Heirloom Tomato Salad

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Summertime is not the time for fussy recipes. No, summertime is the time for featuring fresh-from-the-garden delicacies at their understated best! Try this… slice a few sun ripened heirloom tomatoes. Top them with a few slices of fresh mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Tuck a few sprigs of fresh herbs here and there (I used pineapple mint). Serve immediately.

Really, that’s it. We’ll have plenty of time for fussy tomato recipes next winter. Today, just enjoy a simple salad in the sunshine!

In The Garden: Herbs and Flowers

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German Chamomile

We’ve had a rather cold and rainy start to the summer season in my region. Crowded Earth Kitchen’s vegetable garden is fully planted now, with over 100 transplants (mostly tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, ground cherries, and broccoli) and 200 feet of seeded rows (beans, peas, potatoes, onions, carrots, okra, and cucumbers). Early in the season, however, vegetables take a back seat to herbs and flowers! Here’s what’s looking spiffy this week…

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Hydrangea

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Daisy

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Purple Creeping Thyme

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Lavender

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Coreopsis

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Sugar Snap Peas

Poblano Jerk Chicken

We’ve been BUSY here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, working in the garden to grow the freshest ingredients for future recipes! We’re also planning a party, and will be serving this amazing chicken. Enjoy!

Crowded Earth Kitchen

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This dish has easily earned a place on my Top Meals of All Time list.  Easily.  As soon as you begin toasting the spices for the rub, you’ll understand.  Preparing this dish is an experience to be enjoyed!  The rub is just plain fun to make, and your kitchen will smell sublime.  Don’t rush the marinade – let your chicken relax in this rub for a full 24 hours before baking.

Somewhere, someone is dancing from foot to foot while shouting at their computer screen about how Jerk Chicken is traditionally made with Scotch Bonnet peppers… I know.  Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we’re being rebellious and using Poblanos!  Why?  One, I have a freezer full of free Poblano peppers from my backyard organic garden, and free is my favorite price!  Two, Scotch Bonnet peppers (also known as Habaneros) are hot enough to peel paint right off the walls.  That’s fine for a…

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Cherry Chocolate Chip Muffins

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Summer vacation has arrived, which means I need to up my game with the baked goods around here! Kids burn a lot of calories playing outside, and they are hungry when called in for lunch. These Cherry Chocolate Chip Muffins are sure to be a hit!

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups flour

3/4 cup oats

1/4 cup sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 egg, beaten

3/4 cup skim milk

2 tablespoons oil

1 cup pitted cherries (fresh or jarred)

1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

WIN_20150505_160516Directions

Step 1) Line a dozen standard size muffin cups with foil liners (preferable), or grease the muffin cups well.  Do not use paper liners, as they will stick.  Set aside.

Step 2) Combine all dry ingredients and mix well.

WIN_20150505_160842Step 3) Combine egg, milk, and oil in a separate bowl and mix well.

Step 4) Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir until moistened.  Don’t get carried away… it’s OK if the batter is a little bit lumpy!

Step 5) Gently fold in cherries.

WIN_20150505_161447Step 6) Fill muffin liners or muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake at 400 degrees for 18 – 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Cool for a few minutes, and enjoy!

Smoked Salmon BLT Salad

WIN_20150420_142745Cold and crisp meals can be delightful, particularly in summertime. This hearty salad makes a filling, high protein lunch. Add a cup of gazpacho and a fruity dessert, and you’ve got a complete dinner packed full of vitamins. What could be better?

WIN_20150420_142238Ingredients (Makes 2 main dish salads)

1 head of Romaine lettuce, washed

1 large, ripe tomato, chopped

2 slices of bacon, diced

8 ounces of smoked salmon, broken into bite size chunksWIN_20150420_140847

1 cup of light sour cream

1 teaspoon taco seasoning mix

Directions

Step 1) Fry bacon until crispy. Drain on paper towel and set aside.

WIN_20150420_141047Step 2) Tear Romaine lettuce into bite size pieces and spread over two serving plates. Top with chopped tomato.

Step 3) Stir taco seasoning mix into light sour cream and blend until well combined. Scoop mixture into a plastic sandwich bag, and cut off one corner of the bag to create a small opening. Squeeze mixture through WIN_20150420_142130the small opening in this “homemade pastry bag” to make a decorative zig-zag of dressing over each salad plate.

Step 4) Top each salad with smoked salmon and crispy bacon. Serve immediately.

 

Chocolate Coconut Crisps

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These easy-to-make cookies are flourless, like meringues. Unlike meringues, these cookies are both crispy and flat. This is due to the small amount of fat in the cocoa powder (so worth it!), which prevents egg whites from maintaining peaks when beaten. Whatever the reason, Chocolate Coconut Crisps are delicious. Try a batch today!

Ingredients (makes 48 cookies)

3 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1/4 cup shredded, dried coconut

1 cup white sugar

picture194Directions

Step 1) In  scrupulously clean bowl, beat egg whites, coconut 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 cocoa powder, coconut, and sugar – a little at a time – to egg white mixture.  Beat at high speed for 1 minute. The egg whites will collapse due to the fat in the cocoa powder; don’t worry, that’s OK.

WIN_20150509_202430Step 3)  Drop tablespoonsful of the cookie mixture onto a greased cookie sheet, leaving 1 – 2 inches between cookies.  Bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for 20 minutes.

Cool on a cooking rack and Enjoy!

Prawn Chips (Easy!)

