“Sparklers” for the Fourth

This year, instead of running back to Pennsylvania after school let out at the end of June, we decided to stick around and enjoy our seaside community’s early summer activities. One of the first things we crossed off our list was a friend’s famed 3rd of July party… The 3rd of July, so that everyone could take the 4th to recover. It was brilliant! We enjoyed homemade pizza from their hand-built, backyard wood-fired oven (where I took notes from the oven’s builder to add to my ever-growing list of dreams), and then walked to our local beach to watch the neighbors put on competing fireworks display up and down the coast. With the light breeze and clear sky and beautiful calm low tide and most excellent company… we could not have asked for a nicer day. I am so thankful for the people we have met here.

But before the festivities kicked off, the kids and I decided to make our recent tradition of chocolate covered sprinkled pretzels to bring along to the party. One of the kids decided they looked like sparklers, and so now we have a little family name for our fourth of July treats!

The Set Up

It really is a lovely little craft-like dessert project that all our littles can enjoy helping with. And the best part for me it that it requires no baking, which—as many of my friends and family can attest—is not my strong point.

No Baking Required

The process could not be more simple:
• Melt a few bags of chocolate candy coating (my kids also enjoy the vile vanilla, but maybe they’ll outgrow it) either in the microwave or over a double boiler, taking care to not burn it, which is really the only trick. I find a double boiler a bit more cumbersome for set-up, but easier to control for heat. Inevitably I burn the coating in the microwave, which causes it to seize up and crystalize.
• Pour melted coating into a tall, thin glass
• Dip pretzel rods—I’ve found the rods in buckets have fewer broken pieces than the rods in bags—into coating, placing dipped rods onto parchment or wax paper
• Shake your choice or sprinkles over the still-melted coating
• Let cool, then eat

Foodie Crafting

So easy, I promise!

Add Sparkles

All the kids enjoy the dipping, and with as many kids as we have (and one extra who was here on a play date!), we’re able to make a whole bunch in a short amount of time.

Too Many to Eat

Once we were done with all the dipping, we took the rest of the melted coating and put it in a lidded jar to save for next time. And yeah, if you have the time and patience, it would probably be even better with real chocolate, but I have neither the time, patience, nor equipment for proper tempering. I have made my peace with chocolate candy coating, since we have it only once or twice per year.

TaDaaaa

We brought them to the party in a galvanized bucket filled with rice so they could stand up on their own. We didn’t even get the bucket set down on the table before our sparkers started walking off in little (and big) hands.

What a nice little crafty-type foodie project to start off our summer!

Vacationing :: Cherry Picking

To The Sky 

Pictureskew

Apple Bins

Bounty

Getting Started

Picking With Pappy

Abundance

Ladders

Beautiful Buckets Reaching

Huge Haul

Big Barn

A few days ago, the eldest two finally finished up with school for the year, so I packed up the car, stuffed the kids and the dog in, and drove back home to Pennsylvania. After a weekend of sleeping in and catching up with family, we kicked off our newly schedule-free days with an early morning of cherry picking.

The orchard we visited opened at 7am, but the day was forecast to be rather rainy and dreary, so my dad and I decided we didn’t need to be there at the crack of dawn since we thought not many people would venture out. Well, that turned out to be a bit of a mistake. Bu the time we got there at 8.30, the place was mobbed and the sour cherries—which we love for pie baking—were completely picked through and we barely collected enough to make two pies. There was an overabundance of sweet cherries though, and we are working our way through the many pounds of them at an alarming rate, although not fast enough for my dad who claims there isn’t quite enough room in the fridge and we need to eat. more. now.

And that big haul up the page a bit, with the dozen or so 5 gallon buckets of cherries? They were collected by a group of Amish women (who obviously showed up at exactly the crack of dawn!) the total cost of which was two cherries shy of $500.00 worth. The women checking them out gave them five free fruits, which I though was a nice little bargain, but she did make them run and grab the five themselves. I wonder what deliciousness they will make with such an abundance, and I also can’t help but to be curious how they’ll pit them all.

Buck In Velvet

Black Raspberry

Rolling Hills

Big Sky

Stormish

Enclosure Path

After the cherry picking adventure was over my dad took us all to a local deer farm for a little walk. The weather was, well, it was quite unpredictable, but absolutely lovely at the same time. And the views? Let’s just say I miss the sweeping views of all those rolling hills more than I could have imagined. But then again, that ocean view of ours does make up for a bit of what we lack in purple mountain(ish) majesty.

