Thursday, May 30, 2013

My Year Abroad

For reasons with boring details, I haven't posted in nearly 1 year.  And what a crazy year it's been!  I'll call it my Year Abroad (trademarked by a good friend).  And just when I needed a little pick-me-up, I decided to use the Google Machine to see what wild 'n crazy things might happen if I searched for myself (okay, I do this all the time and was bored out of my mind procrastinating much more important things).

Click-click-click! I not only discovered that my humble little blog has picked up new followers (real  followers, not just my family trying to be nice!), and commenters, i.e., people ACTUALLY reading my blog - I realized how much I have missed writing, canning, cooking, planning, learning, photographing, and editing - the whole thing.  I missed this little world I created for myself even though nobody was reading it.  And now that I know SOMEONE is reading it...stay tuned.  I'm so excited!  xo, AB

Thursday, July 5, 2012

S'mores Cakes in a Jar

Today this is a blog post of a blog post from How Sweet it Is, but with one little twist of a recipe.  These S'mores Cakes were a HUGE dinner party hit for me a couple weeks ago.  Just look at this photo...need I say more?  Placing various food in jars has become quite the trend because it looks so darn pretty and yet has a homey, down-to-earth feel, but there are some practical reasons, too:
  1. You can transport liquids and salads and other fun things for lunch and to parties without spillage.
  2. If you don't finish what you eat, you can twist the lid on the jar and it will keep better in the fridge than other methods.
  3. The transparency shows off all of your hard work.
  4. No messy crumbs on the floor or cupcake papers left over at your get-together.
  5. You can individualize each serving to allow for food allergies or vegan/vegetarian friends.
Without further adieu, click here for S'Mores Cakes in Jars recipe!  And read on for my COOKIE DOUGH tweak.  Yes, I baked cookie dough in the bottom first when I realized that I had forgotten graham crackers at the grocery store, and since I simply loathe going to the grocery store (I'd rather do laundry), I wasn't about to go back.  Awhile ago, I bought some SUGAR COOKIE DOUGH from my niece for a school fundraiser and had frozen it for safekeeping...ding-ding-DING!  Pre-made cookie dough to the rescue!  I used a 2-inch ball of dough for each jar, cooked the cookie dough in the jars (with the jars in a cake pan with a 1/4-inch deep water) for 8 minutes, almost all the way through but not completely.  Then I followed the recipe completely thereafter.  Also, as you can see in the picture, I torched the marshmallows a bit too can do this part with the oven rack on the lowest tier if you like them just browned a friends loved it just like this!  xo, AB

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Low-Sugar Blueberry Jam

I'm baaaaack!  I have no excuse or real reason for my absence, other than life -- fun stuff and not so fun stuff.  I am very happy to share the following recipe and information with you, I've missed you!  My work travels take me all over the state of California, much of it by car.  I recently was taking one of my 'secret' ways to get to the Central Coast from Los Angeles without having to take the 101 (awful traffic), and I passed by a sign that I had never noticed before:  Pick Your Own Blueberries. !!!  Yay!  I never knew there was something like this so close to where I live, so I stopped on my way home and spent an hour picking several small boxes of blueberries (pictured left).  I paid $20.  To buy the same amount at a grocery store, I would've spent about $50.  Of course, I had to take the time to pick, but it gave me time to clear my head prior to getting back into traffic.  I used all of the blueberries to make this epic jam...low sugar because the berries were so beautifully sweet on their own that to add full sugar would've ruined the jam.  So far, this has been a HUGE HIT for all who have tried it, including myself.  I have one jar left...and I'm so nice that I'm giving it away to someone who so sweetly offered to pay for it (I don't sell my jam).
Keep it simple...nothing more needed than toast to enjoy this treat!

Low-Sugar Blueberry Jam
8 cups blueberries
4 cups organic cane sugar
2 pouches liquid pectin
1/4 c. freshly-squeezed lemon juice
12-14 8 oz. canning jars
Sterilize jars, lids, and rings.  Clean berries and remove stems.  Toss any over-ripe (squishy) berries.  This ensures the best tasting jam.  Combine blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice in a large, wide-bottomed pan and cook on medium high heat.  Bring to a boil.  While boiling, add the pectin.  Bring to a rolling boil for two minutes.  Skim foam and ladle into jars.  Attach lids and rings, then boil in a water bath for 10 minutes.  Scroll below the pic for some additional notes and tips!

