spicy bread and butter relish

IMG_6843When it comes to sweet pickle relish, most people either love it or ignore it.  Personally, I like it in very small quantities and really only as an ingredient and not a stand alone condiment.  Tuna salad, Thousand Island dressing and potato salad are all likely to receive a dollop of sweet pickle relish in our kitchen but only my husband will eat it by itself and only if it is on a hot dog.  My strange aversion to it is a little weird when you consider that I could probably eat a jar of bread and butter pickles all on my own and if you compare recipes, you will see that they are nearly identical in the ingredients used.

As I picked the last of the Homemade Pickle cukes from the shriveling vines in the garden, I wondered what I could make with them.  Our pantry shelves already had dill slices, dill spears, bread and butter chips, sweet relish and relish with a bite so why make more?  The answer is obvious when you think about the fact that it keeps and it also makes great gifts; more than a few folks I know will be getting a package of canned goods from the garden during the holiday season!

IMG_6834Making pickle relish is a new thing for me.  My preference for avoiding it meant that I would rarely try one when available but with the goal of canning and preserving as much of the produce from the garden as I could, I decided to make some since Darry does enjoy it.  The first batch I made was a small one and it filled only a few tiny jars and since he enjoyed it so much, I have now made two additional batches, both larger, and we have enough until the next cucumber harvest-a year away!

If you are familiar with relish, then you know that it is made with tiny pieces of cucumbers, lots and lots of tiny, little pieces.  Bow down and thank the inventor of food processors, who ever that person(s) is, they just saved us from spending hours of slicing and dicing!  You will first need to clean off the little spines on the outside of each cuke, then remove the blossom and stem ends, slice them lengthways and if the seeds are large and fully developed, scoop them out with a spoon.  The jelly in the seed area can remain if the seeds have not formed yet or if they are tiny, similar in size to a sesame seed because they will be tender.  Once cleaned, cut each piece into chunks so that the food processor will chop them evenly without reducing some to puree.  Pulse the chunks in the processor, a portion at a time, until the pieces are smaller than peas.  The mixture will be uneven in size to some extent but that is okay, you just do not want huge chunks and tiny pieces together because it will cook unevenly.  If you find that it is hard to get a uniform size, pull the large chunks out and dice them further by hand.

In my batch in the photo, you will notice that I sliced the onions and left them in strips, I did this so that they would be more obvious in the finished relish.  Honestly, half of the needed pound of onions came from our garden too, but they were so small, smaller than a golf ball, that I just sliced them and left them in strips because I could barely see through the tears!  Cut your onions into what ever size you like; it is also acceptable to cut them into chunks and pulse them in the processor to match the size and appearance of the cukes.

One thing I would suggest, don’t use the machine for the peppers.  They tend to juice out so much that dicing by hand is better.  In this batch, I used jalapenos that had turned red but you can use green ones or any other type of pepper you prefer.  Previous batches included dark green poblano peppers as well as green bell peppers.  My intention was to make a hot and spicy batch but surprise, those jalapenos turned out to be the variety that isn’t so spicy.  Even so, they gave it a little heat but more importantly, a lot of color.

Once the vegetables are all diced, toss them with the salt and let them sit in the fridge overnight.  This helps the flavors blend together and develop and it also allows for the water to be released.  When you are ready to make the relish, allow the mixture to sit in a colander and drain for at least 20 minutes, give it a press or two to help get the excess liquid out.  Taking this step will help preserve the crunchy texture of the vegetables by removing the moisture and therefore shortening the cooking time.

IMG_6839First, the sugar and vinegar are heated to make a syrup.  The spices and vegetables are added and over medium heat, allowed to simmer.  It is important to stir it frequently so that the water can evaporate and to prevent sticking.  As it cooks, the color changes.

IMG_6840The longer it cooks, the more the golden color deepens.

IMG_6841When finished, the vegetables will be mostly translucent and fairly even in color, except for the red peppers.  My suggestion, make small batches and experiment with the onions and peppers; red, yellow or white onions, whether sweet or not could be used just as any type of peppers.  Keep in mind, you are cooking it down and if you reach for the ghost peppers, it will be beyond fiery!

