Day by day, our children are taking over our lives with a force that eclipses their small stature.  First was the living room, invading the space with a pulsing tide of toys other detritus.  Slowly their influence oozed into our music, favoring 90′s grunge rock for no explicable reason.  The most recent conquest was the meal plan.  Though they are both enthusiastic eaters of most dishes I serve, they now each direct the selection of one dinner a week.  What seemed benign at first quickly spiraled into many successive nights of pesto pasta, hamburgers, and spaghetti and meatballs.  My kids, who would eat anything, had a very short list of items they would actually request.  Luckily with some gentle encouragement, they happily incorporated some new meal variations that keep them (and their parents) satisfied.

Baked Chicken Flautas are crispy, crunchy flour tortillas wrapped around a moist, mildly spiced bean and chicken filling.  They hit on all of my children’s favorite notes: finger foods, beans, cheese.  They are tasty enough to appeal to the adult set as well.  Whip up some Chipotle Salsa for a dip to make these flutes really sing.  Feel free to change the filling around.  Not a fan of beans?  Leave them out and increase the chicken.  What to make them vegetarian?  Omit the chicken and add crumbled tofu or corn to the mix.  Really, anything you would throw in a taco can be rolled up in these tortillas and baked.  We ate these for dinner, but they would be great as a party appetizer as well!  So, how about you?  What are the family pleasing meals that grace your table?

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Fuyu Persimmon Chutney

December 12, 2011

To my knowledge there are no holiday songs written about persimmons, but there should be. Persimmons hang on months after most fruit.  They wait for the frost to come before dumping their leaves and gloriously displaying their sweet orange lanterns hanging from naked limbs.  The fruit, sweet and flavorful when ripe, has an unpleasant astringent quality when eaten before they fully develop.   So I wait for it, because I love this fruit. It may be the last truly seasonal fruit, in that there is not enough demand to cause our friends in the Southern Hemisphere to begin shipping it here in the off season.  (I imagine it would be tough to sell a persimmon during the height of peach season!)

This year a friend invited me over to pick Fuyu persimmons from her tree. (Thanks A!) Fuyus are the short, squat variety that are eaten while firm.  They are not often cooked, but rather eaten raw in salads or on their own.  My mother-in-law, a fellow persimmon fan, introduced me to a recipe for using Fuyu persimmons to make a chutney.  The dense flesh retains its shape and color when cooked.  The chutney is seasoned with garlic, ginger, and mustard seeds that pop in your mouth with each bite.  The raisins and sugar balance the acidity of the apple cider vinegar and the red pepper flakes add a subtle bite.  I often serve the chutney with a soft cheese on an appetizer tray.  It also shines as a side to roast pork.  Jars filled with persimmon chutney make a welcome holiday gift.

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My mom taught me how to can.  In fact, she was full of useful instruction when I was a kid including: how to make my bed (hospital corners), the art of the thank you letter, and the ever-so-wise tip: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” (I seem to have forgotten this last one recently and so I am resurrecting it as my new mantra- I think it will serve me well.)  Though I do still try to do my best with thank you letters, I admit to having given up on the tightly made bed (duvees are the way to go!)  The canning skills I learned from her though,  are still extremely relevant and useful.  I took it for granted growing up that the pantry was always full of a variety of delicious jams.  It was not until I was older that I realized how few people my age knew about this practical art.  Gratefully, the art of preservation is experiencing a resurgence.  Just look at the popularity of sites such as Punk Domestics and Food in Jars.

My first canning projects were jams: apricot , raspberry, blueberry.  My mom showed me how to carefully sort the fruit, meticulously wash the jars, fill them leaving just the right amount of head-space, and secure them with clean lids and bands.  It was a fun activity to share and I of course loved to taste the fruits of our labors.  Over the years, I branched out in quantity (such as the 200 jars I made for our wedding favors out of our 20 square foot college kitchen) and variety by adding in pickles and relish, as well as applesauce and curds.This recipe is not one of my childhood.  It has become a family favorite none-the-less, born out of necessity as my parents’ garden expanded and they learned that three of four zucchini plants really are extreme plenty for a two-person household.

