Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Meyer Lemon Lavender Marmalade

Last year, right around now, I already had several dozen jars full of different kinds of jams, syrups, sauces, and what-have-you. This year it's been way too hot and so instead of canning the gorgeous fruit, I'd been eating it straight from the fridge. Every thought to turn on the stove or the oven is cross referenced against the time it would take for my house temperature to recover, and 9 times out of 10 I decide to make a salad or assemble something random out of whatever is in the fridge.

Meyer Lemons

All was going just fine until I ran into Meyer Lemons. Around here, these babies are hard to find and when you do see them, they're pricey, so when I found a whole bunch of them on sale I had to get them.

Meyer Lemons 2

I'd had this jam tagged to make at some point in the distant future for just such a windfall as this and so despite the insane temperatures I pulled up the recipe and made marmalade.

Meyer Lemon and Lavender Marmalade

I had picked up a small bag of lavender during a short trip to New York last year and I'd been hoarding it for something special, so I knew I had everything on hand. On the second day the piping jam was safely canned, the loud pings as the lids sealed quieted down, and I was left with a little extra to spread on toast. It's thick, a bit chunky, not too sweet, only a little bit bitter, delicately floral and utterly delicious! Definitely worth the wait.

Meyer Lemon and Lavender Marmalade 2

Meyer Lemon Lavender Marmalade
Recipe adapted from Local Kitchen. Also, keep in mind that this will take at least 2 days.

2 lb lemons, I used Meyer, but regular will work just fine
1/4 cup + 2 tsp dried culinary lavender, divided
5 cups sugar
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 Tbsp vanilla

On the first day:
1. Scrub lemons really well and slice into 8 wedges lengthwise (she recommended a serrated knife and it worked like a charm). Remove seeds and reserve in a small bowl. Thinly slice sections, cross-wise, and transfer to a large measuring cup, trying to save as much juice as possible. This will take you a long time and make your fingers very pruny; be sure you have no cuts on your fingers because it will sting. Measure amount of lemons and juice (I had about 5 cups).
2. Measure out an equal amount of filtered water into a medium saucepan. Add lemon seeds and 1/4 cup lavender; bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and steep for at least 30 minutes and up to several hours.
3. Strain lavender water into a measuring cup, squeezing the lavender buds to get out all the liquid, then discard seeds and lavender. Add additional filtered water to bring volume back up to original amount if necessary. Return lavender water to the saucepan, add lemons + juice and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, skimming foam if necessary. Turn off heat, allow to come to room temperature, then cover and allow to sit at room temperature overnight.

On the second day:
1. Prepare your canner, jars and lids so that everything is ready to go.
2. Measure lemon mixture and transfer to a large saucepan or small stockpot. Add salt. Measure out sugar to your taste (I don't like my jam too sweet, and all the citrus means that I can safely cut the sugar a bit, so I only added 5 cups, but you're welcome to add more if you like your marmalade sweeter. Most recipes suggest a 1:1 ratio between lemon mixture and sugar). Add sugar in 1/2 cup increments, allowing the marmalade to come to a boil in between additions. Once all the sugar is in, add in the vanilla and boil, stirring frequently until the marmalade reaches the gel point, which should only be a few more minutes. The suggested temp was 220F at sea level, which is where I am, but I stopped it at 210F and still got a very firm set. Be sure to taste a cooled sample of marmalade during cooking to adjust sugar, if desired.
3. Transfer to a large, heat-safe bowl and allow marmalade to sit, cooling, for a minute or two; it should start gelling quite quickly. Stir down the pieces of fruit, and stir in the remaining 2 tsp of dried lavender. Fill hot, sterilized jars to 1/4-inch headspace, wipe rims, affix lids, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Note: I had doubled the original recipe and ended up with four 8oz jars and enough to fill one 4oz jar.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Kitchen Sink Oatmeal and Spar for the Spurtle Recipe Contest

I am by no means an oatmeal making expert, but if I was, not to mention if I wasn't camera shy, you can bet your oats I'd be entering Bob's Red Mill's Spar for the Spurtle Oatmeal Recipe Contest. I know there isn't that much time left, but hurry up and get your grains in order and enter enter enter! You know what's on the line? Three finalists will win a trip to Portland, Oregon where they'll compete for the ULTIMATE PRIZE: A trip for two to Scotland to represent Bob's Red Mill at the 19th annual Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championship in October, plus expenses/accommodations/etc. Look at the web site for details, but right after you do that, run to the store, pick up a bag of Bob's Red Mill Steel Cut Oats, whip up a batch of your awesome oatmeal and video tape yourself doing your thing.

To help motivate you, to set the fire under your bum, to get your creative juices boiling (and for me to apologize for telling you about this so late), the awesome folks at Bob's Red Mill have offered an extra incentive for those go getters who enter the contest before the deadline (July 20th). All you have to do is create your video, enter it at the contest website and come back here to my blog and let me know that you entered. The first 5 of you will receive a box stuffed with goodies (don't forget to leave contact info). How cool is that? I'm told the box will be chock full of:

* Honey Oat Granola
* Cinnamon Raisin Granola
* Scottish Oats
* 7 Grain Pancake Mix
* A spurtle of your very own!!!

