Tag Archives: Cooking

Strawberry Preserves & Hand Pies

I think it’s nearly impossible to walk past fresh strawberries at the farmer’s market without buying a pint. (Or four.) So between our Greenling Local Box and two trips to the farmer’s market last week, I had six pints of local strawberries in the fridge on Saturday morning. Two pints were from Gundermann Acres in Wharton, two were from Naegelin Farms in Lytle, and two pints were from Two Happy Children Farm in Taylor, Texas.

So many strawberries won’t keep more than a few days, so I decided to make some jam to use up my haul of berries. I am an inexperienced canner, so Michael Chiarello’s recipe for strawberry preserves seemed like a great place to start: not-to-sweet, and no added pectin. His recipe calls for a lot of berries, some citrus, and a pinch of rosemary and black pepper. I made it my own by substituting oranges for the lemon, omitting the salt, increasing the rosemary and pepper, and cutting the sugar down a bit. The rosemary I used is from Pure Luck in Dripping Springs, and the oranges are from G&S Groves down in McAllen, Texas.

Here’s my version of the recipe, scaled down for just one pint of strawberries.

Strawberry Preserves (Each pint of strawberries will yield about 1 cup of jam)
Adapted from Michael Chiarello’s recipe for strawberry preserves
1 pint strawberries, cleaned, hulled and chopped
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
pinch black pepper
juice of 1/2 an orange, about 1 tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

In a saucepan with high sides, mix all ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat. Keep close watch on the pan with a spoon at the ready– strawberries will foam up if you’re not careful! Once the mixture comes to a rolling boil, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes, until jam is thick and syrupy. Around the half-hour mark, the consistency of the jam will be thick and the mixture will look glossy. You can test the consistency of the finished jam by spooning a blob onto a very cold plate. Wait a minute, then draw your finger through the jam. If the jam stays separated on the plate, it’s ready! If the jam runs back together, keep cooking. Once the jam is set to your standards, transfer it to a bowl to cool to room temperature. Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator and use it up within the week.

My six pints of berries made a huge batch of the jam, and while it’s not as good as Confituras‘ I am really pleased with my first-ever attempt at strawberry preserves.

You can see that the preserves have a lovely texture: soft, chopped pieces of berries are suspended in a thick syrup. Homemade jam usually has a softer set than store-bought, and this is wonderful to spread on muffins, toast, or swirled atop oatmeal. Next time I make it I am going to experiment with increasing the sugar and using lemon juice to try to get a brighter flavor from the berries.

Tonight I used some leftover pie crust and 1/4 cup of the preserves to make these pretty hand pies. They’re kind of like strawberry Pop-Tarts, only they taste like real strawberries and there’s no red food coloring.

The finished hand pies were lovely, except for one that I overfilled. A whole chunk of strawberry spurted out of the side of the pie while it was in the oven.

I giggled when I saw it because it looked like it was blowing me a big raspberry! Er, strawberry!

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and appears on their blog “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

Spicy Arugula Spread

This is a recipe that almost wasn’t.  It came about last Sunday night while I was preparing beer bread and chai truffles for a food swap the next day.  I was really nervous about going to the swap, in part because I wasn’t sure whether my dishes would be fancy enough for all the foodies in attendance. This is a common fear for me. I call it Potluck Anxiety, and it tends to sneak up any time I take a large batch of treats to a social gathering. Potluck Anxiety is usually really annoying but in this instance I’m glad I had it, because otherwise I might have never made this spicy arugula spread.

Thanks to Potluck Anxiety, I was doubtful that my beer bread would be okay as a standalone dish at the swap. I thought, why not make an herb butter to gussy it up? I wasn’t working from a recipe, just from the vague idea that pesto and butter together would make a good herb butter.  So off I went. For the pesto, I improvised using whatever I could find in the fridge: some arugula, green onions, pecans, garlic, salt, and olive oil.

When I tasted the pesto I enjoyed it so much that I almost kept the whole batch for myself.  Luckily, Potluck Anxiety told me that bread alone wouldn’t cut it, and I pushed forward in the quest for herb butter. To my cup of arugula pesto, I added 4 tablespoons of salted butter.

No bueno. The butter did nothing but turn the pesto into an oily mess! I could have resolved this by adding more butter, but I had used the last of it for the beer bread. What to do?

As a measure of desperation, I threw some cream cheese into the processor with the buttered pesto. The flavor of the spread was definitely improved by the cream cheese, but I thought it was still too strong to pair with my mellow beer bread.  Not wanting to be wasteful, I put the finished cream cheese-butter-pesto mixture into a crock in the fridge and forgot about it.

The night of the swap, I was a mess. I had loaded my car and pulled out of the driveway by the time I remembered the arugula spread in the fridge. In the throes of Potluck Anxiety, I turned around to get it mostly because the little orange crock was so cute.  Boy, am I glad that I did!  While the spread was sitting in the fridge overnight it mellowed into a lovely, spreadable, spicy dip. Perfect for pairing with crackers or whole wheat beer bread.  By experimenting with the leftovers, my husband Rami discovered that this spread makes a great pasta sauce if you warm it up in the microwave.

