Monday, August 31, 2009

And the Winner is.....

Before I started this blog, I sent out an email asking for possible names and jokingly said that the person whose name I picked would recieve a prize. Well, everyone took me seriously on the whole prize thing so I spent several days combing through different ideas that would be blog related and also wanted by the winner. I finally decided that most people I know like alcohol, and most people love lemonade so the only logical choice was limoncello. I happened to have started a batch a few weeks ago, and a bottle of this wonderful concoction will soon be off to my sister who came up with my blog's name!

For those of you who aren't familiar with limoncello, it's made from vodka or grain alcohol that is soaked in lemon peels for weeks and then sweetend with simple syrup. This tasty mixture is kept in the bowels of the freezer until it is consumed, preferably in a frozen shot glass. The frozen mixture is slightly thick and wonderfully refeshing after a long week. Oh, and you don't have to feel like a boozer when you drink it because its Italian, and thats just classy.

Here is my recipe incase you'd like to make a batch for yourself:

Limoncello a la Robin
750 ml of vodka
10 lemons
2 cups of water
2 cups of sugar

1) Pour vodka into a large glass jar. This jar needs to have a lid that seals tightly. A big pickle jar works great.

2) Peel lemons. Make sure there is NO white pith still attached to the peels. If there is white pith it can make your limoncello bitter. I recommend using a good potato peeler and organic lemons.

3) Add lemons to the vodka and store in a dark cool place for at least two weeks. The peels should loose their color as their oil leaches into the vodka. Swirl the jar every couple days.
4) After two weeks, heat the water and sugar to create a simple syrup. After it cools, add it to your vodka. Mix well and allow to rest again in a dark cool place for one week.

5) After a week, stain your mixture through coffee filters or cheese cloth into bottles with a rubber seal. Store in the freezer until you are ready to drink or give as gifts.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Simply Delicious Marinara Sauce

Last night I promised my biggest fan, hi mom, that I would post this recipe for her. I never write down my experiments as I do them, so I woke up early this morning to make myself some marinara sauce so & write a recipe for her. This recipe is so easy, you can do most of it before your first cup of coffee!

Simply Delicious Marinara Sauce


25 medium tomatoes
10 cloves of garlic
1 large onion
1/2 a cup of fresh basil leaves

1) Start a large pot of water on high heat. This will be used to peel your tomatoes.

2) Roughly chop onion and garlic and brown in a big dollop of butter (use a large pot not a pan). Add the onion first, allowing it to soften and then add the garlic. You don't have to chop if fine because it will go in the blender later.

3) While the onion and garlic finish browning, start adding the tomatoes in batches to the boiling water you started in step one. Leave them in the pot for about 30 seconds, then remove and submerge in cool water (the sink works great). The skins while come right off after they cool enough to handle. Don't forget about your onion and garlic while doing this. Once they are browned just take them off heat but leave them sitting in the pot.

4) Once your tomatoes are peeled, cut them in half, hold them cut side down over a bowl and give them a squeeze. This will get rid of a lot of the extra juice and most of the seeds. It is also messing so make sure you use a deep bowl to prevent the juice from squirting out into your kitchen. After you've squeezed them, roughly chop them and throw them in the pot with the onion and garlic.

5) Bring your mixture to a boil and reduce heat. Add lots of salt and a few dashes of pepper to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes stirring occasionally. This is a good time for clean up or a relaxing cup of coffee.

6) Add your basil then remove the sauce from heat and allow to cool slightly. In batches, using a food processor or blender, liquefy your sauce. Return to pot.

7) Simmer sauce for another 15 minutes or until it is the thickness you want.

8) Spoon sauce into jars and water bath for 15 minutes.


-Romas are the best tomato to use for this, but any work. The benefit of Romas is they have far more meat to juice so you spend less time simmering the sauce. I made this sauce with a mix.

-If you like to drink tomato juice, just strain the seed out of the juice you squeezed and can that too!

Addition: My mom had a recommendation on what to do if you have less than a jarfull left over.

