

Stollen has been around for centuries. I'm not adding anything here but proof that you can do it and that you can make it your own with a few tweaks. Many people don't like traditional candied fruits, so I made mine with dried fruits soaked in apricot brandy. Even my picky eaters have been enjoying them.

Traditional stollen is made as a loaf that is flattened and folded over a roll of marzipan filling. This is meant to represent Baby Jesus wrapped in his swaddling cloth. It is a lovely meaning, but I made my stollen into little buns, without marzipan but with sliced almonds. These can be carried and shared very easily.

Christmas Morning Stollen
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Apricot Brandy to cover

Combine the dried fruits and brandy in a glass container. Cover and let soak in the fridge overnight.

1/2 cup warmed milk
1 pkg. dry yeast
pinch of sugar

Lightly warm the milk. Stir in the sugar and yeast. Let this this show proof of its liveliness while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

4 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Place all of the above ingredients, and the frothy yeast into a large bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer and combine until all of the ingredients are well mixed. At this point, things will look a little raggedy. Do not fear! Set aside.

14 tbsp. butter, softened
2/3 cup flour
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cardamom

In another bowl, cream the butter, an additional 2/3 cup flour and spices until smooth and fluffy. Gradually mix the flour and butter mixture into the raggedy dough until it is all incorporated. I used the dough hook of my mixer for this process. It will come together and be very still but smooth. Allow the dough to rest for about 30 minutes.

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Drain the brandied fruits and keep the lovely liqueur for another use. With lightly floured hands, knead the almonds and drained fruits into the dough. Cover the dough and allow it to rest for another 15 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough into balls about the size of a golf ball. With good planning, you can get 24. As you can see, I got 21. Place them on the lined baking sheet, cover lightly and allow to rise in a warm place until slightly puffy. This stiff dough will not rise dramatically, just a bit. It's cold in my house, so I sat them on a heating pad, set to low and covered them with a tea towel.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly browned and set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the baking pan for 10 minutes.

1/2 cup melted butter
2 to 3 cups powdered sugar

When they are cool enough to handle, dip into the melted butter then roll in powdered sugar. Store in an air tight container. Serve with a hot cuppa and enjoy!

Spiced Fall Soup

As the weather cools, I switch from various salads for lunch to various soups. Soup! You may recall my Love Letter to Soup from the Fall of 2010. Fall seems to call for a rich and spicy sweetness. I know that when I made this soup, I was thinking about how the turmeric and ginger would help me to resist both the cold temperatures and the cold germs going through my office. Soups are a kind of never-fail template for eating well with the seasons.

Spiced Fall Soup
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrot
2 cups cubed zucchini squash
2 cups cubed butternut squash
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon, or 1 tsp. dried
2 tsp. sweet paprika
2 tsp. turmeric
1 1/2 tsp. ginger
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 can of diced tomatoes with liquid
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
8 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large, heavy bottomed, soup pot and add the olive oil. Add the remaining ingredients, except the chicken stock, tomatoes and beans. Saute until the vegetables are wilted and the spices have become fragrant. Add the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until everything is tender. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking.

This makes a lot of soup! The good news is that the flavors will develop and taste even better the next day. It also freezes very well.

Friday, October 23, 2015

My Best Ginger Ale

Are you like me? The days rush by. I do my best in each moment. I never quite do everything I'd like. Part of my practice right now is to be ok with that. A lot of things just have to be ok. Other things are so darn sweet! I try to pay attention and remain curious and open. Our world requires a lot of mindfulness and patience! Today, I'm sharing one of those things that makes my life more sweet.

I stopped drinking sodas long ago. With only sickly sweet or wacky chemical taste to choose from, I just gave up and went for iced tea. My daughter tried to turn me on to kombucha, but I never acquired a taste for it. A bit too earthy for my tastes. But I really missed the bubbly. I like sparkles in my mouth! I'm so grateful I ran into Wellness Mama and her ginger bug. I already posted about my experiments with root beer, but my favorite has become this ginger ale with a touch of vanilla. I've developed a rhythm that keeps me in soda for a week or two and keeps my bug healthy.

