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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Renovations All Around

If you've been following along here through the summer, you know we (barely) survived renovating nearly the entire first floor of our house. Well, the work is now done and I'm ready to unveil it.

But first, I want to show you the *other* renovation that's been going on.

I've been working with the most patient and wonderful Barbara from Kinetic Designs (VinoLuci to you Twitter folks) on a facelift for this blog. We're migrating the blog from this site at Blogspot to a new site on WordPress and I'm really excited to show it to you.

It's a big girl blog now, with my own domain name -

There are no renovations without a little muss, and I'm so sorry, but those of you who have subscribed to the feed will need to resubscribe over at the new blog. Right at the top, on the left, there's a box to enter your email address. That way we can be sure to stay in touch.

Ok. Ready? Here we go. xox

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Best of Fall - Apple Pie Jam

Macintosh. Honeycrisp. JonaMac. Gala. Macoun. Empire. Turley Winesap. Mountaineer. Fuji. Rome. Redmax. Grimes Golden. Shijuka. Pink Lady. What kind of apples do you see in the market?

I love apples. Apple pie. Apple Crisp. Apple Fritters. Baked Apples. Apple slices with peanut butter. Gorgonzola Apple Walnut salad. Waldorf salad.

Out of  hand, an apple polished up on your jeans, eaten in the garden on a crisp fall day.

When I found this recipe somewhere on the web years ago, I was thrilled to have a way to enjoy apples in jam form. This sweet, caramel flavored, traditional style jam (firm set) is not only wonderful on toast, but warmed and spread between layers of yellow cake? Divine. Or spooned into mini tarts. Mmmm. Oh, fill cheddar thumbprint cookies with this jam. So unexpected.

Or back to the grilled cheese sandwich (you're going to think I'm obsessed) - try sharp cheddar and apple pie jam on multi grain bread. Slip in some thin slices of apple, too.

This is a great jam to practice using commercial pectin. It's easy as - well - pie!

To avoid fruit float, be very mindful of the timing. One minute means sixty seconds. At a BOIL YOU CAN'T STIR DOWN. That's seriously boiling. Sixty seconds. No more. Fruit float is often caused by over processing, and that's the trickiest part of this recipe.

I'll be demonstrating this recipe at the Capital Home Show this Friday, September 24 at 1:30. Come introduce yourself!

I've got a dozen tickets to give away to the first three comments from local DC folks (four tickets each.)

(I'll also be at Strosnider's Hardware Store in Bethesda on Saturday. The two sessions have sold out, but I'm delighted to report we're discussing a series of canning demonstrations for 2011.)

Apple Pie Jam
Makes 6 half pints

About 8-10 mixed firm crisp apples
2 Tbls lemon juice
1 tsp ground cinnamon (I use Ceylon cinnamon in this recipe)
1 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 box pectin
4 c white sugar
1 c firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp butter

Peel and finely dice the apples. Pack them firmly into a 4 cup measure.
Add water in between all the apple pieces to fill to 4 cups.
Put the apples, water, lemon juice and spices in the preserving pan and sprinkle the pectin over the fruit. Stir well
Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.
Add both sugars, stir well and bring back up to a full rolling boil for EXACTLY one minute. Do not stop stirring.
Remove from heat. Stir in the pinch of butter to reduce the foam. Skim off any foam that remains.
Ladle into hot, clean jars leaving 1/4" headspace.
Wipe the jar rims and threads.
Cover with lid and ring.
Process in boiling water for 10 minutes.
It was one of those days in the kitchen.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup

When I was a little girl, there was nothing quite like my grandmother's cheese toasty sandwiches and Campbells Cream of Tomato soup, reconstituted with milk. She would spread CheezWhiz on white bread and pop it into the toaster oven until the cheese bubbled. I know. Awful, right? But that's what love tasted like to a five year old.

There are many winter days when what I want for lunch is a ramped up version of my childhood comfort. The time to plan for those winter days is now - as the tomatoes fade from the markets.

I take thick pieces of challah or Italian loaf, a slab of Fontina or Cheddar, a swath of apple chutney or fig jam or peach salsa. Sometimes, it's pieces of pear with Brie, or nectarines and mozzerella. Sometimes it's Comte and bacon.

Grill the sandwich in plenty of butter. Weigh it down with a pan and a tea kettle. Let the cheese warm slowly until it's all melty.Let the sandwich rest for a moment or two after it comes out of the pan, then cut in half to serve.

And the soup? Rich and tomato-y, whispers of roasted sweet garlic, hearty chicken broth as a base, and basil brightness. Top with a dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream. Or just stir some heavy cream into the soup as it heats.

