Category: organic

A deliciously NON-GMO giveaway from Milton’s Baking.

A giveaway for Milton's organic crackers!

I come from a cracker family. I know, I know, that sounds weird. But it’s true. When it comes to snacking, some families are potato chip/pretzel families, some families are cookie families (we might be a little of that too), and some are cracker families. When I was a kid, my grandmother was always eating soda crackers or other more buttery snack crackers. Sometimes plain, sometimes with a little butter, sometimes with cheese. My mother favored ‘fancier’ crackers like the baked whole wheat kind, with some goat cheese or brie, or maybe some fig jam. My dad on the other hand loves crackers, chips and cookies. Jay is a pretzel guy, but he does like the occasional cracker, maybe even with some aged cheddar.

So when I got an e-mail asking me to review & host a giveaway for Milton’s Craft Bakers brand new line of crackers, I was psyched. To find out they’re naturally sweetened, non-GMO & organic was a bonus! I love to buy things that aren’t genetically modified, and I try to do the best I can. I don’t go nuts about it, but I do try. It can be really hard sometimes- companies are very, very sneaky about this stuff. Not only that, but some of our old favorites that we just buy because we always did have come to be known as not so great choices nowadays. Between high-fructose corn syrup, GMO ingredients & trans fats, finding new, delicious alternatives isn’t always easy. Some “all-natural” options taste like cardboard. Others break the bank- lots of money for minimal product.

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Scenes from the garden, 2013.

My grandpa's 60+ year old rose.

Typically, I update about my little container “Victory garden” a few times during the summer. But because I’ve been so busy this year, I really had to pare down. I didn’t grow anything other than the usual herbs; a few of mine come back every year (chives, oregano, mint) and I bought a few more, like dill, tarragon, rosemary, etc. You all saw my garlic already. So I was going to stick to just herbs, my little garlic shoots & my flowers, but then I bought a cherry tomato plant at the last minute because it felt kinda naked without any veggies. But I swear, I’m stopping at that!  I have way too much going on this summer to have a massive garden.

Anyway, I was inspired by my visit to the Queens County Farm Museum & I thought I’d share some photos with you of my garden, & what I’m growing this year. Even if it’s not a lot of stuff, it’s still beautiful, because nature is always beautiful & interesting. That rose pictured above is from a plant that’s over 60 years old. It was one of the first ones my grandpa planted when he moved out to Long Island from the Bronx, and it’s still the most beautiful rose I have.

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Playing in the dirt.

I thought I’d do a quick little update on the garden while things were a bit slow around here due to today’s excessive heat & sunshine that’ll blind you.

(Alright, I’m lying. It’s not that slow around here, nor is it that hot – it’s around 91° F, which compared to our 101° temps last week is nothing. I just wanted to do a garden update. Whatever.)

And so I’ll begin this written portion of the program by saying that while every other woman in the country (seemingly) is squealing in excitement for the final film installment of The Twilight Saga and/or reading Fifty Shades of Grey, I’ve been gardening, cooking, baking, canning, beaching, grilling, strolling, sunbathing, and generally enjoying the outdoors. Not that there’s anything wrong with the aforementioned activities. I’m just saying. Summer goes by quickly, folks. Enjoy it while it’s here! The winter is loooong.

But right now, it’s pretty much hotter than hell most days. That sun I photographed above beats down relentlessly (when it’s not pouring rain & thundering, oh the joys of high humidity!) on everything making the sidewalk so hot I could fry my peppers outdoors. This poor little guy was one of the (probably many) casualties of the heat. I call him The Jesus Lizard, because a few weeks prior, I found a lizard laying in quite the same position, and assumed him dead. Yet when I went to brush him off the walkway into the flowerbed (I don’t know why, my version of a lizard burial I suppose) he flipped over and scooted away. This time… however… he was 100% definitely dead. I have a sneaking suspicion that this is that very same lizard. So of course, what else would I call him but the Jesus Lizard? Somewhere, many other lizards are awaiting his second coming. Until then, rest in peace little dude.

The heat is no joke. This is why they tell you to check on the elderly & young’ns and make sure your pets have plenty of cold fresh water. Anyway… let’s get back to something pleasant: my container garden! Prepare for lots of photos.

Cajun Belle pepper

Green Zebra heirloom tomato

SuperTasty Hybrid tomato

Herbs; dill, cilantro, rosemary

Oregano

Variegated oregano

Mint

Rosemary

Lavender (not edible)

Basil

The “Mystery Plant”

So yeah. That’s pretty much that.

The interesting thing is that “Mystery Plant” there. Whatever it is, it’s a plant from last year that I thought was just dead wood. However, I failed to remove it from the pot at the end of the season in October, and the tag that told me what it was went missing over the winter. So I was surprised to see that there was green life coming from the dead-looking brown stalk a month ago, and I decided to leave it and see what came of it. It’s gotten bigger, with more green growing, but I’m not 100% sure what it is. It’s possible it’s my Habanero plant, or it could be a Bell pepper. It’s definitely not a tomato, and I doubt it’s an eggplant. But I guess we’ll see, right?! Whatever it is, it’s a pleasant surprise, and a testament to life and nature. It’s so true what my grandma used to say: where there’s life- there’s hope! Except for Jesus Lizard, that is.

I did have one little casualty. A Cajun Belle fell off the vine prematurely. It was so cute, and so perfectly formed… but so tiny! So I tossed it into the grass for the local bunnies or my friendly raccoon family to nibble on.

My mint is struggling to come back full force, which kinda sucks- I have a feeling by the time it’s huge the season will be over and it’ll be time for me to cut it down and dry it. It’s turning brown slightly on the edges. Blah. I’ll update again once more things start to come around. Basil? For a while it wasn’t doing too well- it seemed to be shrinking. But now it’s better. My cilantro took a nose dive, though. My tomatoes are taking an extra long time, trying my patience, for sure. I lost two buds (one from each) in a bad thunderstorm that lasted over 12+ hours and it took forever for the other teeny buds to catch up. Ugh. Hurry up tomatoes!

