Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wasting away again

It started with a discussion on Facebook, postulating on the conversion of Lime Bars into Mojito Bars through the addition of finely shredded mint, and some white rum in place of some of the lime juice.  Those are still on the to-do list.  What blossomed out of the discussion was an interest in creating a Margarita flavored bar cookie, so I set some goals and began scouring the interwebs for a good starting point.

There were two key things that I wanted to capture with the cookies - first, that they taste like actual margaritas, not just citrus bars with some tequila and second that they not devolve into total sweetness, but have a touch of saltiness to hold true to the original inspiration.  Browsing various recipes from Google searching, I found several attempts to capture the saltiness by including crushed pretzels in the crust, but I'm a "purist" for shortbread style bases for my citrus bars.  I found various recipes which took a basic lime bar, added a tsp or two of tequila, and called themselves a margarita bar.  Nothing really totally suited what I was looking for, but I found a good starting point at Mermaid Sweets.

In order to capture a true margarita flavor, I knew I wanted more than just tequila in the mix.  I decided on the addition of Triple Sec as well, but had concerns that the mixing with the lime juice and the baking would diminish the impact of the alcohols on the overall flavor of the cookie.  I decided to finish the bars with a simple glaze, fortified with salt to get the flavor note I wanted, and providing a sweet/salty finish with a little graininess to match a salt-rimmed glass.

My adaptation of MS's recipe is as follows:

Margarita Bars
(adapted from

2 C Flour
1 C butter, frozen, cut into small chunks
1/2 C Confectioner's sugar

Combine all and blend in a food processor with quick pulses, or mix by hand with a pastry cutter or "two knives" method.  Once combined, press firmly into 9 x 13" pan, and bake at 350° F for 20 minutes

4 eggs
2 C granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 C lime juice
Zest of 4 limes
Zest of one orange
1.5 T tequila
1.5 tsp Triple Sec

Beat eggs and sugar until light in color.  Add remaining ingredients and mix on medium speed until well combined.  Remove crust from oven(when done) and pour filling over the crust.  Return to oven for an additional 20-25 minutes, or until browned moderately on top.

1 C Confectioner's sugar
2 T Tequila
2 tsp Triple sec
1 T Lime juice (or until desired thinness for glaze)
1/2 tsp sea salt

Combine all in small bowl and whisk until smooth.  Once bars are cooked and slightly cooled, pour glaze over top of surface, and spread evenly.

I found that the addition of the glaze really helped make these margarita bars instead of citrus bars.  The alcohol cooked out of the filling for the most part, leaving a hint of flavor, but the glaze helped pick it right back up again.  These are now "award winning" bars, taking Best of Division and Best of Show at the 2013 San Diego County Fair!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

From outside, in; to inside-out.

There's no better vegetable than a fresh vegetable, and even better still is a vegetable that comes from soil that you know and tend.  We harvested a large patch of carrots a couple of weeks back, and a small bagful had been forgotten in the recesses of the back of the fridge.  Ignored in the controlled chaos that often accompanies dinner preparation after a long day's work, I re-discovered these orange beauties tucked away in a corner as I cleared space for some weekend leftovers.

Still crisp and crunchy, but a little less than where they were at their "just picked" peak of freshness, I decided to bake them up into desserts.  I grew up on the "Cypress Point Carrot Cake" from 'Diet for a Small Planet' as a child; a carrot cake with crushed pineapple, which some find may find heretical.  I loved that recipe dearly, but have since realized that while delicious, the pineapple makes it very difficult to create a carrot cake which holds together well, but I was craving carrot cake now.  I have come to prefer to do my baking in muffins and cupcakes when it comes to sweets, as it's easier to bundle off a bunch to work and share them there, thus limiting the temptation at home.

I had seen a share on Google+ for an "Inside-Out Carrot Cake" muffin from +King Arthur Flour.  Being a fan of any recipe that includes sweetened cream cheese, I was on board for some muffins!  For the sake of feeding family *and* co-workers, I increased the recipe listed by half.

Ingredients gathered


8 oz cream cheese
1/4 C granulated sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract


2 1/4 C All Purpose flour
1/2 C granulated sugar
1/4 C light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
3/4 C water
1/3 C vegetable oil
1 C grated carrots, lightly packed
Large granule sugar, to top


1. Heat cream cheese on low power in a microwave safe bowl until soft enough to stir easily.  Add sugar and vanilla extract, mix to combine, and set aside.

2. Pre-heat oven to 400° F (204° C)

3. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and gently whisk together.

