Chicken avocado 6 2014

Chicken Avocado Salad and a Frost Advisory

Correct me if I’m wrong but it’s still summer, right?  So it was completely insane to me to find us under a frost advisory.  Sunday afternoon we grabbed as many tomatoes as we could as the plants were too tall for us to cover.  The only other veg we really had to worry about were the peppers.  So we got those covered.  Turns out the temperature stayed just high enough but we have two more evenings this week that may get close to frost.  I had to dig out my winter hat to walk the dogs!

For Saturday I wanted to do a light healthy meal with chicken and avocado.  I was put in the mood for this last week when we had some gorgeous weather.  Saturday rolls round and it’s raw and cold.  I would not be dissuaded!  I put on more layers and got on with it.  :)

This is super simple with layered flavours and it’s quick to put together.  The longest bit was the side of roasted potatoes.

Cook up 5-6 rashers of streaky bacon.

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Set aside the cooked bacon on paper towels and pour out most of the bacon fat and save for other dishes.  You only need a tablespoon or two.  Thinly slice a chicken breast and start browning it in the bacon fat.  Add a couple of chopped garlic cloves and a couple of mushrooms.

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As the chicken cooked I made the dressing.  This was a bit of an experiment as I had an idea of what flavour I wanted as well as consistency.  But wasn’t sure how to get there.  I started with a base of mayo.

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In hindsight I should have started with half the mayo I actually used.  I added sriracha sauce, lime juice and cilantro.  The important thing is not to have the aftertaste of mayo.

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To serve I layered lettuce leaves with the chicken, mushrooms, and chopped bacon.

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Add sliced avocado and fresh tomatoes. Drizzle the dressing over and serve.

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Now the idea was to make these as wraps but I served it this way because there was a lot of food.  Kudos for my family for being game and making them into wraps.  The thing I loved about this dish was it was filling but not heavy.  I hate feeling stuffed but also dislike being hungry a short time after so this was perfect. And we had just enough room for popcorn and watching “Young Frankenstein” with the kids.

Swiss chard 4 2014

Swiss Chard and Diet Trends

I’m not one for hopping on the latest bandwagon for the diet fads.  Though I did try the South Beach diet once.  Wasn’t overly exciting and I felt it was limiting.  The latest is the Paleo diet.  I find it interesting and decided to get a cookbook that would explain it in more depth.  I’m not looking to jump in with both feet, we love bread too much, but I was surprised we follow a lot of the guidelines already.

The funny thing about trends is how people can go down the rabbit hole.  With the paleo there are a lot of people who think that it needs to be mostly meat based.  There is an article in the National Geographic that discusses this and they did point out that the hunting portion of the hunter/gathering could be seriously lacking and the women picked up the deficits with the foraging.

I am all for moderation though I have been wondering if I need to cut back even more on the grains as I’ve been struggling with inflammation this year and can’t seem to shake it.  With the exception of bread and occasional pasta there’s not much to cut.  But it wouldn’t hurt to expand the types of food we try to cook.  The substitutions are curious though.  I doubt there was coconut flour or xanthum gum and the like in the original paleo diet.

There was some lovely Swiss chard at the farmer’s market which I bought.  I was pleased the recipe I came up with fell in line with the paleo diet.

I’ve never had Swiss chard nor had I cooked with it before so I needed a quick lesson in what it was or how it compared to other leafy greens.  The farmer said it was similar to spinach in how it is cooked and if you cook the stems they needed to be cooked longer than the leaves.  The general opinion was to not eat it raw.

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It’s a gorgeous veg with the rainbow stalks and I was hoping the colour would hold up with cooking.  Not all veg does so my fingers were crossed.  Plus it seems a shame to waste the stalks!

I sliced up 5 rashers of streaky bacon and began rendering it in a skillet.  Meanwhile I chopped up the stalks, a small red onion, and a few cloves of garlic.  Once the bacon was half cooked add the onion and cook for a few minutes to soften then add the garlic and chopped stalks.

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Add 1/2 cup of chicken stock and a 1/4 cup of dry white wine.  Stir well.  Once the stocks have softened a bit add the chopped leaves of the chard.

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Season with salt and pepper and simmer until the leaves soften down.  I liked that the chard didn’t wilt down as much as spinach.  I don’t like it when it gets that wilted and mushy.

