Category: cardamom

Cherry cardamom hot cross buns with a buttermilk icing.

SPRING!! YOU’RE FINALLY HERE! Oh, how we’ve missed you. You & your bright colors & beautiful flowers. All winter I’ve longed for a big bouquet of fresh buds on my table, and I can finally indulge. And indulge I have!

Besides after having such a rough few weeks I think we all deserve some brightness.

Ranunculus.

I think since early March, I’ve had a trillion vases & jars all over the house, filled with beautiful flowers. As soon as I started seeing blooms for sale, I bought ‘em. Those gorgeous ones pictured are ranunculus; some of my absolute favorites. But daffodils were a big one recently, and of course tulips. It’s so nice to have the snow be gone & the greenery back!

And now, a spring-y, Easter-y recipe to usher in the season of eggs, bunnies & flowers: hot cross buns!

Cherry cardamom hot cross buns.

I had to change ‘em around a bit, though. I made mine with cardamom and dried cherries, and the icing is a buttermilk icing. You, however, can use cinnamon instead of cardamom, and raisins instead of cherries, and milk or heavy cream instead of buttermilk for a  more traditional recipe.

Cherry cardamom hot cross buns!

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Rockin’ Moroccan cranberry sauce (with preserved lemon).

Right about now, all across America, folks are flipping out while planning their Thanksgiving dinners. There are tons of phone calls being made… who’s sitting next to who, who isn’t speaking to whom, which cousin is bringing the potatoes au gratin, who’s making the pie, is Aunt Linda making her rice dish this year, which niece is allergic to gluten, what cranberry sauce should we have, etc.

So I thought I’d complicate your life a little more. Let me throw a(nother) possibility into the ring for you guys:

Moroccan-style cranberry sauce with cumin, cardamom & preserved lemon!

When I say this is Moroccan, I don’t really mean it. It’s not a traditional Moroccan dish at all. I’m only saying that because of the use of preserved lemon. The rest of it isn’t terribly ethnic or unique. Although, it is somewhat unique given the fact that at this time of year most cranberry sauces are fairly traditional. But really I’m just being an asshole American: coming up with a clever name at the expense of another culture. So let’s say it’s Moroccan-style, okay?

But… there is some cumin & cardamom in there too! So its definitely not your grandma’s cranberry sauce.

Moroccan-style cranberry sauce with cumin, cardamom & preserved lemon!

I came up with this idea after seeing Local Kitchen add preserved lemon to plum jam. Genius! I thought about it & realized it would be an amazing addition to cranberry sauce; especially seeing as how cranberry & lemon go hand in hand like… I don’t know. Things that hold hands.

ANYWAY…

Then I decided to add some cumin. Then the cardamom popped out of the cabinet. And the rest was history!

Moroccan-style cranberry sauce made with cumin, cardamom & preserved lemons. Not your grandma's cranberry sauce!

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Spiced bourbon. Need I say more?

Last fall around this time, I posted a recipe for spiced honey; honey infused with spices & lemon. It was a great thing to have around last winter when I thought I’d die. No seriously. I was in the midst of two TERRIBLE bouts of severe cold/bronchitis & it really helped immensely. I added it to tea & I had spoonfuls of it straight from the jar. I’m still making a few jars of it for this winter. However this year… I’m also going with spiced alcohol.

Spiced Buffalo Trace Bourbon; with cardamom, vanilla & cinnamon.

Truth be told, I am not  was never a bourbon girl. Not really. I’d drink it in an old fashioned, even drink it on the rocks. But it’s never been my favorite thing to drink alone. But lately, when it comes to infusions & whipped creams & baked goods & even pickles… bourbon has become my “boo thang.”

Jay loves him some bourbon. He’s my go-to bourbon guy. If I need it for a recipe, I ask him. Which one is best in this, which one would be good for that, which is too expensive to bake with (notice: don’t touch the Pappy Van Winkle, whatever you do), which one would go well in cake, you get the idea.

‘Tis the season for warming drinks. Bourbon, brandy, whiskey, etc. Fall & winter just screams for that kind of thing. Hot toddy’s, hot milk punch, hot buttered whiskey, all that. And like I said, while I’m not a fan of straight up bourbon, I do enjoy some infused varieties. I added that cherry bourbon to Cokes all winter, not to mention I made chocolate sauce with it. And listen: who wouldn’t love some vanilla-infused spiced bourbon?

Loony people, that’s who.

A recipe for spiced Buffalo Trace bourbon.

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A literal “coffee cake.”

Really, I’m not sure if there’s a more literal interpretation of “coffee cake” than this one… except for maybe a cake made with coffee. Seriously. You see a lot of coffee cakes, and they’re all meant to be served with coffee, hence the name… but this one is truly a coffee cake. Or rather a coffee can cake.

 

It’s a coffee cake baked in a coffee can.

How cool is that? Pretty friggin’ cool.

I saw this during my travels on the inter webs & I thought, “That’s so cute!” Yes, I had heard of bread or fruitcake being baked in coffee cans before, and my mom used to do it. But I thought making a coffee cake in a coffee can was super adorable. And interesting. Something I’d never done before.

Only problem is: I don’t have any coffee cans. I have a Keurig, and when I do buy coffee it’s bagged. The only can I have is one from Cafe Du Monde & I’m not using that for baking. So I had to enlist my father to see if he had any of his trusty Chock-Full-O-Nuts cans laying around, which thankfully he did, and tons of them at that (although I’m still not sure why). Unfortunately, your average coffee cans have gotten smaller lately… from one pound to 11.3 ounces. It doesn’t really make much of a difference to this recipe, however, so if you’ve only got 11-ounce coffee cans, don’t freak. It worked out just fine for me! Yeah, there was some overflow. But not enough to really matter.

