Category Archives: Food

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

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

 

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Halloween is almost upon us, spooky, fun , awesome Halloween. When you are a kid it is second only to Christmas – your chance to be someone or something else for one night, limited only by your parents ability to say no to you. I remember the year my mom made me an amazing pink poodle skirt. I wore a white turtle neck, little white socks with lace tops, and my hair was in a curly pony tail with a pink bandanna. I was rocking it – absolutely rocking it. Add to that the pillow case filled with free candy, the chance to go out on a school night (at least every couple of years). Halloween was awesome as a kid.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - Jack O' Lanterns

As an adult, though, the act of celebrating Halloween is no longer about dressing up and being someone else – not for me at least. I have no desire to be around people who dress like “sexy” pizza slices (seriously, how is that even a thing!?!?) and don’t know how to hold their drink. Now, I love Halloween because it is the night I watch Hocus Pocus and hand out treats to the new generation of super heroes, witches, ghosts, and princesses. I love seeing all of the incredibly creative costumes and excited children.

I also love decorating for Halloween, especially carving jack-o-lanterns. In addition to creating awesome displays for my front porch, a night of pumpkin carving gives me one of the best fall snacks a person can hope for – roasted pumpkin seeds, aka pepitas. Spicy, salty, or sweet – I can eat pumpkin seeds (hull and all) by the handful, so it is a good thing they are easy to make. Tom makes the best pepitas using butter, olive oil, and seasonings, so I make him do all of the work. You can follow his simple steps to make your own this Halloween.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds 2

How To Roast Perfect Pumpkin Seeds
Recipe based on 1 cup of raw pumpkin seeds

1)     Clean your fresh pumpkin seeds until they are completely clean of all pumpkin guts. Place the seeds in a large bowl and cover with cool tap water and agitate the water to help clean the seeds, picking off large piece of pumpkin meat as you go. Strain using a colander and repeat at least once more.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - Clean the seeds 1 Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - clean the seeds 2 Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - clean the seeds 3

2)     Once the seeds are meticulously cleaned boil the seeds in well salted water. Bring a large sauce pan of salted water to a roiling boil, add the cleaned pumpkin seeds, and cook for 2  minutes. We use approximately 1 quart of water and ½ tablespoon of salt per cup of pumpkin seeds.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - boil the seeds

3)     Drain and dry pumpkin seeds. Drain pumpkin seeds using a large colander, tossing a couple of times to shake of excess water. Spread seeds out on a clean flour sack or tea towel and pat dry.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - dry the seeds

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - dry the seeds 2

4)    Season and oil  the pumpkin seeds. Place dried seeds in a bowl and drizzle with a mixture of 1 tablespoon melted butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil (per 1 cup of pepitas).  Mix the seeds well with the oil, ensuring all seeds are well coated.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - butter the seeds 1

 

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - butter the seeds 2

Spread the seeds out on a rimmed cookie sheet and season as desired. We used onion and garlic powder, fresh pepper, and seasoned salt.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - season the seeds 2
Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - season the seeds 1

5)    Bake at 350ºF for about 10 minutes. Stir seeds about half way through the cooking time. Seeds are done when the outer hull is crunchy and easy to bite through.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds - stir the seeds

6)     Eat! Or cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 1 week. They are good right out of the tupperware, but we like to pop them in the oven for 2 minutes at 350ºF to warm them up.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds 1

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts

“Everything is bigger in Texas.”

Including my new digs here in Austin. For the same price I was paying for a 400 sq. ft. 1-bedroom apartment in D.C., I am now renting a 3-bedroom duplex with a backyard and a garage. We have so much space, I am going to get a craft room – and Tom agreed to it!  It is all pretty fabulous and I am in love with our new place.

Living in Texas - Living Room Living in Texas - Dining Room

Moving from a tiny galley style kitchen with maybe 2 square feet of counter space to my new spacious kitchen (with a dishwasher!) is the best part of the new house. Precious counter space that once belonged to an ever present stack of drying dishes has been given to my KitchenAide mixer. Now it is always close at hand and easy to use in a moments notice. Recipes that involve half a dozen bowls are no longer daunting because those dishes just go into the dishwasher – no more hours of cleaning. I am having a bit of trouble re-learning how to use an electric stove and I may have burned a few batches of bacon, but I’ll figure it out soon enough, I just have to keep practicing.

