Blueberry Kolaches – From Austin and D.C. with Love

Blueberry Kolache_2Yes, it’s been awhile, hasn’t it, friends?  I know Emilie and I have fallen far from the regular postings you used to get, but please know that we haven’t forgotten any of you.  In fact, we talk, text, and e-mail about you and Cork and Spoon quite often.  That is why today’s post is dedicated to all our friends/readers that have stuck with us all this time.

The last you heard from Emilie, she had moved from D.C. to Austin, TX (For the record, I’m still working on my abandonment issues…).  Well, before she and Tom left, in fact while I was helping them transfer their home into a rented PODS container, Emilie and I decided that I should run a half-marathon in Austin.  Since I had already planned on the “Real Girls Run” November half-marathon in Charlottesville, (injuries down the road put a stop to that) and because Emilie wouldn’t have accrued annual leave before Christmas, we found the perfect sweet spot: the Austin Marathon and Half-marathon, which takes place in February.

Now fast forward to New Years 2015.

I find out that after hearing I was coming to Austin and running a race, another Blueberry Kolache_4dear friend of ours, Gill, was coming to Austin, too.  Yay, reunion time! It had been years since the three of us were in the same place at the same time.  As we started coordinating our itineraries, Emilie sent Gill and I the following:

Tuesday: Ruth arrives around 8 PM

Wednesday: Gill arrives around 4 PM

Thursday-Saturday: FUN

Sunday: Ruth runs a marathon while Gill and I eat kolaches and cheer her on.

Yay, fun! Hey, wait.  “What’s a kolache?”  Neither Gil nor I had heard of such a thing before.

Emilie responded with this article from the NY Times.  It is a Czech, yeasted sweet bread filled with deliciousness like fruit, sweetened cheese, or sausage.  Due to a large amount of Czech immigrants that settled in Texas during the 19th century, these dollops of yumminess have become part of the Texan culinary culture.  Now that I was more informed about kolaches, I reminded the girls that I needed to begin refueling around mile 5 or 6 and hinted at how cool it would be for them to toss me a kolache as I ran by them.  (Don’t you agree?)

Blueberry Kolache_Luckenbach

Well, population 3 unless you count the rooster…

After a fun filled couple of days of hunting down BBQ, tasting Texas wines, exploring the faceted city of Austin, enjoying Deep Eddy cocktails,  and eating lots of bacon (Tom kept it comin’!), tacos, and avocados,  race day finally arrived.  In the dark early hours, Tom graciously drove me downtown and dropped me off while the girls got in an extra couple of hours of sleep.  I walked up and down Congress Ave between the State Capital and the starting line at 2nd St. thinking of how lucky I was to have friends who would get up this early or travel half way across the country to cheer me on.  I told my injured IT band that we could not disappoint them now.

Blueberry Kolache_Hope Outdoor Gallery

At the Hope Outdoor Gallery

Em, Gill, and Tom actually made it to three different points along the course, which took me by total surprise.  If you have ever run a long distance race, you know how much energy seeing your friends/family can pull out of you (Right, Sue?).  Emilie and I also learned about the SNL, “More cowbell!” skit from Gill, because Em had bought a cowbell to clang and cheer with for race day.  (Hey, we’re not the only ones.  I shouted “More cowbell!” at some spectators at a recent race…I don’t think they understood, but they did clang louder!).

Blueberry Kolache_mile 12

Mile 12…the biiig hill. Look at how encouraging Emilie is trying to be as I whine about wanting to walk not run.

Sadly, there were no kolaches for me on the course.  When Emilie accompanied me up the big hill at mile 12, I asked where my kolache was.  She told me to keep running up the hill.  Waaaah, I’m not done yet?

Then there was the finish line.  Yay!  I crossed right at my goal time.  Double yay!

Emilie, Gill, and Tom found me at our pre-determined meeting point.  Between great jobs and proud of yous, Gill mentioned they had had kolaches for breakfast.  Before my face fell too much, she also mentioned mine were waiting for me in the car.  Now how about a triple, yay!

Blueberry Kolache_3Now the kolache recipe I am sharing with you today is a “clean eating” version.  More about that in another post, but basically it’s a style of eating that keeps processed and artificial foods to a minimum.  For example, the typical sweet dough is made with all-purpose flour and granulated sugar.  I swapped these ingredients out for white whole wheat flour and sucanat.  For the blueberry filling, I swapped the sugar for honey.

As you probably know, working with whole wheat flour, even the finer white whole wheat kind, can be tricky business.  Whole wheat bread tends to be denser than bread made with its airier all-purpose cousin.  While the kolaches I had in Austin had a tender, pastry-like texture, these whole wheat versions are denser and more like a breakfast biscuit than a pastry.

Feel free to use whichever flour you like, both versions taste delicious and will compliment your morning coffee or tea quite nicely.

Blueberry Kolache_5

Whole Wheat Blueberry Kolaches

Ingredients

Blueberry Kolache_Ingredients

Sweet Dough
  • 1 cup lukewarm milk
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 4 3/4 cups whole wheat flower
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 cup sucanat  (may substitute granulated sugar)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • Egg Wash (beat 1 egg with 2 tablespoons heavy cream or buttermilk)