At least I hope they get here before Breaking Dawn pt. 2.

Kidding.

Birthday pie.

The best thing about summer is fresh squeezed, ice cold lemonade.

Okay so maybe there are lots of “best things” about summer. The beach, the sun, vacations, my freckles coming out, flip flops, the luxury of laying on a blanket in the grass & reading, barbecues, fireworks, me running through a sprinkler like a 5-year-old, etc. But lemonade has to be one of ‘em. Ice cold lemonade with slices of fresh lemon in it. Actually… anything lemon reminds me of summer. Something about those bright yellow slightly oblong orbs sitting in a bowl that reminds me of sunshine. And versatile, too; pop a slice or two in some plain homemade iced black tea, a glass of Pellegrino, seltzer or even just ice water, and it changes everything. Serve some wedges with grilled shrimp or fish, or sprinkle some zest over pasta tossed with ricotta cheese & olive oil as a quick meal. And don’t throw out a  leftover lemon (once you’ve used the zest and juiced it)- cut it up and use it mixed in a spray bottle with regular white vinegar as a great household cleaner. You can even freeze lemons. Needless to say, there are always plenty of them around here.

..

It might have been because of that fact that for my mother’s birthday (which was yesterday), instead of a traditional birthday cake or even cupcakes, she requested lemon meringue pie. I never made it before, but I had made that pineapple pie, and it was a similar concept. I was still nervous about it but I kept thinking of that pineapple pie, and how good it came out. That and, let’s face it, meringue loves me. Well, meringue loves Lola, that is. Anyway, it turned out really good (my mother agreed with the author’s statement that it is indeed the best lemon meringue pie ever). I used the recipe from my “go-to pie book”; Sweets: Soul Food Desserts & Memories by Patty Pinner. Why is that my go-to pie book? Because nobody, NOBODY, makes pies like Southern women, that’s why. If they can’t do it, no one can. Same goes for cobblers, crumbles, fried chicken and biscuits. Mmm, biscuits.

Anyway… my mom’s birthday.

Yeah. So when it came to making the pie, I was nervous as hell, truth be told. I had all sorts of visions of my meringue not setting and my pie filling being like soup. Especially with my pecan pie failure still looming in the back of my brain, and the weather we’ve been having which is basically hazy, hot & humid. But I knew I could trust that cookbook. If the weather was on my side, and I did everything right, I knew the book would see me through.

I have a sort of love affair with Southern things. Let’s get one thing straight first: I’m a 100% certified (and bona fide) city girl, and an even bigger bona fide Northerner. I had a great-great-great-grandfather who fought for the Union in the Civil War. I do not think “the south will rise again”- at least not in the way most people who say that phrase actually mean. But that said, I love a lot about Southern life, or country living. As much as I love urban living, and apartments in Brooklyn with uber cute balconies or terraces or even fire escapes for container gardens and exposed brick walls, I dream just as much about living in a house like Sookie Stackhouse’s on True Blood. Maybe even a smidge more so. I mean- yes, it’s fictional. But have you seen that kitchen?! It’s huge! And it has a farmhouse sink. Be still my heart. So yeah, I dream about big country houses with wrap-around porches, kitchens with lots of windows and room for all my jars and baked goods and lots of yard space for gardening. Or I dream about living down there and having my own version of the Whistle Stop Cafe from Fried Green Tomatoes, but with more baked goods and less racist assholes frequenting the joint. I love old country music, not the new drivel like Taylor Swift or Kellie Pickler or Rascal Flatts- the REAL shit, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, The Carter Family, etc. I love Paula Deen, and her accent. I love sweet tea. I love pecan pie, shoo fly pie and coconut custard pie. I also love fried chicken, fried pickles, and… well… in reality, I love fried anything. But I could never fully leave the city, or stop living close enough to it to take it in whenever I want. I guess maybe my ultimate dream would be to have the city home and the country home, and divide my time. That way, I’d get the best of both worlds, and I could always pack up and flee to one when the other got to be too much for me. Flee to the country when I want to make pies with fresh berries or take it easy on my wrap around porch, smell fresh cut grass, drink lemonade from a Mason jar, and listen to crickets… and then flee back to the city when I miss the museums, fashion, nightlife, tall buildings, concrete and sounds of the traffic. The country can get way too quiet for me. I get antsy if I don’t hear sirens, car alarms or horns honking all night.

Enough dreaming. What’s with me today? This post is about pie, & my mother’s birthday… not me & my future dream homes. This ain’t HGTV, it’s Food Network. Sheesh.

The pie was a success, despite my initial freaking out. I’m going to give you the recipe for the pie here, but not the crust. That’s pretty simple to find, though, and you probably already have one. The pie is time consuming, with a lot of steps, but worth it. Trust me. Lemon meringue pies are impressive pies. Even if it’s not visually perfect, you’ll impress everyone if you make one.

