Pickled Carrots

Homemade Pickled Vegetables Recipe
Like a tennis player that’s been training all year for their first match, I walk into the kitchen, full of bravado, throw the culinary ball into the air, serve it across the net and hear the words “FAULT,” followed by the words, “DOUBLE FAULT,” soon after.

Two cookie recipes in as many days – two epic fails.

Disappointment. It’s officially six days into Cookie Baking Season and I feel like a big o’ Failure. I’m a baker above anything else and this should be my time to SHINE, rather than falter. Blame the recipe. Blame the quality of the ingredients. Blame my mindset. I sound like John McEnroe.

My first attempt, an anise-scented honey cookie lightly glazed and decorated with candied orange peel, was an unmitigated disaster. The texture was all wrong – too dense – and the anise too strong, resulting in a cookie reminiscent of those hard Scandinavian licorice lozenges.

The second recipe, baked yesterday, was supposed to be delicate sandwich cookies filled with mint and dipped in milk chocolate. I was hoping for an elevated version of Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Joe Joe’s (an addiction of mine) crossed with a Girl Scout Thin Mint. What I actually created were misshapen oval disks sandwiching a dollop of minty goo similar to Crest toothpaste. I didn’t even bother with the chocolate dip – in to the trash they went as well.

Rather than squander another pound of butter, I thought I would take a break today, step away from the cookies, and try something else entirely – something that didn’t require baking. I settled on these spice-laden pickled carrots – a better late-night snacking option to a plate of cookies anyway. An array of colorful pickled veggies like these, using a variety of spice combinations, would make a great alternative to the standard holiday crudité platter – no baking required.


Pickled Carrots

  • Servings: 2 quart jars
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This pickling recipe would work with whatever fresh veggies you happened to have on hand – cauliflower, onions, beans, or beets – to name just a few.

Ingredients

  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 2 thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 8 peppercorns
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 Tablespoons mustard seeds
  • 2 teaspoons allspice berries
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 6-8 carrots, peeled, cut into sticks and lightly blanched
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ½ Tablespoon salt
  • Hot water

Directions

  1. Divide garlic, thyme, mustard seeds, allspice berries, coriander seeds, red pepper flakes, ginger, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks,peppercorns and cloves between two quart jars. Pack blanched carrot sticks tightly into jars.
  2. In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar and salt and heat until boiling. Pour hot liquid into jars filling ¼” from top. If there isn’t enough vinegar mixture, fill remaining space in jars with hot water.
  3. Close jars and refrigerate at least 24 hours and up to 2 weeks.

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Chili Pepper Honey Jam

Hot Pepper Honey Sauce
It’s Friday night and she has no plans. She received a text from him this afternoon, but she didn’t take the bait. She feels he’s always waiting for her to make the first move, as if he’s unsure, ambivalent. It seems he ONLY texts her on Friday afternoons, as if she doesn’t exist for him during the week, and he only remembers her after he hasn’t solidified other, better plans.

“I am not an afterthought,” she thinks to herself.

Over two decades ago, and on the recommendation of her sister, she read a popular dating book called, “The Rules.” Her best friend at the time gave her a lot of grief for obeying some of the book’s suggestions. A lot of grief. While some of the rules were silly and outdated, two concepts spoke to her – First, believe that you are unique and special and, second, don’t waste time with men who don’t treat you like you’re unique and special. One of the specific rules instructed readers not to accept a Saturday date after Wednesday (when she followed this rule, it drove her friend crazy) – in other words, don’t be an afterthought.

Sure, she delights as much as the next girl in occasional spontaneity, but also believes that if a man is truly interested, he should think about her at some point during the week. She thought about him. Why must he wait until Friday to ask her out? After reading this article in the Huffington Post, she realizes her ideas aren’t so old-fashioned after all. Consistent last minute requests to hang out make us all feel like we are Plan B, even in 2017. And if we continuously make ourselves available, we are encouraging this type of behavior.

The truth is that she’d love to hang out with him this weekend. But she believes she’s more than a Plan B. She hopes he’ll realize this, too. Meanwhile, while he’s figuring it out, she’ll play in her kitchen:

This sweet and spicy  (like a good date!) jam makes a quick appetizer when served over cream cheese and served with crackers or toast. It’s also tasty as a glaze on shrimp, chicken or salmon….or slathered on a toasted bagel and schmear.


