Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Freshness of Spring and a Luscious Lemon Pie

I love living in a state that experiences four distinct, albeit sometimes short, seasons.  Just when you are getting sick to death of the cold, damp weather in North Carolina, flowers begin to pop up reminding you that spring is just around the corner.  Now that spring is here, I am enjoying every weekend outside, often performing less than appealing tasks, but thankful every moment for the beautiful, sunny weather and the world that's blooming all around me.  Sometimes, you just have to get outside and smell the daffodils.  

The house we live in now has loads of daffodils.  There are bright, cheery yellow ones and creamy white ones with bright orange centers.  I desperately need to mow the grass right now to cut down some of the weeds, but I can't bring myself to do it because the daffodils are clustered everywhere making it difficult to mow without running over them.  So, I'm going to leave them as is and tell myself that the weeds that need mowing (our "new" old home has plenty of them right now) are making the bees happy and I'll leave them and the daffodils alone for another week. Every time I look at these happy little flowers, I think of the farm wife who planted them years and years ago and must have loved seeing their smiling faces as much as I do.  

All of these projects are keeping me from blogging like I would prefer.  I have to prioritize right now, and at this point getting our garden going, planting some new plants and trees, working on our existing peach and apple trees, gearing up for more bee hives and chickens, and working on the inside of our home all take precedence.  I hope to get back on track and blog more as these spring projects get taken care of, and by then there will hopefully be some canning to talk about.  

For now, I hope you enjoy this recipe for lemon pie.  I have read about this pie several times, although I had never eaten myself even though I grew up just a little over an hour from the North Carolina coast.  It is often called "Atlantic Beach Pie" although I have seen recipes by different names.  Apparently it is served in many seafood restaurants and by many families along the coast.  I have had it on my to-make list ever since this article in Our State Magazine.  When I saw it published most recently in the April/May edition of Cook's Country I had to give it a shot.  

It is delicious and oh-so-easy to make.  The crust is a saltine cracker crust held together with some melted butter and sweetened just a touch with corn syrup (although the Our State pie uses a little granulated sugar instead).  The idea of a saltine crust seems strange at first, but the saltiness is perfect with the tart lemon.  A friend of mine compared it to the pretzel base in a strawberry pretzel salad, and I think that's a perfect comparison.  

The filling is a custard base made with sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, and egg yolks, and it is so creamy.  The whipped cream on top is necessary, in my opinion, as it provides a light airy quality as well as something sweet to cut through the tartness of the lemon custard.  

The best part about this pie is that it is quick and uses ingredients most of us probably have on hand or can keep on hand easily.  It will become my go-to lemon pie from this point forward.  

The recipe in the link below was modified from both the Our State and Cook's Country versions.  

Printable Recipe


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Something New: Pickled Pintos, Corn, and Poblano Peppers

At this point in my canning endeavors, I tend to stick with the same recipes.  We know what we like, and more importantly, we know what we will actually use and what we won't.  I am always on the lookout, though, for something new that can liven things up a bit but be an integral part of my cooking rather than just a condiment on the side.  

This past summer I found a recipe for Pickled Pintos, Corn, and Poblano Peppers in the BHG Canning magazine.  I thought the recipe looked interesting, and I also thought it looked more substantial than most other pickled veggies.  It looked like something that could be a main part of a dish rather than just something to jazz it up.  Since I had never made it before, I only made one batch of it to try, and I held off on posting about it until we ate it a few times.   

Well, we have now tried it, and we love it!  The beans and corn are filling, and even though they are pickled they have enough sweetness from the sugar and corn to make them versatile.  They can be eaten on top of tostadas or baked nachos (as we are doing this evening for the Super Bowl).  They can be incorporated into a taco, mixed into rice or other grains, added to salads, or eaten straight up with corn chips.  

They are a fantastic addition to my preserving list, and I will definitely be making them again this year. Here are pictures I took over the summer while canning the batch as well as pictures taken more recently while getting ready to use a jar. 

