Category Archives: Sauces and Dressings

Dark Chocolate and Pumpkin Seed “No Nuts Nutella”

Might I tear you away from Pinterest for a few moments so you can read this post?  I know you are getting ready to french braid your hair (sideways) and need to go to the grocery store to buy ingredients for those bacon and cinnamon roll muffins and are in the middle of building that new wrapping paper storage system, but take a few moments to look elsewhere.  No.  Don’t click “See More Pins.”   I realize you need to print out that 30 day training regimen — because who wouldn’t want an ass like that?  But trust me, you don’t know what a burpee is.  Nor do you want to.  I did them.

And the boots.  I need those boots and those jeans and that sweater. And I want to have only matching accessories that show a little pop of coordinated color.  I want to think about what I wear before I put it on, instead of throwing on jeans, a turtleneck, and clogs as I run out the door to pick up the children.

It’s like a dream world, isn’t it?  It’s the world without problems.  It’s all exotic vacations and beautiful food and lovely bodies without back fat.  It’s houses where the piles of school papers have a logical home that isn’t the front seat of your car.  It’s houses with style and matching interiors with themes — rather than a mishmash of your parents’ furniture and stuff you bought from IKEA.  It’s backyards with fireplaces, rather than snow or weeds or neighbors with annoying dogs.  It’s thinking about life using inspirational sayings and being strong in who you are, rather than being small and weak and petty and insecure.

And I guess that’s why it is a tremendous escape.  Life isn’t nearly as pretty.  It has bad weather and cancer diagnoses and health scares and employees who are inspired by the petty rather than the positive.  It has crime and moral failings and budget cuts and terrifying thoughts.  It has self destructive behavior and asses with cellulite.  And waistlines with stretch marks and closets that aren’t dedicated to crafting.   It has kids who puke in the car on those same school papers — that were supposed to be returned last week.

Can we all just cut the crap with the need to have perfection? None of us live it.  Even the people who you think do.  They don’t.  The “strongest” among us are insecure.  The most “beautiful” among us feel ugly. And those people who you think serve only beautiful food (maybe me?) also make instant Jell-O Pudding.  I did just last week.  And you know what? It’s freaking easy.

And sometimes the world around you requires easy in the times of ugly.

But yesterday I took a little time and made this homemade “Nutella” (driven mostly by the fact that I felt guilty that I haven’t posted anything here in a long time … and we can’t have the real stuff due to my daughter’s severe nut allergies).  While on my no carb eating plan, I had a big dollop on a piece of toast.  I licked the spatula multiple times and ate a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk.  It is as delicious as I remember it.  And then I served leftovers for dinner, had two glasses of wine, and passed out on the couch playing Words with Friends.  My husband and I talked for a long time about some intense situations he is dealing with.  We came up with no answers — but a lot more worry.  I later realized that we forgot to pay an important bill.  And my kids didn’t go to sleep until almost 9:30.  I woke up this morning feeling anxious for no good reason.

Or maybe it was for a lot of good reasons.  Reasons that come from not only the ugly of the world, but the ugly that we put upon ourselves.

Enjoy the “Nutella.”

Dark Chocolate and Pumpkin Seed “Nutella”

Makes about one pint

1 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted and cooled (you could also use sunflower seeds, or a mix)
2 T vegetable oil
4 ounces dark chocolate
4 T butter
2 t vanilla extract
3-4 T sweetened condensed milk
1/8 cup of milk, warmed
1/2 salt

1.  Place toasted pumpkin seeds in the food processor and process until finely chopped.  Add 2 T vegetable oil in a steady stream while machine is still running.  Continue to process the seeds for about 3 or 4 minutes — until they become like a nut butter consistency.  You should scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl a few times to make sure everything gets incorporated.

2.  Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and butter together.  Add in the vanilla extract.

3.  Add the chocolate mixture to the pumpkin seed mixture along with 3 T condensed milk and salt.  Process for a few seconds.  Taste and add more condensed milk if you like it a little sweeter.  It may become very thick at this point.  That’s OK.

4.  Remove to a bowl and whisk in warmed milk, a tablespoon or so at a time until your “Nutella” is the desired consistency.  Store in the refrigerator.  Serve on toast, use for baking, or melt to top ice cream.

