the perfect side: chopped mixed greens with vinaigrette

Confession Wednesday, you guys. I’m having an affair.

I’ve been cheating on the typical winter sides – mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, roasted squash – and fallen in love with the simple green salad.

(I think it’s serious.)

I might be alone in this, since too often I get emails or phone calls or texts asking for a good side dish involving carrots, potatoes, or green beans. Personally, I could have salad every meal. Is there anything more perfect than a simple mixed greens salad with a tangy homemade vinaigrette? (Unless Ryan Gosling is bringing the salad to you, of course. In that case, ignore this post and continue on with your amazing life.)

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People are always fascinated when I say I make my own salad dressing, but hand to God, I cannot figure out why. I tell people to try it themselves – chances are they have most of the ingredients in your fridge and pantry anyways. You certainly don’t need any fancy gadgets to make a vinaigrette. And it can be as simple or as complicated as your skills/time/confidence/imagination allows.

The basic ingredients are: mustard, vinegar, and oil. As for mustard, you can use whatever you’ve got in the pantry (although I would stay away from yellow and brown mustard in the beginning – try a classic dijon or country mustard first). For vinegar, there are so many options: balsamic, white balsamic, red wine, white wine, sherry, champagne, cider, rice wine, brown rice wine… the list goes on and on. And oils! My preference is a good olive oil, but you can always experiment with a nut oil like walnut or hazelnut, or a flavorless oil like canola or grapeseed.

When you’ve been making vinaigrettes for as long as I have (the last store-bought dressing I had expired in 2009, don’t ask me why I remember that) you end up with an impressive vinegar and oil collection. Which means you can whip up any number of crazy vinaigrettes each night. Add some honey if you want, some lemon juice, some crushed red pepper flakes. GET CRAZY.

And as far as the logistics of making a vinaigrette… step away from the bowl and whisk. All you need is a jar with a lid. Go look in your fridge for that one jar of random condiment that you aren’t sure you’ll ever use again or you’re not sure if it’s still safe to eat… go ahead, I’ll wait. Dispose of whatever ill-fated condiment was residing in that jar, give it a good scrubbing, and you’ve got your very own vinaigrette maker.

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Now for the greens. Maybe eventually I’ll get some salad greens from the garden, but for right now I’m perfectly happy with the massive tub you can get from the grocery store. (I prefer organic greens, because then I can rationalize it away when I’m too lazy to wash them.) Now here’s the kicker – I chop my salad greens. EVERY TIME. My sister-in-law turned me onto this — I call her the Salad Whisperer behind her back, because she can make a salad that will bring you to your knees with its deliciousness. I can’t put my finger on it as to exactly why I love chopping the greens up… I guess it really just makes a salad easier to eat. More composed. So you feel like your kitchen is a 4-star restaurant.

I don’t know though. Maybe it’s magic.

So, here’s my favorite two vinaigrettes. The balsamic for if you’re just starting out, and the champagne for when you want to graduate to a lighter flavor. If you’re feeling adventurous, add some golden raisins, dried cherries, or blanched almonds on top.

I’m betting you’ll develop a crush on salad, too.

The Basic Balsamic Vinaigrette

a teaspoon or so of dijon mustard
about two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
about two tablespoons of olive oil
a pinch of kosher salt
a pinch of cracked pepper

Combine all ingredients in an empty jar and shake until combined.

My Favorite Champagne Vinaigrette

a teaspoon of champagne mustard (like Cherchies)
about two tablespoons of champagne vinegar
about two tablespoons of olive oil
a pinch of kosher salt
a pinch of cracked pepper

Combine all ingredients in an empty jar and shake until combined.

thoughts from early march

One of my goals with the new house was to start a garden. We’ve never lived in anything but an apartment, and sadly, those two apartments came sans backyard, sans front yard, sans balcony for pete’s sake. The extent of our gardening experience was receiving one of those Aerogardens for a wedding gift.