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I enjoyed this and was happy that we have another veg to add to our toolbox.  I’m limited with veg as a lot come across as bitter to me but I want to branch out and it was success on the first try!  We’ll definitely have this again and I’ll be playing round with the Swiss chard for different dishes.  Plus we’ll try growing it as well.

Lamb gyro 9 2014

Lamb Gyros and a Near Disaster

One of the blogs I follow, Cooking in Sens, was lamenting the lack of taste in lamb here in America because it is grain fed.  Fortunately I can get grass fed lamb in our area.  A local farmer rents pastures from various home owners and he rotates round with his crops and livestock.  It’s a great system and his lamb is always flavourful.

Don’t know why it popped into my head but for some reason I was in the mood to make gyros.  I’ve never made them and I haven’t had one in ages.  But I saw the lamb and thought now was a good as time as any!

The gyro bread is very easy to make and I found this recipe to use.

You will need:

1 cup hot but not boiling water

2 teaspoon of active or instant yeast

2 1/2 cups of flour

2 teaspoons of salt

1 tablespoon of olive oil

In the mixer add the water and yeast and let it proof for about 5 minutes.

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Add in the rest of the ingredients.

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Once the dough comes together put the mixer to medium speed to knead for about 8 minutes.  I found that the dough wasn’t kneading well enough in the mixer so I finished it by hand.  Knead until the dough comes together in a smooth ball.

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Cover and let the dough rise for an hour until it is doubled in size in a lightly greased bowl.

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Divide into 8 equal pieces on a lightly floured surface.  Cover with cling film while the pan heats to medium high.  Lightly spray with olive oil.

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Roll out the dough.  The recipe I followed said the pieces could be rolled out to 8-9 inches and be 1/4 inch thick.  Not really.  So I went with a compromise and tried to get in the middle of the measurements.  Place the first one into the pan and let cook for 30 seconds then turn over and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

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Then flip again and cook for another minute.  These have a tendency to blow up like balloons so gently press the air out as it cooks.  If you want them to be like pita then the air is ok but for this press the air out.  Once cooked keep covered with a tea towel.  Do this for all 8 pieces.

I made up the tzatziki sauce I’ve done before and then did up a marinade for the lamb using olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, rosemary, and salt and pepper.  I also sliced up some onion to grill.

And we come to the near disaster.  I got the onion on the grill with the lamb and put the extra marinade on the lamb.  Some of it dripped down and caught fire.  It was quite something.  As big a fire you can get without actually damaging the grill.  The temp gauge was well past 600F/320C.  The whole bottom of the grill was like the gates of hell.  So we removed the tank, closed the lid and let it burn out.  So I don’t have any pics of the grilling part of the meal.  So tomorrow it is on my list to scrub down the grill and get all the soot off of it.  Fortunately I didn’t ruin the lamb!  So all sorts of disasters were averted.

Once all the excitement had died down and the lamb was rested and sliced I began assembling the gyros.  Spread the tzatziki onto the gyro and layer the lamb.

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I added the onion, peppers, tomatoes, and lettuce.

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Wrap it up and enjoy!

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Preferably without any singeing of the eyebrows.  :)

Southwestern risotto 6 2014

Taking Risotto South of the Border

You know when you get a flash of inspiration and get excited, tell someone, and their response is “Erm, ok”?  That was my husband and me last night!  He had asked for risotto but I wasn’t in the mood for the usual one we do.  After debating in my head what to do I decided on doing a chilli sort of risotto.  I think that bit is what my husband wasn’t excited about as it brought to mind beans and the like.  I reassured him that I was thinking of the flavours instead of a full on chilli.

This is an easy dish to prep ahead of time if you are rushing about.  Our daughter tried out for the football team (soccer) at school and she did well enough to get on the A team.  Which considering she hasn’t played since she was about 5 was an excellent effort.  So we now deal with the practices and games, including a practice last night.  Hence the prep in advance.  First game this afternoon!

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In a saucepan bring to a boil homemade chicken stock.  You will need 4-5 cups depending on how much aborio rice you use.  In a large skillet melt 2 tablespoons of butter then add a small chopped onion to saute.  Once the onions have softened add 3 chopped cloves of garlic and saute for a couple of minutes more.  Then add 1-1 1/2 cups of aborio rice to the skillet and stir well.  Add a few splashes of lime juice and chipotle tabasco sauce.

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Add a cup of stock and stir well.  Gradually add the stock, letting the aborio absorb the liquid.