 

 

Garlic Scape Pesto with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Garlic Scapes.  Who knew they even existed?  They are not the kind of thing you generally see on a grocery store shelf and people very rarely know what they are unless they garden or belong to a CSA.  I will be completely honest that I had never seen them before joining our farm share — and I love to cook with unique ingredients.  So technically speaking, the garlic scape is the green stalk of a young garlic plant.  (They continue to exist when the plant matures, they just aren’t really edible any more.)  Obviously, they have a very garlicky flavor, but are somewhat like a cross between garlic and a curly, dense scallion.

As I was making the pesto last night, I began to think of the many uses for it.  It is truly delicious and I think I like it more than regular basil pesto.  On the simplest level, toss some of the warm scape pesto with hot pasta and you have a treat.  We did that last night with some local asparagus, which made a great, light dinner.  (BTW, I am not eating wheat right now, so I had the Bionaturae gluten-free spaghetti and it was delicious.  Highly recommend it for those off gluten or wheat.)  The kids absolutely devoured it and wanted more.

But other than pasta, the possibilities are endless — mixed in with sour cream and/or cream cheese for a dip or spread, as a sauce on a white pizza with fresh mozzarella, in omelets, mixed into soups or tomato sauces, extended with a bit of lemon juice or vinegar for a salad dressing, tossed with veggies for roasting, mixed with white beans and sausage for a warm salad, used as a basis for a pasta salad, spread on toasts or bruschetta for a quick appetizer (or on a sandwich), or mixed into hummus or white bean dip, etc.

The pesto keeps well in the refrigerator and it is also easily frozen so you can enjoy it when the garlic scapes are no longer around. This version is nut-free for my allergic daughter, but I love the richness of the toasted pumpkin seeds. I’m sure any type of nuts or seeds would work, however.

Get to the farmer’s market now and ask around for garlic scapes.  If you are like me, you will want to eat this directly off the spoon.

Garlic Scape Pesto with Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Makes about 2 1/2 cups

15 garlic scapes, trimmed and roughly chopped
3/4 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1 cup olive oil
1 t salt
Freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan

1.  In the bowl of a food processor, add garlic scapes, toasted pumpkin seeds, olive oil, and salt and pepper.  Process until smooth, scraping down sides as necessary.

2.  Place into a small bowl and stir in parmesan cheese.  Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

 

Crispy Calamari Chopped Salad

Mark Bittman has me thinking again.  He has a way of doing that.  After reading his latest NYT piece, “Chop, Fry, Boil:  Eating for One, or 6 Billion,” I once again realize that people who like to cook have a way of making things way too complicated for those who don’t (Bittman is not one of those people). We teach using recipes, when we should actually be teaching with models and systems.  Whenever I talk to someone about cooking a meal, it’s always the same complaint:  “I can usually follow the recipes, but I have no idea how to pull the meal together and time things correctly.”  And that’s the problem  — getting a handle on the bigger picture is truly the hardest part of cooking when you are learning.  But recipes don’t help with this unless they are written in a “non-mise en place” manner.  (For the non-French speaking, mise en place means simply to have everything in its place and ready to go — chopped, toasted, sauteed, etc. — before cooking.)

So, my plan for the next few weeks is to teach 7 basic meals using a systems focus.  We will talk about soups, curries, pizzas, salads, rice and beans, tacos, and stir fries.  The goal is to give you a meal for each day of the week that you can confidently play with using the ingredients you have on hand.  The meals will be cheap (less than $15 to serve 4 people), easy (done in 30-60 minutes), healthy (whole grain and light on meat), family friendly, and flexible for many types of ingredients.  Because once you know the method for a stir fry or a hearty soup, you can rework it endlessly and never get bored with it.  And the “recipes” may not look like my normal ones (and may seem longer because of it).  I will try to focus on listing the ingredients, but not indicating how to prepare them in the ingredients list (e.g. I won’t write “2 onions, finely chopped”).  Instead, I will work the preparation into the directions so you can save time by chopping onions while water is coming to the boil, etc.  Mise en place is necessary for a restaurant kitchen, but it’s not always realistic for the home cook who is trying to get dinner on the table while doing third grade homework with children hanging off his/her legs.

