Easy No Peel Applesauce

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It’s that time of year!  It’s Apple Harvest and time to share my recipe for the easiest applesauce recipe ever, perfect for even the laziest of cooks.  This is my most googled recipe with over 7000 hits since its original posting in 2015, most of them in September and October.  With that kind of love, I thought it time to share again.  Now, I’m off to go pick some apples…

Every year, after the apple pies are baked and enjoyed, I make applesauce with all the rest of the apples from my garden. Of course it’s usually just in time for Hanukkah which means yummy latkes with applesauce and sour cream. Making applesauce is pretty easy but peeling the apples is very tedious and time consuming, so this year I decided to try leaving the peels on. Okay, I’ll admit it, I got lazy, but it worked out for the best. I LOVE this applesauce and it is so easy! It’s got a richer and creamier texture AND it’s more nutritious since most of the nutients and fiber are in or right under the peel which is usually removed and thrown away. Win! Win!  For best results use a combination of both sweet and tart apples.  Fuji, Red Delicious, Pink Lady and Golden Delicious apples are sweeter in taste, while Granny Smith and Pippin apples add a nice tartness.

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Applesauce is a favorite snack for little kids in particular.  The healthiest applesauce is made from organic apples with the skin on and no added sugar. Apples are one fruit in which you can’t wash off the pesticides, so buying organic apples is especially important if you don’t have your own apple trees. Apples are a great source of natural fiber and vitamin C.  The pulp and skin of apples contain flavonoids, which offer numerous health benefits; reduce inflammation, regulate blood pressure. The phytonutrients in apples work as antioxidants to support your heart and helping to lower your bad cholesterol levels.  My weight concious readers will like to hear that eating applesauce can also decrease your risk of developing abdominal fat. Studies show that the pectin in apples suppresses your appetite.  So what are you waiting for?

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Just core the apples, either with a sharp knife or with an apple corer, then cut the apples, peels and all, into slices or chunks. Simmer with a bit of water, lemon juice and a couple of cinnamon sticks until soft. Taste and add sugar if desired. Depending on the apples, it may not need any. Then remove the cinnamon sticks and process the apple mixture until smooth in a blender or food processor. The applesauce can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks or placed in plastic freezer bags and frozen. It can also be canned while hot. Click HERE for directions from Bell on canning hot applesauce.

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Of course, my favorite way to emjoy applesauce is on top of crispy potato pancakes (latkes) with sour cream.  Click HERE for my yummy Latke Recipe.

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EASY NO-PEEL APPLESAUCE

6 lbs apples (about a dozen large)
1 lemon (or 1/4 cup)
2 cinnamon sticks optional
1 cup water

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  • Core apples and slice or cut into chunks.  Place in a large stockpot. Pour water and lemon juice over the top.

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  • Add two cinnamon sticks (or ground cinnamon to taste).  Cover and simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes.  If it starts to stick, add a bit more water but not too much.

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  • When apples are completely soft and falling apart, remove cinnamon sticks and process apples in a food processor or blender until smooth.

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  • For a chunkier applesauce, use a potato masher.

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  • Store in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

 

Easy No-Peel Applesauce

  • Servings: 6 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

 

EASY NO-PEEL APPLESAUCE20151206_170305

6 lbs apples (about a dozen large)
1 lemon (or 1/4 cup)
2 cinnamon sticks optional
1 cup water

  • Core apples and slice or cut into chunks.  Place in a large stockpot.
  • Pour water and lemon juice over the top.
  • Add two cinnamon sticks (or ground cinnamon to taste).  Cover and simmer for about 30 to 45 minutes.  If it starts to stick, add a bit more water but not too much.
  • When apples are completely soft and falling apart, remove cinnamon sticks and process apples in a food processor or blender until smooth.
  • For a chunkier applesauce, use a potato masher.
  • Store in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks.

 

D’Anjou Pears in Vanilla Brandy Syrup (with Canning Instructions)

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These delicious and pretty poached pears could be your new holiday treat! This recipe showcases the pears natural delicate flavor but adding a few spicy peppercorns and anise, along with the richness of the vanilla and brandy to the sugar syrup creates a wonderfully flavorful dessert.  These lovely pears can be served just as they are, or with a dollop of whipped cream, creme freche or ice cream, or with a slice of angel food cake to soak up the juices. Yum!  Of course, if you don’t have the sudden urge to can, you can follow this recipe and serve right away or refrigerate for a week or so.  Just simmer the pears in the syrup (with all the ingredients) for about 30 minutes, until they are tender but not falling apart.

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It takes time to can fruit, but the effort really pays off.  Just open a jar of your poached pears and serve in a pretty bowl and you have a fabulous dessert, hassle free. I adapted this recipe from Put Up or Shut Up , a canning blog filled to the brim with great canning ideas.  The blog name is a cute reference to canning. When people can goods, they refer to it as ‘putting up’ something.  Don’t be afraid to try canning.  Once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy.  Just follow the guidelines for headspace (amount of space to leave at the top when filling) and processing (boiling) time.  When I canned applesauce for the first time, I called my Mom for help.  She told me to relax and follow the directions AND to watch out, because after this, I was going to be looking around to see what I could can next.  She was so right! Smile…

There is another practical reason to can your extra fruits and vegetables.  You can freeze many fruits and preserves but then your freezer gets full and there is no room for ice cream.  Frown…  Canned goods can be stored practically indefinitely at room temperature.

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These canned pears make a pretty hostess gift as well.  People seem to appreciate home made gifts.  Maybe because we rarely take the time to make things any more when it’s so easy to just pick them up from the store.  Its fun to snazz  up your jars with a cute label and some decorative tape or ribbon.   For wide mouth jars, I use a round 3.33″ label from Onlinelabels.com.  For regular mouth lids, I use the round 2.75″ labels. You can download a printing template right from their website and create your own label. It’s easy!

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I always have a selection of colorful tape handy to decorate the lid edge.  My colors, of course, go with goodmotherdiet, red, white and black.  You can find the tape in craft stores like Michaels or The Container Store.

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TOOLS REQUIRED:

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Canning Pot with wire rack

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Mason Jars:  4 Quart jars, 6 Pint and a half jars or 8 Pint jars with lids and rings

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Wide mouth funnel, pot grabber, tongs, melon baller, sharp knife or potato peeler

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 gallon cold tap water
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid or 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 8-10 lbs firm pears
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  •  6 cups cold water
  • 1 vanilla bean, cut into 4 pieces (or one for each jar)
  • 24 peppercorns (preferably pink)
  • 4- 8 tablespoons brandy (optional)

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1. Fill your canning pot with 4 clean quart, 6 pint and a half, or 8 pint canning jars fully immersed in the water.  Bring to a simmer.  Immerse lids, but not rings, in a shallow pan of water. Bring to a simmer.

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2.Mix the water and citric acid or lemon juice together in a large bowl. Peel, halve lengthwise and core the pears and place them in the water mixture to prevent browning. I like to use a melon baller to cleanly remove the core.

