Strawberry Limeade

Done

I must first apologize for my absence. It’s been a long summer! There’s been WAY too much work and WAY too many things going on in the garden and greenhouse! We planted 58 – that’s not a typo – 58 tomato plants! There will be many, many tomato based recipes coming your way! And beans … and peppers … and cucumbers … yikes …

But …

One fine spring morning, the Dear One wakes up and looks at me, a twinkle in his eye … what do you want to do today? I don’t know. WHat do you want to do today? We should do something. (It’s like an often repeated scene from the film Marty!) I should have known he was waiting for this opening, this tiny bit of indecision on my part.

Well, I have an idea! Those five little words always bring a tiny bit of terror to my soul.

Let’s go pick strawberries! Ummm, okay. And off we go, girls in tow, to pick the strawberries that grow in a row. (Huh, huh, how’s that for a rhyme?!)

Here I’m thinking strawberries. The Dear One was thinking STRAWBERRIES. I think we picked fifteen quarts of strawberries. Some were greedily eaten, some went into smoothies, some into an incredible ice cream you’ll see next, and bags and bags and bags went into the freezer.

And some were lucky enough to make their way into this strawberry limeade.

I’ve made this a number of times, and used the frozen strawberries in my freezer, once the fresh ran out. Frozen strawberries quarter very easily. Lime juice, strawberries and sugar. Doesn’t get easier than that. The sugar is adjusted to your liking. We’re not an awfully sweet group here, so I always make it a bit on the tart side.

  • 1 1/2 C quartered fresh strawberries
  • 1 C fresh lime juice
  • 5 C cold water
  • 3/4 to 1 C granulated sugar (depending on how sweet the strawberries are)
  • Ice cubes
  • Lime slices-for serving, if desired

Ingredients

 

Blend strawberries and lime juice in blender or food processor until smooth.

Pour strawberry and lime mixture into a large pitcher. Add cold water and sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves.

Pitcher

 Add in ice cubes and pour into individual glasses. Garnish with lime, if desired.

Glass

 Pour over ice cubes in tall glasses; garnish each with strawberry or lime wedge, if desired.

 

 

Cranberry Sauce

Done

I have never quite understood the appeal of canned cranberry sauce. I know people who swear by it … whose families would call for a mutiny if there was not a jelled, can shaped blob on the table when turkey is served. Okay, you don’t want to go through the trouble of making your own, at least mush the canned stuff up a bit so it isn’t can shaped, rings and all!

My dad’s family has always been very fond of a cranberry relish, which is raw and really a bit tart for my delicate palate … hush up, all you naysayers, I am SO delicate!

My bestie Ernie gave me this recipe, and she gives it to me EVERY year, as I always misplace the scrap of paper I wrote it on, AND I ask her the same question every year after she sends it to me and I have promised to keep the recipe in a safe place!

This is so simple and so tasty and it freezes really well too! It’s best made days in advance so the flavors have a chance to meld. And besides, before you get down to the hysteria of cooking a Thanksgiving meal, this can be done and tucked into the fridge and you have a (false) sense of security that you’ve begun your cooking!

  • 2 bags (24 ozs) cranberries
  • 1 orange, zest and juice
  • 3/4 C water
  • 2 C sugar

Ingredients

Preheat oven to 350

Ready for oven

Stir all ingredients together. Pour into an 8×8 Pyrex dish. Cover with foil. Bake for 1 hour.

NOTE: I have stirred this in the Pyrex dish itself and in a bowl. If you’re a bit of a messy cook, like me, the bowl is easier!

Cooked

Let cool completely. Refrigerate.

NOTE: This will look very loose when it comes out, and you’ll want to call Ernie, as I do EVERY year, and say IT’S TOO LOOSE. But, once it cools it will thicken, I promise. You can also easily halve this recipe if necessary.

Slow Cooker Caramelized Onions ~ A Tribute to Becky

I don’t remember when it started. I think it just always was. Right from the very first second.

To quote a line from Jerry Maguire – she had me at hello.

A little background. When the Food Network made their heart wrenching decision to close the chat forums (which they never moderated), I thought it a good idea to open a chat board dedicated to the Barefoot Contessa – Ina Garten. It mostly was a good idea. I have made some wonderful friends there. I have also grown a very thick skin there.

I met Becky there. From the very beginning, Becky approached me and asked to help out. There was something gracious about her, something significant, something unwavering. She and I became instant friends. It was so easy. Our children are about the same age. We both love to cook. Love Fiesta. Love the occasional lovely cocktail. We are both innately curious.