IMG_6849Bread and Butter Relish

makes about 6 half pints

8 cups diced pickling cucumbers-about 3 pounds

1 pound onions, sliced or diced

1 cup finely diced red jalapenos

1/3 cup pickling or sea salt

11 ounces sugar (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 cup cider vinegar

1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds

1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon celery seeds

3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes

1/2 teaspoon ground mace

The day before you will make the relish, toss the vegetables with the salt in a bowl or container that is non-reactive.  Cover and store in the fridge for 12-24 hours.  When you are ready to cook it, dump the mixture into a colander or mesh strainer over the sink and allow it to drain for at least 20 minutes.  Give it a few presses with your hand to help it along but do not press it so much that it is completely dry-you want some of the juices for the flavor they will add.

In a large pot, combine the sugar and vinegar and over medium-low heat, stir to dissolve the sugar.  When it comes to the simmer, add the spices and then the vegetables and raise the heat to medium.  Allow the mixture to cook, stirring frequently, and reduce until most of the moisture has evaporated and the vegetables are translucent.  Depending on the pot, this will take a while, about 30 minutes for my batch.

While the relish is cooking, prepare your canning pot and jars by boiling them.  Remove the jars from the boiling water and drain upside down on a rack so that you are filling hot jars.  Using a canning funnel, fill each jar so that there is a half inch space at the top, wipe the rims if necessary and cap the jars.  Fasten the bands so that they stay in place but do not tighten them too much or the tops will buckle.  Process in the water bath for 10 minutes, allow the jars to cool completely on a rack before storing in the pantry or cupboard.  It will taste best if stored for a few weeks before eating.

For more information on proper canning techniques, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website.

honeybee hive inspection

IMG_6071All hail the Queen.  Can you see her?  Center of the photo with the large yellow dot, that is our lady of the hive.  We went into the hive yesterday to take a look, and there she was, at the top of the hive on the outside frame-not a good thing.  What that means is that she is running out of room to lay eggs so lucky for her, we were prepared and had another box of frames ready to go.

IMG_6076The hive is fairly full, so full that they were building comb in the feeder.

IMG_6081Darry cleaned it all out and refilled it with sugar syrup.

IMG_6084The hive has really increased in number, look at how busy they are!

IMG_6089To clean out the feeder, Darry took out the floating bars, the bees were pretty calm about it and just gathered on the slats while he worked and I took photos.

IMG_6093Drones cannot feed themselves when they first emerge from!  The drone (on the left) is being fed by a worker bee (on the right) and he will start feeding himself by the time he is a week old.  To learn more about the roles of bees in the hive, read this article by the Mid-Atlantic Apiculture Research and Extension Consortium. IMG_6094IMG_6095Check back for more photos, I will post more next time we go in for a look!

market day surprises

IMG_5973As spring comes to an end, our garden is beginning to provide us with more than we can eat.  Because we have more freshly picked vegetables than we can eat, we very rarely go to the farmers market to shop.  This past weekend, we ventured down to Merchant’s Square and took a look at what the farmers had to offer.

IMG_5978There was no shortage of plants either; we came home with a Joe Pye Weed for our new bed in the front garden.

IMG_5979Onions and radishes were also plentiful.

IMG_5982Since I discovered roasted radishes, I very rarely eat them raw but we did make some wonderful kimchi with them.  Each week, the market has a core group of vendors that stay the same along with a group that come less frequently.  This week, a group of women from the Williamsburg Weavers Guild was at the market and they were demonstrating techniques for weaving and spinning yarn.

IMG_5986A table top spinner being used to spin cotton into yarn.

IMG_5988It’s all about the tension, keeping it taught creates a fine thread.

IMG_5991Not everyone uses a wheel to spin, some do it by hand with a drop spinner.

IMG_5992The color of this yarn is beautiful, it looks fluffy too!

IMG_5994She worked at this yarn the whole time we were there.

IMG_5995The weavers had Darry’s attention and he asked many questions about the process.  This weaver had completed all of the work you see there in a rather short time, in between demonstrating the technique and answering questions.  After we asked many questions and chatted with the ladies for a while, we headed back to the car.

IMG_5997Not far from where we parked, Darry showed me a patch of King Stropharia mushrooms, a prized edible.

IMG_5998We have a patch of them in our garden too but it is not nearly as successful as this patch.

IMG_5999There were dozens of them and since we did not know anything about the mulch they were growing in, we did not pick any.

IMG_6000For now, we will have to wait for our patch to grow and multiply.

To see the schedule of vendors for the Williamsburg Farmer’s Market, visit the website.

my mother’s garden

IMG_5924Just as there are many types of plants, there are many types of gardens.  Some gardeners work with shade, some with flowers or succulents and others with just vegetables.  Potagers, cottage gardens, rain gardens and so on.  Personally, I have an herb garden, a shade garden and a sunny area planted with perennial flowers in addition to the very large potager style vegetable garden that takes up much of our front yard.