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3.Meanwhile in a large saucepan combine the sugar and the water. Bring to a boil over medium heat stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to low and add the split vanilla bean.

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4.Place pears in a single layer (you may have to do two batches) in syrup. Cook over medium low heat for 5 minutes until fruit is heated through. Turn once.

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5.Use the pot grabber to remove a hot jar from the water. Put six peppercorns and 1 – 2 tablespoons of the brandy in the bottom of the jar.

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6.Using tongs or a slotted spoon pack pears into jars as snugly as possible (the fruit shrinks while cooking). Before filling completely, slide 3 star anise and one piece of vanilla bean down the side of the jar to make sure they are visible from the outside. Then fill to the top with pears, squeezing in an extra half pear if possible.

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6.Cover the pears with the sugar syrup leaving 1/2 inch headroom. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe rims with a wet paper towel to make sure you get a tight seal and place lids on using tongs, screwing rings on only finger tight.

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7.Place jars in canner covering with more hot water, if necessary,to submerge the jars by at least one inch. Bring to a boil and process for 25 minutes (timed from the boil). Process pints for 20 minutes. Turn off heat,  remove canner lid and wait 5 minutes before carefully removing jars  using the jar grabber. Don’t try using tongs or anything else or you will end up with a face full of boiling water. Place jars on towels or a cooling rack. Let cool undisturbed for 24 hours.  You may hear a pinging sound as the jars seal themselves but you may not. Both are normal.

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TIPS:

I prefer the look of wide-mouth jars, partially because they take a larger label and I like to include storing and serving instructions on my labels. However, canned fruits or tomatoes fare better in the regular jars as the small opening helps keep the fruit submerged. With the wide mouth jars the fruit rises up to the top sometimes leaving you with an inch or two of liquid on the bottom of the jar which does not look quite as pretty.

Poached D'Anjou Pears in Vanilla Brandy Syrup

  • Servings: 4 quarts
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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TOOLS REQUIRED:

  • Canning Pot with wire rack
  • Mason Jars:  4 Quart jars, 6 Pint and a half jars or 8 Pint jars with lids and ring
  • Wide mouth funnel, pot grabber, tongs, melon baller, sharp knife or potato peeler

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 gallon cold tap water
  • 1 teaspoon citric acid or 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 8-10 lbs firm pears
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  •  6 cups cold water
  • 1 vanilla bean, cut into 4 pieces (or one for each jar)
  • 24 peppercorns (preferably pink)
  • 4- 8 tablespoons brandy (optional)
  1. Fill your canning pot with 4 clean quart, 6 pint and a half, or 8 pint canning jars fully immersed in the water.  Bring to a simmer.  Immerse lids, but not rings, in a shallow pan of water. Bring to a simmer.
  2. Mix the water and citric acid or lemon juice together in a large bowl. Peel, halve lengthwise and core the pears and place them in the water mixture to prevent browning. I like to use a melon baller to cleanly remove the core.
  3. Meanwhile in a large saucepan combine the sugar and the water. Bring to a boil over medium heat stirring until sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat to low and add the split vanilla bean.
  4. Place pears in a single layer (you may have to do two batches) in syrup. Cook over medium low heat for 5 minutes until fruit is heated through. Turn once.
  5. Use the pot grabber to remove a hot jar from the water. Put six peppercorns and 1 – 2 tablespoons of the brandy in the bottom of the jar.
  6. Using tongs or a slotted spoon pack pears into jars as snugly as possible (the fruit shrinks while cooking). Before filling completely, slide 3 star anise and one piece of vanilla bean down the side of the jar to make sure they are visible from the outside. Then fill to the top with pears, squeezing in an extra half pear if possible.
  7. Cover the pears with the sugar syrup leaving 1/2 inch headroom. Remove any air bubbles. Wipe rims with a wet paper towel and place lids on using tongs, screwing rings on only finger tight.
  8. Place jars in canner covering with more hot water, if necessary,to submerge the jars by at least one inch. Bring to a boil and process for 25 minutes (timed from the boil). Process pints for 20 minutes. Turn off heat,  remove canner lid and wait 5 minutes before carefully removing jars  using the correct tool.  Don’t try using tongs or anything else or you will end up with a face full of boiling water. Place jars on towels or a cooling rack. Let cool undisturbed for 24 hours.  You may hear a pinging sound as the jars seal themselves but you may not. Both are normal.

 

Tomatillo Salsa

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I recently asked all of you for suggestions on what to do with all the tomatillos I’m harvesting from my garden.  The vast majority of you said to make Tomatillo Salsa, better known as Salsa Verde because of its vibrant green color.  So right you were.  It’s fresh and delicious with just the right amount of zing.  I quick broiled tomatillos and garlic, and combined them with jalapeno peppers, onion, mint and cilantro in my food processor with a bit of salt, cumin and lime.  The blackened but still raw tomatillos added a slightly smokey flavor to the salsa and tempers the natural acidicity of the fruit, while the cilantro and mint give it a freshness.  However, you can skip the broiling step and make an all raw salsa too.  This salsa would be great on enchiladas, tacos or just with tortilla chips.  This recipe uses very few ingredients and takes less than 30 minutes.  If you can, make it the day before because the flavors will develop and improve with passing hours.

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What are tomatillos?  Tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica) are also known as the Mexican husk tomato, since that is where they originated. They are related to the tomato, but grow enclosed in a papery husk. They taste a little bit like a green tomato, which can be used as a substitute in this recipe. They are usually green or yellowish in color. I have one bush that grew larger yellow to almost white fruit and two other plants that grew smaller green fruit.  The yellow fruit is sweeter and the green is more tart, so a combination works well in rounding out flavors.

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Tomatillos, like tomatoes, are actually a fruit, not a vegetable.  If you are planning on growing tomatillos, you need to plant at least two plants or more, as one plant will not produce fruit on its own.  The plants are quite pretty but somewhat leggy, so I have mine in tomato cages.  The tomatillos remind me of paper lanterns with their pretty papery skin and hot air balloon shape.  After picking, tomatillos can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, longer if the papery skin is removed before storing.

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Tomatillos are a very good source of dietary fiber, niacin, potassium, and manganese. They contain 20 percent of the daily recommended value in vitamin C, 13 percent of the vitamin K, and a healthy amount of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper. They don’t have any protein but they don’t have any fat either.

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TIPS: The salsa can be stored in the refrigerator for about two weeks but it can easily be frozen for later use.  Cool salsa before freezing to prevent condensation which can change the taste and texture when thawed.  Pour into an airtight container or sealable plastic freezer bag. Leave at least an inch of space as foods expand when they are frozen. Remove as much air as possible before sealing.  If you have a clean straw, use it to suck out the air or press it out with your hands before sealing.  If you have a large quantity of tomatillos, you can find directions to can the salsa from Ball Fresh Preserving  but keep in mind, that for safety reasons, only hot salsa can be canned so heat it up first.