This story has two happy endings. First, I ended up with a new potluck recipe that is easy to put together and a real crowd pleaser. Second, I met a wonderful group of friends at the food swap. There were all sorts of cooks at the party: some were fancy, some were not so fancy, and of them all were kind and accepting. I suspect I will probably have another case of Potluck Anxiety before the next time I see them; my fingers are crossed that I’ll get another winning recipe out of the deal!

Spicy Arugula Spread (makes about 1.5 cups)
4 cups arugula
4 peeled garlic cloves
1 bunch green onions, root tips and limp green tips removed
1/2 cup pecan halves
1/2 cup olive oil
4 tablespoons salted butter
4 ounces cream cheese
1 teaspoon salt

Place arugula, garlic and green onions in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade.  Pulse until veggies have broken down into very small pieces.  Add remaining ingredients and pulse until completely combined. Mixture will be very soft from the heat of the food processor; store in an airtight container overnight to firm up the spread and allow the flavors to mellow. Enjoy in place of butter on breads, as a dip for crackers, or warm with pasta.

Click here for a printable copy of this recipe.

Meal Plan 2/2-2/8

Last night I met a bunch of Austin food lovers at an ATX Food Swappers event co-hosted by Megan, Kate, and Sarah. This was my first-ever food swap and I am so glad I worked up the nerve to go!  I took 5 packages each of whole wheat beer bread mix and chocolate chai truffles and swapped for a huge number of homemade goodies. Most of those goodies are perishable, so I have a wonderful assortment of ready-made breakfast and dessert items to include in my meal plan this week.  The food swap items listed below link back to their original makers as much as I could manage; I am thrilled that my menu will contain so many exotic yummies and tasties!
You’ll also notice that I’m reserving the avocados, sweet potatoes and kale from this week’s local box for a special slew of Super Bowl foods I’m making on Sunday. I’ll post that tailgate meal plan separately.
Here’s what’s coming from Greenling in my local box:
  • Sweet potatoes – Naegelin
  • Green Cabbage – Naegelin
  • Green Leaf Lettuce – Acadian
  • Swiss Chard – My Father’s Farm
  • Kale- Gundermann
  • Cilantro – Fruitful Farms
  • Green Onions – Naegelin
  • Avocados – G&S
  • Grapefruit or Navel Oranges – G&S
  • Fennel or Kohlrabi- My Father’s Farm
Here’s what I’m planning to make and eat:
Wednesday: Cabbage and dumplings incorporating chicken and fresh thyme into the recipe, Banana sorbet with peanut butter semifredo
Thursday: Cheddar Chard Pizza for Gluten Free Pizza FestMeyer Lemon Sorbet
Friday: black pepper pork bahn mi with pickled daikon & carrots
Saturday: Lettuce salad with green onion and cilantro dressing, blue cheese olive loaf
Sunday: Super bowl menu & recipes will be posted separately!
Tuesday: Leftover awareness night!
Breakfasts: chocolate chip banana bread, apricot turnovers, Granola Bars

Two Healthy Salads by my Husband

Tonight, Rami and I enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve had at home in quite a while.  We ate a gingery citrus cole slaw and a quinoa broccoli salad, plus whole wheat beer bread. And the best part, I didn’t cook a single thing!

Earlier tonight I was busy making chocolate chai truffles for a food swap on Monday when Rami walked in the kitchen and said, “How can I help?”

That’s a dangerous question in our house, because in a matter of minutes, he had been put in charge of making our entire dinner. He prepared two salads, Kathy Patalsky’s Napa Cabbage Cole Slaw and Amy Sherman’s Quinoa Arugula Salad, plus a loaf of whole wheat beer bread as a test for another food swap recipe.

The beer bread turned out really well (whew!) and the salads were awesome.  I’m planning a full post on the bread in advance of Monday’s swap, but in the meantime, here’s a recap of the salads:

The cabbage slaw is one of the best cabbage recipes I’ve found online.  Rami is typically not a fan of cabbage, and I don’t care for tangerines. However, in this recipe, we loved both of those foods!

Rami did make a few substitutions in Amy’s recipe according to what we had on hand: tangerines from G&S Grove instead of oranges, double the amount of regular mayo instead of vegan (sorry, Amy!!), and a green bell pepper instead of yellow.  Next time we make this, we’ll experiment by using less ginger and even more tangerines.  And the flavor of the dressing is so strong, I think I might be able to get away with adding a whole bag of sunflower sprouts to the mix.

Equally tasty was this broccolli arugula quinoa salad:

Rami was pretty liberal in his interpretation of the original recipe, which originally called for shaved asparugus, avocado, and lemons. He used  broccoli from Texas Daily Harvest (he added it to the quinoa pot for the last 5 minutes of cooking time), subbed tangerine juice for the lemon juice, and skipped the avocado.  The textures of steamed broccoli and quinoa really work well together, so next week I’ll be looking for more recipes that call for them together.

