cinnamon heart candied popcorn

IMG_5206Popcorn is one of those snacks that I cannot give up.  My idea of perfect is a big bowl of corn popped in coconut oil and liberally sprinkled with salt.  Caramel corn comes close and so does real state fair kettle corn but I can live without the sweet and 99% of the time, it is just a sprinkle of salt on top for me.

With Valentine’s day approaching, I was thinking of my girls and how much I wish I could spend more time with them but since we are scattered now, mailing a box of goodies to each of them would have to suffice.  That’s where the corn comes in; it is light weight and easy to ship.  But honestly, who wants to get a box of plain old popcorn?

While searching for a recipe, this one caught my eye-blame it on the red color  of the corn.  When I saw the recipe used cinnamon hearts, I knew this sweet and spicy combination was just what I wanted.

IMG_5212Have you ever really looked at popcorn?  The stuff you get in bags and at the fair always seems so much larger when it pops than the kernels you get from the supermarket and there is a good reason for that.  Believe it or not, there is a special type of corn out there that will pop into large round puffs and it is called mushroom corn.  Take a good look at the puff above.  Notice how it is a larger, rounder puff with a texture on the outside that looks a little like a mushroom cap?  You will have to seek this one out, search for it online and if you are lucky to live near a store that carries it, buy some and try it out.

When we moved from TN to VA, I had to get rid of a bunch of things and the old avocado green corn popper that I had since my days at the CIA got the old heave ho.  These days, I make my popcorn on the stove top and when I pop mushroom corn, I love how nearly all of the kernels pop.

IMG_5216All bagged up and ready to ship.  If you make this, let me share a few hints with you.  Make your popcorn first!  If you can get the mushroom corn, use it because the little nooks and crannies on the outside will catch the candy nicely.  The original recipe for this called for 8 cups of popped corn from 1/3 cup of kernels, I doubled up on the recipe and 2/3 cup of mushroom corn made about 12 cups of popcorn so I made a second 12 cups.  However, when I doubled the syrup, it made a huge amount and I personally would suggest you make double the popcorn called for-to me it was way too much candy for the amount of popcorn.  Instead, dump the extra hearts into a bag with the candied corn as a garnish.

Cinnamon Heart Popcorn

Recipe from Debbie at One little Project

8-24 cups of previously popped corn, in a large bowl or pot

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/4 cup light corn syrup

1 cup cinnamon hearts

Preheat the oven to 250F.  Line two sheet pans with parchment paper or silpats and set aside.  Place the butter into a heavy bottom saucepan and over low heat, melt completely.  Add the corn syrup and the cinnamon hearts to the melted butter, turn the heat to medium and gently stir it continuously to melt the candies.  It should come to a steady boil for several minutes and the temperature will be somewhere around 230F.  Carefully pour the syrup over the top of the corn and using a metal spoon, stir it to coat the corn evenly-you can pour it in portions, stirring in between to make sure it is all coated evenly.  This mixture is very hot and can burn, pour it away from yourself and don’t even think of using your hands to mix it!!!

Dump the corn out onto the two sheet pans and bake for 15 minutes, rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back and bake for 15 minutes more.  Allow it to completely cool before bagging or placing into an airtight container.

Clean up is best done by placing all the tools into the pot and filling it with hot water, set over low heat and the candy mixture will melt.

 

 

shakshuka with eggs fresh from the coop

IMG_5125Recently, I overheard my husband telling a friend how he enjoys having hens because they are pets that feed you.  Honestly, I never really looked at it that way.  For me, I wanted the added bonus of fresh manure for the garden, the eggs are just a bonus.  Either way, we end up with plenty of eggs to eat and to share.

While I will use some when I bake, I almost always have many more than we need for just the two of us.  As a result, we will have eggs for breakfast or dinner about once a week and while I love an over easy egg on potato hash or a fried egg sandwich, it can get a bit boring after a while.  To keep it interesting, I look for ways to turn fresh eggs into a meal that is both satisfying and new to our table.