Becky and I were also insomniacs. We would meet on AOL in the wee hours of the morning and talk for hours on end.

We talked about food, our husbands, food, dishes, food, people on the various boards, food, how to solve problems on them, and we talked about our children – ENDLESSLY. We laughed at them, we laughed with them, we cried for them and over them, we prayed for them, screamed about them, vented frustrations and absolutely adored each other’s children. I watched Abbey and Tori grow up into beautiful young women and she watched Tommy grown into the wonderful young man he is.

When Becky first found out about her illness, we discussed it. Her not getting better was not an option. We joked about the nuts and berries holistic approach she was taking at the beginning.

She was so brave – well, 90% of the time. Every once in a while she would break down – mostly by email – and say she was frightened or frustrated. When she started chemo and spending a lot of time at Vandy, I knit a blanket for her. It was pink and purple and very warm. The note I enclosed said that it was a hug. Whenever she used it, she wasn’t alone. I was there holding her hand and hugging her.

We were fortunate enough to meet in person. And she was as lovely and gracious in person as she always was online. FOr those of you who have dealt with crazies in the cyberworld, someone who was exactly the same in person as online is a rare thing.

I will never forget the morning I received Becky’s last email. I sat there staring at the screen – STUNNED. I answered her back immediately. I hope she was able to read it. I told her I loved her. I told her to be brave. I told her how much I appreciated her friendship. I told her dying was not an option – a mantra we had repeated incessantly from her initial diagnosis.

Sadly, less than 24 hours later she was gone – and I was, and still am, devastated by this loss.

I wanted – selfishly – the chance to tell her how much her friendship meant to me. We could talk on the phone, or online, or in email, or not for weeks on end and just naturally pick up where we were previously. She was trusting and honest, she was loyal beyond words (a very rare quality in people). She was always there to listen, to lend a hand, to brainstorm. I would have walked away and deleted Contessa’s Kitchen LONG ago had it not been for Becky and her optimism and faith that things would be okay.

One morning we were chatting about recipes. The recipe called for caramelized onions. My nemesis. Carmelized onions. Never made them – not ever once – without having to start them over. There were always burned parts. They were never evenly colored. Never achieved that golden color or deep flavor. Becky had said that she had read someplace that you could caramelize onions in a slow cooker. Off she went finding recipes to accomplish this, sending them to me as she found them. We both tried them, the outcome fabulous, and neither of us ever went without caramelized onions again!

As I have said previously – I will not mourn Becky’s death. I refuse. I will instead celebrate her life, our friendship, and raise a glass and toast her – Rebecca Louise Shauberger Turner, here is to you. You have touched my life and I am better for having known you and lucky to have you as my friend!

There really isn’t a recipe to this. Slow cookers come in all sizes and each manufacturer heats differently.

I have a KitchenAid 7 quart slow cooker. If I fill the slow cooker the onions take between 6 to 8 hours on high with the top off. The cover being off is what makes them brown. Some people’s slow cookers do a better job of this on medium or low. I tried that the first time and absolutely NOTHING was happening. You have to watch it and see if the onions are softening and gauge it that way.

So. Onions. Lots and lots of onions. I prefer using Vidalia onions.

Slice ‘em up. Plunk them into the slow cooker. A few pats of butter. A glug or 2 of olive oil. A pinch or 2 of salt. On high. Walk away.

I usually do this on a day I am going to be home the entire time. They need to be stirred and the top IS off – and those of you who know me already know I love my slow cooker but live in fear of it. The onions start to break down.

And stir. And wait. And stir. And wait.

And when they are browned and a complete shadow of their former selves, I add a bit of balsamic vinegar.

When they are brown and soft to your liking, let them cool.

Although I freeze most of my onions – in one cup portions so I can easily take 1/2 or a 1/4 or th entire thing depending on the recipe – I keep some out for sandwiches. The one above is toasted sourdough, roast beef, cheddar cheese and the onions. Yum!

So, back to the purpose – I will miss you, Miss Becky, and will always have an emptiness in my heart. Abbey and Tori, your Mom thought you 2 were the greatest things since sliced bread. She thought you both were so amazing. There is and always will be a special space in my heart and home for the 2 of you.

Homemade Sweet Chili Sauce

So it’s that time of the month again, time for the Secret Recipe Club! I am amazed! I have met and begun to follow some really fabulous bloggers!

My assignment this month? Island Vittles. Theresa is a wonderful chef and blogger living on Pender Island with her hubby and adorable dog Koda. Pender Island is possibly as far west of Brooklyn as one can get!

Reading and absorbing this blog it wasn’t a matter of trying to find something to make – it was a matter of trying to find only one thing to make!

