Apple Cake and Roasted Chicken

IMG_20141018_120406561IMG_20141018_122808775IMG_20141018_120950348

IMG_20141018_130956492 This weekend we indulged ourselves in a long, leisurely lunch with family. For most of September and part of October, I’ve been finishing up my hours to become a Master Gardener volunteer (yay!). And while it’s been a whole lot of fun, it sure feels good to slow down a bit.

This type of get-together is one of my favorite things about autumn. Leaves are falling, temperatures are dropping and it’s time enjoy the fruits of the harvest.

For our luncheon, we had sauteed green beans, couscous, parsnips and roasted chicken. We also had the apple cake from Deb Perelman’s cookbook. And yes, it really is as good as she says (and easy to make too!). So much fruitiness in one delicious pound-cake-like confection.

We were also pretty happy with how the roast chicken turned out. It’s one of our favorite dishes, and we’ve accumulated lots of tips from various sources over the years….

Super Moist Roast Chicken

For starters, we’ve learned to dry it thoroughly before putting it in the roasting dish, breast-side down. This helps with the moisture. We also pour off the juices about halfway through to make it a dry roast. We like to lightly salt it on the outside and on the inside. We prefer the flavor and it still comes out just as moist as when it’s more heavily salted. We roast it for about an hour on high heat and then turn it down before taking off the lid for the final brown. We also use a ceramic roasting pan, which really keeps a consistent heat.

Any other roast chicken fans out there? Got some tips for us? We are always trying to improve this dish, like I said, it’s one of our favorites!

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Oh the apple cake! Really, you should make this like today. Happy Monday folks!

Carrot Pickles

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It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love pickles. LOVE pickles. I’ve been known to eat an entire bowl of  sauerkraut just as an afternoon snack.

So when we got an epic harvest of carrots this year, storing them seemed like such a waste of potential crispy pickled awesomeness.  I also had fresh dill from the garden, just waiting to shine in a simple brine. (Oh dear that was some egregious rhyming)

I started out my afternoon of pickling by reviewing the Ball Blue Book. It’s always good to refresh yourself on the basics if you haven’t canned in awhile.

choppedcarrotscollage

After cleaning and chopping the carrots in 3/8″ sticks, I heated up a brine solution of 2 cups water, 2 cups white vinegar, 3 TB sugar and 3 TB pickling salt.

This is worth buying because the anti-caking agents in standard salt will make your brine cloudy (kosher salt without additives and sea salt also work) I brought it to a boil, and then set the timer to let it simmer for five minutes.

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I sterilized my jars in the oven, as suggested by Amy Pennington in her fantastic Urban Pantry cookbook. Then I added garlic, dill and a pinch of red pepper flakes to each jar.

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In the meantime, I got my big soup pot up to a rolling boil and dropped a handtowel in the bottom to prevent the jars from knocking together.

Yes, you could use a canner, but I don’t have a lot of room in my kitchen and for small-batch preserving this works just as well.

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From there it was time to pack the carrots into the jars nice and tight. When the brine was ready, I carefully poured it into each jar leaving 1/4 ” headspace. This is the unfilled space from the top of the food in the jar to the lid. It’s important because it allows for expansion during processing

Once the lids were on, I processed the jars for 15 minutes in boiling water. Using my handy kitchen tongs, I pulled them out and left them to dry. After some time, you should hear little pops as the jars seal.

Don’t panic if you don’t hear the pops. Wait 24 hours. If the jars aren’t sealed by then, you can re-process them. To check that they are sealed, take the bands off and gently push the lid up with your finger.

I say gently because some of us have weirdly strong hands and if you push too much you will open jars that were in fact sealed. Not that this happened to me. Okay it totally did. But I re-processed it 24 hrs later and they are all sealed nice and tight now.

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Aren’t they pretty? The perfect spicy snack for cold blah-wintery days.

A few things to keep in mind if you are new to canning:

1. Be careful about altering recipes. I like to experiment as much as the next person BUT this is one situation in which you really just want to stick to the recipe. If you change the amount of low-acid ingredients, such as garlic, celery etc. you could end up with unsafe food. Same for adding substantially more spices. Just don’t.

2. You can buy fancy old school canning jars with cute little latches on the side, or you can save yourself some grief and just get the modern ones with standard lids for now. They are easier to get a seal on, and you can get all turn-of-the-century on your next canning adventure.

3. Be sure when you process the jars that they are covered by at least one inch of boiling water. I usually go for 1 1/2 or 2 inches just to be safe.

And lastly, the recipe:

 

{Spicy Pickled Carrots}

Yield: 8 half-pint jars

Ingredients:

2 lbs carrots, peeled and cut 3/8 ” thick

8 small garlic cloves

dill sprigs

hot pepper flakes

2 cups water

2 cups white vinegar

3 TB sugar

3 TB pickling salt

Directions:

Probably start by getting your soup pot full of enough water to go about 2″ over the top of your jars. Get it heating while you do the following. It will need to be at a rolling boil when it’s time to process. After sterilizing your jars, add the garlic, dill and red pepper flakes. Then pack tightly with the carrots. In the meantime, heat up your brine. Bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for 5 minutes. When it is ready, pour the hot liquid over the carrots, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Put the lids on and gently twist. Hopefully, your boiling water is ready now. Process them in the boiling water for 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool at room temperature for 24 hours. Check to make sure they are sealed before storing them in a dark, dry place.