It was in my quest for something new that I found shakshuka, a Middle Eastern Dish that some attribute to Israel while others say Libya, Algeria or Morocco but it is actually a dish native to Tunisia.  Traditionally, it is a spicy vegetable ragout or stew that is made mostly of tomatoes, hot peppers, garlic and spices simmered to thicken and to finish the dish, fresh eggs are cracked and poured into the stew.  As the dish continues to simmer, the eggs slowly poach in the stew.  Gentle basting of the eggs helps quicken the pace and adds flavor.  While quite simple and easy to make, getting the eggs cooked so that the whites solidify and the yolks remain liquid is a bit challenging but well worth the effort.

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To make this batch, I followed a recipe found on the website of David Lebovitz.  Actually, I followed it almost exactly except that I added half of a diced red pepper and I used 2 serrano chiles, which added a lot more heat than we expected.  Also, since I had greens in the garden, albeit slightly frozen from the snow and ice on the plants, but freshly picked.  The recipe called for one cup chopped greens but I added more like two cups since I did not want to waste them.  A generous sprinkle of feta chunks adds some saltiness and helps temper the heat of the chilis but be careful not to go overboard since this is not meant to be a cheesy dish.

IMG_5115As the stew was simmering, I cracked four fresh eggs from our hens and carefully added them to the pot.  To make it easier on myself, I baked the stew to finish the eggs and you can too because the recipe explains both methods.  Because David says to serve it with crusty bread to soak up the sauce, I heated several rounds to naan and we stuffed ourselves with the spicy, tomato-y sauce.  Now that I know how to make this dish and cook the eggs to that perfect solid white and runny yolk state, I will be making this again-we certainly have enough eggs!  And for those of you that do not have laying hens, pick up some fresh local eggs and make a batch of this stew; you will not regret this at all!

lemon-parsnip cake; a tuesdays with dorie post

IMG_5068The cake for today’s challenge is supposed to be a tangerine-carrot cake but after a quick check in the fridge, I could only find lemons.  Then I spied the last lonely parsnip and decided that I should keep going in this direction and change it all up.   We have been trying to cut back on snacking and it has been a while since I made a cake.  The fresh eggs from our hens are stacking up on the counter and it was a chance to use a couple.

IMG_5082The change from tangerine to lemon meant that the acid level was increased and I am pretty sure that it changed the texture of the cake and made it a little denser than the description in the recipe.  Even so, it was still pleasingly moist and a little firm.  The parsnip mellowed during the baking and honestly, you wouldn’t know it was there unless I told you.

IMG_5087The only other observation I made was that the batter amount baked up just fine in my 8 inch tart pan.  After greasing the ring and bottom and dusting it with flour, I set it onto a sheet pan to prevent leakage in the oven.  It came out of the pan and off the bottom beautifully.  This was such an easy cake to make and honestly, the potential combinations are numerous so I can see myself pulling this recipe out again when I need a quick and foolproof cake!

Please consider picking up a copy of Baking Chez Moi by Dorie Greenspan and baking along with us.  To join in on the fun, visit the website and see how the other bakers made out with this recipe!

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cornmeal-currant biscotti; a tuesdays with dorie post

IMG_5013It has been a while since I baked with the TWD gang.  The holiday season is generally a hectic one for me and with all that I was baking for gifts, I just decided not to bake anything more, because baking it means eating it and I have gained more weight than I care to admit at this point.  (thanks menopause…)

Even so, I am a sucker for anything that claims to be a biscotti and to make matters worse, I apparently hoard cornmeal.  When I checked the pantry for cornmeal, I found a complete rainbow; white, yellow, blue, roasted yellow and bloody butcher red.  A quick look at the different colors led me to choose between the organic blue and the organic bloody butcher and since the latter was more coarsely ground, it was my first choice.

IMG_5027Stone ground cornmeal is always more coarse than the regular grind but the bloody butcher had a large range in particle sizes and makes it very easy to see the meal in the dough.  This particular batch was grown and ground right here in Virginia and it is from Blenheim Organic Gardens which is located in Washington’s Birthplace, yes, that is the name of the town and no, I did not make that up!  They come to the Williamsburg Farmers Market when it is open and I look forward to the return of the Market in March.

