Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Degusta Box, December 2018

Every month, I get a box of goodies from Degusta Box, so I can tell my readers all about it.

I usually write about it on my review blog, but I thought I'd move it over here for this month. It's all tasty food, and it would be awesome as a gift for yourself or a friend.

Each box is different, so it's a sure bet you'll find things that you've never seen before. Some you'll love, some you'll sample and decide it's not what you're looking for. But that's great, too, because sampling is fun, no matter what.

Speaking of samples, most of these items are full-size products, although sometimes there will be sample or snack sizes.

So, anyway, here's what was in the December box.

Garden of Life protein bar
Back when I used to spend a lot more time commuting, these kinds of bars really came in handy. Like, when traffic was at a standstill and I was getting grumpy hungry. Working from home has shortened my commute, but these things can come in handy for days when it's half past lunch and I need something to curb my appetite. I haven't tried this one yet, but the ingredients sounded good.

G.H. Cretors Popped Corn
Oh my. I got a couple snack-sized bags of the caramel and cheese mix which is insanely good. I need, like, a 55-gallon drum of this stuff to dive into. Seriously good snacking.

Sunspire SunDrops
These are candy-coated chocolate candies that are kind of like a big brand name you know, but these don't have any artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. I've had these before, and they're really nice. I've got a big bag here and I'm imagining that I'll bake them into cookies. Realistically, I'm just going to eat them as-is.

Campfire Marshmallows
Ah, marshmallows. These are great for Rice Krispies treats, for topping hot chocolate, or for all kinds of holiday baking and treats. Yum. I got a large bag of white marshmallows and a little bag of colored marshmallows. I'm not exactly sure how I'll use these, but they will get used.

Hu Chocolate
Seriously, who says no to chocolate? This is a vegan and paleo chocolate bar, so pretty much no one can say no to it, right? It's also free of pretty much all the things that people are allergic to. Yup, it's a chocolate bar that you can consider healthy.

Chef Paul Prudhomme's Magic Seasoning Blend
I used to think that seasoning mixes were silly, because I have a lot of spices that I can mix on my own. Except when I'm cooking and I'm feeling lazy, the last thing I want to do is grab all those spices. And then put them back again. It's not fun. So, seasoning mixes have become a thing here. I got the "Poultry Magic" version which would also be lovely on pork. Or vegetables. It's got a little garlic and some herbs and it's a well-balanced and not-too-salty blend.

Vahdam Teas
I have a love-hate relationship with tea. I love tea. Hot tea, iced tea ... but sometimes I'll find one that's just ... oh, no. So I love sample packs, like the one that came in this box. So I can try a bunch of flavors and pick out the ones I like best to buy in larger quantities.

Dave's Gourmet sauce
I've been buying Dave's Gourmet products for quite some time, and I've never run into one I didn't like. This time around, it's a hot sauce that's great as a condiment, as a cooking sauce, or even as a dip. This one was nicey hot with notes of ginger and lime. But, hey, they've got a lot of flavors, so you can no doubt find at least one you love.

Bahlsen Iced Cinnamon Stars
Awwwww ... stars. These are a perfect little holiday cookie. From Christmas to Fourth of July, I guess. Or any time it's starry outside. And they've got cinnamon flavor, which is one of my favorites in baked goods.

Chimes chewy ginger candies
We all know that ginger is great for a rumbly tummy, but it's also a nice flavor in a candy. These are chewy and flavorful and great to have on hand as a little snack or an after-dinner treat.

Why yes, I did get this for free.

Monday, December 10, 2018

12 Days of Christmas (the cooking version!)

You know the song.
Now, sing along, with Santa's favorite reindog!


Are we in tune?

Okay, let's GO!

On the first day of Christmas, my sous chef gave to me ...
a new fridge and a pear brie

On the second day of Christmas, my sous chef gave to me ...
two oven gloves,
and a new fridge and a pear brie

On the third day of Christmas, my sous chef gave to me ...
three French breads,
two oven gloves,
and a new fridge and a pear brie

Aw, don't make me type out the rest. Let's skip to the end!

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my sous chef gave to me ...

Twelve tasters yumming
Eleven icers piping
Ten timers beeping
Nine onions mincing
Eight meads for drinking
Seven wines a-mulling
Six pizzas baking
Five bold hot wings
Four lemon curds
Three French breads
Two oven gloves
and a new fridge and a pear brie!