LEMON MERINGUE PIE (from Sweets: Soul Food Desserts & Memories by Patty Pinner)

Ingredients:

Filling:
  • 1 baked 9″-inch pie crust
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
Meringue:
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 3 egg whites
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Prepare the pastry for a 9″-inch single pie crust. Bake it in the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the crust is set. Remove the crust from the oven and set it aside.
  3. Make the filling: add the cornstarch, sugar, flour and salt to a large, heavy saucepan. Gradually whisk in the water, and cook over medium heat. Whisking constantly, cook until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Boil while stirring vigorously for 3-8 minutes; it’ll turn “clear and uncloudy” in appearance. Take the saucepan off the heat.
  4. Place the egg yolks in a bowl and, using a fork, beat them well. Gradually stir half of the sugar mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the egg yolk mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the sugar mixture and return to a boil over medium heat. Decrease the temperature to low, cooking and stirring for 3 minutes. Remove from heat.
  5. Stir in butter, lemon zest and lemon juice. Mix well. Pour the filling into the prepared and baked pie crust. Set aside. Leave oven on.
  6. Prepare the meringue: blend 2 of the tablespoons sugar with the cornstarch and cold water in a medium saucepan. Stir it until the cornstarch dissolves, then add the boiling water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching, until the mixture is thick and clear. Take off the heat and let the mixture cool completely.
  7. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites until foamy. Adding them one at a time, add the remaining 6 tablespoons sugar. When those are done, add the pinch of salt and vanilla. Beat at high speed for 2 to 3 minutes, then continue to beat until they form stiff and glossy peaks.
  8. Spread the meringue over the lemon filling to the edges of the pie crust, covering the filling completely. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the meringue is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool completely on a wire rack before serving.

Alright so… the pie came out great. My crust-making is still kinda shitty, but you know what? I don’t really care. I’ve come to the realization that it doesn’t really matter. Maybe the rustic, rough look is better. It all ends up in the same place, right? And the thing I was most worried about, nobody even noticed. Not one person said, “This pie tastes great, but boy, you don’t know how to fold a pie crust for shit, Marilla.” So why do I stress it? I don’t know. Same reason I used to have wastepaper baskets overflowing with drawings I didn’t deem worthy of finishing. I need to stop, even though all I see when looking at some things are my mistakes. Big, glaring mistakes. *sigh* It’s hard being a perfectionist.

But my meringue- as you can see- turned out beautifully. As always. My meringue is always rockin’, it seems. As a matter of fact, I think my meringue could redeem any failure. I could put a big dollop of meringue on just about any baking mistake and it would automatically become wonderful. Not that this pie was a failure! I’m just saying. A heaping pile of meringue makes everything even better.

I served it up with some Davidson’s Hibiscus Flower iced tea, which was amazing (remember it from this post?) and of course, a pink candle! Happy birthday, mom, thank you for everything you’ve done for me for the past 30 (almost 31- eek) years. I love you! I hope you had a fantastical birthday… and enjoy the rest of your pie.


Snackle Mouth part 2: frozen yogurt parfaits.


Remember my Snackle Mouth post from a few days ago?

I was so excited to use it to bake something, and I did (coffee cake), and it was glorious. But if I’m being 100% honest- that wasn’t my first idea.


See my first idea was to make some homemade frozen yogurt and top it with some Snackle Mouth granola nut clusters and some homemade conserves I made. You might remember them, one is cherry, cranberry, dark chocolate & almond and one is fig, plum and walnut. Kind of like “build your own ice cream sundae” time except more like “build your own healthier version of an ice cream sundae by using frozen yogurt” time. It’s also reminiscent of those famous fast food fruit/nut yogurt parfaits, except much healthier & homemade, obviously.


I wanted to do that because the Snackle Mouth arrived on a really hot day, and it was way too hot for me to face an oven. So I figured I’d use it to make yogurt parfaits. But then the weather changed, it got very cool and rainy, perfect baking weather. And so I decided to make the coffee cake first. However, it soon got pretty damn warm again, and frozen yogurt parfaits were back on the menu.

First things first… the fro-yo. I used a tried and true David Lebovitz recipe I’ve made before in my KitchenAid ice cream maker attachment. It’s easy, delicious, and quick. Then, once that was made & ready, I put it in some Ball jars, alternating with some Snackle Mouth granola, and topped it off with some conserves. It was pretty awesome. We loved it. The most popular combination? The yogurt topped with the double C dark chocolate almond conserves and the peanut cranberry Snackle Mouth. Needless to say it was a success.


FROZEN YOGURT

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups (24 ounces) strained yogurt (see below) or Greek-style yogurt *
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

Directions:

  1. Mix together the yogurt, sugar, and vanilla (if using). Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Refrigerate 1 hour.
  2. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions (for mine, it’s just 20-30 minutes in the bowl being mixed by the “dasher”). For a firmer set, freeze for 20-30 minutes before serving.
  3. If you aren’t using Greek yogurt, you have to strain regular plain yogurt. To make 1 cup of strained yogurt, line a mesh strainer with a few layers of cheese cloth. then scrape 16 ounces or 2 cups of plain whole-milk yogurt into the cheesecloth. Gather the ends and fold them over the yogurt, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours. For the above recipe you’ll need to start with and strain 6 cups of yogurt.

I used Greek-style yogurt, I didn’t feel like going through the pain of straining regular yogurt. I also opted to use the vanilla, but that’s 100% optional. You can also add fresh fruits to the yogurt itself, if you wish, or add some jam or preserves or even lemon curd to it as it’s being mixed. I’m sure you could experiment by making all kinds of different flavored fro-yo if you want. And you can also use the granola with fresh fruit instead of conserves or preserved fruit.

...

The coolest thing about making yogurt parfaits in a jar is that if you don’t finish it, you can put the lid on and pop it in the freezer, and it’ll keep it’s fresh taste. Is there no end to how cool Mason jars are? Methinks not. I even used them to store the granola once I opened the packages so it would stay fresh.

Again, I tell you: go get yourself some Snackle Mouth. It isn’t available in stores (yet!) but you can get it at Abe’s Market.


OH! And Cupcake Rehab now is now print friendly! You asked for it, you got it. Directly below this, you’ll see a little printer icon and the words “Print Friendly.” Click on those and you’ll be brought to a printer friendly version of this post. Perfect for printing the recipes! There are plenty of options, i.e. print with photos or without, and it’s very easy to use, so get on it. Print out your favorite recipes from Cupcake Rehab with a few clicks! Now you can share this on Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, Pinterest and you can print it, too. Do I give you options or what?

My new favorite thing: Snackle Mouth!