So GO GO GO!!!!

Oh, and in the spirit of things, to get you started, to get you thinking, I'll share with you my oatmeal recipe.

Oatmeal Prep

When I bake, I am precise, I plan ahead, I measure everything, I alter recipes in very logical ways and take great big risks only when I'm 90% sure of success (that's still a risk you know). On the other hand, cooking usually involves the proverbial "kitchen sink" and this oatmeal recipe is no exception.

Quartered Pears

When I found out about the contest, I opened the pantry knowing that I had Bob's Steel Cut Oats in there, but what else should go in there? I don't like my oatmeal plain, so I started pulling things off of shelves to see what will go well. I like to add apple sauce to my oatmeal, but I didn't have any on hand. I did have one lonely pear left, so that got peeled, pureed and tossed in. I had a packet of Justin's Maple Almond Butter, so that went in too for sweetness and a bit of extra protein. A touch of honey, a jar of Coconut Milk (jars of this stuff multiply in my pantry like rabbits), a dash of vanilla and I was ready to go.

Almond Butter

Also, while I'm not actually entering the contest myself (I don't look all that glamorous when I cook and no one will ever catch THAT particular process on tape), I did create this fun little gif of the oatmeal bubbling away.

The thick bubbles made it look a bit like the oatmeal was screaming at me, so to capture that, I made another little gif. Okay, so I just like making these. Whatever. They're fun.

I scooped some into a cup, added some shredded coconut and took a picture. What I saw through my viewfinder was a lovely cup of what looked like parsnip soup with Parmesan cheese. Damn, that won't work. I can tell you all I want about how yummy this came out and you'll never make it because it looks like this:

Cup of Oatmeal

So to make the picture better I added a few chocolate chips. You know what this ended up tasting like? An Almond Joy. Um, talk about an upgrade! I may have just invented dessert oatmeal. Try it, it's really good!

Cup of Oatmeal 2

Kitchen Sink Oatmeal
Aside from the cooking instructions on the package, this recipe is entirely my own as no one should be blamed for the sheer random contents of my pantry that culminated in this awesomeness.

1 cup Steel Cut Oats (I used Bob's Red Mill)
1 13.5oz can of coconut milk (fat free or full fat, both will be lovely)
Enough cold water added to the coconut milk to make 3 3/4 cups
1 Tbsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 or 2 pureed pears (or apples or bananas or whatever you have)
3 Tbsp almond butter (or peanut butter or Nutella or whatever you want)
3 Tbsp honey
shredded unsweetened coconut
a handful of dark chocolate chips

1. Combine the oats, milk, water, vanilla and salt in a large pot over medium heat and bring the mixture to a boil. You want the pot to be big enough to allow the mixture to rise as it simmers. I didn't and I had to keep a very close eye on my pot to avoid a spill.
2. Lower the heat to a low simmer, cover the pot and cook for 20-30 minutes, depending on how soft/mushy you like your oatmeal. Stir often!!!
3. Once the oatmeal is cooked to your liking, remove the pot off heat and mix in your pears, almond butter and honey (or whatever you decided to substitute these with).
4. Let it cool a bit and thicken, scoop into a cup or a bowl and top with shredded coconut and chocolate chips. Enjoy!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Rhubarb Snacking Cake, Quilts and Food Art

Did you all have a wonderful 4th of July? Are you now back at work and sad that this week isn't shortened by a day off? Have the 105F days trapped you at home and forced you to finish those projects that have been not-so-patiently waiting your attention? Are you running out of post-its to remind yourself of everything you need to still get done? If so, then I know just how you feel. I'm going to try and pack a lot of stuff into this post, so please bear with me, I'm about to get wordy.

Last Wednesday it was too hot outside to even contemplate venturing out, so when my friend called and asked me if I wanted to come with her to the fair and then chill in her pool, I silently battled with my desire to get out of the house and the very realistic fear of melting and then declined. "I don't want you to come if you're going to complain about the heat the entire time anyways", she said. And I certainly can't blame her. When I get hot I get cranky, whiny, testy, and generally a huge pain to be around. I think I lasted exactly two hours at home after that phone call before I started getting cabin fever. I got a ton of things done and the walls were starting to close in, so I grabbed my bathing suit and a towel and took my friend up on the second part of her offer.


The point of this story is that I have one wall AC unit and when it gets this hot outside there is NO WAY that I'll be even coming close to the oven, let alone turning it on. I'm a bit ashamed, but for the last two weeks I'd been surviving entirely off of leftovers, food my mom sends me home with when I visit, and cereal. But, since I now have some free time that isn't spent putzing around in the kitchen, I finally had time to go through and edit some photos of past projects, not to mention actually finish some of those same projects. And now I am finally ready to share with you this amazing Rhubarb Snack bar recipe that I made a month ago out of a small fortune in farmer's market rhubarb.

