Saturday, February 25, 2012

Walnut Crazy - Orange & Spice Candied Walnuts

It is not lack of want to. It is just those damn squirrels that prevent me from harvesting my beloved walnuts each year. As soon as the tender meats begin to fill the inside of the shell's protective cavity and the heavy laden branches droop with weight of the thick green orbs the invasion begins. I don't know how they know when the meats are maturing. Is it an internal alarm set that goes off in the pea brain of this rat-with-a-fluffy-tail? Slealthily they come. First, a single scout along the highway of power lines, coming from who knows were as we haven't seen them for a season. Then a small band comes across the front of the house, nimbly jumping to the trees, fences, and guide-wires to the back of the house where our mighty walnut tree stands. They twitter and scold us as they capture their prizes, knawing through to tender, sweet flesh. Within a week or less, the tree is bare and all we have left are the piles of sharp shells like schrapnal on ground and a good case for an anger managment class. I no longer think squirrels are cute and endearing.

We were so excited when we bought this house and discoved our tree in the back yard. It is huge, providing much needed shade in the hot summer months, and at harvest time, ornamented in a single bright green theme. We had a walnut tree at our previous home too, a rented 100 year old farmhouse with fruit and citrus tree in the surrounding yard.  Spoiled, we collected the harvest and shelled the nuts each season for bag and bags of treasures for baking. On sunny days, my German-American father-in-law would sit on the back porch steps and gently rap the solid sealed shells in just the right spot to reveal the perfectly broken halves. My grandmother had several trees on her Santa Cruz property too and as a kid we would troop out with bags and buckets to collect the nuts each year. We would set up shelling parties around the kitchen table, covered in newspaper and cutting boards as we filled the bowls with nutmeats, giggling and pounding away for hours.

So you see, foraging or harvesting is nothing new, really. But these days I seem to hunt them down in the long dark aisles of the warehouse store and bring them home bagged three pounds at a time.

Fresh zest and warm spices infuse these lightly candied walnuts. Pin It

Besides loving the flavor of walnuts in baking, on salads or stuffed in tender chicken an added bonus is just how healthy they are. The benefits are becoming more well known as "walnuts in particular have a unique profile: they are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, which may improve blood lipids and other cardiovascular disease risk factors." -- Walnuts and Health California Walnut Commission.

These lightly candied walnuts are really tasty sprinkled on a salad and were amazing in a little cake I made recently. Ready in 20 minutes and you have a whole lot of nuts to just snack on or add to a favorite recipe.

Orange & Spice Candied Walnuts
Makes 1 pound
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time:  10 minutes

1 pound shelled walnut meats
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoon fresh orange zest
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon orange extract (used Nielsen-Massey Orange Extract)
2 tablespoons water

Line rimmed baking sheet pan with parchment paper.
Measure and combine spices (salt, cinnamon, zest, cardamom) in a small bowl.
Measure and mix sugars, extract and water in a small bowl.

  1. Heat 10-12” heavy bottom skillet over medium heat then add all walnut meats. Cook with frequent stirring for 5-6 minutes until they start to brown and begin to smell toasted.
  2. Add butter and continue stirring until it melts completely.
  3. Sprinkle with spice mixture and stir, mixing it all together.
  4. Add sugar mixture to nuts, stir to coat thoroughly and start to thicken, 3-4 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat and pour onto prepared baking sheet, arrange in a single layer, separate pieces with a fork.
  6. Allow to cool completely before storing in airtight container. Can be stored up to three weeks or frozen.
Cook’s Tips
Delicious to add to salads, cakes or cookies.
Inspiration: Spiced Pecans - Alton Brown 2008 

A note about this post:

Every once in a while I like to cook along with my virtual friends. This is a fun way to have an online potluck and share recipes with a common theme -- but with uncommon results. Foodies from all over participate in these Monthly Mingles started in 2006 by Meeta @What's For Lunch, Honey.

 "What does Heart Healthy mean?  Foods that heal and boost our health. From whole grains, to Omega 3's. Lots of good fats and fruit and veg.  Low-sodium and low-cholesterol. Everyone thinks that all results in boring food. This month our challenge is to create delicious food that won't only warm the heart but keep it healthy." Check out the submissions after February 29, 2012 hosted by LadyRaven at Add to Taste.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Eternal Spring Hot and Sour Soup

Warily, you watch those around you. Bundled up to keep from the chill, tissues and lozenges close at hand. Wash, duck, weave. Ingesting Airborn and Vitamin C hoping to dodge the latest bug that seems always "going around." Headstrong denial at the first hint of scratchy throat quickly fades into reality as the rest of cold's symptoms set in. Yup, you caught it.

Eating or even preparing food seems absurd. Soup and rest, please just give me soup and rest. Not just any soup, my body cries out for Chinese Hot and Sour, savory, intense and sinus clearing. Some say that a mother's homemade chicken soup will cure what ails you, and I couldn't agree more. Like a magic elixir instilling hope and recovery with each spoonful. Taking the traditional recipe and adding anti-oxidant rich spinach, fresh ginger with it's digestive benefits, daikon radish for treating cough, mushrooms high in Vitamin D and a pinch of cayenne for sinus clearing makes me believe that even in the midst of winter, spring is eternal, and I will get there. This is my kind of comfort food.