Blueberry Filling

  • ¼ cup raw honey
  • 3 teaspoons cornstarch or tapioca starch
  • Pinch of salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
Directions
Sweet Dough
  1. In a small bowl, dissolve yeast and 1 tablespoon sucanat in ¼ cup of milk.Blueberry Kolache_Yeast
  2. Allow yeast to bloom, about 10 minutes.
  3. Fit your mixer with the paddle attachment.
  4. In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine yeast mixture with the remaining milk and sugar along with the butter, eggs, and salt.Blueberry Kolache_Dough Mixing
  5. Turn mixer speed to low and gradually blend in 1 ½ cups of the flour.
  6. Change out the paddle for the dough hook attachment.
  7. Turn mixer speed to medium and begin kneading the dough.  Gradually add remaining flour mixture.
  8. Once all dough ingredients are combined in the mixer bowl, knead dough for about 5 to 7 minutes.Blueberry Kolache_Dough Kneaded
  9. Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a towel or plastic wrap.Blueberry Kolache_Dough Rest
  10. Allow dough to rise until doubled in size, about 60 minutes.
  11. Punch dough down.  Knead by hand briefly then divide dough in half. Blueberry Kolache_Dough Risen
  12. Form into balls, and let stand for 10 minutes
  13. Flour your work surface.  Roll out one dough ball to ½ inch thick.
  14. Cut dough rounds using a 2½-inch cookie or biscuit cutter.  Combine remaining scraps, re-rolling and cutting additional rounds.  Repeat with the second dough ball.Blueberry Kolache_Dough Cutting
  15. Place cut out rounds on a parchment lined or greased baking sheet(s) about 1 inch apart.  Cover with a towel and let rise at room temperature until nearly doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.Blueberry Kolache_Dough Rounds Rest
  16. During this final rise, prepare Blueberry Filling (instructions below).
  17. Pre-heat oven 400°F.
  18. Use your thumb or the back of a spoon to press a deep indentation into the center of each round.  Blueberry Kolache_Indent
  19. Brush kolache edges with egg wash.
  20. Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the filling into the indentation.Blueberry Kolache_Filling Kolaches
  21. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.Blueberry Kolache_Baking Time
  22. Allow to cool then store for up to three days in an airtight container.Blueberry Kolache_Baking Done
Blueberry Filling
  1. In a medium saucepan, combine the honey, cornstarch, salt, and cinnamon.  Stir to combine.  Blueberry Kolache_Filling Syrup
  2. Add the blueberries and lemon juice. Blueberry Kolache_Filling Add Berries
  3. Place saucepan over medium heat.  Cook, stirring, until filling comes to a low boil.
  4. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Blueberry Kolache_Filling Simmering
  5. Set aside and let cool.

Blueberry Kolache_1

Venison Stroganoff – Beating Off the Last of Winter’s Chill

Venison Stroganoff 5Is it just me, or is Spring the biggest tease of all the seasons?  I don’t know how the weather looks in your neck of the woods, but here in the D.C. area a day or two of beautiful, sunshine-y, warmish days are followed by sometimes 20 degree drops in temperature with rains and crazy winds.  For example, just a week ago I went for a lovely seven mile run in shorts and a tank-top.  That evening I packed up my winter sweaters…only to pull one out the next morning to shield myself from the wintry chill that arrived overnight.  Brrrrr!  On these early days of spring, when a shiver or two lingers in the air, we can find ourselves still craving a bowl of something warm and comforting.  However,  by this time I am chili and stew tired out.  Time for something new, right? Now last we spoke, I promised to share my new experiences with you.  Well, to break out of the season transition doldrums, I ventured into the “new” territory of…venison!

It is no surprise that I work with a number of hunters and overall outdoors men Venison Stroganoff 1(and women); it’s the military after all.  Monday mornings during hunting season, I’d often hear of  miserable hours of sitting in cold drizzle with no game, see video clips of foraging bears, and lend an ear to the venting of the bad “etiquette” of late-starting hunters scoping out for spots and scaring away the deer.  As the weeks passed on, it  appeared to me that this past season was un-plentiful.  It wasn’t until nearly the very end that one of my friends stopped by super excited to share his catch (as promised) and presented me with a neatly butcher wrapped package of  venison chops.  The catch to the promise, of course, was to share what I thought about my first experience with venison.

Venison Stroganoff_prepping chopsI followed my friend’s recommendation to prepare a small piece of venison in order to just taste the flavor of the meat itself.  “Just a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, ” he said, “sear it in a pan then finish it in the oven like you would a nice steak.” Roger that!  Upon opening the package that weekend, I noticed the deep, rich color of the meat.  Meat doesn’t look that nice even from the higher end grocery stores!  I added checking out the downtown butcher shop to my to-do list so that I could make a comparison some day.   Then I removed a piece of venison from the package, froze the rest for later, and followed my friend’s recommended preparation.  Below is how it turned out.  Now doesn’t that look tasty?

Venison Stroganoff_ready to taste Venison Stroganoff_ready to taste 2

My first thoughts as I chewed that initial bite of venison was, “What’s this “gamey” flavor everyone keeps talking about?”  To me, the venison tasted almost identical to beef, albeit drier and a bit tougher than a piece of beef prepared in the same manner.   My second bite, I took it slower.  I went ahead and chewed and chewed allowing every bit of my mouth to have contact with the venison as I tried to discern that distinct flavor.  Still, I did not notice much of a difference, only this time I did discover a mild, earthy after-taste that reminded me of mushrooms.

Venison Stroganoff 3That slight earthiness of the venison inspired me to use the remaining meat in a Stroganoff, a creamy dish of sauteed beef and mushrooms simmered in sour-cream.  I’d been dying to make some for the longest time (I grew up on Hamburger Helper’s Potato Stroganoff!).  The venison and the incoming spring provided me the perfect excuse and opportunity to bust out of that muddy spring rut I mentioned earlier.  To fight the lingering chill, the venison Stroganoff provided warm and creamy comfort without the heaviness of a fall or winter stews,  while the earthy notes of from the venison and mushrooms gave hint to the coming freshness of spring.

Now c’mon already Spring.  We’re ready for you!