Inlows

DriveIn Diner

Foot Longs for Lunch

After all that picking and walking we just happened to find ourselves at one of my favorite little local drive-in diners for foot-long hot dogs and malted milkshakes. I love this place and stop by every summer I come home, even though the drive-in part is a bit of misnomer; no one has come out on skates to take your orders ever since I can remember. Those are the original 50’s counter-tops by the way… not much has changed here since they opened up back in the day of car hops and greasers.

I would say overall, we’re off to a great start to our vacation!

On today’s agenda? Resting, pie making, and maybe a nap or two! The black raspberries are coming in, so I suspect there will also be some jam-making soon.

Pickled Kale Salad

This has to be my number one favorite salad at this very moment…

Pickled Kale

…well, actually, for the past  three years worth of moments. We call it the Pickled Kale Salad ’round these parts. It is not for the feint of heart or palate. It’s this recipe here, although at this point, I’m not sure I use the recommended ratios anymore, I just wing it.

Green Green Green

Of course we still use the kale…

Fresh Parmesan

and fresh parmesan.

Dressing

The dressing is incredibly acidic, which is what you need to break down that tough kale into tender little bites of deliciousness. The garlic and hot peppers really stand up to the strong flavor of these greens, so don’t be afraid of

Favorite Salad

I make this with three bunches of kale, or whatever I can grab from our garden. Unlike most green salads I’ve experienced, it actually tastes better the next day, so making a big batch is a huge time saver and gives me a few ready-to-eat meals throughout the week.

Delicious Bite

When I make it for new initiates, I tend to dial down the garlic and chili, but when it’s just the two of us (oh no, the kids don’t go for this one!), I do not tend to hold back.

One Last Look

I just finished up the last bit of this week’s batch tonight, so looks like I’ll have to make another.

Food on Friday :: Ode to Omelettes

We eat quite a number of omelettes in this house.

Lovely Eggy Omelette

It hasn’t always been that way. I used to be terrified of making them and only pulled out my recipe during weekends when we had company. And really, who isn’t scared of making a fool out of themselves in front of others and who isn’t terrified that the eggs won’t stick and make a mess out of your lovingly prepared masterpiece and causing the aforementioned fool-making/feeling behavior?

Humble Beginnings

The reality is, omelettes are a humble food, perfectly suited for those moments when you need something to eat, have tons of leftovers you’re not sure what to do with, and don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen. If you’re really short on time and patience there is nothing quite so satisfying as a warm cheese omelette whipped up in less than ten minutes. And while everyone is familiar with the lovely “Western” omelette of ham, cheese, peppers, and onions, two eggs slightly whipped make the perfect envelope for almost anything you have in your fridge. It’s incredibly freeing to think of omelettes as “only scrambled eggs with stuff inside” which is really what they are. Who cares that it’s folded half instead of perfect thirds, or if it breaks a little in the center, or there are holes here and there? It’s scrambled eggs with stuff in the middle! It will be delicious! And if not, start over again; you’ll have another, better version in five minutes or less.

Preparing the Mise

I am not a pro by any means, so don’t think this is something that is beyond your capabilities. I will offer a few tips that have helped me out ::

  • Use a non-stick pan that’s not scratched or beaten up
  • Take the time to heat-up your fillings, whatever they may be, well, except for the cheese as that’s just messy
  • Get everything set up ahead of time because the eggs cook quickly
  • Two eggs, beaten lightly (streaks are just fine!) with salt and pepper, added to melted butter in a low-heated pan is all you need
  • Once the edges of the eggs start to set ever-so-slightly, push them toward the center and let the rest of the runny egg flow to the edges
  • Place your fillings on one half of your eggs now, and allow the eggs to set
  • Let the whole omelette slide off your pan and then gentle flip the last empty half over the fillings
  • Sprinkle with a bit of chopped herbs

Non Stick Pan

I like to heat the plates up in the microwave to keep the eggs warm just a bit longer. It’s easy to do, but not at all necessary. I place a damp paper towel on top of each pate before stacking the next, then run it for three minutes or so. You don’t want the plates too hot to handle, and three minutes in our microwave gets them to just the perfect temperature. As an added bonus, your plates are all ready to go, which is always always the last thing I scramble for once I realize the first omelette is done.