Then there is my mother’s garden which is nestled on top of a mountain in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania in a forest like setting; the rocky soil is deeply shaded, heavily wooded and full of wildlife.  Planting a garden in her yard is challenging because of the large rocks in the soil, the lack of sunlight and the fact that the deer eat everything, including the things they shouldn’t.  Despite all of these things, my mother’s garden is inviting, full of surprises and a wonderful place to visit and sit a spell…

IMG_5927Gardening with deer is a challenge.  Especially when the community you live in is surrounded by state owned forest land.  At times, there can be a dozen or more deer grazing around the yard.  The landscape provides areas for them to sleep and rest and even when you think the small herd may have left the yard, it is entirely possible that some are still there but out of view.  As if the deer weren’t enough, black bears also live in the area and have come through yard and more than one raccoon has raised a litter of kits in a tree near the shed.  If you think deer can do damage, mischievous raccoons and squirrels can also cause problems.

IMG_5931As a result, my mother is a gardener of things.  All around the yard, you will find statues and knick-knacks, baskets of silk flowers and plants, gazing balls.   She finds things in stores and yard sales and has them all over the yard.  Bird houses hang from low branches all over the yard.  Every where you look, little pops of color are present and it truly makes for a restful place to spend the afternoon outdoors.

IMG_5934The deer really do eat just about everything and it was surprising that these little bluets were present since they are usually eaten to the ground.

 

IMG_5940A constant theme in the garden is a smiling sunface.  Actually, sun and moon faces are all over.  That may be partly my fault since I often send them to her!

IMG_5945In a small hillside drainage pond, frogs rule.  They are loud and you can hear them all over the yard.  On this afternoon, I saw four of them in the water and on the rocks around it.

IMG_5947This is one of the few parts of the yard that actually has plants.  The previous owners of the yard placed fencing around plants and shrubs to protect them from the deer.  It was an unattractive sight and my mother has removed most of it.  Although that meant the plants within met a nibbled to the ground death, it greatly improved the appearance of the yard.  One place she left the fencing was around the pond and in this small area, she has a few hostas, several sedums and lily of the valley along with statues and knick-knacks.

IMG_5952Lichens and moss cover all of the rocks in the yard.

IMG_5953The pond is truly the focal point in this part of the yard.  The Autumn Joy sedum has filled in the crevices above and moss and ferns are filling the areas near the water.

IMG_5954Gazing balls are one of her favorite ways to add color to the yard.  She will tell you that they must be colored and not silvered.  Twice, my mother has placed silvered gazing balls in the yard and twice, a woodpecker tried to kill his reflection.  Both of those gazing balls were shattered.

IMG_5957You must walk around the yard to see it all because it is everywhere.

IMG_5959Along the back of the house, she has a simple row of silk plants with pottery and glass accents.

IMG_5960 (1)In that row, tucked in a corner, is what remains of a deer skull.  It seems that this buck died on the property and after the vultures cleaned it, my mother placed the skull in her garden along the back of the house.  Squirrels continually gnaw on the bones to keep their teeth in shape and have chewed up quite a bit of the skull and antlers.

IMG_5962Have you ever heard the phrase referring to “bones knitting,” especially if you have broken a bone?  It is easy to see why they say that when you look at the fuse line going up the skull.  This was one of the most fascinating things to look at in the garden!

IMG_5965You really must look carefully or you might miss something.

IMG_5967And look everywhere, despite being colorblind, my mother has a talent for choosing colors so that they either blend in seemlessly or jump out.

IMG_5968She also has a talent for finding unusual pieces like this pottery base to a planter.

IMG_5928This old bench is so worn out that she has added a board to hold the objects on it.  That gnome looks familiar-he lived in our house in Nashville for years and when we moved, I sent him to live with my mother.  One of the girls, I think Alix, painted the tile and yes, the plants are silk.  At least the deer won’t eat them!  But beware, the raccoons love to move things and you never know what they will do.

a seasonal salad from the garden

IMG_5852It’s salad season in my garden.  Well, specifically, it is lettuce season.  Living in the south means that lettuce is a cool weather crop while all the other parts of a salad, like tomatoes or cucumbers, are warm weather crops.  Luckily, it is always fresh egg season in the chicken coop!

IMG_5848There are a dozen different salad greens in the garden right now.  In the salad above are Bloomsdale spinach, baby beet greens, parsley, salad bowl leaf lettuce, buttercrunch, forellenschluss and arugula.

