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How to Make Jam: Jamming with the Cast Iron Stomach

4 Sep

Today’s guest post is courtesy of my friend Brad. Brad is my oldest friend in life — which is saying a lot for a girl who attended 4 elementary schools, 4 junior high schools and 2 high schools. I have known him since I was 14 years old, where we met under our desks during a disaster drill (remember those?) in Mr. Seifert’s class.

The way they were . . .Brad and Karen in 1988 from our high school yearbook (Aren’t they adorable?!)

Brad and his BFF Karen (who also attended our old alma mater) are just kicking things off at their new foodie blog Cast Iron Stomach. (Check out his post on The Bad Egg— great primer on how to tell fresh eggs.)

Just one of the many glorious tables at Brad’s famous wine and cheese party

Anyway, I LOVE Brad (and by proxy Karen, too!) The man has always had a great sense of style (Generra and Swatch in the 80’s anyone?), an awesome sense of humor (he once bought me a can of Pringles for my birthday because I loved them so much!) and a flair for the written word (you should see the poems we co-authored in journalism class!)

When the “oh so very rad,” Brad (Yes, I am a product of California circa the 80’s, lol) told me that he and Karen were starting a new food blog and I found out that he’d recently spent a day making homemade jam, I begged for a guest post to share with you all.

So, without any further adieu, I give you my dear friend Brad and his out of this world jam (one jar of each flavor, I hope is on its way to my house right now. Hint, Hint, Brad!)

In the interest of fairness — me in 1989 (I’m in the black and white skorts.)

The Way of the Jam

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve always been surrounded by fresh produce. Every year my parents would plant a summer garden consisting of everything from zucchini, yellow squash and tomatoes to green beans, corn and peppers. There was always an abundance of produce when growing up.

When my parents were not growing produce in the back yard of our house in San Lorenzo, the family would often make trips to Brentwood for U-Pick produce: Tomatoes and peaches were always on the list, but we always came home with a trunk full of different fruits and vegetables.

Since we couldn’t possibly eat all this produce before it went bad, my mother would turn to what every mother at that time and before hers turned to; home canning. When she made homemade jam, my brother, sister and I could hardly wait for it to cool. We just wanted to dig in.

Twenty-something years later, I decided to give canning a try of my own. About 10 years ago, I started canning tomatoes and peaches (separately of course) with my mom in my tiny apartment kitchen in Alameda, producing excellent results.

The tomatoes I canned were great in soups and stews as well as tomato sauces for pasta and chili. The peaches were fantastic in peach cobblers or straight from a bowl. Yummy.
A few years have passed since I’ve pulled out the canning equipment, but this past Spring I decided to haul it out and start making jam.

Jam Research & Equipment

I did a good amount of research, turning to my mom for advice as well as talking to others about the process. I had almost all the equipment I needed, but one thing I ultimately desired was a French, unlined copper confiture pan, which I quickly went out and purchased at my local Williams-Sonoma. Note: You do not need a copper pot. A stainless pot, or any non-reactive pot, will work just fine.

Over the next several months, I made several batches of jam: Apricot, Strawberry, Fig and Blackberry. Each batch turned out wonderful. (I credit the copper pan for that.) My favorite, however, has to be Apricot.

Apricot Jam — YUM!

As summer 2012 winds to an end, summer’s produce will soon be replaced by autumn’s fresh citrus. My father’s favorite marmalade will be my next canning journey. I hope I’ve inspired you to make some jam for yourself. Jam making is a comforting and enjoyable process — definitely worth the extra effort.

Cheers,

Brad Michaelis

Cast Iron Stomach

Brad’s Tips for Beginning Jammers

  • Be organized.  It’s best to lay out all your ingredients and equipment before you start making jam.
  • Sanitize, sanitize, sanitize. Be sure to sanitize ALL your equipment before you start especially the jars, lids and bands.
  • Keep jars hot in the dishwasher or in a pot of boiling water until ready to use.
  • Buy the best, freshest produce possible.
  • Follow your preferred canning instructions precisely. (I use the water bath method outlined in the Ball Blue Book)
  • Don’t be afraid to make a mistake.