4. Place eggs, water and oil into a small mixing bowl and beat to combine.

5. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix just until blended.

6. Add carrots and gently fold in to batter.

7. Line a 12 well muffin tin with liners, or lightly grease the tin.

8. Add ~2 TB batter to each cup, then top with ~1 TB cream cheese mix.

9. Fill tins remainder of the way with batter, then sprinkle some large grain sugar on top to finish.

10.  Bake approximately 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into cake (not filling) comes out clean.  Let cool ~5 minutes in the pan, then remove to a wire rack to cool.

While you certainly can enjoy these muffins warm from the oven, with the cream cheese center still hot and runny, I prefer to let them set overnight so that the filling firms up like a nice dollop of frosting.

Ready for a nice, fresh cuppa.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Spice is the variety of life

We have an abundance of fresh raw goat's milk at the moment.  Four momma goats all donating generously - much of the milk is destined for some delicious fresh cheese, but there still needs to be a fair amount put to use.  Ice cream was right on the mark.

Growing up, I remember my folks had an ice cream maker - the memories are foggy, I think it was automated, but this was 3+ decades ago.  What I do remember clearly from that ice cream maker was a delicious cinnamon ice cream that my mom had made for a friend's birthday party.  With that memory fresh at hand, I began scouring the web for a good (no custard, because I'm lazy) cinnamon ice cream recipe.  The great Google landed me at Erin's Food Files, and I was intrigued.  Maple syrup, cinnamon and a healthy bit of salt - definitely promising.  I made some fairly drastic deviations from Erin's recipe in terms of process, as well as some scaling for the capacity of my ice cream maker.  Then end result is delicious, with warm notes from the cinnamon and the saltiness playing off the sweet of the maple.  It's a bit like ice cream made from the leftover milk after a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal!

Salted Maple-Cinnamon Ice Cream

  • 1.5 C whole milk (I used the goat's milk which is around 3-4% fat)
  • 1/4 C granulated sugar
  • 1/3 C maple syrup
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon ( I use Penzey's)
  • 1.5 C heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp kosher salt (or other coarse salt)
Combine milk, syrup, sugar and salt in a mixing bowl and whisk until the solids are dissolved and the syrup is fully incorporated.  The cinnamon will separate out, some settling to the bottom, most floating on the top.

Add the vanilla extract and heavy cream to the mix and stir gently to incorporate.  Place the mixing bowl in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 3 hours.

When ready to prepare, set up your ice cream maker and remove the mixture from the refrigerator.  Stir the mix gently to incorporate any syrup that may have settled to the bottom and add to the ice cream mixer.  The action of the mixer should help incorporate and distribute the cinnamon which had been floating on the top of your dairy mixture.

Process according to your machine's directions and scoop finished ice cream into an airtight container and store in the freezer.  Let sit a minimum of four hours in the freezer to reach scoopable consistency, and overnight is better.
I *may have* sampled a spoonful before leaving for work the next morning

Scoop into your favorite bowl and enjoy!

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Poor Kermit...

I love pickles - dill, sweet, and most especially bread and butter!  My canning storage on the porch has several pints of dilled green beans and carrots straight from the garden, and my bread and butter jalapenos ended up taking second place at our county fair last year.  A lovely, tasty twist for dill pickles that I've discovered is Brussells sprouts.  The cruciferous taste goes well with the garlic, dill and jalapeno used in my Spicy Frog Balls.

These green and white snacks came about due to a wager between my mother and my wife.  Mom hates Brussels sprouts, and the missus had a bad guacamole experience growing up.  So - the wager was placed, if either ate their hated food, the other was required to follow suit.  I've indoctrinated my wife onto the glories of good (not chain restaurant) guacamole and so it was up to my mom to eat her hated sprout.  Mom does, however, like vinegar, so I found a recipe that suited and twisted a little bit until we had a Brussels sprout even a mother could love!

Harvesting from the garden

Individual harvest is slow - washing some stalks

You'll note in the picture above, a fair number of burnt leaves on the sprouts.  You can shuck these off to get to the green goodness underneath without any effect to flavor or texture of the sprout.

A plethora of cleaned and washed sprouts

Once your sprouts are cleaned up and trimmed, blanch them for 4-5 minutes, then immerse in an ice bath to halt the cooking process.  Get your brine going as the sprouts chill in the ice.