The only changes I made to this recipe was to substitute ground cumin for the cumin seeds because I could not find the seeds.  The original recipe can be found here.

Note:  For those concerned with the canning of corn or pintos without a pressure canner, this recipe is safe due to the fact that the vegetables and legumes are pickled.  

Printable Version

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas in Our New Home

It feels like forever since my last post, and it has been a long time.  I hope you all had a wonderful holiday with family and friends.  

Dining Room Tree
Since I never posted before Christmas, I thought I would do a post now to show a few glimpses of our holiday in our new home and to share a few recipes we've enjoyed over the past few weeks.  Unfortunately, in the bustle of the holiday, I did not take as many pictures of food as I should have, so I'm posting the links and the pictures from the sites so you can see what they should look like. I will also post some images of our home decorated for the holidays because even though it still needs so much work, it is home now and being in it made for a wonderful Christmas season.  

Usually Christmas is a time of travel for us, going to my family home and my husband's (both over two hours from our current home and three hours away from one another), but this year was different.  We did travel to my family for Christmas Eve, but Christmas Day was spent in our own home with my husband's family visiting us.  It was nice to be home on Christmas. 

Christmas table set with my grandmother's Christmas dishes.

Our Christmas Day was very cozy with lots of twinkling lights, glowing candles, and a fire (built by my father-in-law) in the fireplace as the temperature became crisp outside.  

A glimpse of the porch before the wind blew me back inside.
We enjoyed a casual dinner of Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce, Ricotta, and Mozzarella, a simple salad, and garlic bread.

Dessert was this Brownie Pudding from Ina Garten.  If you have never tried Brownie Pudding, you must.  It is gooey, almost like brownie batter inside, but it has a crisp, chewy crust on top.  With ice cream, it is delectable.  My in-laws all brought yummy snacks, and my sister-in-law brought a chocolate chess pie similar to this one (yum!).  

Brownie Pudding 

I also hosted a cookie swap the week before Christmas which I have done for the past few years.  It was a little different this year because we opted to bring unbaked cookie dough to freeze rather than bake all of our cookies.  I am really looking forward to being able to bring out cookie dough whenever I need it over the next few months.  

Our Christmas "bush" on an old trunk in the living room.  It is decorated with my grandmother's antique glass ball and teardrop ornaments. 

The cookie swap dinner consisted of Julia Child's Beef Bourguignon baked into individual ramekins, topped with whipped potatoes, and broiled until crisp on top.  The salad recipe was really tasty. I followed this recipe from Williams-Sonoma for a Spinach, Pear, and Pomegranate Salad, but I used a baby kale blend in place of spinach and candied walnuts in place of toasted ones.  It will definitely be making a reappearance soon.  

Image Credit

I also made a Dark Chocolate Peppermint Tart from Bon Appetit.  I didn't have the patience for the decorative whipped topping, so I just mounded mine on, but it was delicious nonetheless.  Unfortunately, after we ate our fill, I was putting the rest in the refrigerator, and it slid right off the cake plate and onto the floor.  It was frustrating, but the dog really enjoyed licking up the residue later.  

The crust is filled with dark chocolate ganache and sprinkled with crushed peppermint candy. 

Then it is topped with peppermint whipped cream and more crushed candy.  I used half the whipped cream recipe, and it was plenty. 

Now that Christmas is over, it is difficult to think of taking down the decorations and getting back to "normal".  Christmas is such a magical time, and the decorations make everything so warm and cozy.  So, rather than think of it ending, I am going to savor one last evening by the fire and curl up to watch Meet Me in St. Louis while enjoying a cup of hot tea.    


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Slow Cooked Pork Roast with Spicy Asian Sweet Potatoes

First of all, let me start out by saying that I am not a photographer.  The pictures of food on my blog sometimes leave something to be desired.  In addition, when you're trying to take photos of food at night before you actually eat said food, it is even worse because the light quality is so poor.  That being said, I decided to post this anyway because the recipe was really good, and it was a more unique recipe for a slow cooker.  