Living in Texas - Kitchen

After finally unpacking my cooking supplies, I decided to celebrate my new kitchen by getting my hands dirty making my first from scratch meal. No more frozen pizza for me! My first dish in the new kitchen needed to be something fun, not too difficult (I was tired after all that unpacking), and hearty (to fuel a long night of organizing my walk-in closet). By combining Hungarian noodles and cabbage with Italian pasta carbonara, I came up with this fabulous dish of noodles, shaved Brussels sprouts, bacon, and poached eggs. A rustic, satisfying pasta carbonara with veggies thrown in for good measure.

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts v 3

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts
2-4 servings

4 cups shredded brussel sprouts (see Recipe Notes)
½ pound uncooked pasta (see Recipe Notes)
1 large shallot, minced
salt and fresh ground pepper
¼ pound of medium thickness bacon
4 eggs
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
¼  shredded Parmesan cheese + more for serving

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts - prep the veggies

1)      Place a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil for the pasta. Once at a roiling boil, cook pasta according to package directions. Also place a large, wide pan or pot with about 3 inches of water on medium-low to bring it to a simmer (I like to use my large soup pot).

2)     In a large heavy bottomed skillet fry bacon to desired crispness and remove to a paper towel lined plate. Pour off some of the bacon grease, leaving about 1-2 tablespoons in the pan. Make sure you save the extra bacon grease in case you need a bit more.

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts - fry the bacon

3)     Add minced shallot to pan and cook for 1 minute. Add shredded brussels sprouts and toss to coat in the bacon grease. Sauté brussels sprouts for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally so that they do not burn, but not so frequently that they don’t brown in places.

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts - saute Brussels sprouts

4)     At this point your poaching water should be simmering, add about 4 teaspoons of white wine vinegar to the water and, using your preferred method (like the one described here) poach your four eggs. I use 2 eggs per dish for the 2 servings, if you are making 4 smaller servings, you may want to poach more eggs, or just serve one egg each serving.

5)     Remove brussels sprouts from direct heat and add drained, cooked pasta, tossing to coat. Here is where you may want to dribble on a bit more bacon grease. Sprinkle with about ¼ cup of Parmesan and toss to incorporate.

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts - add drained pasta 1 Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts - add drained pasta 2

6)     To serve, spoon pasta-brussels sprouts mixture on a plate, top with a few slices of the cooked bacon, crumbled, sprinkle with extra cheese, and top with your poached eggs. Ta-Da!

Rustic Pasta Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts v 1

Recipe Notes
Shredded Brussels Sprouts sound much harder than they really are – for me the real trick is buying the largest sprouts you can find. The website Almost Practical has a great step-by-step tutorial, with pictures on how prep them. If you want a bit of guidance before you get started, check it out.

Traditional carbonara is made with spaghetti or bucattini, but with the addition of the brussels sprouts, I didn’t think these would work as well. I ended up  using campanella pasta, so that the Brussles sprout shreds could easily wrap around the pasta and be better incorporated. Really, any shorter sturdier pasta like farfella or radiatori should work here.

Tomatillo Watermelon and Cherry Tomato Salad

tomatillo watermelon salad 1As I said to my friends yesterday, “End of summer my patootie!” Seriously.  On the last day of August, after weeks of pretty delightful weather, the temperature soared to 90 by 10 A.M. By the way, I am not taking into account the humidity and how hot it got later on.  Needless to say, my Sunday morning run went pretty miserably.  Happily, earlier that morning I had visited the farmers market and waiting for me at home was a big ol’, thirst quenching watermelon.

Wishing I had a pool to jump into, but settling for a glass of cold water instead, I started thinking about what to do with my watermelon as I tomatillo watermelon salad 6allowed my body to cool down.  Of course I did not want to repeat something my friends or I had already done, but I also wanted something that could serve as a last minute dish for a Labor Day picnic or barbecue (I, myself, am I poor planning procrastinator).  That’s when my eyes landed on the cardboard container of tomatillos. Hmmmmm.

