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.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Grilled Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwich

The Leaning Tower of Awesomeness awaits you.  Behold: the Grilled-Whole- Wheat-Peanut-Butter-Black-Plum-Jam-Apple Sandwich. 

In this blog, I try to bring you not just different recipes for jam, jelly, and other canning sensations, but also fun ways to use them.

And is there a more simple, tasty, wholesome, take-you-back-to-your-childhood way of eating jam or jelly than in a peanut butter sandwich?  Not really.

But I did change it up for us grown-ups, and kids will love it, too.  I promise.

This recipe is for one sandwich.  I trust you can do the math to double, triple, quadruple. 

You will need:  Small frying pan; 2 slices whole wheat bread; 1/2 apple, thinly sliced (not in wedges, but keeping the apple shape from top to bottom); 1 Tbsp. peanut butter;  1 pat real butter, unsalted and softened; and 1-2 Tbsp. jam (I used Pacific Coast Black Plum Jam that I made back in September).

Smear peanut butter and jam on one slice of the bread.  On the other piece of bread, very thinly smooth 1/2 pat of butter on one side.  Place the slice with butter in your pan, butter side touching the pan.  Arrange apple slices on the slice of bread in the pan.  Now, flip the slice of bread that has the peanut butter and jam on top of the slice in the pan.  Lightly spread the remaining butter on top of this slice of bread.  If you follow the above directions exactly, you won't have to ever place a slice of bread with butter or peanut butter on a plate or counter.  Less mess!  Okay.  Now, turn on your stove burner to low heat.  Be patient, wait for butter to begin melting in pan.  Flip sandwich over, melt butter on that side.  Flip again, wait *about* 2 minutes, check to see that the bread is golden brown, flip again and toast the other side to a golden brown.  Enjoy with a smile and a glass of milk.  I am giddy with my culinary prowess. xo, AB

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Farm Fresh to You CSA Boxes

Organic sweet potatoes, artichokes, lemons, Braeburns, kale, lettuce, celery, spinach, & oranges from a February shipment
Sauteed Spinach and Leeks, Grilled Radicchio Salad with Sherry-Mustard Dressing, Orange-Ginger Chicken and Veggies - just a few of the recipes that come in the amazing little box of organic fruits and veggies that come to my door every Tuesday.  Nothing has changed my health, my lifestyle, or the way I cook (and how much I cook) more than making the decision to sign up for a CSA Box.  I can't say enough about the return on investment for taking part in Farm Fresh to You's  delivery service. 
Chard, lettuce, green apples, kiwi, radishes, white onion, potatoes, carrots, fresh rosemary, & celery from a January box
I have written about CSA farms before, but I feel it necessary to post about them again because I get so many questions about them through my blog and in everyday conversation.  "CSA" stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  CSAs are locally-based farms that produce mostly organic, in-season, and diverse fruits and vegetables, and rely on the local community to purchase directly from them.  Some CSAs also produce eggs, beef, honey, dairy, flowers, and other goodies. There are several different types of distribution and business models, and the primary benefit is that they deliver directly from the farm to your door in the 'Burbs or city. 
Romaine, celery, heirloom tomatoes, grapes, beets, cauliflauer, plums, pears, & chard from a Fall delivery
I found Farm Fresh to You at a booth at a food festival in Santa Monica last Fall, signed up on the spot, and have been in love ever since.  Normally, I find myself sniffling and sneezing all Winter-long; this year I made it all the way to March before I got sick (and I blame this on a serious travel schedule for work).  If I'm feeling a bit sluggish from lack of sleep, poor eating, or too much wine, I whip up a fruit & greens smoothie and feel much better. 

I love the newsletter that accompanies each box; the author, 'Thaddeus,' may not know how much I have learned from his dreamy musings.  I grew up in a farming and gardening haven in Southern Idaho and there are definitely challenges to organic farming that I never would have thought about without this newsletter.  He makes me want to move to an organic farm and leave Hermosa Beach, L.A., and all of the smog and humans behind.  But with their wonderful service, I don't have to give up the beach and I can still eat like a queen.  Also in this newsletter are amazing recipes, great recommendations for cookbooks and cooking websites, and a list of what you received in your box.  And I am not embarassed to say that I definitely need this list ~ almost every delivery includes a wonderful surprise piece and I have no idea what it is.

