Grapefruit Pomegranate Sunrise Jam

picture561Grapefruit are in season, and I was so happy to see them priced low at the market that I got a little carried away.  Granted, a single grapefruit offers more than a full day’s worth of Vitamin C and 4 grams of fiber – all for around 100 calories – but still.  When I lined up all of my cheerful yellow-skinned grapefruit on the counter, I wondered what the heck I was going to do with them all.

Have no fear!  Grapefruit makes amazing jam – amazing! – and you’ve probably never even tried it, right?  Today’s your day!  All you need to create a few jars of sunrise colored, sweet-tart jam are four ingredients and a little bit of time.  This jam is unique, pretty, and very affordable… excellent qualities for thoughtful gift giving!  Have fun!

picture553 Ingredients (makes 8 half-pint jars)

6 grapefruit

1/2 cup pomegranate juice (fresh squeezed or bottled POM)

6 cups sugar

6 tablespoons (1 box) pectin

picture556Directions

Step 1) First, we need to section the grapefruit so that we can use the pulp and juice, but not the membranes (in other words, all of the pink, none of the white).  This isn’t difficult, but it will take a few minutes.  Start by cutting the top and bottom half inch off, straight across.  You should see pink.  Then, use a paring knife to slice down the sides, removing the peel and all of the white, as shown.

Step 2) Hold the grapefruit over a large cooking pot, so that you can capture all of the juice.  Use a paring knife to carefully cut “V” shaped wedges inside of each picture558membrane, removing all of the pulp.  Repeat for all 6 grapefruit.  This took me about 20 minutes.  Be patient.  This is the most time consuming step, I promise!

Step 3) Add 1/2 cup pomegranate juice to the pot with the grapefruit pulp and grapefruit juice.  Bring to a boil, stirring frequently.

Step 4) Sprinkle pectin over boiling fruit and stir in.  Bring the pot back to a steady boil, stirring constantly.  Pectin will burn if you don’t stir the pot.

Step 5) When the pot is boiling again, add the sugar all at once.  Stir.  Continue picture559stirring over medium-high heat until pot comes to a full, rolling boil.  Boil for one minute (stir!), then remove from heat.

Step 6) Ladle jam into sterilized canning jars, cover with lids and bands, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Enjoy your little jars of sunshine!

Spiced Fruit Cocktail

picture022OK, let’s be honest.

It’s difficult to conjure up much enthusiasm in the produce section at the market this time of year.  I’m tired of winter, not too thrilled about the slush and mud of early spring, and am ready to pick raspberries while wearing flip flops.

Raspberries, where are you?

While we wait for the market to burst with the flavors of summer, let’s enjoy one last hurrah with the sturdy fruits available in late winter.  This simple fruit cocktail recipe will jazz up your breakfasts and lunchboxes, at least until those raspberries arrive.

~

Ingredients (makes 8 pints)

6 apples, peeled, cored, and cut in bite size chunks

6 pears, peeled, cored, and cut in bite size chunks

4 cups of small green grapes

2 cups of raisins

8 tablespoons lemon juice

16 whole cloves

16 whole allspice

8 small cinnamon sticks

8 cups of water

4 cups of sugar

Directions

Step 1) Combine water and sugar in a saucepan.  Bring to a low boil with occasional stirring, and remove from heat.

Step 2) Combine all fruit in a large bowl.

Step 3) Place 2 whole cloves, 2 whole allspice, 1 small cinnamon stick, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice in the bottom of each sterilized, pint size canning jar.

Step 4) Pack each canning jar full to bottom of neck with fruit.

Step 5) Fill each canning jar with water and sugar mixture, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.

Step 6) Poke out air bubbles and wipe rims of jars clean.  Top with lids and bands.  Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.

Step 7) Allow to cool, and check seals before storing.  Enjoy!