If you’ve got one of those really big coffee cans, maybe you can make the entire recipe in one can? Not sure, but I don’t see why not, as long as the large can is at least double the size of a regular one.

CARDAMOM COFFEE CAN CAKE (adapted from iVillage)

Ingredients:

  • 2 coffee cans (1 pound size is preferable, I had to use 11.3 oz. cans)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3 tablespoons soft unsalted butter (for coating the cans)
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cool but not chilled, cut into 1-inch slices
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup warm water
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins (*OPTIONAL)
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour

Topping:

  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:

  1.  Soak the coffee cans in hot soapy water to clean them and remove any labels and/or glue. Please do not attempt to make these with the labels still on the cans. Dry the cans thoroughly in a warm oven. Heavily coat the interior of the cans with the soft butter (3 tablespoons) once they have cooled.
  2. To make the dough, combine the buttermilk and butter slices (1/2 cup or 1 stick) in a small saucepan over medium heat and warm the mixture until the butter slices start to melt. Set the pan aside. Combine the warm water, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, and yeast in a 4-cup liquid measure and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Set the mixture aside.
  3. Put the flour and the cardamom (1/4 teaspoon) in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the dough blade or the steel chopping blade. Pulse the machine on and off three times. Add the brown sugar, salt, eggs, and yeast mixture to the flour mixture and process for 1 full minute. With the machine still running, slowly pour the buttermilk mixture through the feed tube, then immediately turn off the processor. Scrape down the sides of the work bowl and add the raisins. Pulse the processor on and off several times or until the raisins are distributed throughout the dough. Divide the batter between the two prepared coffee cans.
  4. Cover the cans with a tea towel and set them in a warm, draft-free place to rise for 45 minutes, or until the dough has risen to within 1 inch of the can tops. When the dough has finished rising, remove all but the lowest rack from the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.
  5. To make the topping, melt the 1/3 cup of butter and brush it over the top of each coffee cake. Combine the granulated sugar (5 tablespoons) and spices (1 teaspoon cardamom and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon) and liberally sprinkle each cake with half of the mixture.
  6. Bake the cakes in their cans for 35 minutes, or until the tops are a dark golden brown. Thump the tops as you would a melon and listen for a hollow sound, like a ripe melon. If you do not hear a hollow sound, bake the cakes for another 8 minutes and test again. Cool the cans for 1 hour on a rack, then unmold them.

Next time I would make a streusel for the topping, instead of what’s given in the recipe. It tasted good, but it didn’t look that great. I just think it’s better suited to a chunky, spicy, sugary streusel instead. Oh, if only. Hindsight is 20/20! I also didn’t use the raisins. I just don’t like raisins. But if you do, then throw those suckers in.

See? Not a very… well… flattering photo.

By the way- speaking of what I didn’t use… I didn’t use a food processor, I used my stand mixer with the dough hook, and it worked out just fine. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can use a food processor and vice versa. And you might have some trouble getting the cake out of the cans. I had some trouble myself, but I just finagled it by cutting the tops off first, then taking the rest out. Then I just sliced them all up right away for serving. But eating them right out of the can with a couple of forks isn’t the worst thing to ever happen, is it?

And of course, they’re served with COFFEE. And it’d be perfect with some of that Swedish style homemade flavored milk.

(If you want to give them as a hostess gift, iVillage says to do the following: wash and dry the interiors of the cans. Roll each cooled coffee cake in a strip of parchment paper and put the cakes back in the cans once the cans are dry. The finished cakes should be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap until you are ready to assemble and deliver the gift. You can also tie ribbons around the cans if you like.)

Spice up your life!

In just a few short days, February will have arrived. The winter is far from over, of course, but with February comes the new onslaught of holidays: Valentines Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Passover, etc, etc, etc. Before you know it, websites & blogs will be proclaiming “SPRING!” while you look out your window & see 2 feet of snow or frost-covered cars.

Not me, however.

I am fully aware that there’s a lot of winter left to go, and that you need some warming up. As do I. So on this, my last post of January, I present you with the following: spice-infused milk.

It’s a goddamn revelation, I tell you. It’s the easiest thing in the world, and I’m sorry I never thought of it before. It’s genius. Leave it to Martha to come up with something so stupidly simple it makes you feel positively soft in the head for not thinking of it yourself. It’s basically the same concept behind flavored coffee creamers. Duuuuh.

Last week when I went to Mystic, CT, in a little shop called the Franklin General Store I found Dave’s Coffee Syrup. It’s basically an all-natural, preservative free version of Coffee Time syrup. The ingredients are simply cold brewed coffee & cane sugar; no high-fructose corn syrup or coffee flavor. It’s typically used to make “coffee milk”; a Rhode Island tradition, but there’s a tag on the label that encourages you to get creative with it. I bought the regular coffee syrup, Jay got the Madagascar vanilla coffee syrup. I decided that I wanted to use my infused milk with my new coffee syrup… and so I did. But first I tried it with a regular coffee.


SPICE-INFUSED MILK (via Martha Stewart Living, Dec. 2012)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • Spices of your choice; i.e. star anise, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, freshly grated ginger, vanilla, cloves, etc (see below for recipe ideas)
  • 16-oz. jar for storage

Directions:

  1. Heat the milk in a medium saucepan with the spices you choose, stirring just once or twice. Heat JUST UNTIL STEAMING.
  2. Cover pan and let the spices steep in the milk for 1 hour.
  3. Strain and reheat if necessary, or refrigerate in a jar (up to 3 days). Reheat gently before serving.