 

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TOMATILLO SALSA

  • 1 1/2 lb tomatillos (about 4 cups)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 3-5 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup mint leaves (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 2 Jalapeño peppers OR 2 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped (you can use whole for more heat if you want)
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp cumin (optional)
  • Salt to taste

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  • Remove papery husks from tomatillos and rinse

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  • Cut the tomatillos in half and place cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Add the garlic cloves in their skin.

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  • Broil on high for  5-7 minutes until the skins of the tomatillos have slightly blackened. Let cool and remove the garlic skins.

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  • While the tomatillos are roasting, roughly chop the onion and pappers.

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  • Place the tomatillos in a blender or food processor with the garlic, peppers, onion, cilantro, cumin, lime juice and 1/4 cup water to the and pulse to a coarse puree. Transfer to a bowl, add salt, and thin out as desired with water. Taste and adjust salt, and set aside to let the flavors develop.

Tomatillo Salsa

  • Servings: 3 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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  • 1 1/2 lb tomatillos (about 4 cups)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 3-5 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup mint leaves (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
  • 2 Jalapeño peppers OR 2 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped (you can use whole for more heat if you want)
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp cumin (optional)
  • Salt to taste
  1. Remove papery husks from tomatillos and rinse
  2. Cut the tomatillos in half and place cut side down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Add the garlic cloves in their skin.
  3. Broil on high for  5-7 minutes until the skins of the tomatillos have slightly blackened. Let cool and remove the garlic skins.
  4. While the tomatillos are roasting, roughly chop the onion and pappers.
  5. Place the tomatillos in a blender or food processor with the garlic, peppers, onion, cilantro, cumin, lime juice and 1/4 cup water to the and pulse to a coarse puree. Transfer to a bowl, add salt, and thin out as desired with water. Taste and adjust salt, and set aside to let the flavors develop.

 

 

 

 

Homemade Champagne Vinegar & Vinaigrette

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We had some leftover champagne from New Year’s Eve… Don’t judge. Since it sat out all night, I figured the expensive champagne was flat and undrinkable. I almost poured it down the drain but that seemed like such a waste of a nice wine, so I decided to try making vinegar. I mean, why not?  I had nothing to lose and if it turned out well, much to gain. Well, luckily my ‘science experiment’ worked out pretty well and I now have several bottles of lovely champagne vinegar.  Champagne vinegar is delicious and has a more delicate flavor than red wine vinegar and is expensive to buy in a store. Best of all it’s so easy! If you find yourself in a similar situation after a party with leftover wine, STOP!  Don’t pour it out!  Instead, turn it into a delicious homemade vinegar.  I have only one caveat. It is very easy but don’t expect instant results, as it can take one to three months for it to be ready. Have some pretty bottles ready and you have some great hostess or holiday gifts.

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It’s simple.  Just pour champagne, red or white wine or cider into a wide mouthed jar or ceramic container, add Bragg’s apple cider vinegar and water.  Cover with cheesecloth to keep out dust and fruit flies but still allow airflow.  Store the container at room temperature and let it sit, undisturbed, for 1 to 3 months. The liquid will grow more cloudy, as a “mother”, a spongy or cloudy blob will form. The mother is formed by a friendly bacteria, Mycoderma aceti, which turns the sugar in alcohol into vinegar.  You can buy a vinegar mother from a local brewery supply store or you can use Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar which is available in many grocery stores. Braggs is raw, unfiltered and unpasteurized, so it contains the mother necessary for this process to work.  Most other store-bought vinegars are pasteurized, so the necessary bacteria has all been killed, so they won’t work for making more vinegar.

Taste your vinegar beginning at one month.  If it still tastes like champagne, it’s not done.  Let it sit and taste it again in two weeks. Mine took two months, but most resources I checked indicate it can take up to three months. Once the vinegar tastes right to you, filter it to remove the cloudiness and any residuals from the mother and pour it into clean bottles.  I like to place paper coffee filters in my funnel when filling my jars to remove any possible debris. Vinegar is shelf-stable, meaning it doesn’t need to be canned or refrigerated and will keep a long, long time.

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Champagne vinegar is so good that it is best in simple recipes where it gets to be the star. I have provided a very easy but delicious recipe that combines champagne vinegar with olive oil, dijon mustard, salt and pepper.  I love it best just tossed with mixed fresh greens or maybe some creamy sliced avocado.

TIPS:  If you want to save ‘the mother’ for future use, use a turkey baster to get the liquid out without disturbing the blobby mother.  Add more wine, a splash of water and start again.  The Container Store is a good source for nice bottles but they are available in many places.  I really liked this easy pour bottle whose spigot opens and closes for the vinegar I’m keeping in my kitchen.

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CHAMPAGNE VINEGAR

750 ml flat champagne
1/4 cup Bragg’s apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
widemouth jar or ceramic container
cheesecloth

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  • Pour all liquid ingredients into the jar or container. Cover mouth with cheesecloth and secure with a rubberband. Place in a cool location and let sit for 1-3 months
  • Taste after one month to check for doneness.  If it doesn’t taste like good vinegar yet, let it sit for another two weeks and repeat.

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  • Pour into bottles through a filter, if desired, to strain out the mother or use a turkey baster to remove the vinegar without disturbing the mother, keeping it for another use. Store bottles at room temperature. I bottled three for gift giving/storage and one with a pouring lid to keep in my kitchen.

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CHAMPAGNE VINAIGRETTE

  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Whisk ingredients together and serve at room temperature.

Homemade Champagne Vinegar

  • Servings: 4 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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750 ml flat champagne
1/4 cup Bragg’s apple cider vinegar
1 cup water
widemouth jar or ceramic container
cheesecloth

  • Pour all liquid ingredients into the jar or container.
  • Cover mouth with cheesecloth and secure with a rubberband.
  • Place in a cool location and let sit for 1-3 months
  • Taste after one month to check for doneness.  If it doesn’t taste like good vinegar yet, let it sit for another two weeks and repeat.
  • Pour into bottles through a filter, if desired, to strain out the mother or use a turkey baster to remove the vinegar without disturbing the mother, keeping it for another use.
  • Store bottles at room temperature.

Champagne Vinaigrette

  • Servings: 2 cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup champagne vinegar
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

Whisk ingredients together and serve at room temperature.

Meatless Monday – Veggie Kabobs With Chili Cumin Oil

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Grilling is Fun!  That said, can we think outside the veggie burger?  If you are tired of ‘burgers’ and ‘dogs’ being the stars of the grill, rest assured that there are some tasty options available.  Veggie Kabobs are a colorful and tasty alternative that can be adapted to any tastes. I mean, who can resist corn wheels?  You can even set up a ‘Veggie Bar’ and let your guests design their own.  I opted to use sweet corn, summer squash and tomatoes which are still in season, and oh-so-good right now.  I also added potatoes and tofu to help add fullness to the meal and a bit of protein.   Other fun items to round out your skewers would be chunks of crusty sourdough bread, mushrooms, onions and peppers, or even fruit like peaches and mangos.  Don’t be shy.