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As the risotto cooks begin to add the seasoning.  I added ground cumin, chilli powder, ground cayenne pepper, and dried oregano.  When the risotto is halfway cooked add half a cup of frozen corn and a few sliced mushrooms.

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After a few minutes add a chopped bell pepper and a sliced jalapeno.  Keep adding the stock.  When it is almost cooked add 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese and some chopped tomatoes.  Stir well and adjust the seasoning and the lime as needed.  Add a few chopped teaspoons of fresh cilantro and serve.

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Grate some more parmesan cheese over the top and add a dollop of sour cream on top.  My husband and the kids really enjoyed this twist on risotto.  I loved the heat in this dish.  Of course, if you want the spice to knock your socks off add more hot pepper!

Asian salmon 5 2014

Grilled Sockeye Salmon with an Asian Flair

The local co-op had some lovely fish for sale which put me in mind to grill some salmon.  I got all excited when I saw the Scottish salmon but then I paused when I saw it was farm raised.  What popped into my head was the thought how humane can it be to farm raise salmon, never mind fish in general?  Salmon go miles in their life cycle.  So how can you properly raise them in the cages?  Plus there are places that do GMO farm raised salmon and thus far the label laws in the States are appallingly lax it makes sense to avoid farm raised.  Which is such a shame as Scottish salmon is amazing.

However all was not lost!  They also had some wild sockeye salmon which is fabulous.  As it is seasonal I look forward to this time of year when it shows up in our stores.

I had a bit of oyster sauce left over so I thought I’d an Asian inspired marinade for the salmon.

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I chopped up a small scallion and 2 cloves of garlic.  In a small bowl, mix 1-2 tablespoons of peanut oil, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, a splash of fresh lime juice, some grated fresh ginger and 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce with the scallion and garlic.  Mix well.

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Season the salmon with salt and pepper.

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Earlier this year I started grilling the salmon on lemon slices.  I love how it adds citrus notes to the meal.

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Grill until it’s cook to medium.  Serve with the grilled lemons.

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My daughter and I enjoyed this with grilled corn and potato while my husband and son had jalapeno chicken sausages.  All in all a great meal!

Strawberry cookies 7 2014

Lemon Cookies with Strawberry Mint Ginger Jam

Stateside we just had our Labor Day Weekend.  The last hurrah of summer.  Best thing about it?  We had the kids!  Saturday was gorgeous so we took advantage of it and spent most of it outside.  Our daughter is trying out for the school’s soccer team and she wanted to practice her shooting.  Off we traipsed to play a bit of footie at the local playground.  Nearly did a split trying to get the ball!  Not a good thing.  Still it was a blast running round with the kids.

And the holiday weekend is never complete without our annual trek to the go-carts.  But dang it if I didn’t get the slow car again!  It was like a Sunday drive.  I want a car with oomph!

The weekend was topped off with marathon sessions of Settler’s of Catan.  That game is seriously addicting.

I came across a delicious recipe for lemon cookies with strawberry jam that looked super easy.  And if you are going to have marathon sessions of games with the kids there needs to be treats available!

First I made the jam.  I usually do the jam with ginger but I wanted to add another layer of flavour.  We have a ton of mint in our garden and I thought it would give a nice balance to this cookie.

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In a small sauce pan add about 1 1/2 cup of chopped strawberries, 2T of lemon juice, and a small handful of mint.  Grate fresh ginger over the strawberries to your taste and bring to a simmer.

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Remove from the heat once it gets to the jam consistency.  Set aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 350F/175C

For the cookie dough you will need:

1 cup butter

2/3 cup sugar

zest of 1 lemon

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Cream the butter and sugar together and add the lemon zest.

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Add the flour and mix well.  If the butter is cold like mine was because I spaced on getting the butter out of the freezer in time you may find it crumbly but that is ok.  The cookies may not spread out as much as warmer butter but it will still be delicious!

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Roll the dough into 1 inch balls.  Use a finger to make dents into the dough and fill with a small amount of strawberry jam.  Bake for 9-11 minutes.

While it is baking mix up a glaze of 1 cup powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp almond extract, and 2T of milk.  Mix with a whisk.  If it is still too thick add more milk.

When the cookies are still warm drizzle the glaze over the cookie.

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Not only these really easy to make they are fabulously delicious!  And it was a great way to use up some leftover strawberries.