There are tons of ideas & possibilities here, and not just for coffee! For example:

OATMEAL: Infuse 2 cups milk with 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, 1 cinnamon stick or the pod & seeds of half a vanilla bean. Add to oatmeal.

SWEDISH COFFEE: Steep 18 lightly crushed cardamom pods in 2 cups whole milk, add to coffee. Alternately or in conjunction, you can use 1 cinnamon stick or freshly grated nutmeg.

MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE: For a spicy Mexican-inspired cocoa, infuse 2 cups whole milk with 1 or 2 dried chiles (smoky chipotles or anchos), 1 cinnamon stick and the pod & seeds of 1 vanilla bean. Mix with cocoa.

INDIAN: Use 10 cardamom pods, a teaspoon of fennel seeds, 1 star anise petal and 1 cinnamon stick. Use with coffee or cocoa. This is also good over muesli or with oatmeal.

GROWN UP MILK PUNCH: Mix milk with 2 tablespoons caramel, 3 teaspoons maple syrup, half a vanilla bean (scraped), 2 pinches ground cinnamon. Cook as directed, let cool. Once cooled, mix with 2 shots of brandy in a cocktail shaker with ice. Strain before serving.

I made Swedish coffee milk, but I added half of a vanilla bean & a cinnamon stick to the cardamom. So maybe that wasn’t really a Swedish coffee, but I don’t care. It was delicious. I highly recommend it. Do whatever you want! Add whatever spices you like! Chiles, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, vanilla bean, Chinese 5-spice, etc. Go nuts.

And of course, what’s a Swedish coffee without a Swedish book?

And to all a good night!

Welp, today is Christmas Eve.

That came super quick, didn’t it? Or maybe it’s just me.

Regardless, it’s here now. And on Christmas Eve I have a few family traditions: making the last of my Christmas Day treats (usually more fudge), pre-cooking whatever has to be done for Christmas Day (if anything), wrapping up any last minute gifts, and a eating a dinner made up of a variety of appetizers while drinking cocktails & watching A Christmas Carol; more specifically, the 1951 version of A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim (the best version, in my humble opinion). Sometimes there’s a big, gigantic tin of assorted flavor popcorn thrown in there as well. That’s been the tradition in my house for as long as I can remember. When Jay came into the family, we had to work around his schedule as well as everyone else’s, which wasn’t really an issue until he became a cop. Then that kind of really threw a monkey wrench into things. And I don’t say that negatively; I say it meaning sometimes the Christmas Eve traditions end up being on Christmas Day, while the Christmas Day dinner ends up on Christmas Eve. Or sometimes, the big family Christmas dinner is pushed forward to the 26th or 27th. But that’s totally fine with me. I’m adaptable. I like having multiple celebrations, anyway… it’s fun to spread out the awesomeness for a few days!

(Pardon these photos… the lighting was poor & I was kind of rushing. I hope you get the gist of it, and can enjoy them anyway)

I had to make cupcakes for Christmas, that’s obvious. So I baked up those delicious Stollen-inspired cupcakes, courtesy of the Food Network magazine.

A Stollen is a fruit cake containing dried fruit and covered with sugar, powdered sugar or icing sugar. The cake is usually made with chopped candied fruit and/or dried fruit, nuts and spices. Stollen is a traditional German cake, usually eaten during the Christmas season, when called Weihnachtsstollen or Christstollen.

Stollen is a bread-like fruitcake made with yeast, water and flour, and usually with zest added to the dough. Candied orange peel and candied citrus peel (Zitronat),[1] raisins and almonds, and different spices such as cardamom and cinnamon are added. Other ingredients, such as milk, sugar, butter, salt, rum, eggs,[2] vanilla,[3] other dried fruits and nuts and marzipan may also be added to the Stollen dough. Except for the fruit added, the dough is quite low in sugar. The finished cake is sprinkled with icing sugar. The traditional weight of a Stollen is around 4.4 pounds (2 kg), but smaller sizes are now available.

The Dresden Stollen (originally Striezel), a moist, heavy bread filled with fruit, was first mentioned in an official document in 1474,[4] and the most famous Stollen is still the Dresdner Stollen,[5] sold, amongst other places, at the local Christmas market, Striezelmarkt. Dresden Stollen is produced in the city of Dresden and distinguished by a special seal depicting King Augustus II the Strong. This “official” Stollen is produced by only 150 Dresden bakers.

-Wikipedia

So of course, these cupcakes aren’t genuine Stollen. They’re just inspired by it, and because I have this weird thing where my cupcakes have to have frosting, I added a vanilla whipped cream-ish frosting. I swear, making these cupcakes with no frosting almost killed me. I absolutely HAD to frost them! However, if you aren’t as opposed to frosting-less cupcakes, you can leave it at the confectioner’s sugar, or make a simple icing with heavy cream, rum & confectioner’s sugar to drizzle on top.

Also, that tablecloth in the photos was handmade by my mother when she was 10 years old. It’s red felt, with a little white fringed edge, and cut out green felt trees decorated with glitter, beads, sequins, & paillettes. That tablecloth plus my grandmother’s “spaghetti ware” Santas, the retro-y Meri Meri Merry & Bright Christmas cupcake kit I had & the stollen-inspired cupcakes (stollen always seems like an old fashioned dessert/bread to me), really made it feel like a vintage Christmas.

