Cherry Rhubarb Jam

J1Elevate your PB&J with the lush combination of sweet cherries and tangy rhubarb in this easy-to-make jam. While this recipe is perfectly suitable for canning, you could store it in the freezer just as well. Of course, that assumes you’ll have any left after a few days… Let’s get started!  Continue reading

Easy Pickled Beets

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Easy Pickled Beets are great in salads!

I adore homemade pickled beets. Much more crisp and flavorful than store-bought beets in tin cans (ugh), these Easy Pickled Beets are delicious right out of the jar. Better yet, try them on a green salad with a bit of Chevre cheese… yum!

While this recipe is suitable for water bath canning, you don’t actually need to “can” anything. If you wish, you can prepare this recipe and simply store your beets in a container in the fridge. Also, if you don’t want quite as many pickled beets as the recipe below provides, simply cut the recipe in half. Remember, Continue reading

Speculaas Wreath Cookies

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Don’t forget to enter the 12 Days of Cookies FREE GIVEAWAY DRAWING!

Speculaas Wreath Cookies were the most popular cookie on my dessert table at a recent holiday event. I do hope you’ll give them a try! Speculaas are Dutch spiced cookies in a wide variety of shapes, the most common of which are better known as windmill cookies. Whether you cut them into wreaths or windmills, these delightful cookies get their signature flavor from a spice blend called Speculaaskruiden. It’s easy to blend yourself (see recipe below). In a pinch you can substitute pumpkin pie spice mix, though the flavor will be slightly different.

WIN_20151102_164629Ingredients (makes about 36 wreath cookies)

1 cup real butter

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1 egg

2 1/2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons Speculaaskruiden spice mix (see recipe, below)

For the icing:

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 cups powdered sugar

2 tablespoons milk

2 drops green food coloring

Green sugar crystals (for decorating)

Small cinnamon candies (for decorating)

WIN_20151116_215052Directions

Step 1) Cream together butter and brown sugar.  Add egg and mix well.

Step 2) Add flour, baking powder, salt, and Speculaaskruiden.  Mix by hand; dough will be stiff.

Step 3) Chill dough for at least one hour before rolling 1/4 inch thick on a floured surface.  Cut dough into wreath shapes, and carefully transfer to cookie sheets lined with parchment paper.

Step 4) Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 12 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.

Step 5) While cookies are cooling, blend together butter, powdered sugar, and milk to make icing. Spoon 1/4 cup of icing into a plastic sandwich bag, and snip a tiny corner from the bag to make a homemade pastry bag. You should be able to easily squeeze icing from the bag and onto each cookie wreath, as shown above. If the icing is too thick, add a bit more milk. If the icing is too thin, add a bit more powdered sugar.

Step 6) After piping icing onto your cookie wreaths, sprinkle them with green sugar crystals. Place a cinnamon candy on each wreath. Beautiful!

picture1180 Speculaaskruiden Spice Mix (makes enough for three batches of cookies)

Stir together (if using powdered spices) or grind together in a coffee grinder (if using whole spices):

4 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon mace

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon cardamom

1/2 teaspoon star anise

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon allspice

Store spice mix in a tightly sealed container and store away from heat and light.  Open container and smell whenever you need a smile.  🙂

How to Make Homemade Gravy

WIN_20151118_181452Easy peasy! Today’s post is more “technique” than “recipe”. If you’re roasting a turkey, baking a ham, or cooking any other large portion of meat in the oven, you may as well make homemade gravy! Let’s get started.

WIN_20151118_180101Ingredients (Makes 2 cups)

Drippings from roasting pan

1 tablespoon cornstarch

water

Directions

WIN_20151118_180349Step 1) After you remove your turkey (or other meat) from your roasting pan, scrape all of those funky looking drippings into a sieve placed over a saucepan (see photo). Discard the solids in the sieve.