Mushroom Potato Soup

picture428

I adore the flavors and textures of many different mushroom soups.  Unfortunately, many mushroom soup recipes contain an astonishing amount of animal fat in the form of cream, lard, and/or large quantities of butter.   I’ll be honest – it took a while to create a heart healthy mushroom soup which still offered the velvety texture and depth of flavor I desired.  But this… THIS is the recipe that captured what I wanted, while saying au revoir to most of that fat!

A word of advice:  Don’t skimp on the beef broth.  Use the best beef broth you can get your hands on, such as the beef broth from our Soupe à l’oignon recipe, here.  Trust me on this.  Alternately, if you prefer not to include meat products in your cooking, you can easily convert this into a vegetarian recipe.  Instead of beef broth, use a vegetable juice such as “v8.”  Vegetable broth is too thin, both in viscosity and flavor, for this recipe.

Ingredients (makes about 8 cups)

1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

4 cups water

1 cup excellent quality beef broth

2 peeled, cubed potatoes

1/4 cup chopped onion

2 teaspoons butter

1 cup sliced shiitaki mushrooms

2 cups sliced button mushrooms

2 small carrots sliced into coins

1 rib of celery, chopped

1 cup chopped kale

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 cup slightly undercooked brown rice

2 tablespoons worchestershire sauce

Directions

picture423Step 1) Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a large pot.  Remove from heat.  Add dried porcinis, cover, and soak for 15 minutes.  Then, remove porcinis with a slotted spoon… leave the liquid in the pot!  Chop the porcinis into bite size pieces and set them aside.

Step 2) To the pot of liquid, add beef stock and peeled, cubed potatoes.  Cook until potatoes are soft, about 10 minutes.  Puree with an immersion blender.

Step 3) While the potatoes are cooking, sauté 1/4 cup chopped onion in 2 teaspoons of butter.

picture425Step 4) To the pot of broth and pureed potatoes, add sautéed onions, skiitake mushrooms, button mushrooms, carrot, celery, kale, pepper, and undercooked brown rice.  Simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from heat.

Step 5) Stir in chopped porcinis and worchestershire sauce.  Enjoy!

FINAL March Madness Giveaway – Don’t Miss Out!

Last Chance to Win!

Beekeepers Lament

March Madness Freebies #9 – #10:  The Beekeeper’s Lament, by Hannah Nordhaus

Contest Dates:  March 25th – March 31st

Two Ways to Win: 

1)  Follow Crowded Earth Kitchen on Twitter! 

2)  Share Crowded Earth Kitchen Facebook posts this week!

Brilliantly written and genre defying, The Beekeeper’s Lament is a book that stays with you long after you reach the back cover. Hannah Nordhaus’s decorated journalistic background will come as no surprise to readers who find themselves absorbing careful research couched within well written and occasionally comic prose. While honey bees shine as main characters, their story is not told in a vacuum. Instead, Ms. Nordhaus tells the story of honey bees within the greater story of their ecosystem… we learn about the bees in such varied settings as the clover and alfalfa fields of North Dakota, the blueberries of Maine, almond trees of California, and winter storage destinations including Texas and Florida.

As the honey bees travel from one destination to another, they face real life challenges worthy of an adventure novel. Perilous interstate travel, unpredictable weather, pesticide exposure, the economic and nutritional tightrope between corn syrup and honey, ants, mites, CCD or Colony Collapse Disorder, and of course PPB… Piss-Poor Beekeeping. 😉

Beekeeping. The story of the honey bees would be woefully incomplete without the stories of their keepers. In The Beekeeper’s Lament, Ms. Nordhaus gifts her readers with a comedic cross section of stories told by beekeeper. These stories range from accounts of beekeeping conventions to the recovery of stolen beehives to the rise and fall of a particularly inventive drug runner who kept his contraband hidden inside of active beehives. The real hero of the story, as the reader will soon discover, is John Miller, the beekeeper and email poet who opened his life to Hannah Nordhaus and his story to each of us.

In the quest to educate ourselves about where our food comes from and how it was produced, The Beekeeper’s Lament is a valuable tool. This book will shape the way you think about the familiar buzzing sounds of summer.