"When I can tomatoes and cook the tomatoes with onions, pepper and celery, I usually don’t have exactly the right amount to fill up quarts. Wednesday when I canned I had about 1 ½ cups of tomatoes left over so here is how I managed not to waste anything…..pour the leftovers through a strainer into a bowl, add a few dashes of Trader Joes 21 spices and let it sit a bit while cleaning up. Then pour the juice that strained out into a cup, add several ice cubes and a shot or two of your favorite vodka or gin. Stir, sit back, sip and contemplate how good that homemade chili is going to be this winter. Works wonders for a tired soul (or tired feet)."

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Canning Peaches

Earlier this week I got together with my fellow caners and put up about 4o lbs. of peaches. These are the same peaches I mentioned before that I got for 59 cents a pound. When canning peaches your two options are basically to either cold pack them which means you put the uncooked chopped fruit in the jar and then pour hot syrup over them, or you can heat the fruit up in the syrup itself. This method will make your peaches a lot softer. Since we want to keep the firmness of the fruit we chose the first method.

While I take great satisfaction in canning my own food, which I know will make tasty treats all winter, I also really enjoy the social aspect of canning. Truly, it's not "fun" work. By the time you are done you are sticky, your feet and knees are killing you and the kitchen is a disaster zone. However, if you have a good group of people whom you like to hang out with doing the work, then it can be lots of fun. You can't tell me Damian isn't enjoying himself.

While I think there is a lot of good information on the Internet and any reasonably intelligent person could do it, it is helpful to have a Yoda. This is ours. If nothing else, this person can serve to reassure the novice that yes the mixture is supposed to look like that.

Do not be fooled though, even with a Yoda accidents can happen. This is the first time we used the lid on our water bather. We did not however, use the rack. One might wonder what happens when the water gets hotter than normal (thanks to the lid) and the glass jars are resting on the bottom. If you haven't guessed, the glass jars might explode. Like this the one below, and you will open your caner after 20 minutes to find lots of peach slices floating on top. When you are tired and sticky this is exceptionally disheartening. I wouldn't recommend it.

Of course at moments like these, the most important thing is to keep your spirits up and not loose your temper. Especially when everyone is armed with sharp knives!

Even though it wasn't perfect, we were still successful, and we had a good time. The basics of cold packing peaches are:

1) Pit, peal and slice peaches (whatever size you want)

2) Fill jar till there is about 3/4 to 1/2 an inch of head space

3) Make a syrup to go in the jars. We did a light syrup of 1 cup of water to 3 Tbs. of sugar.

4) Pour this hot syrup into jars and run a butter knife or spatula around the inside of the jar to release bubbles. Wipe lip of jar to ensure a good seal.

5) Put lid and ring on jars (making sure its not super tight) and put in water bather for 20 minutes.

6) Remove from water bather and allow the jars to cool. If they pop within about a 1/2 hour then they've sealed, if not, put them in the fridge and eat soon.

Learning from Our Foremothers

Although I initially got into gardening because Long's had an amazing blowout sale on pots, gardening quickly became a necessary part of my life. After long hours of reading very detailed history books or listening to the same word repeated over and over by my Arabic CD, I could run downstairs and play with my plants. The smell of crushed basil on my hands and the coolness of hose water on my feet would refresh my mind and give me the focus I needed to head back upstairs and hit the books some more.

As a result of this pattern of plants and books, I have come to see the two as closely linked, so today I am going to recommend a book to you all. Since wars often interest people, and I assume that most of the people reading this are female, my first book recommendation is Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America's Independence by Carol Berkin. This little paperback is a quick read with big print. Each chapter covers a different type of woman (loyalist, revolutionary, African American, Native American, etc.) and that groups experience during the war. Berkin uses a lot of primary source quotes from the women who lived through the trials and tribulations that war brings and many of the stories are as heart wrenching as they are inspiring. A slight word of caution though, the quotes do make the book linger with the reader. I would not read this right before bed. Definitely a good read for anyone interested in either the female experience or the Revolutionary period.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Garden Happenings

I love watering days in my garden. Sure its takes a lot of time and it is sometimes heavy and hot, but I like to spend some quality time with each plant. Today I thought I'd share some pictures of a few of the things I discovered while watering today.