A few weeks ago, my friend & fellow blogger Xenia told me about Snackle Mouth. I had seen the pictures of it on her blog, and read her reviews of it, and I was intrigued. First off, I loved the packaging. Coolest granola packaging ever, for sure. And anytime you have bacon in anything, you win me over. So the fact they make a Bacon Maple granola? Insane. In a good way.

Snackle Mouth is a brand spankin’ new company:

Snackle Mouth® was given wings by one of the Founder’s, John Raptis. “Rapits” (his call name by virtue of the fact that there are 3 guys named “John” in the business) was really the main man. As a reformed real estate developer, he crafted a healthy, tasty, and simple granola nut snack with a high degree of clumpability. We define clumpability like so: a phenomenal flavor cluster, embodying superior taste, and made from the most simple natural and organic ingredients on the planet.

Raptis hit the lab to produce a snack with those basic snack components in mind. From his own kitchen he watched his son and friends constantly forage for food and he developed a recipe to make a snack that Moms would approve of for their children, thus, Snackle Mouth® was born.

So they may be new, but they’re pretty awesome, and they’ve got a lot going for them:

  • Combine All Natural and Organic Ingredients
  • Mix in the Best Nuts We Could Find
  • NO Refined Sugar, NO Trans-Fats, Low Glycemic
  • Cool new name, Snackle Mouth®
  • Most Fun Package Design on the Planet
  • End Result, Great Tasting Granola Nut Clusters

They’re made with naturally yummy things like fruit juice, organic dried fruit & nuts, brown rice syrup, oat bran and organic blue agave. So when James from Snackle Mouth offered to send me these goodies… you can imagine how excited I was. And am. I received a box with three varieties: the almond pecan maple, the almond berry and the peanut cranberry. See, I wasn’t lying about the awesome packaging.

After sampling each kind, I knew what I’d do first. It was really warm and kind of sticky out, so I decided to wait for a slightly cooler day to make something really awesome. In the meantime, I continued sampling.

But really… I wanted more than to just snack on it. I wanted a unique Snackle Mouth creation. So on a slightly cooler, much more overcast day, I came up with this.


And this, my friends is the pièce de résistance: a granola nut coffee cake- it’s the same principle as a coffee cake with a streusel crumb on top, except in my version there’s no streusel, just granola nut clusters. To be precise, Snackle Mouth Almond Pecan Maple granola nut clusters. Genius, right? I thought so. Except it was a little too dark. The inside stayed very moist and delicious, but the granola got a bit too caramelized. Which might have been a nice effect, especially had I been using the Bacon Maple granola. But I wasn’t, and I wanted something a little lighter and more… summery?

And it was good, trust me. Like I said, the first time the top did get a little dark, meaning the granola got a little dark too, but it didn’t deter anyone from eating it. It was still quite delicious nonetheless, and it was all gobbled up (pretty damn fast actually). But I went back to the drawing board, being the perfectionist that I am, & I came up with a revamped & better version. And that version used Almond Berry Snackle Mouth as the topping, and a cup of fresh blueberries were added into the batter before baking. It paired excellently with the berry variety of Snackle Mouth, since it’s made with blueberry juice. I made that for my father for Father’s Day (he’s a blueberry freak) and talk about a huge hit! He seriously loved it. On this one, I also smashed the granola with a hammer before using it for the topping. It came out much better, since it was in smaller pieces, obviously. You live, you learn. I had never made a coffee cake with a granola nut topping before!

So the first version was just an experiment. But the second version? Ohhh, the second version… it came out fantastical.

And now you get to reap the benefits of my trials & tribulations. Here’s the recipe for the best coffee cake ever.

BLUEBERRY COFFEE CAKE WITH ALMOND BERRY SNACKLE MOUTH GRANOLA NUT “STREUSEL”

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) plus two tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup plus two tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries (or the berry of your choice)
  • 1 box Almond Berry Snackle Mouth granola nut clusters (or the flavor of your choice)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300° F and grease an 8″-inch square baking pan. Smash the granola with a hammer until it breaks into slightly smaller pieces. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. In a larger bowl, cream butter and sugars together until fluffy. Add egg, and beat until combined. Add vanilla extract to the milk in a glass measuring cup and alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the creamed butter mixture three times, starting with and ending with the flour.
  3. Mix the berries in gently, until thoroughly combined.
  4. Spread batter into prepared baking pan. Smooth it as evenly as possible, tapping the pan on the counter a few times if necessary. Sprinkle the granola on top, until the cake is pretty well covered.
  5. Bake 50-70 minutes (depending on your oven and what kind of pan you use: glass or metal), or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool. Serve while slightly warm or at room temperature.


Perfection. My mother pronounced it the best coffee cake she ever had, and said it reminded her of one she used to eat as a child.

If you’re more health-conscious, try it using whole wheat flour (or whole wheat pastry flour). You could also use an agave sweetener instead of sugar, or applesauce instead of the egg. There’s tons of room to mess around with this recipe. Not to mention that if you use the Peanut Cranberry Snackle Mouth, you can use a cup of fresh cranberries in the batter, and it’d be absolutely amazing. 100% adaptable to any combination. The cake is baked at a lower temperature in a very slow oven to keep the granola in good shape; it’ll start to burn long before the cake is done, otherwise. And burnt granola isn’t what you want. If you aren’t using the granola, if you’re using regular streusel or making it plain, you could bake it at 350° F for 35-40 minutes with no problem. And I have to say, this is a really unique way to do a streusel without the hassle of making a streusel. Especially if you’re like me & your streusel-making is hit or miss. It’s fail proof and delicious, and it travels well. Great for picnics or to bring somewhere for a party or cook-out.

It’s very moist, with a perfect crumb… but it’s also a very dense cake; so just be aware that if you think you can eat that big slice, you probably can’t.

Trust me. I could barely get through one normal sized slice!


This isn’t the last you’ll see of Snackle Mouth around here. That’s all I’m sayin’… just keep your eyes peeled, if you catch my drift.