**Thank you to The Wandering Abode and The Book Cat, who have offered guest posts in exchange for copies of Paper or Plastic!**

Roasted Root Vegetables and Root Vegetable Bisque

picture132 (2)During a recent visit to my favorite food co-op, I spotted a ten pound bag of locally grown organic carrots.  Then I discovered a smaller, three pound bag of squatty little yellow carrots, which I just had to try.  The celeriac smelled wonderful, the parsnips felt fresh, and who can resist beautiful red beets?  Before I realized what I had done, I was on my way out of the co-op with 20 pounds of root veggies.

I don’t think it’s possible to have too many root vegetables.  Root veggies are among the most economical ingredients available in the produce section of any market.  They’re a versatile addition to many meals, and hearty enough to hold the starring role in a vegetarian or vegan dinner.  Root vegetables are generally low in calories, are full of fiber, and offer up a host of antioxidants, essential minerals, and vitamins such as A, B complex, and C.  Today, we will enjoy root vegetables two ways.  First, we will prepare a simple roasted root medley.  Second, we will make broth from the peels, which will serve as the base for a delicious bisque.  Waste not, want not!

picture123Ingredients (makes 4 hearty servings of each dish)

6 large or 8 small orange carrots

3 yellow carrots

3 parsnips

3 red beets

1 celeriac

3 tablespoons olive oil

dash salt, pepper

1 cup red lentils

4 cups water

1 tablespoon salt-free seasoning blend (I like “Forward!” from Penzeys)

1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

Directions

picture127Step 1) Wash all root vegetables carefully, as we will be using the peels!

Step 2) Peel carrots, parsnips, and beets.  Trim the “lumpy and bumpy” surface off of the celeriac, until you are left with what looks like a smooth, white beet.

Step 3) Place all peels and trimmings in a picture129pot with 4 cups of water.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for one hour.

Step 4) After one hour, strain broth through a sieve, and discard the peels into your compost bin.

Step 5)  Return broth to the pot and add picture124lentils.  Simmer until lentils are soft, about 20 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Step 6) While broth is simmering, cut all root vegetables into 1 inch chunks and place in a  plastic bag.  Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil into the bag.  Add a dash of salt and pepper.  Carefully shake the bag to picture126evenly coat the vegetables.

Step 7) Use remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to grease a large baking pan.  Spread vegetables onto the baking pan, and roast in a 400 degree oven for 30 – 40 minutes, or until slightly browned on the outside and soft on the inside.  Stir after 20 minutes.

picture130Step 8) Transfer 4 cups of roasted root vegetables to the pot with the broth and lentils.  Arrange the remaining vegetables on a serving platter.

Step 9) Use an immersion blender to puree your pot of broth, lentils, and root vegetables.  Season with salt-free seasoning blend and coarse ground black pepper.  Enjoy!

Write a Guest Post, Win a Book!

Last Day – Write a Guest Post, Win a Book!

Paper or PlasticPaper or Plastic:  Searching for Solutions to an Overpackaged World, by Daniel Imhoff

CONTEST ENDS TODAY!

How to Win:  Agree to write a guest post to appear on Crowded Earth Kitchen!  Simply post a comment below, and I’ll be in touch!