First, my borage has begun to flower. Borage is a plant that is originally from Syria but is now found all around the Mediterranean, the Middle East, North Africa, Asia Minor and South America! Recipes involving this little flower are found from Poland to Persia. The flower itself tastes like a cucumber. The leaves are also used, especially in Iran, to make a deep purple tea.

While watering my seedlings, I also discovered that many of the little guys had started to develope their first set of real leaves. For the most part, when seedlings sprout their first two leave look very similar no matter what the plant is. Its when their second set of leaves start to grow that they begin to resemble their mature shape. Here is a future cabbage.

Here is another one of my seedling groups. Peas are a great thing to grow because they sprout pretty fast compared to other seeds and give the gardener an early sense of accomplishment as he/she waits for the rest of the seeds to sprout. I also like that they are robust looking from the second they shoot out of the soil. These will soon be planted around my tomato cages. I'm hoping the tomatoes will shade them until the weather gets cooler. In the past I've had bad luck with my peas getting burnt up. Also, a good tip for grown peas is to soak them in water for about 8 hours before planting. Bad seeds will float on top while good ones sink. This hydration also gives them a head start once you plant them.

Now if you're really in the market for instant gratification (or as close as you can get with seeds) grow a pot of radishes. They sprout in a day or two and are ready to eat in a month. Also, when you thin the seedlings, you can eat them in salad whole, leaves and all. They taste just like mini-radishes. I'm going to try these guys thinly slices on a baguette (or perhaps an herbed bread) with a little salt and butter when they grow up! Also, you can steam the mature radish greens and treat them like you would any other cooked green (Kale, Collard, Mustard, etc.).

Lastly, all this garden happiness doesn't mean there isn't tragedy. This winter squash was my pride and joy and month ago. Lush, beautiful and thriving it was, but now, dieing. It has been on the decline for the last several weeks. I've tried more water, I've tried less. I think the soil might be to blame. My soil is about 20% good dirt, 30% clay and 50% chunks of concrete that the builders buried when they build the neighborhood. This means I try to avoid planting too much in the ground because it requires a lot of bags of new dirt and hiding places for all the garbage I dig out. Alas, I think this winter squash has come to the end of the road.

Well thanks for taking a tour of some of my plants with me. Hope all is well in your gardens!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wine Bottle Torch

This is a cute little do-it-yourself project that I found a few weeks back on the blog Design*Sponge. If you're like me and often find yourself surrounded by empty wine bottles and have the ability to use basic tools (though not right after the wine bottle becomes empty) then this project should be relatively easy for you. I think these would be great filled with citronella oil for outdoor entertaining.

Be warned though, I have a love/hate relationship with Design*Sponge. I find a lot of their stuff very interesting, especially their DIY section, which is definitely worth a gander if you have some free time. A perfect place to get inspired but, the rest of their page can be a bit overwhelming and sometimes gives me a headache if I'm on it too long. It's heavy on both graphics and links so stray from the DIY section at your own risk!

Peach Pecan & Amaretto Preserves

I've had a request for the recipe for some preserves I made as christmas presents a few years back. This one definitly seemed like the one that got the best reviews of all the contents in my Christmas Baskets.

The recipe is super simple and goes great over ice cream, waffles and sheet cake. If you've used it for anything else that was super tasty, leave a comment about it so the rest of us can try it too! Oh and I should admit I did not come up with this recipe myself. I found it here.


2 lbs peaches, peeled
1 cup golden raisin
3/4 cup water, more if needed
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
2 tablespoons strained fresh lemon juice
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup pecan halves or pecan pieces
3 tablespoons amaretto liqueur


1) In a heavy, non-reactive saucepot combine raisins and water and let raisins soak until they plump.