Thank you, Snackle Mouth, for letting me play with your food! Now everybody go buy some. You won’t be sorry. And of course, let’s not forget social media! Follow @SnackleMouth on Twitter and become a Snackle Mouth fan on Facebook, too!

Rah, rah, ah-ah-ah, Roma, roma-ma.

That’s seriously all I heard in my head over & over as I canned my tomatoes. No joke. Why? Because three of them were Roma’s. Lady Gaga, you’ve done it again… you’ve managed to associate an average everyday mundane household task with a fantasically catchy earworm of a song. Just like I sang the chorus to ‘Telephone’ every time my phone rang for months, how I sang “Mah mah mah pokuh face mah mah pokuh faaaace” at the mere mention of a card game, or how I changed the words to ‘Paparazzi’ from “I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you love me, papa, papa-razzi” to “I’m your biggest fan, I’ll follow you until you hug me, puppa, puppa Indy” & chased the poor dog around the house singing it. *sigh*

It all makes sense though. Sort of. Tomatoes à la Lady Gaga. Right?

Maybe. Has a certain ring to it.

By the way, did you know she went to a Catholic high school that has the same name as the one I went to, that’s also in NY? Betcha didn’t.

Lady Gaga probably wouldn’t think so. And although she herself might be Italian, and I might be talking about Roma tomatoes, but this is really not an old fashioned Italian recipe at all. It’s more Russian or Romanian, as pickled tomatoes are really big over there. Roma tomatoes are known as the best tomatoes to use for canning sauces & for sauce in general, really. They have the most ‘meat’ on them, the least skin, and far less water content; meaning they make a thicker sauce with less work. This was my first year growing Roma’s, and I wasn’t really sure when I planted them what I was going to do with them, but once I started to get into canning I knew that I’d probably can ‘em up right away. Although I had prepared to jar them up as a sauce originally, what I ended up doing was pretty different: pickled green & red tomatoes, inspired by a Liana Krissoff recipe. And not just Roma’s, Better Boy’s too. Better Boy’s are juicy yet meaty tomatoes that are larger than Roma’s (yet really aren’t all that large) and the plants yield quite a large amount of fruit each season. There’s no song that immediately comes to mind when I hear “Better Boy”, however.

Better Boy’s (top left & two green’s) and Roma’s (bottom)

I picked two Better Boy tomatoes while they were green, and two that were turning red/orange, also three Roma’s. I ended up with three half-pint jars of pickled tomato goodness. Of course, I adjusted the recipe to utilize the amount of tomatoes I had. If you have more, then by all means use them- but just adjust the recipe for your own needs. I have more tomatoes growing, but I thought a few jars of these were plenty. I don’t like to put up huge batches of things, I not only don’t have the room but I’m not a fan of monotony. I do this for fun, not to survive over a long winter… & canning 20 jars of the same thing gets tedious and boring. I like to mix it up.

Tomatoes, and their iffy acid levels are on the borderline of “what can be safely canned using a water bath process.” Many people will tell you not to can your own tomato sauce or whole tomatoes without a pressure canner. I think that’s silly, considering the addition of lemon juice or citric acid solves the acid dilemma right off the bat, and processing them for a good 20+ minutes definitely kills the bad guys that are in there anyway. Not to mention the fact I know plenty of people who make ancient (well, not quite ancient) family sauce recipes & jar them every year and none of them have ever died. With these, though, there’s not much of a chance for anything gross to even survive from the get go. The use of lemon juice ups the acid and the vinegar/salt & water bath do the rest. Of course, I’m not saying go out & can up some beef stew in a water bath… that’s a bit different. But tomatoes, tomatoes are okay, especially with the right acid level. So don’t let people make you feel bad for canning your own tomato sauce with that age old family recipe: you will not single-handedly kill your entire family. Unless you’re an idiot who shouldn’t be canning, period. But anyway… if the thought of it still scares you, try these to use up your tomatoes. They’re surprising. Very easy, very delicious & very unique.

I say green & red tomatoes, but really none of mine were 100% mature or fully red. They were more orangey, some with yellow. They look red in the jars, though, so there ya go.

PICKLED GREEN & RED TOMATOES

Makes 3 half-pint jars

First you get:

  • 2 pounds smallish green & red tomatoes, different varieties are okay just so long as they’re all in varying degrees of maturity, but none too soft, ripe or too small/large (make sure that when sliced, they fit in the jars nicely); or about 6-7 small/medium tomatoes
  • 2 cups distilled 5% acidity white vinegar
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 rounded tablespoons pickling salt
  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • pinch of dried sage
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • one medium sweet onion, sliced (optional)

Then you get your pickle on this way:

  1. Wash the tomatoes thoroughly, remove the stem & “core” at the tops and slice them into ¼” -to- ½” thick round slices. Soak the sliced tomatoes in the lemon juice in a medium bowl for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sanitize your jars & lids, keeping them hot.
  2. Combine the vinegar, sugar, celery seeds, mustard seeds, sage and salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Place the tomato mixture in the hot jars, stacking them nicely and also making sure they’re packed as tight as possible (you can also add sliced sweet onion in between tomato layers at this point if you like). Ladle in the liquid, pausing to remove air bubbles & air pockets with a small rubber spatula or chopstick as you go. Fill the jars with the liquid, leaving ¼” headspace. Discard any extra liquid.
  3. Wipe rims and place lids & bands on. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove to cool, dark area & do not disturb for 12 hours. Check for seal after one hour, and if it hasn’t sealed, refrigerate and use immediately. Refrigerate all jars right before opening & using, they just taste better chilled.

