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Satsuma GranitaThere is sense and order to the world.  Need proof?  The ripening of winter citrus.  It is the darkest days of the year that bring us the brightly colored, terrifically acidic oranges and lemons, limes and grapefruit, or at my house…  buckets upon buckets of satsuma mandarins.  Not familiar with satsumas?  They are a small orange with a sweet tart bite.  They are similar to the other easy-peel small citrus, such as clementines, that are sold in boxes at all the grocery stores right now.  In fact, this recipe could easily be used with those little cuties or even a standard orange variety.Satsumas cut in halfSatsuma Granita is the ultimate anti-winter.  Fresh-squeezed satsuma juice is mixed with a touch of lemon juice and bit of ginger-infused simple syrup.  The mixture is frozen and fluffed, then gently packed back into the peels of the satsumas.  Fun to look at, even more fun to eat, these balls of cool orangey ice will make you forget it is the middle of winter.  As my kids said, “They are like snow cones, only BETTER!”  They are also remarkably easy to make.  If you happen to have young children underfoot that have run out of engaging indoor activities, by all means put them to work!  My daughter happily monkeyed up the tree to pick the fruit before juicing the lug of fruit.  What delicious fun!

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Strawberry Shortcakes

July 11, 2012

Could there be a more classic summer dessert than a strawberry shortcake?  Probably not.  So when I finally got my hands on a lug of gorgeously fragrant, deep red strawberries from a local farm, all I could think of was making this simple dessert to showcase these berries.

Since there are only three simple components to a strawberry shortcake, it is essential that all three elements can sing on their own. Most recipes call for a cream scone, but I prefer a buttermilk biscuit not only because it reduces the overall fat in the recipe, but also for the lovely tang that the buttermilk provides.  This recipe makes buttery, flaky, beautifully browned biscuits.  Split them open and dollop  them with cream which has been whipped into a soft, velvety mixture.  (Do not pour in cream, turn on your mixer to whisk and then leave the room to mediate a sibling squabble,  oh no, do not.  You will make butter. Trust me.)

Last are the strawberries.  This dish is best with fresh sweet summer berries.  Pick ones that are small and red to the core, preferably from your local farmers market and not shipped to the supermarket in plastic boxes.  There is a huge difference.  Depending on the size of the strawberries, halve or quarter them and dust with a bit of sugar.  As the strawberries sit they will gently weep and make a beautiful pink syrup.  Scoop the berries and their syrup onto the pillow of whipped cream and top with the other half of the biscuit.  Simple and delightful.

The last time we made these was the 4th of July, so we tossed in some blueberries as well to go with the red, white, and blue theme.  My son insisted that the dessert would benefit from the option of Chocolate Pudding as well.  He was right.  We went with the self serve model, allowing each person to create their own shortcake dessert from bowls of whipped cream, strawberries, blueberries, and chocolate pudding.  For a more formal approach, serve the assembled shortcakes.

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I am not known for overt patriotism, but I am also not one to pass up an opportunity to celebrate.  And isn’t it a happy coincidence that our nation’s birthday falls smack dab in the middle of berry season?  We are surrounded by luscious reds and blues hanging from the bushes and trees throughout our neighborhoods and farms.  To pass these by is a shame and perhaps even unpatriotic.

My kids and I went on a west county adventure yesterday, and came home with a bag full of blueberries from Sonoma Swamp Blues (great spot to pick up super tasty local blueberries!).  Most of them are destined for shortcakes with strawberries and cream, but I could not resist tossing a few handfuls into the blender to make these popsicles. Believe it our not, my kiddos will happily gobble up a popsicle every day of summer!

Red, White and Blueberry Popsicles are a tasty treat to cool you off while savoring the sweet tastes of July.   Also they only take about 10 minutes to prepare (and freeze overnight), so you have more time to sit around sipping on lemonade (or an ice cold margarita).  You can test your luck and pull them out of the mold after 4 hours or so.  We did.  Waiting until the actual 4th of July was more than our patience could take.  Use caution though, if they are not fully frozen they are more likely to break off or for the stick to come loose from the popsicle.