And that means there's enough fridges to store all the leftovers!


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Chocolate Pizza and Peanut Butter Wings

I usually post food reviews over on the gadget and review blog, but I haven't been doing as much cooking as usual, and food is food, so ...

I'll be posting a few reviews here, and maybe even some roundups, if the mood strikes.

The yummies that came to me this time (at no cost to me) were from the Chocolate Pizza Company. No surprise, they make chocolate pizzas, which are large round disks of chocolate covered with fun candies and decorations and stuff.

You can get pizzas with standard greetings, no greetings, or custom greetings. There are a lot of options for candies and decorations, too. I didn't see any pepperoni, but I did see peanut butter cups and white chocolate drizzle.

They sent me a slice of their snowflake pizza, which had white snowflake sprinkles along with red and green coated chocolate candies. That slice was actually a really nice size for me, so I'm glad they didn't send a whole pizza. I mean, a whole pizza would be fun for a family or a party or an office ... but a slice was just enough for me.

The peanut butter wings, on the other hand.

Oh my.

They're rippled potato chips, coated with peanut butter, then dipped in either milk or dark chocolate. Let me say that again.

Oh my.

Where have these things been all my life?

So here's the deal. You buy some for every family member's stockings, and maybe you hang up some stockings for people who don't actually exist. Like, you could hang a stocking for the TV or the refrigerator. Or the cat. Or that spider that's living in the basement.

Then, when everyone is busy with their other presents, you raid the stockings and swipe all the peanut butter wings for yourself. Hide them in a safe place. Eat them when no one is looking. If people notice their wings are missing, you just look innocent and say they flew away.

Or, I don't know, maybe just buy a couple of the big tins and everyone's happy.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Braised Chicken with Peppers and Tomatoes (Poulet Basquaise)

No, I haven't decided to make the blog bilingual or French. But this recipe is from a French cookbook. If your first thought about a French cookbook is that it's likely to be haughty, fussy, long-cooking, and insanely time-consuming, you might want to think again.

Sure, there are foods that ought to cook a long time, but this time the book is Instantly French by Ann Mah, and it's all about cooking French food in an electric pressure cooker. You know, like an Instant Pot. This time I'm cooking in my Breville Fast and Slow, but the brand shouldn't matter when you're making these recipes.

Like many books (and other things) that show up here, I got this book straight from the publisher at no cost to me. But let's not let that get in the way of dinner, okay?

The book is nicely arranged by categories, and I'll have to admit that I got stuck in the Chicken section. I love chicken cooked in the instant pot, and the recipes all sounded good. And homey. I picked the tomato and pepper recipe because I had almost everything I needed to make it, so it wasn't going to require a big list at the grocery store. Basically, I needed the chicken.

This was super simple. The prep took me about 30 minutes, if we're counting prep as the time before the pressure is put on.

I multi-tasked a bit during prep time. I had the chicken browning while I was cutting the peppers and onions, and I had everything else measured and ready to go before it was time to add them.

Then I cleaned up the kitchen and unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher while the vegetables were sauteing. So it's not like it was 30 minutes of actual kitchen work. Just 30 minutes before pressure was on and I could walk away completely.

On the other end of the recipe, my pressure cooker actually has a "reduce" button, so I used that instead of the saute button. I let it go on its own for the beginning of the reducing time and just checked on it and stirred when there was less liquid in the pot. The ingredients really don't require stirring - you just want to make sure that food doesn't stick to the bottom of the pot where it could burn.

Braised Chicken with Peppers and Tomatoes (Poulet Basquaise) 
Adapted from Instantly French By Ann Mah

2 tablespoons olive oil
6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 5 ounces each)
1 medium onion, diced
1 pound red bell peppers, cut into 1/4 inch slices (for me, this was 2 large peppers)
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3/4 cup canned whole tomatoes, lightly crushed by hand
1/2 teaspoon sugar, plus more as needed
1/2 teaspoon piment d'Espelette or sweet paprika, plus more as needed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Cooked long-grain rise, for serving

Using the saute function, heat the olive oil in the pressure cooker. Dry the thighs with paper towels and add them to the pressure cooker. Cook until golden brown on all sides, about 7-8 minutes. You might want to do this in batches, since it's unlikely they'll all fit at the same time.