While scrolling through recipe after recipe that I was crazy for I happened upon a recipe for Thai Sweet Chili Sauce. My son, Tommy, is wild for this condiment. He uses it on EVERYTHING! This recipe had my name written ALL over it!

  • 2 red chilis
  • 2 or 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/3 C sugar
  • 1/4 C white vinegar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t fish sauce
  • 1/2 t soy sauce
  • 3/4 C water
  • 1 T cornstarch
  • 2 T water

NOTE: I wasn’t able to find fresh Thai chilis so I used dried ones from the herb section of my produce department.

Split the chilis and discard seeds. If you’d like more heat, keep some of the seeds.

Puree the chilis, garlic, vinegar, sugar and salt in a small food processor.

Pour the mixture into a small saucepan along with 3/4 cup water, and the fish & soy sauces. Bring to a low boil and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes.

Combine the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of cold water. Remove the pot with the chili sauce from the heat, stir in the cornstarch slurry and return to the heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens a bit, about 2-3 minutes.

Remove from heat and cool completely. Transfer to a clean jar with lid and refrigerate. Keeps 6 weeks, probably longer, but, as Theresa said, I doubt  a batch will last more than a week in our house.

NOTES: This is so simple to put together. The ingredients cost less than a bottle of the sauce in the supermarket and certainly tastes better! The end result is fabulous! I was nervous about the seeds for the first go round, but will add a few more in next time – and, oh yes, there will be a next time!

Thanks to Theresa for sharing this wonderful recipe!

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

French Fridays with Dorie is one of my favorite cook-alongs.

Sadly, I lent my Around My French Table to a friend and have missed quite a few in the past couple of months.

But the book is back! And so am I!

Slow roasted tomatoes. What can I say? Slow roasted (3 HOURS!) grape or cherry tomatoes, with garlic, extra virgin olive oil and herbs!  The simplest of ingredients, the simplest of preparation, and you are left with smokey, sweet, rich, deep flavored, ruby tomatoes.

Yowzer!

Dorie suggested rosemary, but I have an abundance of oregano, so I used that instead. Thyme would be good too! It’s all up to you!

We had these over ribeyes last night and the rest were used up on pasta for my hubby’s dinner tonight.

I wish I could give you the recipe – buy the book, it’s SO worth it!

Homemade Flour Tortillas

So, it’s the summer and 1/2 of our household is away.

It’s hot.

I am bored.

I am a nurturer by nature with no one to nurture. Well, there’s the dog – Zena. And she will take absolutely as much attention as you are willing to give to her. She will always say yes to a snack or a meal or to go out and ‘do’ something. Though our ideas of ‘doing’ something are polar opposites.

I have a lot of time on my hands.

Just when I was about to give into despair and yet another day of watching the Real Housewives of some horrible place that I wouldn’t want to be lest they be my neighbors, I found The Secret Recipe Club. Simple premise. Join. Get an email with the link of the blog you are assigned. Hop over to that blog. Find a recipe you like. Use it for inspiration, make it exactly, or tweak it to your suiting. Blog about it. How much fun is that!

For my first go at this, I was assigned the wonderful life adventures of Adventures in All Things Food. Very nice blog indeed.

Scrolling through the days and weeks of this blogger’s life, I came across a recipe for both flour and corn tortillas! Both of these have been on my wish list of things to try, though I had bookmarked a recipe from Rick Bayless’ book Authentic Mexican – which, by the way, is celebrating its 20th anniversary!

And besides, I had a new TOY! A tortilla press! The choice was now simple! Flour tortillas!

  • 12 oz (about 2 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface
  • 5 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening (or a mixture of the two)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup very warm water

Simple ingredients, right?

Add the flour and shortening (or lard) to a large bowl.  Use a pastry cutter (or your fingers) to work the fat into the flour – you want it incorporated completely. 

NOTE: I am pastry cutter stupid. They do not work for me. Yes, simple. hold it and smoosh into the flour and butter, or lard or shortening and kep doing that. Nope. The solid gets stuck in the cutter part. It is a mess and then I get into a very. BAD. MOOD. I started with the pastry cutter and ended with my hands!

Combine the salt and water in a measuring cup and pour about 3/4 of the water over the flour and shortening mixture.  Use a fork to stir to stir together until all of the dry ingredients are moistened, adding the rest of the water (and even a little more), if needed. 

Turn the dough onto your work surface and knead until smooth – it’ll only take a minute or two.  The dough shouldn’t be very sticky, but if it is, add a tiny bit of flour to your hands so you can work with it.