This would also work with different kinds of heirloom tomatoes. The jars would look gorgeous piled high with different colored tomatoes- dark red, purpleish, yellow, green, red, orange, etc. Can you imagine how these would look? Phenomenal. Or these. But either way, plain ol’ tomatoes did the job just right. If you don’t have pickling salt, Kosher salt is fine. Regular Iodized salt will cause a cloudy liquid, however, so I’d avoid it for aesthetic reasons. You can certainly use all red tomatoes too, so if you’re getting bored with sauce or traditional canned tomatoes, maybe give a jar or two of these a try. I didn’t use the onion, myself, but Liana says it’s another option.

I highly recommend these on a sandwich; roast chicken with mayonnaise & freshly ground black pepper. Equally good on a sandwich also made with some sliced Bell peppers in oil, or even on a grilled cheese made with Monterey Jack cheese on sourdough bread, and apparently even delicious right out of the jar. So do as you wish as far as that goes. I won’t tell anyone if you eat them by themselves. It’ll be our secret. Wanna know one of my secrets? I like turtles.

With this batch of tomatoes, I really wanted to jar up some sauce. But in the meantime, damn, I’m glad I pickled these.

Grow time, 2011.

You might remember my garden posts from last year. In case you don’t, long story short: I had a little Victory Garden that I adored. I had 3 tomato varieties (Celebrity, Big Boy & a little patio tomato), 3 peppers (Cubanelle, red sweet pepper & Big Bertha), an eggplant (Black Beauty), Elite zucchini & Marketmore cucumber… plus all the herbs you can imagine; rosemary, cilantro, sweet basil, variegated oregano, mint, Italian parsley, fringed lavender and chives. I was all about using my fresh herbs & veggies to cook with last year, and I was pretty much totally bummed when the season ended. I ended up drying all my herbs that could be dried and jarring them for use throughout the fall/winter. I still couldn’t wait to start digging in the dirt again, smelling the sunshine & eating my own vegetables I grew myself right outside my back door.

So of course as soon as the weather was nice, I cleaned out all my pots & containers & got them all ready for a new season. My chives were already crazy, they were huge with their little purple chive-y flowers on top, and my variegated oregano had come back along with my mint. I basically decided I’d skip the zucchini this year (last year I did not have luck with that, Google the terrible phrase ‘zucchini flower abortion’ and you’ll see why) and that I’d skip the catnip too (same results as the zucchini, oddly), but that I’d get pretty much the same stuff as last year. Last year was the first year I expanded past herbs (& my roses which I’ve been into for years) into vegetables, and I had a pretty nice crop so I figured why not stick with what works? So I bought three tomatoes again, this time Beefsteak, Better Boy & a Roma (my fave!). I also got another eggplant, another cucumber (Burpless Hybrid, some of which I plan on picking at a smaller size to pickle) and three peppers: one Cowhorn, one Habanero (oh yes, I went there) and one red Bell pepper. Then I went herb crazy! Cilantro, dill, rosemary, flat Italian parsley, oregano, more mint, sweet basil- oh my. I don’t have any lavender yet, but I might buy a small plant if I see one. Alot of my plants this year are from Bonnie. Last year I had one & it grew amazing, so since I was running a bit late with my planting I decided to go with some fully grown plants from them. They’ve been around since 1918 & have an excellent reputation, so if you’re too impatient (or too late) to grow from seeds- go buy Bonnie!

It may sound dumb and obvious, but I strongly recommend tomato cages with the larger varieties. Last summer I only had one cage & ended up tying my other tomatoes to large wooden stakes & praying in heavy wind & rain that they’d be okay. I got lucky, but better to be safe than sorry, right? I did lose an eggplant to a bad storm, though. That couldn’t have been helped anyway, the vine just snapped.

Here’s my romaine. I can’t wait to start eating this, romaine is one of my favorite lettuces!

And here’s that variegated oregano from last year. I love it.

Here are some of my other herbs. Don’t worry, I won’t show you everything, because there’s nothing exciting yet in terms of growth. Once I start getting buds on the tomatoes & peppers, etc I’ll get picture-crazy again.

Basil, chive & my skinny little parsley. If it’s anything like last year, it’ll end up 3 ft tall!

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Cilantro is another of my favorite herbs, ever

Great with chicken!


Look- some buds on my Cowhorn pepper! Looks like those’ll be the first to have a taste-test.

And finally… my most favoritest of the vegetables this year… the one tomato I really hope grows huge… my Roma!


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That’s basically it for now. Hopefully in another few weeks I’ll have more interesting shots to share. I’m also really excited for the Cowhorn pepper; all my peppers last year were sweet or mild. This one is supposedly much hotter, which I like. I can’t wait to make some pico de gallo & salsa & summer tomato sauce with my OWN veggies! I already made a cilantro-lime Jasmine rice with my cilantro, which was amazingly delicious. And easy- just snip off some cilantro, pull off the leaves and put them in with Jasmine rice as it cooks. When it’s almost ready, squirt in some lime juice & sprinkle some salt. Ta-da! And I think I’ll make some hot sauce or some hot salsa with my habanero’s. Beware, all ye who dine at my house *smile* You never know when I might get my peppers mixed up. Mwahahaha.

If you’re interested in container gardening, or totally new to it & wanna learn more, here’s a great resource, and here’s another. It’s really easy & fun to do, not to mention extremely gratifying. If you’re scared, start off small with herbs. I know Gina told me she’s a bit scared because, in her words, “how do I grow a thumb? as in any one, mine isn’t even black, its non-existent!” You might remember her from Cooking the Books, but she’s got a new venture now: The Sweet Life Center. If you’re a mom or mommy-to-be and you live in the LI/NYC area, you might wanna check it out! And you can follow it on Twitter too @yoursweetliving to find out more. Anyway, Gina says she’s scared to start a garden, but it really is easy! I promise. Start off by buying a few fully grown herb plants. If they last through the summer, try growing them from seeds the next spring. Then if that works, buy some fully grown vegetable plans (and LARGE pots, if you’re not planting them in the ground) and see if you can go without killing them. If you succeed, try growing them from seeds the next spring. There are tons of online resources you can access, including answers to just about any question you have.

