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 color...so 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.

So...how do you feel about lentils?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Honey Poached Pineapple

Some things are too good not to share.  But then again, some things are so good that you want to hoard them all to yourself, and hide in a closet eating a whole bowl of them without sharing with anyone else.  I'll let you decide where this one falls, but I will say this: Honey Poached Pineapple is a revelation.


I feel extremely lucky to have a library that appears to appreciate good cookbooks, and I recently checked out Fresh Happy Tasty, an amazing cookbook by Jane Coxwell.  It's a great source for flavor-packed recipes and gorgeous food-porn type photos.  On first skim, there were at least a dozen recipes that I couldn't imagine not trying, but this one stuck in my head the hardest.  The honey poached pineapple recipe looked simple, but my foodie senses were tingling, especially when she mentioned serving it with fresh mint, because mint and pineapple are one of those flavor combinations that make me absolutely swoon with happiness.  So, I grabbed a fresh pineapple and gave it a go!

It doesn't take long, and I know that a lot of people will scoff at the idea of cooking a pineapple in any way, but I'm telling you right now, this stuff is magical.  It's sweet, but has such great depth of flavor.  Your tongue and your belly will both be happy.  Happier than happy.  Ecstatic!

The original recipe called for half a pineapple, but really, what are you going to do with that other half?  Plus, once you taste the poached pineapple, you're immediately going to regret not making more, so why not just go all out and poach the whole thing?

Now, I'm not sure that I can pull off this first prep paragraph without sounding like a spoiled, pretentious snob, so please note the sarcastic tone in which I'm going to throw it all out there like Martha or Gwyneth, and please bear with me.

When preparing pineapple, I find it best to use the method of Hawaiian natives (or a girl who lived in Hawaii that I met once).  During my time on the islands (honeymoon, over a decade ago), our wonderful guide (on one river kayak tour) demonstrated this traditional (or not) method of slicing a fresh pineapple straight from the pineapple fields (or her knapsack), and I was enticed both by her skill and by the deliciousness of the pineapple (probably because I was starving from all the paddling and that was the first food we'd had in an hour or two).  As the scent of plumeria (which it turns out I am highly allergic too and spent a couple of days with a swollen face from sinus issues) filled the air, I knew that I had found my true Ohana (which means family...I learned that from Lilo and Stitch).

But seriously, that woman did wonders with a knife, and I have used her pineapple prep method ever since.


Cut off the top and the bottom of the pineapple.  Then cut it into quarters.  Slice the outside rind off in strips.  Then take out the hard core with an angled slice.  After that, you can cut it however you need for what you're making.  For this recipe, cut it into cubes, about an inch big.


In a large pan, stir together 2 cups of water and 1 cup of good honey.  Someday I'll write a post all about honey and bees, but for now, suffice it to say that my stance is to get your honey locally.  Bring that to a boil.


Add 2 cinnamon sticks, one vanilla bean that has been sliced lengthwise and had the seeds scraped into the mix, and the zest of an orange.


Reduce the heat and add the pineapple.  Give it all a stir.  The next trick is to take a sheet of parchment paper (the book calls for waxed paper, but you know how I love parchment paper) the size of your pan and crumple it up.  Then uncrumple it and place it on top of the pineapple brew in the pan.  It helps keep more of the liquid in the pan, which, believe you me, is a very good thing.


Simmer it gently for 12-15 minutes.  Check it once in a while to make sure that the simmer is not too vigorous.  The pineapple will deepen it's yellow color, and it should be tender.  And it will smell fantastic!


Take out the cinnamon stick and let it cool slightly before serving.  If you want, you can store it in the fridge for several days.  I took a couple of jars to a friend's house for brunch, and it was a hit with everyone who tried it.

The suggestions in the book are to try it over yogurt with a little granola.  Mine never made it that far.  My preferred method is to spoon it into a bowl and then eat every last morsel, including sipping the poaching liquid.


This dish is sweet enough to stand as a dessert as well, and would be great as a healthy end to a meal.  It's full of flavor, and feels like a real treat, but without a ton of added ingredients.  Truly phenomenal.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Honey Cardamom Dutch Baby

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you might already know that I am big on breakfasts.  Bacon is a close friend of mine.  Muffins and I are tight.  Waffles practically stood up for me in my wedding.  You get the idea.  I just love breakfast foods!

So, one of the breakfast foods that I think everyone should make at least once in their life is a good Dutch baby.  And I'm not just saying that because I'm half Dutch.  They are simple, gorgeous, and delicious.  Everything I adore in a breakfast food!