Chili Pepper Honey Jam

  • Servings: 2 pint jars
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I developed this recipe to use up some of the dried chilies in my pantry. I used a combination of Arbol, Guajillo and Puya chilies, but you can mix or match depending on what’s available.

Ingredients

  • 6 dried Chile de Arbol
  • 2 dried Guajillo chilies
  • 2 dried Puya chilies
  • 2 Red bell peppers
  • 2/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 cup honey
  • ½ cup sugar

Directions

  1. Stem and seed dried chilies. In a medium saucepan, combine dried chilies with 1 cup water and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let soak for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stem and seed bell pepper and chop into large chunks.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, combine chilies and water with bell pepper. Pulse on and off until ingredients are well chopped.
  3. Pour ingredients back in saucepan and add cider vinegar. Bring to a boil. Stir in honey and sugar and bring back to a boil. Cook down, stirring occasionally, until reduced and the consistency of jam, about 20 minutes.
  4. If you plan on canning, follow proper canning procedures or cool and refrigerate jam if using within the next week.

Spiced Candied Nuts

Sweet and Spicy Holiday nuts

Until I moved into this neighborhood, I wasn’t a huge fan of Halloween – love Christmas, love Thanksgiving, but I considered Halloween to be one of the lesser holidays – like President’s Day. Of course, I only assigned it its second-class designation after I outgrew trick-or-treating. However, Halloween is a big event around here. In my old neighborhood, we were lucky to see two or three kids all night. This place is hoppin’. We get large gaggles of costumed candy beggars throughout the night. It’s fun and festive and I can’t imagine shutting the drapes, turning off the lights and not partaking.

It takes eight bags of candy to ensure I’ll have enough to last the night. Eight bags purchased the week before the actual holiday. Eight bags of Reese’s, Jr. Mints, Twix, Paydays and Almond Joys stashed in my pantry…texting me for a booty call each night until the 31st saying, “just eat a few of us; we’re fun sized; we won’t side-track your diet.” Yeah, right.

I have no will-power and the recent tightness of my jeans is a physical reminder of that fact. If there’s sinful food in my house, it goes in my mouth. Eight bags of my favorite candy is a feeding orgy I don’t want to participate in this year. So, as counter measures, I’m waiting until the very last second to buy candy. I also made these slightly sweet, salty, spicy almonds for my personal snacking pleasure, ensuring I keep my fingers out of the candy bowl.


Spiced Candied Almonds

I used the nuts and spices I had on hand, but feel free to substitute your favorites.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups raw nuts (I used almonds)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons assorted spices (I used 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice, ⅛ teaspoon cardamom and ⅛ teaspoon urfa chile for heat)
  • 1 egg white, beaten
  • Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300° F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat. In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, salt and spices. In a large bowl, beat the egg white until frothy. Add the nuts and spiced sugar to the egg whites and stir until nuts are evenly coated. Spread out the nuts on the baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned.
  2. 2.Remove from the oven, sprinkle with sea salt (if using) and allow the nuts cool on the baking sheet.

Lamb Phyllo Pie

Lamb Filo Pie

Frozen pie crust is cheating. In my book, taking a crust out of the package and filling it with a can of Comstock apple pie filling is not baking an apple pie. Call it ‘assembling’, but don’t call it ‘baking.’ Frozen phyllo (Filo) dough, conversely, is better from the box. I’d never be able to get handmade phyllo as uniformly thin as the prepackaged stuff. But, even prepackaged phyllo doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing.

The first time I tried cooking with prepackaged phyllo dough, I was in my 20’s and I was making a version of Beef Wellington. From 40 sheets of the tissue-thin dough, I managed to rescue eight sheets that made it into the oven. The rest of the phyllo fell apart, tore, or turned gummy and stuck together. I tossed away a crumpled ball of phyllo the size of a small cabbage.

Since then, I’ve learned a few tricks when working with phyllo. It just needs a little nurturing and patience and you’ll be rewarded with impressive results. Follow the thawing instructions exactly. Don’t rush the thaw or the dough may crack. Give yourself enough time for a complete thaw. Once it’s thawed, unroll it gently and completely and lay it flat (it’s usually rolled and folded), cover it with plastic wrap or waxed paper (I prefer waxed paper) and a damp towel (about as wet as a post-shower towel). This step keeps the dough from drying out. Don’t put the damp towel directly on the dough or it will turn into a gummy mess. Use dry hands, work with one sheet at a time and keep the rest covered. You may think it’s a hassle to keep uncovering the phyllo each time you want a new sheet, especially once you get in a rhythm, but this extra step keeps the phyllo in the perfect condition for culinary baking success.