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So, you’re having a casual get-together and want to serve simple snacks, but you want to serve something that will make a bit more of a conversation starter than a bowl of pretzels. Try prawn chips instead.

Prawn chips? Prawns, like… shrimp? Yes.

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I bought this little box of uncooked prawn chips at my local Asian market for a dollar and change – very economical! The ingredients, and preparation instructions, are quite simple. Here’s a photo of the back of the box:

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When you open the box, the contents might surprise you. Uncooked prawn chips look like, well, little pieces of plastic:

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Don’t be alarmed. Simply pour your favorite cooking oil into a frying pan, so that the oil is about 1/2 inch deep. Coconut oil with a few drops of sesame oil added for flavor works well. Add the chips, a few at a time, to very hot oil:

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After only a few seconds, the chips will crackle and “fluff up,” taking on a foamy appearance. When that happens, scoop the chips out of the oil and place them on paper napkins to drain and cool.

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Only half of the box was used to make the big bowl of chips pictured above. Enjoy the crispy goodness of prawn chips the next time you are looking for a no-fuss snack!

Discovering Fresh Lychee Fruit!

WIN_20150606_163925My local Asian market has always stocked dozens of varieties of canned lychee products, and additional dozens of lychee flavored products (tapioca desserts, for example). Today, however, was the first time I noticed FRESH lychee fruit in the produce section. The price, about $4 per pound, seemed kind of steep at a glance. However, lychee fruit are pretty small – smaller than a plum – and I was able to purchase enough for a pretty little dish for about $2.

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Fresh lychee fruit, peeled and seeds removed

Lychee trees are indigenous to parts of China, and are now grown in many tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. Recently, lychee fruit have been grown commercially in California and Florida, which is how fresh lychee ended up at my local market. It’s a small world! Lychee are low in calories, high in both Vitamin C and phytonutrients, and offer a refreshing, lightly sweet taste with a mild floral aroma. Amazing!

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These little fruit resemble big raspberries at a glance. The raspberry appearance is simply the bumpy red peel, which must be removed. Puncture the peel with a paring knife and gently pull back.

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Once started, the rest of the peel will unravel very easily, often in one piece. Break apart the peeled lychee fruit with your fingers (think of breaking a plum apart) and remove the single, smooth seed at the center.

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Your peeled, seeded lychee fruit are now ready to enjoy! I think they’re lovely all by themselves. If you want to experiment, try a sprinkle of cinnamon, a squeeze of lime, or even a drizzle of coconut milk. Have fun!

Rustic Apple Cake

WIN_20150601_195318Have you ever bought a boxed apple cake mix – the kind where you add an egg and a chopped apple to the mix, and the whole thing turns out pretty darn well? This is, essentially, that cake. Instead of taking 30 seconds to prepare, this will take you five whole minutes (gasp!). For five minutes of effort, you’ll save a few dollars and avoid a few preservatives.

Note: there’s no need to peel the apples for this recipe. I recommend using one red apple and one green apple, for a fun splash of color. A warm slice of this cake makes a lovely dessert, but also makes a pretty fancy breakfast with a big mug of coffee. Sigh. Now I’m hungry!

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

2 medium apples, chopped

WIN_20150601_1620381/2 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 ingredients, 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 chopped apples, and sprinkle sugared apples 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 comes out clean.

Ice Cream Cone Cookies

WIN_20150529_123126Chocolate sugar cookies frosted (generously!) with vanilla orange frosting and dressed in their summertime best with festive sprinkles. What’s not to love? Half Pint and Pickle in the Middle actually giggled with joy when they discovered these cookies in the kitchen. Half Grown is too big to giggle over a cookie, but not too big to devour them with a (half hidden) smile.

These cookies freeze well, so tuck this recipe away for a bit of rainy day summertime fun. Make a double batch, and freeze them to bring along on your next picnic!

WIN_20150529_102152Ingredients (Makes about 3 dozen cookies)

For the cookies:

2/3 cup softened butter

1 egg

3/4 cup sugar

WIN_20150529_1033181 heaping tablespoon cocoa powder

1 teaspoon rum (or vanilla extract)

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

WIN_20150529_115516For the frosting:

1/3 cup softened butter

3 cups confectioner’s sugar

1/4 cup orange juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sprinkles

Directions

Step 1) Cream together butter, egg, sugar, cocoa powder, and rum. Mix in flour and baking powder. Place in a covered bowl in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

Step 2) On a floured surface, roll cookie dough 1/4 inch thick. Cut into ice cream cone shapes with a cookie cutter. Carefully transfer cookie cutouts to a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Step 3) Press a meat tenderizer very gently into the cone portion of each ice cream cone cookie cutout. If you don’t have a meat tenderizer, you could make a criss-cross pattern with the tines of a fork.

Step 4) Bake cookies in a preheated 375 degree oven for 8 – 10 minutes, or until the bottoms of the cookies are slightly browned. Leave cookies on the baking sheet and allow to cool completely.

Step 5) Combine butter, confectioner’s sugar, orange juice, and vanilla extract. Beat with an electric mixer on a low speed until frosting is well combined. If frosting is too thick, add a bit more orange juice. If frosting is too thin, add a bit more confectioner’s sugar.

Step 6) Cut the corner off of a sandwich bag, and add about 1 cup of frosting to the bag. Use this homemade pastry bag to squeeze frosting onto the ice cream portion of each cookie. Begin by outlining the shape of a scoop of ice cream (don’t forget the drips – see photo above). Then, squeeze frosting generously inside of the outline.

Step 7) Top each “scoop of ice cream” with sprinkles. Enjoy!