Handmade Treats for Family, Friends and Sweethearts

Valentine’s Day is just a week away now and if you haven’t begun to think about a few little gifts, now might be a good time*. I’ve been seeing lots of inspired treats across the internet of late. I’m particularly charmed by these peanut butter and jam thumbprint cookies, where the hollow for the jam has been molding into the shape of a heart.

However, if you don’t have the time to make something up yourself, there’s an organization I want to tell you about. Called Eat Boutique, they are tiny company who is in the business of putting together boxes of artisanally made foods. It’s not a situation in which you can customize the box. They simply have a seasonal box that get’s packed full of whatever lovely things they’ve determined work best for the current season. The box they’re currently offering includes sea salt caramels, snowball cookies and a jar of sweet pickled beets and costs $55 + s/h. Sounds pretty nice to me.

Now, if that box happens to be a bit too spendy for you, consider taking the idea as inspiration and putting something together from your own homemade items. I keep envisioning a few friends teaming up, making a couple of components and then trading, in order to have more variety in less time.

Now, let’s hear how the rest of you plan on celebrating Valentine’s Day. Got any special treats or goodies in the works?

*I happened to be married to a man who’s birthday is also on Valentine’s Day, so I’ve been thinking and planning for months, trying to ensure that I cover both bases and make him feel as special as he deserves.

Note: There’s been no pay for play here. I received nothing from Eat Boutique in exchange for this post. I just like what they are doing and their focus small and handmade.

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Geometry of Pasta Winner

As always, I’m a little bit slow posting a giveaway winner. We had 206 total entries (the combined total of the comments left on posts here and over at Fork You) and random.org tells me that the winner is number 140, Tammy B.

Tammy, I’ll be in touch soon to get your info, so I can get your copy of the Geometry of Pasta into the mail.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to leave a comment. Also, our many thanks to Quirk Books for providing copies of the book and a bit of cash to help with supplies.

Stay tuned, we’ll have another video ready for you in just a few short weeks!

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Preserving Lemons

preserved lemons

I first tasted preserved lemons when I went out to Ojai for a press trip out to the Sunkist lemon groves two years ago. (What a divine trip that was. Three days in Southern California in the midst of a messy Philadelphia winter.) By the time you eat a preserved lemon, it has little in common with the fruit as we know it. Strategically slit and salted, the lemons change character radically, until all you have left is a savory, tangy, yielding condiment that acts as serious flavor player.

And, as preserving projects go, this one couldn’t be easier. It’s just a matter of scrubbing, trimming, slicing and packing with salt. No boiling water baths or sterilization necessary.

Here’s how it works. You give your lemons a really good wash and then trim both ends to remove the remains of the stem and the little nub. Then slice them as if you’re cutting them into quarters, but not all the way. The goal is to have each lemon cut in four pieces but still attached to the whole. They always look a little like one of those fortune teller games we used to make in elementary school to me.

Once all your lemons are prepped, cover the bottom of the jar you’ll be using with salt (either kosher or sea salt is best). One by one, hold each lemon over the jar and spill a tablespoon of salt into the cuts. Pack them into the jar as you fill them with salt, using a bit of force to get them in if necessary. I used a 1 1/2 liter Le Parfait jar and found that it held nine lemons quite nicely. Spread some salt between each layer of lemons and make sure to top the jar off with a good pour as well.

Keep out on the counter for the first three days, giving the jar a good shake once or twice a day to help spread the salt and activate the juice production. If they aren’t producing a whole lot of juice, feel free to open the lid and press down to help things along. On the fourth day, take a good look at your lemons. They should be submerged in their own juice by this point. If they are not, top the jar off with some additional juice. Stash them in the back of the fridge for at least three weeks. After that, they should be ready to use. However, they’ll keep this way for at least six months (if not longer).

When you’re ready to use one, remove it from the jar and give it a rinse. Chop into tiny pieces and toss in salads, braises or grain dishes. I imagine it would be wonderful in this salad, in place of the braised lemon slices.

If you’ve bought or made them before, what’s your favorite way to use a preserved lemon?