Eternal Spring Hot and Sour Soup Pin It

Feeling better and stepping out in the coolness of late afternoon sun, I am greeted by our blooming Hellebores. Serene creamy white blossoms with a hint of pink freckles cheer me immensely as these lovelies bloom when most plants are cold and dormant. To be that tough, beautiful and resilient.

Hellebores, also known as Lenten Rose bloom from December to March.

A note about this post:

Every once in a while I like to cook along with my virtual friends. This is a fun way to have an online potluck and share recipes with a common theme -- but with uncommon results. Foodies from all over participate in these Monthly Mingles started in 2006 by Meeta @What's For Lunch, Honey. Grab a cup of Joe and pull up a chair and enjoy this month's mingle.

Monthly Mingle - Heart Healthy 

"What does Heart Healthy mean?  Foods that heal and boost our health. From whole grains, to Omega 3's. Lots of good fats and fruit and veg.  Low-sodium and low-cholesterol. Everyone thinks that all results in boring food. This month our challenge is to create delicious food that won't only warm the heart but keep it healthy." Check out the submissions after February 29, 2012 hosted by LadyRaven at Add to Taste.

This version of hot and sour soup uses low salt, low fat everything without compromising the savory flavor. To me that has to be heart healthy!

Eternal Spring Hot and Sour Soup
Serves 4-6
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes

2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ lb. lean pork loin cut into ¼” small cubes
1 chopped shallot
1 cup daikon radish, julienned
1 cup cut mushrooms
1 cup bamboo shoots
2 cups rough chopped fresh spinach
2 teaspoons dried bonito flakes
1 whole Thai Chile pepper
8 cups low salt, low fat homemade chicken stock
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
pinch of ground cayenne (to taste)

Hot and Sour Sauce
2 tablespoons low salt soy sauce
3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 ½ teaspoons corn starch
⅛ teaspoon ground white pepper
⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup thinly sliced green scallions

Peel and julienne daikon radish, chop mushrooms, scallion and shallots. Rough chop clean spinach leaves and set aside.
In a small bowl, beat eggs lightly.
In a small bowl, mix Hot and Sour Sauce ingredients, blend until corn starch is fully incorporated.

  1. In a 5-6 quart soup pot over medium high heat, add olive oil and brown pork, about 5-7 minutes. Add shallots and continue cooking another 3 minutes until they are soft and start to caramelize.
  2. Deglaze pan with chicken stock, stir and scrape bottom to release cooked bits. Add whole Thai Chile pepper, lemon zest and grated ginger.  Sprinkle in dried bonito flakes and cayenne. Bring to a low boil, then reduce to simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.
  3. Remove lid, bring broth up to low boil and add in Hot and Sour Sauce, stir to blend and thicken. Add in vegetables and cook for 5 minutes.
  4. Add beaten egg in slow stream, stir in circles gently with fork. Egg will cook rapidly. Do not over stir or you will break up the eggs and muddy the broth. Remove Thai Chili Pepper and turn off heat.
  5. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with scallion slices.
Cook’s Tips
You can choose to just use egg whites if you want to reduce egg yolks in your diet. Other easy changes to make this vegetarian is to substitute smoked tofu for the pork and vegetable stock for the chicken stock.

Good anytime.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Grand Finale -- Cara Mia Cream Pie

The juicing, the cocktails, frenetic peeling and zesting culminate in one of the most indulgent, creamy, rich pies that is also deceptively light as a cloud. How is that possible?  Inspired by the pie master, James McNair, naturally.  This volume, James McNair's Pie Cookbook, was lovingly purchased years ago to indulge my pie-baking husband. Beautiful too look at and the recipes are well crafted, easy to follow and have a bit of inspiration. Memories of the Mixed Citrus Cream Pie, with brilliant yellow custard and whipped cream rattled around in my brain as I wandered through the fruit stand piled high with oranges, clementines, minneola tangelos, lemons and limes.

Cara Mia Cream Pie
Dubbed Cara Mia from the citrus juice blend concocted for the Cara Mia Sidecar, this pie has a suprise in the docile looking crumb crust. A bit of thin ginger cookie tang to offset the sweet fluff that is the mousse-lie filling. Topped with homemade candied lemon and orange peels. This is using the whole fruit as they say. I even saved the golden simple syrup that was left over from the candying process to be used later when a sweet citrus addition suits. Liquid Gold it is. Hmm, Mojito?

And if you have too much filling for your pie pan? Why not Cara Mia Mousse "Shots?" Maybe that is the just right something to end an intimate, elegant meal.

Cara Mia Cream makes excellent little "shots" for an elegant bite.

