Medley of Fudge

WIN_20150515_190501We’re back! Crowded Earth Kitchen celebrated the end of Exam Week by taking a hiatus. We loaded Half Pint, Pickle in the Middle, and Half Grown into the kidmobile and headed “up North” to the land of waterslides, miniature golf courses, restaurants with paper moose antler hats (seriously), ice cream parlors, and fudge shops. The kids arrived back home sleep deprived, over sugared, and smelling faintly of chlorine. In other words, they had a great time.

But about the fudge… what is it about family tourist destinations and fudge shops? I don’t think I’ve ever encountered one without the other. It’s not like fudge is ever on my grocery list, but on kid-centered vacations, stopping for fudge is an absolute must.

Clockwise from the top in the photo above, we sampled root beer fudge, Heath bar fudge, classic chocolate fudge, and milk chocolate vanilla swirl fudge. Which of these treats would you like to see recreated at Crowded Earth Kitchen? Post a comment with your favorite and I’ll work on a recipe for you!

Yes, You Can Make Gnocchi

WIN_20150429_194511

For many budding home cooks, gnocchi is a bit mysterious. Unless you had an Italian grandmother to shadow in the kitchen, or watched that creepy scene from The Godfather too many times, these little potato dumplings can seem complicated.  But hold on a second… really, they’re just dumplings, right? Right.

In this recipe, we’re switching things up a bit by baking the gnocchi instead of boiling. Baking is a foolproof way of assuring a hearty, satisfying texture. Also, the flavor achieved by baking gnocchi on a pan lined with butter and herbs is, well, amazing. Let’s get started!

WIN_20150429_184324Ingredients (Serves 6 – keep in mind that gnocchi freezes well!)

3 large potatoes (I used russet potatoes)

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 eggs

1/4 cup butter (not margarine)

1/2 teaspoon dried, cracked rosemary or herbes de provence

1/2 cup grated parmesan or fontina cheese

WIN_20150429_185827Directions

Step 1) Peel potatoes and cut into quarters. Add to a pot of boiling (not salted!) water, and boil until potatoes are soft (check after 10 minutes). Drain and mash the potatoes. Allow to cool, uncovered.

Step 2) After mashed potatoes are cool, add flour, salt, pepper, and eggs. Using your WIN_20150429_190233hands, mix until all ingredients are well blended and a soft dough forms. The dough will be a little bit sticky, but if it is really impossibly sticky, add another few tablespoons of flour. If the dough is dry and crumbly, add milk (only one tablespoon at a time!) and mix until dough holds together.

Step 3) Place a clean towel over the dough WIN_20150429_190849and allow it to rest for about 15 minutes.

Step 4) Break off pieces of dough (about the size of a tennis ball) and roll by hand on a lightly floured countertop to form “snakes” of dough approximately 1 inch thick.

Step 5) Use the edge of a fork (you really don’t need anything sharp) to cut pieces about 1 inch long. Your individual gnocchi WIN_20150429_191213will look like little pillows.

Step 6) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. While gnocchi rests on the countertop, place 1/4 cup of butter on a large baking sheet with shallow sides. Melt butter on baking sheet by placing it in the oven for a minute or two as it preheats.

Step 7) After butter has melted, tilt the baking sheet back and forth to make sure that the entire surface is coated with butter. Sprinkle herbs evenly over the baking sheet, and place your gnocchi on the baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes, flipping gnocchi over once after 10 minutes.

Step 8) Transfer gnocchi to serving plates and sprinkle with cheese. Enjoy!

 

 

Lavender Vanilla Meringues

WIN_20150509_204230Where I live, Mother Nature can’t quite make up her mind… it’s warm and sunny one day, cold and windy the next. I may have to be patient for summer weather, but there’s no need to be patient waiting for summer flavors! These meringue cookies are light and airy, with a burst of lavender flavor. If sunshine had a taste, this might be it.

WIN_20150509_191617Ingredients (makes 48 meringues)

3 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 drops red food coloring

1 drop blue food coloring

1 teaspoon dried lavender

1 cup white sugar

picture194Directions

Step 1) In  scrupulously clean bowl, beat egg whites, vanilla extract, and cream of tartar at high speed for 2 – 3 minutes until soft peaks form.  It’s OK if the peaks fall over at this point, when you lift the beater out of the mixture.