I think by giving you models and showing you how I would actually cook a meal like this with logical instructions, rather than recipe notation, you can increase the repertoire of meals you cook on a regular basis and start to cook based on intuition rather than following a recipe word for word.  And when you get to that place, I can almost guarantee that you will begin to enjoy cooking more because it becomes an expression of creativity and more of a challenge.  So, our first recipe in the “Cuizoo Arsenal” is a Crispy Calamari Chopped Salad.

A main course salad like this needs only a few components:  salad greens or cabbage, some protein (fish, chicken, beans, or tofu all work), extra chopped veggies, some nuts or seeds, fruit or cheese if you like, and a dressing.  Use the veggies that you have, or the ones that your family loves the most.  We like chopped salads with a creamy dressing, but feel free to use a vinaigrette too.  Making your own dressing takes all of 1 or 2 minutes and is so much more flavorful and healthy than a bottled variety (Here’s my recipe for Balsamic Vinaigrette which you can leave as is or tweak with herbs, mustard, etc.).  In this salad, I lightly fried our calamari, but it would be equally good sauteed or grilled if you don’t feel like frying.  And this easily feeds 4-6 people for less than $15.

Variations I could easily envision would include a Leftover BBQ Chicken Salad with greens, thawed corn, avocado, tomatoes, Jack cheese,and a creamy cilantro dressing; a Turkey, Dried Cranberry, and Pecan Salad with greens, carrots, celery, chopped apples, white cheddar cheese, and an Apple Cider Vinaigrette; a Vegetarian Greek Salad with greens, chick peas, roasted red peppers, green onions, feta cheese and a basic Greek Vinaigrette; or a Pizza Salad with greens, peppers, tomatoes, torn basil, some crisped prosciutto, rustic croutons, mozzarella, and a Basil Vinaigrette.  The key is to take flavor combinations that you enjoy and convert them into a salad.

I’m looking forward to this challenge and I hope it gets you in the kitchen more in 2011!

Crispy Calamari Chopped Salad

Serves 4-6

3/4 pound of calamari (squid) bodies (Not tentacles —Here’s a before and after pic)
1/2 cup of pumpkin seeds
Large bunch of salad greens (or enough to fill a large salad bowl or spinner)
1 cucumber
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes
2-3 radishes
1 lemon
3/4 cup of corn starch or arrowroot starch (or flour if you like)
Smoked Paprika (or Chipotle Powder if you want it spicier)
Salt and Pepper

Thousand Island Dressing:
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup low fat plain yogurt
1 T low fat milk
1 T pickle relish
1 T finely chopped onion
1 T chopped parsley
1/4 t salt
Dash of cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon Juice

1.  Preheat the oven (or toaster oven) to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Clean squid bodies by making sure there are no remnants of cartilage, etc. inside the pouch.  Slice in thin rings and toss with juice of 1/2 of a lemon, salt and pepper, and a bit of smoked paprika.  Let marinate while you prep the veggies and toast the pumpkin seeds.

2.  Put pumpkin seeds on a baking sheet and toast for 10-12 minutes in preheated oven.

2.  While pumpkin seeds toast, place salad greens in a salad spinner or bowl to wash.  Meanwhile, wash cucumber and slice in half lengthwise.  Using a spoon, scrape out the cucumber middle to remove the seeds.  Cut the halves into quarters lengthwise and cross cut to make bite sized pieces.  Wash the tomatoes and set aside. Wash and trim radishes, quarter them, and chop into bite sized pieces.  Remove the salad greens from their rinsing water, and spin or towel dry. Tear dry salad greens into bite sized pieces if necessary and place in a large salad bowl with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes.

3.  Finely chop onion and parsley for dressing.  Make the dressing by combining mayo, yogurt, milk, relish, onion, parsley, salt, cayenne pepper, and black pepper.  Thin with a little leftover lemon juice if needed.  Place in refrigerator until you are ready to serve.

