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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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.

7-spice Pumpkin Bread

Chinese 5 spice mini pumpkin bread with cream cheese frosting
Growing up here, I feel the almost imperceptible California shift from late summer into fall. Newbies to this state, especially from the East, think I’m crazy.

Yesterday, I left my home, stepping into a darkening evening full of clouds and chill. Defiantly, I put the top down on my car but resigned to wrap myself in a scarf as a buffer to the cold. When did these days begin to shorten? Weeks ago, but I only noticed yesterday. Autumn is my favorite season. To me, it’s a “renewal” – a description usually left for spring. Fat pumpkins and squash almost magically appear on the ground – they’ve been there, growing for months, but only now say, “Look at me.” Trees explode in a riot of color – plum, gold, orange and russet. Yes, some of our trees actually do change color. The sky feels alive with a fresh chill or, alternately, the warm Santa Ana winds. Fall gives me reason again to simmer rich stews and comforting soups for hours, filling the house with superb smells. My long-dusty fireplace again crackles with burning logs.

Autumn is the time to draw within, to take stock of ourselves and to contemplate. It’s a time to close our doors and windows to our neighbors and snuggle in with ourselves. It’s a perfect time to prune back our over-extended commitments, to focus on our essence, to become cozy with who we are. Autumn is not a sad dying, but its own living – an insular living that renews in its own way – a quiet Yin to spring’s Yang. Autumn is a time to reconnect with ourselves.

Pumpkin-spice mania has had its run – while I love pumpkin anything, this is my last autumnal pumpkin recipe for this year…


7-spice Pumpkin Bread

  • Servings: 3 mini loaves
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This is my go-to recipe for using up leftover canned pureed pumpkin. Instead of making one large loaf, I like baking mini loaves so I can eat one now and freeze the rest for a rainy day…or tomorrow.

Ingredients

  • 7.5 oz. pumpkin puree
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ⅓ cup buttermilk
  • 1 ½ cups white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ¾ all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice
  • ½ teaspoon nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ginger

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350⁰ F. Butter and flour 3 mini loaf pans (or one standard size loaf pan). In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, eggs, oil, buttermilk, sugar and vanilla. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, Chinese 5-spice, nutmeg and ginger. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until combined (don’t over-mix).
  2. Pour batter evenly into the tins. Don’t overfill. Bake 35-45 minutes (longer for a standard loaf pan) or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool and enjoy. I smother my bread with maple cream cheese frosting and maple walnuts.


 

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Sliced homemade cinnamon raisin bread and a cup of tea
9:30 p.m.: I’m ravenous for a snack, but I really must eat healthy for a change. Damn, I need to grocery shop – there isn’t a healthy morsel in the house. Oh wait, is that canned tuna way back in the cupboard? Tuna is healthy – all those Omega 3’s. I could whip up an easy tuna salad. Yawn, plain tuna salad bores me. Perhaps a tuna salad sandwich instead? Ugh, I’ve run out of bread. No matter, I can bake a quick white loaf. Flour, water, salt, yeast, sugar…oh wait, here’s a bag of plump raisins. Forget the white loaf; I should make cinnamon raisin bread instead! Yum!

11:30 p.m.: Mmm…there’s nothing better than thickly-sliced toasted cinnamon raisin bread slathered in melted salted butter. Healthy what?!


Cinnamon Raisin Bread

  • Servings: One 8 ½ x 4 ½ inch loaf
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Adapted from Joy of Cooking’s Fast White Bread recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 cups bread flour, divided
  • 3 Tablespoon sugar, divided
  • 1 package Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup very warm water (115⁰ – 120⁰ – this is warmer than normal yeast activation temperature)
  • 3 Tablespoons melted butter, divided
  • 1 cup raisins, soaked in hot water to soften and drained
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • pinch salt
  • 1 Tablespoon Turbinado sugar (like Sugar in the Raw) or white sugar

Directions

  1. In the bowl of the mixer, add two cups of bread flour, 1 Tablespoon sugar, yeast, and salt (yeast and salt should not touch as salt can retard yeast activation). Add water and 2 Tablespoons melted butter and combine on low to medium speed. Gradually add the remaining 1 cup of flour until the dough is moist by not sticky (you may not need to add the entire cup). Knead for about 10 minutes on medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in volume (about 30 minutes).
  2. Preheat oven to 450⁰. Grease an 8 ½ x 4 ½ inch loaf pan. Combine remaining 2 Tablespoons sugar with 2 teaspoons cinnamon. Punch the dough down. Place the dough between two pieces of waxed or parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into an 8-inch square. Brush the dough with the remaining Tablespoon of melted butter. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar and drained raisins. Lightly press raisins into dough.
  3. Roll up dough, jellyroll style, pinching the ends closed. Place the dough in the loaf pan, seam side down. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise again until doubled in volume (about 30 minutes).
  4. Brush beaten egg over top of loaf, sprinkle with salt and turbinado sugar. Bake in 450⁰ oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350⁰ and continue baking for about 30 minutes more. If the top of the loaf is brown, cover with foil until loaf is fully cooked. Remove loaf from pan and let cool completely on a rack. Slice, toast, slather with butter, and push the guilt away until tomorrow.

Caramelized Nectarines

Caramelized Nectarines in a white casserole dish
The annual nectarine onslaught has begun again and, in fact, the prolific bounty has already managed to snap two branches with the weight. Harvest time is brief with pounds upon pounds of sweet fruit ready all at once. I want to rescue each juicy orb from Newton’s law, plucking them from the tree before they fall, but each morning I find a dozen plump globes bruised and broken upon the ground, their potential wasted. In my efforts to salvage the masses in the past, I’ve bubbled large caldrons of steamy nectarine jam, resulting in three dozen jars “put up.” One can only eat so much jam, however, and most of it remains languishing in the cupboard. I’ve also undertaken a raft of baked goods, but it’s a losing battle – a recipe requires a pound or two of fruit, while I’m picking a few pounds each DAY. I’ve tried freezing the fruit, but that resulted in mushy brown thawed blobs. I picked the first fat, ripe nectarines this week, preparing them with a drizzle of butter, sprinkle of sugar, and quick broil. I know I can’t save them all, but over the next few weeks, I’m willing to try.


Caramelized Nectarines

  • Servings: 2-4 people
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My nectarines are small.  With larger nectarines, you’ll probably only need two or three to reach the amount needed for this recipe.

Ingredients

  • 10-12 oz. Nectarines, sliced in half and pitted.
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Pinch salt
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar (preferably turbinado, like Sugar in the Raw)
  • Pinch cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat broiler. Place nectarines, cut side up in a small casserole dish. Melt butter in microwave or small saucepan. Add salt and vanilla to butter and stir to combine.
  2. Drizzle butter over nectarine halves, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
  3. Broil nectarines about 4” from broiler element for approximately 8 minutes until fruit is bubbling and beginning to brown. Enjoy plain or serve with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.