Venison Stroganoff

Ingredients

Venison Stroganoff_packaged chops 1

  • 1 pound venison
  • 6 ounce package cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons butter, divided in half
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ¾ cup beef or chicken stock
  • 1 large bay leave
  • 1 teaspoon whole grain mustard
  • 1 cup full fat sour-cream
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Cooked rice or egg noodles
Directions
  1. Pat venison dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.Venison Stroganoff_pat salt pepper
  2. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter in a large pan over medium-high heat.
  3. Sear venison in pan.  Use Emilie’s guide to cook venison to desired doneness. Remove venison from pan, setting aside to rest.
     Venison Stroganoff_butter sear      Venison Stroganoff_remove venison
  4. Reduce heat to medium and melt remaining butter in pan and pour in olive oil.  Add shallots and mushrooms, slowly sauteing until soft, about 7-10 minutes.Venison Stroganoff_shallots and mushrooms
  5. Add minced garlic to the mushrooms and cook one minute more.
  6. Pour in stock and add mustard and bay leaf to pan.  Stir, scraping up any bits left over from searing the venison.Venison Stroganoff_mustard and bayleaf
  7. Raise heat back to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and allow the sauce to simmer 5 minutes.
  8. While sauce simmers, slice the venison.Venison Stroganoff_slice venison
  9. Stir sour-cream into the mushroom sauce and let sauce warm through.  Be careful not to let the sauce come to a boil or the sour-cream may break.Venison Stroganoff_add sour cream
  10. Fold in venison and parsley and remove from heat.
    Venison Stroganoff_fold venison into sour cream  Venison Stroganoff_ready to serve
  11. Serve Venison Stroganoff over rice or egg noodles.Venison Stroganoff 4

Homemade Maple Coconut Almond Butter – New Year, New Beginnings

Maple Coconut Almond Butter 2Well now, how has everyone’s 2015 so far? I hope it’s been fantastic, because I have never been more excited for a new year in my life.  Why, you might ask? Well, because for the first time ever I am allowing myself to be exited about it. Rather than dread another year and what it could possibly throw at me this time, I am going to be open and receptive to all the new beginnings it might hold for me.  Want to ride along?

Now I can’t share every new beginning with you.  After all, Cork and Spoon is a food and drink blog.  Soooo, you may not see my latest jewelry pieces, hear my current running play-list, or see my newborn niece’s photo-shoot, but you will see any tummy yummy goodies inspired by those experiences. Just to warn you, though, all experiences are fair game: good or bad.  After all, they both teach us something.  My own bad experiences over the past two years have taught me that creativity has healing powers, that it can be the spark that ignites the flame which lights the way out of the darkest pit.

In conjunction with honoring my creative side, another spark for me has been myMaple Coconut Almond Butter 3 running.  As you may recall, I completed my first race (a half-marathon!) last spring.  Well, I’m training for my next one, which is just over a month away.  Besides the various runs and exercises loaded up in a runner’s training plan, another important piece is the “fuel plan” as I call it: how you plan to fuel your training and your run.  For example, once you start getting into Long Runs, meaning a run that lasts longer than an hour, you not only need to make sure the tank’s full when you start, but you’re going to have to re-fuel mid run.  It’s better to learn what works with your body during training rather than find out on race day that coffee gives your the runs or a certain gel gives you heartburn. Needless to say, it’s a pretty good idea to incorporate your race day breakfast and any pre-race snacks and hydration into your training plan.  For me, my race day and Long Run day breakfast has become a bagel (preferably the latest Thomas’ Bagel limited edition flavor) and creamy almond butter.

Maple Coconut Almond Butter 4Mmmmmm, almond butter.  I mean, I love peanut butter, too, but after making the switch I don’t think I’ll go back except as  a treat (Reeses anyone?).  Mostly, I do prefer the flavor, but nutritionally almond butter has just a little bit of a leg up over peanut butter, especially for runners, athletes, and other highly active people.  In addition to having significantly greater levels of the anti-oxidant Vitamin E, almond butter also provides magnesium (supports muscle functions and energy production…and is said to help migraines!) as well as iron (necessary for producing hemoglobin and myoglobin, which are essential for the carrying of oxygen the body). Not to mention almonds are going to be easier on your body on race day. Almonds are actual nuts, while peanuts are legumes…you know…like beans…yeah, chili will not be anywhere on my plate until after the race.  Did I mention my next half marathon is in Texas??

Now what really  bites is that almond butter is typically, at it’s cheapest, twice Maple Coconut Almond Butter 5the cost of peanut butter.  That’s why when my beautiful chartreuse Blendtec (a birthday present to myself) arrived a couple of weeks ago, I already had homemade almond butter on my “to-make” list. Since my favorite almond butter is Justin’s Maple Almond Butter, I decided I wanted to make something similar and it would be a great way to use my maple sugar, which I don’t get to use very often (It’s pricey, so I use it for special recipes).  I also decided to use coconut oil instead of grapeseed oil for two reasons. First, it added a little sweetness without more sugar. Second, it’s winter.

Who in the northern hemisphere isn’t craving a warm beach right now? Lol!

Happy New Year, friends!

Homemade Maple Coconut Almond Butter

Makes appx. 7 ounces (0.875 cups)

IngredientsAlmond Butter Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups raw almonds
  • 4 tablespoons maple sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt (fine not coarse)
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil (melted for better results, but room temperature is fine).
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup (optional)

Tip: To adjust for increased creaminess, add mild flavored oil, such as canola or grapeseed, beginning with 1 teaspoon and increasing until blended almond butter reaches desired creaminess.