4.  Preheat a large saute pan with a thin layer of olive oil in it over medium high heat. On one plate (oven safe), place a double thickness of paper towels and set aside. On another plate, mix cornstarch (or arrowroot) with some salt, pepper, and a bit of smoked paprika or chipotle powder.   Take about 1/3 of the calamari rings and dredge in the cornstarch or arrowroot mixture.  Shake off excess and lightly fry in the preheated saute pan.  They will take only about 1-2 minutes per side.  When they start to look just golden, flip them with tongs and cook about 30 seconds more. (Don’t overcook your seafood!)  Remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper-towel lined plate and stick it in your still warm oven (shouldn’t be on, just warm from toasting the seeds).  Repeat with the remaining calamari until it is all fried (if you need to, add a bit more oil to the pan).  When it is done, remove the warming plate from the oven and toss the calamari with a bit of salt and more Smoked Paprika or Chipotle Powder.

5.  Assemble the salad by tossing the vegetables with most of the prepared dressing (reserving about 1/4 cup).  Mix in pumpkin seeds and either place on a platter or leave in a large bowl.  Top with Fried Calamari and serve with additional dressing if needed.

Orange Marsala Cranberry Sauce with Sage

I make it no secret that I am a little particular about what kind of food I generally serve.  I wouldn’t call myself a total food snob, because I still enjoy a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese as much as the next person.  It’s just that when I cook, I rarely use processed or convenience items.

This morning I bought both Cream of Mushroom soup and Pillsbury Crescent Rolls.

Sometimes tradition wins out.  And sometimes it’s OK that you serve Green Bean Casserole and don’t make rolls from scratch.  Our Thanksgiving meal has a certain set of necessary items … anything “experimental” is fine, but you will not replace my grandmother’s Creamed Corn with Quinoa Salad.   Or decide that you are going to try something “new” with the stuffing — our table can only have my grandmother-in-law’s Portuguese Stuffing on it (which I will photograph and write up for future reference).  The mashed potatoes must be made from yukon golds and the gravy will be laced with Marsala.  You just don’t mess with the memories.

The one exception to that is the cranberry sauce, because no one in my family cares about it in the least.  They will take an obligatory bite, but I will eat it with a spoon.  This year I made a version with orange zest, Marsala, and sage (to meld with my Marsala-laced gravy).  If I thought anyone cared enough, I’d try to form it in the shape of a tin can, with the requisite ridges we all grew up with.

And I haven’t ventured to look at the ingredients on the Crescent Rolls yet, but what is Thanksgiving without some good old petroleum by-products in your bread?

Orange Marsala Cranberry Sauce with Sage

Make about 3 1/2 cups

1 quart of fresh cranberries, rinsed
3/4 cup Sweet Marsala, plus 1-2 T
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup brown sugar
Healthy pinch of salt
Zest of two oranges, finely chopped
2 t fresh sage, finely chopped

1.  In a medium saucepan, combine cranberries, 3/4 cup Marsala, orange juice, brown sugar, and salt over medium heat.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes until all cranberries have popped and mixture is thick.  Remove from heat.

2.  Stir in additional 1-2 T of Marsala, chopped orange zest, and chopped sage.  Store in refrigerator.  (Can be made 2-3 days ahead)

Whole Grain Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate Cinnamon Ganache

I often say that my first born daughter made me realize I was destined to be a mother — but my second born son made me delight in the role.  As with most women, I suppose, I had a hard time adjusting to motherhood.  You know the drill — the nursing, the lack of sleep, the caring, the balancing with working, the cleaning.  But also, the solitary confinement.  The worry.  The feeling of being solely responsible for so much.  The desire to go and do — but the struggle to actually go and do whatever it is you used to go and do.  The anger and resentment toward my husband who went and did.

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When they say that becoming a mother is like having your heart walk around outside of your body, they do not lie.  I felt that way about my daughter from the minute she showed up in my world.  My love for her was like nothing I ever knew.  But for the first few years, I was stressed in my new role as a mother.  It was difficult and I was not prepared for anything other than unicorns and rainbows.

Things eased up a bit when I was thankfully able to quit my job (my baby girl was 3).  Being able to focus solely on her was a huge blessing and a major relief.  It made me feel like I was actually able to be a good mother. And please don’t go all “mommy wars” on me here — this is only my experience and there are many tremendous working mothers.  But for me, I’m an all or nothing kind of girl.  When I was working, I felt like I couldn’t do anything well because my attention was so divided.  When I became a full time mom, I finally felt like I could be good at something again — and my personality thrives on feeling proud of the job that I am doing, regardless of what it is.