Remove the chicken and place on a plate or in a bowl. Juices will collect, so make sure the container will accommodate that.

Add the onion and bell pepper and cook until softened, 2-3 minutes, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. (Since my cooker has a nonstick pot, there was no scraping needed.) Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Turn off the saute function.

Add the tomatoes, sugar, and piment to the pressure cooker. Season lightly with salt and pepper and stir to combine.

Return the chicken to the pot, along with any juices, nestling the chicken skin-side down. Cook on high pressure for 25 minutes. (You might want to quickly hand-wash the plate or bowl to use it again when you're reducing the liquid at the end of cooking time.)

Release the steam manually, then transfer the chicken to a plate, leaving the juice and vegetables in the pot. Using the saute function (or, as I did, the reduce function), bring the cooking liquid to a boil. Cook, stirring as needed (you just want to make sure the food doesn't stick and burn), until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes.

Taste and adjust the seasonings, adding more sugar, salt, piment, and/or black pepper, as needed.

Return the chicken to the pot, along with any juiced from the plate nestling it into the sauce, and let it heat through for serving.

Serve with long-grain white rice.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Savory French Toast from Home Made Christmas #AbramsDinnerParty

Whoop, whoop, another fun (and free) book for my participation in the Abrams Dinner Party.

This time the book is Home Made Christmas by Yvette van Boven. When I saw the title, I thought it might be about making Christmas food gifts.

Nope, this is about food you might serve during the holidays.

There are plenty of dinner ideas, along with sides and desserts, but I got stuck on the idea of making the savory French toast. I mean, I like plain French toast, and I generally don't make it super-sweet (although I do love it with maple syrup) but this sent the savory meter all the way over to the no-way-is-this-sweet side.

The recipe includes mustard, Tabasco, Worcestershire sauce, and cheese. So, if you happen to like savory breakfasts, you'd like it. But I had it for lunch. Because it seemed to make sense.

The best thing about this recipe is that it opens the door for all kinds of savory variations. I mean, I wouldn't make it with anchovies, but you could change the cheese, add more heat, or add some herbs and spices. It's not completely unlimited, because the ingredients would have to be able to either soak into the bread or stick to the outside. But it could be fun to fiddle with.

This called for a salad of fresh herbs on the side, but I skipped that and just had the French toast. And while this is meant to be savory, I can see how a tart jelly or jam could work with this. Probably not maple syrup, but something fruity. Maybe even cranberry sauce, hmmmm?

I also didn't cut the bread into shapes with a cookie cutter. Cutting the bread into triangles after cooking was as fancy as I wanted to be. But yeah, for a holiday breakfast, they'd be fun cut into shapes.

Wentelteefjes, or Savory French Toast (the Dutch version)
Adapted from Home Made Christmas by Yvette van Boven

4 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon mustard
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
A pinch of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A few drops of Tabasco sauce
6-8 slices of good-quality white bread
Butter, for frying

Whisk the eggs, milk, cream, and mustard until foamy, then stir in the cheese. Season with salt and pepper, a little Tabasco, and a splash of Worcestershire sauce. (You can do this the night before, if you want to save a little time, and save yourself from early morning measuring.)

Pour the mixture into a shallow bowl.

Place two slices of bread in the bowl - or really, as many as you can fit at one time, whether it's one or 4 - and let the bread soak for a minute or two.

Heat a nonstick frying pan on medium heat, with a small pat of butter. Cook the bread slices for about 2 minutes per side, until they're golden brown. Let them drain on paper towels as you continue cooking the rest of the sliced.

Sprinkle with a little extra cheese and serve with a green herb salad.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Kentucky Butter Cake

When I got the book Cake!, my first instinct was to make one of the coffee cakes. I absolutely adore all kinds of coffee cakes, and they're usually not too sweet, so they're great to have with coffee in the morning. They're also nice for dessert. They're like, all-purpose cakes.

Pecan Pie Coffee Cake sounded particularly appealing. I love nutty coffee cakes a lot.

But then I saw the Kentucky Butter Cake in the Bundt Cake and Pound Cakes section.

That sounded good because I have a bazillion Bundt cake pans, and I love pound cake.

But, alas, pound cake has been my white whale ever since I moved to high altitude. The first one I tried to make here boiled out of the pan. After I got over that trauma - like, several years later - I tried other recipes. While they mostly were fine cakes, they weren't as dense as I wanted them to be. They were more like sponge cakes than pound cake.