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Soup
This recipe can be pressure canned or frozen. Cream is added when the soup is reheated.
Makes about 6 pints

15-20 tomatoes
2 carrots, chop roughly
1 large onion, quartered
2 whole heads garlic, peeled, not crushed
olive oil
3 cups fresh, homemade, chicken broth, skimmed of fat
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil -- (or 1 Tbsp. dried)

Preheat oven to 425°
Core tomatoes and cut in half. Place, cut side up, on parchment covered cookie sheet. Add carrots, onion and garlic. Brush with olive oil.
Bake at 400F for about an hour, or until veggies are roasted and a little blackened.
Blend with a stick blender (or in small batches in a blender) until smooth. Throw the basil in and blend some more.
Place in a large saucepan with the chicken broth and simmer for 10 minutes.

To can: Process in a pressure canner, pints for 60 min. and quarts for 70 min.

To serve: Warm soup in a saucepan. Add cream to taste. Serve garnished with chives or frizzled shallots.

Monday, September 13, 2010

New Canning Class Added - Class Schedule through December 2010

Cooking Classes are held in my home kitchen and are limited to six students.
Skill building, healthful eating and a focus on seasonal ingredients.
Tuition is $50/class, unless otherwise noted. Bring a friend and two attend for $80.
Contact me at for further information.
I am also available to teach any class, or one we create together, in your home, for groups no larger than six.

Sunday, October 10 12-3 Pies and Tarts 
Mile High Apple Pie, Plum Tart, Chocolate Raspberry Mini Tarts

NEW! Sunday, October 17 12-3 CANNING PARTY Using A Boiling Water Bath - NEW!
Apple Pie Jam, Apple Walnut Conserve, Applesauce

Sunday, November 7 12-3 DINNER PARTY: Indian Flavors - SOLD OUT
 Inside out Samosas, Vegetable Curry, Chicken Tikka Masala, Grilled Flatbread, Mango Lassi
Sunday, November 14 12-3 Party Appetizers Crab Cakes, Gravlax on Corn Cakes, Fritto Misto

Saturday, November 20 12-3 Candy Making Indian Spiced Nut Brittle, Salted Caramels, Peppermint Patties

Sunday, December 12 12-3 Holiday Cookies
 Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookie,  Chocolate Ginger Cookie (Ladoo), Pistachio Sand Dabs

Saturday, September 11, 2010

High Tides and Misdemeanors

For our anniversary dinner, we attended the Outstanding In The Field event on the beach in Dewey Beach, Delaware.

Jim Denevan, the brilliance behind this concept, first dreamed up the idea of putting tables and chairs in the middle of farm fields to bring farmer and chef together for the pleasure of a group of diners.

This dinner, on the beach, was the collaboration of Denevan, Chef Matt Haley and numerous fishermen, farmers and vintners. It was a spectacular experience. You can see all my photos on Flickr.

The only disappointment in an otherwise perfect evening was losing two of my favorite plates. Well, not exactly losing them - but having them STOLEN from the table of plates washed by the staff and left for departing diners to claim. Someone must have taken a liking to mine.

I'm sad - they were a gift from a dear friend. If you have my plates, please send them back. I still have four small ones and these six plates were my favorite on which to serve sweet treats.

Have you seen my plates?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Summer All Year Long - Cardamom Peach Pie Filling in a Jar

Last year, I canned peach pie filling on a whim. I've canned sour cherries for pie for years and years, but never peach. I concocted a spicy blend with cinnamon, cardamom and ginger. All throughout the year, when I pulled a jar off the pantry shelf, intending to make a pretty pie, crisp is what emerged from the oven.

You see, my crisp recipe includes rolled oats, so I rationalize peach crisp as a healthy breakfast alternative.

And if you add a dollop of creme fraiche, well then, you're covering another one of the main food groups, right?

This year, I was starting to worry. I hadn't gotten around to putting up this filling and my farmer friends were telling me the peach season was quickly coming to an end.

And, when the Washington State Fruit Commission offered me a box of peaches, if I would just make them into something yummy, I'll admit, I jumped at the chance. Check out their Sweet Preservation website for some great canning resources.

While I thought pie filling was certain, I spent a few days contemplating making more salsa, or some jam with lemon verbena, or some fruit leather. Even pickled peaches. But I couldn't imagine a winter without peach crisp.

For this pie filling, I experimented with ClearJel, a modified food starch that is considered more stable than cornstarch by the USDA. It worked exactly the same as cornstarch, and now that I've sourced it through King Arthur, I'll be using it for all my canned pie fillings.

Cardamom Peach Pie Filling
per quart

5 cups peeled, sliced peaches
3 T water
1/2 c white sugar
1/4 c brown sugar
2 T lemon juice
3 T ClearJel
1/8 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp ginger or galangal
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom

Fruit Fresh, citric acid or additional lemon juice

For the spice blend, I opened cardamom pods and crushed the little black seeds in a mortar and pestle. I like the look of the bits of black seeds floating through the filling. Substitute ground cardamom if you must.

Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil. Dip the peaches in the boiling water for 30-60 seconds (the time depends on the ripeness and size of the peach - don't cook the peaches.) Scoop out of the boiling water and transfer to a cooler or a sink filled with ice water.

Make an X in the bottom of the peach and peel the skin off in four easy pieces. Remove the pit. Hopefully you have freestone peaches.

Cut the peaches into 8 slices and place in a large bowl with acidulated water (water to which you have added Fruit Fresh, citric acid or lemon juice)

Hold the slices in this bowl until you have peeled and sliced all the peaches.

In a large, non-reactive pot, stir the clear gel and sugar together. Add the water and spices and bring to a boil, stirring all the time to ensure the Clear Gel doesn't get lumpy. Add the peach slices and bring back up to a boil, cooking for five minutes.

Funnel into quart sized, sanitized jars, wipe the rims, add the lids, tighten the rings and place upright in a boiling water bath for 30 minutes.

Allow to sit, undisturbed, for 24 hours, then wash the jars well and store in your pantry until your next craving for summer occurs.

Easy Peach Crisp

3/4 c rolled oats
3/4 c flour
3/4 c sugar
8 T butter, cold
Zest of one lemon
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350°

Cut the butter into the flour, oats and sugar. You can pulse this in the food processor, but be careful not to grind up the oats.

Empty one quart of your pie filling into a deep pie dish or baking dish (9x9). Cover with the topping.

Bake for 40 minutes or until the filling is bubbling. Cool slightly before serving.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Happiness is Sour Cherry Pie and a Big Blue Ribbon

When I started this blog , I was trying to write myself out of the blues. My landscape design business was really quiet (post economic meltdown) and I cooked to keep myself busy. Cooking my way to happiness.

This week, Thursday, the day the NPR story ran, more than 7,000 of you came by for a visit. It's more than overwhelming. And I'm more than grateful.  I'm doing what I love. Cooking, tinkering in the kitchen, putting up food, and writing about it. I'm feeling pretty lucky. I have a chance to set off on a new path, now - at age 53? Why ever not.

I was standing in line this morning, waiting to enter a Pie Contest sponsored by the Bethesda Central Farm Market. (A fundraiser for Manna Food Center.)  It was a great day, the first fall breezes blew through the market in the morning, the end of summer sun warmed everything by noon. There were nearly thirty pies entered.

There were beautiful heirloom tomato pies, pecan pies (one chocolate pecan that I would have eaten by myself), an apple pie that smelled deliciously of cinnamon and sugar. A grasshopper pie - haven't had one of those in years! And many a peach, nectarine, blueberry and mixed fruit. There were double crusts, single crusts, crumbles crusts, lattice crusts, and mine, a sour cherry pie, covered with stars. I used the filling I canned with the Food52'ers last month.

Bonnie Benwick from The Washington Post and Carole Sugarman from Bethesda Magazine were the judges and a crowd gathered to watch them sample. I stood with some friends, and some competitors and we watched. My friend's daughter Leah whispered sotto voce "They're trying your star pie, now!" and we all laughed. It was such a nice convivial group gathered waiting for the results.

And guess what? I won! The Grand Prize - a $100 gift certificate to one of our favorite Bethesda restaurants, Raku and a pretty blue ribbon. I'm a sucker for a blue ribbon.

Here's what I've learned in the last few months. It's never too late to do anything that brings joy to your life.

Start a blog, learn to use social media (Facebook and Twitter) which leads to meeting fantastic, warm, generous, people (we're all ageless on Twitter.) And even enter a pie contest. 

This couldn't have come on a better day. It's our 11th Wedding Anniversary.

Best Pie Crust 
(from my mother, Jan, and my grandmother, Bea, and very likely Madeline Kamman)

8 T unsalted butter, ice cold and cut in cubes
1-1/3 c flour
1/4 c ice water

In a food processor, pulse the butter and flour until it's sandy and in pea sized lumps.
Dump in all the cold water and run the processor until the crust comes together in a ball.
Form into a disk and chill for 4 hours, or overnight (better.)

No food processor? No problem. Blend the butter and flour with your fingertips (if your hands are naturally warm, cool them under the faucet before you start.) When the flour and butter are sandy and in pea sized lumps, add the ice water and blend with your fingers until it comes together.
Turn out on a countertop and press the ball out with the heel of your hand, pushing away from you. Gather the dough, push away again, gather and STOP FUSSING.
Form into a disk, even if you think it's not very homogenous. Chill for 4 hours or overnight.

I’m trying to blog my way to the AARP Orlando@50 conference. This blog post is an entry in their competition to find the official blogger to travel to and cover the event. Find out more about the conference here.