How to Make Apricot Jam

Adapted from The Blue Chairs Jam Cookbook by Rachel Saunders

  • 6 pounds Patterson apricots, pitted and halved
  • 2 1/2 pounds cane sugar
  • 2 1/2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
 (Makes two batches)

Slice the apricots in half and remove the pits.
Divide the apricots and sugar in two separate bowls.
Mix well.
Cover and let macerate in the fridge for at least 12 hours or overnight.
The next day, remove the apricots from the fridge.
Uncover and pour one bowl of apricots into the jam pot.
Reserve the second bowl for your next batch.
Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat stirring frequently.
After the apricots have boiled for three or four minutes, begin skimming off any foam that forms on the top of the mixture.
Decrease heat and continue to cook for about 30 minutes or until thickened.
When the jam seems ready, test it for doneness. (Refer to the Ball Canning cookbook for specifics.)
If not set, cook the jam for another couple of minutes.
If the jam is set, pour into sterilized canning jars and process as recommended by the manufacturer’s instructions.
Cool and enjoy.

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Moist and Fluffy Blueberry Muffins — Gluten-Free

25 May

Warm, freshly baked blueberry muffins with sweet cream butter

Sometimes the weekend comes (especially Sunday mornings!) and you just want a little something special. Something sweet and baked and satisfying — something that makes you feel like a kid again. Blueberry muffins can do that for me — well, GOOD blueberry muffins can. Continue reading

Whole Foods Recipe Day: The Best Gluten-Free Pizza Crust EVER!

19 May

Psssst. . .come here. You want in on a secret? You want the recipe for the BEST tasting gluten-free pizza crust that will EVER pass your lips? Ok — well, listen — this crust is NOT really a secret. In fact, it’s been posted on countless sites BUT not with this method — I do one thing different from everybody else but this one thing, makes ALL the difference. So if you’ve tried a crust like this before and had it FAIL because it ended up soggy or you had to eat it with a fork, stay tuned for the recipe and the one simple change that makes all the difference. Continue reading

Going Coco-Nutty! The Ultimate Quintuple Coconut Cupcakes

1 May

When I was 7 years old, my mother stayed up late one night, in our house on Kent Street in Riverside, California and baked the most-perfect coconut cake I have ever seen or tasted in my life. Granted — it was my very first coconut cake experience and the only one baked by my mother in the entirety of my childhood. But I still remember it fondly to this day. Continue reading

Jalapeno Cheddar Corn Dog Muffins (*Gluten-Free)

4 Mar

What? Wait? Did I say, “corn dog muffins?” OK, I did — but did I really say, “Gluten-Free?” (Yes!)

“No way,” you say, “there’s all kinds of fillers in hot dogs and usually that means wheat.”

Not when you use hot dogs that are filler and preservative-free (no nitrates or nitrites and no MSG — YAY!) and the great thing is these corn dog muffins taste every bit as decadent as their recipe title sounds (sans the gluten-free moniker.) I made them as something a little different for lunch one day and with a hubby and a young son in the house, for whom hot dogs are always a welcome sight, it felt like a no-brainer. Continue reading

Valentine’s Day Recipes, Week #3: Four Courses with Virtual Potluck and Taste

9 Feb

Nobody wants to spend their whole night in the kitchen on Valentine’s Day. You want to cook, present, eat and get on with the canoodling– am I right? In this, our final V-Day menu we show that cooking at home on Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be super labor intensive — just scrumptious.

The four courses we’ve have paired here are easy for most anyone to make but still elegant and tasty. Sometimes simplicity is the key.