Step 2)  Add food coloring, lavender, and WIN_20150509_193617sugar – a little at a time – to egg white mixture.  Beat at high speed for 3 – 5 minutes until mixture is glossy and stiff peaks form.  When you lift the beater out of the mixture now, the peaks should stand up straight.

Step 3)  Drop tablespoonsful of the meringue mixture onto a greased cookie sheet, leaving 1 – 2 inches between meringues.  Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Cool on a cooking rack and Enjoy!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Sisters

I Am From

I am from strong women

A heritage quilt stitched with love and determination

I am more durable than decorative

More educated than wise

Slowly becoming embroidered.

I am from Alvilda

A gritty Norwegian pioneer, 1900s single mother

Who settled the harsh Dakota prairie

Hungered through the Depression

And lived to be one hundred and three.

I am from Frieda

A small boned and big hearted, poised German woman

Whose fragrant kitchen and ample table

Veiled stories of a young girl’s fight for bread

On an immigrant ship.

I am from Helen

A kind, commonsense woman, adopted Dutch orphan

Whose hands crocheted comfort and

Whose colorful pantsuits

Were emancipatory images.

I am from Gladys

Who raised seven children

With loving hands and little voice

She buried a son, then a daughter

And never wavered in her faith in the Lord.

I am from Joanne

Outwardly practical, inwardly whimsical

Painting, photographing, collecting, telling celebratory stories

Of Life, love, family

Making me want to learn how to cook.

But mostly

I am from Susan.

In my mother’s face I see my reflection,

In her eyes I see years of selflessness and pride in our future.

She insisted – insists – upon strong daughters, my sister and I.

In following her lead

And finding our identity,

We continue the patchwork, my sister and I,

Crafting new patterns out of familiar fabric

Carrying our heritage forward.

Grandma’s Blueberry Cobbler

WIN_20150507_184737This recipe makes me think of swimming in my Grandparents’ backyard pool every summer as a child. From late spring to early autumn, Grandma pretty much lived in the swimming pool and always welcomed company. Grandpa would bring out the “silly hat collection” – big straw hats festooned with all manner of decorations – to protect little ears and shoulders from the sun.

I don’t know what it is about an afternoon in a swimming pool that makes people so hungry… it’s not like any of us were trying to qualify for the Olympics, we were just loafing around in the water! Nonetheless, as soon as we dried off, the grandchildren would descend upon the kitchen like a pack of hungry wolves. We never stayed hungry for long. Grandma’s Blueberry Cobbler is just one of the many wonderful summer treats we could find in Grandma’s kitchen (though she would usually double her own recipe and bake it in a 9×13 inch pan). I hope you enjoy it nearly as much as I still do!

WIN_20150507_171955Ingredients (Makes a 9 inch round pan)

1 egg

1 1/4 cup sugar, divided (see directions below)

3 tablespoons butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

WIN_20150507_1726441 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder

1/4 cup milk

1 pint blueberries

WIN_20150507_1729591/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

Step 1) Cream together butter, 2/3 cup sugar, egg, and vanilla extract.

Step 2) Add flour, salt, and baking powder alternately with the milk (add half the dry WIN_20150507_183143ingredients, half the milk, the other half of the dry ingredients, and the other half of the milk).

Step 3) Spread batter into a greased, 9 inch round baking dish (a deep dish pie plate works well).

Step 4) Mix 1/4 cup sugar with the blueberries, and sprinkle sugared blueberries over batter.

Step 5) Mix 1/3 cup sugar with the cinnamon, and sprinkle over the top of everything.

Step 6) Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the batter (not a blueberry) comes out clean.

Homemade Sauerkraut

WIN_20150501_081705

I have a cousin who makes the best homemade sauerkraut I’ve ever tasted. It’s so good that when I’m gifted with a jar, I snack on cold sauerkraut all by itself. If your only exposure to sauerkraut is the commercially prepared stuff in the green supermarket cans, I understand your skepticism. Homemade sauerkraut does NOT taste like that… really. You’ll just have to pick up a head of fresh cabbage, follow along below, and trust me!

I’m not using my cousin’s recipe today because I don’t want to bother him for instructions right now. He’s in the middle of finishing a Master’s Thesis, and has my sympathy! Finishing a thesis is like childbirth or a root canal… in hindsight you might be happy you’ve gone through the process, but that’s only because the human mind has ways of blocking out parts of those experiences! I digress.

