Jalapeno relish 4 2014

Jalapeno Relish – Think It’s Finally Hot Enough!

Before we rolled up our sleeves and tackled the house we had to contend with frost warnings.  After a flurry of pepper picking I had to do something with them so they didn’t go to waste.  Because we have a lot of hot peppers, jalapeno relish sounded like a good idea.

Not only was a it a good idea it is a really quick relish to make when you list is long.  In fact it is faster to do it than this post!  I followed this recipe for the most part to make my relish.

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This is all done in the food processor.  I sliced about 12 jalapenos and 1-2 Ring O Fire peppers.  I figured I was going to make this really hot for my husband.  I keep trying with the heat but while he enjoys the hot stuff I make it doesn’t seem to blow him away like it does me.  He likes things spicy!

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Add 4-5 cloves of garlic, half a small onion, 1/4 tsp cumin, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp sea salt, 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar, and a large handful of cilantro.

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Pulse away until you get the consistency you want.  Freeze or can the extra relish.

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And yes this blew him away.  :)  Finally!  It’s hot enough to use sparingly on dishes.

Apple picking 6 2014

Such a Lovely Day to Pick Apples…

The past two weeks have been go, go, go.  My husband took a week off so we can do home improvement projects.  On the list was to completely redo our small bathroom and replace the floors of the back two porches.  I’ll follow up with a post on before and after photos but I am so excited about getting these projects done.  And I’m exhausted!  We both are.  I went about two weeks without doing much cooking and no time to post.  Things are starting to get back to normal now thank goodness.

We went yesterday on our annual apple picking outing with our friends.  Couldn’t have picked a more gorgeous day to get together.

I was worried if there would be much to pick given how harsh the winter was.  The two trees in our front garden gave us a grand total of 2 apples and our peach tree never flowered.  Usually this time of year the trees are groaning with all the apples at the orchard and a lot of trees looked very bare.

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We had to go deep into the orchard to find apples.  I even found an optimistic apple flower.

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Because the pickings were so slim they had bins set up with apples so you could just fill your bags.  We did it the “hard” way keeping up with the kids running through the trees.  Much more fun that way!

I always enjoy the colours on display around the small shop with the flowers, apples, and pumpkins.

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The displays wouldn’t be complete without the giant pumpkins, some of which I’m sure, will find their way to the Pumpkin Festival in a few weeks.

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When we got married four years ago we considered this place for our wedding.  The costs were a bit much but it is such a beautiful spot.

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We now have enough apples to sink a ship.

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The kids are looking forward all the baked goodies.  Can’t let them go to waste after all.  I will have to come up with gluten free dishes as I am doing a month long experiment eating gluten free.  More on that later!

Raspberry meringue nests 14 2014

Raspberry Meringue Nests Ooh La La

Yesterday I was really in the mood to create in the kitchen.  Part of it was I’ve been watching cooking shows this week plus we went to see Hundred Foot Journey this past weekend.  What a great movie!  Our son really wanted to see it and I’m so glad he suggested it.  Aside from the fact Helen Mirren is a fabulous actress the scenery and food was just glorious.

I wanted to make a special dessert for my husband just because.  A get us through Wednesday treat.  This called for more than Bird’s custard, it was time for crème pâtissière. And because I love meringue this had to be the other main component.

I was faced with the whole hot dog/bun dilemma.  You know how they put 12 hot dogs in a package and 8 buns in a package so you are doomed to never match it up?  The meringue recipe calls for 3 egg whites and the crème pâtissière calls for 5 egg yolks.  Sigh.

Because I needed a smaller recipe for the meringue then I usually use for the pavlova I found this recipe to use.

For the meringue you will need:

3 egg whites

1/2 tsp of vanilla extract

1/4 tsp of cream of tartar

3/4 cup white sugar

In an electric mixer with a whisk start beating the egg whites.

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On medium speed add the vanilla and cream of tartar.  Beat until soft peaks form.  Then gradually add the sugar while beating on high until the meringue forms and is stiff.

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Because I was making nests I spooned in the meringue into a pastry bag with a star tip and piped it onto parchment paper in the shape of nests.  I do recommend working quickly so the meringue stays firm.