Each week, four of our 12 bloggers has put their best food forward as part of a 4 course “Lovers Feast” and what Valentine’s Day is complete without a TASTE-y libation? We teamed up with Otis over at Taste on The N8tion.com for custom cocktails to go with each course — they even whipped up some yummy non-alcoholic beverages for those of you who don’t imbibe (See week 1.)

BONUS: Here’s my favorite SNL sketch for this time of year, “The Lovers,” featuring Christopher Walken: http://www.nbc.com/assets/video/widget/widget.html?vid=275058

 

Final Valentine’s 4 Course Lover’s Feast Menu

APPETIZER: Milisa at Miss in the Kitchen serves up sensually Creamy Mushroom Egg Rolls

INTERMEZZO: Donna at Cookistry: Flowered Cheese Course (an array of tasty cheeses with a touch of romance)

ENTREE: Here on The GrooVy Foody: Steak Frites with Gorgonzola sauce, caramelized onion and sauteed mushrooms

 

 

DESSERT: Nelly at Cooking with Books brings sumptuous Hot Chocolate Poached Pears

A Tasty and Healthy New Year: Whole Grain Kheer (India Rice Pudding)

13 Jan

I have an affinity for the layered, exotic flavors intrinsic in Indian food — heady mixes of Garam Masala or curry, the darkly- scented lushness of cardamom, coriander and caraway and the vibrant colors of turmeric, saffron and red chilis — these warm me, belly and soul. But it wasn’t always so.

I grew up tasting Italian, Chinese, Mexican, German, French and American style dishes, home-cooked, lovingly by my mother. While this is much more variety than some (like  my husband) grew up with, it still excluded many kinds of food that my son is  growing up with the tastes and smells of, such as Indian, Korean, Middle Eastern, Greek,  Japanese, Soul Food, Vietnamese,  Ethiopian, Thai and just about anything else we can get our hands on.

No South Asian spice for this girl - GrooVy Foody pictured here in Bamberg, Germany age 3

The point is, I never tasted Indian food as a child, so the spices used regularly in these dishes, tasted, fittingly, foreign to my tastebuds. They had a depth that my palate was not yet able to decipher. So at 24, when a dear friend of mine, who was also a vegetarian began telling me how great Indian food was, I was interested — but reluctant. The smells were strong, oniony and sweaty, I was unsure of the tofu curry dish he had whipped up but I gave it try. It was, in a word — icky.

Spices in the open air market in Arles, France

No disrespect to my friend, but he wasn’t a culinary wizard and that dish contained improperly drained tofu (bitter) and way too much curry, as well as carrots and peas that were still — crisp. I didn’t try Indian food again until I was 31 and backpacking throughout Western Europe. Sick of bangers and mash, roast and veg, jacket potatoes and the Ploughman’s served up at every pub throughout England and Scotland, I decided to give Indian food another go. No better place (except India, of course) to dive into the sensual flavors of Indian food, than the UK.

Unwittingly(and thankfully), I just happened to pick a restaurant  that is considered one of the Top Ten Indian food restaurants in Scotland for my second taste — Pataka.
Pataka Indian and Bengali Restaurant in Edinburgh, Scotland is unlike any other Indian restaurant you may have been too, mostly because of its odd choice of decor, which is completely resplendent in  Glasgow native, Charles Rennie Mackintosh‘s artwork, with beautifully carved wooden booths and high back chairs. But it was the food served there that made me a believer. If you’re ever in Scotland, I highly recommend stopping by Pataka.

The dish I’m making here is based upon Kheer (also known as Payasam or Payesh depending on the region it’s being served in) which is a loose pudding, traditionally made with rice and sometimes vermicelli (I like to use shredded coconut in place of vermicelli.) It’s often served during or at the end of celebratory meals and accompanied by raisins, saffron (for color), cashews, pistachios or almonds. To me, the milky richness and sweet, dusky flavor of this dish makes it great for ending a spicy meal, as it both calms and revives the mouth and tongue after doing battle with the heated flavors of well-seasoned Indian food.