I have been trying to find good recipes for my slow cooker for a long time.  Often, I find that the slow cooker washes out the flavor of the ingredients and leaves me with a meal that was convenient yet bland or mushy.  The best slow cooker recipes tend to be those that require lots of prep which, let's face it, defeats the purpose of a slow cooker.  

So, a while back I was browsing in Williams-Sonoma and saw their cookbook, The New Slow Cooker.  I came home, ordered it from Amazon (it was cheaper that way) and have cooked a few recipes from it.  I like that the recipes are different, require some but not tons of prep, and have sauces or toppings to jazz things up a bit.  

This particular recipe was pretty tasty and proved to be versatile.  I prepped the pork which included browning it along with some aromatics the night before.  I then put the pork into the slow cooker insert and refrigerated it overnight.  The next morning, I popped the insert into the slow cooker base and cooked it all day while I was at work.  That evening, I made the Asian Vinaigrette for the sweet potato chunks while they roasted in the oven.  When done, I mixed everything together with some fresh cilantro and dinner was ready quickly and without much mess or fuss.  

We ate this meal several different times, once with steamed veggies on the side, once as leftovers, and once in a quesadilla with cheddar cheese.  All were yummy and made good use of the pork roast. This would also be excellent with rice or served in a hamburger bun with or without a little barbecue sauce.  

A few notes on this recipe...the original version called for butternut squash instead of sweet potato.  I used the sweet potato because that's what I had on hand.  I used dry sherry rather than sake, white wine, or vermouth because that's what I had.  I also omitted the basil because I didn't have any, but I did have some cilantro hanging around so I added that for a pop of color and flavor.  I used a pasture raised pork roast which had a fairly thick fat cap.  I trimmed most of the fat off before cooking.  If you are using a roast from the grocery, you may not need to trim as much.  

Pork Roast with Spicy Asian Sweet Potatoes- serves 6

This recipe is adapted from The New Slow Cooker.  

3 lb pork roast (I used one with a bone but you can use boneless instead)
salt and pepper
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp dry sherry (original called for dry sake, white wine, or vermouth)
1/2 cup chicken stock 
1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 recipe Asian Lime Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

Asian Vinaigrette- makes 1/2 cup

2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
juice of 1 lime 
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp peeled, minced ginger
1/4 tsp sugar
2-3 drops Sriracha sauce

For the vinaigrette:  Mix everything together except the olive oil.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while whisking until it is well blended.  

For the pork and sweet potatoes: Season the pork with salt and pepper.  Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet on medium high heat.  Add pork and brown well on all sides.  Transfer pork to the insert of a slow cooker.  

Pour most of the fat from the skillet and return to the heat. Add the onion and cook 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more.  Pour in the sherry and scrap up the browned bits from the skillet.  Stir in the stock and pour the contents over the pork.  Cover and cook on low for 8-9 hours.  

Before you are ready to serve the pork, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Toss the sweet potato cubes with olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Roast, stirring several times, for 20-25 minutes until they are tender and brown on the edges.  Transfer to a bowl.  Add the cilantro and vinaigrette and toss to coat evenly.  

Transfer the pork to a cutting board and let rest while you finish the sweet potatoes.  Skim the fat from the liquid in the slow cooker.  Shred the pork.  Spoon some of the braising liquid over the meat.  Toss the pork and sweet potatoes together gently.  Serve.  

Printable Version

Saturday, October 18, 2014

October Randomness: Part Two

As October continues, my to-do list grows.  I wish I had days at home so that I could spread my list out over the course of the week rather than trying to cram it all into the weekends.  I would like to have a chat with the person who invented the five day work week.  

Now for the rest of the October random happenings...

We are still working away with our one little bee hive.  The bees in the hive seem to be doing well as far as we can tell.  We found a couple of emergency queen cells but were told that this is normal (you can see it on the right side of the frame in the picture).  They have used most of the honey stores they had put up, so we are feeding them a 2:1 sugar syrup right now to help them prepare for winter.  We will definitely be investing in a few more hives come spring as well as splitting this one.    

