Stay Tuned for Salem!

Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we’re busy unpacking after a festive trip to Salem, Massachusetts. Everyone knows that Salem was the infamous site of the 1692 Witch Trials (those witch hunting Puritans were a kooky bunch!). Fast forward 325 years, and modern Salem offers visitors myriad ways to learn a bit of New England history, breathe in a bit of salty sea air, and be happily well fed.

Very happily well fed!

Over the next few days, Crowded Earth Kitchen will feature a few culinary gems from the Northeast. Stay tuned!

Happy traveling, and happy eating! Blessed be!

Detox Gazpacho

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Put the chocolate Easter bunny down and back away slowly. I hear the siren song of sugar right along with ya, but we can do this! Instead of eating something which will lead us to wallow in guilt later, let’s eat something healthy and invigorating! This soup is one of my favorite detox foods, so I’m sharing it again.

Springtime tends to make vegetable lovers giddy with excitement. Unfortunately, it also makes us impatient, as the fresh, ripe flavors we crave become  s  l  o  w  l  y   available. Right now, the zucchini at the market (not yet from my garden) looks fresh and delicious. Cucumbers and peppers aren’t half bad right now, either.

But those supermarket tomatoes?

Sigh.

Don’t even bother with springtime tomatoes. I think they’re just little cardboard orbs disguised as tomatoes.

So, what’s a vegetable lover to do? Cheat. Relax, I’m not telling you to cheat on your taxes or cheat on your calculus exam. We’re going to cheat by avoiding fresh tomatoes altogether, even in a dish which ordinarily features fresh tomatoes quite prominently.

How are we going to cheat? We’re going to use salsa and vegetable juice. Stay with me for a minute.

Salsa, whether home canned or store bought, is often a superior alternative to out of season tomatoes. The blend of tomatoes, onions, herbs, and spices offers a whole lot more flavor than whatever was picked green and trucked up from far away, gassed along the way to artificially force a red color (without doing a darn thing for flavor). Likewise, vegetable juice forms a perfect – and perfectly obvious – base for a simple gazpacho. If you don’t believe me, try this recipe. If I’m wrong, post a comment below!

WIN_20150408_091740Ingredients (Serves 4)

1 small zucchini, peeled and chopped

1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped (save one slice unpeeled for garnish later)

1 yellow pepper, seeded and chopped (set aside a small piece for garnish later)

1 red pepper, seeded and chopped (set aside a small piece for garnish, later)

1 clove fresh garlic, diced

1 cup salsa

2 cups tomato-based vegetable juice (such as V-8)

Directions

Add all ingredients except garnish to a blender and puree until smooth. Serve well chilled and sprinkled with colorful diced vegetables. If you’d like, add a dollop of sour cream. Enjoy!

Jelly Bean Brittle

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Hop. Hop. Hippidy Hop. That bunny is heading our way, and wouldn’t it be nice if he arrived with a basket of homemade Easter candy? Jelly Bean Brittle is awesome for so many reasons… it’s super easy (Can you boil water? That’s about the only skill you need!), doesn’t require any expensive ingredients, and unlike peanut brittle, is completely free of common allergens. This recipe makes a great big pan (about 2 1/2 pounds’ worth) – perfect for an office or a classroom!

The only special item you will need is a candy thermometer. Now, don’t panic – a candy thermometer looks like any other thermometer, and just clips right onto your pot. All you need to do is READ it, and if you are reading this blog post, you’ve got that skill locked. Here is a link to the simple candy thermometer that I use:

Taylor Classic Line Glass Candy and Deep Fry Thermometer

It’s less than $6, and if you order it today you’ll be able to make Jelly Bean Brittle before Easter. You’re welcome. Let’s get started!

WIN_20150329_131938Ingredients (Makes 2 1/2 pounds)

1 pound bag of mini jelly beans

2 cups sugar

1 cup light corn syrup

1/2 cup water

WIN_20150329_1329121/4 cup butter (not margarine)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda (no lumps!)

Directions

Step 1) Clip your candy thermometer to the side of a big, old pot. The tip of the thermometer should not be touching the WIN_20150329_132803bottom of the pot. Add sugar, corn syrup, water, and butter. Bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently.

Step 2) Once the mixture begins to boil, reduce heat slightly (low-medium) and allow to continue boiling until the temperature gauge on your candy thermometer reaches the line WIN_20150329_134459labeled “Hard Crack” or 295 degrees. Be patient – this will take 20 – 30 minutes. Remember to stir occasionally.

Step 3) While your mixture boils, prepare your pan. First, cover your largest baking pan with aluminum foil; don’t forget to cover the sides. Next, grease the aluminum foil with the wrapper from a stick of butter. Then, evenly distribute jelly beans on the WIN_20150329_134509foil.

Step 4) When your boiling mixture reaches the Hard Crack stage, turn off the heat and sprinkle baking soda into the pot. STIR QUICKLY! A chemical reaction will take place, causing the boiling mixture to foam and froth. This is normal – and exciting!