1.  Use a combination of very ripe and barely ripe berries for the best flavor.
2.  This recipe is low-sugar and untested for safety, so although I canned them, this is to be eaten within a few weeks, not one year like most recipes.  Don't worry, this jam won't last long!
3.  If you're in the Los Angeles or Ventura County areas, you may pick your own blueberries here: 
You can make a day of it with little ones, as there are animals and small playground with picnic tables.  They also allow you to pick raspberries and they have a great variety of produce to buy at their outdoor stand.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Urban Farming; Tomato Plant Week 3 & "Suckers"

Excuse me while I put on my farmer hat...  Okay, now I can get started:  Don't think I have forgotten to tell you about the progress of my tomato plant (s).  Today, I have chosen to focus on just one of those plants.  Because the other one isn't doing so well.  I originally planted it in a small pot I wasn't previously using because I didn't have enough large pots.  And 3 weeks later, the big-potted plant is flourishing beautifully, while the small-potted plant is struggling.  Poor thing!  Here's a picture of the one that's doing really well:
Roma Tomato Plant, Week 3
Something I have learned about tomatoes is that they grow what are called 'suckers.'  They look harmless, and are pretty harmless from what I've read, except for that they can make the plant messy and result in smaller and fewer fruit.  Here are a few photos to show you what a sucker is:
Okay, so ignore the fact that I needed a manicure when I took these pictures and pay attention instead to where my finger is pointing.  From the main stem of the plant, branches naturally shoot out.  The 'suckers' are the little, secondary shoots that grow in the groove created by the stem and branch.  Pinch these off and toss them.  Fruit can and will grow on these, but overall your product will be smaller and weaker, and the yield will be less because these suckers are competing for water and nutrients.  Save yourself some trouble and pinch those suckers!!
Update on my peppers:  They are doing equally as awesome as the tomatoes but I find that they need a little more water than the tomatoes do.  Perhaps this is because I planted 3 different plants in one pot, but I notice the leaves wilting about a day or two before the tomatoes.  I just look for a little droopiness and pour about a quart of water in the pot, directly on the soil.  xo, AB

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Strawberry - Mango Jam

Strawberry season is in full force and I found mangoes 4/$1!  Naturally, visions of strawberry-mango jam jars danced in my head.  This is really a simple jam, and I plan on making it again very, very soon but switching up the mango:strawberry ratio.  Ah, so yummy BUT I would like the mango flavor to shine a bit more.

Before you get started, a couple tips when working with mangoes:

1.  They are in the same family as poison oak, therefore, some people are allergic to the touch.  Wear gloves just in case.
2.  They are low-acid fruit, so use a tested recipe.  Also, mix ripe with unripe fruit.

For more information on working with mangoes, see my previous post on Mango Salsa for tips and a link to trusted sources.

Strawberry - Mango Jam
Makes 12 half-pints

1 large carton (3 lbs.) fresh strawberries, stemmed and hulled
2 large mangoes, diced
5 cups sugar
Juice from one large lemon
1 box powdered pectin

Prepare 12 half-pint jars, lids, and rings, as well as your water canner.  Crush strawberries, leaving large chunks to your liking.  Combine strawberries, diced mangoes, pectin, and lemon juice in large, wide-bottomed pan over medium-high heat.  Stir continuously, and add sugar, slowly and while stirring, once the juices start to seep out of the fruit.  Bring mixture to a full rolling boil and cook for 3 minutes.  Ladle carefully into jars, cleaning the rims with a hot wet cloth, and quickly afix the lids.  Boil jars in water canner for 10 minutes.  This jam is a gorgeous orange-red and tastes like Spring! xo, AB 

Lemon Curd - Easy Peezy!