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Each of these vegetables brings something different to the table in taste, texture and nutritional value, so a combination of ingredients assures a well rounded meal. I tested the recipe on all ingredients mentioned except for the red onion because I didn’t have one (darn!).  I was pleased that each one was enhanced by the chili, cumin marinade but held it’s own once grilled. Charred Grilled bread is surprisingly good (think pizza oven crust with it’s blackened bits) and its a great way to use up day old bread.  Best of all, I guarantee that your meat loving friends will be jealous…  One word of warning; I normally use bamboo skewers but decided to use the longer metal ones this time.  Well, this is probably obvious, but don’t try to turn them with your bare fingers.  You can get away with touching bamboo skewers but metal ones are bleeping hot.    I learned that lesson in a single distacted moment.  I’m holding a cold beverage to my left pointer and index fingers as I type, just FYI. Use tongs!

TIPS:  Make skewers ahead of time and let them rest in marinade until you’re ready to cook, even overnight.  If you have picky eaters (or people who always pick off ‘the good stuff’ and leave the rest) try making some corn, potato or tofu only skewers.  Pile onto a platter and serve.

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If veggie kabobs aren’t for you, check out the following recipes for other vegetarian grilling ideas.  Click on the links for the full recipes:

Grilled Avocado Caprese Salad10

Grilled Avocado Caprese Salad – https://goodmotherdiet.com/2014/07/30/wheatless-wednesday-grilled-avocado-caprese-salad/

 

 

VEGGIE KABOBS WITH CHILI CUMIN OIL

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Choose 5 or more of your favorite ingredients from the list below (or get creative):

8-10 baby (or 5 small potatoes)
2 ears of fresh corn
8-10 criminy mushrooms
1-2 red bell pepper (or 8-10 mini sweet peppers)
2  zucchini squash
2 summer squash
1 red onion
1 dozen cherry tomatoes
1 block extra firm tofu
several thick slices of crusty sourdough or ciabatta bread

MARINADE (If you are using more than five skewer ingredients, you may want to double the recipe)
*Use the larger amount of spice if you like extra flavor.

1/2 cup olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon, zest and juice
1-2 tsp cumin
1-2 tsp chili powder
1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper  (Optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

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  • If using bamboo skewers, soak them in water for 2 hours prior to using to reduce charring.  Cut potatoes in half and parboil in salted water until fork tender but still firm (about 5-10 minutes). Let cool and place in a large bowl.

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  • If using tofu, drain and slice into cubes 1 -2 inches thick. (If you cut them too thin, they could fall off the skewer) Press them between double layers of papertowels to remove excess water.

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  • Shuck corn and cut into 1 or 2 inch wheels.

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  • Cut squash into 1 or 2 inch wheels. If using mini peppers, leave them whole.  If using bell peppers, cut them into quarters or eights. Wipe mushrooms with a damp paper towel and cut off any dry stems. Cut onion in half lengthwise and then into wedges, keeping stem end intact.

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  • Place all vegetables  in bowl with potatoes.  Do not add bread or tofu at this time.20150912_155007 - Copy
  • Combine all marinade ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine.

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  • Place tofu in a small bowl or zip lock baggie and pour 1/4 cup of marinade over the top and gently stir to coat.  Set aside.

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  • Pour the rest of the marinade over vegetables. Let sit for at least 30 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator.

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  • Preheat an outdoor grill to medium heat. Cut bread into 1-2 inch chunks, if using. Brush lightly with marinade. Remove tofu and vegetables from the marinade, reserving marinade. Thread onto skewers.

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  • Cook skewers on grill until vegetables are lightly charred all over, about 10 minutes, basting with reserved marinade and turning occasionally.

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  • Remove skewers to a serving platter and spoon extra sauce over the top.

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Veggie Kabobs With Chili Cumin Oil

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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Choose 5 or more of your favorite ingredients from the list below (or get creative):

1 lb baby or small potatoes (about a dozen)
2-3 ears of fresh corn
8 oz criminy mushrooms
1-2 red bell pepper or mini sweet peppers
1 large or 2 small zucchini squash
1 large or 2 small summer squash
1 red onion
1 dozen cherry tomatoes
1 block extra firm tofu
several thick slices of crusty sourdough bread

MARINADE (If you are using more than five skewer ingredients, you may want to double the recipe)

*Use the larger amount of spice if you like extra flavor.

1/2 cup olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon, zest and juice
1-2 tsp cumin*
1-2 tsp chili powder*
1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper * (Optional)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

  • If using bamboo skewers, soak them in water for 2 hours prior to using to reduce charring.
  • Cut potatoes in half and parboil in salted water until fork tender but still firm (about 5-10 minutes). Let cool and place in a large bowl.
  • If using tofu, drain and slice into cubes 1 -2 inches thick. (If you cut them too thin, they could fall off the skewer)
  • Shuck corn and cut into 1 or 2 inch wheels.
  • Cut squash into 1 or 2 inch wheels
  • If using mini peppers, leave them whole.  If using bell peppers, cut them into quarters or eights.
  • Wipe mushrooms with a damp paper towel and cut off any dry stems.
  • Cut onion in half lengthwise and then into wedges, keeping stem end intact.
  • Place all vegetables in bowl with potatoes.  Do not add bread at this time.
  • Combine all marinade ingredients and stir to combine.
  • Place tofu in a small bowl or zip lock baggie and pour 1/4 cup of marinade over the top and gently stir to coat.  Set aside.
  • Pour the rest of the marinade over vegetables. Let sit for at least 30 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Preheat an outdoor grill to medium heat. Cut bread into 1-2 inch chunks, if using. Brush lightly with marinade
  • Remove tofu and vegetables from the marinade, reserving marinade. Thread onto skewers.
  • Cook skewers on grill until vegetables are lightly charred all over, about 10 minutes, basting with reserved marinade and turning occasionally.
  • Remove skewers to a serving platter and spoon sauce over the top.

 

Homemade Plum Jam & Canning Tips

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It’s plum season!  I have a lovely Santa Rosa Plum tree that grows the most delicious plums that have that perfect balance of sweet and tart.  I would have a hard time selling the house and moving because of this tree. One Arbor Day, almost 20 years ago, my very excited kids brought several sticks bare root fruit trees home from school. Now, I will have to admit that these ‘trees’ looked a lot like dead twigs to me, but as a good mother does, I along with my boys, ceremoniously planted them and thus began our now flourishing fruit orchard, home to plum, orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, nectarine, cherry, kumquat, satsuma, avocado, Asian pear and several apple trees.  The queen of the orchard though, is the Santa Rosa Plum tree, one of the unlikely Arbor Day trees which grew from a 3 foot bare root stick to a glorious 25 foot tall beauty.  Last year I was out of town when the fruit was ripe, but this year I have picked the fruit that is in reach and have been collecting ripe fruit as it falls to the ground.  Some of these get bruised or slightly injured when they fall which makes them less appetizing for eating but perfect for making jam.  So I save the perfect, most ripe specimens for my fruit basket and preserve the rest.  Homemade jam is wonderful to have around year around,  I love it spread on toast or drizzled over plain yogurt for breakfast.