Directions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 170°F.
  2. Spread almonds evenly on a parchment lined, rimmed baking sheet. Bake 20-25 minutes, tossing almonds halfway through for even roasting. If needed, allow almonds to cool enough for handling, but make sure they are still warm.
  3. Pour warm almonds into your mixer jar or food processor bowl.
  4. Pulse almonds until pulverized into almond meal. Almond Butter PulseNote: Professional grade blenders such as Vitamixes and Blendtecs don’t really need this step, but for less powerful appliances, better safe than blowing out your motor. 
  5. Starting on a low speed and blend almond meal for 15 seconds.
  6. Increase to a high speed for 30-60 seconds, or until you hear the blade moving freely,i.e. your almond butter is stuck to the sides of the jar/bowl and no longer getting pulverized by the blade.
  7. Stop blender or food processor and use a rubber spatula to scrape the almond butter back into center of jar/bowl.
  8. Add coconut oil once the almond meals begins to form a paste.
  9. Repeat the blend then scrape cycle until almond butter begins to flow freely over the blades.  Note: Your appliance’s motor should sound low, as if it’s working to churn that sticky butter. Remember to keep a watch on your appliance’s motor. If the machine gets too warm, stop the process and allow the motor to cool down.
  10. Add maple sugar and salt to the almond butter,  as well as maple syrup  and any additional oil for creaminess if using these options.
  11. Blend 30-60 seconds on high.  Repeat as necessary to reach desired creaminess.
  12. Refrigerate almond butter in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

Almond Butter Almond Meal   Almond Butter PasteAlmond Butter Almost Ready  Almond Butter Ready

Maple Coconut Almond Butter 1

Onion Cheddar Beer Bread

One of the hardest parts about moving halfway across the country is making new friends in a strange city. Luckily, the Internet makes it relatively easy to find social groups, volunteer organizations, and more. Within a few weeks of moving to Austin, I started exploring the Austin MeetUp website, where I found several local women’s social groups that appeared to be filled with people I could definitely get along with. Through events these groups have sponsored, I’ve been able to explore Austin while meeting lots of funny, smart, and awesome people who have the potential to become a great group of friends.

Onion Cheddar Bread - cookie swap table

Setting the table before the guests arrive.

I’ve begun to enjoy the people in one group in particular over the past few weeks and wanted to give back by hosting my own MeetUp event for ladies in the group. I decided to host a small Christmas cookie swap for those who were interested as a chance to hang out while also getting a fun collection of holiday treats to enjoy over the coming weeks. As the host, I wanted to make sure I had some salty snacks to compliment the sweets we’d be sampling as well as a little mulled wine for everyone. With so much already on my to do list, I needed make a swap treat that had minimal steps and took little time to bake. Spending hours preparing baking sheet after sheet of cookies seemed like too daunting a task when the floor still needed to be mopped.

Onion Cheddar Bread - finished onion cheese bread

The clear choice for my dilemma was mini-loaves of quick bread. With 3 loaves of bread baked per recipe batch, it would be easy to quadruple the recipe and make the required 12 loaves of bread for the ladies to take home aftewards. I even had 12 cardboard mini loaf pans in the closet waiting to be used! It was fate. A few test runs later, I perfected this super easy, 9-ingredient, savory quick bread. It is perfect with a little butter  or cream cheese served on the side of a smooth tomato soup.

Onion Cheddar Beer Bread
(1) 9-inch loaf bread or (3) mini 4-inch loaves

1 large yellow onion, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 ounces white cheddar cheese
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon sugar
12 ounce bottle nut brown ale or porter

1)     Preheat oven to 375ºF. Grease and flour a 9-inch loaf pan or 3 mini 4-inch loaf pans.

2)     Add olive oil to large heavy bottomed skillet over low-medium heat. Add diced onion and cook slowly to caramelize. While the onion is cooking, shred or roughly chop the cheddar cheese. When the onion has just begun to caramelize, about 10 minutes, remove from heat and let cool so that it doesn’t melt the cheese.

Onion Cheddar Bread - cook the onions

3)     Whisk together flours, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Stir in onions and cheddar until evenly distributed.

Onion Cheddar Bread - whisk dry ingredients

Onion Cheddar Bread - add chredded cheese

Onion Cheddar Bread - stir in onions

4)     Slowly add beer, stirring to fully combine. The final batter will be thick and you will need to spoon it into baking dish. Bake for 50 minutes for a large loaf or 30 minutes for smaller loafs. Remove from oven and cool completely before storing, airtight, in the fridge.

Onion Cheddar Bread - add the beer

Onion Cheddar Bread - add the beer 1

Onion Cheddar Bread - add the beer 2

Roasted Garlic Jelly for Foodie Fun

Garlic Jelly Jar 1It’s the holidays and we are down to less than one week until Christmas Day. Yikes! If you are anything like me, you probably either a) have not started on your gift list (not me this year, yay!) or b) are stressing over those last few gifts…you know, for the folks that have all they [think] they want sans the winning multi-million dollar lottery ticket.  My office buddy and I are kind of in that last boat together  this year.  What to get for those last few names still on our lists while simultaneously trying to overcome the dread of having to brave the frantic shopping town centers.  Enter the realm of Do It Yourself (DIY)! Now don’t panic if you are thinking about how empty the craft store shelves are by now, because you likely won’t need anything too seasonal for this idea…because you’ll be doing most of your shopping at the grocery store!

A fun, food themed gift basket or goodie bag is always a hit with my circle of friends. You may recall the Vanilla Salt I shared with you two years ago. That yearGarlic Jelly Cheese Bread 2 I also made Thai-Chili Sugar, and Mulling Spice packets. Last year I made the delicious Roasted Garlic Jelly I am sharing with you today. This year…well I can’t quite tell you the exact details since some of the receivers are reading this…but it involves some fun baskets. For example one friend, who recently moved her family in with her new honey’s family, is going to get a package of family friendly fun things they can make with the kiddos. Another is getting complimentary recipes and pre-made mixes to go with items I bought her off of her Christmas wish list. My dad is getting a basket of NCIS DVDs tucked alongside jars of homemade pop-corn seasoning, cute popcorn themed bowls, and popcorn kernels.

Feeling less panicked now?

So back to this Roasted Garlic Jelly.