Step 2) Measure the liquid from the drippings. You need approximately 2 cups for gravy, but you may not have two cups of liquid from the roasting pan. No worries! If you have one cup of liquid from the pan, add 1 cup of broth (chicken broth works for turkey drippings) or water. Make sure you don’t add more water than liquid from the pan. For example, if you only have 1/2 cup of liquid from the drippings, then you can add 1/2 cup of water or broth to make 1 cup of gravy.

Step 3) Bring your liquid to a gentle boil.

Step 4) In a small container (a coffee mug works well), combine 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of cold water. Whisk together until absolutely smooth… there should not be even one tiny little lump in the cornstarch mixture! Alternately, you could use a small plastic container with a tight fitting lid, and shake the cornstarch/water mixture until smooth.

WIN_20151118_181250Step 5) Slowly drizzle your smooth cornstarch mixture into the boiling liquid and stir! Keep stirring with gentle boiling until gravy mixture thickens. This should take about 5 minutes.

Step 6) If you want thicker gravy, use an additional tablespoon of cornstarch and repeat steps 4 and 5.

DO NOT ADD POWDERED CORNSTARCH DIRECTLY TO THE GRAVY WITHOUT FIRST BLENDING WITH COLD WATER. Seriously. You will end up with a weird, lumpy mess. I, ah, know someone who made this mistake once because she was, ah, in a hurry. Or so I’m told. It was gross. Or at least that’s what a little bird told me.  😉

You’ll notice that we didn’t add any seasoning to our gravy. This is because I’m assuming that the meat you roasted was seasoned, and those seasonings have already flavored your pan drippings. Taste your gravy. If it’s bland, add salt and pepper a PINCH at a time, tasting after each pinch. You can always add more salt and pepper, but once it’s in there, it’s in there. Don’t overdo it.

That’s all! Easy peasy!

Rosemary Lemon Roast Turkey

WIN_20151118_175731For many years, I was apprehensive about roasting a turkey. I’m not really sure why. The first year I hosted a Thanksgiving dinner in my own home, I ordered a turkey from a deli – precooked, with ready-made gravy on the side! At the time, it seemed like a brilliant idea. Now, I don’t understand what the fuss was all about.

Roasting a turkey is really, really easy. Before we get started, here are a few pointers. Other cooks may disagree – if so, please join the turkey conversation by posting a comment below!

  1. If there’s not a big price difference between fresh and frozen, buy a fresh turkey. They’re juicier, which is wonderful because roasting is a dry cooking process. I bought a fresh turkey at Aldi for 99 cents per pound.
  2. Unless you have 5 or 6 days to allow a frozen turkey to thaw in your refrigerator, you need to buy a fresh turkey. I have never… not once… seen a frozen turkey fully thawed after only 3 days in my refrigerator (which is what the directions on the turkey wrapping often promise).
  3.  Bigger is not better. If you’re feeding a lot of people, consider buying two small turkeys (10 – 12 pounds each) instead of one, massive bird. Smaller turkeys roast more evenly, and because they require less time in the oven, they are less likely to dry out.
  4. You don’t need a special roasting pan, a baster, a “turkey bag” (to cook a turkey in plastic??), or any other strange turkey paraphernalia. A 10 pound turkey will fit in a 9×13 cake pan. A larger turkey will fit on a jelly roll pan, or any baking sheet with sides at least 1 inch high.

Let’s get started!

WIN_20151118_131852Ingredients (Serves 8)

1 small, fresh turkey (10 – 12 pounds)

2 lemons

6 sprigs of fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon salt

WIN_20151118_1336221/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons butter (not margarine), melted

Directions

Step 1) In the kitchen sink, remove your turkey from the wrapping. Find the bag of giblets and remove it from your turkey. Check both ends of your turkey for that bag of giblets!

Step 2) Rinse your turkey with cold water on the inside and the outside. Lift the turkey and turn it upside down to drain for a moment. Pat the turkey dry with a clean kitchen towel (and put that towel immediately in the hamper, so you don’t accidentally use it for anything else).