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It also makes a great gift.  People love handmade farm to table gifts that are made with love.   Decorative tape is a really easy way to decorate the lids and adds a bit of personality to the jam.  Other easy alternatives are to tie ribbon or for a rustic look try twine or raffia.  Fun or pretty labels are an easy way to personalize your jam. Tags can be tied on. Sticker Labels can be purchased and handwritten or run through a printer.    www.Onlinelabels.com has labels in pretty much every size and shape you might need and they offer a downloadable template which is very easy to use.  The labels I use the most often are label #WL-375WG-100 which is a 3.3333″ round label which is the perfect size for labeling a wide mouth jar..  Label #OL5375WX is a 2″ round label that I use for labeling gift bags or small mouth jars (not a perfect fit but it still looks nice).  Canning and preserving is actually a hot new trend (again). If you haven’t started, what are you waiting for…

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TIPS:  If you have a load of plums but no time to use them, wash them and put them in a ziplock freezer bag and store in the freezer until you’re ready to use (Pit them first if you have time)  I recommend labeling the jars with the contents and the date, even if it’s just scribbled  on the lid with a sharpie. You can always cover it later with a label.  I always regret when I don’t.  I always think I will remember but…

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SANTA ROSA PLUM JAM

2 lbs fresh plums (about 5 cups coarsely chopped)
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup water

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EQUIPMENT
6 half pint canning jars with 2 piece lids
boiling water canning pot with rack
jar lifter (recommended)
jar funnel (recommended)
non-metal spatula(recommended)
labels (optional)

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  • Place the empty canning jars in the canning pot and fill it with water to cover jars by several inches.  Boil to sterilize and then remove the jars to a clean rack and let cool slightly (jars should remain hot so don’t take them out too soon).

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  • The lid bases (not the rings) should be heated for 10 minutes to sterilize and help achieve a vacuum seal.  This is easiest done in a saucepan kept below a boil.

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  • Remove pits from plums, cut away any bad parts and chop by hand,

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  • OR throw them all into a food processor for an even texture.  Keep the peels on as it gives the jam a lovely color and flavor.

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  • Combine plums, sugar and water in a large saucepan.  Bring slowly to a boil stirring until the sugar dissolves.

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  • Continue cooking while the mixture thickens, stirring frequently.
  • Test for proper gelling by dipping a spoon into the hot mixture and tipping it sideways.  If the jam falls off the spoon in a sheet it is done.  If it drips off the spoon, cook a little longer.
  • Remove from heat and skim foam if necessary
  • Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving a 1/4 inch headspace.

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  • Remove any bubbles by running a non-metal spatula between the jar and the jam.

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  • Wipe the rim of the jars clean with a damp paper towel and place lid base on top then lid ring and tighten snugly (fingertip tip tight not as tight as you can make it).
  • Hook the rack on the edge of the pot, keeping the jars just out of the water.  Place filled jars one at a time on the rack, then  lower jars into hot water, cover and boil (process) 15 minutes

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  • Remove from water using a jar lifter and let cool.  You may hear a popping sound as the lids create a vacuum seal.

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  • To test the seal, after 12 to 24 hours after processing, press the center of the lid to see if it is concave.  If you can’t tell for sure, remove outer band and gently try to lift the lid with a finger.  If it resists, then you have a good vacuum seal.

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  • Jars may be stored at room temperature until opened, then must be stored in the refrigerator.

Homemade Plum Jam

  • Servings: 3 pints
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

20150628_171409 

2 lbs fresh plums (about 5 cups coarsely chopped)
3 cups sugar
3/4 cup water

EQUIPMENT
6 half pint canning jars with 2 piece lids
boiling water canning pot with rack
jar lifter (recommended)
jar funnel (recommended)
labels (optional)

  • Place the empty canning jars in the canning pot and fill it with water to cover jars by several inches.  Boil to sterilize and then remove the jars to a clean rack and let cool slightly (jars should remain hot so don’t take them out too soon).
  • The lid bases (not the rings) should be heated for 10 minutes to sterilize and help achieve a vacuum seal.  This is easiest done in a saucepan kept below a boil.
  • Remove pits from plums, cut away any bad parts and chop by hand, OR throw them all into a food processor for an even texture.  Keep the peels on as it gives the jam a lovely color and flavor.
  • Combine plums, sugar and water in a large saucepan.  Bring slowly to a boil stirring until the sugar dissolves.
  • Continue cooking while the mixture thickens, stirring frequently.
  • Test for proper gelling by dipping a spoon into the hot mixture and tipping it sideways.  If the jam falls off the spoon in a sheet it is done.  If it drips off the spoon, cook a little longer.
  • Remove from heat and skim foam if necessary
  • Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving a 1/4 inch headspace.
  • Remove any bubbles by running a non-metal spatula between the jar and the jam.
  • Wipe the rim of the jars clean with a damp paper towel and place lid base on top then lid ring and tighten snugly (fingertip tip tight not as tight as you can make it).
  • Using a jar lifter, lower jars into hot water, cover and boil (process) 15 minutes
  • Remove from water and let cool.  You may hear a popping sound as the lids create a vacuum seal.
  • To test the seal, after 12 to 24 hours after processing, press the center of the lid to see if it is concave.  If you can’t tell for sure, remove outer band and gently try to lift the lid with a finger.  If it resists, then you have a good vacuum seal.
  • Jars may be stored at room temperature until opened, then must be stored in the refrigerator.

Meatless Monday – Kale Salad with Lentils and Wild Rice

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This one is for you, Margie!  My sister, Margaret, asked me to come up with a new lentil salad recipe, so here you go!  Thank you for the inspiration –  this one is a keeper!  Lentils and rice are one of my favorite food combinations but they can be heavy which makes them a perfect belly warming winter meal but luckily those cold winter months are behind us.  I decided to lighten them up for summer by tossing French green lentils in a salad with chewy wild rice, toasted pine nuts, tomatoes and kale. Top with scallions, fresh herbs, crumbled feta and a drizzle of lemony vinaigrette for a really delicious and satisfying salad.

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Lentils come in a rainbow of colors, each with their own characteristics.  In general, the darker the lentil, the firmer the texture.  Lighter colored lentils, like yellow and red, are quite mushy when cooked and best for soups.  Brown lentils have a nice flavor but can get mushy if cooked too long.  French green lentils (pictured above) are my favorite but closely followed by Black Beluga lentils which I often use with colorful squashes because of the striking color contrast.  If you don’t normally eat lentils, here are Five Reasons why you should start:

  1. PROTECT YOUR DIGESTIVE SYSTEM – high in fiber
  2. PROTECT YOUR HEART – significant amount of folate and magnesium
  3. STABILIZE YOUR BLOOD SUGAR – full of complex carbohydrates
  4. HIGH IN PROTEIN- the vegetable with the highest level of protein other than soybeans
  5. IMPORTANT MINERALS AND ANTIOXIDANTS –   good source of iron, magnesium and zinc

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Wild rice is actually not really rice. It’s the seed of the water grass, Zizania.  It has a wonderful chewy texture and nutty flavor that is really good in this salad, however it packs it’s own nutritional whollop.  Wild rice is also a good source of protein, fiber, iron and copper as well as other minerals and vitamins including B complex.  Together, they make this meal hearty enough to be a main course.

