Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Gooseberry Gin Fizz

One of the best things about having a home garden is that I can grow things that are kind of hard to find in the market. Take gooseberries, for example. They're easy to grow, slightly harder to pick because they have huge thorns, and a total treasure in my yard. Those huge thorns help to keep birds and critters from stealing my bounty... like they did with my cherries this year, grrrrrrrrr...

  I picked about 5 cups of gooseberries off of one of my bushes. A while bowl full of tart, delicious potential. So, on a hot summer's night, I decided to make a cool, refreshing drink: a gooseberry gin fizz. If you are lucky enough to find gooseberries in the store, it's likely that they won't be sold in huge quantities, and this recipe is perfect for small amounts. And if you're lucky enough to find gooseberries at the farmers market, buy whatever you can handle! You can make jam, tarts, pies...

But back to the cocktail:

First, take 6-8 gooseberries, slice then in half, and middle them in a mixer or mason jar with 2-3 teaspoons of sugar. If your gooseberries are sweet, dial back on the sugar, if they're tart, dial it up.

Add 2 ounces of your favorite gin and one egg white to the mixer.

Shake vigorously for 20-30 seconds. It should be getting frothy. Then add a handful of ice and shake for a while more.

Strain into a glass, then top it with a splash of club soda. Just for kicks, slice partway through a couple of gooseberries and use them to garnish the rim of the glass.

Tah-dah! Your very own fancy schmancy seasonal artisan cocktail!

The gooseberries bring their unique flavor and tartness to the drink, while the egg white lends a smooth creaminess that takes the edge off of the gin. It's a delightful way to end a hot day, or to kick off a hot afternoon!

Cheers to summer!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

I'm Baaaaaaack... And I Brought Butternut Vanilla Bean Jam!

It's been a while. I'm sorry about that. Life has been hitting hard, and actually reality has been taking priority instead of the blogosphere.

But I'm back, and I think you'll enjoy what I've got. You see, just because I haven't been blogging doesn't mean I haven't been cooking and creating! So, now I have a backlog of recipes to get out to all of you. But let's not get ahead of ourselves...

Today's recipe is one that I'm really thrilled with. Long story short, one of my littles was home sick today, and I got a little extra play time in the kitchen. I had seen a while back a picture of some pumpkin jam, and I found the idea intriguing. Today, my butternut squash called out to me instead, and I decided to throw in some vanilla beans, since I like the combo of vanilla and squash. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Rhubarb Vodka Tonic and a Homemade Rhubarb Ginger Liqueur

Rhubarb is an amazing thing to have in your garden.  It comes back bigger and better every year, and the more you use it, the more you will get.  It's one of the first edibles to sprout in the spring, and mine tend to produce well through summer into fall.  The rosy red stalks make me smile, and I love sneaking their aggressively tart flavor into treats of many sorts.

Come springtime this year, my inbox suddenly was filled with rhubarb inspired drinks, and that made me go into mad scientist bartender mode.  I looked at a few and then decided that they weren't quite what I wanted, so I set about making my own Rhubarb Ginger Liqueur.

First off, I chopped up a bunch of rhubarb from my garden, as much as my first harvest held, which was about a pound and a half.  

Then I made a quick simple syrup by heating a half a cup of sugar with a quarter cup of water until the sugar dissolved.  

I took a big jar and put in the rhubarb, the simple syrup, 3 cups of vodka, and a half cup of ginger liqueur.  

Put the lid on, give it a good shake, and let it sit at room temperature, shaking daily, for about 2 weeks, until the rhubarb has released all of its color into the liqueur.

Then I strained it through a fine mesh strainer and bottled it up to store.

But whoops!  It couldn't all fit in the jar I chose, so I had to sample it in a little beverage.

Take the rhubarb ginger liqueur, top it off with some tonic, and BOOM: Rhubarb Vodka Tonic.  I garnished mine with a little rhubarb twist from harvest #2 for the year.

It's tart and sweet and everything that I love about rhubarb, with the smallest hint of ginger to keep things interesting.  And that bright and cheery!

Cheers to spring, my friends!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Chive Jelly

We have a chive plant that is more than just a plant in our garden.  It is a part of our heritage, a legacy.  We got the chives as a small split off of my husband's grandmother's plant at her house.  We planted it at our first house, when we were first married.  When we had our first daughter, we built a new house, and the chives moved with us across town.  Over the last decade, they have grown, and grown, and grown.  And we have shared the chives with many others.  My kids give them to teachers as gifts.  They invite friends to sample from our plant and then send them home with a split off of it so that they can plant chives in their own yards.  This particular plant has taken root in dozens of yards around the Chicago suburbs.  And it keeps going strong, just like my husband's grandma did for so many years.