I have books for THREE MORE READERS who post a comment below agreeing to submit a guest post!  Wellness-minded recipe posts, stories of kitchen related collections, and food related book reviews are welcome.  Posts should be between 300 – 600 words, and should include a picture.

~~~Review~~~

It would be easy for a casually concerned consumer to read the title of this book, think of the reusable shopping bags hanging by the door, and feel smug.  In 168 pages, many of which include shocking full color photos, Dan Imhoff lays out the clear and compelling case that we have a long, long way to go before we can even begin to consider our global packaging waste problem solved.  Appropriately published by Sierra Club Books, this 2005 text remains highly relevant for people who wish to really understand the scope and scale of the damage our current packaging habits are wreaking upon our planet.  This book serves as an excellent resource for those who wish to really delve into the complex changes that will be necessary to facilitate environmental healing.

As an educator, it strikes me that this would be a wonderful book for classroom use at the high school and college levels.  The author does a brilliant job of back-loading a copious amount of research into hefty appendices and end notes; as a result, the text itself tells an important story without becoming dry, and is as easy to read as it is informative.

In the first section, “The Packaging Landscape,” the reader is guided through an explanation of the sobering scope and scale of waste created by our tacit obsession with packaging (an average of 300 pounds of waste per person per year!).  The second section, “The Search for Solutions,” walks us through an engaging set of case studies which range from high tech electronics companies to frozen confections.  Promising research and development initiatives are explored, as are foreign legislative policies aimed at mitigating our global packaging waste crisis (not surprisingly, the United States lags woefully behind global leaders in this arena).  The third section, “A Future Beyond the Box,” provides the reader with guidelines for distinguishing between bad wraps and better packaging.  We are also provided with thirteen very clear, simply explained steps each of us can take to do our part to help solve this often overlooked global crisis.

Paper Or Plastic:  Searching For Solutions To An Overpackaged World is as well written as it is important.  Each of us needs to read this book.

Heidi’s Paleo Pecans

picture745

I don’t follow a paleo diet myself, but I do try to maintain a welcoming kitchen.  Whether you are paleo, gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, or a good ol’ meat-and-potatoes-with-a-slice-of-pie kind of diner, you will find something to enjoy at Crowded Earth Kitchen!  These are for Heidi, but I’m sure she’ll share.  They’re fast and easy, perfect when you need a high protein, not-too-sweet snack.

picture737Ingredients (makes 1 1/2 cups)

1 cup whole, shelled pecans (I used raw, unsalted pecans)

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup (or, substitute honey)

1 large egg white

picture7381 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

Directions

Step 1) Drizzle maple syrup over pecans in a small mixing bowl.  Mix well to coat evenly.

Step 2) Sprinkle cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom over pecans.  Mix well to distribute spices.

Step 3) In a scrupulously clean bowl, beat egg white (no yolk – not even a speck!) until soft peaks form.

Step 4) Gently fold egg white into pecans.  Gently!  The idea is to coat the pecans with egg whites, while retaining their foamy appearance.  If you stir too long, the beaten egg whites will collapse and liquefy.  Boo.

picture739Step 5) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread the pecan mixture on the paper.

Step 6) Bake pecan mixture in a preheated 300 degree oven for 30 minutes, stirring once.  Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Step 7) Enjoy while watching The Flintstones.  Just kidding.

Lunch Pockets

picture402Crowded Earth Kitchen’s freezer door is always full of foil-wrapped Lunch Pockets.  They are easy to make, completely portable, are satisfyingly filling, and can be stuffed with an endless combination of ingredients.  Even better, they cost pennies apiece… compare that to the price of a commercially prepackaged lunch entrée!  If you take one of these Pockets out of the freezer on your way out the door in the morning, it will thaw before noon.  Lunch Pockets are delicious at room temperature, or warmed up with a few seconds in a microwave oven.