The beauty of making Kheer at home is that you can also eat it for breakfast the next morning, a meal time that I always feel speaks of comfort to begin with.  For additional health benefits (and 5g fiber 6g protein), I decided to put a spin on this soul-satisfying dessert.

Since the Grande Whole Grains from Bob’s Red Mill are whole grains ranging from wheat, rice and barley to oats, buckwheat and sesame seeds you will have some additional thickening, due to the continued absorption of liquid, making for a slightly thicker pudding (this is why the arrowroot powder/cornstarch is less than a TBsp for a pudding.) This also means that the grains need to be pre-cooked before entering your pudding batter.

The balanced flavor of California Olive Ranch’s Miller’s Blend, with its fruit and spice, pairs perfectly in this toothsome treat.

Whole Grain Kheer (India Rice Pudding)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup Bob’s Red Mill Grande Whole Grains (cooked)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1cup almond milk
  • 1 tbsp butter (or ghee)
  • 1tbsp California Olive Ranch Miller’s Blend Olive Oil
  • 1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 shredded coconut
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1-2 tsp Bob’s Red Mill Arrowroot Powder (or cornstarch) to desired thickness
Optional: 1/4 cup raisins, dried cherries, dried apricots, almonds, cashews or pistachios.

Directions:

Follow the basic cooking instructions on the package for BRB’s Grande Whole Grains.

Once done cooking remove from the burner and leave the lid on as you begin to assemble the other ingredients — this will ensure the grains continue to soften, as they absorb any leftover liquid.

Combine 1.5 cups of the milks, brown sugar,  salt and COR Miller’s Blend into a pot and bring to a boil.

Add the BRB Grande Whole Grains and return just to a boil over medium heat.

Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in coconut (and/or raisins, dried cherries or dried apricots cut into small pieces, if desired), allowing it to cook uncovered for 10 minutes more, stirring occasionally. The grains will still retain some of their chewiness but should be cooked through and quite a bit softer now.

In a small bowl, whisk together egg and remaining 1/2 cup of combined milks and 1-2 tsp of arrowroot powder.

Remove 1/4 cup of the hot grain mixture, whisking it, little by little  into the egg/milk mixture.

Once incorporated, pour the egg mixture into the rest of the hot grains, whisking to mix it quickly and keep the egg from scrambling.

Cook, stirring constantly, for one to two minutes or until to desired thick and creamy consistency.

Remove from heat, stirring in butter, vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon.

Breath in that luscious scent and lick the back of your stirring spoon — you deserve this taste.

You can serve this dish warm, room temp or cold ~ it’s delicious no matter what but my favorite is when it’s set but still warm. Happy Eating!

Makes 6 servings.

A Tasty and Healthy New Year Challenge Giveaway

WINNER Announced!

Each week, the VP bloggers will challenge you to find (and use) the secret code word of the week, posted in the contest tab labeled “Virtual Potluck” on the California Olive Ranch Facebook page.

Each blogger will pick a single winner per week to receive a pack of the featured products from Bob’s Red Mill and California Olive Ranch.

That’s right- four weeks, 12 winners each week! That’s like 48 chances to win! The more blogs you visit the more chances you have to win~ so what are you waiting for?! Let’s get cooking (and eating!) A Tasty and Healthy New Year!

For more information on how you can win– visit the host page for links to the other sites!

A Tasty and Healthy New Year: Cheesy Asian-inspired Sesame Rolls

4 Jan

California Olive Ranch

By now you’ve seen my “Host Page,” for the Virtual Potluck Tasty and Healthy New Year Challenge sponsored by Bob’s Red Mill and California Olive Ranch. I love doing these promotions, and not just because we get to try out some truly fabulous products (gratis) but because, as a foodie I absolutely adore seeing what everyone else comes up with using the same ingredients.