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And I think this confidence made me feel like I could have a second baby.  When I became pregnant, I felt like I was prepared for it all.  I knew the drill.  And in some ways, I did.  But, I was wholly unprepared for how my second baby would make me feel as a mother.  He made my feel like we had a complete family.  My baby boy made me delight in my role as a mother.  It felt natural.  And rather than stressing about how much work it all was, I found a way to enjoy the little moments — by now knowing how fleeting they all were.

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So, last week my baby boy turned three.  Maxy, my Star Wars loving, chocolate eating-dare devil, you have made our family complete and we love you so much.  Thank you for making me a better mother.  I hope you liked your chocolate birthday cake.

Here’s the recipe. It’s whole grain, light on sugar, and even the ganache is relatively healthy — not that you should really care about these things on a birthday.

Whole Grain Chocolate Layer Cake with Chocolate Cinnamon Ganache

Makes a two layer cake and enough ganache to glaze the cake (with some leftover for ice cream)

Cake:

5 oz. good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 1/2 sticks)
1 cup brown sugar (can use up to 2 cups if you want)
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 t vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream (not low fat)
1 cup boiling water

Ganache:

18 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups milk (I used 2%, but use whatever you like — even cream if you want)
4 T butter
Pinch of salt
1/8 t cinnamon
1 t vanilla extract

1.  Preheat oven to 375 F.  Butter two 8 or 9 inch cake pans.  Line with parchment cut to fit the bottom of the cake pans.  Butter the parchment paper.

2.  Melt the 5 oz. of chopped chocolate and allow to cool slightly.

3.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

4.  In a large bowl, cream the softened butter with an electric mixer until it is light and fluffy.  Add brown sugar and cream for 1-2 minutes.

5.  Add the eggs, one at a time and mix for 1-2 minutes more.  Mix in the melted chocolate and vanilla extract.

6.  Mix in one third of the flour mixture, followed by one third of the sour cream.  Repeat with additional flour and sour cream (adding in one thirds).  Do not overmix at this point.

7.  Stir in boiling water and mix until smooth.  Pour batter into prepared cake pans and bake for 24-26 minutes until a tester comes out just barely done.  Do not overbake.  Let cool for 10-15 minutes on a rack and then remove cakes from pans and let cool completely on rack.

8.  For ganache:  In a large sauce pan over low heat, melt together the 18 oz. chocolate, milk, butter, salt, and cinnamon.  When completely smooth, remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.  Let cool until almost room temperature and slightly thickened, but still pourable.  Pour over cake layers when cake is completely cool, allowing it to fall over edge to glaze sides.  Let ganache cool and harden before serving.

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Slow Roasted Plum Tomato Sauce

As much as I love to cook, there are some kitchen tasks that I find absolutely awful.  Emptying the dishwasher is one.  It is one of those tasks that I simply hate.  It probably has something to do with the fact that all of my cabinets and drawers are overflowing with various cooking tools, serving pieces, bakeware, and appliances — and every time I empty the dishwasher I have to unstack all of my leaning towers of cookware to find homes for things.  If everything in my kitchen is clean at one time, I literally have no room for it all.  Thankfully that doesn’t happen often.

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My other hated tasks include anything that is fussy — like peeling pearl onions, pitting cherries, or stuffing little new potatoes or cherry tomatoes for appetizers (Which I have done exactly one time each.  Never again.)  This list most definitely includes peeling tomatoes.  I love buying lots of extra tomatoes in the summer to freeze or make sauce, but I hate the thought of spending an afternoon in the kitchen scoring, parboiling, coring, and peeling tomatoes.

I usually do it because the thought of not having those tomatoes for my soups and sauces all winter long is too terrible.  And let’s face it, for many preparations you just don’t want little tomato skin sticks in your recipes.  So I suck it up and while I’m doing it, I try to channel my grandmother who would process tomatoes for what seemed like weeks on end every summer.  The shelves in her basement were lined with the literal fruits of her labor.