Warming the Plates

And really, many times the omelettes are eaten faster than they can cool, so there’s another strike against wasting the microwave energy!

All Plated Up

We’ve had omelettes filled with leftover greens; omelettes made from butter braised radishes straight from the garden; and although this one is super fancy and qualifies as “company food” last week we had omelettes made from leftover lobster and potatoes with a touch of raclette cheese, this one right here below…

Omelette Almost Gone

…which I almost forgot to take a picture of before I demolished it entirely.

We’ve had a slight snag in omelette making recently, when one of our children was diagnosed with a bit of an egg allergy, and I have to admit it curtailed many a quick dinner plan for us. Recently, I realized that I could substitue a quick crepe instead of the scrambled eggs, which has made it a great deal easier to pull together an super fast meal for us all.

So, yes, omelettes and me are back on again, and I couldn’t be happier! I’d love to hear what kind of omelettes you’re making!

Food on Friday :: More From Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem

I am possibly, maybe, slightly obsessed with the food from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. It all seems so fresh and creative and beautiful and, well, alive. Not only are the recipes undeniably tasty, but I feel so healthy and good after eating them, these two especially.

Swiss Chard with Tahini, Yogurt, Buttered Pine Nuts

The Swiss Chard with Tahini, Yogurt, Buttered Pine Nuts is quick, easy, and my favorite meal for the past week. I’m on my third batch. The yogurt tahini sauce is lovely, but a nice dollop of labne, ever so slightly thinned with water, is also beautiful.

Roasted Cauliflower & Hazelnut salad

This is going to be my go-to salad recipe for the remainder of the winter. We’ve made the Roasted Cauliflower & Hazelnut Salad several times now, although here you see it with roasted Brussel Sprouts. It’s nearly impossible to decide which one is better. With whole leaf parsley, crispy celery, and pomegranate (which plays amazing well off of the hazelnuts), and a lovely wisp of dressing including maple syrup (just a touch!), sherry vinegar allspice, and cinnamon, this salad is somehow simultaneously hearty and refreshing, a perfect foil for heavy holiday fare. On night’s when we want to make it a touch more substantial, we add a few smoked mackerel or sardines.

I’m on my last little bit of chard, and I have another head of cauliflower in the fridge, so I’ll be covered for the weekend at least. Then I suppose I should try another recipe or two.

Tea Time Gets an Upgrade

It’s been nearly eight weeks since the kids started school, and I think I can finally say that we’re back into the swing of things. I believed it was going to take a few more weeks before I could say that we all had adjusted, but minus a few hiccups here and there, I’m willing to concede that we’re back on schedule, we’ve regained our rhythm.

I think I have tea time to thank for that.

New Cups and Saucers

During the break, tea time fell by the wayside as we visited family, swam at the shore, collected rays of sunshine, dug in our garden, and drank in all that sweet summer had to offer. No one wanted to sit and sip while there were butterflies to catch, and I wasn’t about to stand over the stove supervising kettles to boil.

All About the Sugar

Come September, tea time rolled gently back into our schedule along with drop-offs and pick-ups and homework and earlier bedtimes in the shortening days. This year we’ve added a few upgrades; we now use the fancy cups and saucers as well as the silver-leafed plates for our cookies. I was surprised at the small number of times I’ve had to remind them to be gentle and careful; so far we’ve avoided any casualty-inducing catastrophes.

Fancy Plates

The Whole Family

Although we’re never 100% successful maintaining the schedule over the weekend, it has been fun introducing other family members and friends to our little ritual. Sometimes having company means a trip to the local cupcake hotspot for a special treat, baking being an activity that still remains a bit beyond my abilities.

Cupcakes

Who needs to fret and slave away over ingredients and the oven when you could help such awesome local businesses!

German Cake Server

I still try occasionally though. And even if I forget an ingredient or two (or maybe even three), sometimes the results are still edible.

Mamas Cup

And now that there are a few boxes of cookies stashed in the pantry, even those regular baking disasters haven’t been so catastrophic.

Sure wish it was as easy to upgrade the baking skills as it’s been to add a little flair to the tea time table. But I guess you really can’t have it all.

Food on Friday :: Fresh Caught Squid

We had in our possession a gift certificate that was burning the proverbial hole in my pocket. Luckily, I noticed that my cookbook shelves had a few empty spots in need of filling, so fill them I did.