Spicy Frog Ball Brine
(a great brine for beans, carrots, etc)
  • 2.5 C water
  • 2.5 C white vinegar
  • 4-6 Heads of dill
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded but whole
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 T pickling salt
Bring brine to a boil and then simmer for 10 minutes. Remove solids, retaining jalapeno.  Cut jalapeno into 6 slices.

Pack your chilled sprouts in warm, sterilized pint pars with a head of dill, a clove of garlic and a strip of jalapeno per jar.

Packed and ready for brine

Pour hot brine over sprouts, leaving ~1/4" head space.  Place warmed lids on top of jar (wipe rim if necessary) and secure with a ring band.

Ready for the Jacuzzi

Process pint jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes at sea level - 1,000 ft.  Turn off heat to BWB and let stand for 5 minutes, then remove jars to counter to cool for 24 hours.

He's not dead, 'e's just resting!

Let these babies steep for at least two weeks before eating, and enjoy!

Friday, November 30, 2012

For the love of little oranges

I first stumbled across arancini (Italian for "little oranges") when my daughter and I were trying to come up with a cultural food that she could take into her class for a presentation.  We ended up using a recipe that we found at Noshtalgia.  The name comes from the typical size of the item prepared, about the size of a tangerine or small orange.  Following the basic concept of croquettes of various types, this is a great way to use up leftover risotto (has anyone ever used those two words together with a straight face?), or in our family's case, make some risotto to use to make what our friends have come to refer to as "Amazeballs."

If you don't have any leftover risotto - here's the basics for making one.

1.5 C short grain (arborio) rice
1 qt chicken stock
0.5 C white wine
1 small onion, chopped (~0.5 C)
0.25 C shredded parmesan
3 T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil

Ingredients ready to roll
Heat stock to a simmer, then reduce heat to low and keep hot.  Melt 1 T butter in a heavy bottomed pan with 1 T olive oil.    Add onions to pan and saute for 2-3 minutes, or until translucent.
 Add rice to pan and saute until rice has begun to brown slightly, and has a nutty aroma.

Adding the rice

Rice toasted versus rice at the start
Add the half a cup of white wine to the rice and stir constantly, until the wine has been absorbed into the rice.  Add the stock to the rice a half a cup at a time, stirring constantly, until the liquid has absorbed into the rice or incorporated into the sauce.  Repeat until the stock pot is empty or the rice is done - the grains should have a bit of toothiness, but no hard center and no white "gem" in the middle.  If you're making this risotto specifically for arancini, it's okay to overcook a bit, no one will notice.  Finish the risotto with the remaining two tablespoons of butter and the parmesan, stirring to incorporate.

Once the risotto has cooled, mix in the following:

  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 C grated parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 lb cheese, chopped small (I like a mix of mozzarella and provolone)
  • 1/4 lb Genoa salami, chopped into small pieces
Incorporate all and refrigerate overnight.  When ready to cook, you will need vegetable oil to fry the arancini in and bread crumbs to coat.  You may note that the original recipe calls for using the egg whites to coat the arancini before breading them, but I've found that 1) they're more of a mess than they're worth and 2) breading the arancini without the egg whites results in a crispier outer shell, which I prefer.

Roll the rice mixture into appropriately sized shapes - traditionally, the little orange, although I like these about ping pong/golf ball sized as an appetizer.  You do not need to roll perfect spheres at this point, as I recommend re-rolling them a second time after breading.

Little spheres of yumminess

Hot oil and bread crumbs

Breaded and ready

I use the chopstick method to test my oil for readiness for cooking.  Not precise, but effective enough.  One thing you absolutely do not want to do is cook arancini at too low a temperature - they'll come apart in the oil, contaminating the oil, making it frothy, and generally being a complete pain.

Bubbling arancini
Cook the arancini until the breading is a nice golden brown.  Drain against the side of the pan, then rest on a baking sheet with paper towels to drain the oil.  Serve hot, with a side of marinara to dip into.


Ready to serve

  If you're preparing for later service, set the cooled arancini onto a baking sheet lined with wax paper and freeze, then store in ziplocs until ready to reheat (oven, 350F, 10-15 minutes).
Into the deep freeze

Serve hot, cheesy, melty and delicious!

Ready to devour

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Butter side up

A spate of pumpkins sits on our "harvest table" on the front patio.  A couple of standard oranges and several marina de chioggia variety.  Not the most inspiring looking pumpkin on the outside, I assure you.  One of the orange samples came off the vine prematurely as we were attempting to elevate the fruit off of the ground.  As such, I designated it the test pumpkin and yesterday got cool enough to roast it up.  Split, seeded and into the oven at 350F until a knife inserts easily into the flesh.