Garlic Jelly Cheese Tray 2Almost everyone makes this face when I say “garlic jelly”.  I think Emilie is the only one that didn’t raise an eyebrow.  Yes, yes, it sounds weird, but trust me this stuff is quite delicious. Have you ever had a clove of roasted garlic? Don’t you remember how it’s pungent flavor mellowed out and took on some caramelized sweetness?  I think you see where I am going with this now. Roasted garlic jelly is different, but it’s still a sweet jelly with just the faintest bit of tang (that would be the vinegar) and aroma of delicious, roasted garlic. This juxtaposition is precisely what will make this such a fun gift for your friends and family.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Roasted Garlic Jelly

Fills 6-8, 4 ounce jelly jars. Recipe from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Ingredients:

  • 3  heads garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 3 cups granulated sugar
  • 6 ounces pouches liquid pectin (typically two packages)

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees Farenheit.
  2. Slice off the tops of  the garlic heads to expose the cloves. Place each head on a small square of aluminum foil.Garlic Jelly Expose Cloves
  3. Over each head, pour olive oil and balsamic vinegar, approximately a tablespoon each per garlic head.Garlic Jelly balsamic
  4. Wrap the foil squares loosely around the garlic heads and roast in oven for 45 minutes.
  5. Let garlic heads sit until  cool enough to handle. Unwrap from foil and  squeeze each head to push out the softened cloves  into a medium saucepan. Discard skins.
    Garlic Jelly roasted garlic heads     Garlic Jelly roasted garlic cloves
  6. In a the same pan, add the wine, water, white balsamic vinegar and peppercorns to the roasted garlic.  Over medium heat (gentle now!) bring to a boil, then reduce heat and allow to boil gently for 5 minutes.Garlic Jelly Making Garlic Juice
  7. Cover sauce pan and remove from heat. Let the mixture steep for 15 minutes.
  8. Line a mesh strainer with several layers of cheesecloth or a large,  dampened coffee filter.  Place strainer over a deep bowl.
    Garlic Jelly Strain Garlic Juice 1            Garlic Jelly Strain Garlic Juice 2
  9. Pour garlic mixture through the lined strainer into the bowl.  Let drip, undisturbed, for about 30 minutes.  You should end up with about 1 2/3 cups garlic juice. If you end up with less, add up to 1/4 cup dry wine or water.
  10. As garlic “juice” is draining,  prepare canner, jars, and lids by bringing a large pot of water to a boil and boiling your jars and lids for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, but keep jars in hot water until ready to jar for up to an hour. Any longer and you will need to re-sterilize.Green Tomato Preserves Sanitzing Jars
  11. Transfer garlic juice to a large saucepan and stir in lemon juice and sugar.Garlic Jelly adding sugar
  12. Over high heat, stirring constantly, bring to a full rolling boil.
  13. Stir in pectin and return to a boil. Boil hard, stirring constantly, for 1 minute then remove from heat and quickly skim off foam.
    Garlic Jelly adding liquid pectin    Garlic Jelly skimming
  14. Quickly pour hot jelly into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. (This jelly sets quickly!)
  15. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip tight.
  16. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes.Garlic Jelly hot water bath
  17. Once processed, remove from  canner.  As they cool, you’ll hear the lids “pop” as the jars seal.  To test whether the jar has sealed, press your finger against the middle of the lid.  If it springs up, it has not sealed.
  18.  Allow the jars to cool before storing.

Serving suggestions:

  • Serve as a cheese and fruit tray condiment
  • Use as a savory/sweet glaze on pork or chicken
  • Stir a tablespoon or two into risotto
  • Spread on toast (with bacon!)

Garlic Jelly Cheese Tray

Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting – The Best Way to That Tangy Cream Cheese Flavor

Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting 1

‘Tis the season for cream cheese frosting!  No, scratch that. Cream cheese frosting is in season all year ’round. However, once we begin donning our sweaters and coats as the holiday season goes into full swing, so too begins the season of never ending, delicious baked goods fresh from our piping hot ovens that we devour without abandon until the dawn of New Year’s Day. Who hasn’t salivated over a cream cheese stuffed pumpkin muffin or a wonderfully spicy slice of gingerbread loaf topped with cream cheese frosting? Not to mention perennial favorites also slathered in tangy cream cheese deliciousness, such as Red Velvet, Carrot, and (one of my favorites) Hummingbird cake. Yes, let the baking bonanza begin!

The very first frosting I ever made from scratch was cream cheese frosting. Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting 5 You’ve heard me tell you before how, growing up, food came out of a box, can, or jar.  Imagine my surprise as I watched a bar of softened cream cheese and a bag of powdered sugar whip up into a creamy, rich frosting for our (box mix) Christmas gingerbread loaf.  My sister and I were totally fascinated.  Now that I think about it, that was probably that point when I was bitten by the cooking bug.  No longer would frozen chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes from a box…or a tub of frosting…suffice.

Since that long ago Christmas, I’ve come to desire more than just the taste of sugar.  I think that just happens as you grow older (For example, I can’t bare the Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting 6sweetness of milk chocolate anymore. It literally hurts my teeth lol). You may have noticed from some of my cupcake posts that I shy away from American style buttercream, which is based on powdered sugar for structure.  Instead, I often go for Italian or Swiss style buttercream, which utilize meringued egg whites and less sugar.  Oh, the lovely layers of flavor! That’s why when I came across cooked cream cheese frosting in my research for a cupcake inspired by an experience at my grandmother’s grave site (not as morbid as it sounds, I promise) I had to share it with you all.

If you are a cream cheese frosting fan, I promise you will adore the frosting you get out of this technique.  It preserves so much more of that distinctive tangy flavor, plus that luscious creaminess.  Excited yet? I hope so!

Happy holidays, everyone!

Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting 4

Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting

Ingredients

Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_Ingredients

  • 16 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • optional: 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan, whisk to combine the flour, sugar, cornstarch, and salt.Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_sugar and flour
  2. Whisk milk into the flour mixture.Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_adding milk
  3. Place saucepan over medium heat. Continue to whisk flour mixture to create a smooth paste.Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_paste
  4. Bring flour mixture to a gentle simmer. Continue stirring.  Allow to cook until a thick, sticky pudding like consistency is met. Do not leave the stove during this time; the sugar will quickly burn. (Lesson learned: a little caramelization is salvageable).Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_paste simmering
  5. Scrape flour mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer, or into a large bowl if using a hand mixer.Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_paste into mixer
  6. Whip on high for about 10 minutes or until the cooked flour mixture has cooled. (Warning: if the flour mixture is too warm, the final frosting may turn out too soft to hold its shape. Read about the Battle of Buttercream Hill here.)
  7. Lower mixer speed to medium high and add vanilla extract.
  8. Add butter, whipping until incorporated.Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_add butter
  9. Whip in the softened cream cheese one bar at a time.Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_adding creamed cheese
  10. Return mixer speed to high and whip frosting until thick and fluffy.  If frosting is too soft, add the optional 1/4 cup of powdered sugar to give the frosting more structure.
    Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_whipped frosting Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting_powdered sugar for structure
  11. Chill before use for easier work-ability. The frosting will keep its shape at room temperature, but its definitely more messy to work with!Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting 2 Cooked Cream Cheese Frosting 3

 

Creamy Garlic Jalapeño Sauce

Nothing causes me more dread than going to the DMV in a new state to change my car registration and driver’s license. I’ve only done it 3 times, but I hate it so much I once waited until my previous registration had expired and I got a ticket before finally making the trip. I’d rather go to the dentist than the DMV any day of the week. Here in Texas though, that feeling of dread only doubled because instead of going to the DMV, you have to go to the County Tax Assessors and the Department of Public Safety. Who created this ridiculous process of needing to visit 2 agencies to finalize residnecy, made all the more difficult when neither is open on the after 5pm or on the weekend?! How does the state expect a new resident, who probably has no vacation time yet, to get your car registered within 30 days when they can only go during work hours! Clearly, this was not a task I was looking forward to completing.

Lucky for me, my new company’s leave policies are pretty generous, and I was able to use a vacation day within a month of starting. So I took Friday off, woke up at 6, and was in line at the County Tax Assessor’s  office 10 minutes before it opened – sans coffee or breakfast. Despite the byzantine process required for residency, I was in and out of both offices by 8:30, under an hour. I was amazed at the speed and efficiency of the individuals who helped me. Pleasantly surprised, I decided to celebrate my success, and fill my growling tummy, with breakfast tacos – like the real Austinite I had just become.

I stopped at Taco Deli on the way home and ordered the Otto and the Jess Special tacos. While waiting, I collected several salsas from the bar, including something they called Doña sauce, a bright green creamy sauce. Back at home, I liberally spread the jalepeño-based sauce on my taco, took a bite, and added more sauce. This stuff was amazing, addictive even, and I knew I needed to put it on everything in site. I only had a small container full, and needed to figure out how to get more. Raiding Taco Deli seemed ill advised, so I clearly needed to recreate it at home.

The sauce is a deceptively simple combination of  jalepeños and garlic, oil, and salt and pepper. Similar recipes boiled the peppers and left the garlic raw, but I was nervous about the over powering flavor of raw garlic, so I decided to roast the them together and pureed them until smooth- although next time I might try smoking them with mesquite wood for a deeper flavor. It’s an easy, straight-forward recipe that leaves plenty of room for additional creativity for those so inclined.

Jalepeno Cream Sauce - cream sauce on tacos one

Creamy Garlic Jalapeño Sauce

1 pound jalapeños
2 heads of garlic
⅓ cup virgin olive oil
salt & pepper

1)     Place a large cast iron pan or griddle in the oven and pre-heat to 325ºF. While the oven pre-heats, separate the garlic, leaving the thin papery cover on the cloves. You’ll need about 12 large and x-large cloves of garlic. Any cloves that are too small will burn and be unusable.

2)     Toss the garlic cloves and jalapeños with a drizzle of olive oil and put in the oven on the pre-heated cast iron. Roast for about 40-45 minutes until the garlic and jalapeños are soft. Stir at ⅓ and ⅔ of the way through.

Jalepeno Cream Sauce - place the peppers & garlic in a pan

Jalepeno Cream Sauce - stir half way through roasting

3)     Once the garlic and jalapeños have finished roasting, place them into plastic container or plastic bag and seal tightly. Let sit for 15-20 minutes, until everything is cool enough to handle.

Jalepeno Cream Sauce - finished roasting

4)     Carefully remove the skin from the jalapeños. Slice the skinless jalapeño open and scrape out the seeds. Toss the seeded and skinned jalapeños into a blender or food processor with the peeled roasted garlic cloves.

Jalepeno Cream Sauce - puree garlic and peppers

5)     Turn on the blender on puree and slowly drizzle the oil into the blender, add about a 1½ teaspoons of salt and a teaspoon of black pepper and blend for an addition 30 seconds.

Jalepeno Cream Sauce - season with salt and pepper

6)      Once the sauce is complete, you can store it in the fridge in a squeeze bottle for months – if you don’t finish it first. It is wonderful on fried avocados, baked salmon, nachos, and – of course – tacos, like Ruth’s shrimp tacos. Shake vigorously between uses, as minor separation may occur.

Jalepeno Cream Sauce - store in a squeeze bottle in the fridge

Jalepeno Cream Sauce - cream sauce on tacos 2

Let’s Get Crafty: Wine Cork Christmas Wreath

It’s the weekend after Thanksgiving, and while many people are out battling each other over the latest and greatest children’s toy, I am decorating for Christmas. Growing up, the third Friday in November was always about setting up the Christmas tree, decking the mantel with garland and stockings, and hanging Christmas lights along the roof.  The third Friday of November was the start of Christmas season.

