Candy Corn Campfires

WIN_20150926_153844These adorable treats are lightning fast to prepare – perfect for your next backyard bonfire or just a cozy evening by the fireplace. Happy Halloween!

WIN_20150926_140948Ingredients

1 bag of thin pretzel sticks

1 bag of butterscotch baking chips

1 small bag of candy corn

Directions

WIN_20150926_140918Melt 1/2 cup of butterscotch chips in the microwave, stirring every 30 seconds until chips are fully melted. Arrange six pretzel sticks per campfire as shown, “gluing” pairs of pretzel sticks together using a bit of the melted butterscotch. Allow assembled pretzel sticks to set for a few minutes, giving the butterscotch a chance to harden. Finally, use melted butterscotch to glue two or three candy corn “flames” to each campfire. Store in an airtight container.

Halloween Apple Treats

WIN_20150919_212839

A reasonably healthy Halloween treat… imagine! Children (and grown-ups) will love these easy-to-make apple treats. If you are still pondering whether or not to invest in a food dehydrator, what are you waiting for? You’ll recoup the cost after just a few batches of economical, homemade dried fruit. Here’s a link to a dehydrator that costs only $35 with free shipping! You’re welcome.

Ronco FD1005WHGEN 5-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator

WIN_20150918_144751Ingredients (Makes about 1 quart of dried fruit)

12 medium size apples (Cortland apples work well)

1 cup cold water

2 tablespoons lemon juice

WIN_20150918_1455091 teaspoon of orange colored sugar (or use orange Jello)

1/4 teaspoon of black colored sugar

Directions

Step 1) Peel and core apples. Slice thin (no thicker than 1/4 inch).

WIN_20150918_145454Step 2) As you slice each apple, place the slices in a bowl with the cold water and lemon juice. Simply submerge the apple slices to prevent browning.

Step 3) Arrange apple slices on food dehydrator trays. It’s OK if the apple slices touch each other just a bit, but they should be in a single layer (not overlapping).

Step 4) Sprinkle the apple slices LIGHTLY with colored sugar. Don’t get carried away! Almost immediately, the color will begin to spread out. The color will continue to deepen as the apple slices dry.

Step 4) Plug in your food dehydrator and allow apples to dry for 12 hours (they may require a bit longer if your apple slices are thick). Apple slices will snap in half easily when they are completely dry.

Step 5) Store in zip-lock snack bags or other airtight container. Apple slices that are completely dry and stored in an airtight container will stay fresh for many months. Good luck keeping them around that long… here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, my little Half-Pint ferrets out dried apple slices from all of my hiding places and devours them on the sly! It’s hard to be annoyed when children delight in such a healthy treat.  🙂

Enjoy!

Vanilla Spiced Pears

WIN_20150914_134748Vanilla Spiced Pears are wonderful when warmed for breakfast or served with a slice of pound cake for dessert. Pretty mason jars of these pears make lovely hostess gifts for the holiday season, as well! [If you’re looking for a hostess gift with a decidedly adult flair, check out this similar recipe for Brandied Pears.]

Money saving tip: If you’re buying pears at an orchard or farm stand, ask for “seconds.” Often, growers will only display their perfectly unblemished (No. 1) fruit for sale. Fruit which is still perfectly good for canning but has tiny cosmetic defects is considered No. 2 grade, and is often sold at steep discounts to customers who ask. During a recent orchard visit, I was able to buy pear seconds for half the price of unblemished pears, and the seconds had barely any defects at all (see photo).

WIN_20150914_124111Ingredients (Makes 7 quarts)

27 – 30 Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, and sliced thick

4 cups sugar

*1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 teaspoon whole cloves

1 teaspoon whole allspice

1/2 cup lemon juice

8 cups water

*Don’t skimp on the real vanilla bean – vanilla extract is not a good substitute here. You can order vanilla beans to be delivered right to your door, if you wish: Grade A Premium Gourmet Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Beans , Fresh Prime, Approximatelly 17 Centimeters (Pack of 10)

WIN_20150914_123917Directions

Step 1) Bring sugar vanilla bean, cloves, allspice, lemon juice, and water to a boil in a large stockpot. Boil gently, stirring occasionally, for five minutes.

Step 2) Reduce heat to simmer. Add pear slices and simmer for two minutes.

WIN_20150914_132059Step 3) Ladle pears into sterilized quart size canning jars. Make sure pears are covered with the vanilla spiced syrup, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Don’t be afraid to really pack the pear slices into the jars!

Step 4) Remove air bubbles from the jars by sliding a butter knife or canning tool along the inside of each jar. Cover jars with lids and rims. Process jars in a boiling water canning bath for 20 minutes.

Southern Style Chow Chow

WIN_20150828_185240Chow chow?

I have no idea where the name originated – catchy though, isn’t it? There are many, many variations on chow chow, which is basically a corn chutney made from the bits and scraps of whatever is left in a garden before the first freeze, preserved in a sweet brine. This batch of chow chow is made from corn, Poblano peppers, onion, and green beans because that’s what I had on hand. If you have green tomatoes, asparagus, or cauliflower to use, those vegetables also work well. As long as your vegetables “add up” to 18 cups, you can follow the brine recipe as shown below. Be creative with your combinations of corn and other veggies, and have fun!

If you’re looking for serving suggestions, chow chow (like many forms of chutney) is often served over beans and rice.

