Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The "Salad Days" of Gardening

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“These were the happy days, the salad days as they say........ "Our love for each other was stronger than ever, but I preminisced [sic] no return of the salad days."  `H.I. "Hi" McDunnough Raising Arizona

Gift From a Neighbor Gardener
Silhouette Amongst the Clover and Dollarweed

The beginning of the Salad Days

So far, so good with the rented allotment from Skidaway Farms! The plot was cleared for us; then Alex spread out a huge load of compost to enrich the soil. We have gardened in past houses, but in the last few places we have lived  due to homeowner's rules, home gardens were not allowed. Our girls were the driving force behind this venture saying their retired father needed a hobby to keep him busy. It has kept both of us busy-Alex with the back breaking work and myself with figuring out how far apart to space the plants and giving my opinion! 

We have several varieties of tomato plants-Cherokee Purple, Brandywine Red-both Heirloom tomatoes, Husk cherry tomato, Japanese eggplant, Tomatillos, basil, chives and the real reason we planted the garden-OKRA! 

The first two photos are my contribution to BWW #125 hosted this week by Sanhita of Pocketful of Spices. If  you read by blog regularly, you will be very familiar with Black and White Wednesday, but for those of you who are first time readers, the history and rules for submitting and hosting can be found here .

Sunday, April 13, 2014

All About Piloncillo and Slow Cooker Apple Cake with Piloncillo Cinnamon Coffee Syrup

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After having success with a Dulce de Leche Flan in my slow cooker, I venture a little further and try a  moist apple upside down cake drenched in a cinnamon coffee syrup called a cafe de olla syrup. While my cake wasn't as pretty as the one photographed in the cookbook I used- The Mexican Slow Cooker,  the flavor of apples, walnuts and cheese (yes, cheese!) in a moist cake drizzled with a piloncillo sweetened cinnamon coffee syrup was incredible. To top the cake, I sautéed apples in butter and crushed piloncillo sugar, then added some of the cafe de olla syrup to make a caramel sauce of sorts. For a variety, pears, peaches, pineapple, ripe persimmons or quince can be substituted for the apples.

This cake can also be baked in a conventional oven. When using the slow cooker for this cake, not only is the insert greased, but also a generous piece of aluminum foil is buttered and fitted into the slow cooker insert. To keep the moisture from making the cake soggy, lay a clean kitchen cloth across the top of the cooker and hold in place with the lid.The cake bakes in about two hours, but I suggest you check it after about 1-1/2 hours.

From the sugar cane plant, piloncillo sugar is a dark brown unrefined sugar with a subtle molasses taste, mildly sweet with caramel overtones. It is made from boiling down sugar cane juice which results in a solid block of sugar. Fashioned into a conical shape, the sugar was easily transported. I've always been fascinated with the little pylon shaped cones, but have found them unavailable in a standard grocery store. Now more stores are carrying ethnic and exotic ingredients so was thrilled when I found them in one of our newly remodeled grocery stores.

To crush the rock solid cones, place the sugar in a plastic bag, wrap in a kitchen towel and pound with a mallet or another heavy object. Dark brown sugar can be substituted, but has a slightly different flavor. If your recipe calls for1 cup crushed piloncillo, substitute 1 cup dark brown sugar and a little molasses. Piloncillo can be stored indefinitely, tightly wrapped and stored in a cool spot in your pantry.

For the Cake-Serves 6-8

2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup walnut pieces
2 apples, preferably one that will hold its shape like a Granny Smith
1 tablespoon freshly lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1/2 cup crushed piloncillo  sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs,beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 tablespoons sour cream
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup firm white cheese (Monterey Jack, Munster, a mild Gouda or a Chihuahua cheese), cut into small cubes

For the Piloncillo Cinnamon Coffee Syrup (Cafe de Olla)
3/4 cup strong hot coffee
1 cinnamon stick
1 whole clove

For the Caramel Apples
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon crushed piloncillo sugar
1 apple, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons piloncillo cinnamon coffee syrup, above recipe

Use half the shortening to grease the bottom, corners and halfway up the side of the slow cooker insert. Line the slow cooker insert with an 18-piece of aluminum foil, smoothing it into the corners and against the sides. With the remaining shortening, thoroughly grease the aluminum foil.

With 3 tablespoons of the softened butter, grease the aluminum foil, then scatter the walnuts over the butter.

Peel and core the apples and cut into thin slices. Arrange overlapping on top of the butter and walnuts. Combine lemon juice and water and pour over the apples. Sprinkle lightly with 2 tablespoons of the piloncillo sugar.

In a mixing bowl with an electric hand mixer, cream the remaining 6 tablespoons of the butter until creamy. Add the granulated sugar a little at a time, beating well after each addition. In a separate bowl, combine eggs, vanilla and sour cream. Add the egg mixture to the butter mixture and beat until smooth.

In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in two parts, stirring to combine after each addition. Fold in the cheese. Spoon the batter evenly over the apples and smooth into an even layer. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of the piloncillo over the top of the batter.

Set the insert into the cooker and turn on high. Lay a clean kitchen towel tightly across the top of the cooker and hold snugly in place with the lid. Cook for 2-1/2 to 3 hours, checking after an 1-1/2 hours, or until the cake is firm. Meanwhile make the syrup. When the cake is done, uncover and let cool for 10 minutes. Grabbing the ends of the foil, carefully lift the cake out of the cooker. Set a serving plate upside down over the cake. Slide your hand under the cake, hold the plate with the other hand and flip the cake upside down so that the apples are on top. Spoon the coffee syrup over and around the cake

For the Syrup
In a bowl stir together the coffee, remaining 3 tablespoons piloncillo, the cinnamon stick and the clove. Set aside.