IMG_5023There was a box of currants lurking in the pantry and since they were a little dry, I added several tablespoons of dark rum to them and heated them so that they would plump up.  To offset the extra liquid, I cut out the extra egg yolk and that made the dough slightly drier than I would have preferred.  However, now that we have our own egg laying hens, I hate the thought of wasting an egg white.  The recipe calls for the dough to be formed into a log and cut into scone-like wedges.  After asking one of the other TWD bakers how they worked out like that, I decided to go with a slice and bake log which is what most of the recipes I read called for.  The result was a crunchy, crumbly cookie.

IMG_5056The weather took a sudden turn towards winter today and turning on the oven was comforting in many ways and so was the scent of cookies baking-although, I really do not need to be eating cookies at this point!  The bottom line, I love currants and cornmeal but it is not likely that I would think to make these again, at least not with this recipe.  Personally, I would like them to be a little sweeter and a little crispier.  Either way, these cookies are a lovely accompaniment to a cup of hot tea, especially on a chilly day!

To see how the other bakers fared, visit the Tuesdays with Dorie website and consider baking along with us!

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Food Bloggers Cookie Exchange 2015: Springerle

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Every year as the holiday season approaches, I read about cookie swaps.  In person, in the mail, cookie swaps all over the country!  This year I made sure I would be part of the fun and I signed up for The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap.  For the last 5 years, Lindsay from Love and Olive Oil and Julie of The Little Kitchen have put this event together and all of the proceeds go to Cookies for Kids Cancer.

The process is simple, sign up, make a small donation and wait for your swap matches to arrive via email.  Then you bake cookies, 1 dozen for each of your three matches, ship them and wait for the cookies to arrive on your doorstep.

Choosing a cookie recipe was easy and I made a big batch of springerle using the special rolling pin Darry brought back from Germany.  Springerle are a traditional Christmas cookie from Germany, flavored with lemon and anise and rolled out with special pins or pressed into molds.

Some recipes call for sprinkling anise seeds on the tray rather than adding them to the dough.  Because I was curious, I added seeds to half the dough.  Once I began rolling the cookies out, I could see why it isn’t the best option; it makes it harder to get the details of the mold if seeds are near the surface of the dough.

Once the cookies are rolled and cut, they need to dry for at least 8 hours and up to 24 so that the details are preserved during baking.  The pin Darry brought back from Germany has 12 different molds on it.

Some day I hope to collect some of the traditional plaque molds, but until I do, I will use my vintage chocolate molds.  They actually made highly detailed cookies and I wish I had made more of them…

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Since I was in full holiday mode, I experimented with painting some of the cookies.  If you decide to paint them, do so after the drying period and right before they go into the oven.

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And because this was part of a cookie swap, lets get down to the details.  For each of my matches, I packed the cookies into metal tins with tissue paper.

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Here are all three of the tins waiting to go out in the mail to my three matches.  The exciting part about this is that three people sent me cookies and I am enjoying them immensely!

 

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From Monica of Pass the Cocoa, I received chocolate wafer sandwiches with a peanut butter filling.

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From Stacy of What the Cupcake?  came a tub of flourless chocolate peppermint cookies.  Can you believe she tied each one in a little bag.

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And lastly, from Laney of Life is but a Dish came some classic chocolate chip cookies.

IMG_4989All stacked up and ready for snacking…I may have to hide these from Darry.  What I really want to know is how the three of you knew to send me chocolate?

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To make springerle, visit House on the Hill and bake a batch of their Perfection Springerle Cookies.  And if you are in the market for some molds or a pin, House on the Hill has beautiful molds and so do these sites; cookiemold.com  and fancyflours.com.

Williamsburg Farmers Market; a fall walk of the market

IMG_4614Walking along Duke of Gloucester Street and the farmers market on a Saturday morning is something I truly missed when I was working full time.  My schedule shifts included Saturday mornings and I missed most of the spring and all of summer at the market.

 

Late fall in Virginia means lots of greens and roots to choose from.  Kale, chard, beets and turnips were abundant.