*Don’t have a popsicle mold?  Check out this one.

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School has been out for two weeks now, the sun is blazing, and the canning pot has reasserted its dominance on my stove top.  Hello summer!  Canning is usually a solitary sport for me, squeezed in the early hours of the morning or late at night when the kids have finally succumbed to sleep.  While the bubbling caldron of jam is still a bit much for my youngsters, they are quite capable of helping me to process the fruit.  My son found the cherry pitter to be quite a lot of fun and was thrilled when I handed him the knife to cut the cherries.  Who needs summer camp when you can enlist your kids in practical life skills at home?  (Of course, give me a few weeks and I may be screaming for them to go to any sort of camp that will take them!)

Cherry Rhubarb Jam is a delightful balance of sweet and tart with a rich background note of vanilla.  The color is absolutely divine.   This is my second attempt at this type of jam and it is an absolute hit.  There is a relatively small amount of sugar added.  Cherries are so naturally sweet that it is very easy to over-sweeten them. The fruit macerates for an extended time before cooking.  This reduces the overall cooking time, since the fruit has already given up its juice.  Shorter cooking times mean fresher tasting jam and more vibrant colors.  This jam is sure to a new June tradition in our house. Absolutely delicious!

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Cheesy Kale and Orzo

May 22, 2012

At nearly the age of four, our daughter sat in disbelief  in front of a bowl of mac and cheese served by a friend of ours.  “But it’s not green?”  She couldn’t fit the bowl of creamy goodness into her limited epicurean understanding of the world, mostly because her mother had apparently spent her ultra-formative years fooling her into thinking that all mac and cheese had pureed spinach or kale as an integral part.  But before you jump to conclusions and label me a crazy mom who withholds hard-earned icons of American childhood (probably no hot dogs or Oreos either!), consider that the addition of these rich greens actually makes the dish taste better (and triples the nutritional value of course)!  And not just to adults either, our kids prefer this as well.  Just look at the happy girl then and now! (But you are right about the Oreos, we have held back on those.  Perhaps you know of a fantastic recipe to make them at home and would like to share a link below!)

Cheesy Kale and Orzo is the next generation of mac and cheese at our dinner table.  It satisfies our kids’ desire for cheesy pasta, yet holds its own as a more sophisticated side for grilled salmon (our protein of choice these days).  The orzo cooks in the fashion of a risotto, so it has a chance to soak up the white wine and rich chicken broth.  Kale, steamed and blended fine, mixes in and colors the dish a deep green. Fresh cut chives and Parmesan add a bit more flavor and creaminess at the end.

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Horchata

May 13, 2012

Sonoma County may be a culinary destination for other reasons, but in my family we are most grateful for the abundance of fantastic taquerias.  Within walking distance of our house there are many places to enjoy a tasty taco, crunchy tostada or a big @#* burrito. Our kids share our love of Mexican food (which is a family requirement along with love of pizza).  They generally gravitate towards a simple bean and cheese burrito with a Horchata to wash it down.  My husband and I recently discussed that we need to branch out a bit, or our children will think that every restaurant features the cuisine of Mexico!

Horchata is a sweetened rice drink infused with just enough cinnamon to make it interesting.  It is served cold, over ice, and is the perfect balance to a hot and spicy meal.  Given that we often make our own Mexican-inspired food at home, we decided it was time to make horchata as well.  After researching several recipes, I settled on one adapted by David Lebovitz.  It is so incredibly simple that I have happily made it many times already.  Long grain white rice is ground into a powder and soaked with cinnamon over night.  The bits are then strained out and the liquid sweetened and mixed with milk. Done.  I love that by making it at home, I can control the amount of sugar that is in the drink.  Our kids love it and so do we.  According to myth, this drink is also quite the hangover cure, though I can not personally confirm that.  Horchata is a  refreshing drink for any spring or summer day.

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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 and 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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