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Bake at 275F/135C for 45 minutes then turn off the oven.  Leave the meringue in the oven with the door closed for an hour before removing.

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I turned to Julia Child for the crème pâtissière and you will need:

1 cup granulated sugar

5 egg yolks

1/2 cup flour

2 cups boiling milk (careful you don’t scald it)

1T butter

1 1/2 T vanilla extract

Place the yolks into the mixer with the whisk and beat on medium.

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Gradually add the sugar as you beat the yolks.  The colour will be pale yellow and once the sugar is added continue to beat 2-3 minutes.  What you are looking for is it to “form the ribbon”  This happens when the eggs lose the granular texture. This bit is tricky as if you beat to long it will turn back to being granular.

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Then beat in the flour.

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Once the flour is incorporated carefully and slowly add the boiling milk in a thin stream to the egg mixture while you are beating at medium speed.

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Add the mixture to a saucepan and bring to a boil.  This is where the the elbow grease comes in. You need to keep whisking as it comes to a boil.  It will get lumpy then it smooths out as it boils.  It will be really thick.

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Once it comes to a boil cook it for 2-3 minutes so the flour is cooked.  Then remove from the heat and add the butter.

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Blend it in and then cover the pot until ready to use.  You can refrigerate it or freeze it if you aren’t using it right away.

I found some Ghirardelli semi-dark chocolate that I thought would be a nice flavour for this dessert.

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I melted it and added a few pinches of sea salt. To assemble fill the nests with the crème pâtissière and top with fresh raspberries. Drizzle with the melted chocolate and add fresh mint leaves.

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I was very pleased with how this came out.  It was a great way to get through a Wednesday!

Roasted beet burgers 5 2014

Roasted Beets with Burgers

I know a lot of us who blog have figured out the balance of healthy delicious food with budget.  And I don’t think it is that difficult to do.  But very often in cooking competitions there is invariably a challenge that involves cooking on a budget. Time and again the reaction is it’s impossible to get flavour on a budget.

For example, I am watching season 4 of Top Chef which I believe aired about 6 years ago.  They were given a challenge of cooking a healthy delicious meal with a budget of $10 for a family of four.  You might as well have told them to climb Mount Everest!  I don’t understand the disconnect for a lot of people when it comes to this balance.

Given that our food budget is about $150 a week which includes things like kitchen roll, soap, etc, I need to be creative with the dishes.  We actually do pretty well during the summer because of our veg garden but it gets a little tricky in the winter.  I sometimes skate over the line.  The big budget buster is meat, especially if it is important to buy local, humanely raised meat.  It just goes back to portion control.  I’ll take a breast of chicken and use it for the four of us.  And it’s plenty.

I also try to use an ingredient a few different ways during the week.  This week it’s beets.  I had some bacon fat left over from the chicken avocado dish I made so I thought I would roast them.  I had half a pound of ground beef leftover so it was perfect for two burgers for my husband and I.  To round it of I bought 2 large portabello mushroom caps.  When I was doing research into the Paleo diet I was so overwhelmed by all the books on this subject, it was insane. I saw in one book a suggestion to use the mushroom as the base to a burger. I cannot remember which book it was though. I looked at about 30 of them!

This is an inexpensive easy dish to make even with the grass fed beef.  I kept the burgers simple and used garlic chives and thyme from the garden.

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I chopped up the thyme and chives with a couple of cloves of garlic. I mixed them with the beef and a dollop of stone ground mustard.  Season with salt and pepper.

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Set this aside.  Peel and slice the beets about 1/4″ thick.  Beets are so messy!  Getting the stain out of my fingers is such a pain.

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Set the oven to 400F/200C and place the baking dish with a couple of tablespoons of bacon fat.  Allow it to melt then add the beets with salt and pepper to taste.  Roast until they are tender.  In the meantime, form the beef into patties.

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Drizzle the mushrooms with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Grill the burgers and mushrooms.  Be careful not to grill the mushrooms so much that they aren’t firm anymore.  Place the mushrooms on the plate and top with the burger.  Spread goat cheese on the burger then place the beets on the cheese.

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I’m not a fan of beets but the bacon fat helps.  :)  Of course after I did the photos and cut into the dish I thought I should have added some greens on top for presentation.  Too late at that point!

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.