Now I had originally planned enchiladas verde for my tomatillos. However, as I peeled back the papery husk of one fruit I remembered one of the market vendors last year telling me they were like green tomatoes, only not has hard. Pondering the fruit in my hand, I thought of how pretty the green and pink would look together. First things first, though.  Would I like the taste of a raw tomatillo?

Cutting myself a little wedge, my first bite met a firm, pleasantly textured flesh…followed by quite a tartness!  Thought not as pucker inducing as a tomatillo watermelon salad 4lemon it was still pretty acidic. I don’t think I’ll ever eat a raw tomatillo on its own again, but its sour crunch was just the thing to juxtapose my sweet, melt in your mouth watermelon.

Now that I had my stars, I decided to add some beautiful little cherry tomatoes, which had a flavor and texture right in the middle of the tomatillos and watermelon. To round out the flavors, I drizzled on some of the honey mint syrup I use for my mint-juleps (I also used it last year on the watermelon wedges I brought over to Emilie and Tom’s for the 4th of July).  For the final flourish, I cut some fresh mint leaves from my garden and sprinkled it over the vibrantly colored salad.  Then I placed the salad in the fridge and went to clean my post-run self up.

With the afternoon sun shifted to the front of the house, for lunch I tomatillo watermelon salad 5parked myself on the now shaded back deck. Though still warm, a gentle breeze (a hint of the coming storm) helped keep things pleasant enough to enjoy myself outside.  It was time to dig in! I took a tooth pick and speared me some salad.

Ooohh, yeeessss…crisp, cool deliciousness.  I had tamed the tomatillo.  Though still sharp, its contrast livened up the watermelon. In return, the watermelon and mint helped mellow out the tartness of the tomatillo. I love it when a plan comes together, don’t you?

Have a relaxing “last day” of summer.  Happy Labor Day!

tomatillo watermelon salad 2

 

~Ruth

 Tomatillo Watermelon and Cherry Tomato Salad

 Ingredients

tomatillo watermelon salad ingredients

  • Tomatillo(s), sliced into thin wedges
  • Watermelon, diced medium to small
  • Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • Mint leaves, chiffonade
  • Honey mint syrup*
Directions

1. In a bowl, add tomatillos, watermelon, and cherry tomatoes in the following portions: 1:2:1.

2. Add honey mint syrup and mint as desired. The amount used will depend on your tastes as well as the size of the salad you are making. (See Note).tomatillo watermelon salad mixing

3. Toss ingredients and cover with plastic wrap. Chill in refrigerator for about an hour to allow the flavors to blend.

4. When ready to serve, toss one more time to re-distribute the watermelon juices.

*Honey mint syrup

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 cup wildflower honey
  • 4-6 large mint leaves, hand torn
Directions

1. Heat water in a microwave safe bowl. Approximately 1 minute on high.

2. Add honey to hot water and stir until dissolved into a simple syrup.Blueberry Honey Mint Julep Dissolving Honey

3. Muddle torn mint leaves in the honey simple syrup. Let mint steep at east 8-10 minutes. When finished steeping, strain mint leaves from the syrup.Blueberry Honey Mint Julep Muddle Mint

 

Note:
I made 1 cup of salad. My ingredients came out as follows:
1/4 cup tomatillos
2/4 cup watermelon
1/4 cup cherry tomatoes
1 tablespoon mint
1 tablespoon honey mint syrup

 

Garlic Naan and a Duo of Dips

Many of summer’s best moments include sharing food and laughs with good friends. Whether I am attending a backyard BBQ or picnicking in the park with friends, these moments never fail to make me happy. If I had to pick a favorite place to share sunshine and food with friends though, it would be a winery. Wine makes everything better (obviously) and the bucolic scenery and atmosphere are prefect for unwinding. Share a couple bottles of wine;  indulge in plates of breads, cheese, and crudités; and chat with friends. It really is the perfect day.

As someone who loves to cook and try new recipes, these types of events are extra fun because they give me the chance to try new recipes designed for sharing. So, when Ellen invited me along for a trip to Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn in Delaplane, VA, I immediately said yes and began planning my contribution to the picnic. After some debate, I finally decided on a couple of unique dips and homemade garlic naan.