STOLLEN-INSPIRED CUPCAKES (adapted from the Food Network magazine, Dec. 2012)

Makes about 1 dozen cupcakes

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
  • 1/4 cup of a mix of citron, dried currants, dried cranberries & raisins, or whatever you like (optional)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/3 cup marzipan, room temperature & softened slightly
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted (for topping)
  • confectioner’s sugar (for dusting)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. In a larger bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer), beat the softened butter with the marzipan and sugar until fluffy. Then beat in the 2 eggs, one at a time, and then the vanilla & almond extract.
  3. Slowly beat in the flour mixture and 1/3 cup milk in alternating batches. Divide among 12 prepared muffin cups, filling them about 3/4 full, and bake 20-25 minutes.
  4. Remove from the oven and set aside for five minutes. Brush with melted butter while still warm, but not hot, and dust with confectioner’s sugar. When 100% cooled, then frost.

WHIPPED CREAM FROSTING (adapted from The Food Pusher)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 teaspoon unflavored gelatin powder
  • 2 tablespoon cold water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup whipping cream (regular or heavy, I used heavy)
  • pinch salt
  • 5 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar

Directions:

  1. Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in small bowl to soften.
  2. Scald 2 tablespoon of the cream; pour over gelatin, stirring till dissolved.
  3. Refrigerate until consistency of unbeaten egg white. (This takes about 10-15 minutes.) Then, with a whisk, beat until smooth.In a stand mixer with a whip attachment, or with a hand beater, whip remaining cream, salt and sugar; whip in the smoothed gelatin mixture, stopping to scrape the bowl twice.
  4. This recipe stands up well, even in warm weather. Keep leftover frosting and any product topped with it in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

I’ll avoid any overly sappy holiday messages… all I will say is that this Christmas we all have so much to be thankful for. After the Newtown, CT shooting I’m sure we all had a little wakeup call about that. I know all the parents that I know certainly did, and me too. I may not be a parent- but life is short, and you should appreciate what you have while you have it. You just never know what may come tomorrow. So be thankful for your family & friends & pets, tell them you love them every chance you get & don’t let fear get the best of you. I had to remind myself that after being in NYC during the 9/11 attacks- when it was time to get back on that train, it was kind of hard to do. Fear of what could happen should never take away from your life, or interfere with you living. And I know there are some parents who might feel a form of survivor’s guilt; why did their child live? How did they get to be so lucky when others were so terribly devastatingly ruined by this? I don’t know why or how, but I do know that you should just be thankful & not let that guilt or those questions take one minute of time away from you enjoying your family as much as possible. I don’t have the answers. And I don’t really have anything to say that can solve this, provide comfort, or take pain away from anyone. I do know that sweets make people happy. And when I make people happy, it gives me solace that my one little tiny act of baking a cake or pressing “publish”  can maybe help make someone smile in an otherwise shitty situation. So in that vein, I’m continuing to light up my little section of the web with deliciousness (& hopefully a few laughs). Food can sometimes give the comfort words themselves can’t.

I’ll leave it at that and I’ll just get right to the point…

Merry Christmas to all… and to all a good night.

Small-batch inspiration.

“There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Thanksgiving is over. The turkeys have all been gobbled up- pun intended. Most folks are going to be eating turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce for another few days, at least. And Christmas is rapidly coming, as evidenced by all the colored & white twinkling lights that are popping up everywhere. I guess- for most people- that means this month, same as last month, is filled with a plethora of recipes & cooking. Or at least, plans to do so.

I should probably say that this post is about a recipe, and cooking, but also about a kind of combination of baker’s block and writer’s block. And “cook’s block,” or whatever. Because I genuinely felt, a while back, as if my well of never-ending ideas had dried up. Just a few weeks ago I’d been feeling majorly uninspired. Not just kitchen-wise, although that was a major part of it. In life, too. Completely uninspired & boring. And it wasn’t fun, especially when you’re a blogger whose blog is dependent on your ideas. Usually, I’m fairly prolific… even when I make something & it’s a failure, I still have tons of shit to say about it. At the very least I usually have other ideas bouncing around in my head. I know exactly what to make for dinner, what to bake, what to say about it all.

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But nope. Not a few weeks ago.

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Other than writing about my writing/baking/cooking block, I had nothing else to say. And I guess in five years of blogging it’s bound to happen at least once, so I can’t complain. But all I could think of to make were boring things that I’ve already done. Or not so boring things that I’ve already done. Either way, I’ve already done them. And you don’t come here to read the same damn thing over & over again. I was stuck in such a rut, you have no idea. Even when it was dinner time. I’d open my cabinets, stare at the contents, then let them slam shut without one spark of inspiration. Thankfully, I had some things to post that I had made already or else the blog would’ve been blank.

Have I done everything? No. Have I created every single baked good or cupcake or meal there is to make? Not at all. My inspiration meter was just on zero. I just couldn’t come up with anything to do. Or rather, that I felt like doing. It was a drag. A major freakin’ drag. I had absolutely no kitchen-mojo. But then I had a breakthrough:

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Pear-sauce.

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Pears and I don’t really get along. I’m not a fan of pears at all, really. Apples, yes. Pears, no.

But sometimes we’re pushed into making things by necessity… like the bowl of pears sitting on the table that are getting too soft (ahem- remember these?), and the coincidental small-batch brown sugar & cardamom pear jam blog post you find at a favorite blog. Taking some cues from Marisa, I decided on making an applesauce-type thing, but with pears. And cardamom, ’cause it sounded good. I don’t like pears, mind you, but sauces/jams/jellies make great hostess or holiday gifts. And at the time, this being a few weeks ago, Thanksgiving was coming up (and then the Christmas holiday season), and I figured I’d be going to a few people’s houses for dinners or perhaps hosting my own. Therefore I could use a few spare jars of things I don’t use for that very reason. Giving your hostess a jar of something homemade is always a nice touch. Besides, it’s nice to offer people a variety of homemade yummies with dinner/dessert this time of year. And I had, actually, been toying with the idea of making some pear-sauce, but in my mind I had imagined a pear/apple combination, maybe with cinnamon.