Ingredients (makes 20 small or 12 large lunch pockets)

One batch of Simple Bread dough, risen but unbaked.

Your favorite sandwich fillings – anything goes!   Today I am making four varieties:  peanut butter with jelly, peanut butter with diced apples, chopped pecans with honey, and cream cheese with chestnuts.  I’ve also used applesauce with raisins, diced peaches with nutmeg, pizza sauce with mozzarella cheese… the possibilities really are limitless.  Just make sure that if you are using any sort of meat, it is precooked.

picture395Directions

Step 1) For small, “kid size” Lunch Pockets, pinch off golf ball size pieces of Simple Bread dough (shown).  Roll on a floured surface into an approximate 5 inch circles.  Don’t worry too much about the shape.

picture396Step 2)  Place 1 rounded tablespoon of filling in the center of each dough circle, as shown.

Step 3) Fold each circle in half, and pinch the edges together tightly.  If you are using a variety of fillings and want to keep track of them, mark the outside of the dough with your ingredients (A small chopped nut or a dab of jelly works well.)

Step 4) Carefully transfer each unbaked Lunch Pocket to a greased baking pan, leaving 2 inches of space between Pockets.  I like to sprinkle my pans with a bit of cornmeal first.

Step 5) Bake Lunch Pockets in a preheated 375 degree oven for 15 minutes.  If you are baking two pans at the same time, the pan on the bottom may need an extra 2 or 3 minutes to turn golden grown.

picture406Step 6) Allow Lunch Pockets to cool completely on a wire rack.  Wrap with foil, label the fillings (unless you like to be surprised!), and freeze.

For larger, “grown up” sized Lunch Pockets, use a tennis ball size piece of dough and 1/4 cup of filling.  Bake for 18 – 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

Stuffed French Toast

picture361Crowded Earth Kitchen’s recipe for Stuffed French Toast is sneaky.  It looks like a high calorie indulgence, and it certainly tastes like a morning dessert, but it’s secretly good for you.   Robust spices minimize the need for sweeteners, while low-fat cream cheese and flax round out the creamy, nutty filling.  So go ahead and indulge.  Your secret is safe with me.

picture355Ingredients (makes 4 hearty servings)

One loaf of day old Simple Bread

4 eggs

1/2 cup skim milk

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

picture3561/4 teaspoon cardamom

4 ounces low-fat cream cheese

1 tablespoon organic honey

1 tablespoon flax seed

1 teaspoon cinnamon

simple breadDirections

Step 1) Combine cream cheese, honey, flax seed, and cinnamon.  Set aside.

Step 2) Trim 1/2 inch from each end of your loaf of Simple Bread.  Cut loaf into 8 equally thick slices.  Then, carefully cut through the top of each thick slice, stopping 1 inch above the bottom crust.  Your slices should now open in a very narrow “V” shape.  See enlarged photo to left.

picture357Step 3) Carefully spread a generous tablespoon of cream cheese filling along the inside of each bread “V”.

Step 4) Whisk together eggs, milk, nutmeg, and cardamom in a flat, shallow container.  A pie dish works well.

Step 5) Brush a skillet lightly with oil, and picture356preheat over low-medium heat.

Step 6) Dredge each side of one piece of stuffed bread through the egg mixture, and carefully set on preheated skillet.  Cook 2 – 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown.  Repeat with remaining stuffed bread slices, keeping cooked Stuffed French Toast warm picture358in the oven until ready to serve.  Enjoy!

Write a Guest Post, Win a Book!

MARCH MADNESS CONTINUES!  We’re giving away TEN FREE BOOKS this month!

Paper or PlasticFreebies #4 – #8:  Paper or Plastic:  Searching for Solutions to an Overpackaged World, by Daniel Imhoff

Contest Dates:  March 15th – 24th

How to Win:  Write a guest post to appear on Crowded Earth Kitchen!

The first five readers to post a comment below agreeing to submit a guest post will receive a copy of this smart, informative book.  Wellness-minded recipe posts are always welcome on the main blog page!  Do you have a kitchen-related craft or collection to share?  We’ll post that under the “Whimsy” tab!  Have you read a great food-related book lately?  I’d love to post your review!  Posts should be between 300 – 600 words, and should include a picture.