If you are interested in learning more about CSAs and finding one that suits you, here are some websites to help you out:
2012 CSA Farm Directory
USDA Information
Local Harvest - lots of great information

Still not convinced?
Note that this is 1995, pretty outdated in scientific terms; my guess is that conventional isn't all that bad, and organic isn't the panacea of minerals this shows it to be...but you get the point!
Consider this: 
  1. Fresh, organic produce has more nutrients per serving than grocery-store fresh. 
  2. If you think the cost is expensive, $25 every two weeks provides me with all of the produce in the photos above.  I have a $15 co-pay for every doctor visit, not to mention meds, cough syrup, lost productivity, Kleenexes, etc.  I think I have made my ROI on this purchase!
  3. The TASTE is so much richer, and fuller.  Sure, sometimes you get small, funny-looking produce, but who cares if it tastes better and you know it wasn't manufactured to be uncharacteristically large, shiny, perfect? 
  4. It's delivered.  It saves me time because I typically go to the grocery store once or twice a month for staples and dry goods, and I go back numerous times for produce...but not anymore.
  5. Known health benefits of reduced risk of heart disease, many cancers, and a host of other health issues.  Organic produce reduces this risk even more.
  6. An improved palate and cooking repertoire.  Impress your friends! ;-)
  7. Extra produce can be PRESERVED for future use so it doesn't go bad.
  8. Extra produce can be SHARED with friends nearby.  I have been known to give away greens when I know I won't be able to eat them on my own before they go bad.
Now...just this week I received my first strawberries of the season.  Enjoying a post- beach volleyball fruit and Greek Yoghurt smoothie.  xo, AB
Gorgeous.  They smell(ed) delicious.  Can't wait for more.
P.S. The little blemish on the strawberry on the front was my fault - I smooshed the lid on.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Mandarin Orangecello ~ Worth the Wait

  Spring is here! (Officially, when I wrote my post on Tuesday we still had a few hours to go).  The weather here in Southern California has been appropriately windy, rainy, cloudy, sometimes sunny, and chilly but we haven't let that stop us.  I'm celebrating Springtime with this gorgeous cordial I made from Mandarin Orange peels.  See my previous post on how I made Mandarin Orangecello and where I got the recipe that I adapted.  Orangecello is typically sipped as an apertif on its own; here, I created a simple cocktail by adding sparkling water, a squirt of lemon juice.
Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Roasted Red Pepper Spread

Grandma Irma got me the amazing Ball Complete Book of Canning a few weeks ago, and I thought I'd dive right in with this scrumptious Roasted Red Pepper Spread recipe in baited anticipation for Spring pepper season. Be creative with how you use this tasty spread, its sweet/savory flavor goes with so many things!  I've used it for bruschetta instead of tomatoes - leeks and fresh basil sprinkled on top (left), tossed it with pasta, spooned it over eggs (shown here in my last post ), & dipped carrots and pita bread in it.  Recipe below, enjoy! xo, AB

Ball Roasted Red Pepper Spread
  • 6 pounds red bell peppers                   
  • 1 pound Italian plum tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 small white onion
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 Ball® or Kerr® Half-pint (8 oz) Jars with lids and bands
  1. Roast red peppers, tomatoes, garlic and onion under a broiler or on a grill at 425 degrees F, turning to roast all sides, until tomatoes and peppers are blistered, blackened and softened and garlic and onion are blackened in spots. Remove from heat.
  2. Place pepper and tomatoes in paper bags, secure opening and let cool about 15 minutes. Allow garlic and onion to cool. Peel garlic and onion. Finely chop garlic. Set aside. Finely chop onion, measuring 1/4 cup. Set aside. Peel and seed peppers and tomatoes. Place peppers and tomatoes in a food processor or blender, working in batches, and process until smooth.
  3. Prepare boiling water canner. Heat jars and lids in simmering water until ready for use. Do not boil. Set bands aside.
  4. Combine pepper and tomato puree, garlic, onion, vinegar, basil, sugar and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until mixture thickens and mounds on a spoon, about 20 minutes.
  5. Ladle hot spread into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Wipe rim. Center hot lid on jar. Apply band and adjust until fit is fingertip tight.
  6. Process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes, adjusting for altitude. Remove jars and cool. Check lids for seal after 24 hours. Lid should not flex up and down when center is pressed.                
Pre-roast.  Aren't they pretty?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tourist in My Own Town

A long weekend visit from my baby sister and her hubby was a fun reminder of all of the great places you may become immune to when you see them everyday.  Famous bakery Cupcakes Couture in Manhattan Beach, a mere couple miles from my apartment, was one such place.  After the requisite grubby-Mexican slop at a joint in Hermosa Beach for any visitor that lives in a place where good Mexican food is elusive, we headed to Manhattan Beach with no real plan but to meander in and out of shops.  Although I live here in the South Bay, it's not something I have done in a very long time.  We wandered into Cupcakes Couture on a whim and instantly my guests were in Heaven.  Barrie Ann instantly chose the Cupcake Wars award-winning Lemon Blueberry Cupcake, an amazing lemony cake filled with blueberry.  I chose a mini Apple Pie cupcake, described as:  "Vanilla cake with cinnamon apple sauce, topped with vanilla frosting and oatmeal crumble," and Justin crushed a Dulce de Leche cupcake.  Cupcakes Couture is absolutely going to be a go-to place for me for housewarming gifts, client gifts, as well as a place for me to gain inspiration for unique ways to use my jams and jellies.  Cupcakes and jam are a perfect marriage!
Cute sister with the famous Lemon-Blueberry Cupcake
Another must-see place for visitors to the Los Angeles area is the old-school walk-up hot dog stand Pink's Famous Hot Dogs.  Once in awhile, it hits the spot to eat something a bit unhealthy.  For me, it was a great reminder that I still have several jars of jalapeno-onion relish left that I made last Fall, and I began to dream of the myriad condiments I can make at home to create my own amazing dogs at home ~ sauerkraut, mustard, beans...the possibilities are endless.  But who am I kidding - it would be impossible to recreate Pink's, and who would even want to try?