Bah, humbug.

As I eyed the Kentucky Butter Cake recipe, I saw that it was pretty similar to pound cakes I'd made in the past, with one very interesting difference. Instead of beating the butter and sugar together, and instead of beating egg whites or yolks to add air, this recipe called for chucking everything into a bowl together.

Wow. I love a recipe that's not fussy.

So I decided to give it a try.

Oh, and the other great thing about this recipe is that all the ingredients were in even numbers. It's not that I have some kind of mystical affinity for even numbers. However, it made the recipe easy to cut in half. As much as I like cake, I didn't want a whole pound cake for myself. So, I cut the recipe neatly in half and I baked it in a loaf pan. And it worked perfectly.

And it was almost a perfect pound cake, the way it lives in my memory. It was a little paler in color and not as yellow as some I've made, but that's not a big deal. And the texture wasn't perfect. There were a couple of larger air bubble holes here and there. Not enough to ruin the texture, and certainly no a flaw in the recipe. But if this is the only issue that high altitude caused, I'm giving this one a high five.

I didn't make the glaze since I was happy with the sweetness of the cake without it, but for a party or special occasion where this is being served as dessert, the glaze would certainly add something extra to the cake.

While I cut the recipe in half, here's the original. Get yer decorative Bundt pan ready.

Kentucky Butter Cake
Adapted from Cake! by Addie Gundry

For the Cake
3 cups all purpose flour, plus more for the pan
2 cups granulated sugar
2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup buttermilk
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or extract
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

For the Glaze
3/4 cup granulated sugar
5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
Confectioner's sugar for dusting
Caramel sauce, warm, for drizzling

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan (I always use the baking spray that has flour in it).

Beat the flour, sugar, butter, buttermilk, eggs, vanilla, salt, baking powder and baking soda with your stand mixer fitted with the paddle, or with a hand mixer. Start on low for about a minute, then increase to medium, until it's smooth.

Pour the batter into your pan and bake for 65-75 minutes, or until the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

When the cake is done, start the glaze. Place the granulated sugar, butter, vanilla, and 2 tablespoons of water in a small saucepan. Heat on medium-low heat until the butter is melted and the sugar is dissolved.

While the cake is still warm in the pan, poke it multiple times with a wooden skewer, then pour the glaze over the cake.

Let the cake cool completely in the pan, then invert it onto a serving plate. Dust with powdered sugar and drizzle with caramel sauce before serving.

Did I mention that I got this book for free? Yeah, I think I did. But I'm saying it again. Free to me. It's great to be me.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Juk (aka Congee) #AbramsDinnerParty

When I got the book Korean Home Cooking from Abrams books (free, because I'm participating in the Abrams Dinner Party) I was really curious. What's Korean home cooking like?

If that sounds weird, think about cookbooks you own that focus on cuisines you know well. Think about what you cook at home or what your mom made when you were a kid. There are some cookbooks that feature home cooking - those recipes you'd find at anyone's house - and then there are recipes that would only show up for holidays, or that are normally found on restaurant menus.

My mom made a few things that I thought were traditional foods, until I got older and realized that I never saw them at anyone's house, and I never saw them in restaurants. They were homey and comforting and really good, like her tomato soup or her cabbage and tomato stew.

So, anyway, I was looking forward to seeing what I'd find here. I was totally surprised to find a breaded chicken breast that would have been totally familiar to most people. It looked good, but I decided to make what is actually a very common Korean dish - juk, also known as congee. This is the kind of dish you'd make if someone wasn't feeling well, either physically or emotionally. Basically, it's a rice porridge.

If you never had congee, think of it as something like risotto, but cooked even more than that, so the rice is even softer and breaks down a little more. Totally yum.

Juk (Congee)
Adapted from Korean Home Cooking by Sohui Kim

2 cups short grain rice (sushi rice is recommended. I think Arborio would work, too)
5-6 cups anchovy stock or water (I used chicken stock)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 thick slices fresh ginger
1 teaspoon soy sauce, plus more to taste
1 tablespoon thinly sliced scallions for garnish
2-4 soy marinated eggs, poached eggs, or soft boiled eggs (optional)

Okay, I have to make a confession here. I cheated. I tossed all the congee ingredients into my rice cooker and pressed the "porridge" button and sat back and waiting until it was done. Yeah, sometimes I'm lazy, but I also know that rice cookers are ubiquitous in Korean kitchens, so I don't feel too guilty.