IMG_5840Simply dressed with vinaigrette, garnished with cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and some kalamata olives and served with the paper; my idea of lunch.

IMG_5841IMG_5844IMG_5845IMG_5849IMG_5851Of course, adding a hard boiled egg from one of our golden laced wyandotte hens and a slice of bread makes it a light, refreshing meal perfect for any season.

chaos

Chaos noun, behavior so unpredictable as to appear random, owing to great sensitivity to small changes in conditions, also known as the effects of spring weather on the garden.

The weather this spring has been hard to predict.  Cool at night to highs of 90+ during the day, multiple days reaching 80+ and then in the blink of an eye, drops to the 40’s at night and days that barely cross 50.  Up and down and up and down…stretches of a week or more with no rain for a somewhat dry April, to rain nearly every day for the first full week of May.   Seedlings that emerged and then dampened off or the seeds just rotted altogether.  Plants that did grow at all for weeks and instead, bolted.  Then, suddenly, rain and more rain.  The garden was transformed nearly over night and I am now enjoying fresh picked produce by the basket!

 

IMG_5793This part of the garden does not get much direct sunlight and once the crape myrtle, which is not in the photo, leafs out completely, it gets little filtered light as well.  Last spring I spent a week amending the soil and adding shade tolerant perennials to the bed.  This year, nearly all of them came back except for a bleeding heart plant and they have truly filled the space.IMG_5795The iris actually gets enough light because it blooms before the crape myrtle creates shade.  Also in bloom are azaleas, dianthus and phlox.

IMG_5800Remind me to tell you the story of the gnome sometime… He is watching over the sunny part of the garden.IMG_5806Love the little blossoms on the strawberry begonia.

IMG_5817While I have put a lot of work into the perennial beds near the front door of the house, none of that compares to the amount of work the vegetable garden has taken.  We began in late fall of 2014 by composting the leaves that fell from our trees with grass clippings from the lawn and bags of coffee grounds from Starbucks.  In spring of 2015, I topped each of the beds with that compost and placed 45 bales of straw on the beds in the garden.  Throughout the year, I attempted to grow vegetables in the bales with out a ton of success. In early winter, when the bales began to tip like drunkards, I broke them down and scattered the straw on top of the compost along with more coffee, ground egg shells, compost (that includes litter from our hens) and a topping of purchased garden soil.

In February, we hooped two beds and I seeded them with cold hardy greens and lettuces.  Some seeds germinated nicely, others not at all.  We filled a third bed with purchased starts for cold weather veggies.  Things moved very slowly.  The beds were a little hot for the plants and I was beginning to get discouraged.  Finally, in April we began to see growth and were able to begin picking greens for cooking and salads as well as radishes and turnips.  My collection of lettuces are doing very well and I am picking them regularly.

IMG_5818Peas were slow to get going but have finally come on board.  Gotta love the tendrils and the way they tie themselves into knots.

IMG_5819Everybody loves surprise potatoes!  Must have missed one when I harvested them last fall.  not sure what it is but I am thinking it is most likely a yukon gold but the alternative is red norland; either way works for me!

IMG_5820A lot of firsts this year.  Ailsa Craig onions along with some radishes from an 8 year old package of seeds I found lurking in the box!  We have lots of mushrooms coming up in the beds.  Did you know that is a good thing?  There is a relationship between plants and mushrooms and when some combinations are grown together, you can actually improve your yields-this pairing was random and not of my doing but my fingers are crossed that it helps.  Want to know more about it, pick up a copy of Mycelium Running and read about it!

IMG_5822Chinese cabbage is doing so well-and I grew this from seeds!

IMG_5823The way chard glows when backlit never gets old.

IMG_5828These rutabegas are taking off in the garden.  If you grow them, be sure to eat the greens too!  Cook them as you would collards and the plant will be doing double duty.

IMG_5829Another of the firsts in our garden, salsify.  Have no idea if we will enjoy it but I saw some plants in Colonial Williamsburg in the garden the the local master gardeners maintain and decided it was pretty and it needed to live in my garden too!

IMG_5831Speaking of pretty, these radicchio starts have been stealing the show for a while now.  We pull a few leaves off from the bottom and are letting the heads fill out.

IMG_5832More starts, celery is taking its time.

Welcome to my garden, my little slice of earth.  Feel free to wander through and admire the plants, dinner will be ready just as soon as I wash the lettuce.