Sweet and Spicy Zucchini Pickles is the recipe that makes me yearn for our zucchini plants to over-produce.  No matter how many jars I make each year, it is never enough.  By February or March, I find myself rationing them so that we have enough to last until the next harvest.  Sweet, tangy, and crunchy with just a little bit of spice.  These are a staple on our weekend lunch table.  They are great on sandwiches or on their own.

What tips did your mother teach you that you still put to use?

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Chicken Satay

August 10, 2011

Though my time frees up in the summer when my day job as a high school science teacher takes a hiatus, somehow our dinners suffer.  During the school year, time is so limited that a strict menu must be followed, the food shopping is completed on schedule, and for the most part we eat pretty well.  During the summer though, I have the luxury to let loose.  My kids and I bounce from one adventure to another and more than once we have found ourselves without a clue what to make for dinner. Or sometimes I spend the day canning and completely loose interest in preparing another meal when I am done.   (I will not embarrass myself by sharing our dinner for tonight, except to say that it included refried beans, tortillas, and cheese and not much else- but beans are a vegetable right?)  So you can see why when I find a recipe that is easy to whip up (especially in advance) and incredibly tasty, and yes, kid friendly, it quickly becomes a go-to recipe.

I first made Chicken Satay at the beginning of summer. We enjoyed it so much that it quickly fell into our program and has since graced our table a number of times.  At once bold, yet not overwhelming, this mixture of spices is a tasty accompaniment to juicy chicken thighs.  I modified the recipe to use Salt Preserved Lemons, instead of lemon grass, because I do not have a local source for the lemongrass and do have an abundance of lemons.  The authenticity may suffer, but the flavor does not. The skewers cook up super fast on the grill, which keeps the oven off and the house cool.  I usually serve this dish with a simple slaw, perhaps a mango salsa, and of course some sriracha for a spicy dip.

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The peaches have been calling me this summer.  On my last trip to the farmers’ market, I gleefully strode away with a huge box mounded high with beautiful peaches and nectarines.  Fortunately, this coincided with an almost unprecedented two free days without the kiddos.  Oh, how productive this mama can be when the children are away!

There were enough peaches to make a few different types of products.  It was hard to resist making the Perfect Peach Cake (it really is soooo good), but I did.  Instead a made a batch of pie filling inspired by this recipe from Mrs. Wheelbarrow.  A few pounds went to making a puree for peach ice cream (still working out the kinks on that recipe).  With the bulk of the peaches I made one of my favorite pantry items, Peppered Peach and Rosemary Jam.

This jam is special.  Sweet white peaches, earthy rosemary, and just a hint of spice from the cracked pepper, the combination is delightful.  I serve it with cheese such as brie or chevre.  It is a definite crowd pleaser and an excellent hostess or holiday gift.

Peppered Peach and Rosemary Jam

adapted from Martha Stewart

makes 5 half-pints

3 pounds white peaches (you can use yellow, but I prefer the white varieties for this jam)

1/3 cup lemon juice

3 cups sugar

4 large sprigs rosemary

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Peel and pit the peaches. (Very ripe peaches are very easy to peel with a knife.  If your peaches do not peel easily, they are probably not ripe enough.  If you must make the jam without allowing them to ripen further, you can boil them for one minute, then plunge into cold water to loosen the skin.)

Slice the peaches into 1/2 inch slices.  Place peaches in a large bowl, add lemon juice, sugar, rosemary, and pepper.  Cover and let stand for 4 hours.  Stir every hour to incorporate the sugar.

Transfer peach mixture to a large pot. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Cook for 15 minutes, until mixture is syrupy.  Lightly mash the mixture to break down peach slices, leave 1/3 of wedges intact.  Discard rosemary sprigs (you can fish out the individual rosemary leaves if you want, but I leave some in for color and interest.)

Ladle jam into hot sterile jars.  Leave a 1/2 inch head-space. Top with a new lid and band. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes for half-pint jars.  See Home Canning Basics for more information about the canning process.

Here is a printer-friendly version of the recipe:  Peppered Peach and Rosemary Jam

You may also like:

Perfect Peach Cake

Mango Cranberry Chutney

Caramelized Onion Relish

Peppered Peach and Rosemary Jam on Punk Domestics
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