Once cooled, I scooped the flesh from the skin, and deposited it safely in my Crockpot.  It was a bit more fibrous than I had hoped (or wanted), but a determined treatment with the Bamix with chopping blade made satisfactory work of most of the longer strands, although I did end up removing a half dozen or so clumps over the course of the cooking.

 ~5 quarts of pumpkin puree

Once everything was satisfactorily processed, I added the sugars and spices and stirred them in, setting the Crockpot to high and topping with the lid, elevated on chopsticks placed across the mouth of the cooker (to allow water to evaporate from the butter).

Sugar and spice and everything nice

Mixed in

After the butter began to bubble, I turned the Crockpot to low and cooked overnight plus 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally.  The butter reduced to 20-25% of original volume, a deep rich brown collection of deliciousness.  I once again treated the butter to the immersion blender, this time with the blender blade in order to finish off any lingering strands of fiber as well smooth consistency of the finished butter.  

Unfortunately, due to it's low acidity and high viscosity, pureed pumpkin and squash is not well suited to safe home canning.  The low acidity makes boiling water treatment unfeasible, and the high viscosity/density makes pressure canning ineffective, as the puree is inconsistent in reaching the necessary core temperature for safety.  Because of this, preservation should be limited to refrigerator for short term storage and freezer for long term.  So, once my pumpkin butter was cooled I transferred it to containers and into the fridge for final cooling before a trip to the freezer (with a little set aside for tomorrow's toast).

Good enough to eat

Crockpot Pumpkin Butter

5qt pumpkin puree
1 C packed dark brown sugar
2 C granulated sugar (if using a more suitable/mature pumpkin, this amount could be reduced to 1 C)
2 T ground cinnamon
1 tsp each ground cloves, allspice, and ginger
1/4 tsp fresh shaved nutmeg

  • Place puree in crockpot (or make in crockpot if using an immersion blender).
  • Add spices and sugar and stir in to puree.
  • Cook on high until beginning to bubble.  Reduce heat to low, cover with an elevated lid and cook 10-12 hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Place cooled butter in clean containers and store in refrigerator and/or freezer.
Serve on toast, mixed in to yogurt or cottage cheese, or over the top of ice cream or cake.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Now bring us some figgy pudding

I've been on an ice cream making kick of late (as this blog indicates).  One of my contacts on Google Plus recently posted about her attempts to recreate a flavor from her youth, honey sweetened vanilla ice cream.  I loved the idea of pairing the warmth of honey with vanilla, but I wanted to incorporate an early harvest of figs into the ice cream, both to make use of them, and to challenge myself to make use of fruit as it comes available from the property.

Early harvest bounty

I took 8 figs, washed them and cut the tops and bases from them.  Once cleaned and processed, I cut them into quarters and then roughly chopped them.  I added them to a saucepan with approximately 1/2 C orange juice and a tablespoon of orange zest, and cooked down to a thick, jammy consistency.  After cooling overnight in the fridge, I hit the mixture with an immersion blender with chopping blade and pulsed on low to a rough chop consistency.

Processed fig mixture

I made one mistake with Kath's recipe, using regular whipping cream instead of heavy whipping cream (a purchasing error on my part), and while the finished ice cream was missing a little richness, it was still delicious.  As a bonus, I was preparing the ice cream for a family gathering, and one of my aunts had been put on a restricted diet that kept her from eating refined sugars - and this ice cream fit the bill perfectly.  The honey and cooked fig flavors are warm and caramel-y, which is offset wonderfully by the brightness of the citrus.

Finished deliciousness

This was my final recipe, as adapted from Kath's version:

Honey Sweetened Vanilla with Orange Figs
  • 1 C whole milk, well chilled
  • 1/2 C honey
  • 2 C whipping cream, well chilled (Kath's recipe calls for heavy whipping cream)
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 8 figs, washed, quartered and chopped - tips and buds removed
  • 1/2 C orange juice
  • 1 T orange zest

Place chopped figs, orange juice and zest in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Cook down to a jam-like consistency and cool overnight.  Process fig mixture roughly with an immersion blender and chopping blade.

Whisk together milk and honey, until honey is completely incorporated.  Warming the honey slightly will ease the incorporation process.  Once combined, stir in the whipping cream and return to refrigerator to chill.

Add dairy mixture to ice cream maker and process for 25-30 minutes.  Add fig mixture to ice cream maker and process approximately 5 minutes to incorporate.  Remove ice cream to air tight container and freeze 6+ hours to set.