Rubarb Bars

I didn't modify this recipe one tiny bit - oh okay, I may have upped the rhubarb and lemon a tiny bit, but my crumb soaked the extra up and didn't get as crispy, so I don't recommend doing that. I think that the woman behind Smitten Kitchen is amazing and none of her recipes have ever let me down. And since I don't think I can add a single thing to her recipe or instructions, even though I did try, I'm just going to give you the link and send you over there.

Rubarb Bars Cut

If you still have rhubarb available by you, please give this recipe a try. The bars came out tender, not too sweet, full of tangy flavor and all in all delicious. I dropped most of them off at my sister's office for the poor stiffs that were working late that day, and saved a few for my friend to snack on at work. And then tried not to devour the few remaining squares in one sitting.

Rubarb Bars Cut 2

I can't urge you enough to go home and make this. It's delicious. And speaking of delicious! Look at what the amazing lady behind The Lunch Box Project did with my Honey and Peaches Ice Cream recipe from last year:

Isn't it adorable? I met Lisa Orgler at Camp Blogaway a few months back and in addition to being a great cook, she has an entire section of her site dedicated to her foodie illustrations. I think she did a beautiful job. Please go to her site and check out her other drawings, she's fantastic!

Also, look what I've been up to while the oven has been off:

Box to Ship

Something about the proximity of my birthday urges me to get as many of the things I'd been procrastinating on crossed off the list as possible. As if I have to answer to someone when I turn one year older to account for my progress over the past year. I started clearing out my house shortly after the new year, but at some point two or three months ago, I'd lost steam. With the birthday quietly looming and the to-do list quietly growing, I'd recently decided to get my butt back into gear and start getting things done. A big part of it was clearing out my giant craft closet and either finishing projects or getting rid of things that will never be used again.

Quilt 1

This all resulted in a quilting marathon and since I had a ton of fabric and I've been getting better and faster at it, and thanks to a fantastic post by Make it and Love it a few weeks back I'd decided to add one more project to the list. After reading all the amazing stories about how big of an impact a small thing like a handmade quilt can make in the life of a sick child, I stopped crying, covered my living room with all my fabric, and picked out the most colorful and most fun pieces. I requested the free kit from Quilts for Kids to use as a template and added three more quilts out of my own fabric.

Quilt 3

A few days ago everything was assembled, stitched, washed, dried, folded and packed and ready to go. I know this is a baking/cooking blog and not one for crafting, but I can't describe how great it feels to do this and I strongly urge you to ask for a kit and do this too. If you can sew in a straight line, you can do it and the reward in the end is worth all the time and effort invested.

Quilt 2

Monday, July 2, 2012

Vegetable Casserole

No family dinner that I've ever hosted has ever been complete without the veggie casserole I had been making ever since my mom let me help make dishes for the table. The recipe comes out of an ancient book called "What's Cooking?". I have no idea where the book came from and trying to find it online these days is practically impossible, but thinking back to those years it was probably found at a garage sale for a quarter. In those penny-pinching days lots of things came from a garage sale. I loved that book because all the recipes were easy, each recipe had a picture, and in every chapter it had a breakdown of some complicated techniques in a full spread. I remember following the recipe to the letter and being extremely proud when my mother would ask for seconds.

I'd changed the recipe many times over the years, adding different veggies or mixing up the spices. Every time I organize a family dinner though, when my mother inevitably calls me to discuss the menu, and after I reassure her 17 times that no, she really doesn't need to bring anything (she always does anyways, and I'm always not-so-secretly happy about that) she always asks "are you making my pie?". It's not a necessarily pretty thing, though I do try layering the tomatoes on top to make it look better, but there are mushrooms in the slightly salty crust, it's full of veggies and it's delicious. Plus it makes my mom happy.

Veggie Casserole

Vegetable Casserole
Adapted from an ancient copy of "What's Cooking? vol 2"

1/3 cup butter
1 1/2 white mushrooms, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups Saltines, crushed
1 onion, half diced and half sliced
1 zucchini, diced*
2 roma tomatoes, sliced
4 eggs
1 Tbsp flour
3/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/4 tsp dried basil or a few leaves fresh, minced
1 Tbsp garlic powder
3 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, grated

1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. In a skillet, melt margarine, sautee mushrooms and diced onion. Take off heat and add saltines, mixing well.
3. Line a deep 9" pie plate with the mixture, spreading over the bottom and the sides and pressing it in to make a crust. Cover with sliced onion and zucchini, and top with tomato slices.
4. In a bowl mix eggs with the remaining ingredients, except for Parmesan, and whisk. Pour into the crust, sprinkle with the Parmesan and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the pie looks set in the middle. Serve hot.

* You can make this with any kind of vegetable you like. Sometimes I add more mushrooms into the filling (my family goes crazy over mushrooms), sometimes I caramelize the onions in the filling. Just be sure to either shred or pre-cook any firmer vegetables for which 30 min is not enough to cook through and you'll be just fine.