 

Cornish pasty 8 2014

Giving Cornish Pasties a Try…

When we had our family get together a few weeks ago my dad was telling me about someone he knows being confused about how to pronounce Cornish Pasty.  This person would insist on pronouncing it pasty as in paste.  We had a good laugh about that, I asked if dad had explained that pronunciation required dollar bills!

As I did research on recipes for Cornish Pasties I realised that in 2011 it was given a PGI similar to Chianti or Parmesan cheese.  So I went to the official site for a Cornish Pasty to find out how to make these.

I’m not sure how stringent they are in protecting the Cornish Pasty because I have had several in the UK, many variations which include peas or carrots, different ways of doing the beef, etc.  I followed their way as closely as I could.  I’ll show what the actual recipe says and what I did based on the ingredients I had.

For the pastry:

500g strong bread flour (I used our all purpose flour)

120g white shortening

25g cake margarine (I used butter)

5g salt

175g cold water

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Combine all the ingredients into a bowl and mix until the water is incorporated.  Tip out onto the counter.  This will be very crumbly.

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Knead the dough together to incorporate the shortening and butter.  This will be a stiff dough.

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Cover and place in the fridge for 3 hours.  I only was able to have it in there for 2 but it came out well.

For the filling:

450g skirt steak (I had about 390g)

450g potato (they said to use waxy potatoes but I used what we had on hand and used our freshly harvested red potatoes.  Also, to keep the ratio of the filling intact I used about 390g of potato)

250g swede (rutabaga)

200g of onion

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Chop the steak onion into 1/2″ cubes.  Chop the swede and potato into 1/4″ cubes.  Season well with salt and pepper.  The recipe says to have a 2:1 ratio of salt and pepper.

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Preheat the oven to 410F/210C

Divide the pastry into four portions.  Roll out thinly and spoon the filling into the centre.  I found that 1 1/2 cup of filling was as much as the pastry could hold.  Add two dollops of butter.

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Fold over the pastry and roll crimp from one side round to the other side.  Put a few slits in the top.

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One step I forgot was to brush milk over the pastry before baking.  Bake for an hour until golden brown.

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I did find a disconnect between the amount of pastry they say to make and the filling.  I had about a third of the filling leftover and it was reduced based on what I had.  When I make this again I will reduce the filling even more.

We all enjoyed it and I loved the simplicity of the recipe.  And I have to get to Cornwall and see what the real thing is because it looks like I haven’t bought real ones yet!

 

Mini quiches 5 2014

Shaking Up The School Morning Breakfast…

The kids survived their first day of school and handled the homework.  They both really like their teachers and they were really happy to catch up with their friends after a busy summer.  Though our daughter is already doing the countdown for the number of the days left!

We had been getting into a rut with school morning breakfasts of toast because with getting the kids ready, dogs, walked, and lunches made time can get a bit crunched in the morning.  The kids are much better at getting ready without much prompting but there is still a lot to do.  Remember when the South Beach Diet was all the rage?  One of the things they suggested was to make up some little quiches so you could reheat them during the week.  I remembered this idea this week and thought I would do my quiches in mini form.  The response from the kids was yes and can it have bacon?  :)

Preheat the oven to 425F/220C

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In a small skillet start cooking and rendering 5 rashers of streaky bacon.  Add 1/2 a chopped onion, 2 cloves of chopped garlic, 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme, and a few splashes of dry sherry.

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In a separate bowl beat 4 eggs.  Add 1 1/2 – 2 cups of milk or light cream.  The more watery it is the less you want to use.  Mix in 1 1/2 cups of grated jarlsberg, tsp of salt, pinch of nutmeg, a couple pinches of cayenne pepper, and pepper to taste.

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Pour into 12 regular size muffin cups that are lightly greased.  Don’t over grease as it will get absorbed into the quiche.

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Bake for 8 minutes then reduce the temperature to 350F/175C and bake until golden and the egg is cooked.  If you get the mixture wrong with using low fat milk and they come out a bit watery, put them on a baking sheet and bake at 350F/175C until the quiches is less wet.

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Served them this morning and the kids loved them.  Easy to make, easy to heat up, and healthy for the kids.  Can’t go wrong!

Strawberry cream puff 9 2014

Strawberry Cream Puffs

And poof!  Summer is over.  The kids were off to school today.  Both are in the final years at their prospective schools.  Our son is in 5th grade and our daughter is in 8th.  Seems like we were just bringing our son to kindergarten.  It can be bittersweet.  We are so proud of the people our kids are becoming but childhood just flies by.

