Herb Compound Butter

WIN_20160507_194649‘Tis the season for fresh herbs!

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Step 1: Combine 1/2 cup real butter with 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh herbs. Blend until evenly combined.

Fragrant, beautiful, and delicious, fresh herbs are bountiful in early summer. It’s easy to take big bunches of basil, long sprigs of rosemary, and cheerful sprigs of parsley, mint, oregano, and thyme for granted this time of year. (I forgot cilantro, tarragon, lavender… you get the idea!)

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Step 2: Transfer butter mixture to the center of a large piece of waxed paper.

Frugal cooks know that the season for fresh herbs is relatively brief. Once the very hottest days of summer arrive, delicate herbs begin to wilt and bolt, their best flavors gone for another year. Don’t worry, though – the flavors of early summer herbs are easy to preserve. Herb Compound Butter is the easiest, most reliable method for preserving herbs here at Crowded Earth Kitchen. Let’s get started!

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Step 3: Roll the waxed paper closed and refrigerate the compound butter until firm. Slice into small rounds for serving or cooking. Freeze in a covered container until needed.

Herbs don’t freeze well on their own – they discolor and lose flavor pretty quickly. However, herbs blended into butter freeze magnificently! The butterfat protects the delicate herbs, preserving their color and flavor. Every cook knows that herbs and butter taste wonderful together, so why not combine them for preservation? That’s really all “compound butter” is – butter blended with one or more ingredients. So easy!

What herbs should you use? Whatever herbs you like! Fresh springs of rosemary blended with real butter are one of my favorite flavor combinations. You may find that parsley blended with butter suits your palate, or perhaps a combination of oregano and thyme is more your style. Experiment! Enjoy!

Rum Caramel Corn

WIN_20160528_161718While I look forward to summertime and love my garden, I’ll confess to enjoying a bit of air conditioning and an indoor breeze under a ceiling fan after playing in the dirt under the hot sun. I’ll also confess to feeling hungry after working in the garden, and unfortunately there’s nothing to harvest from the garden just yet!

Today I sated my post-gardening sweet tooth with this easy recipe for Rum Caramel Corn. I used a banged up old pot to cook the caramel. Boiling caramel may (or may not) cause a harmless, slight discoloration inside of a pan. To clean the pan in which you boiled the caramel, here’s an easy tip: fill the pan about 2 inches deep with water, and bring the water to a boil on the stove. When the water is boiling, add about 2 tablespoons of baking soda to the pan. Immediately cover the pan and remove from heat. After about 15 minutes, when the water is still warm but comfortable to touch, scrub the inside of the pan. Voila! The caramel residue will wash away.

WIN_20160528_155729Ingredients (Makes 15 cups)

15 cups air popped popcorn

1/2 cup real butter

1/2 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup light corn syrup

2 tablespoons light molasses

1 teaspoon rum flavoring

WIN_20160528_160950Directions

Step 1) Combine butter, brown sugar, light corn syrup, and molasses in an old saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.

Step 2) Allow caramel mixture to boil gently for 7 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat. Stir in rum flavoring.

WIN_20160528_161707Step 3) Spread popcorn on baking sheets lined with waxed paper. Carefully drizzle the caramel mixture over the popcorn. Use a metal spatula to gently lift the coated popcorn. This spreads the caramel onto more of the popcorn, and also helps to prevent sticking.

Enjoy when cool!

 

Springtime Tea Party

 

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Recently, I hosted a Springtime Tea Party. It was great fun! If you have a few friends you haven’t seen in a while (don’t we all?), consider inviting them over for a simple tea. Here are a few suggestions!

First, don’t worry about being matchy-matchy.

I used an inexpensive tablecloth to cover an old, scratched up kitchen table. It looked juuussst fine, and didn’t require a big investment. My little fruit bowls are completely different from my plates, and yet they worked together nicely. Those little dishes of chocolate? Mismatched! The napkins? Borrowed from my mother! You get the idea.

Second, if you don’t want to cook from scratch, don’t.

A tea party does not require hours of slaving away in the kitchen. If you don’t feel like spending prep time in your kitchen, here is a “recipe” for a fuss-free tea party:

Boil a pot of water, and steep a pot of tea! Offer cream and sugar on the side.

Break one or two high-quality chocolate bars into bite size pieces, and arrange the pieces in a small serving dish.

Layer a few cups of berries in a pretty bowl. Drizzle with honey or maple syrup.

Purchase a tray of cookies or scones. My local Aldi offers a surprising variety of delicious cookies at very reasonable prices!

gazpachoThinly slice a loaf of artisan bread from your local bakery. Spread each slice with butter or cream cheese, and top with thin slices of cucumber or prosciutto. Delicious!