Fermentation is naturally a slowish process that takes planning. Really, what it takes is some small forethought and good timing. My bug has become more vigorous and flavorful over the summer and this recent batch took only a few days.  I keep the bug in the fridge until I am ready to make a new batch of soda. Then I take it out and feed it with about a tablespoon each grated ginger and sugar and let it warm up for about 24 hours. Then, I make the flavorful tea, add the bug and let it all stand in the two big pickle jars you see above. The bubbles you see are just a two-day ferment.

After the first ferment, I strain both jars into a big pot. This insures that the flavors are all blended. I then bottle it up. This batch was fizzy after just one night's sleep on the counter. I check the bottles over the sink and listen for the little "ffssst" that escapes. That's the time to store the bottles in the fridge until they are ready to drink. If you have bottles that are over a week old, I would strongly suggest you open them over the sink. And, for goodness sakes, don't forget them on the counter!

Look at those lovely, tiny bubbles. So refreshing!

Every time I drink this, I feel like I'm doing something good for myself. This is what the old-time advise to drink ginger ale is all about. I find this really helps when I have an IBS flareup. It feels so good and soothing.

I know I'm not telling anyone anything new today. I'm really just repeating something that is worth repeating, with my own preferences for your consideration. If you can feed a pet and make a pot of tea, you have the skills you need to make the best soda you have ever tasted.

My Best Ginger Ale
6 cups non-chlorinated water
2 inches of fresh ginger, grated or chopped
1 cup organic whole sugar crystals
1 inch of vanilla bean, split
1/2 tsp. pink salt

Additional 10 cups non-chlorinated water
1/4 to 1/2 cup lemon juice
1 cup lively ginger bug

Place 6 cups of water in a large pan. Add the ginger, vanilla bean, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for a few minutes. Remove from heat and let the tea mixture stand until luke warm.

When the tea mixture is luke warm, add the remaining 10 cups of water, lemon juice and ginger bug. Taste for acidity. I tend to use more lemon juice with fresh lemons, especially Meyer Lemons. If I'm stuck using bottled lemon juice, I use less. Place everything in one great big or a few just big jars that have tight closing lids. Try to evenly distribute the solids. Close the lids and let stand at room temperature until it starts to bubble.

To bottle, strain the mixture into a large container and stir to fully blend flavors. Carefully pour into lever cap bottles, leaving up to 2 inches of head space. Seal and let stand at room temperature over night or for a day or two. Check daily. The warmer your kitchen, the faster the ferment will be complete. Once the bottles and nice and bubbly, keep them chilled until use. This makes just about a gallon.

By the way...I'm drinking this RIGHT NOW!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Random Food Fridays - Green Lentil and Sardine Salad

Well, it's been a while, and here I am with another salad. But, I do have fresh garden tomatoes for the salad! My garden is pretty small. I've never really had enough of anything from it to can a batch of sauce, jam or relish. Canning these tomatoes would seem kind of a shame, too. They are so pretty and delicious. Such a treat!

Here is the tomato corner of my little garden. They've done pretty good this year, considering this whole corner was a giant mud hole over the winter when we had to have our sewer line and water main replaced. Have no fear! No sewage was used in the growing of these fine tomatoes!

The two varieties shown on my plate are Old Yellow Candy Stripe and Tess's Land Race Currant. I ordered the seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Many heirlooms have to be started from seed. It's not as hard as I thought it would be. In Sacramento, we have mild winters and I can start my seeds outdoors as early as January, as long as I protect them in these little greenhouses. I use empty one-gallon milk or water containers, cut around the middle, leaving enough for a hinge. When the weather warms up and the seedlings get too tall, you just clip the hinge and let them toughen up a bit. I find this old school aluminum table also helps by being very reflective.