So granted, my uninspired period didn’t last very long. But the end result of it made the brief time of “blah” much more worth it! Not only was it something I personally had never made before, but it would use up those bruised & soft pears!

After seeing the post at Food in Jars, I used all the pears I had that were getting soft, of which there were about four or five. I had mostly Bartlett, but there were one or two teeny Seckel pears in there (if you’re making this now, you can use either Seckel or Anjou, both should be available). I cored them, chopped them up (without peeling them), and added ‘em to a saucepan with a cup of sugar and a tablespoon of lemon juice (I ended up with a little over 2 3/4 cups of chopped pears). I then let it cook. I occasionally used a fork to mash the larger chopped up bits. I let it cook until it “came together”, and then I raised the heat up. I let it go again until it splattered and sputtered and got thick, stirring it occasionally. Then I added a teaspoon of cardamom and lowered the heat a bit to let the cardamom cook into it. At this point, it seemed to have the consistency of a slightly chunky applesauce, but I thought it might turn out to be slightly thicker than that when cooled (And it was, but not by much).

I added it to the hot, sterilized jars (I ended up with 16 ounces of it total; one half-pint jar and two 4-oz. jars) and sealed them. Processed them for 10 minutes in a water bath canner and that was that.

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Easiest thing ever.

And of course, as she said, it makes a great oatmeal addition. Just swirl it in there. Or, use it however you’d use applesauce. And if you don’t want to “can” it, I’m fairly sure it’d be fine to just pop it in a clean jar and refrigerate it for use right away. Or… can it, make the jars look all spiffy, and use it as part of your holiday gifts. Before anyone asks: I spray painted those bands black myself- not safe to use for the water bath, but I put them on in place of regular ones once the jars are cooled. Yet another “inspired” moment, this time thanks to Well Preserved.

All it took to get me back in the game was three little jars of pear-sauce with black-painted rings? Not bad. Not bad at all.

Chai concentrating.

Pinterest has taken over everyone’s life lately. It seems as if everyone is either making something they found on Pinterest or talking about something they found on Pinterest. And I’m no different. My Pinterest page is filled with amazing things; some of which I’ve made, some of which I’ll never make, and most of which I just gush about. I even wrote about it at textdrivebys.com twice…

This chai concentrate from Tasty Yummies is one of the ones I’ve actually both pinned and made.

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November is doing it’s best to get fully settled in. It’s been very, very cold, and as a matter of fact in addition to hurricane Sandy hammering us last week, tomorrow we’re getting a Nor’easter! Gusty winds, heavy rains and even snow in some places. So it’s time for warm drinks & spicy flavors. Hot cider, hot chocolate, hot tea. One chilly Sunday I was browsing Pinterest, looking at things I had been pinning for something interesting to create, and I noticed this chai concentrate that I had pinned way back in August. As soon as I saw the stunning photo of it in a Mason jar (how could I turn away!?) I pinned it. I’m not a massive chai person, but I do enjoy it every now & then. And it’s worth it to me to try a homemade version because I really never buy it when I’m out. I usually prefer a coffee. So when I do have chai, it’s at home. And I love some pre-made brands, and some tea companies versions of it. But sometimes it’s just not the same.

The history of chai is quite a rich one, despite most people only knowing it from it’s existence in lattes at Starbucks.

Masala chai (literally “mixed-spice tea”) is a beverage from India made by brewing tea with a mixture of aromatic Indian spices and herbs.

Plain chai

By itself, chai or cha is merely the generic word for “tea” in many European and Asian languages. The widespread form chai comes from Persian چای chay. Street vendors called “chai wallahs” (sometimes spelled “chaiwalas”) are a common sight, although coffee is a more popular beverage in some southern parts of India. Chai is also a popular item in restaurants known as Irani cafés or the genre of South Asian restaurants known as Chai Khanas or Ghahve Khane.

Spiced tea

For many English speakers, the term “chai” is synonymous with masala chai, as further described below. The redundant chai tea is sometimes used to indicate spiced milk tea as distinct from other types of tea. Numerous coffee houses use the term chai latte for their version to indicate that the steamed milk of a normal latte is being flavored with a spiced tea concentrate instead of with espresso, without necessarily implying the addition of coffee. Some coffeehouses and brand names refer to their product as chai tea latte.

The beverage is locally known as Chai karak in the Middle East.

And might I add… DELICIOUS. And this homemade concentrate is also easy. Cheap, too. But at the same time it’s quick- it takes no time at all, and it makes your house smell absolutely amazing. The smell alone is worth it! Just like the homemade pumpkin spice latte mix I posted about last month, if you’re a chai lover who buys a lot of chai lattes, this could totally save you some money.

HOMEMADE CHAI CONCENTRATE (adapted minimally from Tasty Yummies)

Yields: 1 batch of concentrate, approximately 4 cups

Ingredients:

  • 4 1/2 cups water
  • 8 bags black tea – I used PG tips
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 10 whole cloves
  • 1 1/3 teaspoons ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 2 whole star anise pods
  • 1/2 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon honey

Directions:

  1. Add the water and sugar to a medium sized saucepan and bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer and put in the tea bags, cheesecloth pouch and cinnamon sticks. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat strain the concentrate through a sieve, separating the large pieces (tea begs/cinnamon sticks/cardamom pods/anise/cloves/etc) from the mix. At this point, add your vanilla extract & honey. Stir to combine.
  3. Allow the mixture to cool before pouring it into an airtight jar or container. This amount fits perfectly into a 1-quart mason jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

To use it, mix one part concentrate with one part milk or milk-like product of your choice. Heat the concentrate for a hot version, pour over ice for a cold version.