Same Ingredients, Same Recipes? No Way!

Inevitably, yes, there will be some similar recipes but they are NEVER exactly the same. Cooking, for those who truly love it, is like creating art, or loving someone, or leaving your fingerprint behind — there’s always an inimitable piece of you in there. And knowing that always makes me smile.

Bob's (Actual) Red Mill

So when charged with 12 of us making 4 dishes (one each week for the month of January) and given the same ingredient pairings each week — we didn’t skip a beat and decided to jump in with both feet. (You should all know that we do not discuss what we’re doing prior to posting — so the fact that are recipes differ to such great degree is a testament to the creative cooks I’m working with here and I hope you will go to the host page and visit them all — because if you don’t you’ll be missing out on a KILLER GIVEAWAY!!

That’s right, Bob’s Red Mill and California Olive Ranch are giving away an ingredient prize package each week — on each blog! That’s 48 recipes and 48 chances to win — pretty great chances. (See details below)

So what did I make for the first week? (I’m glad you asked.)

Good Health and Good Fortune for the New Year

Since we’re kicking this promo off in the New Year I tried to think of a dish that had New Year’s connotations but that just made me think of Chinese New Year, which made me think of dim sum and once we get into dim sum, then it’s all over.

But seriously, the idea for these rolls came from my love of dim sum. Oh, how I adore those lovely little chewy sesame balls filled with red bean or lotus paste and topped with crunchy, nutty sesame seeds. No dim sum visit is complete without satiating my yearning for shrimp (loads of it) and for great Hum Bao — both steamed and baked. Not only are the doughy (Hum Bao) or chewy sesame balls delicious and both savory and a little sweet but they are also filled with the most wonderful surprises — it’s like a gift and a dish. What’s not to love?!

But I needed my own twist, because sesame rolls are made with rice flour and I would be using BRM’s Hard White Whole Wheat Flour and COR’s Arbosana extra virgin olive oil. This week’s oil, as assigned, was to be Arbequina (and that’s what you’ll win if you get the prize this week) but I chose to go with the Arbosana because of it’s peppery notes and greater complexity.

The recipe for these rolls is rather basic (some might say bland) which is why I wanted a more flavorful oil to take center stage, without overwhelming it, the way sesame oil would, when coupled with sesame seeds, upon the canvas of hard white whole wheat flour (which you’ll find is surprisingly light and supple when used in baking, as compared to your average whole wheat flour.)

In any case, because of the flour and oil flavors, I decided to fill my light and fluffy, Asian-inspired Sesame Rolls with cheese — yes, I said it — cheese. I know this may not seem a typically Asian choice for these buns but trust me — it works!

As for the cheese, I used shredded Gruyere (I had it on hand) and it was lovely, but I could easily see Mozzerella or cheddar working equally well.

Cheesy Asian-Inspired Sesame Rolls Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups Bob’s Red Mill Hard White Whole Wheat Flour
  • 1.5 tsp Bob’s Red Mill dry active yeast (their yeast is the best by far!)
  • 1/4 tsp honey
  • 1 cup warm water (110°F)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup soy milk (or regular milk whatever you drink)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup California Olive Ranch Arbosana Olive Oil

Filling:

  • 1 cup shredded Gruyere, Mozzerella or Cheddar cheese

Exterior:

  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

Prepare the dough:
Combine the yeast, sugar, and warm water in a small bowl. Stir to dissolve. Set it aside 5 minutes or so, until the mixture gets bubbles.

Mix flour and salt in mixing bowl with dough hook. Add milk,  egg and olive oil, mixing on low. Slowly add the yeast mixture, on medium speed dough is mixed, increasing your speed at the end until a ball forms and pulls away from the sides of the mixing bowl about 2 to 3 minutes.

Coat a glass bowl with olive oil, and set the dough to rest in the bowl, rolling it around to coat it in the olive oil. Cover and set to rise in warm place, until it has risen and doubled in size — 1 hour.

