Posts from December 2013

Orange-Almond Caramels



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Every year as Christmas gifts, I like to make things with the citrus from our yard. This year I decided to make caramels with our oranges. I know making candy sounds daunting, but truthfully, even though I am NOT a baker (precision is not my forte), I found this recipe to be easy. The longest part of the process was wrapping them individually (and trying to get a caramel block unstuck from wax paper. More on this later.)

This recipe came from Matt Armendariz’s Mattbites blog, which is fabulous. (He apparently likes cooking with citrus as much as I do, too.) He uses blood oranges, which of course are the creme de la creme of oranges, but I used my tangerines and they turned out just fine.


3 c freshly squeezed orange juice
1 c granulated sugar
1 c packed light brown sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/3 c cream
1 t vanilla
1 c toasted almonds
sea salt flakes


Line the bottom of a baking pan with parchment paper. DO NOT use wax paper. Wax paper melts to the caramel, and you then have a mess. (Matt warned me about this in his recipe, but I have a habit of making do with things I have in my kitchen, which was wax paper at the time, and not parchment. Do not make my mistake. If you do, you can use my remedy of having your partner blow a hair-drier over the caramel stuck to the paper while you slowly try to pry it off. Save yourself some grey hairs and just use parchment the first time around.) Next, put the orange juice in a heavy 4-quart saucepan. Boil the juice until it is reduced to 1/3 c. While that’s boiling, chop the almonds, and toast them in a skillet on medium heat until they’re slightly browned and smell amazing. Sprinkle the nuts along the bottom of the parchment-lined pan.

Once you have 1/3 c of orange juice, remove it from heat and stir in the sugars, butter, and cream. Return to high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Use a candy thermometer, and let the mixture rise to 248 degrees. This will take about 17 minutes, according to Matt’s calculations. (He also suggests to put a half-teaspoon of the mixture into a glass of icy water, and if it turns to a firm, chewy ball, then it’s ready.) Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Pour the caramel over the almonds. Let it sit at room temperature until it’s firm. Sprinkle salt  over the pan before cutting. (I used Kosher salt instead of sea salt flakes, and it was just as good.)

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When wrapping, wax paper works best here. They make for great gifts!

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Rosemary Cocktail



If you’re wanting a cocktail that smells like a Christmas tree, this rosemary-infused drink is for you. Our friend Sam has loads of rosemary growing in his yard, and he came up with this concoction that seems to fit the holiday spirit.

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First you have to make the rosemary simple syrup. Add 1 c sugar to 1 c water, and put 3 or so sprigs of rosemary in a pot over medium heat. Heat until the sugar is dissolved (about 5 minutes.)

To make the cocktail:

1 jigger rosemary simple syrup
1 jigger fresh lime juice
1 jigger gin
Top with selzer

Add everything to a cocktail glass with ice and stir. Garnish with a rosemary sprig. Merry Christmas!

Coleslaw with Cumin-Lime Vinaigrette


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I enjoy a good creamy coleslaw with lots of mayo, but I love a coleslaw with a vinaigrette even more. Our cilantro in our herb garden is finally growing, so it was nice to add that as flavor and garnish.

I found a recipe for this online, but when I made the vinaigrette, it was kind of muh. Nothing special. So, a little more searching on how to pick up flavor in a vinaigrette, and I came across the perfect solution: fish sauce! Fish sauce, you say? The nasty smelling stuff made from fermented fish? Yes, indeed! Fish sauce is full of umami, or the “fifth favor profile.” Along with sour, bitter, sweet, and salty flavors, our tongues also have sensors for umami. Asian foods such a soy sauce and miso are full of umami, but so are unsuspecting foods such as Parmesan cheese and tomatoes. Needless to say, adding just a dash of fish sauce will boost the flavor giving it some added deliciousness. Try it to see.


1/3 c fresh squeezed lime juice
1 T ground cumin
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 c olive oil
1 T fish sauce
2 t sugar
Dash of hot sauce (optional)
3 carrots, peeled and shredded
1 medium head of green cabbage, shredded
1 red bell pepper, julienned
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 c chopped cilantro


Add the chopped cabbage, carrots, pepper, onion, and cilantro to a bowl. Put the rest of the ingredients in a blender to make the vinaigrette. Toss and serve.

Gluten-Free Lemon Bars



Truth be told, I love gluten. Crusty baguettes, chewy pizza crusts, chocolate cakes: gluten equals glorious in my book. Neither Gary nor I are gluten intolerant, but we know many people that are. So I’ve had to learn how to cook and bake around glorious gluten for gatherings. Some recipes haven’t always turned out — my sugar-free and gluten-free clafoutis was an EPIC FAIL! — but I keep on trying. My challenge last night was to make a dairy- and gluten-free desert (the little guy COULD have butter, thankfully), and not only did this recipe fit the bill, it turned out pretty darn good, in my opinion; thus I thought I’d share.

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Our Meyer lemon tree is loooooaded, as you can see. (We even have to have wooden stakes to prop up the branches so they won’t break from the weight of the fruit!) Meyer lemons are the absolute best. They’re a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, so they have a slightly sweeter flavor than regular lemons, and are fantastic for baking. If you can find them in the store, use them.