;

I used ground cardamom & ground ginger, I had fresh ginger but it was frozen & I didn’t feel like defrosting it so I could cut it (it’s a pretty large hunk, and yes I freeze my extra ginger). I didn’t have any cardamom pods but I had a large jar of it ground, so I opted to substitute that. Also, the original recipe called for a whole vanilla bean, coconut sugar & raw honey- I only had regular sugar, brown sugar, a small amount of German rock sugar (for my tea) & sugar cubes myself, so I made an executive decision. If you want to use another kind of sugar, go right ahead, but you might want to read what she says her results were first. My honey wasn’t raw either, but I don’t think that makes much of a difference taste-wise. All of my vanilla beans were being made into homemade vanilla extract at the time, so I had to use some vanilla extract instead. If you like a spicier chai, add more peppercorns. If you like a sweeter chai, add more sugar. Likewise… if you prefer a less sweet chai then just use less sugar/honey. What you use in it is totally up to you. And as a matter of fact, this mix makes a nice hostess gift, too. Tie some raffia around the top with some cinnamon sticks & handwritten instructions, and you’re good to go. And if you know someone who was in the path of Hurricane Sandy who has no power but still has a gas stove to heat it up with, maybe bring them some, along with some food.

As for me? I’ll be drinking some later tonight watching the 2012 Presidential election returns. Make sure you registered U.S. voters get out there today & do your duty! It’s a privilege to be able to push that little lever or fill in that circle on paper, so get your lazy, apathetic asses out there. And to everyone who already voted; good for you. It’s not even 8 a.m. & you’ve already made more of a difference than most people will all day. And if you’re one of those people affected by Sandy, you can still vote. Download a mail-in ballot or call your local elected officials to find out where to go to vote in New Jersey, or if you’re in NY you can click here & find out where to go (and in turn pass it on!). I know you’re all dealing with so many other things, but voting is going to continue; no matter what election day will not be suspended. And it’s so important to get your vote in. So please, try and get as many folks as you can to the polls today.

And if you remain unaffected, if you’re safe, warm & dry today, and you know where you’ll be voting & that you’ll be coming home afterwards… then especially be thankful for that.

;;

Opium cakes.

Opium den images courtesy of Retronaut

Opium used to be the big drug back in the day. I guess it was the crystal meth of the time, around the turn of the century/1920′s. It contains something like 12% morphine, and codeine & hydrocodone are derivatives of the same family of drug- hence the name opiates. It’s serious stuff. Laudanum was made from opium & alcohol & was used to treat a variety of stomach ailments fairly regularly back then. But in modern times, all we know about it is what we read from an Edgar Allan Poe story or William S. Burrough’s novels, not to mention glib pop culture references. We all remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine’s urine test comes back positive for opium because she ate a poppy seed bagel, right? I always thought such a thing couldn’t happen, unless you eat 1,000,000 poppy seed bagels in one day. But I was wrong: eating poppy seed muffins, cakes or bagels can indeed land you in a heap of trouble. As a matter of fact, back in January of 2005, Anahad O’Connor wrote in the New York Times Science section that “eating just two poppy seed bagels heavily coated with seeds can result in morphine in a person’s system for hours, leading a routine drug test to come back positive… [therefore] because of this possibility, the federal government recently raised the threshold for opiates in workplace testing to 2,000 nanograms a milliliter, up from 300.” And by that reasoning, this cake could possibly get you fired from your job or make you lose custody of your kids. It’s loaded with poppy seeds. Loaded. Both in the cake itself and on top.

Which is fine with me. I love me some poppy seeds. Poppy seed bagels are my favorite bagels ever. So when I was reading one of the (many, many, many, as you can see here) books I got for Christmas, Cake Ladies by Jodi Rhoden, and I saw this triple layer poppy seed cake with almond icing, I just had to make it. I never make cakes, as you probably know. This was an exception. It’s a huge cake: a pound of butter & a half-dozen eggs. But worth it. However… I ended up halving the recipe & making two dozen cupcakes instead. I know, I know.

But it just seemed so big. So many eggs, so much butter, etc. And it is big, because if half the recipe makes two dozen cupcakes, the whole recipe must make FOUR DOZEN. That is huge. And crazy. And ¼ cup of poppy seeds is a lot of poppy seeds. It’s a wonder I didn’t get high off it. As far as the taste goes, they were pretty unique, I have to say. Very different, but I loved them. Cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, poppy seeds, almond extract & the tang from the vinegar-milk combination; all very subtle but what flavor! A surprisingly delicious winter cupcake. Moist cake filled with tons of warming spices, albeit subtle like I said, and then some crunch from the seeds. I topped them with the almond buttercream from the book and then some little flowers made of almond slices with poppy seeds for centers. Really cute, I thought. Next time, however, I’d make little red poppies out of fondant. ‘Cause that’d be doubly cute.

Of course, I’m giving you the adapted cupcake version of the recipe that I made. For the full cake recipe, you’ll have to buy the book. Bwahahaha.