~~~Review~~~

It would be easy for a casually concerned consumer to read the title of this book, think of the reusable shopping bags hanging by the door, and feel smug.  In 168 pages, many of which include shocking full color photos, Dan Imhoff lays out the clear and compelling case that we have a long, long way to go before we can even begin to consider our global packaging waste problem solved.  Appropriately published by Sierra Club Books, this 2005 text remains highly relevant for people who wish to really understand the scope and scale of the damage our current packaging habits are wreaking upon our planet.  This book serves as an excellent resource for those who wish to really delve into the complex changes that will be necessary to facilitate environmental healing.

As an educator, it strikes me that this would be a wonderful book for classroom use at the high school and college levels.  The author does a brilliant job of back-loading a copious amount of research into hefty appendices and end notes; as a result, the text itself tells an important story without becoming dry, and is as easy to read as it is informative.

In the first section, “The Packaging Landscape,” the reader is guided through an explanation of the sobering scope and scale of waste created by our tacit obsession with packaging (an average of 300 pounds of waste per person per year!).  The second section, “The Search for Solutions,” walks us through an engaging set of case studies which range from high tech electronics companies to frozen confections.  Promising research and development initiatives are explored, as are foreign legislative policies aimed at mitigating our global packaging waste crisis (not surprisingly, the United States lags woefully behind global leaders in this arena).  The third section, “A Future Beyond the Box,” provides the reader with guidelines for distinguishing between bad wraps and better packaging.  We are also provided with thirteen very clear, simply explained steps each of us can take to do our part to help solve this often overlooked global crisis.

Paper Or Plastic:  Searching For Solutions To An Overpackaged World is as well written as it is important.  Each of us needs to read this book.

Simple Bread

picture346Simple Bread is a Crowded Earth Kitchen favorite.  As the name implies, baking this bread is simple.  It is also economical, costing far, far less to prepare than any nutritionally equivalent bread available at your local market.  Simple Bread freezes well, as does the dough itself.  Over the next few days, we will use Simple Bread dough as the foundation for several healthy, low cost meals.  Let’s go play with flour!

Ingredients (makes 2 standard sized loaves, approximately 9×5 inches each)

2 cups lukewarm (not boiling) water

1/2 cup white sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast

1/4 cup dry milk

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup canola oil

2 cups whole wheat flour

4 cups white flour

picture330Directions

Step 1)  Combine sugar and lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl.  Stir in yeast, and allow to sit for a minute or two until the surface of the water appears a bit creamy.

Step 2) Add dry milk, salt, and oil to the picture331yeast mixture.  Stir in flours, one cup at a time, and transfer dough to a floured tabletop.

Step 3) Knead dough for a few minutes until a smooth ball forms.  Add a bit more flour as needed, to prevent sticking.  Transfer dough to a large bowl which has been greased with canola oil.

picture334Step 4) Cover bowl with a damp cloth and allow dough to rise until it doubles in size.  This will take about an hour in a warm location, such as an oven that has been warmed to 100 degrees and then turned off.

Step 5) Punch the bowl of risen dough a few times to release air bubbles (this is picture332fun!).   Knead on a floured tabletop for a few minutes.  Divide dough in half, and shape into loaves.

Step 6) If you are making freezer dough, stop here!  Simply wrap your dough in plastic wrap and freeze.  When you wish to bake fresh Simple Bread, thaw your dough in greased, floured pans, and let rise until picture336double (this will take several hours from frozen).  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Step 7) If you are baking bread right now, place your loaves of dough in greased, floured pans, and let rise for one hour or until dough is slightly higher than the pans.

picture345Step 8) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  Enjoy your Simple Bread!

The Lost Recipe for Happiness – Book Drawing Tonight!

thelostrecipeforhappinessMarch Madness, Crowded Earth Kitchen Style, Continues! 

Freebies #2 and #3:  The Lost Recipe for Happiness, by Barbara O’Neal

Contest Ends:  March 14th (LAST CHANCE TO ENTER!)

How to Win:  Share and Retweet!

Crowded Earth Kitchen is giving away two copies of this engaging book!  The first copy will go to a randomly selected person who “Shares” a Crowded Earth Kitchen Facebook post.  The second copy will go to a randomly selected person who “Retweets” a Crowded Earth Kitchen Twitter Tweet.  Each “Share” and “Retweet” counts as an entry, so Share and Retweet as often as you’d like!  Have fun!

The Lost Recipe for Happiness was my first foray into Barbara O’Neal’s world of culinary fiction.  I love how recipes are woven into the story, often as very appropriate stand-alone chapters, and am looking forward to trying Abuela Maria Elena’s Posole in my own kitchen. I had barely finished the last page before going online to find more Barbara O’Neal books, and was thrilled to learn she has a new release (The All You Can Dream Buffet) coming out March 4th!