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Should we even talk about kale?  We all know it’s the reigning queen of leafy greens for it’s nutritional benefits, and rightly so. I used a bunch of red kale from my CSA box but lacinato (dino) or curly kale will work well too.  Since kale is so fibrous, I removed the center rib and sliced the leafy green leaves into thin julienne strips.  This preparation makes it easier to eat and allows the flavors to blend more easily since all the other ingredients are so small.  I learned one unexpected benefit of using kale in salads instead of more traditional lettuces.  I had some leftover salad which I stored in the refrigerator.  Well you know what happens to salads that have already been dressed that sit in the refrigerator overnight… Two days later, I remembered the salad and went to throw it away but it still looked okay.  I ate it for lunch and it was still surprisingly good.  The kale held up really well.  Who knew?

TIPS:  I used two Roma tomatoes for this salad because they are easier to dice and have fewer juices and seeds than the larger Beefsteak or Celbrity types, however, any ripe tomato will work.  If you aren’t a fan of wild rice, you can use a wild rice mix or substitute any kind of rice you like.  A long grain rice cooked al dente will give better results than the stickier shorter grains.

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Kale Salad with Lentils and Wild Rice

1/2 cup dry wild rice
1/2 cup dry lentils (green, black or brown)
1 large or 2 smaller tomatoes, finely diced
2 cups kale, thinly sliced
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup cilantro or parsley, chopped
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup crumbled feta (optional)

VINAIGRETTE

¼ cup Olive Oil
1 Tbsn lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 tsp coriander
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt

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  • Cook the wild rice according to package instructions (about 45 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool, uncovered.

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  • Cook the lentils according to package instructions but make sure they don’t get too soft.  They should be firm enough to maintain their shape.  Remove from heat and let cool, uncovered.

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  • Toast pine nuts in a dry pan over medium heat until golden brown.  Remove from heat and let cool

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  • Wash kale and remove the thick center rib.  Stack kale and slice thinly crosswise.  Place in a large serving bowl
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  • Whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients and set aside.

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  • Transfer wild rice, lentils, pine nuts and cilantro to bowl with kale. (Wild rice and lentils can be slightly warm but not hot)

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  • Just before serving,  toss with vinaigrette.  Serve with crumbled feta or goat cheese, if desired.

Kale Salad with Lentils and Wild Rice

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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1/2 cup dry wild rice
1/2 cup dry lentils (green, black or brown)
1 large or 2 smaller tomatoes, finely diced
2 cups kale, thinly sliced
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup cilantro or parsley, chopped
2-3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup crumbled feta (optional)

VINAIGRETTE

¼ cup Olive Oil
1 Tbsn lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 tsp coriander
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp salt

  • Cook the wild rice according to package instructions (about 45 minutes). Remove from heat and let cool, uncovered.
  • Cook the lentils according to package instructions but make sure they don’t get too soft.  They should be firm enough to maintain their shape.  Remove from heat and let cool, uncovered.
  • Toast pine nuts in a dry pan over medium heat until golden brown.  Remove from heat and let cool
  • Wash kale and remove the thick center rib.  Stack kale and slice thinly crosswise.  Place in a large serving bowl.
  • Whisk together all vinaigrette ingredients and set aside.
  • Transfer wild rice, lentils, pine nuts and cilantro to bowl with kale. (Wild rice and lentils can be slightly warm but not hot)
  • Just before serving,  toss with vinaigrette.  Serve with crumbled feta or goat cheese, if desired.

 

 

Homemade Hot Pepper Flakes

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Is your garden so loaded with hot peppers that you don’t know what to do?  I mean a little bit goes a long way… Last fall we had an early frost warning and I still had lots of peppers that I hadn’t picked yet, since I usually pick them as I use them.  How many hot peppers can you use at a time?  So I ran outside and harvested everything that was left before they froze on the vine.  There were lots of Cayenne, plus a smattering of Fresno, Garden Salsa, Ancho Chili, Sandia, New Mexican Red and Numex peppers, all in the medium to hot category. I had planted ghost peppers and grew beautiful plants that didn’t yield any fruit so I never got to see if they stood up to their reputation as hottest pepper in the world. Earlier in the season I had already made Hot Pepper Jelly (Sorry, before I started this blog, but will do again) so I decided to try my hand at making hot pepper flakes.  My Dad used to comb farmer’s markets, and my Mom’s garden, I suspect, for certain varieties of hot peppers and he would dry them and make his own pepper flakes.  For Father’s Day one year I made him labels, “Al’s Own”.  It was always fun to get a coveted jar from Dad and I loved using them in cooking.  As I would sprinkle out those little red flakes, I always thought about him (clever gift).  Now I realize how many peppers he must have used, since my whole string of peppers (about 14 inches long) only made half a spice jar worth, although many of mine were cayenne which are very small..  However, one whiff from this small jar will clear your head straight back into your brain.  It makes you realize how old the spices we buy in the supermarket must be.

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Drying peppers is easy and a great use of excess peppers that would otherwise spoil.  Drying them intensifies their heat and flavor, making them way hotter than they are in their fresh state.  Peppers can be dried in the oven on low heat (200 degrees for several hours), in a dehydrator or out in the open air, which takes one or two weeks.  I opted for the open air method which is also the easiest.  For more information on how to bake or dehydrate peppers, check out Food.com.

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Cayenne Peppers

TIP:  Rather this should say WARNING!  Use gloves when handling hot peppers as the oil in their skins is extremely hot and difficult to wash off.  It can be transferred to your skin or eyes if you touch your face.  In addition, when grinding the dried peppers into flakes, hot fumes will emanate from the food processor so take precautions.

Hot Pepper Flakes

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Dried hot peppers

  • Pick the peppers, leaving the stems intact. Wash and dry them to remove any dust and discard any that are soft and mushy or have spoiled areas.  Using a sewing needle with thread, doubled and knotted at the end, run the needle through the thickest part of the stem and repeat with the remaining peppers to make a chain of peppers.  I found these metal rings to use as stoppers so the peppers don’t slide off the ends.  They also doubled as hangars.  You can also use buttons or anything else you find to secure the ends, even a stick.

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  • Hang string of peppers in a warm and dry place out of the way in an area where they will get plenty of fresh air and sunlight, if possible.

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  •  It can take up to two weeks for them to dry fully.  They should be uniformly dry and slightly brittle but not brown and crumbling or hard as a rock.

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  •  Dried peppers can be stored whole in ziplock bags or plastic container, or they can be ground using a food processor or blender.