Around the corner from Pink's, of course, is Melrose Avenue, the place to go to people-gawk, find unique kitsch, stop into a friendly bar for a beer and to rest your tired feet from shopping, and to step into another era at the world-famous hat shop Goorin Bros.  (Notice how everything in L.A. is World Famous? ;) )  This was my first visit to Goorin's...and what a shame.  Friendly, knowledgeable, honest service to help you find the perfect hat for your noggin - I'm not a typical hat-wearing girl, and I found one that I loved.
Pink's basic chili dog with fries, Lord of the Rings Dog, and Chili Dog with Kraut
Rolling into St. Patrick's Day, the blustery, rainy, cold weather actually made our choices easier ~ beach was out, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach didn't have their typical lines that we're used to on St. Paddy's Day, and parking was oddly not a problem at all.  We started the day with Green Smoothies (oranges, apples, pear, kale, & spinach) and a hearty breakfast made entirely of fresh, organic ingredients by little ol' anticipation of libations in our near future.
Flying by the seat of our pants, we ended up at Uncorked, Hermosa Beach, which promised beer tastings in honor of St. Patrick's Day.  Once there, however, my beer-swilling and brewing guests wanted to do something outside of their comfort zone and drink wine.  Wine on St. Paddy's Day?  Yes, please.  One flight later, a text from a friend pulled us back to Manhattan Beach for some green beer (okay, I didn't have green beer because it just looks weird to me) and shenanigans.  We rounded out the weekend at the Home Depot Center for MLS action, Chivas USA vs. Vancouver.  I have little knowledge of soccer, but I love sports, and I'm glad I had the chance to finally experience an MLS game, as it's in my back yard.  Great game, but I somehow missed the winning and only goal by Vancouver.  Not sure how that happened, but I didn't miss the delicious Club Level desserts - open-faced cookie and bananas foster.  Yum.  Sometimes we get caught up in the everyday and forget that the very town we lay our heads provides unique activities, gastronomic discoveries, and inspiration.  I love living in Los Angeles, and I definitely plan on living more like a tourist in my own town. xo, AB
Beers, Grub, and Soccer

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Jalapeno Pepper Jelly

It ain't easy being green.  Since I made this batch of jalapeno pepper jelly, I've noticed that as I share it with guests and give-aways that people either love it or hate it.  Too bad for the haters, because this stuff is awesome.  It's the perfect, unique thing to give as a housewarming gift or create a fun appie to bring to a party (St. Patrick's Day party!).  It was Grandma Irma who suggested I try making it for the first time a few years ago, and it was Grandma Irma's jalapenos that she grew in her garden in Idaho that went into this jelly - this batch of adorable little 4-oz jars was created with love and bare hands from start to finish. 

As exotic as this jelly looks and tastes, it's actually rather easy to make as far as jellies go.  I'm going to keep a couple secrets to myself as to how I get it to look so beautiful, but here's the recipe for you to enjoy ~ you can find it at or on the insert of recipes that come inside a box of pectin. 

Jalapeno Pepper Jelly
1 lb. jalapeno peppers
2 c. water
1 c. apple cider vinegar
4 c. sugar
10 or 12 4-oz. these cute little quilted ones

Stem and halve peppers (I highly recommend wearing gloves and maybe even eye protection.  I know this sounds silly, but when you are heaving and coughing and eyes crying like a waterfall, you won't think it's silly).  Chop or grind peppers. Combine peppers, water, & vinegar in a large pan and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; simmer, covered, for 15 minutes.  Measure 3 cups of the juice.  You may filter juice only by sifting through a cheesecloth, or you can leave it how it is with jalapeno chunks.  Mix the 3 cups of juice with sugar, bring to a rolling boil.  Add one box of pectin and continue to boil for 2 minutes.  Pour the thickened liquid into sterilized jars, place lids and rings onto jars.  Boil in water bath for 8 minutes.  Makes 5 cups or 10 half cups.  Enjoy with a mellow cheese and crackers, as a spread to cook over chicken breasts, or on a warm, wonderful piece of fresh bread.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Strawberry ~ Lemon Jam

The fun thing about preserving fruits and vegetables at the peak of freshness is being able to enjoy it weeks or months later when they are no longer in season.  Of course, in Southern California, although strawberry season is roughly March - June, we can get them year-round, especially if you go to farmer's markets to get your produce.  And, of course, lemons are in season practically year-round.  But you get my point.