Rather than pester my cousin, we’re just going to give this a go with a few heads of purple cabbage, some salt, and a crock pot. A crock pot? Yes. We’re not actually plugging it in – we’re just using the crock itself as a fermentation vessel. There’s really no need to buy a fancy fermentation container – waste not, want not! The process is simple. Salt pulls the water from slices of fresh cabbage. The salt, water, and cabbage undergo lacto-fermentation pretty much all by themselves – all we need to do is weigh down the cabbage and make sure it stays covered with the fermentation liquid. That’s it. In as little as three days, you have crispy kraut!

WIN_20150427_185552Ingredients (Makes about 2 quarts)

2 heads of purple cabbage

1/2 cup of salt (Do not cut down on the amount of salt – we need it for food safety in this recipe!)

1/4 cup cider vinegar (Again, we’re using this for food safety!)

Directions

Step 1) Wash and slice your cabbages into thin shreds. Save a few outer leaves for step 4, below. Don’t use the cores at all, they’re too tough – just toss the cores in your compost bin.

Step 2) Place the vinegar in the bottom of a scrupulously clean crock pot.

Step 3) Layer 1 inch (no more!) of shredded cabbage and 1 tablespoon of salt (no less!) in the crock pot. Repeat layers until cabbage is used up. You may find that you need even more salt… do NOT skimp on the ratio of 1 tablespoon of salt per inch layer of cabbage. The salt is whatWIN_20150427_185702 prevents harmful bacteria from growing during the fermentation process!

Step 4) Cover your crock pot of salted, shredded cabbage with a few reserved cabbage leaves, being careful to completely cover the shredded cabbage along the sides of the crock pot.

WIN_20150427_185747Step 5) Now, weigh down your cabbage. That’s right – find a few clean salad plates and just stack them on top of everything to press down on your cabbage. Between the salt and the weight, your shredded cabbage will release a lot of liquid in just a few hours, which is exactly what you want to happen! The liquid and the salt will create a brine, and you want ALL of your shredded WIN_20150501_081527cabbage to remain underneath that brine!

Step 6) When your cabbage is below the level of the crock pot lid, place a clean, thin towel over the top (remove a few plates if necessary, but leave at least one in place). Cover with the crock pot lid, and wait. Just let this sit on the counter at room temperature.

Step 7) Wait some more.

Step 8) Somewhere between Day 3 and Day 7, the magic happens. Lacto-fermentation occurs, resulting in a delicious tangy taste and an abundance of healthy probiotics. The flavor (and the concentration of probiotics) will grow during the week – when the flavor is strong enough for you, transfer your kraut to the refrigerator and consume within the next two weeks.

NOTE: Check your kraut before you taste it! Fermentation is pretty safe, especially with a lot of salt and a little vinegar, but spoilage (especially due to air exposure) can occur. If your kraut smells bad, looks slimy, or shows any sign of mold, THROW IT AWAY and start over! Crowded Earth Kitchen is not a wasteful kitchen, but saving a few dollars is not worth making yourself (or anyone else) sick. Agreed?

Layered Taffy Apple Salad

WIN_20150502_192505

This salad is a more natural alternative to fruit salads made with “non-dairy whipped topping.” Really… if whipped cream doesn’t contain cream, what the heck is it made from? The chemist in me could go on and on about this, but instead I’ll just ask nicely… please put the frozen tub of fake whipped cream back where you found it, and try this instead.  🙂

Ingredients (Makes 6 servings)

3 apples, chopped (not peeled) in bite size pieces

15 ounce can of crushed pineapple

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 cup of whipping cream

1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts, crushed

WIN_20150502_190113Directions

Step 1) Drain the can of pineapple and save the juice!

Step 2) Combine pineapple juice from Step 1, brown sugar, and cornstarch in a small saucepan. Whisk well to incorporate cornstarch. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, and allow to boil for about 1 WIN_20150502_191308minute or until juice thickens. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely.

Step 3) Combine chopped apples, pineapple, and cooled sauce from Step 2. Stir until well combined.

Step 4) In a scrupulously clean, medium size bowl, beat whipping cream and confectioner’s sugar with an electric mixer at high speed until thickened (this takes approximately 2 minutes).

Step 5) In each serving bowl, layer 1/4 cup of apple mixture, 1 tablespoon whipped cream, and a few crushed peanuts. Repeat with a second layer of apple mixture, whipped cream, and crushed peanuts. Serve immediately.