Naan and 2 Dips- naan with yogurt and lentil dips 2The dips, both based on recipes from Food & Wine, were simple to make – especially the yogurt-mint dip which was a simple as stirring 3 ingredients together – and could easily be served with pita if you aren’t up for making naan.

Really though, you should make the naan! It is more labor intensive than the dips, but it simple and hard to mess up. It is a great recipe for someone who wants to start working with yeast breads but is a bit nervous about the whole process. Tom and I fell in love with the naan, and could have easily eaten every piece if I wasn’t saving it for the picnic.

Naan and 2 Dips- naan with yogurt and lentil dips

Garlic Naan
Adapted from Daydream Kitchen’s Garlic Naan

1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
¼ cup white sugar
3 tbs. milk
1 egg, beaten
2 tsp. salt
4 cups bread flour
2 tbs. garlic, minced
⅓ cup butter, melted

1)    In a large bowl combine warm water (approximately 105ºF to 110ºF) with about a teaspoon of your sugar – just eyeball it here- until sugar is fully dissolved. Sprinkle yeast packet over warm water and let stand 10 minutes, until frothy. This is the time I used to mince the garlic.

Naan and 2 Dips-making naan step 1

2)     Stir in remaining sugar, milk, egg, salt, and 1 cup of flour. Once this is all fully combined, add the remaining 3 cups of flour.

Naan and 2 Dips-making naan step 2

3)    Knead for 6 to 8 minutes on a lightly floured surface. Begin adding in minced garlic about half way through this process. I added the garlic in 3 different portions to help ensure it made its way throughout the entire dough ball. Dough is read when it is smooth and garlic is pretty evenly distributed.

4)    Place dough in a well oiled bowl, and loosely cover with saran wrap (I spray the saran wrap to avoid the dough sticking to it) and a dry kitchen towel. Let dough rise until it is about double in size. This took about an hour outside on a 95ºF day.

Naan and 2 Dips-let the dough rise 1 Naan and 2 Dips-let the dough rise 2

5)     Punch down dough and pinch off small handfuls of dough about the size of a golf ball. Roll into rough balls (no need for perfection here), and place on an oiled baking sheet. Cover with a towel, and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

Naan and 2 Dips- naan dough balls 2

6)     Preheat a large cast iron pan or grill over high heat.

7)     Roll one dough ball out into a thin circle, about an eight of an inch thick. Lightly oil grill. Place dough on grill, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until puffy and lightly browned. Brush uncooked side with melted butter and flip. Cook another 2 to 4 minutes, until light brown. Continue the process with all of the dough.

8)     If you somehow manage to still have some left, store in an airtight bag or container. It should last 3 or 4 days.

Mint Garlic Dip
Adapted from Food and Wine

2 cups plain Greek yogurt
½ cup finely chopped mint leaves
3-4 large garlic cloves, finely minced
salt & pepper

1)     In a medium sized container with a lid, stir together the yogurt, chopped mince, and minced garlic. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and let sit for at least 1 hour (flavors will mingle and intensify the longer the dip rests), serve cold with naan or pita.

Naan and 2 Dips- mix the yogurt mint garlic dip

Spicy Lentil Dip
Adapted from Food and Wine

2 cups brown lentils
1 carrot, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 large shallots, cut into large chunks
1 quart vegetable broth
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Juice of half a lemon

1)     In a large sauce pan, combine vegetable broth, carrot, and shallot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the lentils, reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook until most of the water has been absorbed and the lentils are tender. It took me about half an hour.

Naan and 2 Dips-lentil dip step 1 Naan and 2 Dips-lentil dip step 1.5

2)     Using a food processor or blender, puree lentils and vegetables (and any leftover liquid). I found this easier to do in 2 batches, and I had to add little more liquid (just less than a ¼ cup) to get it to the right consistency. Set the puree aside.

Naan and 2 Dips- lentil dip step 2

3)     In the original sauce pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the spices to the melted butter and cook for 1-2 minutes. The spices can go from perfect to burned in the blink of an eye, so watch them carefully. Add the pureed lentils and cook for another few minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice.

Naan and 2 Dips-lentil dip spices Naan and 2 Dips- lentil dip 3 and a half

4)     Serve warm or room temperature with naan or pita chips.