1 c butter, softened
2 c sugar
2 1/3 c gluten-free flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free flour)
4 eggs
3/4 c lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 t salt


First, turn the oven on to 350 degrees. Next, beat the butter, 1/2 c sugar, and 2 c flour together in a mixer. (The flour I used was garbanzo beans and other legumes, so when I tried the batter, I was not impressed and worried the off-flavors would hinder the bars, but the lemony cream completely canceled out the weird non-white flour taste.) Put this in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes until the butter sets (this took about the same time that the oven needed to pre-heat for me). Press the dough into the bottom of a 9 x 13″ pan. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until firm and golden. While it’s baking, beat together 4 eggs, 1 1/2 c sugar, 1/3 c flour, 3/4 c lemon juice, and the salt. Once the crust is ready, pour the lemon mixture over the crust and bake for another 20-30 minutes. Sift powdered sugar over the bars to serve.

Jalapeño Jam


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Gary and I love all things spice, so I was thrilled when my friend Melissa brought me 13.8 pounds (13.8!) of jalapeño peppers. Her pepper plants out at her organic farm Forage went crazy, and we reaped the bounty.

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We pickled some, dried others, and made jam out of the rest. I realize that jalapeño jam doesn’t sound all that enticing, but believe me, it’s fantastic. The sugar cuts the spice just enough to make it a great spread on cornbread, or with chèvre on crackers.

This recipe is from our friend Sam. Unlike many recipes I attempt, these instructions have to be followed EXACTLY! Jam and jelly is tricky that way; if you don’t do the boiling or adding exactly as they say, you end up with runny jam. (Which is exactly what happened in my first batch, which ended up being compost). I am by no means an expert on canning (although that actually is one of my life goals), so I defer all canning questions to the Queen of Canning through her Food in Jars blog. It does make me feel better that even she gets runny jam every once in awhile.


3 cups of bell or sweet peppers, red and/or green
1 c jalapeño peppers
1 c cider vinegar
1 1/2 boxes Surejell Fruit Pectin
1/2 t butter
5 cups sugar, measured into separate bowl (See tip below.)


Bring boiling pot half-full with water to a simmer. Wash the jars and screw bands in hot soapy water; rinse with warm water. Pour boiling water over flat lids in saucepan off the heat. Let stand in hot water until ready to use. Drain well before filling.

Clean and coarsely chop peppers. It’s best to protect your hands with rubber gloves while preparing jalapeño peppers. You want 4 cups total of the peppers, but you can add more or less hot ones for your taste. I used all jalapeños for my recipe, but that’s because we love the FIRE! You can also omit or leave in some of the jalapeno seeds depending on your spice tolerance. Place the peppers in a food processor and grind them up. Next, put them in 6 or 8 quart pot.

Add the vinegar. Stir in the pectin. Add the butter to reduce foaming. Bring mixture to full rolling boil (a boil that doesn’t stop bubbling when stirred) on high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in the sugar. Return to full rolling boil and boil exactly 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim off any foam with metal spoon.

Ladle immediately into prepared jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of the tops. Wipe the jar rims and threads. Cover with the lids and rings, but do not screw down the lids tight–air still has to escape. Place the upright jars in the pot with the boiling water that you used to sterilize the jars, but make sure they’re not touching one another. Water must cover jars by 1 to 2 inches. Put the lid on the pot and boil for 10 minutes. Remove the jars, screw the lids on tight, and place upright on towel to cool completely.

Makes about six one cup jars.

Gin & Homemade Tonic


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Although it’s not really G&T season for the rest of the States, down here in Florida, the weather is still nice enough to call for a good old gin and tonic in the evening on the back porch. For an extra tasty G&T, one calls for homemade tonic.

Quinine is the ingredient in tonic that has made it a sought-after drink now for centuries. It comes from the bark of the cinchona tree, grown in South America, and was found to be an early cure for malaria. (For a good account of the importance and value of cinchona bark, I’d recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s beautiful new historical fiction: The Signature of All Things. She delves into the early European cultivation of the crop in her novel. And is a fantastic writer to boot.) Fortunately nowadays, one only has to click a button on a computer to have cinchona bark delivered to your doorstep instead of traveling across the ocean by boat.

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We used our lemons, limes, oranges, and lemongrass for this recipe.

Ingredients for the tonic:

4 c water
1 c chopped lemongrass
1/4 c powdered cinchona bark (you can get it online at herbal stores)
Zest and juice of one orange
Zest and juice of one lemon
Zest and juice of one lime
1/4 c citric acid (I got this at Walmart in the canning section)
1 t whole allspice berries
1/4 t Kosher salt


Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Once the mixture starts to boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

Once cool, the mixture will be thick. Some recipes say you can filter with a coffee filter; we’ve never had luck with that. We rigged up our own system to filter the tonic.

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If you cut off the bottom of a 2 liter pop bottle, it will act as a funnel to filter the precipitants (we used a wine bottle here–WAY too difficult to cut glass. Don’t try it. Just use a plastic pop bottle.) We put the cap on, and inverted it in another 2 liter bottle that had the top cut off. We poured in all the tonic mixture, and let it stand overnight. Most of the precipitants will settle. The next day, pour off the liquid on the top into another bottle, and you have your tonic!

To make your gin and tonic, use this recipe:

1 1/2 oz gin
1 oz tonic
1 oz lemon juice
1 oz simple syrup (to make simple syrup, heat 1 c sugar + 1 c water until it dissolves.)
Top with seltzer water

Add all this to a glass full of ice and use a lime wedge as a garnish. Depending on the tonic, you may have to use a little more simple syrup or a little less lemon juice. You might have to tweak this recipe to your liking. Cheers!

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