Page after page, readers will find themselves rooting for Jefa Elena Alvarez as she takes on her dream of an opportunity to head the kitchen of an up-and-coming Aspen restaurant.  Readers are given an inside glimpse of restaurant life including both the humor and the grit, the complicated and diverse backstories of kitchen staff, and the realities of working brutally hard in a shockingly wealthy tourist enclave.  Between her elegant, East coast – moneyed sommelier and Maître D’ Patrick, her talented, Mexican-immigrant master saucier Juan, brilliant but unpredictable chef Ivan, celebrity boss Julian, and adorable dog Alvin, Elena sure has her hands full!

The Lost Recipe for Happiness is literary meat and potatoes (or should I say, tamales!) rather than frosting and fluff.  Elena’s had a tough go, getting to this point in her life, and author Barbara O’Neal doesn’t sugarcoat the details.  Small parts of this book are downright dark, and readers may never think of the sugar skulls displayed in restaurants for El Día de los Muertos quite the same way again.  It’s the difficult details, though, that make the reader respect Elena even more for continuing to put one, sometimes painful foot in front of the other, moving forward toward a bright future in both her professional and her personal life.  Don’t be surprised if, at the end of this book, you have a craving for tamales.

***Watch for FIVE new book giveaway contests beginning tomorrow!***

Cardamom Pear Jelly

picture828

“Cardamom Pear” or “Pear Cardamom?”

I’m going with Cardamom Pear as the name of this delightful, economical jelly.  On their own, pears have a mild flavor which is greatly enhanced by warm spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and anise.  Whichever spice (or spice blend) you select will completely change the flavor profile of the jelly.  I’m partial to the exotic, chai-like qualities of cardamom, but feel free to substitute the spice of your choice.  Now, go get those pear cores you saved, and let’s get started!

picture028Ingredients (makes 8 half-pints)

30 pear cores

6 cups sugar

6 tablespoons powdered pectin

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

picture011Directions

Step 1) Place pear cores in a stockpot and just barely cover with water.

Step 2) Bring stockpot to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.

picture014Step 3) Place a strainer in a slightly smaller bowl and line with a tightly woven, clean towel (or several layers of cheesecloth) as shown.  It is important that there is room in the lower bowl, below the bottom of the strainer, for juice to collect!

~

picture031Step 4) Carefully transfer the pear cores and juice into the towel-lined strainer.  Be careful to avoid overflow… you may need to ladle a few cups of juice out of the lower bowl and into a second bowl (for temporary storage) right away.  Be patient, and allow an hour or so for all of the pear juice to collect in the bottom bowl.

Step 5) Combine sugar, pectin, and cardamom.  Set aside.

Step 6) Measure 5 cups of pear juice, and bring to a rolling boil in your stockpot.

Step 7) Add sugar mixture to stockpot and, with constant stirring, return to a rolling boil.  This may take a few minutes.  After a rolling boil has been maintained for one, solid minute, remove jelly from heat.

picture042 (2)Step 8) Ladle jelly into sterilized, half-pint canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Wipe jar rims clean, and top with lids and bands.  Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Enjoy!

Jars of homemade cardamom pear jam make wonderful gifts.  Remember, making jelly is a fun and economical way to make use of fruit cores!

Pear Sauce

picture002 (2)I am fortunate to have family who live in the Deep South on a whole lot of land.  The combination of a long growing season and acres of organically grown fruit and nut trees is enviable (the snakes, not so much).  Lucky for me, I get the best of both worlds when my family comes North for a visit… food gifts delivered right to my reptile-free home.  Thanks, guys!

Not too long ago, I was gifted with a big box of crisp Asian pears.  This is the same variety of pear that is often sold individually wrapped in stretchy, protective mesh… these babies cost a fortune at the supermarket.  I was both gleeful and determined.  Gleeful because I appreciated the specialness of these pears.  Determined because they were already quite ripe, and I knew I didn’t have much time before their specialness might rot away.

