Eggplant Relish

15 lbs of homegrown produce!

Harvest season is here! This has been our best gardening year yet. I owe it all to our bunnies actually. It was their little pellets, collected through the winter which has made our plants produce like crazy. Between that and the warmer, drier temperatures this summer, we are just awash with so many delicious fresh vegetables!

This year we are growing tomatoes (we have about 30 plants!), zucchini, ground cherries, carrots, cabbages, sugar snap peas, potatoes, cucumbers, eggplant, peppers, melons lettuces, Swiss chard and arugula and beans (hope I am not forgetting anything). We tried new varieties of tomatoes this year, German Pink, Black from Tula and Ukrainian Purple, all developed in colder climates. We also tried cold climate melons. All are doing great this year!

This year, so far we have preserved 25 lbs of cabbage (red and green), 11 lbs of greens, 15 lbs of stone fruits, 10 lbs of tomatoes, as well as assorted carrots, green beans, sugar snaps, onions, peppers, zucchini and eggplant. So it has been a busy couple of months. We are really going to enjoy this in the winter months. That taste of summer is always so welcomed when the snows are falling down all around us.

I want to share with you a delicious condiment that I made. One that I wanted to dig right into but will have to reserve a bit of will power to leave it on the shelf for the dead of winter when the taste of sun ripened tomatoes, peppers and eggplants will be just the right thing I need to lift my spirits!

Eggplant-Tomato Relish (from The Joy of Pickling – My VERY favorite cookbook for this time of year!)
Makes 2 pints

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb eggplant, peeled and cut into ¾ inch cubes
2 tsp sea salt
6 TBS olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups peeled and coarsely chopped tomatoes
¾ cup raw apple cider vinegar
1 bay leaf
1 tsp whole mustard seeds
1 TBS pine nuts
1 TBS capers
Black pepper to taste

METHOD: In a bowl, toss eggplant with salt, put in a colander and let drain for an hour or so. Rinse eggplant and drain it well. Heat the oil in a large non-reactive pot. Add eggplant and sauté about 5 minutes. Add onion and pepper and sauté another 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Over medium heat bring mixture to a simmer. Simmer uncovered, stirring often for about an hour. Remove bay leaf and ladle mixture into pint or half pint mason jars, leaving ½ inch headspace. Close jars with 2-piece caps and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath. Store jars in a cool, dry, dark place.

Yule 2010 – Christmas Dinner

This year we weren’t dreaming of a White Christmas, we were having one! We have had snow on the ground for the past month or so, and although it wasn’t snowing on Christmas, it was beautiful, picturesque and quaint here on the homestead. Perfect for my mom who is visiting from Florida and hasn’t had a White Christmas for several years.

Although I don’t celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, many people we know do, so we incorporate it into the 12 Days of Yule which begin on December 20th and ends on January 1st. The twelve days of Yule kicks off on December 20th, the night before the solstice, with Mother’s Night where we celebrate the divine feminine and our long line of female ancestors. I like to spend this night baking cookies and preparing foods that were dear to my ancestors, celebrating the long line of people who have contributed to making me who I am. This year I made Pfeffernusse Shortbread cookies to honor my newly found German heritage.

We always celebrate December 24th by setting out an offering of cookies and milk or eggnog for Santa and carrots for the reindeer.
On December 25th we often have another feast dinner, a feast to share with family, having the same intensity of fanfare are the feast we have on the Winter Solstice. This year we had lamb. I have never been a fan of the Christmas Ham, and it has only been a few weeks since our last turkey feast. So for our own household tradition, we have lamb on this night.