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  •  Pulse the dried peppers in a food processor or blender until ground into a powder.  Be prepared for hot fumes to come off the peppers.

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  •  Hot pepper flakes can be stored in glass jars, plastic container or plastic baggies. I reuse old spice jars. All those peppers filled only slightly more than half a regular spice jar, so next time I will increase the quantity or supplement the gleanings from my garden with peppers from the farmer’s market.

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  • If you want to give as gifts, adding a label is a nice touch.

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  • Or you can make your own custom labels very easily.  I ordered blank round labels from http://www.onlinelabels.com and then downloaded a template from their website.  The label I used here is #OL5375WX, a 2″ round label that I also use for labeling gift bags or small mouth jars (not a perfect fit but it still looks nice).  There is a larger label,  #WL-375WG-100 which is a 3.3333″ round label which is the perfect size for labeling a wide mouth jar or a larger bag or bottle.  These labels are easy and affordable.  Be creative!

 

Making Preserved Lemons Plus Secret Bonus Recipe

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Have you ever wondered what the secret ingredient is to so many  Middle Eastern dishes?  Well the cat’s out of the bag – it’s  lemon – and not just any lemon but Preserved Lemon.  Preserved lemons (preferably Meyer or Eureka with their thicker skins) rest in a heavily salted brine for at least a month which completely changes their character.  They still have a tart lemony flavor but the peel has lost it’s bitterness and has become soft and salty/sweet.  There is really nothing to compare it to. It has it’s own unique flavor.  Preserved lemon is the key ingredient in many Moroccan, Cambodian and Northern African dishes and is often combined with olives, cumin, ginger, turmeric and saffron to make an incredible base for almost any vegetable or protein.  It is also called lemon pickle,  country lemon or leems depending on where you are from.

What do you do with Preserved Lemon?  I remove the seeds and puree the whole lemon (peel and all) in a food processor to put in sauces and stews.  For a less intense flavor, you can cut them into quarters or slices and add them to dishes or chop just the rinds into small pieces.  The salty, lemony brine and lemon pulp is wonderful to add to sauces or salad dressings, so none of it goes to waste.

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Preserved Lemons are very easy to make but you have to think ahead since they have to sit in their brine for a month or so. I have included instructions for making preserved lemons. They make a very unusual gift.  Just add a label and some ribbon.  Check out my Garden to Pantry Page” for more info on labels.  I have also included a link to Moroccan Recipes  which has many recipes that use preserved lemons so maybe it will get your creative juices going. I tried the ‘Moroccan Style Cauliflower” from this list  and loved it so decided to include that recipe on this post  as well.

Preserved Meyer Lemons

  • Servings: 1 jar
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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What you need:

Quart sized bell jar w/ lid
6-7 Meyer lemons (or Eureka)
1/2  Cup of Kosher salt

Directions:

• Sterilize jars In hot water bath or in the dishwasher. Air dry.
• Wash and dry lemons.

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• Cut a lemon in half horizontally without cutting all the way through the skin (about 3/4 of the way through). Then cut vertically without cutting all the way through. You should still have a lemon in one piece with a deep criss-cross cut.
• Fill the inside of the lemon with as much salt as you can fit. This part is messy so I lay the lemon in a small bowl and pour the salt into the cut.  Then I pour back any salt that has fallen into the bowl

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• Place the lemon in the bell jar, salt side up.
• Repeat with the rest of the lemons, pressing as many as will fit into the jar and allowing the lemons to be covered by lemon juice.  If your lemons don’t make enough juice to cover, wait a few days and trying pressing down on the lemons again.  Sometimes you can even fit another lemon in the jar and then muscle the lid on.

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• Cover with the lid and let sit at room temperature for four to six weeks. It will take the salt a few days to dissolve, so give it a gentle shake once a day until the brine is clear.
• To use the preserved lemons, you can use the either rind or the whole lemon (which has more flavor). Just remove the seeds, finely dice, or puree in a blender, and put in stews, sauces and salad dressings.
• Once the jar has been opened, it should be stored in the refrigerator.

 

 

Moroccan Style Cauliflower

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

 

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• 1 large head of cauliflower
• 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
• 1 teaspoon ginger
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon paprika
• 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
• black or cayenne pepper, to taste
• 1 onion, sliced or coarsely chopped
• 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
• 1/4 to 1/3 cup olive oil
• 1 preserved lemon, quartered
• 1 handful red or violet olives
• 1/2 cup water
• 2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
Preparation:
Break the cauliflower into small florets; wash and drain. Mix the cauliflower with the spices and set aside.
In a wide, deep skillet or Dutch oven, saute the onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat for just a few minutes. Add the cauliflower, preserved lemon, olives and water and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring gently once or twice, until the cauliflower is just tender. Continue cooking, uncovered, to reduce the liquids to oil only.
Sprinkle the fresh cilantro over the cauliflower and serve.

 
 

Click on the following link for more recipes that use preserved lemon: Moroccan Recipes

Wheatless Wednesday – Rancho La Puerta Granola

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‘THE RANCH’, as it is affectionately called by those people who are lucky enough to have been there, is one of my favorite places in the world. Rancho La Puerta, basking in the shadow of rugged Mount Kuchumaa in Baja California, is a fitness and wellness oasis, and gorgeous retreat. I went for the first time when I had three little boys at home. It was the first time I had left my kids to go on a trip by myself and my mother and father in law came to help my husband. It was quite liberating to not have to worry about anyone else for a whole week, a rarity for most moms.   I loved everything about The Ranch; getting up at 6am to do the Pilgrim hike before breakfast; going to pilates, yoga, then circuit training before lunch; pool-time, spa treatments and naptime restorative yoga before dinner. Ahh, what a day –every day for a week!

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What I loved best though is the food, which is ovo-lacto vegetarian, with small amounts of seafood. The wonderful food made me realize that I really like vegetarian food when it’s done this well. Meals are flavorful, healthful and creative. Most of the produce comes from Rancho Tres Estrellas, the 6-acre organic farm on the property which is available to visit.  Foodies take note, a wonderful cooking school rests in the center of the farm, La Cocina Que Canta (“The Kitchen That Sings!”) which also takes advantage of the fresh produce. Classes are available to Ranch guests.

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I have been back several times, with friends and by myself. Every day I was there, I did something I had never done before; Crystal Bowls (Sound Healing), Silent Dinner, Tai Chi or even a walk through the labyrinth. It’s a magical place and I can’t wait to go back, for both the experience and the food.  So I thought I would share their most requested recipe, Rancho La Puerta Granola (which I have been wanting to make for the last 10 years or so).  It is lower in fat and sugar than most recipes and truly delicious. Upon arrival at the San Diego airport, we were each given a baggie of granola for the bus ride to The Ranch and with just one mouthful we were all hooked.   As I recall a bag of granola was one of the most coveted prizes at Bingo night, (The Ranch is not known for its rocking nightlife, although Bingo night is legendary).