Here's how, if you don't have a rice cooker"

Put the rice, 5 cups of water/stock, salt, pepper, ginger, and soy sauce in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 35 minutes.

Uncover the pot, discard the ginger, and add 1 more cup of stock. Let it cook for another 10 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and the rice is soft and tender.

Serve in bowls. Sprinkle with the scallions and drizzle on more soy sauce. Add the cooked egg to each bowl, if desired.

I actually opted for TWO eggs in my bowl the second time I made this, and skipped the scallions.

Just in case you missed it, I'm getting books for free from Abrams Books, just so I can tell you all about 'em.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Green Olive Dressing #AbramsDinnerParty

Once again, I'm working with Abrams Books to tell you about their cookbooks. I had a blast doing this last year (and I collected a lot of cookbooks!) so I was more than happy to sign on again.

One of the first books I got was Matty Matheson, A Cookbook. The author, in case you hadn't guessed, was Matty Matheson.

The book follows his culinary life, with the first recipes being family favorites, moving on through culinary school, and then finally through his restaurant years.

I settled on one of the family recipes, and this one is from the section about his inlaws. As much as I love eating at restaurants, and I like making complicated recipes when I'm in that mood, I'm always curious about recipes that have been passed down through families, particularly when they're nothing like the things I remember from my own family.

I know, salad dressings seem pretty simple, but I'll bet this one is quite different from ones you've made before. And I'm a sucker for salad dressings. If I pick up a cookbook at it has a recipe for salad dressing that looks interesting, it's a pretty sure bet I'll give it a try.

This was tasty and well-balanced. While it's meant as a salad dressing, I think it would be lovely on top of fish, as well.

I made one little "oops" with this dressing. The instructions say that you shouldn't let it emulsify. It's supposed to be chunks of olives and stuff floating in a vinegar and oil dressing.

I don't know if the issue was me being heavy-handed with the blender, or if my blender was just too overpowered to not emulsify this, but it started emulsifying pretty quickly, and then I just said the heck with it and blended it until it was almost smooth.

I can see how chunky bits of olive would be appealing, but I thought it was fine as its smoother version, too. This made just about a pint of dressing, so it's plenty for a party and it ought to keep well in the refrigerator for at least a few days.

Green Olive Dressing
Adapted from Matty Matheson, A Cookbook

2 cup pitted Cerignola olives
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 green onion, chopped
Zest and juice of one lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, diced
1 bunch parsley, leaves chopped
3 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 cup canola oil
Salt and pepper
Salad greens, because if you're making dressing, you'd better make a dressing.

Put the olives, garlic, green onion, lemon zest and juice and olive oil into a blender. Pulse several times until it becomes frothy and lumpy, like a tapenade. Keep pulsing, but don't blend, since you don't want it to emulsify.

Pour this into a bowl and add the shallot, parsley, vinegar and canola oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


Just to make sure you know, I'll be getting all these books for free.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Canned Peaches #Canbassador

As a happy participant in the Canbassador program, the nice folks at Northwest Cherry Growers also sent me a box of peaches this year.

I looooove peaches.

I usually eat them plain. Sometimes I make pies or tarts. But I never thought about canning them, until now.

Just like cherries, peaches are crazy easy to can, requiring little more than a light or medium sugar syrup and a little time. Well, something to keep the peaches from browning helps, but I always keep Fruit Fresh in the pantry.

You can hot pack or cold pack the peaches, and the timing for canning depends on the size of your jars, and your altitude.

If you've never canned anything before, peaches are super-simple. If you have done a lot of canning, then maybe it's time to branch out to another recipe that has a few more ingredients. Like Drunken Peaches. This still isn't a super-complicated recipe, but it adds a little extra zip to the fruit you have stored.

While you might not want to use drunken peaches with your morning oatmeal, they're pretty danged good with ice cream!

Drunken Peaches
Adapted from Ball Canning Back to Basics
Makes 6 1-pint jars

1 lemon
5 pounds fresh, firm, ripe freestone peaches
3 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar
3 vanilla beans, halved crosswise (if you don't have beans, vanilla extract should be just fine)
6 slices of orange, 1/4-inch thick. You'll need 2 small navel oranges.
3/4 cup bourbon

Rinse the lemon and peaches under cold running water and pat dry. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and fill a large bowl with ice water.

Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the ice water.

Working in batches, place the peaches in a wire basket and lower them into the boiling water. Let them blanch for 1 minute, then place immediately into the ice water. If you don't have a basket you can use, you can use a spider or slotted spoon to lower the peaches into the water, then retrieve them.

When the peaches are cook enough to handle, peel them and remove the pits. Cut each half into four wedges. Return the wedges to the lemon juice mixture.

Stir together 3 cups water and the sugar in a large stainless steel or enameled saucepan. Split the vanilla beans in half, lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Add the beans and seeds to the sugar mixture and cook over medium-high, stirring until the sugar dissolved. Keep the mixture at a low simmer while you continue.

Place one orange slice and one vanilla bean half into a hot jar. Drain and tightly pack the peach wedges into the jar. Ladle the hot syrup into the jar, leaving 1 1/2 inches of headspace. Add 2 tablespoons of bourbon to each jar. Add more hot syrup to the jar, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.

Remove air bubbles from the jar, wipe the rims, and center the lids on the jars. Apply the band so it's fingertip-tight. Place the jar in the boiling water canner, and continue with the rest of the jars, until all the peaches are nestled in jars.

Process the jars for 25 minutes, adjusting for altitude, if necessary. Turn off the heat, remove the lid, and let the jars rest for 5 minutes before you remove them from the canner and let them cool.

I got the peaches at no cost; the book is one that I purchased.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Canned Whole Cherries #Canbassador

I love cherries. When I was a kid, they were undoubtedly my favorite fruit. Apples and bananas were okay, but cherries were awesome.

So, when the Northwest Cherries Canbassador Program asked me if I wanted some (a lot!) of cherries, of course I said yes.

What I didn't know about cherries was how easy they are to can. Apparently cherries sit up and the tree and they say, "Hey, being in a jar would be awesome. We should make sure that we're like the perfect acidity so we can go into jars and into a hot water bath and be pretty round things in jars forever."

Or something like that.

Because when I started looking up recipes for canning whole cherries, I found out that you can use pretty much anything for the canning liquid. You don't have to add a ridiculous amount of sugar. You don't have to add lemon juice or vinegar. You can put them in fruit juice, sugar syrup, or even plain old water. Just plain water. Let that sink in.

Oh, and that's not the end of it. You can hot-pack or raw-pack and just adjust the time in the canner.

I was ... totally surprised.

And pleased. Because it's hot as Hades here and thinking too hard makes me sweat. So I liked the idea that I couldn't mess this up, no matter what I did. And YOU can't mess this up no matter what you do.


So, pit the cherries. For each quart of cherries, you'll need about 1/2 cup of liquid. But you know what - if you're off by a little, you can just add some extra boiling water since we're not worrying about acid levels.

Then figure out how much liquid you'll need. (Math ensues.)

Figure out what liquid you're using. I used a light sugar syrup (1 part sugar to 4 parts water by volume), plus a vanilla bean pod for each quart jar.

Then decide if you want to hot-pack or raw-pack.

Read up on safe canning procedures. Make sure your jars and lids are clean and hot and have everything ready to go.

For hot pack, put the liquid in a saucepan along with the cherries and bring to a boil, then put the cherries and liquid in the jars.  For the raw pack, put the pitted cherries in the jar and heat the liquid separately, then pour the liquid over the cherries. Make sure there's no excess air in the jar and the liquid is to about 1/2 inch of the top.

Process according to this chart. Or seriously, check that page for way more information about canning cherries than you can imagine.

So ... what's this stuff good for? Yeah, pretty much anything you like. They're good over ice cream, French toast, or in cocktails. The liquid is flavorful, so don't leave that behind. They'd probably be good in smoothies, too. Since I went with a really light syrup, they'd be good in recipes, too, and wouldn't add a mad amount of sugar.

So good. So simple. The hardest part is pitting the cherries, but even that isn't hard.

Hint: if you only have a quart of cherries and you're going to use them right away, you could do this without the water bath and just refrigerate the jar. Heat to a boil, maybe a few seconds more, then throw them in a jar. When they've cooled a bit, toss them in the fridge.