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But whenever I get a chance, I do everything in my power to skip that step.  This year,  I wanted to try a slow roasted sauce that didn’t force me to process all those extra pounds of tomatoes.  I was really pleased with the result — the skins almost melt away after hours in the slow oven and once pureed, you’d never know they were there.  And feel free to flavor the sauce any way you see fit.  Obviously you could use a lot more herbs, add other vegetables (like eggplant, fresh fennel, or zucchini, etc.), cook ground beef, veal, or sausage in the final product for meat sauce, or go the fra diavlo route and spice it up with red pepper flakes or chiles.

All you need is a really big roasting pan (like what you would use for a big turkey), lots of time in the oven with the occasional stir, and a blender or immersion blender.  And I promise, you won’t burn one finger trying to peel a hot tomato.

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Slow Roasted Plum Tomato Sauce with Basil

Makes about 3 or 4 large jars ( or 10-12 cups of sauce)

1-2 large onions, peeled and roughly chopped
1 head of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
2-4 sweet peppers, stemmed and roughly chopped
8-10 pounds of Roma Tomatoes (that was about 36 large ones for me), cored and halved
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup of honey
1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar
3 t sea salt
1-2 t freshly ground pepper
2 t dried oregano
1 t fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
3-4 T red wine
Additional Salt, Pepper, and Sugar/Honey to taste
2 big handfuls of basil, chopped

1.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.  In a very large roasting pan, combine the onion, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, olive oil, honey, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, fennel, and bay leaves.

2.  Roast tomato mixture in preheated oven for 5-6 hours, stirring every hour or so.  Put your feet up and read a book while your house starts to smell delicious. Or more likely, clean your house and fold some laundry.

3.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly.  Remove bay leaves.  Puree with immersion blender or in traditional blender (cool mixutre a little more if using a traditional blender and be very careful to keep lid off slightly and covered with a towel so the steam can escape).

4.  Add red wine and taste for seasoning –adding more salt or pepper if needed.  And if your tomatoes are on the acidic side, you might need to add more honey or sugar.

5.  Stir in chopped basil and serve as is or put in containers to freeze.

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Honey Strawberry Freezer Jam

I’ll start this by blaming the alcohol and the heat.  And my family.  Last week we were on vacation with my parents, siblings/spouses, and kids/cousins in Orlando.  And it was hot.  Like 100 degrees hot with stifling humidity.  We went to Sea World and I nearly melted.  Don’t believe me?  Ask my husband.  I have no tolerance for discomfort.  And dropping hundreds of dollars to walk around a crowded theme park in 100 degree heat is pretty much my idea of pure pain.  And at the end of the theme park days, my siblings and I all agreed that our kids were much happier at the pool with their cousins.  I am pretty sure they will have better memories of swimming for hours on end (with their best buds in the whole world) than they will of trudging around theme parks and waiting in lines in practically dangerous heat.  Or that is how we justified it.

My memories, however, will be a little dimmed.  Because we sat around the pool in the heat, and my goodness, how could we not have a cold drink?  It was HOT, remember?  OK, maybe one cold beer with lunch.  Or a frozen layered daiquiri with a rum floater.  Or a mojito.  Or three mojitos.  Once it hits the lips, you know?

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We had an absolutely fantastic time and I am sad today thinking of how hard it is to get the whole family together any more — as the kids get older and the distances get further and the schedules get busier, I realized that this was an almost once in a lifetime opportunity.  So you will forgive me for not feeling like writing up recipes while I was away, won’t you?

And I realize that most of us are now past strawberry season.  Frankly, I was lucky to get any jam made in the flurry of the last week of school, packing, and getting ready to go.  So, if you have some strawberries left, give it a whirl.  Otherwise, wait for raspberries or blueberries.  I bet they would work equally well.  I set out to create a batch of jam that used honey — because the standard recipe for strawberry freezer jam requires four cups of sugar.  FOUR CUPS.  Are you kidding me?  That scared me off right away and I can’t believe I hadn’t given it a second thought before.

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And I do freezer jam because I am still too scared to can.  I am pretty convinced I’ll give my family botulism and everyone will make fun of me on my deathbed.  “I can’t believe she didn’t sterilize the jars for 10.2 minutes.  What was she thinking?  It’s just so sad.”

So, here’s the recipe.  Now I am off to take a run and detox from excessive alcohol and french fries.