This winter, sadly, time finally caught up with our beloved Gigi, and our family journeyed through one of the saddest goodbyes we've had to face.  Then, this spring, her chives popped up in our yard once again, a reminder that life grows.  We miss her terribly, but I know we will always remember her with such love, and I know that she felt that love while she was here.

As far as cooking goes, there are so, so many ways to use chives.  My kids will eat them straight out of the garden, but they also like them sprinkled on eggs or potatoes.  I mix them in with chicken dishes or with fish.  They are great in savory muffins or quick breads.  But after reading an online article about herb jellies, I started thinking about trying out a chive jelly. I'm a big fan of the more savory jellies, like onion jam and pepper jelly, and I thought that the chives would be a great spread for crackers or bread, or to use as a glaze for meat.

I started by chopping up a big bunch of the chives, about 2 cups.

I put the chopped chives in a pot with 2 cups of water, and brought it all to a boil for a couple of minutes.  Then I poured the chives and the water into a separate container, covered them, and let them seep for a couple of hours.

The next thing I did was to strain liquid from the chives through a fine mesh strainer, pushing the chives to get all the "juice" out of it.  Kind of like a chive tea.

I prepped several canning jars and lids, boiling the jars for 10 minutes and then keeping them in the hot water until I needed them.  I soaked the lids in some of the boiled water as well to soften up the seals.

I took the chive tea and put it in a large pot with 1/4 cup of white vinegar, a pinch of salt, and 4 cups of sugar and brought it up to a boil.  Then I added one package (3 ounces) of liquid pectin, brought it back to a boil for one minute, and took it off of the heat.

There was a bit of foam, so I skimmed that off of the hot jelly and then poured it into the prepared jars and put the lids and seals on.  I got about 4 pints of jelly total.

Listening to the pinging pops of the lids as they sealed made me smile.  Opening up the first jar, spreading it onto a cracker and popping it into my mouth made me smile even more.

Chive jelly is a good thing.  A really good thing.  It tastes sweet and savory, clean and grassy, and it's almost like having a bit of spring in a jar.  Very little fuss for a whole lot of yum.  Definitely worth a try!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Lemon Sunshine Blondies

I have to admit, I enjoy browsing Pinterest more than I thought I would.  And one of the ones that ALWAYS gets me is those lemon brownies.  They are sunny, and yellow, and...either made with a bunch of stuff I don't like or the reviews on them are extremely disappointing.  *sad trumpet noise*

In my head, they are buttery and citrusy and oh so wonderful.  But the reviews always seem to say that they aren't the right texture, or they don't have much lemon flavor at all.  So I made the decision, after a rough few weeks of hard-hitting real life worries around here, that I needed to make the thing that they were in my head exist.

I started with my basic blondie pattern and lemoned it up with real lemon zest, juice, and a dash of orange blossom water.  You know, to keep it from being ordinary.  So it's a quick and easy dessert, with only 7 ingredients.

Heat your oven to 350 and grease an 8 by 8 pan.

Melt a stick of butter.

While the butter is melting, measure out a cup plus a tablespoon of flour into a mixing bowl and add a dash of salt and the zest of 2 lemons.

When the butter has melted, mix a cup of sugar into it.  Then add in a cup of sugar and mix.  Add in an egg.  Then mix in 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and 1 tablespoon of orange flower water (can usually be found in the international section of grocery stores, by the Middle Eastern or Mediterranean foods).  If you don't have or don't want to use the orange flour water, you can add more lemon juice or just stick with the 2 tablespoons.

Add your wet mix to the dry and stir until it is all mixed.

Pour into the prepared pan and then bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes, until it is slightly golden around the edges and set in the middle.

Let cool before slicing and enjoying.

My kids are such culinary critics these days, but they loved these.  My 8-year-old commented that she "really liked the use of the lemon zest", and my oldest kept trying to figure out "that interesting floral taste hint".  Little Mr. Picky just inhaled one, no commentary needed.  And all the adults who were lucky enough to get a taste enjoyed them as well.

They are everything I hoped they would be: bright, comforting, delicious...the essence of sunshine in a baked good.  I'd say more, but I'll keep this post like the blondies: short and sweet.  :)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Orange-Spinach Muffins

Saint Patrick's Day is coming soon, and as usual, I'm trying hard to figure out ways to make everything green without using that dropper of food coloring that no one's body really needs.  And, how fortuitous, my local grocery happened to have bunches of organic spinach priced at two for a dollar!  I've done spinach muffins before, using a recipe from Weelicious, and the kids were okay with them, but they were nothing they requested again.  I've also had good luck with a savory Parmesan muffin that included spinach, but that seems more like a hearty winter muffin than a bright springy muffin.  So what flavor could I use to bring in the spring and help sweeten up the spinach flavor to make a sweet, delicious muffin?