I received cherries at no cost to me from the folks at Northwest Cherries. Otherwise I would have been buying them. Because ... cherries.


Thursday, June 14, 2018

Shrimp Scampi

Shrimp scampi. What's not to love? Butter, garlic, seafood ... yum!

For some reason, I don't make it very often, but when I saw a recipe in Gumbo Love by Lucy Buffet, I had to give it a try.

Of course, I switched up a few things. Fresh shrimp really doesn't exist here, but I buy it frozen when it looks good. I happened to have a bag of cooked, peeled shrimp in the freezer, so I used that. The recipe actually called for raw shrimp, but I knew I could make it work.

Gumbo Love is another one of the books that's getting passed around in the group I belong to. I also made a pound cake from the book that I thought was almost perfect. The texture was good - which is really amazing up here at high altitude - but I thought it was just slightly too sweet for my taste. But that's okay. I'll probably made it again and adjust the sugar level down and see if the texture remains the same.

I also made a black bean and corn salad from the book. Most of the time, I just toss things together for a salad like that, but this time I (mostly) followed the recipe.

The scampi, though ... I really need to keep this recipe. Thus, a blog post.

Shrimp Scampi
Adapted from Gumbo Love by Lucy Buffet

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds peeled and deveined shrimp (The book specifies wild-caught gulf shrimp, but here in Colorado, sometimes you take what you can get. I used cooked frozen peeled shrimp.)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped shallots (I used onion instead.)
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
1/2 cup white wine
Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (I just eyeballed it when I shook it on.)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided (I just eyeballed it.)
2 cups white rice, for serving (I use rice that had been cooked with saffron, so it was yellow.)

In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.

While the oil is heating, season the shrimp with just a little of the salt and pepper. Add the shrimp to the skillet and saute for 3 minutes, then remove the shrimp and set aside. (Since my shrimp were pre-cooked, I skipped all of this.

Add the butter to the skillet and allow it to melt, but be careful that it doesn't burn. Add the shallot and garlic (here's where I added salt and pepper) and saute until they start to caramelize.

Add the wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up any gooey bits stuck to the pan and stirring them into the wine. Add the lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and the remaining salt and pepper. Cook for a minute or two, or until the liquid has reduced by a third.

Return the shrimp to the pan (here's where mine entered for the first time) and cook until the shrimp is cooked through (or warmed through, if they're precooked).

Turn off the heat, add 1 tablespoon of the parsley, and stir well.

Serve the shrimp over the rice and garnish with the remaining parsley.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Addictive Salted Caramel-Stuffed Chocolate Cookies

If you've read this blog at all, you probably know that I belong to a group where we mail cookbooks around in a round-robin style. When I got Half Baked Harvest, I kind of skipped past all the harvesting and landed on these cookies.
Oh. My. Heck.

These are insane. They're best when slightly warm so the caramel is a little soft, but if you make them and let them cool - because eating a whole batch would be kind of crazy - you can still have that soft. center. Just pop them in the microwave for a few seconds before serving to get that soft caramel center.

I made a few other recipes from the book, but this is the one I decided to share on the blog. I don't like to share more than one recipe from a book, although most publishers are fine with up to three recipes without special permission.

This one, though, was worth saving, publishing, and making again.

Addictive Salted Caramel-Stuffed Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Half-Baked Harvest by Tieghan Gerard

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
3 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I used black cocoa)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
24 to 48 milk chocolate caramels (I used Dove candies that were available for Easter. Dark chocolate caramels would also be nice, and a little less sweet.)
Flaky sea salt, for topping

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small saucepan, combine the butter, bittersweet chocolate, and chocolate chips. Cook over low heat, stirring often, until fully melted and combined. The chocolate will be thick. Remove the pan from the heat and let the chocolate cool slightly. Note: if you're comfortable melting chocolate in your microwave, you can do that here. Melt in short bursts and stir in between. 

In a small bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together on high until light and fluffy, which should take 2-3 minutes. Add the vanilla and the melted chocolate, and beat for 1 or 2 minutes more, until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Note: I did this in my stand mixer, using the paddle. 

Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and kosher salt. Beat until fully combined and smooth, about 3 minutes. The batter should be thick but pourable - don't worry, it will turn into cookie dough. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least one hour, or overnight. Note: I left mine in the fridge longer, with no ill effect. You just don't want to forget it in there for too long.