WIN_20150828_174447Ingredients (Makes 10 pints)

18 cups assorted garden vegetables, such as:

  • 6 cups diced Poblano pepper
  • 2 cups diced onion
  • 4 cups fresh corn kernels
  • 6 cups green beans, cut in 1 inch pieces

Brine:

4 1/2 cups sugar

3 cups white vinegar

1 1/2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon ground mustard powder

1 teaspoon celery salt

1 tablespoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

WIN_20150828_175528Directions

Step 1) Combine all brine ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil.

Step 2) Reduce brine to simmer, and add all 18 cups of vegetables. Stir and simmer for 5 minutes.

Step 3) Ladle chow chow mixture into sterilized, pint size canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Use a canning tool or butter knife to remove air bubbles. Top jars with lids and rims, and process in a boiling water canning bath for 10 minutes.

“But I don’t have a canning pot!”

Sigh. You still don’t have a canning pot? They’re only around $20, my friend, and will save you tons of money! Here’s a link to get you started: Granite Ware 0707-1 Steel/Porcelain Water-Bath Canner with Rack, 21.5-Quart, Black

Happy canning!

Pumpkin Spice Ricotta Muffins

WIN_20150910_154140I enjoy pumpkin spice treats at my local green-awning’ed coffee shop as much as the next person, but Holy Falling Leaves, that habit gets expensive! This recipe will help you reign in your spending while still relishing a pumpkin spice goodie. 😉 The perfect grown-up treat for autumn, Pumpkin Spice Ricotta Muffins pair beautifully with your morning cup of coffee at home. The low-fat ricotta adds richness and protein, while the abundance of spices allows us to keep the sugar content pretty low. Try a batch of Pumpkin Spice Ricotta Muffins today, and let me know what you think!

WIN_20150910_145123Ingredients (Makes 12 large muffins or 36 bite-size mini muffins)

1 cup pumpkin puree (homemade or canned pumpkin will work)

1 cup low-fat ricotta cheese (or substitute quark)

1 egg

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon mace (or substitute 1/4 cup nutmeg)

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 2/3 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

WIN_20150910_145919Directions

Step 1) Blend together pumpkin puree, ricotta, egg, and oil until smooth. Add sugar and spices. Mix well.

Step 2) Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to pumpkin mixture. Mix well.

Step 3) Spoon batter into muffin liners or greased muffin tins – liners or tins should be 2/3 full. Sprinkle tops with a little bit of sugar (optional).

Step 4) Bake muffins in a preheated 400 degree oven until a toothpick inserted into the center of a pumpkin muffin comes out clean. Full size muffins will require about 18 minutes baking time. Mini muffins will require 10 – 12 minutes baking time.

FYI: These muffins freeze really well, and taste just as delicious when thawed and reheated. The trick is to seal them air tight before freezing! I wrap cooled muffins individually in either aluminum foil or plastic wrap, and then place the wrapped muffins into gallon size freezer bags. Be sure your pumpkin muffins are completely cool before wrapping! Trapped steam will turn into ice crystals, which can make muffins soggy. Nobody wants that!

Jeweled Oatmeal Cookies

WIN_20150826_210252A few modifications to a basic cookie recipe can lead to surprisingly delicious results. These Jeweled Oatmeal Cookies, for example, are pretty similar to traditional oatmeal cookies. If you look at the recipe closely, you’ll notice that the spices (no cinnamon!) and extracts are a bit different, and we’re using colorful candied fruit instead of plain old raisins. The result is a cookie that’s simple enough for a lunchbox treat, but pretty enough for a holiday cookie exchange. Enjoy!

WIN_20150826_200850Ingredients (Makes about 45 cookies)

3/4 cup softened butter

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 3/4 cup flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 cups rolled oats (not quick oats)

1 cup candied fruit, diced – homemade or store bought, such as Candied Mixed Fruit, Diced, 1 lb.

WIN_20150826_201758Directions

Step 1) Cream together butter and sugars. Add eggs and almond extract. Stir until well combined.

Step 2) Add dry ingredients except for candied fruit; stir until all ingredients are incorporated.

Step 3) Gently fold in candied fruit. Drop cookie dough by rounded teaspoons onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper.

Step 4) Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 13-15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Bacon Wrapped… Watermelon?

WIN_20150327_185630Yes. If you are unfamiliar with the marvel of sweet pickled watermelon rind, I highly recommend you pick up a jar and try some today!

Watermelon Rind Pickles (16 oz Jar)

WIN_20150503_111724If you’re more of a do-it-yourself’er than an online shopper, feel free to message me for a recipe. Making sweet pickled watermelon rind takes some time, but is worth it if you enjoy this delicacy as much as I do.

Either way, once you have your sweet pickled watermelon rind, making bacon WIN_20150503_113227wrapped appetizers is a SNAP. All you need is a jar of pickled watermelon rind, a pound of sliced bacon, and toothpicks.

First, cut each strip of bacon in half, into two short strips.

Second, wrap each short bacon strip around a piece of pickled watermelon rind, and WIN_20150503_115432secure with a toothpick.

Third, place bacon wrapped pieces on a baking sheet with shallow sides. I recommend lining the baking sheet with foil, for easy clean-up!

Fourth, bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until bacon is crispy. Watch carefully so that your bacon wrapped watermelon doesn’t burn!

I can practically guarantee that your party guests will not only find these appetizers delicious, but they’ll make a great conversation starter as well!  Enjoy.  🙂