For the Caramel Apples
Melt the butter and add the piloncillo sugar. Stir until dissolved. Add the sliced apples and sauté for a few minutes, keeping the apple slices somewhat firm. Add the coffee syrup and cook about 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.

To serve the cake-top with caramel apples and a dollop of whipped cream or Greek yogurt.

This is my contribution to WHB #428 hosted this week by Lucia of Tortadirose. For the rules and history of this blog event, please read this post.

Please do not use images or text without my permission. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Piloncillo Still Life-Black and White Wednesday #124

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Piloncillo is unrefined sugar that has not been processed. Because it has not been processed, it has more of a molasses flavor and is richer than its dark brown sugar cousin. I hope to post some recipes using piloncillo in the next few days, but I wanted to post this black and white image to BWW #124 hosted by Haalo. Thanks for hosting and thanks to Susan for creating this event and to Cinzia for her expert management of BWW.

Please do not use images or text without my permission. 

Monday, April 07, 2014

Weekend Herb Blogging #427-The Roundup

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Lucia makes a lovely semolina gnocchi (gnocchi alla Romana), perfect as a side dish, but I could make this a meal! I grew up in South Carolina where grits are served just like this Italian gnocchi!

While I am remiss in posting on my blog as frequently as I would like to do, I always love to host Weekend Herb Blogging which showcases some amazing dishes using herbs or plants as the star ingredient. Below is a delicious roundup of recipes using some familiar herbal or plant ingredients as well as those unfamiliar to us, but intriguing and informative.  Thanks to all who submitted  and to Haalo her expertise in managing this event.
Terry's love for flowers and shortbread inspired her to bake these tantalizing kumquat and chamomile shortbread. Terry says, "The mix of kumquat zest and chamomile created a lovely marbled effect on the pastry when I rolled it out. The result was amazing, the combination is delicious and the shortbread are scented, buttery...they really melt in your mouth!"

Happily confined inside while the much needed rain fell outside, Simona makes good use of the time to create a toasted chickpea flour orecchiette. Having successfully made other orecchiette with various flours, "it was time to work on a new take on this classic pasta shape from the southern Italian region of Puglia.

Cinzia has an easy recipe for homemade applesauce, the main ingredient in her beautiful black bean brownies made recently. Not only for brownies,..."you can use it as a ready-to-go snack, just mi it with a yogurt or sprinkle some nuts or dried fruit on it and you will get something healthy and energetic for your day."

Summer is over in Melbourne and "the markets may be full of well-priced strawberries, but they are lacking in flavor so I've decided to add them to banana bread,along with a bit of dark chocolate as an extra treat."  Haalo suggests letting the cake sit for a few minutes before turning them out on a wire rack to cool. 

Fascinated with the tiny juniper berry, my  contribution as host for WHB #427 is a classic gin (genievre-Fr and jenever-Dutch both mean "juniper") and tonic cocktail  and a juniper berry peppercorn spice rub, a heady combination perfect for rubbing a steak or a pork tenderloin before grilling.
Please do not use images or text without my permission. 

Sunday, April 06, 2014

All About Juniper Berries, a Juniper Berry Peppercorn Rub and a Gin and Tonic Cocktail

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Not a true berry but an actual female cone, the juniper berry's fleshy appearance gives it the name. All juniper berry species produce berries, but not all are edible. The Juniper Communis is the most common of the species and is used in European cuisine, typically to flavor wild game  as well as a flavoring for gin, first created in the Netherlands in the 1600's.

The juniper berry was first used as a medication as it was a diuretic, considered a remedy for arthritis as well as an appetite stimulant. It is an ancient berry having been found in Egyptian tombs. The Romans used it as a cheap substitute for black peppercorns as they are similar in appearance. Source

Below are two recipes, a refreshing gin and tonic and a juniper peppercorn rub, perfect to rub a pork loin or a steak before cooking.
A Classic Gin and Tonic Cocktail

1-1/2 ounces gin, your favorite
2 lemon slice ice cubes
1 juniper berry ice cube
1 sprig lemon balm
Tonic to top

Pour the gin in a cocktail glass, add lemon slice ice cubes and juniper berry ice cubes. Top with tonic water and add a sprig of lemon balm. Makes one cocktail. Enjoy!!
Juniper Berry Peppercorn Spice Rub

1-1/2 tablespoons juniper berries
1-1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, minced

Place the salt in a small bowl. With a mortar and pestle, gently crush the juniper berries and peppercorns together. Add the minced garlic; tear the bay leaves into pieces and blend together. Use as a rub for pork or for beef.

These two recipes are my contribution to  the English version of Weekend Herb Blogging #427 hosted by yours truly. The Italian version of WHB #427 is being hosted by Kris of Tutto a Occhio.

Please do not use images or text without my permission. 

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Juniper Berries Still Life for Weekend Herb Blogging #427

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Announcing Weekend Herb Blogging #427 and your host will be yours truly. Check back with this blog for a recipe using the juniper berries. For more information on WHB, read Haalo's post on who's hosting and the rules for the event. Looking forward to your contributions.

Please do not use images or text without my permission. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Black and White Wednesday #122-The Gallery

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Feast your eyes upon this stunning black and white culinary images gallery! Featured are some awesome images from a group of very talented food photographers who love creating monochromatic culinary images. Thanks to all who submitted their images to this the one hundred - twenty second edition of Black and White Wednesday. Simona of Briciole will host BWW #123.
Please do not use images or text without my permission. 
Gadget by The Blog Doctor.