Scoop out a scant 2 tablespoons of dough and place them 2 inches apart on the baking sheet. Flatten the dough into small disks, about 2 inches in diameter - you can grease your hands with a little oil if this gets messy.

Place a caramel in the center. Scoop out a rounded teaspoon of dough and flatten it into a disk. Place this disk on top of the caramel, pinching the layers of dough together.

Note: I followed the instructions for forming the cookies for the first batch I made, then changed gears and did it in a way that made more sense to me. So feel free to improvise. You want the caramel neatly enclosed by the dough, with the top a little thinner, and you want the cookie somewhat flat. It will spread a little during cooking, but its nice to give it a little help.
Bake for 10-12 minutes, just until set on the edges. Remove from the oven and sprinkle each cookie with a little flaky salt. Note: in the second batch, I added salt before baking - it seemed easier, and the salt stuck a little better.

Let cool at least 5 minutes on the baking sheet before serving, or place them on a rack to cool completely and rewarm later.

And ... here's a little tease ...

This cake is also from Half Baked Harvest. It's a three-layer chocolate cake filled with chocolate fudge that is drizzled with caramel sauce. It's frosted with caramel frosting, and then drizzled with more caramel. This is NOT an everyday cake that you'd make for a family dinner, but if you want a showstopper for a party or event, this is it.


Monday, June 4, 2018

Better Than Store Bought Ranch Dip from The Weekday Lunches and Breakfasts Cookbook

A bottle of dressing. So un-photogenic.
Sometimes I am such a dork. I saw this recipe for ranch DIP and made it and wondered why it was so thick because in my head I was making ranch DRESSING.

Such a dork.

But I digress.

A while back, I got and reviewed The Weeknight Dinner Cookbook by Mary Younkin and I loved it. The recipes were creative, but easy. I literally could make a really good dinner in a short time.

Yeah, I work from home and in theory I could start cooking at noon if I wanted to, but when I get wrapped up in work, I often don't think about dinner until hungry happens.

So when I realized that Mary had another cookbook coming (The Weekday Lunches and Breakfasts Cookbook), I pre-ordered it on Amazon because I couldn't wait to get my grubby paws on it. And then I got another copy from the publisher to review. Oh well. I have plans for that second copy, no problem.

My usual lunches are either leftovers from a previous dinner, or I'll make something simple, like a sandwich. So the idea of a cookbook devoted to lunches wasn't entirely in my wheelhouse. Except that pretty much anything that's deemed a lunch meal (or even a breakfast) is perfectly acceptable for me any time of the day.

Tortilla Eggs with a side of pickled spicy vegetables.
I dived into the cookbook and came up with Tortilla Eggs, which is basically an egg cooked on a tortilla with some cheese and ... well, yum. I made it a couple times because it was so freaking simple and so satisfying.

But then I saw the ranch recipe.

I love making home made salad dressings of all kinds, and I'm always looking for new variations. Can I make a little confession? I never really had ranch dressing until I was an adult. When I was growing up, we made all kinds of vinaigrettes as well as Thousand Island. At restaurants, I'd order creamy garlic. But ranch was never on the radar.

But once I tried it, I admitted it was pretty good. And home made versions are just so much better.

So, I saw ranch, thought it was a dressing, and combined the ingredients. And there it was, too thick. But I fixed that with the addition of some buttermilk that I had on hand, and it suddenly became a very tasty salad dressing.

The recipe notes that you should add the dill to taste, and I think that's a good caution. When first made, the dill wasn't very bold, but after the dressing had time to rest, the dill flavor came forward a bit more. It wasn't bad at all, and of course it depends on how you're serving it. And I guess it depends on how fresh your dried dill is. So anyway, you might want to start with a bit less and you can always add a bit more.

Better Than Store Bought Ranch Dip
From The Weekday Lunches and Breakfasts Cookbook by Mary Younkin

1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon dried dill weed, adjust to taste
3/4 teaspoon dried parsley
3/4 teaspoon dried chives
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon finely ground pepper, adjust to taste
1/2 to 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or plain white vinegar

Whisk all of the ingredients together. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

The flavors will intensify after the dried herbs hydrate, so it's a good idea to make this in advance.

Note: to turn this into a dressing like I did, just add buttermilk or even plain milk until it's the consistency you like.

I got a copy of this book from the publisher at no cost, but also bought my own.