Form and bake the rolls:
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Fill a small bowl with the exterior olive oil and pour your sesame seeds on a lipped plate. Coat your hands and a round spring-form pan (like the kind used for cheesecake) with olive oil.

Punch the dough down and pull off a piece about the size of a golf ball. Flatten the dough enough to make a hollow for your cheese to reside. Place a tablespoon of shredded cheese in the center and gather the edges around it, twisting and pinching the dough together like you would to seal off the end of a balloon. Holding the tapered end closed, dip the smooth side down, into the olive oil, then roll into the seed mixture, never letting go of the sealed end. Place the roll, sealed side down, in your pan, working from the outer edges in. Repeat with the remaining dough, filling your pan and nestling the dough balls tightly together (this will keep them from unraveling.

Bake until golden, 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes before removing the outer springform ring. The rolls will be pillowy soft, with melted cheese nestled in the center (NOTE: Some cheese may escape from a roll or two but no matter as it won’t go far– a neighboring rolls may be wearing it!)

A Tasty and Healthy New Year Challenge Giveaway

WINNER Announced!

Each week, the VP bloggers will challenge you to find (and use) the secret code word of the week, posted in the contest tab labeled “Virtual Potluck” on the California Olive Ranch Facebook page.

Each blogger will pick a single winner per week to receive a pack of the featured products from Bob’s Red Mill and California Olive Ranch.

That’s right- four weeks, 12 winners each week! That’s like 48 chances to win! The more blogs you visit the more chances you have to win~ so what are you waiting for?! Let’s get cooking (and eating!) A Tasty and Healthy New Year!

For more information on how you can win– visit the host page for links to the other sites!

 

A Taste of Fall: Butternut Squash Two Ways

12 Nov

Growing up, I was never much into squash of any kind. My mom seemed to favor zucchini and occasionally, yellow crookneck squash. She was passionate about fried zucchini (as was my middle sister) but I hated it! I didn’t mind the breading but when I got to the center and was met with the taste of squishy, squashy bitterness — ugh, I just had to pass. I remember, many a time, just eating the breading and then tucking the squash into a napkin, smooshing it smaller with each new piece added, in order to hide enough, that my mom would let me leave the dinner table. (I did something similar with the eggplant in another of my mother’s favorite dishes — eggplant parmigiana. Ick.)

The Picky Eater

Flash forward to today. I am a mom now, of a picky and precocious 3 year old. He is a child who loved his veggies before this last year — though, he was never too much into the green lettucy stuff. He used to love eating such a variety of good-for-him foods like broccoli, carrots, peas, corn, avocados, beans and sweet potatoes.

In fact, for a while we thought he was going to be a natural vegetarian because he wouldn’t eat meat (except for nitrate-free hot dogs.) But, alas those days are over and my pediatrician says it’s fairly normal for toddlers to give up the “bitterness” of veggies at this age, opting for the sweetness of fruits instead. (More TRIVIA: It has to do with our cave man survival instinct and the fact that, were we in the wild, our little ones might pluck something poisonous from a bush or vine and pop it into their mouths. Which means, at this stage in life, they are naturally averse to bitter flavors for their own protection.)

To top it all off, as much as I want him to eat his veggies, when he finally agrees to eat some (through sheer bribery or threats) I can’t stand seeing that look on his face when he’s chewing something he really hates. I know it all too well, the feeling like you might just throw up a little in your mouth. It’s at this point, I usually whisk the plate away and thank him for at least trying whatever it was.

UGH! Motherhood.

As I wait this stage out, I can’t seem to sit idly by and give up on him getting good nutrition. I fret about it and I find ways to sneak vegetables (and even some fruits) into the handful of foods he seems hell bent on eating each and every day. Noodles, it turns out, are the king of foods (along with pizza, burritos, and tuna sandwiches)  and I strike a balance by giving him whole grain brown rice noodles and Barilla’s Plus line of noodles that are full of a variety of whole grains and legumes, as well as Omega 3’s (and no they are not sponsoring my blog or paying me in any way to tout them — I just like ’em!)