Step 5) After stirring, pour mixture over jelly WIN_20150329_134600beans. Working quickly, spread mixture evenly over the entire pan.

Step 6) After about 10 minutes, your jelly bean brittle will be ready to break apart into bite size pieces. Store in an airtight container to keep nice and fresh!

PS – About that pot… just add a drop of dish soap and fill with BOILING water. It’ll come clean in seconds.  😉

Sneaky Leprechaun Milkshake

This vintage post was popular the first time around, and Crowded Earth Kitchen has several hundred new readers (Welcome!) since last St. Patrick’s Day, so I’m sharing this again.  Enjoy!

picture833“Mom?  Can we just stop at the drive-thru and get a (green) shake?”

“No.”

“Please?”

“Still No.”

“Pleeaassee?  I’ll do laundry.”

I’ll admit, this is where the devil on my shoulder told me that I would be a fool not to cave in just this once, and so what if the child glows in the dark for the next two weeks.  The fact is, the children in my house generate approximately 817 loads of laundry every week, and the offer of complaint-free laundry labor was enticing (that they will end up helping anyway, albeit under duress, is beside the point).  Then I had an idea…

“Still no.  But if you help with laundry cheerfully, I’ll make you a (green) shake.”

“Deal.”

Here’s what I came up with.  The kids LOVED it!  Peppermint extract is strong… a little bit can make, well, just about anything taste like peppermint.  😉  Each serving (approximately 10 ounces) contains 113 calories, 4 grams of fat, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of fiber, and 5 grams of protein.  Each serving also packs an impressive 60% of the Recommended Daily Allowance for Vitamin A, and 20% of the RDA for calcium.  Compare that to the drive-thru green shake… I dare you.

picture822Ingredients (makes 4 servings)

1 cup frozen chopped spinach (Ha!  Ha ha ha!)

1 1/2 cups skim milk

1 cup “real” vanilla ice cream, without any weird ingredients (I found a supermarket brand that was made from milk, cream, sugar, egg yolk, natural vanilla extract, and nothing else)

1 teaspoon pure peppermint extract (Very strong!  You may even want to try a bit less than 1 teaspoon.)

Dark chocolate shavings (Optional)  

picture823Directions

Step 1) Add spinach and about half of the skim milk to a blender.  Pulse for a few seconds to thoroughly chop spinach into tiny “peppermint” size pieces.

Step 2) Add remaining milk to blender and blend for a minute or a longer until the mixture is very creamy (almost butter-like) and increases in volume.  The photo, left, shows only spinach and milk – it really does get creamy!

Step 3) Add peppermint extract and ice cream to blender.  For best results, add ice cream in several tiny scoops rather than one large scoop.  Blend until all ingredients are combined.

Step 4) Mixture will be tasty now, but thin.  For best results, pour shake mixture into a shallow container and place in the back of your freezer for one hour.  After an hour, scoop shake mixture into serving glasses (I used half pint jelly jars).  Sprinkle with chocolate shavings, if desired.

Step 5) Try not to laugh as your loved ones unwittingly eat their spinach.  🙂

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Vintage Recipe: Ultimate Mac ‘n Cheese

WIN_20160106_180537Mac ‘n Cheese is the ultimate Midwestern American comfort food. If you’ve been following Crowded Earth Kitchen for a while, you know that we have a big old foodie crush on Paris… but not even Paris does Mac ‘n Cheese as well as the American Midwest. We’ve been experimenting with recipes for Ultimate Mac ‘n Cheese for a while, working to create a recipe that just simply doesn’t need to be improved any further. This is it. Enjoy!

WIN_20160106_170048Ingredients (Fills a deep dish pie plate)

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese

1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese

1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1/3 cup light cottage cheese

1/4 cup light sour cream

1/2 teaspoon sweet curry powder

1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound box of medium shells or macaroni noodles

WIN_20160106_163123Directions

Step 1) Pour chicken stock into a large saute pan and boil for 10 minutes or until reduced until only about 1/2 cup of liquid remains. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.

Step 2) Add shells or macaroni to a large pot of boiling water. Cook until al dente, or just a bit chewy – don’t overcook! Drain when al dente is reached.

Step 3) While pasta is cooking, add mild cheddar, Monterey Jack, and sharp cheddar cheeses to the saute pan with the reduced chicken stock. Heat on a low setting, stirring constantly, until cheese is melted.

Step 4) After shells or macaroni are cooked and drained, add the cottage cheese, sour cream, and curry powder to the melted cheese mixture. Stir over low heat until thoroughly blended.

Step 5) Combine the cooked, drained noodles and the cheese mixture. Stir until noodles are evenly coated, and transfer the mixture to a greased deep dish pie plate or casserole dish. Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper.

Step 6) Cover with foil and bake your Ultimate Mac ‘n Cheese in a preheated 325 degree oven for 30 minutes. Serve immediately with a fresh green salad.

Chocolate Dipped Valentine Cookies

heart-cookies

Nothing says “I love you” or “I value your friendship” like something homemade and delicious! Why not whip up a batch of these luscious cookies and brighten someone’s day?!

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter, softened Continue reading