Saturday, December 13, 2014

DIY Holiday - Techniques, Recipes, and Strategies

Every year I tell myself I'm not going to make all my holiday gifts.  "This year, I'm going to make it easy on myself."  And then I have a good laugh and set about making my plan for holiday gifting.  I find that so long as I have a good stable of techniques, pragmatic strategies, and delicious recipes, I survive just fine and end up being so grateful I took it on again.

  • Packaging beautiful food is easy when you have clear glass jars.  I like to cut rounds of my favorite wrapping paper to the size of the lids and simply place it between the lid and ring.  You don't need glue, tape, or anything else.  The ring secures it just fine.  Then, if I'm feeling fancy, I might wrap hemp or other twine around the jar and add a sturdy cardboard gift tag.  Be sure to let your giftees know they will need to keep the olives in the refrigerator.
  • I also like to buy the Avery chalkboard labels.  I buy the big oval ones and cut 1 1/2" circles out (2 per) with a hole punch.  The size is perfect for the front of a jelly jar.  Then, I write the contents on the label with a neon chalk marker.  
  • If you're in search of the clear cellophane bags you see at the stores this time of year, check Amazon.  I like the 9"x12" and 4"x6" bags.  Dry goods, such as biscotti, nuts, and cookies look great in bags.  All I add is hemp twine and maybe a sprig of greenery, if I feel like going out to cut it.  If you have holly, a couple of leaves and a berry cluster is about as good as it gets for winter.
  • In general, less is more when packaging food.  Let the food shine.
  • I find it's important to make a plan in advance.  If your life is anything like mine, free time is rare and precious, and if you want to gift things that need prepared a few days or less before giving, you need to time it out.  This is not to say you need to spend a lot of time or energy making a schedule, but be realistic.  If you don't have time in the couple of days before the gifting target, pick things that can be made a week or more in advance.
  • Picking recipes that can be made in large batches is handy when preparing multiples.  Not every recipe can be successfully doubled or tripled.
  • Don't be above child labor, especially for teacher kids LOVE to help, and they are so proud to give their teachers things they helped make.  That being said, be realistic.  If the kiddos are helping, let go of the perfectionist tendencies.  Their smiles are worth it, and it encourages their generosity, while applauding their work ethic.
  • This year has been the year of TOO MANY IDEAS.  I've been experimenting and taste-testing, and thus far, I've still got too many ideas swirling about.  It's a good problem to have, and it keeps the ones I love well fed and happy.  That being said, I have already started, and as such I have picked out a few stellar selections for our primary gifting.  I make sets of 6 or 12, usually, and plan with the idea of combining two items for a complementary gift package.  (See cellophane bags above.)
  • Here are a few of the greatest hits:

    • Fig, Chile, and Orange Marinated Olives
    • Chocolate Dipped Figs with Sea Salt
    • A rift on the Food and Wine Maple Pecans:  Substitute chipotle chile powder OR dried thyme for the cayenne pepper.  Better yet, make a batch of each, but be sure to package separately.
    • Spicy Pickled Carrots.  These are a favorite all around, and they are shelf-stable if you can them properly.
    • Ginger-Pickled Grapes.  These are a coin of peeled fresh ginger, an inch stem of fresh rosemary, and a few black peppercorns at the bottom of an 8 ounce jelly jar.  Top with halved purple grapes.  Measure in two tablespoons of granulated sugar, shaking the jar to distribute if necessary.  Heat to boiling 1 c. white wine vinegar, 1 c. water, and 1 tablespoon of pickling salt.  Ladle into jar until full, wiping the rim, and capping tightly.  Store in the refrigerator.
    • A rift on the Food and Wine Fig and Hazelnut biscotti:  I substituted whole, blanched almonds.  I love how whole almonds slice in biscotti, but be sure to use blanched almonds.  The skins don't work in biscotti.

DIY Holiday - Fig, Chile, and Orange Marinated Olives

There is something about gifting delicious food in beautiful packaging that just makes it feel like Christmas.  It's easy to walk into any store and buy presents, but making hand-crafted, handmade treats is so much less work than one might think.  It's not hard...or time-consuming...or expensive.  All you need is a strategy, a game-plan, and a few recipes.

I am a particular fan of marinated olives.  On the one hand, they make pretty gifts in jars.  On the other hand, and much more importantly, they are delicious.  This recipe was inspired by a taste memory inspired by the fantastic Holland House Bar and Refuge in Nashville, Tennessee.  If you are in town, I definitely recommend making a reservation.  In the meantime, get to marinating olives.  They are positively addictive

1 tsp fermented chile paste (if you have it, otherwise, bottled Asian chile paste)
The zest of two oranges
2 c. pulp-free orange juice
12 dried calimyrna figs, chopped
2 T. sugar
2 T. Sriracha
1/2 tsp salt
16 oz good olive oil
5 c. whole Castelvetrano olives
1/2 c. whole, blanched almonds

Combine the first seven ingredients in a large capacity pot.
Bring to a boil and reduce for about 10 minutes or until it starts to look syrupy.