This year’s lamb was a very special dish – it came from a lamb that Roberto and I butchered this fall. Since moving to Vermont we have bought meat very differently. We either buy whole animals locally or join farm meat CSAs. We have in our storage freezer, half a lamb, parts of a pig as well as beef, veal and poultry from our monthly CSA. This should get us through the winter, happy and deeply nourished.
For Christmas dinner we prepared the leg of lamb. I marinated it in a mixture of red wine, balsamic vinegar, yogurt, lemon juice and rosemary. I prepared it in my tagine and made a layer of fresh lemon slices on top. It was slow cooked at 350 F for 2 hours. Then I took the lid off to allow it to brown for about 15 minutes. We served it au jus. It was absolutely simple and the lamb was incredibly juicy and succulent.

We served it with glazed carrots and a brown rice risotto with fresh cranberries, wilted spinach, goat cheese and toasted pine nuts.
It was a wonderful evening spent with family. Hope that all of my readers who celebrate the winter holidays are having a most wondrous time with your dear ones!

Wishing you all health, happiness and love this coming year – and of course full bellies!

Christmas Eve – Feast of the Fishes

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(Me, Mom and Michelle)

This year it was my turn to host the Christmas festivities for my family. For a variety of reasons, we didn’t have a huge Christmas celebration, like the days of yore. In days gone by my great aunt hosted a Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve for the whole extended family and we went every year to Western Pennsylvania to enjoy it followed by Christmas Dinner the next day, at my Grandparents house. The feast on Christmas Eve was held in my aunt’s basement and when you walked down there, from the main part of the house, it always smelled so good! Like you were entering a restaurant with so many smells. I remember those warm, happy times spent with my extended family, when everyone was still with us. We will never have those days back and so…

This year I wanted to honor those old and cherished family traditions and memories. I have found often, in my life, that food can bring back the past . One small bite of something or a long forgotten smell, can make the past come swooshing into the present. If only for a second. Since we will be moving in April, I don’t know when the next holiday will be that I can share it with both my mom and my cousin Michelle who both live in Florida. So I decided this was the year to bring back the Feast of the Fishes!

This feast is an Italian American tradition – not celebrated in the motherland, and is derived from a time of abstinence, as it says on Wikipedia: “ in this case, refraining from the consumption of meat or milk products—on Fridays and specific holy days. As no meat or butter could be used, observant Catholics would instead eat fish, typically fried in oil”.

But I must admit, that for me, it was always about the food!

We haven’t done a Feast of the Seven Fishes in my immediate family for years, but it is certainly a tradition that we all enjoyed. So this year, since I was in charge of the menu for Christmas Eve – I decided to bring this tradition back. It was a small gathering this year, only 4 of us, so I decided to do 4 fish courses – including 5 fishes, not the copious amounts of fish dishes from the past, but a revised menu. The menu was dictated by what was available at our local fish store the day before, and what the guests enjoyed from the past. I also wanted to make each course easy to prepare, so that I could enjoy time with my family without being too stressed. Most of these dishes we prepared in between courses together, or while we were eating other courses. So much fun was had in the kitchen with family!

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Roberto and I love ceviche, but have never made it at home. In fact it is one of my favorite things, first having fell in love with it in Jamaica on our honeymoon. It is kind of become a “special occasion” dish for us. We had it for our one year anniversary, and most recently for my birthday. So I knew I wanted to make a version of ceviche for this special occasion. I found and used a recipe for Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche from The Ravenous Couple which was excellent. It was the perfect course to enjoy with our champagne toast. The beauty of this dish is how flavorful it is, and also so easy to prepare. It would surely be a hit at any dinner party – elegant, beautiful and fresh.

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Next up was Bergensk Fiskesuppe, Bergen Fish Soup. I had received a soup starter from my buddy and Norwegian food blogger Siri, from Transplanted Baker. I was saving it for a special occasion, and this was the perfect one. I added fresh clams to it, and it was very much like a clam chowder, creamy and delicious. Again, with minimal effort. Everyone loved it. All that needed to be added was a bit of cream, water, a splash of wine and the clams. Bring to a boil and serve. Perfect and delicious! I am going to have to get Siri to send me some more! :)