I wanted to make a summer dessert as a special treat for their last day of “freedom” and we had some fresh strawberries on hand.  I thought cream puffs with a strawberry sauce would do the trick!

Choux pastry is easy to make, you just need a bit of elbow grease to make it happen.  I referenced Julia Child for this recipe.

You will need:

1 cup water

6 Tablespoons of butter

a pinch of salt

a pinch of nutmeg

1 tsp of salt

3/4 cups of flour

4 eggs

Preheat the oven to 425F/220C

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In a small saucepan combine the water, butter, salt, nutmeg, and sugar.  Bring to a boil to melt the butter.

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Remove from the heat and add the flour stirring very well and continuously until the flour is incorporated.

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Put it back on medium high heat, mixing the entire time, for a couple of minutes until the dough starts to leave a film on the pan.

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Remove from the heat again and add the eggs one at a time.  For the first egg you’ll need to move quickly so you don’t end up with cooked egg so stir fast.  After the first egg is absorbed add the next one and so on.

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Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag with a tip that is large enough for the size pastry you want.  For example if you want 3″ pastry use a 3/4″ tip.  Squeeze the pastry onto a greased cookie sheet.  I made the mistake assuming that our baking sheet was nonstick enough.  Don’t do that!  Space the pastry dollops the same distance as the diameter of the dollops.

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Beat one egg and dab the tops of the dollops without letting the egg drip down.  You don’t want the egg to pin the pastry down.

Strawberry cream puff 7 2014If you are doing small pastries that are about an 1 1/2″ or smaller bake for 20 minutes.  If you are doing larger pastries about 3″ then bake for 20 minutes and then reduce the temperature to 375F/190C for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown.  For both sizes put an inch slit in the side of each puff and put it back in the oven with the oven turned off and the door ajar for 10 minutes.  Julia Child did mention that if the dough in the larger puffs are still moist in the centre to scoop it out.

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The strawberry sauce is super simple.  In a small saucepan add strawberries, grated ginger, a bit of lemon juice, and 1/8 cup of brown sugar.  Bring to a simmer for a few minutes to soften the strawberries and melt the sugar.  Because I didn’t grease the baking sheet properly I ended up with puff cups rather than puff balls.  So I turned them upside down and put in fresh whipped cream and topped with the strawberries.

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A nice way to end the summer before getting back into the routine of school and the coming fall.

Spicy ketchup 10 2014

Kicking Ketchup

When I was little I was told the corniest joke but it cracked me up and I still remember it.  A mama tomato and a baby tomato were walking along but baby tomato kept lagging behind.  So mama tomato stomped on baby tomato and yelled “Ketchup!”  Told you it was corny.  :)

It was high time I tried making my own ketchup.  Given that we are currently being overwhelmed with fresh tomatoes we had enough to make some.  With the experiment using the Epsom salt for the tomatoes this year I have some results.  We have a crazy amount of tomatoes this year and very little cracking which has been an issue in the previous years.  On the flip side the fruit are ripening in a weird way.  Not sure if it’s because the season is cooler than normal.  They fall off before they are ripe and then they are going off a lot faster so we are struggling to keep up with it.  I will try this again next year to see what is what.

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I did a bit of research on ketchup recipes and figured I could come up with my own recipe without too much trouble.  I estimate we had about 6-7 pounds of tomatoes which we chopped and added it to a large pot.

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In addition chop 1 large red onion, 1 medium white onion, a jalapeno, 2 Ring O Fire peppers, and 2 cloves of garlic.

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Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, 2-3 tsps of sea salt, 1-2 tsps of pepper, and a handful of celery leaves.  Bring to a simmer stirring well.

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Simmer until the sauce reduces by about a third.

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Let it cool and then use a hand blender to process the ingredients.  Press the sauce through a sieve to remove the remaining solids into a clean pot.

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Bring back up to a simmer.  Add a cup of red wine vinegar and 3/4 cup of brown sugar.  Simmer until the ketchup is reduce by another 1/3 and is the consistency you want.  I like it on the thicker side so it reduced a bit more than a 1/3.  If you want it thicker add a bit more brown sugar.

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Can in sterilised jars and process for 10 minutes.

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I am really pleased how this came out.  Certainly makes me want to whip up some burgers and fries!  Maybe some onion rings.  :)  This has a lovely heat finish to it.

Ooh, as I write this I got a little trophy thing saying it’s my two year anniversary!  Woot!  :)