New Cookbooks

I have to admit that there are times that I have purchased a few new highly blogged recipe books that didn’t quite measure up to the hype. However, none of these book suffer from that particular malady; they have all lit that flame of inspiration I was missing for a while and I’m itching to get into the kitchen and give a few new recipes the old college try.

I started with a saffron chicken & herb salad from Ottolenghi’s new book Jerusalem, which did not disappoint.

Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad

I did, however, make a substitution…

Fresh Local Squid

Fresh, local-caught squid, right off of our very own coast.

A few weeks ago we found out about a local Seafood Exchange, similar to a CSA but  supporting our local fisheries and folk. It has been incredible, and we’re going to do it again come November when our current share expires. The selections this particular day were :: squid, flounder, whiting, cod, and something else I can’t remember. I think it’s obvious what I chose.

Saffron Squid Ingredients

One of the more interesting techniques in this particular recipe was taking an orange, removing the top and bottom, simmering the slices in honey, vinegar, saffron, and water for an hour, then pulsing it in the processor to make a paste. Although an hour seemed a bit long, by the time I shaved the fennel, washed, picked, and tore the herbs, as well as prepared and cooked the squid, it was done and ready to be thrown in the food processor.

Ready to Eat

The husband does not really care for squid, which is too bad because it only took seconds to cook, but he did finish his entire bowl.

Almost All Gone

As did I.

And although I was sad that he mostly doesn’t really love squid, I was more than happy to demolish the leftovers the next day.

Wonder how it tastes with chicken…

Food on Friday :: Apple Cider Soup

Today was a blustery Autumn-y day… absolutely perfect for soup. So soup was had.

Cider Soup Kid Sized

We’ve reached that time of year when it becomes more difficult to take pictures with natural light, since the days are getting shorter (and soon the end of daylight savings… Eek!) but it seems a small price to pay for soup weather. The wind has been blowing quite awesomely tonight so I’m hoping tomorrow we’ll see some big rollers washing over our sea-bound lighthouse, a favorite Fall activity.

Cider Soup Toppings

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes… soup weather.

The thing I love about soup is just how easy it is to make. Throw a few things together in a pot, add some chicken stock, a few herbs, a little time, and a blender, and there ya have it! Soup. It’s a great way to get the kids to eat some vegetables, especially when I haul out the ole Make-It-Yourself trick. A small bowl of soup, a few fun topping (popcorn, home made croutons, apple-celery hash, and bacon!), and there my kids are, eating vegetables they would normally not touch and even calling it delicious. Such is the power of the Make-It-Yourself (and Bacon) Magic.

Cider Soup For Dipping

It also helps that the soup becomes a convenient dip for crackers or bread. It’s taken years of training, but my kids finally see the benefit of dip.

As an added bonus, many soups are quite tasty for lunch the next day, when the light is much better for nice pics!

Cider Soup Gets Grown Up

I don’t have an official recipe for this yet, as I need to work out a few measurments kinks, but this is a close approximation ::

:: A Close Approximation of An Apple Cider Soup Recipe ::

1/2 lbs carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds (I used my food processor)
2 fennel bulbs sliced into 1″ cubes (1″-ish… fennel isn’t square)
2 TBS grated ginger
4 TBS olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 c hazelnut meal (or just toast, peel, and grind your own hazelnuts… OK that’s crazy.. also the amount might be closer to a cup… I have to test this out)
4 c chicken stock or water
3 c apple cider
2 TBS lemon juice
Walnut Oil

In the bottom of heavy bottomed pot, heat olive oil over med heat, add carrots, fennel, and ginger, and salt, and gently sweat until the carrots darken, and fennels softens, approximately 15 minutes. A touch of browning is fine. To this mixture add the hazelnut meal and toast for 5 minutes being careful to not allow the meal to scorch, then add the chicken stock and 1 cup of the apple cider. Bring heat to high until soup begins to boil, then lower heat to a slow simmer, covered for at least one hour, although the more time you allow this to slowly cook, the better the results. After an appropriate to your family amount of time (are the children biting your ankles? Time’s up!), transfer contents in small batches to a blender, cover with a towel you don’t really care about, and blend as long as is effective, returning all creamy, dreamy, carroty sludge to the pot for a bit more cooking. Add the remaining 2 c apple cider, and lemon juice, simmer for a few more minutes (or longer if you prefer) and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve in a nice white bowl, with croutons, apple-celery hash, and bacon. Add more bacon if you live with carnivores that complain when there isn’t enough meat. Drizzle a touch of Walnut Oil around the centered garnish. Do a little dance. Pro-tip :: This soup gets better with a nice long rest in the fridge! Pro-tip The Second :: Cut the bacon into small little strips and cook in a cast-iron pan low and slow-like. Pro-tip The Third :: This soup is “rustic” which is a fancy, hoitey-toitey way of saying NOT STRAINED. Strain if you’re fancy, or add more bacon.