On a completely separate note, I decided on a whim to enter a few items into the county fair, and was so excited to win a blue and red ribbon for these pickles and this apple butter respectively.  I also entered a jar of green beans but didn't win anything for those.  I was so surprised as I had absolutely no hope for winning, but it was so much fun I think I'm hooked.

A wall of canned goods at the county fair

I had one jar of apple pie filling left and decided to make a pie with it the other night.  I had four of these pie crusts in the freezer, so I thawed one and used it as the bottom crust.  Then I spread a jar of this pie filling into it before topping it with a crumb topping made of 3/4 cup flour, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, and 1/3 cup butter.  I cut the butter into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender until it resembled coarse crumbs.  I then sprinkled it on top and baked the pie at 375 degrees for 50 minutes.  It was easy and yummy although I do wish it had browned a little more.  Again, I'm blaming this on my horrible oven.  Let's just say I can't wait to get a new one.  It did make me realize that I need to put up more pie filling as it makes for a super easy dessert when you're short on time.  

I have plans this month to make pork stock from some bones I've had in the freezer since spring along with some apple butter and pie filling from apples we got back in August.  I also want to plant some fall pansies and kale outside, and I'll keep you posted on the chickens and bees.  Happy October!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

October Randomness: Part One

Fall is finally here, although some days it is still reaching into the low 90s.  Today was a cool, misty day, but I loved every minute of it because it was the first weekend day in weeks that has not been filled up in some way for us.  We relaxed, cleaned the house, and I canned chicken stock I had been working on since Friday evening.  Our weeks have been busy and random as we try to take care of several different things all at once.  

Before I get into what we've been up to, let me tell you that I have started making chicken stock in the slow cooker.  A foodie friend of mine turned me onto it, and it is so much easier.  I still save my chicken scraps and carcasses in the freezer until I have enough for stock, but rather than simmering it on the stove for hours, I put half of the scraps in the slow cooker along with carrot, celery, and onion, and I cook it on low heat through one night and one day.  Then I remove 2/3 of the stock (but leave everything else in there), add the other half of the chicken scraps, and fill again with fresh water.  It cooks on low throughout that night and the next day until the afternoon when I am ready to pressure can.  It means I can make stock while I'm doing other things, and I think the stock is even more rich and flavorful.  I strain several times before pressure canning according to these directions.  

Okay, now to some of the randomness of the month...

Fall means mums, Indian corn, and pumpkins.  I know I have lots of weeds and things aren't perfect, but I had to put some fall decorations out anyway.  The mums have flowered more for me this year than in the past, and they look lovely next to the light orange pumpkin I picked up from a house out in the country where the owner grows fields of pumpkins and squash.  This pumpkin has developed a spot on the back and is soon destined for the chickens who will enjoy it immensely.  

We have been working hard on our other house in the city and finally sold it about two weeks ago.  It was a little bittersweet having been our first house and our home for so many years, but I know the people who bought it will love it just as much as we did, and it's nice to be able to focus on our new home now.  The worst part was leaving my little chicken coop behind (we had three chickens there), but the new owner plans to get a little flock of her own. 

Speaking of chickens, I think they are perfectly happy here in the country.  They love to get out and peck around in the weeds and grass.  They especially love to get into the flower bed (it needs work anyway) to get bugs and worms. We are getting ready to purchase some mobile poultry netting so that we can move them around the property to forage when we are home.  They are hard workers, giving us about eight eggs a day (from ten hens).  

Al, the rooster, is still in with the girls and is still acting like a gentleman most of the time.  He is very large and handsome, and he doesn't mind us unless we are messing with his flock.  

Finally, I tried a recipe for challah bread.  I used to make challah sometimes, but had not made it in years.  I used a recipe from The Fresh Egg Cookbook. The bread was easy, used several eggs (which was why I chose to make it) and tasted delicious.  It also made three loaves one of which is in my freezer waiting for an occasion when I need a loaf of fresh bread.  I will say that I had a little problem with the baking time which is listed as an hour.  My bread was beginning to burn a little on the bottom after about 40 minutes and was done, so I took it out.  It could have been the recipe but it just as easily could have been the horrible, no-good oven I'm forced to work with right now until we have time to make some much needed changes in this new kitchen of ours. If you bake the bread, set your timer for 30 minutes and check it every 10 minutes after that to make sure it doesn't get too brown.  You may need the entire baking time or you may be like me and need to take it out early. 