Once the sauce has reduced to your desired consistency, stir in oil and olives.

Return to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cook uncovered for about 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in almonds.

Olives can be served immediately, but will benefit from a few days storage in the marinade.  Be sure to keep in the refrigerator.


I like to buy large cans of olives on Amazon.  While in my alternate, perfect world I might buy these directly from the growers in glass jars, I live in Indiana, and this is the best source I have found.  I particularly like these unpitted green olives, because they are delicious on their own and have no additional seasoning in the brine.  ALERT:  these olives are only $25 for approximately 8 dry cups.  This is beyond affordable.

I also buy the almonds on Amazon.  I burned too much gas and far too much time driving around Indy, trying to find them.  You can buy a full pound (which is many times over what you need) for $15. 

As for the figs, I bought them at Costco.  In our house, we LOVE figs.  I have no trouble using up the wholesale-size bag.  Two pounds run around $10-15.


Packaging beautiful food is easy when you have clear glass jars.  The bright green of the olives plays against the earthy oil brine and needs little embellishment.  I like to cut rounds of my favorite wrapping paper to the size of the lids and simply place it between the lid and ring.  You don't need glue, tape, or anything else.  The ring secures it just fine.  Then, if I'm feeling fancy, I might wrap hemp or other twine around the jar and add a sturdy cardboard gift tag.  Be sure to let your giftees know they will need to keep the olives in the refrigerator.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Winter greens with Green Apple Vinaigrette

I love Thanksgiving.  It's all about food, family, friends and taking stock of what you have.  My kids and I are so fortunate.  We have our health, each other, more than enough delicious food at every meal, and our cozy home in which to enjoy it all.  I like traditional Thanksgiving, but as defined by me.  I like to take tradition and flip it. 

Here's a great side dish that I am making again this year.  It's easy to throw together and it's a great complement to the rich turkey dinner.

10 c. baby kale
2 c. shaved Brussels sprouts
1 c. pomegranate seeds
4 clementines, peeled and segmented
1 c. dry toasted walnuts, chopped
Apple Vinaigrette to taste (~1/2 c)
Mix together all ingredients and dress to taste
Apple Vinaigrette
1 medium granny smith apple cored and diced
1/2 c. raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar (I like Trader Joe's brand)
1-2 T. fresh lime juice
2 tsp. agave nectar
1 small shallot, minced
3-5 T. olive oil, to taste
kosher salt and pepper to taste
Combine apple through shallot in a blender and puree until smooth.  Drizzle in oil while continuing to run the blender.  Season to taste.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Addictive Brined and Smoked Fresh Ham

I have never been a fan of ham.  Spiral-sliced, country-style, Black Forest,...doesn't much matter.  My take away is almost always <meh>.

Enter Royer Farm Fresh and the fresh hams I have bought from them over the years.  Being the type that always (always) prefers to do it myself, I thought perhaps I could improve my ham experience by brining and smoking a fresh ham to my taste.  I tinkered with my recipe over the last few years, and now I quite literally crave (my) ham.  It's great on a hors d'oeuvre tray, in a cuban, straight out of the refrigerator, get the idea.  It's YUM.

Turning a fresh cut of meat into something cured and smoked takes equipment and time.  It's not hard, but it doesn't happen in an hour.

What do you need on hand?  

A large enough pot to hold the brine and ham, with the ham fully submerged.  It's helpful if this is a giant stockpot with a lid, wider than it is tall, but I suppose most anything would work.

A charcoal or gas grill, good lump charcoal (or gas), and hickory wood chunks (not chips).

A large (4-7 lbs) bone in fresh ham.  This is just the ham CUT of pork.  A fresh ham has not been brined, cured, smoked, etc.


Make the Brine

Combine in the large stockpot:

1 1/2 cups each kosher salt and the best sugar you have (I like my organic raw sugar, it's finely ground, but it's not chemically stripped)

8 cups water

1 large orange, sliced into rounds

1 large lemon, sliced into rounds

2 large limes, sliced into rounds

1 whole head of garlic, sliced on the bias

1 large onion, sliced however makes you happy

2 T. fresh oregano

1 tsp. whole black pepper

Bring all this to a boil, cover, remove from the heat, and let cool completely to room temperature.

Brining the Ham

Once the brine is at room temperature, remove the ham from it's wrapper and submerge fully into the brine.  Be sure it stays completely covered by the mixture.  Cover the pan and place into the refrigerator for 3 days.