Cara Mia Citrus Cream Pie
Adapted from James McNair’s Pie Cookbook, Citrus Cream Pie
Serves 6-8
Prep Time 14 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Chill Time 2-3 hours

Ginger-Graham Crumb Crust
1 cup Ginger Thins Cookie Crumbs
1 cup Honey Graham Cracker Crumbs
¼ cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
Cara Mia Citrus Blend
2 Clementines
2 Cara Cara Pink oranges
2 Minneola tangelo
1 Lime
2 Meyers Lemons
2 egg yolks
4 whole eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup Cara Mia Citrus Juices
2 tablespoons grated citrus zest (from Cara Cara Citrus Blend)
½ cup unsalted butter cut into tablespoons
1 ½ cup heavy (whipping cream)
½ teaspoon orange extract

Crust: Combine cookie and graham crumbs with sugar and melted butter. Press into 9” buttered pie pan. Bake 10 min. in 350 oven to set. Remove and cool before filling.

Zest citrus fruits to yield 2 tablespoons grated zest. Using vegetable peeler, remove remaining solid peel from fruit, cut off any lingering white pith and julienne finely to prep for candying the strips.

Squeeze juice from the variety of fruits, strain to remove pulp. There will be more juice than you need, so have fun either sipping or creating a Cara Mia Sidecar while you’re waiting.

Place egg yolks and whole eggs in double boiler, whisk briskly or beat for 2 minutes. Add in sugar, citrus zest, stir to combine. Place double boiler over simmering water (medium/medium low heat) and continue to stir. Add in the butter pieces one at at time, stirring and melting completely before adding the next. Continue until all butter is used and the custard has thickened, about 20 minutes. Should look thick and silky, easily coating the back of your spoon. Remove from heat and place on a ice bath to cool down. Cover the surface of the custard with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until well chilled. McNair says at this stage it can be “stored up to 1 month.” But I am not waiting that long! While cooling, whip the heavy cream and orange extract into stiff peaks.  Gently fold the whipped cream into the custard a third at a time until fully incorporated. Put cream mixture into prepared crust and chill for 2-3 hours. Top with candied citrus zest/peels.

Cook’s Tips
Simple Candied Orange Peel, Bon App├ętit  | December 2008

That ought to chase the winter blues away! Pin It

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Orange ya glad Valentine?

Winter's bite has taken hold of my dear friends and I am feeling just a bit guilty luxuriating in our current central coast mildness. So I am sending out a little bit of California love to all and a wee bit of cheer to brighten those dark skies, grey white landscapes and chilling temperatures that produce billows of steam as you exhale.  Come inside dear ones and let me prepare my Cara Mia Sidecar to sip as the radiator warms up and thaws you out. My little pink valentine,  just for you.

  Cara Mia Sidecar
I have been so inspired as the citrus harvest rolled in and the produce stands are awash with all sorts of tantalizing varieties. Like picking out sweets in a candy shop!  I came home with Clementines, Cara Cara Pink Navels, Mineola Orange, and Blood Oranges to combine with my own harvest of Meyers Lemons and Bearss Limes. The result was a wild intensive creative burst.

Do these tempt you baby?

Juicing, the old fashioned way
The classic Sidecar is made with Cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice. Packs quite a seductive wallop as each sip eases past the sugar frosted rim. Supposedly created in Paris during times when a belt of whiskey was frowned upon before dinner. By adding a bit of lemon this drink was instantly camouflaged as an aperitif. There are conflicting stories wither this occurred in London or Paris first, and each has their own specifications for proportions.

"Both MacElhone and Vermiere state the recipe as equal parts cognac, Cointreau, and lemon juice, now known as "the French school". Later, an "English school" of Sidecars emerged, as found in the Savoy Cocktail Book (1930), which call for two parts cognac and one part each of Cointreau and lemon juice." -- Sidecar (cocktail) Wikipedia

 The Cara Mia Sidecar starts by juicing a melange of citrus (after I removed peels and zest for garnish and other inspirations.) The colors are spectacular and the room was filled with bright tropical scents. 

I hope this little treat warms you up. Cheers my loves!

Cara Mia Side Car
Make 4 cocktails

1 cup Cognac (or good Brandy)
1/2 cup Cointreau
1/2 cup mixed citrus juice
cut lemon
1/4 cup granulated sugar

Rub the rims of martini glasses with fresh cut lemon, pour sugar onto small plate and press glass into sugar coating the rim.

Juice 2 Cara Cara Pink Navel Oranges,  4 Clementines, 2 Mineola, 2 Blood Orange, 1 Meyers Lemon, 1 Bearss Lime. Strained. You will have more juice than this recipe calls for, so you can just make *more*  or reserve for a breakfast treat. Remove peel and cut for garnish. Reserve rest for creating candied peels.

In a pitcher, combine Cognac, Cointreau, citrus juice.  Place ice in a cocktail shaker, pour in about half of the mixture (will vary depending on size of your shaker). Shake vigorously (that is the fun part) and pour into awaiting glass. Garnish with a bit of lemon or orange peel. Repeat until you've used all of your fixings. Cheers!

Tip: Sometimes Brandy and Triple Sec are substituted to make this a bit more affordable and still tasty.