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I stayed true to the recipe with the following exceptions.  I am allergic to canola oil (and no longer think its so great anyway) and substituted coconut oil which I melted in the microwave on low power.  I also used a coconut oil spray to coat the pan. I made this recipe twice since the first time it turned brown too fast as my oven was too hot.  The second time I had the oven at 250 degrees, as recommended, not 350. Note to self:  “Do not attempt to make a recipe for the first time without your reading glasses.  I would recommend using the top rack in the oven as the granola turns from golden to brown pretty quickly even at 250, so start watching at the 60 minute mark.

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Enjoy your little bit of The Ranch!  Even better, share with friends!  Rancho La Puerta Granola makes great gifts.  One batch makes four cup and a half servings.  Just bag, label and tie with a ribbon. (Check out my Canning and Preserving Page for more info on labels).  Voila!  Hostess gifts solved.

PHOTOS OF RANCHO LA PUERTA REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION FROM RANCHO LA PUERTA Rancho La Puerta Website

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Rancho La Puerta Granola

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • Vegetable oil spray
  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • ½ cup chopped almonds
  • ½ cup sunflower seeds
  • ¼ cup whole wheat flour (or a nut flour, like almond flour to make gluten free)
  • ¼ cup oat bran
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • ¾ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¾ cup honey
  • ½ cup unsweetened unfiltered apple juice
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice (optional)

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 250ºF.
2. Lightly coat a baking sheet with vegetable oil spray. (I love an extra coconut flavor so I used a coconut oil spray).
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the rolled oats, almonds, seeds, coconut, flour, oat bran, cinnamon, ginger and cardamom.

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4. In another bowl, whisk together the honey, apple juice, vanilla and oil until the honey is thoroughly incorporated. Add the orange zest and the orange juice if desired.

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5. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix well. Spread the granola evenly over the baking sheet and bake about an hour and a half, checking and stirring every fifteen minutes.  Take care that the outside edges do not burn. When golden and dry, scrape onto a plate or cool baking sheet and set aside to cool.

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Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Calories per serving: 25, 1 tablespoon per serving
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Limoncello

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“I believe when life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade…and try to find someone whose life has given them vodka, and have a party.” (Ron White, Author)

…Or you can combine the two and make Limoncello! I am lucky to have a beautiful, and bountiful, Meyer Lemon tree right outside my kitchen door. Most citrus trees bear two crops a year, a smaller one in the summer and the heaviest crop in winter.  Meyer lemon trees, however, are known for bearing fruit all year long, although their largest crop is now. With such an abundance of fruit, I am always looking for ways to use lots of lemons at once. I don’t mind sharing but I hate when they are wasted. Limoncello is an easy way to use extra lemons, although is not instantly gratifying since there is a considerable wait time until you have a final product. Limoncello is a crowd pleaser and makes a great gift, so our problem is that it goes too quickly. For that reason, as soon as I bottle one batch, I often start another.  Even if you don’t have a tree in your backyard, its easy to find Meyer lemons this time of year at your supermarket or even at Costco. You can also use regular lemons with good results, so use what you have.   It’s not too late!

The Limoncello I have made in the past is more “California style”, rather than Italian. I found the recipe on the internet from someone in Berkeley who has a prolific meyer lemon tree in her backyard and came up with a recipe in an attempt to use up her lemons. Sounded familiar so I gave it a whirl. I can’t credit her for the recipe since I could never find her post again. I liked the fact that she uses whole lemons and not just the peel. The results were good and I’ve had no complaints, however, after our trip to Italy last summer, I decided to attempt the Italian version, which uses only the peel. Purists believe that this makes the best quality limoncello, so I decided to put it to the test.  Here are a couple of photos from the ‘California style’ batch.

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In selecting the lemons, try to get organic since the peel is where most of the insecticides reside and often they are waxed to give them a longer shelf life. If you can’t find organic lemons, just scrub them with warm soapy water and dry them with a towel.   I have divided the process into two steps. Since the limoncello needs to sit for 6 to 8 weeks before bottling, you don’t have to have everything on hand just to get started. The large Bell containers are easy to find at hardware  or department stores like Target.   The Container Store and Pier One Imports both carry a nice selection of flip cap bottles that are perfect for bottling. Lastly, think about ‘your’ label which is the finishing touch and gives it personality and helps to make it the perfect gift. http://www.onlinelabels.com has pretty much every size and shape label you could ever want and they have a downloadable template which makes it very easy.

Limoncello

  • Servings: 8-12 oz bottles
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

STEP 1

 What you Need:

18 Meyer Lemons
1 handle or 2 fifths of grain alcohol or vodka
2 gallon glass jar with a lid(found at most hardware stores)
Potato peeler or microplaner (to zest)
• Wash and dry lemons. If not using organic scrub them with a vegetable brush in warm soapy water. Drying helps remove any remaining residue.

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  •  Using a potato peeler or a microplaner, carefully remove the peel trying not to get any of the bitter white pith. I used a potato peeler to cut long strips and then scraped any white from the back with a sharp knife.
  • Place all of the peels in the glass jar and pour the alcohol/vodka over the top to fill. Cover with a tight lid. (Note: The photo below shows a double batch.)
  • Squeeze the juice from the lemons.  Add sugar and water to make lemonade or freeze in ice cube trays, then put in baggies when frozen and save for another use.

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• Let sit covered with a kitchen towel or two for 6 to 8 weeks. I like to give it a little shake every few days for the first couple of weeks, just to make sure it’s evenly mixed. After that you can store it somewhere dark and out of the way.

STEP 2

What you Need:

Funnel
Fine mesh strainer
2 or 3 paper coffee filters
large bowl
ladle
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups water (filtered preferred)
8 12 oz bottles
labels (optional)
  • Wash and air dry bottles.  Can be done in a hot dishwasher. (Drying with a towel can reintroduce germs.)
  • Heat water and sugar in a pot until the sugar dissolves and the simple syrup is clear. /Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

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  • Line your mesh strainer with coffee filters and place it over the large bowl (or have someone hold it for you).  Carefully pour lemon/vodka mixture over the strainer, taking care not to let the liquid go over the top of the filters.

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  • Discard lemon peels.
  • Clean Bell jar and pour filtered vodka mixture back into the jar (I would filter at least twice).

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  • Pour simple syrup into the jar and mix to combine.
  • Place a funnel into one of the bottles (with a coffee filter if you want to filter again) and carefully ladle limoncello into the bottle leaving 1 inch clearance at the top.

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  • Seal the cap and repeat with remaining bottles.

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  • The Limoncello will continue to mellow and improve over the next several weeks.
  • Label the bottles if desired. I’m testing a new label.  What do you think?
  • Store in a cool place.  Serve icy cold from the freezer.

So what was the final verdict?  The Italian style version requires more preparation time, in the peeling of so  many lemons,  but the final product is smoother and tastes more like the Limoncello we had in Italy, although less sweet since we also reduced the amount of sugar.   I think its worth the extra effort.  Cheers!