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The third course was Zeppole con Alici. These are basically Italian donuts. However, there is a surprise stuffed inside these Calabrase zeppole or zippoli – they are not sweet like donuts, but savory, and filled with anchovies! I grew up with these, and they were the treat that everyone in my family looked forward to the most at my aunt’s Christmas Eve dinners. Since I entered the world of food blogging, I had seen various recipes for zeppole, but never our anchovy filled ones, until one day, I read my friend Michelle’s post on Bleeding Espresso . Then again last year, here . Apparently Zeppole con Alici, or anchovy filled zeppole are common among the Calabrese, and she grew up in PA with them as a child too. Michelle and I have a lot in common besides being born in PA and growing up with Calabrese relatives! But this post was a revelation to me! Finally a life long mystery solved! Especially since my Italian husband had never heard of these! He loves them now too!

Although my great aunt never did give away her secret recipe, my mom did a bit of recon this year, and found a recipe for zeppole dough. Although you can use Michelle’s – it is pretty much the same one – except her’s has a splash of wine added…yum….We had a great time making zeppole – all of us got in on the action, me, my mom, cousin Michelle and Roberto! Even the pups and cat were excited, smelling all the anchovies. These turned out differently than the zeppole of our youth, but were still delicious. So good in fact that we ate the entire plate of them! :)

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The next course was the main dish, a Stuffed Flounder prepared by my mom. She made a stuffing of toasted pine nuts, bread crumbs, Italian parsley, and capers. Then used it to stuff rolled fresh flounder fillets. You then bake them in some white wine, until flaky. We served this with an easy spinach salad. They were delicious – an easy and great way to make fish. I will certainly do it again in the future.

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The last dish was dessert – Trifle with an Italian Twist and no fish included. A few weeks ago, I was watching an episode of the Barefoot Contessa and she was making a holiday meal for a blogger – for her blog (lucky girl). For dessert she made a Red Berry Trifle with a cognac pastry cream, and it looked delicious and festive. I adore trifles – well any desserts made up of cream and custard is a winner in my book! So I decided to make a version of her trifle, except with more Italian flavors. Instead of cognac cream, I made frangelico cream. I also put frangelico in my whipped cream, and skipped the sugar. I also skipped the strawberries, opting for full on raspberries and sprinkled it with more frangelico instead of framboise. And I opted for Pandoro – which is a plain version of Panettone, in lieu of pound cake . Pandoro is usually served this time of year in Italy. The trifle was delicious. So delicious that my cousin, Michelle, who vows that “eating any dessert not made with chocolate is a waste”, ate every bite and loved it!

We had a really great night, full of laughter, and good times! This is how I remember Christmas Eve’s of yore and so I guess it all worked out! :)

Apricot-Nutella Breakfast Cake

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Lately I have been trying to make breakfast more interesting. We seem to be always on the move lately and so I have been experimenting with portable breakfasts that taste good and use up what I already have on hand. I found a recipe for apricot-almond Dutch babies – a kind of muffin with a soft center. You use a lot of whipped egg whites and it has a wonderfully creamy batter. I decided to turn the muffins into a cake that I would fill with the rest of a jar of apricot preserves and the rest of the Nutella from World Nutella Day. We have given up Nutella for a while because they now have switched to palm kernel oil in their recipe – and we are definitely off of that! If you missed my rant on the subject, click here. But I did make an exception for World Nutella Day.

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So anyway, this little cake was born. The photos didn’t turn out too great, but it was very satisfying for breakfast and lasted about a week, which was perfect. Hope you enjoy it!
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Recipe: Eggplant Involtini

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(This is not the actual picture of the dish, but I don’t know where they have gone – so imagine these eggplant slices rolled around the cheese (which is dotted with fresh herbs) on top of couscous instead of salad!)