Virginia Bloggers Meetup; Whisk Bakery in RVA

IMG_1033Last weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting with a group of ladies who also happen to be fellow members of the Virginia Bloggers.  It was a rainy and somewhat dreary Saturday morning but it was perfect for drinking coffee and eating freshly baked sweets.  Whisk is located in the Shockoe Bottom neighborhood of Richmond and this was the first time I had ever been to that part of the city.  (pardon the lousy cell phone photo, please!)

IMG_1034Most of these ladies knew each other, or at least were familiar with each other, but there were a few that were new to the group, myself being one of them.  The bakery is a bit small but we pulled a few tables together and spent our time chatting, trading business cards and getting to know each other.

IMG_1037Of course, there were a few cameras out on the table and a bunch of cell phones so that we could all take photos.

IMG_5549It was great to meet such a friendly bunch of ladies and trade information.

IMG_5551My hope is to attend more of these meet-ups but it is a bit of a drive from Williamsburg, however, if the destination is another place like this, I will take one for the team!

IMG_5553Before leaving, I picked a small selection of sweets to take home to Darry.  These two were all but glued to the showcase-can you blame them?

IMG_5552Most of the ladies that came out despite the rainy weather.  If you are a blogger and live in Virginia, join the group and if you are interested in what is going on, visit the website.

lawn likker; it’s a southern thing

IMG_3415
a sample of the flowers from our yard with the common purple violet on the bottom right 

Spring rituals vary from region to region but throughout the south, gathering violets and turning them into jam and liqueur is a popular activity.  Pay enough attention to it and you will also hear stories of red bud blossoms being gathered for jam making as well.  Personally, I love the look of a lawn full of violets and I am tempted to pull out the weeds and just let the violets fill the space but my husband has other ideas.

Most violets found in lawns are viola sororia and are an herbaceous perennial plant that can quickly become a weed due to the fact that they spread through rhizomes as well as seeds.  In my yard, they are allowed to fill spaces that we do not use for gardening, generally the lawn areas, and my husband mows them over along with all of the other weeds that make up the green sections of our yard.  The only exception to this is the two weeks in spring that these lovely little flowers are in bloom; he does not mow until I pick as many as I can!

All my life, I have always thought that violets were always purple.  White violets were not as common but I can recall seeing them on rare occasions and assumed they were a mutation.   It is also worth noting that on even fewer occasions, I encountered yellow violets.  However in our yard, here in Virginia, the vast majority of the violets are white with purple veins, lavender or a lighter shade of purple.  These are a variety commonly referred to as Confederate Violets and regardless of the color, all violets have edible flowers.  IMG_5541Making liqueur is a bit tedious because you must pick large quantities of the blossoms.  For the batch I made this year, I must have picked about 3 pints.  For a single pint of liquer, I placed 2 cups of blossoms into a pint sized jar and added 2 cups of potato vodka and allowed the flowers to steep for a couple days, shaking it once a day.  After it had sat and the flowers faded and grew limp, I strained them out and filled the jar with another 2 cups of blossoms.  To this, I poured the previously infused vodka over the blossoms and allowed it to steep, shaking it daily for a couple of days and then I repeated the process a third time.  My goal was to get a nice dark liqueur and a strong floral flavor.

IMG_5543Having allowed the last batch of flowers time to infuse the batch, I strained them out and this was the result.  If you look at the top of the liquid, you can see that it is a deep violet color, almost grey.  Despite everything, it still had a strong alcohol taste but the aroma was all flowers-and honestly, I am not much of a vodka drinker so it was hard to not taste the vodka in the background but there was definitely a floral flavor there as well.  And now that it has aged for a couple weeks, it has mellowed a bit.

This was an experiment for me, whether or not I try it again is hard to say.  While crawling around the yard picking cup after cup of blossoms, I managed to get a tick bite and that and my nearly broke back may have me think twice.  Although, I would like to try making some jam…violet jam, redbud jam, maybe even some redbud likker…

 

When we were living in Nashville and working with the Master Gardeners, an extension agent once described the weeds found in a winter/spring lawn as the native winter wildflowers.  He went on to describe how these plants were the only nectar and pollen sources for pollinating insects during the season.  It was those words that convinced us to leave them in the lawn where our bees might benefit from them.  As a result, we often leave the lawn a little longer and shaggy in comparison to our neighbors.

IMG_3396This beauty is henbit and is commonly found in lawns.  It is also edible and last year, I made a batch of wildflower liqueur with violets and other wildflowers growing in our lawn and dubbed it lawn likker.  If you think violets are tiny, henbit is even smaller!