POPPY SEED CUPCAKES WITH ALMOND BUTTERCREAM ICING (adapted from a recipe by Lisa Goldstein of Celo, NC, from Cake Ladies by Jodi Rhoden)

Ingredients:

Cake:
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 cup milk at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pure almond extract
  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • a pinch of ground cardamom
  • ¼ cup poppy seeds
Icing:
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened, room temperature
  • 2 ½ – 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons half-and-half (plus more if needed)

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites together with the cream of tartar on high speed, until soft peaks form. Set aside.
  2. In a separate bowl of the stand mixer, this time fitted with the paddle, cream the butter, sugar and honey together until light and fluffy. While beating on low speed, add egg yolks, one at a time. Beat after each addition. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat again until the mixture is smooth, light and creamy.
  3. In a glass measuring cup, combine the milk, vinegar and almond extract. Set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Add that mixture to the creamed butter mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk mixture, and mixing lightly but thoroughly between each addition, until ingredients are just combined.
  5. Add the poppy seeds, folding them in by hand until combined. Quickly re-whisk the egg whites by hand if they’ve separated, then fold them into the batter gently, in three batches.
  6. Add cupcake liners to muffin tins and fill each with batter, around two-thirds full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in each cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool 10 minutes in tins, then remove to wire rack. Cool thoroughly before frosting.
  7. To make the icing, cream the butter and confectioner’s sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until it makes a thick paste. add and combine the vanilla & almond extracts. Then add the half-and-half, one tablespoon at a time, blending on low speed until fully incorporated.
  8. Add more if needed to achieve a creamy, fluffy consistency. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the paddle, bottom and sides of the bowl. Re-mix until no lumps remain.

Excuse the frosting job on the back left one; I was trying to find the best way of doing it

They came out really rustic-looking. So much so I almost wish I had one of those cake stands made of an old tree. They’d be so sweet on one of those. Dammit, I wish I had one now! I’m going to have to get my hands on some cut down trees & get Jay to start cuttin’ it up! He’s a big, handy fella. He can do it. Why buy when you can DIY!

If you’re looking for a unique recipe to try, this is it. It’d be fabulous as a triple layer cake, too, of course. And in case you’re wondering, I got a lot of cookbooks for Christmas, so you’ll be seeing a lot of recipes from them in the coming months. And I’m not into New Year’s resolutions so they’ll be loaded with butter & eggs & sugar. I’ve got to maintain my girlish figure somehow.

And if poppy seeds don’t interest you, later on this week there’ll be a post featuring a giveaway I’m doing together with Yoyo from Topstitch, so keep your eyes peeled.

Preserving: traditions… and some fruits, nuts & tea.

I’ve heard a lot recently about keeping traditions alive, especially after someone has passed away. For me it’s important. Vital, even. And that’s been something that has always been important in my family. The year my great-grandfather Tom died in late November (my grandmother’s father), her & my grandpa put up a Christmas tree. A smaller one, but still. The year her mother Mary passed away right before Halloween, her brother still passed out candy at the house because it was his mother’s favorite holiday. To not do these things would feel wrong to us. However, everyone grieves differently. For us it’s important to continue with the things those people loved to do… we’d feel sadder & lonelier without them. To each his own. But for me, that’s how our ancestors & family members are kept alive. Making their recipes, using their decorations, etc. Doing the things they used to do & love. Preserving the traditions. My grandma loved Christmas, to not celebrate it would be wrong.

Speaking of preserving…. in the last few days before Christmas, I thought I’d throw in three more ideas for seasonally appropriate jams/conserves/jellies. Perfect for gift-giving, as additions to the Christmas dinner/after-dinner spread, or for a Christmas Day brunch. All three are different, yet totally Christmas-y. And in case you’re wondering…

Conserves are made with dried fruits and nuts and are cooked. They have a very thick and chunky texture. Conserves work very well as a spread and as a condiment for meats and cheeses.

Jam is a thick mixture of fruit, pectin, and sugar that is boiled gently but quickly until the fruit is soft and has an organic shape, yet is still thick enough that it spreads easily and can form a blob. In addition to being a spread, jams are also good for fillings.

Jelly is made from sugar, pectin, acid, and fruit juice and is a clear spread that is firm enough to hold its shape. Jellies can also be made from ingredients other than fruit, such as herbs, tea, wine, liqueurs, flowers, and vegetables.

- source: TheKitchn

Does that clear up the confusion? So anyway, like I said, three recipes. Yes. I said THREE. Three whole recipes today. I must be crazy, right? Three recipes for three different types of jarred up, old timey, homestyle holiday fare. I guess you could say this post is a trifecta of awesomeness. Or a triple threat. Whatever it is- it rocks.

Those are regular size cupcake liners used as lid covers!

First up is the conserve; made with dried figs, dried plums & walnuts. The recipe was sent to me by my friend Chrisie who found it in an old cookbook of her grandma’s. I used whole dried Black Mission figs & Plum Amazins’ diced dried plums myself- the original recipe calls for two types of dried figs. I had the plums & figured why the hell not. My mother is a big fig person, so these were made specifically as a gift for her. I’m giving you the original recipe in it’s entirety, with any modifications I did in parentheses.