Wine Cork Wreath - finished up close

This year, I’m really excited to hang my first Christmas wreath on the front door. I know, how is it possible I’ve never had a Christmas Wreath?! As someone who loves adding meaningful personal details when decorating, I’ve always shied away from store bought wreathes so I’ve never had one for our front door. This year, though, as I was unpacking all of our moving boxes, I realized I had a lot of wine corks, and what better way to create a personalized wreath than to use wine corks from all the bottles of wine I’ve shared with friends and family.

Wine Cork Wreath - finished full doorAfter a little research, and dozens of wine cork wreath tutorials, I finally settled on a DIY tutorial from Save-on-Crafts as my base inspiration.  By adding some Christmas-like berries and a greenery center piece, I was able to take the simple wreath to the next level.

This is a simple, inexpensive craft that cost me about $15 in supplies – not including all the wine I had to drink. If you want to make your own wreath this year, but are short on corks, make friends with your local bartenders and ask them to hold corks for you and ask wineries or grocery store tasting booths (like at Trader Joe’s) if they have any they can save for you.

How To Make Your Own Wine Cork Christmas Wreath

Materials
12-inch straw wreath form
floral wire or string
approximately 200 wine corks*
5-6 sprigs of faux berries
greenery and decorations for center piece
hot glue gun
high-temp glue sticks, at least 8

First, sort through your corks and set aside any that have special meaning for you. For example, I made sure to set aside at least one cork from each Virginia and Texas winery I’ve visited as well as any corks I found particularly pretty or touching. These will be the top level of your wreath and the corks people will see when they look at the cork. Any corks you have lots of or aren’t inspiring can form the bottom, hidden layer.

Next, tie a string or floral wire to the wreath for hanging the finished
product. I tied two peices of floral wire around the wreath, about 2 inches apart, and then connected them with a third wire, which would support the wreath.

Wine Cork Wreath - attach the wire

 

Start by gluing the corks along the inside of the wreath form in a straight line. You will almost certainly come to a point near the end where the corks will not line up as you’d likeand you will have repress the OCD and just make it work. I happened to have a few abnormally short corks and I squeezed one of those into that space, you could also trim another cork smaller, or just lay them out slightly askew. 

Wine Cork Wreath - starting the 1st layer

Remember to leave the back of the wreath empty so that it will lie flat against the wall or door.

Wine Cork Wreath - wonky corks

Continue with the first layer of corks, lining them up flat against the wreath until it is mostly covered. You want to line these up as closely as possible to minimize areas of visible straw.

Wine Cork Wreath - completed first layer

Begin layering the second level of corks, arranging to cover gaps in the first layer of corks. This is where you get to start being artistic with your arrangement.

Wine Cork Wreath - starting the 2ndlater

While creating the second layer of corks, you should start arranging small bunches of berries throughout the layer. I used inexpensive styrofoam berry picks from Michael’s Christmas collection, but the exact type of berries used is totally up to you and what you feel most comfortable using.

Wine Cork Wreath - 2nd layer 60%

At this point you are going to start wanting to think about what and where you want the wreath’s center piece. I decided to place mine slightly above center on the right side of the wreath.

I began by arranging the main piece of the greenery – a Christmas pick with a red bird I bought at Michael’s Craft – and attaching it with floral wire and a little hot glue. I then cut small branches from basic greenery picks and used those to fill in the center piece.

Wine Cork Christmas Wreath - centerpiece up close

 

Once the center piece was arranged the way I wanted, I finished attached the last of my wine corks and berries. I let it sit for a few days and then double checked my corks to make sure they were all secure. Then it is ready to hang on your front door or anywhere else you might like to put it!

Preparing Pomegranates – A Little Patience Is All You Need

Pomegranate Prep_fresh fruit arils 1Emilie and I met during our last year of college.  She an International Affairs major and I a Political Science/Sociology major, our paths crossed in Comparative Government of Western Europe. Our professor’s trick at remembering all our names was to “attach” us to our favorite fruit.  After about half a class’ worth of apples, peaches, strawberries, grapes, and bananas he got to the nearly six foot red-head.  I remember her smiling mischievously before announcing, “Pomegranate.” It wasn’t necessarily her favorite fruit that was memorable, but our professor’s reaction. He was completely taken back by surprise and the whole class erupted in laughter.  Now that’s how you get people to remember you, right? Yup, that was a pretty fun semester.  I’m pretty sure Emilie was our professor’s favorite student lol.

Anyway, the reason I bring up the luscious pomegranate is that the fruit is in Pomegranate Prep_fresh fruit 2season.  Harvested between September and November, you’re likely to find pomegranates in grocery stores through January.  Yay! I mean, I love pomegranate juice, but the tasty, juicy arils that burst in your mouth with just the slightest crunch  are a delicious and rare treat.  That is why when I saw a huge bin of the beautiful fruits in the produce section I looked past the sticker shock (2 for $5…not too horribly bad) and I went for it.

Pomegranate Prep_arilsSo before we go any further, first thing’s first. How do you select a good fruit? Do you look for bruising and vivid color like apples and pears? How about a gentle squeeze like peaches? Or maybe smell like pineapple and mangoes? Nah, and especially don’t be fooled by a pomegranate’s color. Pick the fruit up. The heavier the fruit, the more juice it will contain. I’d say select a pomegranate that is heavy for its size, but I think they all feel heavy for their size lol.

And it’s no wonder. Pomegranates are very generous (They better be after thePomegranate Prep_fresh fruit arils mason jar work it takes to prepare them!)! I can’t believe how many arils I harvested from one single fruit. I was absolutely tickled pink to eat these beautiful, ruby red,  juicy jewels by the spoon full.

Now it’s your turn!