The fastest way to preserve a whole lot of pears (or apples, for that matter) is to make sauce.  That’s precisely what I did with the ripest pears in the box, and what I will share with you today.  Homemade pear sauce is easy to make, delicious, and high in fiber.  It freezes well in containers both large and small (the latter being perfect for lunchbox treats).  Kids love pear sauce, as it is naturally sweet – there’s no need to add sugar or the high fructose corn syrup that often pollutes mass produced fruit sauces.

A quick note before we get started:  SAVE YOUR PEAR CORES… Put them in a covered bowl in the fridge.  We’ll make jelly out of them next time!

picture005Ingredients (makes about 18 cups of sauce)

30 large pears (any varieties)

1 tablespoon of Chinese five-spice powder

1/2 cup water

picture007

Directions

Step 1) Peel and core pears.  Save the cores!  Cut pears into chunks and add to large stockpot.

Step 2) Add 1/2 cup water to the stockpot, to prevent sticking.  Simmer pears over picture008medium heat with occasional stirring until pears cook down into a chunky sauce.  This will take 30 – 60 minutes, depending upon the water content and ripeness of your pears.  If the bottom of the stockpot begins to stick, add another 1/4 cup of water.

Step 3) Remove from heat and stir in Chinese five-spice powder.  Puree with an picture009immersion blender.

That’s it.  So easy!  Don’t forget to save those pear cores.  We’ll use them in two days!

Wellness Teas, Part II

picture101Last month, we explored a few of the many connections between tea and wellness.  Did you enjoy the After Dinner Blend, or perhaps the Healthy Blood Pressure Blend?  Today we will share two additional herbal varieties, Healthy Skin Blend and Stress Relief Blend.

Be Well!

Healthy Skin Blend (makes 15 cups)

I’ve often lovingly referred to this blend as “Teenager Tea,” because of the healthy skin properties inherent in these herbs.  Rooibos is made from the leaves of the Calicotome villosa plant, and is chock full of antioxidants, including Vitamin C.  Dried raspberry leaf is also high in antioxidants and has a long history in folk medicine.  There are many accounts of raspberry leaf being steeped as a purification brew and applied directly to skin rashes as a poultice.  Rosehip has long been used in skincare preparations, although the jury is still out as far as scientific research is concerned.  Finally, ginger contains chemical properties which may help to regulate natural oils for healthy skin.

To prepare this blend, simply combine the following four ingredients, readily available in spice shops or the bulk spice section of better markets (pictured clockwise from top):

picture098 (2)1 heaping tablespoon Crystallized Ginger

1 heaping tablespoon Red Rooibos

2 heaping tablespoons Raspberry Leaf

1 heaping tablespoon Dried Rosehip

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Combine all ingredients in a small container (4 ounce jelly jars are pretty, reusable, and just the right size).  For each cup of tea, add 1 teaspoon of the herbal blend to a tea ball or empty tea bag (available wherever loose teas are sold).  Place the tea ball or tea bag in a mug along with 8 to 10 ounces of boiling water.  Steep for 7 minutes for a mild, caramel brew with a slightly astringent aftertaste.  Enjoy!

Stress Relief Blend (makes 12 – 15 cups, depending upon strength)

I don’t know how anyone could enjoy a cup or two of this delicious, soothing tea and still feel stressed.  The combination of chamomile and peppermint is sublime, with ginger providing a pinch of punch and a dash of sweetness.

Combine the following ingredients (pictured clockwise from top):

picture0992 heaping tablespoons Chamomile

2 heaping tablespoons Peppermint

1 heaping tablespoon Crystallized Ginger

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After combining, spoon 1 teaspoon of the herbal blend into a tea ball or tea bag.  Steep in 8 to 10 ounces of boiling water for 5 minutes to create a sweet, minty beverage.  If you find you like your tea beverages a bit stronger, use an extra 1/2 teaspoon in your next cup.

Enjoy, and Be Well!

As promised last month, Crowded Earth Kitchen will revisit the topic of tea from time to time.  If you have a favorite herb or type of tea that you would like to see featured, please comment below!