IMG_3401A close up shot of the flower; look at the hairs on the back of the bloom and the tiny little stamens!IMG_3408Dead Nettle is a close cousin of Henbit, both are in the mint family, but if you look closely, you will see that these leaves are heart shaped and gradient in color from the top of the plant to the base while Henbit has round leaves with teeth.  Another thing, Dead Nettle flowers make the blossoms from Henbit look huge!IMG_3410Dead Nettle flower on the top, Henbit flower on the bottom.

IMG_3416A third player in this game, Ground Ivy, also called Creeping Charlie because it trails like a vine and can quickly cover an area.  These blooms are the largest of the three.  While some publications will tell you that it is best to make teas rather than eat the leaves, I don’t think there is any real danger in adding a handful of blooms to a batch of likker-although, your back may cry foul!

IMG_3427My first batch of lawn likker from last year, it has since changed color and is now a bright golden yellow and looks more like a bottle of urine than likker but trust me, the flavor is still floral and so is the aroma!

Want to give it a try?  Here are a few links I am bookmarking for future attempts.

Kell Belle Studio

Life in Mud Spattered Boots

A Gardeners Table

macarons; another one for the baking bucket list

IMG_0836It seems that to call yourself a pastry chef, one must know how to make macarons.  Well, maybe not but that is the impression I have been given.  A baker’s version of the Holy Grail, your cookies must be perfect little circles with slightly glossy, smooth tops sans cracks, and those famous “feet” and they are also the thing anxiety attacks are made of.  They are fussy, subject to all kinds of results (and not many that you want) and quite capable of intimidating even the most experienced bakers.  Of course I am speaking with experience.  My own efforts landed with mixed results and I was beginning to hate the little things.  This was only aggravated by the plethora of blogposts and pinterest posts from bakers and their dogs bragging about how easy they were to make…It was time to take action and by action, I mean that it was time to get over my fear of failure (again) and to actually try making them.  First I needed to find a better recipe and I did; Joanne Chang has a video tutorial and an article in Fine Cooking that explains making macarons in a way that simplifies the recipe and shows intimidation to the door!

When made properly and that includes the filling, they are wonderful.  Sadly though, most that I have tasted fall squarely into the “meh” category.  Luckily, the recipe for the macarons also comes with recipes for fillings.  To make mine, I added a little pink paste food color, after all, I was making these as Valentine’s Day gifts and then I filled them with raspberry paste and ganache.  To make the cookies, follow the link for the recipe.

Some hints to help!  Do follow the cookie recipe, bring your laptop or tablet to the kitchen with you and watch it as you go; stop and rewind if you have to-I did!  If I can only give you one hint, use a scale to measure.  No arguments, go to the store and buy one if you do not have one.  Seriously, they can be purchased for less than $20 and I know this because I spent about $15 on mine!!!  The filling recipes make more than you need so you can make multiple batches of macarons now, use the fillings in another recipe or freeze them for another day.

Raspberry paste:  Place 6 ounces of raspberries (thawed with the juices if using frozen) into a small sauce pot with 1/3 cup sugar.  Over medium-low heat, bring to a simmer.  Mash the berries and continue to simmer until it thickens up a bit, about 15 minutes-reduce the heat to low if it looks like it is sticking before it thickens.  Pour the mixture into a mesh strainer and press it through to remove the seeds.  Do your best to extract as much of the fruit as possible.  Discard the seeds and chill the paste.  Once chilled, it will be a loose paste, nearly a jam in consistency.

Ganache:  Place 6 ounces of bittersweet chocolate into a heat proof bowl and set it over a pot of nearly simmering water to melt.  In a small pot, heat(don’t boil, just heat it to help melt the chocolate) 3 tablespoons of half and half with 2 tablespoons of booze (I used Pennington’s Strawberry Rye but you can use what you like-or just use more half and half).  Add the heated half and half and whisk until smooth.  Let it sit until it has the consistency of mayonnaise.

To assemble the cookies, on one half of the cookies, spread a thin layer of the raspberry paste on the bottoms.  Set each one, paste side up on a clean tray.  On the other half of the cookies, spread about a teaspoon to a teaspoon and a half of the ganache over the bottom of the cookies.  Pair the cookies together so that each has a raspberry and a chocolate cookie and gently press them together.  Allow them to sit long enough for the ganache to completely set and then you can package them to give as gifts.  Mine are rolled into clear cello with the ends tied shut.

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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.