So, back in October, I guilt-tripped my father and brother into coming over to help me put together four raised garden beds. I would have done the beds all by myself, but I own neither an electric drill (yet) or enough muscles to screw two large pieces of wood together (probably never). For the record, I ended up using non-toxic-pressure-treated wood to make my raised beds. I mean, I would have loved to use pure cedar or some other naturally-non-toxic-won’t-warp-in-Virginia-monsoon-season wood, but I would prefer to only have my name on ONE mortgage document this year. I know everyone harps on never using pressure-treated wood because the chemicals will leach into the food that you’re growing, which makes perfect sense. But the wood we bought apparently doesn’t have the crazy chemical that regular pressure-treated wood has on it, and it was only like, $1 more per foot. It will totally suck if one day I wake up with an extra arm and you guys will be all, I TOLD YOU SO CARTER. And I will be all, you’re right, but think of all the awesome things I can do with an extra arm, you know?

Next: Dirt. We needed dirt. I ordered 6 cubic yards of a 50/50 topsoil/compost blend, which was delivered to my backyard, and which I shoveled into each of the four beds. Shoveling 6 yards of dirt makes you freaking ripped, by the way. Also sore. I think I barely moved for a week after that.

Of course, after all this work, it was the end of October and therefore too late to plant anything for the fall season… I think. (In hindsight, this winter was so mild I probably could have at least planted some mixed lettuces and they would have been fine but, hey, you live and you learn.) So I basically let my beds sit untouched for about 4 months until this past week, when I dug them up. Theoretically I could look at those 4 months of doing nothing as a waste of time, but I opt to think of it as time to let the nutrients of the compost and topsoil work. (Read: I am rationalizing my laziness. So what.)

So I dug up my raised beds. Added compost and composted cow manure and mushroom compost and something called “greensand,” per the local nursery’s recommendation. I moved around lots and lots of dirt. I’ve been asked how to become a real estate agent. I listened to music on my headphones while I moved dirt. I got blisters on my thumbs from where I moved dirt. I ordered gardening gloves so I could move dirt more effectively.

And I enjoyed it.

Sort of crazy when you think about it, I guess.

New everything.

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HEY GUYS. (Pretend I’m saying this with attitude, perhaps with a snappy hand gesture or two.)

So I know it’s been 6 months and all since I last wrote. And I could be all apologetic and whiny, but honestly, I hate reading those posts. And I could tell you in detail what I HAVE been doing while I’ve NOT been blogging but it all boils down to: I moved from Colorado to Virginia. From an apartment to a house. From no backyard to a garden-friendly one. And I think I might have even convinced Brad to let us get a dog to go with our picket fence (which is not white, but whatever, that’s just details.)

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I still squee when I look at my new house. It’s so sweet it practically gives me diabetes.

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The kitchen. Looks a little white to start with, but I’m painting it a bright, bright green. ‘Cause that’s how I roll.

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The backyard, where Dad and my brother and I have already installed four raised garden beds. I’m getting topsoil and compost delivered later this week, even though I know I’ll only get to grow some quick-maturing leafy greens with what’s left of the season. Having never grown anything before (not a single potted plant, people) I am slightly terrified that I’m going to find out I have the brownest thumb ever. But, I figure I can probably grow zucchini and summer squash pretty easily. And if we end up with 4 raised beds’ worth of zucchini each summer and that’s it, well at least I will have a lot of zucchini bread, right?

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There’s been lots of cooking going on in the new house, although I’ve fallen back on some of the old favorites rather than trying many new ones. But after what seems like the LONGEST SUMMER EVER, what with the hot Colorado sun and then the stifling Virginia heat, I’m so desperate for fall I’m about to rent a snow machine and spray paint my trees yellow. I’m pushing the fall season like Wal-mart pushes Halloween candy in August, and making butternut squash lasagna and roasted potatoes instead of hanging onto the last few days of summer with marinated tomato salads and such.

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I found this recipe on that time-suck-to-which-no-other-compares, Pinterest. It was so pretty I just HAD to try it. I added a pinch of paprika for extra flavor, but next time (and there WILL be a next time) I’m thinking of infusing the butter with roasted garlic first. The shallot just wasn’t enough for me in this instance, although the texture of the dish was SPOT FREAKING ON. Extra crisp top and smooth creamy slices of potato that fall apart on the plate. A dish made perfect with those last potatoes of the summer, especially on the first cold night of fall. (Or so I would imagine, considering it’s still 75 degrees here at night.)