While I was planting, I remembered a funny story. Back when I was little, maybe 10, I wanted to grow vegetables. I don’t really know why, at the time I didn’t eat any of ‘em! But I loved to plant & garden so I guess I just wanted to grow stuff. I went with my mom & bought tomato seeds & planted them. A few weeks later, a large plant was coming up! It was green with big leaves so I staked it up and went and got a tomato cage and some fertilizer. I diligently fertilized my tomato plant, pruning dead leaves off and weeding the soil. A few weeks later, it was huge! At least 4 ft. tall …but no buds. I wasn’t too concerned, but my parents kept saying, “Where are the tomatoes!?” I guess I was just so excited about growing something, I didn’t even realize it hadn’t fruited. Nearing the end of the season, my aunt Marilyn & uncle Pat (who you may remember passed away recently) came over for a barbecue & I was all excited to show my uncle my tomato plant. I dragged him over to it and said “Here it is! My tomato!” And he looked at it, squinted at it, bent over, felt it, squinted some more, then straightened up and turned to me. He said, chuckling, “That is not a tomato. That’s a weed.”

Yep. I caged & fertilized a weed for 3 months. Needless to say, I’ve gotten considerably better over the last 20 years. Maybe uncle Pat will be lookin’ over my garden this summer, keeping things in line for me celestially.

Nobunny knows Easter better than Cupcake Rehab.

I mean are you kidding? Bunnies, eggs, chicks and all things cute are my specialties.

This Easter had a sad spin on it, given the events of last week. But I tried my hardest to make it as nice & happy as possible, complete with pretty little cupcakes & desserts. The cake pops I made for Valentine’s Day were such a big hit I decided I needed to make some for Easter. I went with the easiest concept- eggs. Although I was going to attempt chicks, stylized chicks in a kind of “Peeps” look I didn’t get around to it. I ended up making tons of cake pops (and a few little egg-shaped cake balls) instead. Adorable! This time, instead of using white cake mix & frosting, I used chocolate fudge.

I’m sure you all know how to make these by now, but in case you don’t, I’ll leave it to the queen to explain; Bakerella‘s tutorial on cake pops can be found here. You can also make them without the lollipop sticks (look for the ‘cake balls’ tutorial on Bakerella.com). Just a word to the wise: chocolate cake mix is moister than vanilla or white, so use a bit less frosting when making the pops, or else they won’t firm up properly and they’ll collapse on ya. Is ‘moister’ even a word?

I’m still no expert at cake pops, but the more you make them the easier they get. I’m starting to get a little technique down. I’m sorry I don’t have pictures of the “chocolate egg” cake balls, but they were just the chocolate fudge egg-shaped cake balls dipped in light cocoa and blue candy melts, then I just used the opposite color to do drizzles on top. I wrapped those up in the little baggies with bunny ribbons too. I know it’s juvenile, but I have to stop writing ‘cake balls.’ It’s making me laugh too much. Cake balls. Bwahaha!

I also made cupcakes, and I topped them with a green buttercream “grass” and some pink and purple sugar flower posies (courtesy of Wilton). You could certainly make your own icing flowers, though, if you’re a bit more ambitious than I was. I had a shit week, you’ll have to forgive me. I made a cupcake recipe I made a few Easter’s ago which is one of my favorites for spring. I like to call them “Lemony Snicket’s” cupcakes because they’re a very light lemony-vanilla flavored cake (& frosting). The tulip cupcake liners are just the cutest thing ever, and I’ve been saving them for a while now. I knew I’d use ‘em for either Easter or Mother’s Day! You can get them at Cupcake Social or get them at sweet estelle’s baking supply, or even at Bake It Pretty. Look at that- choices galore. God Bless America!

I used my super jumbo star tip for these… it’s my new favorite tip, sorry Wilton!

LEMONY SNICKET’S CUPCAKES

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup granulated white sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Zest of 1 large lemon (organic)
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ cup  milk

LEMONY SNICKET’S BUTTERCREAM

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups confectioners sugar (or icing or powdered sugar), sifted
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • Zest of 1 large lemon (again, preferably organic since you’re using the zest)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons milk or light cream

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350° degrees F and line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

For the Cupcakes:

  1. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract and lemon zest.
  2. In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the butter and egg mixture, along with the milk, and beat until combined.
  3. Evenly fill the muffin cups with the batter and bake for about 18-20 minutes or until nicely browned and a toothpick inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. Once the cupcakes have completely cooled, frost with icing.

For the Frosting:

  1. In an electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, cream the butter until smooth and well blended. Add the vanilla extract. With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the sugar.
  2. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  3. Add the milk and beat on high speed until frosting is light and fluffy (about 3-4 minutes). Add a little more milk or sugar, if needed.
  4. Tint the frosting with desired food color (I use the Wilton icing colors in the little tubs, this color is ‘Leaf Green’).

If you have the tip that makes the frosting look like actual grass (Wilton tip #233), then that would be super cute too. I like to pipe my frosting a little on the high side (in case you haven’t noticed), so I always make a little bit more frosting than the recipe calls for. Oh, and obviously, I baked the cakes in plain white liners, then just stuck them in the tulip ones. It seemed as though the tulip liners were a bit short, so I used them as an accent. I think they’re really pretty though, don’t you?

In this one you can really see how cute the liners are…

I should also probably mention I always get 14 cupcakes out of this recipe. It’s supposed to make 12, but I never get less than 14.

Well, Happy Easter! If you’re still stumped for ideas for tomorrow, check out my Easter category & this little compilation of my favorite Easter-y cupcake ideas. On that note, I’ll leave you with pictures of my Easter eggs this year. I did a few different kinds, my favorite one being the pink one in the second picture with the gold sequins. Guess why.

Jive turkey.