The Old Yellow Candy Strip is a determinate tomato, which means they all ripen at once and that's the end of your harvest. Right now, I have about a dozen very large juicy tomatoes awaiting my pleasure. (This guy even had a smile for me!) The current tomatoes, like many small tomatoes, will keep producing for a while. That kind is called indeterminate. Tess's Land Race Currant are an amazing experience. It's as if each one had all the flavor of a large tomato compacted into one juicy burst! They are perfect for adding to any kind of salad. I like to leave them whole, so I can get the yummy POP.

This salad is what people mean when they are talking about a healthy Mediterranean diet - lentils, omega-3 rich cold water fish, veggies and good extra virgin olive oil. I think people can be a little scared of sardines. People, they are so good! And good for you! And sustainable! And low on the food chain! (Meaning fewer heavy metals and toxins.) I get mine at my friendly neighborhood Costco - Wild Planet Wild Pacific Sardines packed in Extra Virgin Olive Oil. If you can't commit to a 6 pack, Trader Joe's has some you can purchase one can at a time.

Green Lentil and Sardine Salad
1 cup dry whole green lentils
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
1 shallot, diced
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, sliced
1 tbsp. capers
zest of 1 lemon
2 cans of sardines in extra virgin olive oil (4.375 oz)
1 cup cherry tomatoes
Note: I was completely out of parsley, but that would make a very nice addition!

Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large clove garlic, mashed
2 tsp. country style Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. sugar

For the salad, place a medium sauce pan with 6 cups water over high heat and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the lentils and stir to prevent clumping. Return to simmer and continue to simmer until they are soft but still hold their shape - about 20 minutes. (Nothing beats the bite test for this.) Drain and rinse with cold water to cool. Add all other salad ingredients and toss.

For the dressing add all ingredient to a jar with a tightly fitting lid and shake. When the dressing is emulsified, toss it with the salad. I found that this salad took all of this dressing. The flavor will improve with a few hours of marination.

This makes 4 to 6 lunch time servings for me. It will serve more as a side dish.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Raspberry and Pom Jam

I have the very great honor of serving as a groomshuman in the June wedding of my dear friends, Bill and Marina. The reason for my unusual title is that I will be standing up with Bill, right next to our philosophy professor and mentor, David, who introduced us a few years ago. Bill and I attended university about 20 years apart, which should give you some idea of the long and distinguished teaching career of David. The best way I can explain this welcome, but unexpected friendship is how we refer to each other - He is my brother from another mother. I am his sister from another mister.

Part of my wedding contribution is the making of teeny tiny jams to give as favors. Undertaking this project has been really fun and has helped me refine my system to become even more efficient. The good news is that one regular batch of jam will make from 15 to 18 jars. So, really, it's only about 10 batches. And, I'm already half way there!

Start with 4 12 oz. packs of berries, or the equivalent.

When local, organic, spring raspberries began to appear at Costco, I knew it was a great time to get started. Last fall, I combined pomegranate juice with raspberries to fill out an odd amount of berries. It turned out bright and delicious! These two tangy fruits enhance each other spectacularly.

Add Pom juice to equal 4 1/2 lbs.
Because pomegranates are not currently in season, I opted for the easy fix of using bottled Pom juice.

As I often do, I mashed the berries with the sugar and lemon juice and stored them in the fridge until ready to process.

I saw Rachel at Blue Chair Fruit, keeping her jars hot in the oven then pouring into each jar on a cookie sheet, wiping the rims, lidding and then oven processing. Here is a page from Eat Boutique that shows some pictures of her process. I do not oven process the full jars, but filling many jars this way is much quicker than ladling each one and moving the canning funnel from jar to jar. The filled jars can (and should) wait in the oven until it is their turn in the boiling water bath.

If the jam has chunks of fruit, you may get a little splashing as they plop in as you pour, so take care with cleaning the rims. This batch makes 16 of these 4 oz. jars. I used one big jar to send to a friend. I was also lucky enough to has a little left over.