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Crispy Potato Roast

Adapted from Martha Stewart
Serves 6

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Martha says there’s only 25 minutes of prep time for this recipe. Martha is full of lies. (But it’s totally worth it.)

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Gather:
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 pounds potatoes, peeled
4 shallots, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
a pinch paprika
a few springs of thyme, and

a mandoline or a sharp knife

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Prepare:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Slice the potatoes on thinnest setting of a mandoline or as thin as you can with a knife. (The thinner the potatoes, the crispier they will bake up.) You can prevent them from browning by putting them in a bowl of water as you slice.

Combine the butter and olive oil in a small bowl. Brush the olive oil mixture on the inside of a cast iron skillet or other heavy baking dish. Arrange the potato slices in the skillet as you like. Wedge slices of shallot between slices of potato. Sprinkle with salt, crushed red pepper, and a pinch of paprika. Bake for 75 minutes. Arrange a few sprigs of thyme on top of the potatoes and bake for another 35 minutes, or until the potatoes are crispy on top. Serve.

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Fitz & the Tantrums / Don’t Gotta Work It Out

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Musings over Pollan’s Food Rules

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Since I’ve been cooking for myself, I’ve been pretty healthy in what I consume on a daily basis. And then I started this blog, and I started to learn about sustainable food production, eating organically, and the importance of eating local when you can. On average, I consume a whole lot more beans and lentils and whole grains during the week than I do pork, chicken, or beef.

But even though I’m usually bathing in whole grains and leafy greens and vats of golden olive oil, I do have a soft spot for some processed foods. Most notably, candy. I have a bad habit of eating candy while I read books at night. (Most recently, it was those damn pretzel M&Ms and Cassandra Clare’s new tome.) Of course, you don’t see much of that as my readers, because I’ve never thought that “pick up a bag of candy and eat with wild abandon” really counted as a “recipe” worthy of posting on this blog.

So for the new year (I’m talking about 2011, I know no one talks about New Years resolutions past… January 3rd) I decided to give up processed foods entirely. My “rules” stemmed mostly from Michael Pollan’s book “Food Rules.” Some of the rules that stuck with me were:

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Eat nothing your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.

Eat nothing with unrecognizable ingredients.

If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.

Eat only foods that will eventually rot.

Eat only junk food that you prepare yourself.

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Pollan has many other mind-blowing bits of info in the book, well worth the $6.00 I spent on my copy at the used bookstore. These were just my favorites.

To clarify, we still eat out on Friday nights. Even though my grandmother probably wouldn’t recognize my carnitas tacos with spicy poblano pesto, and I only have faith in Illegal Pete’s (but no proof) that they’re not putting high fructose corn syrup and MSG in my meal. And I’m sure the organic all-purpose flour I buy at the grocery store is made in a plant, but hopefully one day we can switch to a stone-milled version, if it’s not too expensive. We still eat desserts, but now I make all of them rather than buying them from the store.

I would be lying if I maintained that this didn’t have at least something to do with wanting to lose a little bit of weight. For those who don’t know me in person (all 2 of you reading this), you probably think I’m some svelte blond hottie, right? Well, sorry to ruin your dreams, but… I’m brunette.

Although I’m also trying to be healthier with what I stuff my face with currently (you know, before I revert back to subsisting entirely off of chocolate-dipped shortbread for all meals), my decision to cut out as much processed food as I can is born from a lot of reasons, most of which boil down to: I put a lot of work into not using commercial chemicals in my house, whether it be in my shampoo, or in my laundry detergent. And of course, there’s the aforementioned diet of mostly whole grains and hearty vegetables. So if I’ve been through all those fights, why wouldn’t I want to finish the battle?

This doesn’t mean anything is changing on the blog, of course. I still cook the same way with the same type of recipes. But it was on my mind today, so I thought I’d share.