2) Cut peaches into halves or quarters and combine them with the plumped raisins and water.

3) Add zest and heat mixture to simmering until very tender, about 15 minutes.

4) Stir in orange and lemon juices and return to a boil.

5) Add sugar and cook over medium heat, stirring very frequently with a flat bottom wooden spoon, until thick, about 30 minutes.

6) Test Mixture: Put a spoonful on a chilled saucer and let it cool; when saucer is held on edge, the surface of the jam should wrinkle.

7) Add the pecans and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes longer.

8) Remove from heat and stir in the Amaretto.

9) Ladle into hot, clean canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space.

10) Seal with new two-piece lids according to manufacturer's directions and process for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.

11) Cool, label, and store.

12) Best if allowed to mellow in the jars for two weeks before serving.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Peach Salsa

On my way down to American Canyon this weekend, I saw a produce stand advertising peaches for 59 cents a pound. Of course I couldn't pass this up and did a last minute swerve onto the exit ramp. Now I am the proud owner of 45 pounds of peaches. The natural conclusion was that this weekend I made my second try at peach salsa. My first try turned out alright, but it was a bit too sweet for me which isn't suprising since the recipe I based this off of was originally a chutney. This time I added tomatoe, garlic, more onion and halved the total sugar and I think the result was definitly an improvement. While I am still not a huge fan of using sweet salsas as a dip, they are EXCELLENT on salty mexican dishes. Here is the recipe if you would like to give it a try.

3 1/2 cups peaches peeled, pitted and cut into small cubes
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
3/4 cup chopped red onion
3-4 large garlic cloves finely chopped or grated
1 ½ - 2 cups of pureed raw tomatoes (just trim the ends and throw them in the food processor)
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon minced seeded Serrano chile (or sub for your favorite chile)*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1) Gracefully dump all the above ingredients into a large pot over medium heat.
2) Heat this delicious fragrant (it’s the cumin and vinegar that really make this smell awesome) mixture till it just barely starts to bubble. Keep in at this temperature for 15-20 minutes depending on how ripe your peaches are. If they aren’t very ripe you can extend this time until they are very soft.
3) If you wish to preserve your salsa you can either let it cool then pour it into baggies/tupperware and freeze or you can pour into mason jars and water bath them for 15 minutes. If you haven’t canned anything before, you can find lots of how to pages online. Here's one I found.

*For the peppers you can adjust to personal taste . I’d add it a little bit at a time and then taste it. Remember the pepper is going to taste a lot hotter when your salsa is warm than it will when it cools.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Some Girls Get Purses.....

Some girls get excited when their boyfriends buy them a cute coach bag or jewelry. Don't get me wrong, I like both of these things, but what I like even more is when my boyfriend buys me a tree. Its a pineapple guava and both it's fruit and it's flowers are edible. The flowers are rumored to taste like cotton candy (and are a beautiful two toned pink) and the small fruits it produces taste like pineapple. The plant is also pretty even when not in bloom. Its foliage is silvery sort of like an olive tree. These wonderful little guys are also versatile, as they can be a bush or trimmed into a tree.
I first discovered this plant on another blog I like to read. You can reach the original article here. The article said they weren't super easy to find, but then the next day I was walking down the aisle of my favorite nursery (which oddly enough inside a Longs) when I stumbled upon a whole display of them!

Of course I would have been happy with one pineapple guava, but Jeffry saw the twinkle in my eye when he put the first one in our cart and went ahead and got a second small one just for fun. It is destined to go in the chicken area where they can enjoy the low hanging fruit and shade that it will eventually provide.
One thing we didn't prepare for though was how we would get this small tree into our small Subaru. We had two different people stop to stare and offer witting and completely unhelpful advice as we struggled to maneuver our new purchase into the car. It ended up taking my seat in the front (and half of the back seat) and I got to feel chauffeured for the rest of the trip in the backseat. Unfortunately, we lost all of the fruit in had on it in the struggle. Oh well, I shall have to be patient for next summer.

Here is a look at my newest baby...