 

IMG_4623There is also no shortage of humor at the market.  Look closely, it made me chuckle.

 

IMG_4626So if the knife sharpener made me chuckle, this made me laugh, a lot.  If you need some worm castings for your garden, they’ve got you covered.

 

IMG_4631When in Virginia, only Virginia Peanuts will do!  They are larger than most and very popular in our house.

 

IMG_4634The Middle Peninsula of Virginia is part of the Chesapeake Bay area and that means Blue Crabs, freshly caught, steamed and ready to eat.

IMG_4636It wouldn’t be fall without pumpkins and there was no shortage of them that morning.

IMG_4645One of our favorite stops is the mushroom booth.  They sell a nice variety of wild mushrooms.

IMG_4649On this day, they had Hen of the Woods (above), Lion’s Mane, Oysters, and Shiitake.

IMG_4865Did you know the Williamsburg Farmers Market is a producers only market?  Virginia grown and that makes it fresh and local!

IMG_4667These were being sold as pumpkins on branches for use in floral arrangements but the truth is, they are a variety of inedible eggplant.

IMG_4669It’s true, pie fixes everything, try some and see for yourself!

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Lovely greens for a lovely day at the market.  Most of the vendors come each week but some come monthly or every other week.  For a complete list of vendors, visit the website.

gratitude and tomatillo jam

Every year at Thanksgiving, as we gathered around the table-our family and my cousin’s family together, we would ask each other to share what we were grateful for that year.  Kids being kids meant that some of the answers were comical, but in the end, we were grateful for each other and the time together.  This year, Darry and I found ourselves on our own, one of the downfalls of relocating.  We didn’t let that stop us from having a lovely dinner and yes, it included the traditional trashcan turkey.  We also had the pleasure of cooking some vegetables that we grew ourselves.

The weather was unseasonably warm this year and we spent much of the day working in the garden.  We pulled out the frost damaged plants, mulched leaves with the lawn mower and layered the beds with straw, coffee grinds, compost and the leaves we had gathered.  When we sat down to dinner, we were grateful to have sweet potatoes and greens from our garden on the table.  It was also pleasing to know that cabbage, cauliflower, kale and broccoli as well as brussel sprouts and collards are growing in the beds and will be on our dinner table soon as well.

One of the plants we pulled out of the bales and cut up for composting was a cluster of tomatillos; one purple and two yellow.  Tomatillos are one of those things that you either love or wonder why anyone would want the stupid things.  They are sticky when you peel the husks off and unless you are making salsa or green sauce, they aren’t very appealing.  Even so, each year as I plant my garden, I almost always sow a few tomatillo seeds.

A member of the nightshade family, tomatillos are related to tomatoes but at the same time, they are so different that you will wonder if they really are relatives.  While tomatoes do not need a companion plant to pollinate them, tomatillos do so if you plant them in your garden, be sure to plant more than one.  Tomatillo vines will sprawl so be sure to give them a sturdy structure to lean on.  They will also produce over a long season and right up to the first heavy frost which means you can have them throughout the summer and into early fall.

As we gathered all of the fruits, we realized we had enough to make a batch of something and I chose turn them into a sweet jam rather than the typical salsa.  My triple batch of jam cooked up quickly and is now sealed in jars ready to be shared with friends and family, a token of our gratitude.

 

Tomatillo Jam

Makes 1 pint and the recipe can easily be doubled or tripled

1 pound tomatillos, washed with the husks removed

1/4 teaspoon chili flakes or 1 small fresh chili, finely diced

juice and zest of one lemon

1 1/4 cup sugar

Cut the tomatillos into quarters and place them in a heavy bottomed sauce pot with the remaining ingredients.  Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat, stirring to prevent sticking.  Allow the jam to simmer until the tomatillos soften.  Using a hand held masher, press the tomatillos to break them up.  Continue to cook until the mixture reaches 210 degrees.  Pour the jam into sterilized jars and seal in a water bath or place it into a storage container and keep in the refrigerator.

 

This post is one of a series that Melissa of Corbin in the Dell and I are publishing simultaneously.  To read her post, visit her blog.