FIG (& PLUM) & WALNUT CONSERVE

Makes roughly 8 half pints

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup packed dried black figs
  • 3 cups boiling water
  • 1 cup packed dried California figs, or any medium light brown figs (I substituted Plum Amazin dried plums)
  • 1 medium orange, both the juice & the fruit (I used just the juice from a small orange, since I used slightly more figs than called for, I didn’t think I needed extra pulp or fruit)
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 cups packed light brown sugar (I used half light brown, half dark brown)
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup white wine (I omitted this)
  • ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ cups toasted walnuts, chopped (I didn’t toast them, I just tossed them in and let them cook with the fruit)
  • 1 teaspoon ground sage (I used cardamom instead, only ½ teaspoon)

Directions:

  1. Snip the stems off the figlets and place in a large bowl along with the boiling water for 30 minutes. Slice the California figs in half (if using the Plum Amazin’s there’s no need to do that, they’re already diced) and place in a large pan along with the figlets and fig water.
  2. Cut the orange in half; juice half and dice the remaining half, including rind, into small pieces. Add the orange juice to the pan. Mix in the remaining ingredients, except the walnuts and sage (or, like I used, cardamom). Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Mix in the walnuts and sage and cook for an additional 10 minutes (I let it cook down longer, so it was a much thicker consistency). Spoon the fig and walnuts into clean, hot jars, pressing down.
  3. Ladle the juice over the fruit, leaving ½”-inch headroom. Wipe the rims clean and seal. Invert the jars for 10 minutes. Restore to an upright position and cool. Check the seals, label and store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.

Since it’s an old recipe, and it relies on the inversion method, you might want to add in about 15 minutes processing time in a water bath canner. Unless you’re not anal about these things. I know the USDA would say otherwise, but this recipe is old & I doubt anyone died from it. Still & all I’d hate to be responsible for anyone croaking from preserves.

And next… the big ol’ boozehound of the crew: vanilla-brandy chestnut jam. This smelled so good cooking on the stove, it took everything in my power to not eat it. Seriously. As it was cooking, I wanted to just eat it right out of the pot. Then once the brandy was added… well, forget it. It seems like this is a pretty insane jam. Very rich, very dessert-like.

VANILLA-BRANDY CHESTNUT JAM

Makes about 8 pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 ¾ lbs. peeled chestnuts, chopped
  • 1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract)
  • 3 cups light brown sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons brandy (depending on taste)

Directions:

  1. Put peeled chestnuts and vanilla bean (or extract) in large sauce pan and just cover with water. Cover pan and bring to a boil; simmer until chestnuts are tender (about 30 min.). Remove and set aside vanilla bean. Drain chestnuts, reserving cooking liquid.
  2. Put chestnuts, sugar, and about 5 tablespoons cooking liquid in heavy pan. Split vanilla bean and scrape out seeds; add seeds and bean to pan. Heat mixture gently, stirring & gently “smooshing” the chestnuts (don’t worry if they remain in little chunks), until sugar is dissolved, then raise heat and boil until mixture is thick. Remove and discard vanilla bean (if used); stir in brandy.
  3. Ladle hot jam into sterilized jars, seal, and process in water bath for 10 minutes.

If you prefer a smoother jam, without chunks, then purée the chestnuts before step 2. I like jams to have chunks of fruit (in this case nuts) in ‘em, so I left the pieces of chestnut. And I’ll be honest here & say I bought pre-peeled chestnuts. I could not sit there & do that until my fingers bled… that’s dedication. I just like to reap the benefits. Plus, I scaled it back to make just 4 4-oz. jars, so for that small amount of chestnuts it’s kinda silly to go through all that. But certainly do as you wish.

And finally… last but not least… Gingerbread spice jelly! Made from TEA. Who’da thunk it? This is a fantastic idea, one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” type of deals. As soon as I saw this in Taste of Home magazine, I ripped it out & circled it.

GINGERBREAD SPICE JELLY (courtesy of Robin Nagel from Taste of Home magazine, December 2011)

Makes 5 half pints

Ingredients:

  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 18 individual gingerbread spice tea bags (I used Celestial Seasonings’ Gingerbread Spice tea because it’s the only one I know of!)
  • 4 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ cup unsweetened apple juice
  • 2 teaspoons butter
  • 2 pouches (3 oz. each) liquid fruit pectin

Directions:

  1. In a large saucepan, bring water to a boil. Remove from the heat; add tea bags. Cover and steep for 30 minutes.
  2. Discard tea bags. Stir in the sugar, apple juice and butter. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin. Boil for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
  3. Remove from heat; skim off foam. Carefully ladle hot mixture into hot jars, leaving ¼”-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles; wipe rims and adjust lids. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner (adjust that for your altitude). Let cool on a tea towel for 12 hours. Check seal. (Recipe author says jelly may take up to 2 weeks to fully set- mine set as soon as it cooled)

Since these are all wrapped up & ready to be given as gifts, I can’t tell you how any of them taste yet. But I’m sure they’re both amazing. From what I saw & smelled, I think the fig conserves would be excellent on a cracker with a piece of cheese (maybe even on a sour cream pound cake), and the chestnut jam would probably be awesome with a piece of pound cake or over vanilla ice cream. Now the jelly… hmm… I’d say on warm toast with a cup of tea. But I also kinda wanna say that it’d be great in thumbprint cookies.

Speaking of wrapped up- if you want to do this with your preserves as an easy way of jazzing ‘em up, wait until after the 12-24 hours are up and you’re sure they’re cooled & sealed. Then just unscrew the band, place a cupcake liner on the top & screw the band back on. Totally simple! And after seeing all the amazing entries in Well Preserved‘s Pimp That Preserve contest, you might have been inspired to start pimpin’ your jars… but you just didn’t know where to start! Well this is an easy way. Then you can just tie a ribbon on it, put a label on & you’re done. Although I happen to think the homemade labels & little penguin stickers on my Gingerbread jelly are mighty cute, too (they’re from the scrapbooking section of Michael’s). Be creative. Take it from a 2011 Pimp That Preserve winner *wink* The best thing about giving jars of treats like these as gifts is that unlike cake, cupcakes, cookies or bread, there’s no expiration date. Well there is, but it’s so far in the future no one has to feel the need to eat it all in one week!

Maybe Santa would like a jar of one of these instead of the usual cookies this year?