I'll post part two with the rest of the randomness a few days from now.  Until then, enjoy the fall weather!

Challah Bread- makes 3 loaves 
(slightly adapted from The Fresh Egg Cookbook)

2 packs active dry yeast
2 cups warm water
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
4 tsp kosher salt
4 eggs (3 beaten together, 1 beaten separately to be used as an egg wash)
7 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

Dissolve the yeast in the water in a large bowl.  Stir in oil, sugar, salt, and 3 beaten eggs.  Stir in half the flour, then mix in the remaining flour until make a soft, pliable dough.  

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 8 minutes, or knead using the dough hook of an electric stand mixer.  Place in a greased bowl, turning to grease the top, cover, and let rise 1 1/2 hours until doubled in size.  

Line three baking sheets with parchment paper.  Separate dough into three equal pieces.  Working with one piece at a time, divide dough in thirds.  Roll each third by hand into a strand 12 inches long and arrange them on a work surface pointing toward you.  Pinch the three strands together at the top end and braid the strands working toward you.  Pinch the bottom ends together and turn them under to secure them.  Place the loaf on a prepared sheet.  Repeat with the other two braids.  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Let braids rise 30 minutes.  Gently brush each loaf with the remaining beaten egg and bake for 1 hour (watch this carefully as you may need to bake less time) until nicely brown on top.  

Printable Version

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread

I am a so-so fan of quick breads.  Some are really good while others seem very one-note to me and don't appeal to me that much.  The ones I like most are moist in the center with a crust on the outside and contain some type of ingredient (either nuts, chocolate, fruit, or a cream cheese ribbon like a friend of mine adds to her breads) to break things up a bit. 

My absolute favorite quick bread is filled with zucchini and semi-sweet chocolate chips.  It is sweet and gooey with chocolate, and while you can see the zucchini, the texture of it does not come through.  It just makes the batter oh-so-moist.  I have substituted blueberries for the chocolate, and it was yummy that way as well although I remain partial to the chocolate version.  This bread is fabulous as a snack, dessert, or even for breakfast, and one loaf will last, well wrapped on the counter, about a week.  The bread also freezes really well, and since the recipe makes two loaves, I make a batch every week or so and freeze the extra loaf for later.  I also freeze shredded zucchini in three cup increments to use to make this bread when zucchini is not in season.  

The recipe comes from Very Best Baking and is very similar to another favorite of mine from that site, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins.  

So, if you're overrun with zucchini this time of year or just find a great deal on it at the farm market, whip up a batch and try it for yourself.  This bread is also a great way to use eggs when you find yourself with too many to handle. 

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread- makes two loaves

This bread is from Very Best Baking, and I do not alter the ingredients at all except that I add regular size chocolate chips rather than mini.  For a picture of it with mini chocolate chips, click the link to the original recipe.  The recipe calls for baking 60-70 minutes, but I usually begin checking it after 55 minutes to ensure that it does not over bake.  It is usually ready around the 60 minute mark.   

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour 
1 1/4 cups whole-wheat flour 
2 teaspoons baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/4 cup butter, softened 
3/4 cup granulated sugar 
3/4 cup packed brown sugar 
4 large eggs 
3/4 cup vegetable oil 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
3 cups shredded zucchini (about 3 medium zucchini) 
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350ยบ F. Grease and flour two 8 x 4-inch loaf pans.
Combine all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar in large mixer bowl until well combined. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in oil and vanilla extract. Stir in flour mixture just until moistened. Fold in zucchini and chocolate chips. Divide mixture between loaf pans.
Bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Run knife around the edges of pans. Remove from pans; cool completely on wire racks. 

Printable Version