Lemons, lemons, lemons!  A couple months or so ago, I thought I was sick of citrus, but that was before I realized all of the wonderful things you can do with lemons!  I drive by my neighbors' amazing lemon trees dotted with dozens of lemons rotting on the branches, and it kills me.  One day (soon) I will be knocking down their doors begging for fruit.  Watch for a future post with more lemon recipes when I get the guts to do this.  I usually buy my lemons, but recently asked friends with yards if I can pick from their trees.  I'm running out of friends.
For now, I want to share this fun little gem of a recipe because it tastes so darn good.  I was always under the impression that lemon curd is difficult to make so I had never tried it (and also, the name "curd" just sounds kinda gross, anybody with me on this?  Can't we call it cream or something more tasty?)...maybe it was beginner's luck, but I didn't think it was that hard.  I adapted my recipe below from the following recipe on, and it turned out amazing.  I tried this a second time to make sure I wasn't getting cocky and to know that I could reproduce my work, and it turned out delicious once again.  This doesn't happen for me all that often, so let me have my moment!  A couple tips that I think made this work were that I used egg yolk only, and was very careful to get as much egg white out as possible.  This helps to create a silky texture because egg whites can cause a cottage cheese-like consistency when cooked and it doesn't add to the flavor that much (in my opinion).  Using just the yolks also creates the sunshine-yellow color I was hoping for.  The second thing I was very careful to do is exercise patience.  I cooked the curd on very low heat in a large pan, stirring with a wooden spoon, and never once stopped stirring.  No double boiler, no straining of the curd, nothing fancy, just cooking really slowly.  Additionally, I used a wooden spoon with a flat bottom (which I use for all of my jellies and jams as well) to avoid sticking on the bottom of the pan. This took approximately 10 minutes.  Recipe below!!

Misfit Lemons
Simple Lemon Curd
Makes 2 cups - can easily be doubled or tripled
Prep time:  20 minutes (squeezing juice takes the longest)
Cook time: 10-15 min

4 egg yolks
2/3 cup freshly-squeezed, strained lemon juice - about 2-3 lemons
3 oz. unsalted butter, melted
1 c. sugar
1 Tbsp. lemon zest

Lightly beat the egg yolks for consistency of texture; don't whip.  Combine egg yolks, lemon juice, and butter into a bowl.  Pour mixture into your large, heavy-bottomed pan on low heat and begin stirring immediately.  Continue to stir as you slowly pour the sugar into the mixture.  Never stop stirring, add in the zest.  Eventually the mixture will thicken and you will see it sticking to your spoon.  Pour into your choice of container; can be refrigerated up to a week.  Use in tarts, pies, on its own, or spread on toast or pancakes.  Delicious!  xo, AB

Thursday, April 19, 2012

How to Grow Your Own Tomatoes When You Have No Space, a Tutorial

Beginning Urban Farmers, this post is for you!  Or anyone who doesn't want to plant a giant garden without ever having done it and worries they might screw it up. 

I am not an expert.  In fact, I have no idea what I'm doing...and yet, I am not afraid.  Well, I'm learning.  I *have* grown plants before and helped in gardens, but never really grown veggies entirely on my own.  If you've been reading my blog, *have* been reading, haven't you?  People are.  Someone is.  I know because if I go to my "Stats" page, I have visitors.  Lots of them.  But I don't know who most of you are, so feel free to shoot me an email, comment, 'become a follower.'  Also feel free to use the buttons below posts to share on facebook or twitter.  And you pinsters ~ pin away!  I'm also on pinterest if you'd like to follow me:

So, if you've been reading my blog, then you know how much I love tomatoes.  I am even planning a vacation to visit my folks in Idaho this Summer to help can tomatoes (and eat tomatoes) fresh from their garden.  That's how much I love tomatoes.  I've long been wanting to grow my own, but I live in a small apartment with no balcony, and tomato plants grow to be about 5 feet tall.  Thus, I decided to grow tomatoes on my walk-up to my apartment.  Probably to the wonderment and irritation of my neighbors, but I decided not to care since any plant life is an improvement to this nondescript apartment building.  The idea of having fresh tomatoes this Summer along with jars of canned tomatoes at my disposal throughout Fall and Winter is far too exciting for me to not at least try to grow my own.  Of knowing where your food came from, of the idea of picking fresh and chopping it up and eating it right away...yummmm.  So, How to Grow Your Own Tomatoes (WISH I had thought to take pictures during the process, but if you go to Home Depot, they will help you every step of the way--they helped me with nearly everything).
  1. 2 large pots, 18-24 in diameter at the rim (make sure they have holes for fluid to drain)
  2. 2 large 54" tall cages (this is so that when the vines grow they can creep up the cage)
  3. 2 tomato plants. I bought 1 cherry and 1 Roma.
  4. 2 large bags of potting mix. You will need all of it, most likely.
  5. 1 bottle of plant food.  
 *I chose two tomato plants because I didn't want to go too crazy.  I figured starting small was best.
  1. When you get home, pick a sunny area; tomatoes love sun.
  2. Fill pots about half-way with soil.  Gently remove the tomato plants from their containers.
  3. Place the plants in the center of the large pots. 
  4. Place the cages around the plants, the plant should be in the middle of the cage.
  5. Fill in around the plant with the remaining soil.
  6. "Feed" the plant using the directions on the plant food you bought.
  7. Watch your tomatoes grow, watering as needed. 
I have read and am told by seasoned gardeners that you don't want to over-water, so you watch for any wilting of the leaves and water accordingly.  In 65 days (65 days!?  That means I have to wait until mid- to late-June for my tomatoes!) I hope to have wonderful tomatoes to cook with, and possibly enough to preserve and share the extras.  More on this post as my plants grow!  I am so excited!  Oh, P.S.  I got some peppers, too.  Here's a photo...I'll be updating their progress every few weeks as well.  xo, AB

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Quinoa Salad with Pickled Brussels Sprouts

Quinoa Veggie Melange, so good!  Sprouts are pinkish due to being pickled with hot red peppers.
I discovered quinoa just a few years ago, and so far I am limited to salads, mainly because that's been enough to satisfy my curiosity; and also because it tastes so good with just a bit of vinegar, salt, and fresh veggies that doing much else seems like it would ruin it.

Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a delicious, nutty-flavored seed, commonly thought to be a grain, but is actually in the same family as leafy green veggies, similar to chard and spinach.  Quinoa is a great source of protein; in fact, it is a complete protein.  It supplies a well-balanced protein file of all 9 essential amino acids (essential amino acids are ones that the human body doesn't create or process on its own, so they need to be consumed through food).  I read a BUNCH of websites which claimed this to be the case, but I wouldn't repeat it unless I found it on the USDA website, which I did.  I was skeptical, because I had always learned that soy was the one exception to the rule that plants are not complete protein sources.  Turns out, there are a few, and quinoa is one of them.

Here is the recipe for the amazing blend of flavors that is the above-pictured Quinoa Salad with Pickled Brussels Sprouts.  For the Pickled Brussels Sprouts recipe, click HERE. 

Quinoa Salad with Pickled Brussels Sprouts
  1. 1 cup quinoa, cooked (follow instructions on the package, cooking is easy and fast!)
  2. 1 box cherry tomatoes; cut them in half
  3. 1 8 oz. jar of Pickled Brussels Sprouts with Peppers, finely chop peppers and chop sprouts in bite-sized pieces.  Reserve the brine.
  4. 1 avocado, cubed
  5. 1/4 red or white onion (I prefer red) diced
  6. Red wine vinegar (to taste)
  7. Brine from sprouts pickle jar (to taste, and also for moisture)
  8. Table salt -- warning...add salt AFTER you add vinegar and brine, it may be salty enough without it.
Toss all ingredients in a large's that easy!!  Other yummy ingredients you can add are black beans or kidney beans, yellow or red bell peppers, creative! xo, AB

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rosemary-Infused Strawberry Mimosa Jelly

Mmmmm-yum - strawberries from the Farmer's Market + sparkling wine + fresh herbs = delicate confiture to be loved and shared with prosperity.  I need a couple more spoonfuls of this jelly to decide exactly how best to enjoy it, but I will contemplate and let you know in a future post.  For now, the jelly recipe:

Rosemary-Infused Strawberry Mimosa Jelly

1 mounding cup of strawberries
3 cups sparkling white wine
1 sprig fresh rosemary
4 cups sugar
1 pouch LIQUID pectin (don't use powdered, it won't set, trust me... ;-) )
5-6 8-oz. canning jars
  • In large, nonreactive pot or pan, combine sparkling wine, strawberries, and fresh rosemary.  Crush the berries, bring mixture to a simmer, 10 minutes. 
  • Pour the mixture over a sieve covered with cheesecloth.  Lightly push on the crushed berries with the back of a mixing spoon.  Refrigerate for one hour to strain juice.  You will need 3 cups of the juice. (You can leave rosemary in the juice for greater flavor, and remove at the time you put in jars, or you can take it out for less flavor)
  • While the juice is straining, prepare your water canner.  Sterilize lids and jars.
  • Pour the champagne mixture back into the large pan, slowly stir in sugar, and bring to a rapid boil.  Stir constantly, and when stirring no longer stops the boil, add the pectin.  Boil for 2-3 more minutes.
  • Quickly ladle jelly into jars, best to use a funnel for this step.  Leave 1/2" headspace.  Wipe rims with paper towel doused in hot water.  Place on lids and bands.
  • Boil in water canner for 10 minutes.
My Best Donna Reed ;-)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Asparagus Nom-Noms

CSA Asparagus
'Tis the season for asparagus! Coming off the heels of the Best Sandwich, Ever (to date, my most popular) post, asparagus might seem like a bit of a downer to some of you. Shame on you! Asparagus is awesome, especially pickled with peppers and garlic. In fact, I had about a 1/4 cup of spears left over that wouldn't fit in the jars I set aside for canning, so I ate them as-is, straight out of the pan, after cooking in vinegar. Yum.  If you like pickled cucumbers, aka "pickles," you'll love asparagus pickles.

This recipe is from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (definitely click on the link for all of your canning questions/needs).  Because I got a small bundle and used a bit in a potato-leek soup, I only had enough to fill 2 jars.  And since I couldn't find the tall, 12-oz jars at the store, I used a couple 8-oz jars and chopped the asparagus spears down to fit in the jars.  You do what you gotta do, better than the asparagus going to waste.  And since the Ball recipe calls for 7 POUNDS of asparagus, I had to fraction everything to one-seventh...not fun, but eating them sure is fun!

Here is the recipe:
Pickled Asparagus (Makes 6 pint jars)
7 lbs. Asparagus
Ice Water
4 Tbsp. finely chopped seeded red bell pepper
2 Tbsp. finely chopped seeded green bell pepper
2 Tbsp. finely chopped seeded hot chili pepper (I used jalapeno)
3 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic
5 c. white vinegar
1-2/3 c. water
1-2/3 c. sugar
4 tsp. pickling salt
2 Tbsp. dill seeds
2 Tbsp. mustard seeds (I didn't have these, so didn't use them)

1.  Trim ends from asparagus and cut spears into uniform lengths about 3/4 in. shorter than inside height of the jars.  In a large shallow dish, cover asparagus with ice water and refrigerate for 1 hour.  Drain.
2.  Meanwhile, prepare canner, jars and lids.
3.  In a small bowl, combine red and green bell pepper, jalapeno, and garlic.  Mix.
4.  In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine vinegar, water, sugar and salt.  Stir well and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat and boil gently for 5 minutes.  Add asparagus and return to a boil.  Boil for 2 minutes or until asparagus is heated through.
5.  Place 2 Tbsp. chopped pepper mixture, 1 tsp. dill seeds, and 1 tsp. mustard seeds into each hot jar.  Pack asparagus, tips down [as you can see, I didn't do this.  Oops!  Way to follow directions] into hot jars to within a generous 1/2" of top of jar.  Ladle hot pickling liquid into jar to cover asparagus, leaving 1/2" headspace.  Remove air bubbles and add pickling liquid if needed.  Wipe rim.  Center lid on jar.  Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
6.  Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water.  Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes.  Remove canner lid.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.
Keep scrolling to bottom of page....

I love eating these on their own as a side-dish.  They are so crunchy that they can be used in almost any recipe that fresh asparagus is used and provide an extra bit of tangy flavor.  However, don't forget to adjust cooking time of the asparagus itself.  Delicious!  xo, AB
Ever wonder what asparagus stalks look like when they are growing?  This isn't my photo, can't take credit for it...but I also couldn't find where it originally belonged.