Meal Plan 1/26- 2/1

Look who interrupted our menu plan last week! Ella’s arrival into the Hutchison family means that I skipped most of last week’s meals and I’m working with leftover ginger, beets, citrus, and apples in this week’s menu.  No complaints here, though. My grocery bill is very happy to have the extra ingredients. And I’m happy to have the new niece.

Here’s what we’re getting from Greenling in the Local Box:

  • Tangerines – Orange Blossom
  • Mustard Greens – Naegelin
  • Broccoli – Texas Daily Harvest
  • Various Lettuce – Acadian
  • Baby Arugula – My Father’s Farm
  • Red or Green Kale – Naegelin
  • Napa Cabbage – TDH
  • White Mushrooms – Acadian
  • Yellow Onions – Naegelin
  • Grapefruit or Navel Oranges – G&S

Here’s what I’m planning to cook:

Wednesday: Happy hour with friends
Thursday: Napa Cabbage Slaw, Crock pot chicken
Friday: Quinoa with Arugula and Broccoli (just steam the broccoli and sub for the asparagus in Amy’s recipe), apple compote
Saturday: Grilled Cheese with Mozzarella and Garlic Kale Pesto, leftover chicken
Sunday: My own version of this curried mustard green recipe, rice
Monday: Austin Food Swap! Rami is on his own tonight.
Tuesday: Leftover Awareness Day!
Breakfast: Red flannel hash, magical scrambled eggs
Bonus: Onion and Mushroom pizza (gotta plan ahead for Jessica’s Gluten-Free Pizza Festival!)

Breakfast Resolution Update

One of my big New Year’s resolutions is to eat more breakfast in 2011.  Seventeen days into the new year, I’m happy to report that it’s going awesome sort of okay. Except not.

I ate breakfast twice in the last two weeks. Good news first: that’s two hundred percent more breakfast than I ate in 2010. Now the bad news: one of those breakfasts occured at dinner time. (Remember that yummy apple pancake cake  last week?) And the other breakfast came from McDonald’s. I ate it in my car. Not only did it taste terrible, I felt guilty and irritable after I ate it. This is not the food-positive breakfast journey I was hoping for at the beginning of the year!

A lot of my breakfast frustrations boil down to the same issues that plague all struggling home cooks: I’m short on time and know-how.  In the past year, I’ve become great at improvising healthy dinners, but I’m still a newbie when it comes to from-scratch breakfast recipes. And while I’m a pro at menu-planning, the strategies that help me keep dinners organized are too rigid for my feeble, groggy mind to employ at breakfast.

So. I don’t have a lot of breakfast solutions yet, but I’m hoping that this third week of the new year will be easier than the last two. Tonight I’m going to make a batch of apple cheddar muffins for grab-and-go breakfasts. I’m also planning to make some steel cut oats in the crockpot. I tried making steel cut oats over the winter break with crunchy results, but I’m willing to give it another go if that means I can eat breakfast this week. At the very least, I’ll feel less angst about crunchy oatmeal than I would over another McSausage Biscuit.

I’ll let you know how things go. In the meantime, what are your strategies for eating breakfast in the morning?

Menu Plan 1/12-1/19

This has been a really crazy week. You can probably tell I’ve been busy with work and some personal projects because posting on the blog has been light. Sorry about that. It’s for a good cause, though, I promise. Tomorrow at work I start teaching a six-week course called “Exploring Chamber Music” to a large group of retirees. I’ve had a blast putting together the lecture materials and working with musicians to find great repertoire to teach, but it’s been taking up a lot of my usual blogging time. Things should get back to normal soon.

The saving graces in this busy week have been menu planning and my husband. Rami took a turn cooking for three nights this week, and thanks to his diligence and my menu plan, we’ve been able to eat healthy and stay within our grocery budget even though we’re swamped. That was all the incentive I needed to plan out this coming week’s menu. As much help as Rami has been picking up cooking in addition to his usual chores, I do hope that I get to cook all the meals. I really missed my usual time in the kitchen last week.

Here’s what we just got in our Local Box:

Tangerines – Orange Blossom
Red Beets & Greens
Various Lettuce – Acadian
Daikon Radish – My Father’s Farm
Bok Choy – Naegelin
Cauliflower – J&B
Apples – Apple Country
Red Russian Kale – Acadian
Butternut Squash

Here’s what I’m making:

Wednesday: Lettuce salad with classic vinaigrette; balsamic roasted cauliflower over blue cheese grits, apple compote
Thursday: Sweet potato grapefruit souffle (I’m feeling adventurous), balsamic roasted cauliflower
Friday: Wilted Lettuce Salad, grilled cheese sandwiches
Saturday: Ladies who Lunch Potluck!! I’m adapting this Texas Chili Pie to be vegetarian, and experimenting with a new butternut squash casserole recipe
Sunday:  Spicy Bok Choy and tofu in garlic sauce, rice
Monday: Kale and mushrooms over blue cheese grits
Tuesday: Whole beet pasta sauce with penne