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The Radio Dept – On Your Side


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Simple Seasonal Breakfast

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For the past two weeks or so, I’ve been having exactly this for breakfast – a bowl of plain yogurt with blood orange segments on top. I’ve been using homemade yogurt, which is super thick like I like it. After I segment the oranges, I like to squeeze the leftover membranes over top of the bowl, to get all the extra juice into my yogurt. It’s like a customized blood-orange-flavored yogurt, minus the horrible sugary taste you get with commercial yogurts. So, so tasty.

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And then there was the day that I ran out of blood oranges… so I used some frozen berries left over from last summer. I microwaved them for 30 seconds on half-power, and let all the juices mix in with the yogurt. Definitely the best way to start the day.

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The Love Language / Brittany’s Back


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Rosemary White Bean Soup

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You want to know what is REALLY hard to make look delicious?

That would be, a bowl of this here soup.

I mean, it’s freaking tasty stuff, this soup, but it will definitely be filed under the category of what I like to call, ugly food. Don’t get me wrong, ugly food is almost always tasty – we’ve been over this before – it’s just that you’re going to have to convince your guests/spouse/disbelieving children of that fact before they’ll even sit down to the table. I tried to be all Ina-like and add “a garnish that reflects the flavors present in the dish” – that’s why the rosemary spring is just hanging out over there on the left – because honestly, brown soup is just a wee bit unappetizing.

Okay, so we’ve been over the basics of why you probably WON’T want to try this soup. But this is a food blog, so its not like I’m going to post horrible recipes. So let’s go over the reasons why you should try this, non?

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1. It’s a recipe from Ina Garten, whose every recipe is a foodgasm in the making, and who is only second to God in our foodie world next to Martha Stewart. (But is actually first in God’s eyes because Ina hasn’t been to jail. Go Ina.)

2. It’s made with all natural ingredients like chicken stock and white beans, so you know it’s good for you without tasting like cardboard.

3. This is a perfect dish for winter, since it uses just about the only thing “in season” in Colorado – dried beans.

4. The end product is creamy without being heavy, flavorful without being full of fat. The best of both worlds.

5. The ugly factor of food is inversely related to how delicious the food is. So this dish is obviously off the charts. (Obviously.)

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So, now that I’ve thoroughly convinced you, Law & Order-style, get thee to your grocery store/farmers market/pantry some cannellini beans.

And make sure to distract your children/spouse/guests with cartoons/sports/booze before you serve this.

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Rosemary White Bean Soup

Adapted from Ina Garten
Serves 6

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The only “adaptations” included reducing the amount of olive oil (because she alway uses a ton, bless her heart) and removing all references to “good” ingredients that will make you feel inferior.

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Gather:
1 pound dried white cannellini beans
4 cups sliced sweet yellow onions
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large branch fresh rosemary
6 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
kosher salt, to taste
fresh cracked pepper, to taste

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Prepare:
Pick through the beans to remove any pebbles or other debris. In a large bowl, cover beans with at least 2 inches of cold water. Let soak overnight or at least 8 hours. Drain.

In a large stockpot, saute the onions with the olive oil until translucent, 10 to 15 minutes. (Note: Instead of adding more olive oil, just add a bit of water if the onions start to burn. And if you do burn the onions, just tell your guests it’s “Caramelized Onion White Bean Soup.”) Add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes until fragrant. Add the drained white beans, rosemary, chicken stock, and bay leaf. Cover; bring to a boil, and simmer 30 to 40 minutes, until the beans are soft. Remove rosemary and bay leaf.  Pass the soup through the coarsest blade of a food mill, or puree half of the soup in a blender/food processor. Continue pureeing and mixing until you reach a consistency you like. (I prefer a course puree.) Return the soup to the pot, and reheat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.

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Best Coast / The End

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Sweet Potato Frites with Roasted Garlic Aioli

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I made these for the first time a few weeks ago, when I just had some white and orange sweet potatoes hanging out in my house, leftover from the fall produce sales. They were starting their own mini sweet-potato-reproducing-factory in my cabinet, and I needed to get rid of them. Naturally, I decided to make some fries. It’s the default thing to do with leftover sweet potatoes, right?