So imagine my glee, when one of my favorite food bloggers (and one of my Virtual Potluck cohorts) FarmgirlGourmet posted her recipe for Roasted Butternut Squash & Brie Mac & Cheese with Smoky Bacon. It was as if the heavens had opened up and shined their golden butternutty light down upon my pasta. Yes! A new way to sneak a super healthful veg (TRIVIA: though considered veg in cooking, in actuality it’s a fruit) into my little one’s diet — and it comes on the holy grail of food for him — the noodle!

Creamy butternut mac and cheese

The dish is sweet, creamy and cheesy and was a big hit at our house.  I highly recommend you head on over to her blog for that recipe and the other bountiful ways in which she has been using up the butternut squash from her garden. We ate it for dinner and lunch the next day and it only used up half of a roasted butternut squash and half of the brie and cream cheese I’d purchased, so I decided to use those ingredients again for lunch the following day for soup, baguette with brie, and a wilted kale salad.

A little bistro flair at home

This bright idea was great for mom and dad (felt like upscale bistro fare for a weekday lunch) but the kiddo was not buying into the soup (he only likes — you guessed it — noodle soup!)  — which is why, I boiled up some more noodles and ladeled on some of the soup, topping it with cheddar cheese for a quick and dirty version of FarmGirl’s mac.) We paired this with some fresh strawberries for a well-rounded meal that any toddler will adore.

Soup Prep

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1/2 an oven roasted butternut squash (approximately 1 to 1 1/2 pds)
  • 4 oz of cream cheese
  • 3 to 4 cups chicken broth (depending on consistency you like)
  • 1 small onion diced carmelized in a saute pan with 1Tbsp butter
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne powder (to taste and heat you desire)

Saute the onion in butter, caramelizing it lightly. Pour into blender or food processor. Scoop the roasted butternut squash out of it’s skin and into the blender, adding enough liquid to allow it to begin blending (you may need to do this in batches depending on blender or processor size.) Add the cream cheese and continue to blend, adding the additional broth as needed until the soup is smooth, creamy and the desired thickness you prefer. Then pour into a deep saucepan heating it on low, as you season to taste with cayenne and  salt and pepper.

Makes 4 to 6 heaping bowls of soup. Serve with toasty baguette (we like Trader Joe’s parbaked whole grain baguette) and the wilted kale salad below for a warming taste of fall this holiday season.

Accoutrements, or in plainspeak -- sides

Super Simple Wilted Kale Salad with Parmigiano Reggiano

  • 1 bunch regular, lacinto or red kale
  • 1/2  to 3/4 tsp sea salt (depending on your tastes)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar (you can change the vinegar to match your meal — apple works well with the squash here)
  • 1/8 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano + extra for topping

Clean and destem your kale, patting it dry (with paper towels.) Cut or rip the cleaned kale into bite sized pieces or  ribbons. Add olive oil and salt. Next take your freshly washed and dried hands and work the salt into the kale by grabbing handfuls and kneading the kale tightly in your fist. Continuing throughout the entire bowl of kale. After it’s all mixed and the kale has significantly reduced in size (a few minutes) add apple cider vinegar to the mix and toss. Then, let it rest for 10 to 20 minutes as you prep other items for your meal, this allows the kale to wilt, softening the leaves for easy eating and toning  down the bitterness. Add freshly grated parmesan reggiano and pepper to taste, tossing to mix. Serve topped with more freshly grated parmesan reggiano.

We love this with any kind of soup or as a side dish with chicken or beef. You can also use this recipe and add it to roasted yukon gold or new potatoes tossed with a little tahini and lemon for an out of this world hearty, warm salad.

Happy Eating!