Step 3) Place your turkey in a pan or on a roasting sheet. Rub salt and pepper onto the skin.

Step 4) Poke a few holes with a paring knife in each lemon. Insert rosemary sprigs into several of the holes in each lemon, as shown.

WIN_20151118_133827Step 5) Insert one of the rosemary lemons completely inside of the turkey. Rest the other rosemary lemon near the opening of the turkey cavity.

Step 6) Coat the outside of your turkey with melted butter. Don’t use so much butter that it drips all over the pan (try to avoid that), but make sure at highest part of the turkey is covered. The butter will spread down the sides of the turkey as it roasts, sealing in flavor and giving the turkey skin a golden color.

Note: We are buttering our turkey skin instead of basting. It’s easier and prevents the meat from drying out. A buttered turkey will have a slightly darker color than a basted turkey (or a turkey in a bag), and the skin will be crispy. The end result is delicious!

Step 7) Showtime! Place your turkey in a preheated, 325 degree oven on the lowest rack possible. Your turkey needs to slowly roast until a meat thermometer poked into the thickest part of the turkey (but not against a bone) registers 165 degrees. Your turkey might have a little red timer attached (see photo) – this timer will pop out when your turkey is done. It’s STILL a good idea to check the temperature. Your turkey needs to reach 165 degrees in order to prevent food-borne illness!

How long will your turkey need to roast? That is the million dollar question! Every turkey and every oven is a little bit different. At 325 degrees, a 10 – 12 pound turkey will require approximately 3 hours of roasting time. Check your turkey after 2 1/2 hours, but don’t open the oven door before then!

Step 8) Let your roasted turkey rest on the countertop for 15 minutes before carving. A “tent” of aluminum foil (just a very loose covering of foil) can be used to prevent heat loss, but that’s not entirely necessary.

Enjoy your roasted turkey!

PS  – Don’t wash that pan! In our next Crowded Earth Kitchen post, we’ll show you how to make gravy with the drippings on that turkey pan!

Apple Cranberry Pie

WIN_20150822_102136I originally made these Apple Cranberry Pies for my cousin’s wedding celebration. It was a magically homespun sort of wedding… think outdoors with perfect weather, wildflowers everywhere, mason jars and homemade pies. The bride looked like she stepped right out of a fairy tale. Sigh. I digress.

Back to the present… apple cranberry pie would be lovely for Thanksgiving! Pressed for time and leery of homemade crust? Feel free to pick up a box of rolled-up, ready to use pie crusts in the refrigerator case at your supermarket and skip right to Step 4. I won’t tell anyone.

Ingredients (serves 8)

Crust:

2 1/2 cups white flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

2/3 cup cold, unsalted butter (please use real butter for this!)

6 tablespoons vodka

4 tablespoons cold water

2 eggs

WIN_20150822_085150Filling:

6 cups peeled, sliced apples (I used 4 Macintosh and 4 Cortland apples)

1/2 cup cranberries (frozen are fine)

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/4 cup shredded coconut (optional)

pie1Directions

Step 1) Combine 2 1/2 cups flour, salt, and allspice in a small mixing bowl. Add cold butter. Cut butter into flour mixture using a pastry cutter, until mixture resembles a bowl of pea-size crumbs.

Step 2) Sprinkle water and vodka over butter mixture, 1 tablespoon at a time. Don’t dump the liquid all in one place! Gently incorporate until a ball of dough forms. If you need to use your hands, that’s fine.

pie2Step 3) Divide dough in half. Roll each half on a lightly floured countertop using a lightly floured rolling pin until the dough is approximately a 12 inch circle. It doesn’t have to be a perfect circle, no matter what some cookbooks tell you (we’ll fix it later, don’t worry).