I went with orange, and I'm so glad I did! Now, mind you, I don't hide things from my kids, so they all watched as I grabbed a bunch of spinach and threw it in the food processor.  And the looks and comments were quick and skeptical.  "No way that's going to taste good, Mom."  "I don't think I even want to know...or try..."  "Maybe not spinach."

Everyone's a critic.

Until I got the batter mixed and let them have a lick...after which it was, "Wow, I can't wait for these to be baked!" and "Baked?  How about we just eat the batter?"

As we poured the batter into the muffin cups, my middle child suggested that we sprinkle just a little sugar on top...just in case.  And because we like the crunch it gives.

After they were baked, they didn't disappoint.  They were really green, but tasted bright and citrusy.  The kids all ate them with gusto, and before long, they was nothing left but a few tiny green crumbs on the plates.

So, here you are: Orange-Spinach Muffins!

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and prep a muffin pan either by greasing it or putting in liners.

In a food processor, put in about 2 cups loosely packed spinach, and the juice and zest or 2 oranges.  Blend it until it's well chopped and blended.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups of flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 cup of sugar.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl or 4 cup measuring cup, mix the spinach mixture, 1 egg, 1/4 cup oil, and just shy of 1 cup of milk.

Pour the wet mix into the dry mix, and stir until just combined.

Scoop or pour into muffin cups, 3/4 full.  Sprinkle lightly with a large grain sugar and bake for 25 minutes, until starting to turn golden and a toothpick will come out clean.

Enjoy on their own, or with butter or cream cheese.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Ooh-La-La Lentils

I'm not sure if it's something that comes with age or what, but I'm totally finding new love for simple foods.  A decade ago, I would have found bread and butter dull and lifeless.  I wouldn't have thought that a good broth could be an experience.  I would have told you that lentils were bland and boring.  And I would have been wrong on all three counts. Quality ingredients prepared with a patient hand and a seasoned palate can elevate even the simplest of dishes.

Let's go back to those lentils.

Lentils have iron, protein, folate, fiber...they're pretty much a super food.  They've been cultivated and eaten by cultures around the world for pretty much forever, providing nourishment to our ancestors.  They are plentiful and affordable.  And, on top of all that, they are delicious.

There are many different types of lentils, but for this dish, I go for French green lentils.  They're a little harder to find than brown or even red lentils, but they have a great size and texture, and their flavor has a little something extra that I just can't get enough of.  This is basically my version of what I call "Stanley Tucci's Lentils", because his lentil recipe in The Tucci Table inspired me to enjoy them more often. You can serve this dish over rice or with a nice baguette on the side, or just eat them as is on their own.  I like the baguette route, because it mentally transports me to a European countryside, where I can sit enjoy the fresh air as I eat a rustic bowl of lentils.

First, chop up an onion, 2 cloves of garlic, a stalk of celery, and a carrot.  Heat a good couple of glugs of olive oil in a large pan, then saute the veggies over medium heat until they are soft.  Try not to let them brown at all.  Lower the heat if needed.

Rinse 3 cups of lentils, then add them to the pan, tossing so the the olive oil covers them.

Cover the lentils with chicken stock until they are fully covered by at least 1/4 inch.  You can use water too, but I like the flavor that the stock adds.  Sprinkle in a bit of cumin, some fresh ground pepper, about a teaspoon of salt, and a bay leaf.  Give it a stir and bring it all to a boil.

Once the lentils are boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are the texture that you want.  I prefer a bit al dente, but not crunchy.  Check the lentils to make sure that the liquid has not all boiled out, and add water if necessary.

Chop up some parsley and zest a lemon, and toss all that into the cooked lentils.  Take out the bay leaf.  Taste and season as necessary.  I like to squeeze a wedge or two of lemon in mine.

This is a hearty side dish, a great nutritious small meal, or even a healthy snack.  It reheats like a dream, so if you make plenty, it can last you a while.  You can also take leftovers and simmer them up in some more broth with some chopped tomatoes for a fantastic lentil soup.  Looking for something with a little more crunch?  Mix leftovers with some seasoned breadcrumbs and an egg and then pan fry spoonfuls in olive oil to make lentil fritters. do you feel about lentils?