Densely Dark Chocolate Brownies with Salted Caramel

11 Oct

Chocolate

Chocolate! Oh, what can I say about chocolate that hasn’t been written before and better. Probably nothing. But still, I am possessed by the spirit goddess of the cacao bean and as devoted to spreading the beauty of her rich message as any disciple in history.

I enjoy chocolate in pies, cakes and cookies, in sauces and savories, and scenting massage oils, sugar scrubs,  bubble baths and candles. I watch the movie Chocolat at least once each year and require a nearly religious stillness in my house to do so.  (See the GrooVyMovies entry.)

My husband has on his hard drive, a spreadsheet dedicated to the brands of chocolate that I prefer and which flavor combinations are my favorites (Moonstruck’s  Ocumarian truffle, Alma’s Salted Lavender Caramel, Godiva’s raspberry filled milk chocolate twirl and white chocolate star)  so that he will never get it wrong — but how could he? The Goddess is never wrong and even in the cheapest derivations I can find some solace.

I prefer dark chocolate’s intense whisperings because they linger there on the tongue, revealing hints of orange peel or scents of fresh pipe tobacco or lush berries and I adore pairing fine dark chocolates with fruity red wines. But I have been known to curl my toes and roll my eyes towards the heavens over the creamy silken riches a good Swiss or Belgium milk chocolate can provide. I even have a healthy affection for the smooth butteriness of white chocolate, though technically not chocolate, this white siren transforms herself from the cocoa bean.

Buttermilk Bownies from A Well-Seasoned Life's Blog

Since childhood,  one of my most favored ways to indulge my chocolate lust has been with brownies. Cake-like, chewy, crunchy topped and fault ridden, buttermilk, homemade or boxed, frosted or topped with powdered sugar, dark or milk, with chips or nuts or cream cheese or just plain — I have always enjoyed brownies.

Warm brownie batter - YUM!

But my favorite preparation of brownies these days, is a recipe I’ve been playing with for the past couple of years, willing it just right. It is the most densely dark, moist, chewy and truffle-like brownie I have ever tasted and because of this, I felt it needed just a little something to juxtapose it’s darkness, to lighten its depth — caramel, came to mind but then I needed to balance its sweetness — I decided upon sea salt. The result is true cocoa’d perfection. Not one person who has ever eaten them has not dissolved into the sort of pleasure sounds and face-making that usually accompany another libidinous past-time. (And like that past-time chocolate is good for you these days too, don’t ya know?)

And the bonus — they are SO easy to make.  (See my recipe for caramel sauce to top these dark ladies.)

Before heading into the oven ~ I never get the "after shot" because we eat them too fast

Densely Dark Brownies with Salted Caramel topping

Dense because they only use half a cup of flour, dark with cocoa and topped with homemade caramel sauce and sea salt — Scrumptious!

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large cold eggs
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 cup homemade caramel sauce
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

Heat over to 350 and line the bottom and sides of 8 inch baking pan with baking paper or foil — be sure to leave a little overhang on the sides, this will help you lift a gooey brownie from the pan for easy cooling and cutting.

Heat and mix butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a double boiler or if you don’t have a double boiler, use  one the metal bowl or small pot, inside a pot of boiling water set-up to make your own. Stir periodically, until the butter is melted and everything is mixed smooth. Remove from heat of boil and set aside until it cools to warm — not hot.

Stir in vanilla and add eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously until completely mixed. When the batter looks blended and shiny, add  flour and stirring vigorously until well-mixed.  Spread evenly into lined pan, drizzle the top with cooled caramel sauce and sprinkle the caramel trails with sea salt — course is best but fine will work too.

Bake until toothpick inserted  into the center to test, is only slightly moist with batter, around 20 minutes. Allow to cool and caramel to set, then lift brownies out of the pan by their paper or foil for cutting and serving.

Makes one pan or 9 to 16 brownies depending on size of  squares cut.