So far, I've made strawberry and raspberry/pom. As new fruits become available, I'll mix it up a bit. If I have two batches of fruit prepped, it really only takes about 90 minutes to do up both batches. And, that is without commercial pectin. If you could taste this, I think you would agree that this small bit of work is well worth the rewards. Bill came over for breakfast shortly after this batch. His reaction was such that my husband asked if he just wanted a big straw to suck it up. I call that success.

Raspberry and Pom Jam
48 oz. fresh raspberries - that's 3 lbs.
Enough Pom juice to bring it up to 4 lbs. - about 2 cups
5 cups cane sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup pectin booster
18 4 oz. jars

Wash and drain berries. Mash together will all other ingredients, until juices are flowing and some whole berries remain. This may be done up to 3 days in advance.

Prepare the boiling water bath and preheat oven to 200 degrees. Place lids and rings in warm water on lowest setting. Wash jars and check for imperfections. Place on a cookie sheet in the preheated oven and keep there for at least 20 minutes. Keep the oven warm at this temperature to keep the jars until ready for filling and processing.

Place the berries in a large, heavy bottomed pan and bring to a boil. Watch and stir occasionally, skimming excess foam. Place some saucers and teaspoons in the freezer. After 20 to 30 minutes, or when the jam reaches 220 degrees, begin to keep a closer watch. When the jam begins to look thicker, glossy and the foam subsides, test the jam by taking a saucer and spoon from the freezer and scooping out a teaspoon. Place the full spoon and saucer back in the freezer for a couple of minutes and check. To check, tip the spoon and let the jam fall off. Does it mound? Does it wrinkle when you push it? Then it is ready! (Click here for pictures of this test.)

When the jam is ready, remove from the heat and place on a potholder in a location convenient to where you will fill the jars. Bring the whole cookie sheet of heated jars out of the oven. Give the jam a few gentle stirs to distribute fruit and skim off any remaining remnants of foam. Use a ladle to fill a two cup measuring cup with a good pour spout. Carefully fill all the jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the rims and threads of the jars to insure any spills are cleaned up. Place lids and rings on each jar and finger tighten - be gentle! Keeping the jars upright at all times, lift jars into the boiling water bath and process for 10 minutes each. Keep remaining jars warm in the oven until it is their turn. When each processing is complete, carefully lift the jars out onto another cookie sheet that has been lined with a tea towel. Once the seals pop, I like to wipe any excess water off the top and loosen the rings a bit. That way the heat of the jam and help evaporate any water under the rings.

If you have a big, multi-step project going, I highly recommend that you find some way to demarcate each flavor before storing. Right now, a sharpie on the side of the canning jar boxes is how I'm keeping track. I'm not sure how Bill and Marina will want to label and decorate the jars, so I'm holding them simply.

Congratulations to Bill and Marina! I'm so glad to be part of a sweet start to a very sweet life!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Advanced Pantry - Fridge Staples and Frozen Shrimp

A large part of successful home cooking is having things around. I didn't grow up in a household that kept parsley, shallots or capers on hand, but my daughter did. When preparing simple food, little things make a huge difference. Using shallots instead of onions is one example. Adding a bright pickle, such as capers can make something simple pop with flavor.

This salad was a quick, weeknight meal, and superbly satisfying. When we talk about a pantry, most people will think of things like rice, beans, pasta or canned goods. There are certain fresh items that have a similar place in my kitchen - ever present and reliable. All of the veggies for this salad hold up pretty well too. I didn't have lettuce in the house on this day, but didn't miss it at all.

Here is the pantry roll call that made this salad possible on short notice. Note the flavor super stars in bold:

From the Fridge...
1/2 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/2 of a shallot, sliced thin
1 big handful of flat leaf parsley leaves
1 tsp. capers

The Dressing...
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tsp. coarse Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed

From the Freezer...
1 cup frozen shrimp, thawed (Thaw these quickly in luke warm water while assembling the salad.)

From the Cupboard...
2 tbsp. toasted pepitos

Toss the salad. Shake the dressing. Dress the salad. Top with pepitos. Eat well.