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But you can’t just serve fries on their own… and for me, ketchup/catsup/catchup isn’t what you serve with a big platter of sweet potato fries. Sweet potato fries are the sophisticated older sister of regular fries. You need something to woo her with…

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Like intense garlic breath, of course.

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Thus, roasted garlic aioli. An aioli is much like mayonnaise… except hopefully homemade, and with a fancier name.

Honestly, you probably just want to invite all your friends over for these fries. You want to make sure all the people you know are eating this, lest you see a friend or five out and about later… because they won’t want to be within 10 feet of you. (Unless that’s what you’re going for… in which case, I applaud you for your creative strategy.)

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Sweet Potato Fries

From the Kitchenette
Serves 8 as an appetizer or side

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Gather:
4 sweet potatoes, orange or white or both, scrubbed clean
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more if needed
coarse salt
fresh cracked pepper

Prepare:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut sweet potatoes into 1/2 inch sticks. (Note: I’m not too concerned about getting each fry the perfect length or width. Perfection is BORING. Plus, having some fries be more crispy than others is quite tasty, honestly.) Toss sweet potatoes with 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper, adding more oil until fries are just barely coated. Roast at 425 degrees for approximately 40-50 minutes, tossing each 15 minutes or so.

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Roasted Garlic Aioli

From the Kitchenette
Yields about 3/4 cup

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Gather:
1 head garlic
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1 egg
salt
fresh cracked pepper

Prepare:
To roast the garlic, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the top off the head of garlic, and place on a square of aluminum foil. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over top the head. Wrap the aluminum foil around the garlic, and roast at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until garlic is translucent and soft inside.

To make aioli, put 3 cloves of roasted garlic (you can squeeze them out of the head with your thumb) in a food processor or blender. Add in the egg, a pinch each of salt and pepper, and turn on the food processor/blender to high. Add in the olive oil in a VERY slow stream, as slowly as possible. Check the texture of the aioli intermittently while adding the olive oil; you are looking for a texture akin to a thin mayonnaise, and you may not need all the oil, or you may need a bit more. Once the appropriate texture is reached, transfer to a serving dish.

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Warpaint / Undertow

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Superbowl Sunday 2011 | Cranberry-Cheddar and Scallion-Chevre Cheese Balls

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So I actually meant to post these in time for Christmas, but as you probably remember, I went home to Virginia

and accidentally disappeared off the face of the earth for approximately 30 days.

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As you can probably tell, the red ball is covered in chopped dried cranberries. It’s filled with delicious mango chutney and shredded cheddar, along with some other delicious things. The green one is covered in chopped parsley, and is filled with heavenly, creamy goat cheese and scallions. (If you start drooling, I won’t say anything. I’m totally drooling just writing this.)

These cheese balls are a staple at any of our family gatherings. My cousin Grayson, and my brother Jeff, have been known to request them at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But I see no reason you can’t serve them for Superbowl Sunday… or even just a Tuesday afternoon. I mean, honestly… who can resist a cheese ball???

In fact, if you are able to resist a cheese ball, then I’m unsure you have a soul.

And I’m positive we can’t be friends. It’s just a requirement to friendship.

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This is another Martha Stewart recipe, because I swear, that bitch can do no wrong. (I tried a banana bread recipe from her the other day, and I swear I saw angels with the first bite. Damn her and her perfect, perfect recipes.)

Martha suggests serving the parsley-goat cheese ball with slices of cucumber, but clearly that’s for people who are trying to ignore the fact that they are eating a large ball made entirely of dairy fat. Own it, and serve it with water crackers.

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Base for Cheese Balls

Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes one 4-inch ball

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Gather:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons lemon juice
scant 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 dashes hot sauce
pinch salt
pinch white pepper

Prepare:
Mix all ingredients in a bowl until smooth and combined.  Proceed with variation chosen below. (Base may be multiplied if making more than 1 variation; just divide evenly between separate bowls before proceeding.)