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Open Jars: Peachy Carrots from Queen of the Castle Recipes

purple carrots

When I was growing up, my mom kept dinnertime simple by rotating through a mix-and-match array of main and sides. One such side that came up on a fairly regular basis was a dish of sliced carrots, steamed until just tender and then glazed with butter and a bit of brown sugar. I always loved it, although as I got older, it faded from the cycle.

I’m reminded of those delectable carrots, thanks to Lynn from Queen of the Castle Recipes. She cooked up a batch of carrots and glazed them with some of the peach pit jelly she made last summer. Here’s what she has to say about them…

The very best recipe I’ve made in the last two weeks, the one I’ll be making again? It’s Peachy Carrots, from The Four Ingredient Cookbook. Who’d have thought such a simple little recipe would surpass the others? Here’s the recipe, and I will save you all that time-consuming experimenting.

PEACHY CARROTS
1 lb. package of carrots (the authors recommend you slice and cook them; I simply took a 12-oz. bag of petite carrots and used them whole, without pre-cooking)
1/3 c. peach preserves (I used peach pit jelly I had made over the summer)
1 T. butter

In small skillet or saucepan, combine all ingredients and cook over medium heat until heated through.¬† That’s it.¬† Sweet and yummy and pretty darned simple.

They really do sound good. I’m thinking about making them using the nectarine-lime jam I made last summer. Something tells me that the hint of citrus would be a perfect accompaniment to the sweetness of the carrots and the jam.

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Dark Days: Beer Braised Brisket and Onions

dark days brisket

Despite my Jewish roots, beef brisket is not a cut of meat I grew up with. We had the occasional pot roast, but mostly my mom gravitated towards quicker cooking bits of beef and lots of chicken. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I discovered the miracle that is brisket, thanks to my meat buying club (recently renamed Sweet Stem Farm).

brisket

In preparation for the braising urge that I knew would soon strike, I added a brisket to my January order and this Sunday was the day (it also happened to take up an excessively large amount of room in the freezer). My preferred way to braise brisket is to season it well with salt and pepper, brown it in my big oval Staub pot and then remove it to plate. Then three or four chopped onions get cooked in all the deliciousness that remains in the pot. Once they’ve gone soft and brown, the brisket goes back in the pot and half the onions go on top. Two bottles of beer go in (I used Philadelphia Brewing Company’s Kenzinger this time and it was perfect) and then the whole pot goes into the oven at 300 degrees for four to five hours.

The meat was incredibly tender, flavorful and fragrant. It smelled so good while it was cooking that I could barely take it. We ate it with some roasted carrots (local) and steamed broccoli (not local – the pickings are really slim around here for local green things at the moment). So, so good.

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Fork You Returns + The Geometry of Pasta Giveaway

Years ago, before the canning bug well and truly bit me, my husband Scott and I regularly made an online cooking show called Fork You. In all honesty, the production of the show was essentially our courtship, as it gave us an excuse to spend time together when we were just friends and weren’t yet able to fess up to the fact that we adored one another wildly.

When we did finally started dating (and very soon thereafter, living together) the production of new episodes slowed to a crawl, because we just didn’t need an excuse to hang out. And then, when our “crew” (friends Thad and Angie) had a pair of wickedly cute twin daughters and didn’t have any extra time to do crazy stuff like spend a Saturday afternoon filming cooking videos, well, Fork You went on life support.

However, I’m happy to announce that we’re bringing it back (or at least, trying to). We’re planning on featuring recipes on a monthly basis from some of the cookbooks that publishers occasionally send me, so that they don’t just collect in awkward piles in the living room.

The first book featured in this new season of Fork You is The Geometry of Pasta, written by Jacob Kenedy and Caz Hildebrand and published by Quirk Books. Quirk was kind enough to send us copies of the book, as well as some cash to cover ingredient costs (that was a first for me).

Take a look and let us know what you think. If I sound a bit stuffed up, know that we filmed this during the height of the cold I had at the end of December.

Oh, and if you want a chance at winning the copy of The Geometry of Pasta that we have to give away, leave a comment here and share your favorite pasta shape. Comments will close at 11:59 p.m. on Monday, January 31. We’ll be in touch with the winner soon after that.