>>This picture is what the ham looks like upon removal from the brine on day 3.

Smoking the Ham

After 3 days, pour off the brine liquid, remove the ham, and discard the solids.  Bring to room temperature.  Meanwhile, soak 4-5 cups of hickory chunks in water.  Be sure to soak the wood for at least a couple of hours.

Prepare the grill to a high indirect heat (e.g. over to one side), remove the wood chunks from the water, and place them directly on the charcoal (or whatever your gas grill instructions say).  Close the grill lid immediately and let the smoke develop, about 5 minutes, until it's billowing out and smells delicious.

Place the ham as far away from the direct heat source as is possible.  Close the lid and leave it alone for an hour.  Flip the ham over (both right to left and top to bottom) and let smoke another hour.

Remove the ham from the grill and place it into an oven-proof large pot with a lid.

Finishing the Ham

Ham is extremely lean, so after a couple of hours on the smoke, I like to finish it on a very low temperature in the oven.

Bake the covered ham at 200 degrees until it reaches an internal temperature of 155 degrees.  Remove the pot from the oven and remove the lid.  Allow ham to rest at least 30 minutes (or longer) and slice.

Now, try not to eat it all while standing over the cutting board.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Chipotle-Cherry Barbeque Sauce

I have a love-hate relationship with BBQ.  I know, it's un-American, but that's how it is.  While I love to smoke fresh and/or brined meat at home, I often find the combination of heavy smoke and sticky-sweet sauce unpalatable (for me).  Then, earlier this year, I was making shrubs (drinking vinegars).  As I struggle to ever throw anything out, and am always trying to repurpose, reuse, use up everything I have, I needed to do something with all the pickled cherries I had on hand.

Feeling creative one Sunday, I started concocting...and it was a hit.  I love it, my 2 and 4 year old love it, my parents love it, etc. etc. 

I used this on mesquite-smoked baby back ribs, but I think it would go great on any BBQ.

1 c. black cherries soaked in simple syrup or leftover from making a cherry shrub (guess which ...
one I used)
1 c. ketchup
1/2 c. cold brew coffee
1/3 c. unfiltered apple cider vinegar
3 T. Worcestershire sauce
2 T. sorghum molasses (I'm sure regular will do)
1 T. whole grain mustard
2 tsp. chipotle powder
2 tsp. kosher salt
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Chop up the cherries and mix all ingredients together. Cook over medium heat, stirring well and often until a desired consistency. I like to stop the sauce when it's still a nice, red color, and then use it as a basting sauce over open flame. If you don't intend to cook it twice, so to speak, go ahead and reduce the sauce further, almost until it turns a browner red and has the consistency expected of barbeque sauce.

Smokin' Green Enchilada Sauce

Tomatillos, tomatillos, tomatillos.  They are multiplying every time I go out to the garden.  I needed a fresh idea, after canning some two dozen jars of ubiquitous salsa verde.  But what to make?  I am always looking for things to feed my kids, and I've been pondering enchiladas.  I am notoriously dedicated to making everything I can from scratch at home, so of course, I set about to make a tasty enchilada sauce.

I did a bit of research into what goes into a traditional enchilada sauce, and since I had some Bulgarian carrot chiles that needed using, I decided to substitute for the jalapenos.  Pro/con:  Pro, this sauce is *delicious*.  I'm so very pleased with how it turned out; con, it's smokin' hot...maybe too hot for my kiddos.  C'est la vie, as it were.  I am now the happy owner of 4 pints of put up green enchilada sauce that *Mommy*, at least, will devour, come winter.  

It's simple, delicious, and will thaw you out when the deep freeze hits this winter.


2 lbs tomatillos
4 poblano peppers
3 Bulgarian carrot chiles (or substitute as you wish)
1 large onion (about 1 cup)
4 c. chicken stock
1 bunch cilantro
kosher salt
olive oil


Remove the husks from the tomatillos, wash, and place on a baking tray.  Deseed the peppers, slicing all the way down one side and flatten on the baking tray with skins up.  Quarter the onion and separate the sections, adding them to the tray.

Drizzle the trayed veg with olive oil and sprinkle liberally with kosher salt.

Roast in a 450 degree (or 425 convection) oven for 30 minutes.

Dump the veg into a large soup pot and stir in stock.  Simmer over medium-high for 15 minutes.  Chop cilantro and stir in, then puree with an immersion blender. 

If necessary, adjust seasoning.  Pour into clean jars or ziplock bags. 

You will want to eat this within a week or freeze it.  The low acid content makes it a bad candidate for water bath canning, and it's not tested for pressure canning.  If you choose to not freeze, be sure to store in the refrigerator.

Makes 4 pints.
Smokin' Green Enchilada Sauce on Punk Domestics