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Cranberry-Cheddar Cheese Ball

Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes one 4-inch ball

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Gather:
1 recipe Cheese Ball base, above
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
2 tablespoons mango chutney (or other complimentary flavor)
3/4 cup finely chopped cranberries

Prepare:
Combine the cheese ball base, cheddar, and mango chutney, and stir until thoroughly mixed. Pull out a sheet of cling wrap and lay on flat surface. Shape cheese into a ball, and wrap in cling wrap. Chill in fridge 1 hour.

Scatter chopped cranberries on a cutting board or other flat surface. Unwrap cheese ball from cling wrap and lightly press into cranberries, until dried fruit clings to surface. (Cheese ball can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance. Refrigerate, and let sit at room temperature approximately 1 hour before serving.)

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Scallion-Chevre Cheese Ball

Adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes one 4-inch ball

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Gather:
1 recipe Cheese Ball base, above
8 ounces goat cheese, softened
2 tablespoons scallions, finely chopped
1/3 cup curly parsley, finely chopped

Prepare:
Combine the cheese ball base, goat cheese, and scallions, and stir until thoroughly mixed. Pull out a sheet of cling wrap and lay on flat surface. Shape cheese into a ball, and wrap in cling wrap. Chill in fridge 1 hour.

Scatter chopped parsley on a cutting board or other flat surface. Unwrap cheese ball from cling wrap and lightly press into parsley, until herb clings to surface. (Cheese ball base can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance. Do not roll in parsley more than an hour or two before serving; the parsley will wilt in the fridge. Let cheese ball sit at room temperature about 1 hour prior to serving.)

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The Black Hole of Going Home

So yeah.

That was sort of an unexpected month off from blogging. I fell into a black hole of sorts.

Mostly unintentional. I had grand plans of blogging everything I made in my mother’s kitchen, delightful round-up post on my trips to visit friends, random posts of my family and friends.

But those damn family and friends. THEY SUCK ME IN. I pretty much reveled in their presence for a good 3 weeks, almost forgetting I even had a life in Denver, much less a blog about food.

We did make some pretty delicious food, my mother and I, some of which I’ll make again just to post here (it was that good). And then I’ll show you the FREAKING AMAZING homemade sausage that Brad, Amy and Nathan (my sister-in-law and brother-in-law) and I made from Ruhlman’s Charcuterie. (It was in.sane. That’s all I can say.)

In the meantime, here is what a black hole of family and friends looks like…

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I’ve got a few things to share with you, so get excited for some new recipes soon!

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December Can Jam | Habenero Hot Pepper Jelly

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Not to echo the sentiment of those who have written their December Can Jam posts already, but doesn’t it seem like just yesterday that we were all marmalading? This was the first year that I canned ANYTHING, and I think it was quite successful so far. I’ve learned so much, it’s almost laughable. The first time I made blood orange marmalade, I had no idea at which point to stop cooking it, and I was almost positive I would mess something up, get botulism, and die. But by March and April, I was feeling fine, feeling like I finally understood what to do and how to do it. Even now, I still learn things here and there (like the fact that your lids shouldn’t soften in boiling water, but rather in “just simmering” water) but over all, I think I understand how the process works. I’ve even explained to people (a few times) how pectin works! But I know from now on that canning will part of my life for a long, LONG time. I’m looking forward to handing out my handmade goodies to my family members this year at Christmas!

I’ll do a round-up of my Can Jam recipes tomorrow possibly, but we have guests this weekend and I just wanted to squeeze this in before the deadline!

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Habenero Hot Pepper Jelly

Adapted from Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
Yields 3  8-oz jars

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Gather:
1/3 cup finely sliced dried apricots
3/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup finely diced red onion
1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper
1/4 finely diced habenero pepper
3 cups granulated sugar
1 pouch (3 oz / 85 mL) liquid pectin

Prepare:
Combine apricots and vinegar, let stand for 4 hours or overnight.

Prepare canner, jars and lids.

Add red onion, bell pepper, habenero, and sugar to apricots. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat, a boil that cannot be stirred down. Add pectin and stir to combine. Boil hard, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Skim off foam and pour into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rim, center lid on jar, and screw band down until finger tight. Boil in a water bath for 10 minutes. Remove jars and let cool.

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