A couple months ago, I made the crowd-favorite appetizer, Brie Crescent Roll Wrap and used Strawberry-Lemon Jam that I made back in August.  How fun is that?  The lemons used in this sweet and tart jam were picked from a friend's tree in Burbank, and the strawberries were bought at a farmstand somewhere in Utah.  I made this jam prior to starting my blog in September, so at the request of "Anonymous," here's the recipe:

Strawberry-Lemon Jam
4 medium lemons, peeled & coarsely chopped
4 cups hulled, crushed strawberries
6 cups sugar
1 package pectin
8 sterilized 8-oz canning jars w/ lids

Bring strawberries and lemons to a simmer and cook to the desired jam thickness.  Lemons have a lot of water in them, so we want to boil some of it out.  Add sugar, constantly stirring, and bring mixture to a full, rolling boil.  A rolling boil is when stirring doesn't stop the mixture from boiling.  Boil for about 2-4 minutes, adding pectin at the height of the boiling.  Skim foam from the top, quickly ladel into the jars, afix lids and place in boiling water bath for 8 minutes.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Corn Muffins Baked with White Wine Jelly

I don't know about you, but I need to eat something a little sweet for breakfast.  I made a dozen corn muffins, and while I love them plain, these were screaming for a little love.  So I gave them love in the form of the white wine jelly that I made back in October.  What a fantastic combo!  I was very happy with this one and it's so easy to make.  Just follow the manufacturer's directions on the corn muffin box, grease and powder your pan, preheat the oven, pour muffin batter in each compartment about 3/4 full, and add a spoonful of the white wine jelly.  Bake for about 10 minutes and - voila! - the perfect morning treat to have with a glass of milk and a piece of fruit. xo, A

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Easy Blood Orange Recipes ~ Jam, Sorbet, and Smoothies

Is it Summer yet?
I had thought I missed out on blood orange season, when a little ramble through the Hermosa Beach Farmer's Market a couple weeks ago brought me to bags and bags of blood oranges at one of the stands.  Have I ever mentioned how lucky I feel to be in California where we can get almost every type of fruit or veggie we want year-round?  A place where farmer's markets stay open year-round?  I feel very blessed!  Granted, some of the blood oranges were not so pretty (and some were even a bit sour, unfortunately) but that didn't stop me from buying 2 bags of them.

Blood oranges are beauties, orange with a reddish-purple blush on the outside and deep purple flesh on this inside.  The best ones have a hint of blackberry, and are the sweetest type of orange I've ever tasted.

They are in-season in the Winter months, and as you'll see they are wonderful to use in all types of dishes and desserts, but I think they are best eaten in their simplest form.

For a simple, tasty jam, all you need is 4 cups of blood oranges (peeled), 4 cups of cane sugar, and 1 box-or 3 TBSP.-pectin.  Segment the oranges and coarsely chop.  Place in large, non-reactive pan with sugar, bring to a boil, stirring constantly for 5 minutes.

Let it reach a rolling boil, add the pectin, stir it thoroughly and continue to boil for 1-2 minutes.  Check the set (this can be done by dropping some of your mixture on a frozen plate - if it films or hardens then it's done) and when it's done, you can place in sterilized jars.  Place jars on the rack in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. This made 6 half-pints of gorgeous jam!
The color is so beautiful, this jam is perfect to use in showy desserts.
For the sorbet (pictured above), you will need:  4 lbs. blood oranges, 1-1/4 c. water, 3/4 c. sugar, and an ice cream maker.  Note:  Use your most beautiful and sweetest oranges for this recipe, that I found on  This will result in the best taste for your sorbet. 

Zest the peels of several of the oranges; enough for 1-1/2 Tbsp. of zest.  Peel the oranges, making an attempt to get as much of the pith off as you can.  Pick out the seeds.  Combine water, sugar, and zest in pan and bring to a boil.  This will create a syrup.  Add the syrup and orange segments to a food processor (I used an old-fashioned blender) and puree.  Measure out 2-1/3 cups of the puree, cover and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight.  Next day, pour puree in your icecream maker and follow the instructions from the manufacturer.  In about 5 minutes, you will have about 4 half pints (equivalent to about 10 scoops) of sorbet!  I stored them in Ball plastic containers in my freezer.
I used remaining puree for a smoothie - added 3 red chard leaves, fresh rosemary (crushed), and an apple...for added sweetness you could add apple juice but I wanted it to be healthier than that.  This made 24 oz. of smoothie.