Step 4) Fold one of the dough circles over the rolling pin to transfer to a deep dish pie pan. Simply pat the dough lightly into place. If the dough tears, don’t panic, just patch it back together with your fingers. I won’t tell anyone, and seriously, nobody will notice if your crust isn’t picture perfect. Carry on…

pie3Step 5) This is why we don’t care if the crust is a perfect circle… use a small knife to slice off all of the dough that hangs past the edges of your pan! We’ll make it look all fancy in a moment, but for now, we just want the dough even with the edges.

Step 6) Using a tiny cookie cutter or other mold, cut tiny shapes (approximately 1 square inch) from the dough scraps. Sprinkle with colored sugar if desired. Set shapes aside.

Step 7) Cover your pie crust with a towel, and make your filling… Combine your apple slices, cranberries, sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, cinnamon, and cardamom in a large bowl. Mix gently until ingredients are combined.

WIN_20150822_090102Step 8) Sprinkle the bottom of your pie crust with shredded coconut. This is entirely optional, and you really won’t taste the coconut. This steps helps to absorb excess liquid from the pie filling. If you don’t like coconut, try sprinkling the bottom of your pie crust with finely ground pecans.

Step 9) Pour your apple cranberry pie filling into your pie pan. Isn’t it pretty?

Step 10) Top your pie with the second circle of dough. Use your fingers to gently crimp the top and bottom crusts together. Don’t worry if the edge doesn’t look fancy like a cooking show pie crust… just say your pie crust is “rustic” and move on with your day.  😉

WIN_20150822_092220Step 11) Cut a few slits in your top crust for steam to escape. Brush beaten egg over the top pie crust, and stick on the little dough shapes you cut a few minutes ago. Just work with what you have, and try to space your little dough shapes evenly. There, look at that lovely pie crust! No perfect circle required. Sprinkle with coarse sugar if desired.

Step 12) Bake your apple cranberry pie on a low rack in a preheated 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. Let cool and enjoy!

Holiday Spiced Apples

WIN_20150922_082659Oh, don’t be a scrooge. I know it’s a bit early to use the word “holiday,” but if you’re going to make Holiday Spiced Apples for your own holiday buffet or offer festive jars as gifts, you need to plan ahead. This recipe is easy to prepare, but tastes best after the flavors marinate in the jar for at least two weeks.

8 quarts is a nice quantity for gift giving, and will allow you to save a jar or two for yourself! The same recipe can also be canned in 16 pint size jars, if you prefer a smaller size. Or cut the recipe in half for 4 quarts or 8 pints. If you don’t want to can the recipe at all, simply store your spiced apples in airtight containers in the refrigerator. They’ll last for several weeks.

WIN_20150915_144614Ingredients (Makes 8 quarts)

40 medium apples, peeled, cored, and sliced thick

4 cups cold water

1/2 cup lemon juice

1 1/2 cups “red hots” cinnamon candies

1 tablespoon whole cloves

1 tablespoon whole allspice

1 teaspoon ground ginger

6 cups sugar

6 cups water

4 1/2 cups vinegar

WIN_20150918_144751Directions

Step 1) Dip peeled apple slices into a bowl containing 4 cups cold water and 1/2 cup lemon juice. This prevents browning. After dipping, set apple slices aside in a large bowl.

Step 2) Combine all remaining ingredients in a large stockpot and bring to a boil. Stir often, so that the cinnamon candies don’t stick to the bottom of the pot.

Step 3) Reduce heat to simmer, and stir until candies are dissolved. Add apple slices.

Step 4) Simmer the apple slices in brine for 2 minutes. Ladle spiced apple slices into sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Remove air bubbles by running a butter knife or a canning tool along the inside of each jar. Wipe the tops of the jars clean with a damp cloth, and top with lids and rims.

Step 5) Process quart jars in a boiling water canning bath for 15 minutes (pints only need 10 minutes). Do not open sealed jars for at least two weeks, to allow the flavors to blend. Enjoy your spiced apples!