Divide the dough into 12 equal pieces and roll each into a ball.  Put them on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and let rest for at least 30 minutes.  This rest time helps the dough relax so it’ll be easier to roll.

Set a heavy skillet (I used cast iron) over medium to medium-high heat. 

NOTE: I used a cast iron grill pan.

Working with one piece of dough at a time, set on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 7-inch circle.  Add only enough flour so you can work with the dough – it will be quite thin by the time it reaches 7 inches in diameter.

NOTE: I used my new toy. I will have to make the dough balls smaller. TOo much came out the sides and was too thick. But smooshing them makes for fun in the kitchen!

Transfer to the flattened tortilla to the preheated pan – you will hear a sizzle when you place the dough in the pan and should see bubbles forming across the surface almost immediately.  Cook for 30-45 seconds on the first side, then flip and cook 30-45 seconds on the other side.  The tortilla should be golden brown and might have a few dark spots, but you don’t want to over cook it or it will be crisp rather than pliable.  Transfer to a plate and cover with a kitchen towel.

Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough, and continue stacking them under the towel.  Serve warm, or let cool then wrap in plastic and keep at room temperature for a few days, or pop in the freezer.  Reheat in the microwave wrapped in damp paper towels.

Makes 12 tortillas

NOTE: These are SO good! I had one immediately with butter. Had one with my dinner and then stopped myself by putting the rest in the freezer!



Homemade Vanilla

It doesn’t get simpler. It doesn’t get more economical. It doesn’t get better tasting.

Let’s start with economical.

One 8 oz. bottle of Nielson-Massey Madagascar Vanilla Extract costs approximately $20.  Not including shipping, if you buy it online or your time to travel to a place that sells NM or another pure vanilla extract.

25 Grade A Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans from Vanilla Products USA, which I always buy through eBay, cost $16.30, including shipping. (By the way, they always tuck in a free gift. I received 10 Grade B Tahitian Vanilla Beans with my order). 2 750 ml bottles of Fris Vodka cost $22.

And do yourself a favor. Don’t – and I mean DO NOT – buy vanilla beans in the supermarket or specialty store. 2 beans for $8 – that is robbery!

Total cost for homemade vanilla $38.30 – that would be 6 and 1/4 8 oz bottles.

Those 6 and 1/4 bottles would cost you $125 if you bought Nielson-Massey Vanilla.

When I made my first batch of vanilla years ago and did the math – purchased vanilla vs. homemade vanilla – I was astounded by the amount of money I was wasting. And that doesn’t include getting to a place that sells the Nielson-Massey or any pure vanilla extract.

We aren’t even going to bring imitation vanilla into this discussion. Nope. Can’t do it. And you shouldn’t either!

Taste? You may be wondering how there could be a taste difference in pure vanilla extracts – sote bought or your own. It’s all in the alcohol you use.

Some people make theirs with Everclear or grain alcohol. I’m not crazy about the really high alcohol content and don’t think it’s necessary for something I am going to bake with. I always use vodka. Either Fris or Iceberg. I prefer Iceberg. It is a very clean, crisp vodka with no real after taste. I used Fris this time – they were out of Iceberg. Do you know what type of alcohol vanilla manufacturer’s use? Nope. Neither do I. It’s all in the quality control.

Now let’s get to the easy.

I use the bottles the vodka comes in. I pour off a bit and put it into a smaller bottle that’s already been sitting from my last batch.  I have 25 beans – 12 in each bottle and the extra into this ‘overflow’ bottle.

Now I have a method to my madness. I have a small bottle that I keep in my kitchen cabinet that I use whenever I bake. I have a small bottle in the closet where the vodka and beans sits and waits to become the vanilla that feeds into that smaller cabinet bottle – it has a bean or 2 in it (the extra bean goes into here as well as the extra vodka).  And then I have the newest fermenting batch. Very confusing. I know. But it’s my madness. I understand it. You will have to come up with your own madness. Heck, pour a bit off the bottles and make yourself a nice cocktail!

Split the vanilla beans between the 2 bottles. Screw the caps back on good and tight. Shake. Put in a cool dark place. Walk away.

What you see in the background of the picture above is my cabinet, already fermented to a beautiful color, vanilla.

If you think about it, give the bottles a shake once in a while. Two months and you’re good to go! It will last for years. It may take you years to use it! You can put it into smaller bottles and give it to your vanilla-less friends.

I hope you try this and stay away from the over-priced stuff and certainly stay away from th imitation stuff!

Geesh – the word imitation should always give you a hint – STAY AWAY FROM MY FOOD!

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