Honey Strawberry Freezer Jam

Makes about six 8-10 oz. jars

4 pints of strawberries (about three pounds of berries)
1 cup of apple juice
1/2 cup of water
1 package of No Sugar Needed Pectin
1 T lemon juice
1 cup of honey

1.  Clean and stem berries.  Mash one layer of berries at a time in a large bowl until all berries are mashed.

2.  In a small saucepan, whisk together apple juice, water, and pectin.  Bring to a hard boil and boil for one minute.

3.  Add honey and lemon juice to berries and stir well.  Add in hot pectin mixture and stir well again to make sure everything is combined.

4.  Ladle into clean jars (glass is fine) and screw on lids.  Let sit in the refrigerator for a few hours to set up and then transfer to the freezer to store.

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Rhubarb Applesauce

When I picked up our CSA share yesterday, I got another bunch of rhubarb to join two others in my fridge. We like rhubarb, so there is no good reason why we haven’t used it. I guess between weekend travel and having no time to make a dessert (which is how we prefer it, obviously), it has just started to pile up. I wanted to do something slightly more savory, which is tough with rhubarb because it is very tart and needs some sugar. I settled on the idea of something “applesaucey” and it was a hit with our grilled pork. It would be great with some strawberries added in (if you like the strawberry-rhubarb combo and are willing to part with your strawberries — but I’m not there yet.)

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I added fresh ginger because it marries with the rhubarb so nicely, but the kids probably would have enjoyed it more without it. There were yelps from my almost three year old son about it being a little “spicy” — but I have a hard time judging that because he thinks rosemary is spicy. His other beliefs include: 1) Don’t trust anything with a tongue (“lickers” as he calls them) based on a fear of dogs who lick him, 2) The best parts of being a grown up are being able to watch Harry Potter movies and touch the ceiling, and 3) The purest form of evil is the garbage disposal. So, take or leave his cooking advice.

I sweetened this with a bit of honey (not to be confused with a bit o’honey) and it worked well. If you are making this for a more mature audience (one not afraid of lickers), I think it would be wonderful with some freshly chopped chives or rosemary.

Rhubarb Applesauce

Serves 4

4-5 cups of rhubarb, cut into 1 inch pieces
3-4 cups of apples, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
1/2 cup of honey
1/2 cup of water
1 T freshly chopped ginger
Pinch of salt
Pinch of cinnamon
Pinch of cardamom
Freshly chopped herbs (if desired)

Combine all ingredients (except herbs) in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Simmer for 20-30 minutes until completely softened and the rhubarb is falling apart.  If your apples are still too chunky, you can use a potato masher to break them up.  Serve as a side dish or with grilled meat.

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Cuizoo’s Famous Balsamic Vinaigrette

This is one of my most requested recipes — which always strikes me as very odd because it is the most simple vinaigrette you can make.  And whenever I try to give someone the recipe, I never have any idea about amounts because I always mix it in the same bowl and add the ingredients until “they look right.”   This is the dressing that made my friend Kevin actually like salad.  My two year old loves it… but my seven year old prefers it without the balsamic, so I usually dress her salad separately with the oil mixture before I add the balsamic. 

There is only one key to making it right… good quality olive oil and good quality balsamic vinegar.  And if you have to choose one, pick a decent olive oil and spend a little extra on the vinegar because a bad balsamic vinegar makes a very bad vinaigrette.  Just so you know, I am not talking about a $30 bottle — I generally buy an organic variety that is about $10 for a pretty large bottle.  And when you consider that you only use about an ounce for an entire salad, it lasts for quite some time and is much more cost effective than buying most bottled salad dressing.  It’s yet another win-win-win … more reasonable, tastes better, and better for you because you control the ingredients.  (As you will notice, I don’t add any Potassium Sorbate or Sulfiting Agents to mine…)

And it takes all of one minute to make.

Cuizoo’s “Famous” Balsamic Vinaigrette (enough for one large salad)

3/8 cup olive oil
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove, chopped finely
1/8 tsp fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Chop garlic clove finely and place in small bowl.  Add oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper and whisk well with a fork or wire whisk — until it is emulsified.  If not using dressing immediately, re-whisk before pouring over greens.