I have a confession to make, and it will probably seem weird. This is the first time I ever ate turkey in any other capacity than the sliced off pieces coming from the breast of a whole bird that was cooked on Christmas or Thanksgiving. *insert gasping sound here*

I have never eaten turkey bacon (it amounts to BLASPHEMY in my eyes), never eaten turkey sausage (I don’t like sausage anyway), never had a turkey burger (gross) and never had ground turkey. For serious. Yes, it’s better for you than ground beef. Yes, ground beef is the devil, red meat gives you high cholesterol and slowly kills you by hardening your once supple veins and filling them with a substance that looks like insulation foam. I get it. But really, I don’t like “substitutions.” As Rose Levy-Berenbaum says in her books- (I’m paraphrasing), use real ingredients, real good quality butter, just eat less of the finished product. Sure, her references are to baking, but the same can be applied to food. No one needs to eat an entire cake every day, just as no one needs to eat 2 hamburgers a day, or a steak every day, etc. Everything in moderation is key, and that’s what I live by. If I want a hamburger it’s not going to be a turkey burger or veggie burger. It’s going to be made of cow. Same thing with bacon; bacon is made from pigs, and that’s what makes it taste like bacon. I’ve said this before, but I hate substitutions and fake food. Yes, I drink Coke Zero & I won’t act as if that’s the best thing I could imbibe, however when it comes to my food I want the real thing. I don’t pretend cauliflower is potatoes nor would I use it in macaroni & cheese as a “thickener”, I don’t use margarine instead of sweet cream butter and I sure as hell don’t substitute poultry for meat. When I make chicken, it’s actually chicken and when I make beef it’s actual beef. I rarely eat meat myself, it’s practically a once every other month event, so I don’t see this as a problem.

However… Sometimes I see recipes and they intrigue me. Like this one. I saw it in the January/February issue of the Food Network magazine. It happened to be the cover recipe; spaghetti & turkey meatballs. It looked really good, and I dog-eared the page so I remembered to try it. Then in true form, forgot all about it. But I was recently rifling through my huge collection of old Gourmet‘s, Bon Appétits and Food Network magazines and I saw the cover of that issue and BAM- it dawned on me I never made it! I tore it out and decided I’d make a trip to the supermarket, get the turkey and make it that night.

Yeah, I’m not a food stylist, dude. It tasted good. I’m better with cupcakes.

This…

They weren’t bad at all. Okay, fine, they were delicious. I will say this: it’s much lighter tasting than regular meatballs. It’s good for this time of year when it’s warming up and you want to start eating lighter yet still substantial food. It was hearty, but not overwhelming, nor did it induce that “I’m so full I’m going to throw up” feeling. I thought they were very good, but again, if you’re looking for the taste of red meat use red meat. And if that is what you want, then lucky for you I have a recipe for that too. I’d make them again, yeah, but I prefer the red meat kind. And even then, I ain’t much of a meatball girl. I’m a chicken cutlet chick.

I like chunks of tomato and I don’t mind a thin sauce, so I didn’t crush ‘em that much. If you like a smoother, thicker sauce by all means, do you. You could also use canned sauce if you’re lazy. That picture kind of looks like the cover of a death metal CD, which is appropriate considering Jay just recently became the newest member & bassist of Internal Bleeding. Yes. My Jay. That Jay. He’ll be famous like I am *wink* Hey! Maybe they can use my turkey meatballs for an album cover, or a song, or something. Haha. Brutal Death Metal Turkeyballs, maybe that’s what they should be called.

Eh, might not be exactly what they’re looking for. Oh well. But that picture right there is proof positive that you can take a photo of almost any kind of meat & tomatoes and adjust the contrast, and when you put a font like that over it, you’ve got a DM album.

SPAGHETTI WITH TURKEY MEATBALLS

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 cloves of garlic (4 smashed, 1 minced)
  • 1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, crushed by hand
  • ½ cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 small piece parmesan rind, optional
  • Kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
  • ¾ pound 93% lean ground turkey
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 slice stale whole-wheat bread, crust trimmed, bread chopped
  • ¼ cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten
  • 12 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic and cook 1 minute. Add the tomatoes with their juice, 2 cups water, ¼ cup basil, the parmesan rind (if using) and salt and pepper to taste.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until thickened, about 8 minutes. Discard the parmesan rind, if used.
  2. Chop the remaining ¼ cup basil, then mix with the turkey, parsley, bread, ricotta, parmesan, egg white, minced garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste in a bowl using your hands. Form into 4 large or 12 small meatballs; add to the sauce and simmer, turning, until cooked through, 6 minutes for small meatballs and 12 minutes for large.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a large pot of salted water according to the package directions. Drain and return to the pot. Toss with some of the sauce, then divide among bowls. Top the spaghetti with the meatballs, remaining sauce and more parsley and parmesan.

Basically I used a pound of whole-wheat pasta and a little over a pound of turkey, then altered the ingredients to make the meatballs the consistency I needed. I didn’t see the need to reduce the meat and pasta by a few ounces, especially for big eaters like us. I also used regular bread crumbs for the meatballs, about a little over a cup. I used a mix of Italian flavored panko and regular bread crumbs. I used whole milk ricotta because that’s what I have in my house; I refuse to use fat free or low fat cheese. It doesn’t melt as well nor hold up as well to me as the regular kind. But again, do as you will.

It tasted a lot better than the above picture looks! This one is a better representation, for sure. Maybe it’s the parmesan?

It was such a beautiful day when I was making this, I had the window open and the sun was shining. Perfect early spring day, and I was so excited for planting my garden (getting some fresh tomatoes!) & seeing some flowers. The next day it promptly turned gray, cloudy, & poured rain. Gotta love spring in NY! However the good thing about rainy days is looking through all those old magazines. And soon I’ll have yet another- I recently subscribed to Everyday Food.

Anyone have any ideas for storing magazines?