Apple-Celery Hash
1 Granny Smith Apple
2 stalks celery

Peel and chop apple into the smallest pieces you can stand. Same with the celery. Take the pan that fried the bacon, dump out the rendered fat, but don’t wipe, throw in the apples and celery with a bit of salt and pepper over med-low heat, let sit for a few minutes to brown up on one side (resist the urge to constantly move it around), toss a bit, repeat until apples are nicely brownish. Then toss it into the middle of your soup.

:::::::::

:::::::::

:::::::::

:: Linking to These Fabulous Sites ::
Today’s Creative Blog

Pick a Peck of Pickles

Four weeks ago, I ran into the farmer’s market and grabbed a whole lot of pickling cucumbers. I had a fresh cukes, some dill, garlic, salt, and most importantly, a gorgeous crock.

Crock

A few years ago I tried a recipe for crock pickles that used cider vinegar. After carefully tending to them for a five or six weeks, we were all giddy with anticipation… and sorely disappointed. They were terrible. The cider vinegar seemed all wrong, harsh, even bitter. So I was a teeny bit trepidatious when setting up my lacto ferment with the baby cukes this time around.

Garlic

Have you heard of half sour pickles? You might know them as barrel dills or deli style pickles. They aren’t actually “pickled” per se, but are fermented. The cukes, other flavoring ingredients (peppercorns, garlic, and dill head), and grape leaves (the tannins help retain crispness) are placed in a water tight container, covered with a salt solution which prevents bacterial growth that will lead to spoilage, and allowed to ferment with the naturally occurring lactobaccili, which turns the vegetable flesh into a tangy, slightly salty treat. It is the same method used to produce sauerkraut.

Pickles Under Glass

Here you can see the cukes are contained under a glass pie plate and a glass jar filled with the brine solution. You can use food-grade plastics, but glass is non-reactive and  leaves me with no worries that anything may be leaching into my brine. Of course, you have to be super careful with glass; if it should break into your crock, well, you’ll have to throw the entire batch out.

Pickles All Wrapped Up

I check on them almost daily, or at least every three or four days. There is some surface mold to deal with, but otherwise they are pretty low maintenance. You just have to make sure the cucumbers stay under the brine (air is the enemy of lacto ferments!). Finally, after four or five weeks, mine are ready. This week, I have to place them in clean jars with new brine, give a bunch away to neighbors, and place what’s left in the fridge.

I might add that these pickles, along with a nice cold beer, make an excellent dinner! For me anyway… the kids get cereal… and milk.

Worth Waiting For

Home Cured Apricot Lox

Last week all six of us came down with a virus which kept our 5 year old out of his first two days of school and our 7 year old home early on a Friday. I know, I know… the number of viruses that run through our home is not really news worthy. I’ve gotta tell you, I’m sick of being sick. I need our immune systems to step up a bit. I’ve got stuff to do… you know, like write a few blog posts. My mom gets antsy if I don’t get a few posts up a week.

Last week my husband brought home a gorgeous side of king salmon. And even though I felt like death warmed over, I dragged myself downstairs to trim it up, remove the pin bones, and set it in a apricot, fennel, Pernod cure. This weekend we absolutely devoured it. De-VOURED. We couldn’t stop eating it.

The recipe isn’t mine, it’s from Sondra Bernstein’s book The Girl and The Fig, which incidentally, was one of my favorite restaurants in Sonoma. It’s pretty simple. Take some dried apricots, soak them in Pernod, grind them in the food processor with a few fennel fronds, add salt, sugar, and pink peppercorns, smother the filet with the paste, cover it in a clean tea towel or cheesecloth, put it under weight in the fridge and let it alone for a few days.

I have a few things to show you, so it should be a “post-ful.” Hopefully, Mom, it will be  worth the wait.