 How to Prepare a Pomegranate

  1. Fill a large bowl about halfway with water.  You will be submerging the pomegranate in the water, so be sure there is room so that the water doesn’t spill too horribly bad.Pomegranate Prep_Water Bowl
  2. Using a sharp paring knife, cut the top off of the pomegranate.  You’re aiming for about half an  inch below the crown.Pomegranate Prep_slice off top
  3. Locate the sections of the pomegranate, which are divided by a white membrane.  Score the pomegranate skin along each section using the membranes as a guide.Pomegranate Prep_score skin
  4. Submerge the pomegranate in the bowl of water. With both hands, carefully pull the pomegranate apart, breaking it into smaller sections.Pomegranate Prep_seperate sections
  5. Keeping the pomegranate section under water, use your fingers to loosen the arils, which will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Pieces of loosened membrane will float to the top. Scoop any floating membrane out of the bowl with a spoon or your hands.Pomegranate Prep_seperate arils with fingers
  6. Pour the remaining contents of the bowl through a strainer, or use a wire spider or mesh scoop to separate the loosened arils from the water.Pomegranate Prep_scoop

Arils may be eaten as is or used in a myriad of delicious recipes.  I will be serving mine at Thanksgiving as the finishing touch to my dish of pan roasted butterkin squash, wilted spinach, and blue cheese crumbles.

Storage: Pomegranates keep for a very long time.  They’ll keep about a month on your kitchen counter and two months in the fridge.  The arils will keep for up to two weeks in the fridge if properly stored in an airtight container. 

Pomegranate Prep_fresh fruit 3

 

Grilled Salmon Cakes – Saying Good-bye to Grandma

Grilled Salmon Cakes 1Just a smidgen over a week ago our neighborhoods were haunted by the cutest little gremlins in search of a sugar rush.  Like many of the major holiday’s in western society, Halloween is grounded in Christian tradition (sans Sexy Pizza Slice of course) and is the vigil to All Souls Day, a feast day of the Catholic church dedicated to the souls of those who have gone before us.  I’ll be the first to admit that my catechism is horrible and that my faith’s dogma often rubs me the wrong way, but All Souls Day is a feast I find comforting and beautiful. In my parish, the church hangs a ceiling to floor scroll on which the names of those who died in the past 12 months are listed.  Although not on the list, my paternal grandmother, a stalwart Baptist (over 200 years of ministers in her family!) who left us on 27 February, was in my prayers as the mass was celebrated.

Salmon Cakes internmentAs I said, my grandmother died in February.  However, we were unable to bury her until the end of May.  I’ll spare you the family drama that ensued, but on that lovely spring weekend my parents and I loaded up for the eight hour drive to the family cemetery in south eastern Kentucky where my father’s maternal ancestors have been placed to rest for the past 200+  years (My grandmother’s line has several original families that migrated from Virginia and North Carolina to settle Kentucky. One was even BFFs with Daniel Boone. Crazy!)

I don’t think its a surprise that my dad and his middle sister reminisced over theirSalmon Cakes reminiscing favorite dishes their mom used to make them.  My youngest cousin (a vegetarian) and I cringed at some of them…I mean I love bacon, but my arteries (and hips) can only take some much bacon grease lol.   Apparently Grandma cooked everything in the stuff.  However, this is one dish that I swear causes everyone a foodgasm: Grandma’s salmon cakes.

Grilled Salmon Cakes 2Ever since I was little, these salmon cakes always came up when we talked about Grandma, especially during holiday meals since, as a Marine family, we were always far away from either of my parents’ families.    I think I was 10 years old the first time I had these. We were in between over-seas tours, where you have to return state-side even if just for a little bit, and we spent it in Indianapolis with my dad’s family.  Canned pink salmon (my dad actually pronounces the “l”, arg!) patted together in mayonnaise to form the cakes, fried in bacon grease, and served over buttermilk biscuits and smothered in a bacon grease based gravy…and of course crumbled bacon. Oh dear me, they are sooooo soooo good.

GMP_Grandma w Dale Sherry Dixie 1But like I said, I can only take so much bacon grease…and my parents’, with their blood pressure and cholesterol issues…yeah, no, no, no!

That’s how I came up with this salmon cake recipe.  Loaded with smokey, grilled flavor and topped with a creamy, but light coleslaw (I prefer Greek yogurt, but since I made these for my dad, I used an olive oil based mayo)…it is satisfying enough for even my very picky, picky dad (and mom) in between treat times where I’ll cave and give them the bacon grease…not too often now…they have grandchildren to watch grow up!

Salmon Cakes Grilling

 

Grilled Salmon Cakes

makes 10-12 slider sized cakes

Ingredients

  • ½ pound grilled salmon
  • 1/3 cup green onion whites, finely sliced
  • ¼ cup Greek yogurt or mayonnaise
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun or seafood blackening seasoning
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons or more vegetable oil as needed for frying pan

Directions

  • With a fork, flake the grilled salmon once it has cooled enough for safe handling.  Add the flaked salmon to a large mixing bowl.
    Salmon Cakes grill 1     Salmon Cakes flaking fish
  • Into the same bowl, add the onions, mayonnaise, sour cream, Dijon mustard, seasoning, egg, and parsley. Use your hands or a flat spatula to mix the ingredients together.
    Salmon Cakes everything in the bowl
  • Add panko bread crumbs to the salmon mixture and fold gently.
  • Take 1/4 – 1/3 cup of salmon mixture and shape into ball.  Carefully press ball into a flattened cake.  Repeat with remaining salmon.Salmon Cakes forming 1 Salmon Cakes forming 2
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a frying pan or cast iron skillet over medium high heat.
  • Cook salmon cakes until golden, about 3 minutes on each side.Salmon Cakes frying pan
  • Place cooked salmon cakes on a paper towel lined plate to drain excess oil.
  • Serve on slider potato rolls with your favorite coleslaw recipe.Grilled Salmon Cakes 3