If you have any questions at all about my process, feel free to leave them in the comments section. Hope you enjoy these. YAY carrots!

Nesting and a Fall Bucket List

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Tonight we’re making roasted garden vegetables and pork roast for dinner. We are nearing the end of our beet harvest, oh dear. Every year we plant more, and every year we seem to gobble them up before we can try anything fancy like overwintering etc. This year though, we’ve got some seedlings started, so hopefully we should have beets by early spring.

Today was such a autumn-y kind of day. I experimented in the kitchen while kitty snoozed on the couch. In between cooking projects this afternoon, I decided to make a fall bucket list. And then when I saw this pin, I decided that a fall bucket list is way more fun in the shape of an apple.

fun apple

I’ve already done some of the things on this list. (see previous post here) But I can’t wait to make molasses cookies and jump in big piles of leaves. I’m also excited for tromping through mud puddles and maybe some impromptu stargazing. (With lots of blankets of course) How about you? What sort of autumnal antics are you planning?

The Fondant Trials Part 2: Go Go Godzilla

So I’ve been meaning to get this post up for awhile. But then May happened. If you’re in the nursery industry, this is basically Garm-ah-geddon. (Props to my ex co-worker Jose for coining that term) Although it’s almost a week into June, I’m still reeling from all the fun and all the madness of the busiest month in my year.

GodzillaCake

But I’m so excited, so excited to share this cake with you guys. You’ll know from my previous entry about fondant that I had a lot of concerns about working with this substance, despite many years of baking experimentation.

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I was so happy with how this cake turned out. Both the final product, and also how much fun the process was for my eight year old niece and my six year old nephew (the birthday boy).

They are both artistic, like their parents, and they were so excited to help with the cake. I really enjoy projects like this that kids can participate in and feel ownership of and pride in their handiwork.

CuttingFlames

They cut out blue skyscrapers and flames (with supervision) and painted the windows and doors themselves.

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Because I didn’t have my Kitchen-Aid mixer with me, I had to knead the fondant by hand. (Rather than cheating with my dough hook). This was fine. I just Crisco-ed up my hands really good. It took a bit longer, and it definitely took some muscle but the consistency was as good as the first batch.

I had a little trouble when I went to drape the first layer of white over the cake, but I think this was because I was excited and rushed it a bit. I had taken my time before, and it was fine. You just have to go slow and be careful of how the fondant drapes. Luckily for me, we were applying skyscrapers to the outside, so the less than perfect seams didn’t show in the end.

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The Fondant Trials

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Just want to share a little adventure I had over this past weekend. I’ve never been particularly interested in exploring fondant. I’m generally more intrigued by cakes like this or this. Taste and texture are the two things I care about most when it comes to cake. And the rumors I’d heard of rubbery fondant just turned me off.

That said, when you’re adorable six-year old nephew asks for a Godzilla cake like this. Then one realizes it’s time to branch out.

I looked around the web and decided on marshmallow fondant for my first efforts. People seemed to have good results with it and the ingredients were cheaper!  I went with this recipe because contrary to all the other gloom and doom intimidation tutorials, she was the only one who said to have fun with it. I knew this lady was my kind of baker. After all why else do we do this?

baking test

Gentle Reader. This fondant tastes great! Like candy-coated cake. And as my husband pointed out, “If you can make pie crust, why are you afraid of fondant?” Indeed. And the best part is you can’t overwork it…so ‘easier than pie’ to say the least!

 

Book Crush: Smitten Kitchen

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My current crush is the Smitten Kitchen cookbook written by one of my favorite bloggers Deb Perelman. My better-half brought it home for me on Christmas Eve and I immediately began paging through it.

I’ve been following her blog for sometime now because I love the photography but most of all I love her recipes, which somehow manage to be interesting and eclectic without being pretentious. She never uses expensive ingredients that I can’t afford, and if she does use something a bit off the main aisle of the grocery store it is with extremely good reason!

Cookbook

Another great aspect of Deb’s recipes is that she doesn’t add any steps that are unnecessary. If she tells you to…oh I don’t know separate your egg whites…it’s because she’s tested the recipe both ways and has made sure that the end product is actually worth the extra effort. I love that she cares enough about her readers to check for that and also that she’s curious about it in the first place. Many of my best baking moments have been a result of such curiosity.

Speaking of desserts….omg. Her book, which I should add has many recipes you can’t find on her website, has so many great desserts. So far I’ve made the apple cake…so good it could compete with apple pie and something called grapefruit- olive oil pound cake…oh my holy citrus taste explosion…

Below is a little peak at the inside of the book…as you can see I’ve already started writing in the margins…and I have a feeling this will be a much loved book for many years to come in our household.

Cookbook Collage

 

 

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