Treat your phyllo right and you’ll be rewarded with a golden brown, shatteringly crisp, show-stopper of a pastry like this lamb pie.


Lamb Phyllo (Filo) Pie

  • Servings: 4-6 as an entrée or 8 appetizers
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Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 lbs. ground lamb (or beef)
  • 1 Japanese eggplant, diced
  • 1 box frozen spinach, thawed, but not drained
  • Zest of one orange
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
  • ½ bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1/3 cup briny black olives, pitted and chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 8 sheets phyllo pastry
  • Olive oil (I used a Meyer Lemon olive oil to brush the phyllo, but plain will work if you don’t have flavored oil)

Directions

  1. To make the filling: Heat a bit of plain olive oil in a large sauté pan. Sauté onion until beginning to soften, 1-2 minutes. Add lamb, and sauté until beginning to brown, 3-5 minutes. Add eggplant and continue to sauté until mixture is browned and there are browned bits of meat and veggies on the bottom of the pan. Add spinach (un-drained), zest, smoked paprika and oregano. The water from the spinach will allow you to deglaze the pan and scrape up all those tasty browned bits on the bottom. Continue cooking until all the water has evaporated and the mixture looks dry and browned. Remove from the heat. Add cilantro, frozen peas, and black olives. Set aside to cool.
  2. Once the meat mixture has cooled, season well with salt and pepper and add the beaten eggs. The eggs will help the meat mixture to hold together when the final pie is sliced. Adding the eggs once the mixture has cooled ensures they don’t scramble.
  3. To assemble the pie: Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Unwrap phyllo and cover with plastic wrap or waxed paper and a damp towel so the phyllo doesn’t dry out. Once phyllo dries out or gets wet, it’s a bitch to work with. Brush the first sheet of phyllo with olive oil (this is where I used the flavored oil). Place the phyllo sheet, oil side up, in a 9” pie dish so that one half is covering the entire bottom of the dish and the rest of the phyllo sheet is hanging over the rim of the pan. Repeat this step 7 more times, rotating around the dish so that you end up with 8 layers of phyllo lining the bottom of the dish and the entire circumference of the dish has phyllo hanging over the rim. Fill the pie dish with the meat mixture, pressing down firmly and mounding it slightly in the center. Fold the overhanging phyllo around the meat, crumpling the phyllo and leaving the center open. Brush the crumpled phyllo top with oil. Baked for about 50 minutes or until the phyllo is very golden brown and crisp.
  4. Let pie cool for 30-45 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve warm. The pie can be made ahead through step 3. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Reheat, uncovered, in a 300⁰ F. oven for about 30 minutes.

Goat cheese with candied almonds

a plate of goat cheese crusted with candied almonds and surrounded by crackers
Today is the first official day of my mid-life gap year. To start, I overslept and then failed to attend a 10:30 a.m. yoga class. Not an encouraging start to a year that’s supposed to change my life. I did, however, manage a walk around the neighborhood and took a shower. I remember reading somewhere that you should take a shower every day to avoid sinking into depression. Well, I managed that, at least.  Also, there’s an electrician here repairing lighting issues I’ve been meaning to get to for a few years. All-in-all, not a bad first day.

This recipe is based on a goat cheese appetizer we devoured during an Innkeeper seminar last week in Asheville (Yes, I’m considering Innkeeping as my next adventure.)


Goat Cheese with Candied Almonds


Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 log goat cheese

Directions

  1. Melt sugar in a skillet over medium-low heat without stirring. Sugar syrup should be tan to golden brown once melted.
  2. Add sliced almonds and stir to coat almonds well. Remove from heat and spread almonds on a silicone mat, sheet pan, or parchment paper to cool completely.
  3. Crush almonds using a rolling pin or food processor until crumbs are a bit smaller than pea sized.
  4. Roll goat cheese in candied almond crumbs, pressing crumbs on as needed until cheese is well coated. Serve with crackers or toast slices.