So, when buying fresh veggies, be not afraid! They will not go bad if you just dress them up and invite them to dinner!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Strong Chicken Soup for Whatever Ails You

It's been a good long time since I've been here to post something new. Since before the holidays! I have some recipes saved up, but I thought I'd return with this timely soother. I have been sick for a week. At this very moment, I'm missing both a baby shower for my cousin and an art opening for my daughter. (Please note: I cannot be two places at once, even when well.) This is my second batch of this great soup and I hope it will get me through the next week.

You may have seen several articles about the benefits of bone broth. The collagen, calcium and protein that can be released into broth through slow cooking is a tasty miracle. There is something about long-cooked broth that feels nourishing and rich. I have learned to use my 7 quart crock pot to good advantage. I'm grateful that this soup needed so little prep and supervision. Any soup can be a bit of magic. Part of the magic is using what feels especially good for you, personally. My soup started with a fancy chicken, veg and filtered water. I've heard of people keeping broth going in the crock pot for days. I had this broth going for over 24 hours. After the first 6 hours of cooking, I removed the chicken, separated and held out the meat and returned everything else back to the pot. I set it for another 1o hours on low so I could make soup the next day. (That is the longest my crock pot will go before converting to the warm setting. I will reset it any number of times until I am ready to strain it.)  If you leave the meat much longer, it will become too mushy. With this timing, the meat, bones and skins separate easily, but the meat still has a good texture.

Chicken Bone Broth
4 ribs celery
4 large carrots
1 yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch parsley
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp. dry sage leaves
zest and juice of one Meyer lemon or 1/2 a Eureka lemon
Filtered water to cover

Add all to a 7 quart crock pot and set to cook on high for 6 hours. Remove and de-bone and skin the chicken. Set aside the meat and place the skin and bones back in the broth. Set to cook on low for 10 hours or more. Strain and de-fat prior to use. May be frozen or used immediately. Makes 2 quarts.

Prior to starting the final soup, I strain the solids out and let it sit for a while to assist in removing some of the fat. You may wonder why I put the skin back if I intended to remove the fat later. The reason is that the skin has a lot of collagen and is part of what becomes gelatin.

I'm not super vigilant about removing all the fat, just most of it. I use one of these fat separators. I just keep adding broth and pouring the broth off from the bottom. This final pour shows all the fat removed from the whole pot.

I end up with just over 8 cups of broth from my 7 quart crock pot.

Strong Chicken Soup
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion
4 ribs celery
2 large carrots
8 ounces mixed mushrooms
4 cloves garlic
8 cups chicken bone broth
Reserved chicken meat from the bone broth
2 tbsp. gelatin, dissolved in 1 cup cold water
1/4 cup white miso
Salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste

Heat olive oil over a medium flame in a large pot. Chop all the vegetables to about 1/4 inch size and add to the pot. Saute a few minutes and add the broth and chicken. Bring to a brisk simmer. Stir in the miso and taste. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

To add even more nutrition and body to the finished soup, I add 2 tablespoons of good, organic, grass fed gelatin.

This is what it looks like after being dissolved in cold water.

I've also learned a couple of nutrition boosting tips from this article by Dr. Weil. If you set your mushrooms in the sun for 20 minutes or so, they make their own vitamin D and become a far greater source than mushrooms straight from the fridge. Also, if you let chopped garlic sit around for 10 minutes before cooking, the reaction with the air makes a bunch of organo-sulfer compounds, which are real good for your heart. And, it's not mentioned in this article, but miso is full of healthy pro-biotics. That's why you want to add it last. When I add rice, I add it separately, to each serving. That provides for calorie control and nothing gets soggy or gummy. Sometimes, when I want some extra anti-inflammatory power, I add a spoonful of turmeric paste to my serving. Not everyone likes the taste, so I save that one for individual servings. You can learn how to make turmeric paste (and delicious golden milk) right here.

Enjoy your soup and feel better!