Feel like cooking?

If you’d like to prepare a dish or two from scratch, here are a few suggestions:

croque ingredientsSpringtime Gazpacho served in little tea cups makes a lovely chilled starter!

Mini Croque Monsieurs make lovely tea sandwiches!

Rainbow Shortcake makes a beautiful, individually plated dessert!

 

 

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Life is short. Enjoy your friends!

Free Book Giveaway: Comment to WIN!

PromiseLodge-200x300Promise Lodge, by Charlotte Hubbard

Contest Ends June 15th

Comment to Win!

Every comment posted to Crowded Earth Kitchen between now and June 15th counts as one entry. Join the conversation – we look forward to hearing from you!

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Promise Lodge is a delightful novel. In Promise Lodge, Charlotte Hubbard spins a tale of sisterhood, independence, empowerment, and faith as three Amish women set out to establish a new community. At Promise Lodge, community members will be free to blossom, regardless of their age or gender. Readers will fall in love with the vision and determination of Mattie, Rosetta, and Christine. Readers will cheer for a second chance to unfold between Deborah and Noah, and will fond themselves turning over the wisdom of Preacher Amos as they eagerly turn each page.

Readers who like to dabble in the kitchen will be delighted to know that Charlotte Hubbard includes mouthwatering recipes from Promise Lodge at the end of the book! Happy Reading… and Happy Cooking!

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Can’t wait for the contest to end? You can purchase your own copy of Promise Lodge right here!

Excellent Beef Stock

onion soup

Excellent Beef Stock can be used to create awesome meals such as French onion soup!

Here at Crowded Earth Kitchen, we are encouraging every cook (well, every non-vegan cook) to master the simple craft of making an excellent pot of beef stock. Quality beef stock sold in gourmet shops is delicious, but outrageously expensive. Those supermarket cans of stocks and broths? Well, read the label. Less expensive than their gourmet shop counterparts, those cans are over-salted and still overpriced. Some commercial food manufacturers are shameless enough to add caramel coloring to their beef stocks and broths. That’s right… the same artificial coloring added to soft drinks is added to beef stock!

Some recipes for beef stock call for the use of whole vegetables (i.e., a few carrots, or a whole onion). We think that’s just a little too precious. The fact is, you get the same flavor from vegetable scraps and peels, so why use up perfectly good vegetables making beef stock? We’re using peels (see below), and are sure you can find a good use for the peeled veggies themselves.  🙂 Let’s get started!

WIN_20160430_104540Ingredients (Makes 2 quarts)

3 pounds beef bones (ask the butcher at your local market – bones are always available)

Peel and outer layer of Continue reading

Shrimp Spring Rolls

WIN_20160502_173224Here’s to second chances! The first time I tried making spring rolls, they were a disaster. I swore I’d never attempt them again. Well, I’ve learned a few things since then and as it turns out, spring rolls really aren’t difficult to make at all! My loss is your gain – thanks to my mistakes, I’ll be able to help you avoid a few pitfalls and make delicious spring rolls on your very first attempt.

Fun fact: spring roll wrappers and vermicelli noodles are made of exactly the same thing… rice flour. Many spring roll recipes Continue reading

Easy Pulled Pork

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This is so easy, I don’t know why we haven’t made this a million times. If you happen by for dinner in the near future, odds are we’ll be feeding you pulled pork. Once you try a bite, you won’t mind at all that I didn’t fuss over your dinner! In fact, I think you’ll go home and make a big pot yourself.  🙂

Ingredients (Makes 1 big ol’ pot of pulled pork, enough for 12 – 16 hearty sandwiches)

Boneless pork loin roast (about 3 pounds)

1 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s)

1/2 cup white vinegar

For the brine:

2 cups water

2 cups ice cubes

1/2 cup salt

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds

Directions

Step 1) Bring water, salt, brown sugar, and whole mustard seeds to a boil in a large pot. Stir well to make sure all of the brown sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat. Add ice cubes to the brine, and stir to melt the cubes and cool the brine.

Step 2) Place the pork roast in a gallon size ziploc bag, and set the bag in a pan with sides (in case the bag leaks). Carefully ladle brine into the ziploc bag to cover the pork roast, and close the bag. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Step 3) After 24 hours, remove the pork roast from the brine and place the roast in a baking pan with a lid.

Step 4) Whisk together 1/2 cup vinegar and 1 cup BBQ sauce. Pour this mixture over the pork roast, and place the lid on the baking pan.

Step 5) Place the covered pork roast in a preheated 300 degree oven for 6 hours. Really, 6 hours.

Step 6) After 6 hours, remove the lid from the baking pan and pull the pork roast apart with forks. This will be very, very easy! Serve with rolls and coleslaw. Enjoy!