We got some really cute eggplants at the Farmers Market recently. I didn’t really have a dish in mind for how to prepare them, but I love eggplant, so I knew I would get inspiration at some point. They sat in the fridge for about a week, and then I got a bright idea! Recently we had gone out to eat and I had a rolled, stuffed eggplant dish that was breaded in panko and fried. I didn’t really want to fry the eggplant, but I wanted to roll them and stuff them. I love the combination of chevre and eggplant, and I had some nice chevre in the fridge. I stuffed the eggplants with fresh herbs and chevre and broiled them in the oven. I drizzled balsamic-pomegranate reduction over top and served it with raisin and pine nut dotted couscous. The flavors were really magical and took my taste buds to new heights! I was really pleased with the way the dish turned out – I think the combination of herbs really made it. This is a great dish for the last days of summer and I am betting it would be phenomenal on the grill!

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O Foods: Oatmeal Carrot Date Bread, the Banana Bread Alternative!

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Here is my O Foods recipe. If you have not heard about the O Foods for Ovarian Cancer Awareness month contest, please check the details on my last post!

Quick breads are like cake to me. I am not a big fan of icing and so for me the subtle sweetness that quick breads offer is perfect for me. I love the idea of banana bread and there are variations on banana bread wherever you turn, but I am not a lover of bananas. For some reason I just never really got into them. I find that their taste overpowers everything and for me they mess up and overwhelm and ruin the flavor of smoothies to quick breads. I understand that they add sweetness and bulk, and are great for binding ingredients together. But I am still plagued by childhood memories of the banana in my lunch box that made my turkey sandwich taste like bananas, and my chips too!

So when I came across a recipe for oatmeal date carrot mini muffins, I knew that I wanted to experiment with making it a quick breakfast bread. It is chock full of great ingredients that are healthy and delicious! I changed it up a bit using what I had and it turned out moist, flavorful and filling. This is a great bread for breakfast or snacking and perfect for an afternoon spot of tea (or coffee).

This is adapted from floridagirlinsydney‘s blog Deviously Delicious
Don’t forget to start coming up with your O Foods recipe! :)

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Stormy Weather and Comfort Food: Keeping away Fay with “Italian Style Mac n’ Cheese”

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Nothing says comfort food like a Tropical Storm!

We are still waiting for the storm to hit. Latest news reports say that it will not have enough time out in open water to turn into a hurricane once it hits land again, which is good, but it will hit land again as a tropical storm, right here in our lovely town of Saint Augustine. We are right on the coast here in Northern FL. Less than a five minute walk from the water. We have already seen rising waters and some low lying areas (well everything is low lying around here) have flooded and the storm isn’t even here YET. We should be expecting it tonight or more likely tomorrow. Everything is closing up and our county has declared a state of emergency. The National Guard is already here, thankfully, and we live on the second floor, so we are staying put. We are ready with supplies and we have just moved everything off the porch. The wind is starting to pick up, but nothing severe yet.

The summer has been pretty rainy here especially since the end of July, which is like monsoon season in Florida – it rains everyday, and even if it doesn’t rain, a large part of the day is gray and the sky rumbles.

So much for The Sunshine State.

My appetite begins to get confused – from inside, looking out it seems like a fall day, but as soon as you step outside it is sweltering hot and sticky humid. Even so, during the first week or so of this, my brain temporarily goes from cooling summer foods, right back to the land of comfort food. Which in this case, was Pasta al Forno – or oven backed pasta, much like a Mac n’ cheese of sorts. This dish was creamy and satisfying – chock full of flavors and textures. Roberto took one bite and he was transported back to childhood memories of tortellini with peas in bechamel. This may be a new family favorite. It certainly does hearken to rainy days under a blanket with a good book and glass of rich red wine under a Tuscan sky… Or perhaps just a storm safe closet! ;)

But maybe this will even stave off Fay! :)
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Recipe: Curried Penne Pasta

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We have been getting ourselves re-familiarized with pasta lately. Due to rising food costs, I have been trying my best to stretch things, like our veggies and meat and following in the footsteps of my Grandparents, pasta often comes to mind. There are a lot of great pasta types out there now that are more healthy than your garden variety enriched “white” pastas. Roberto, like a good Italian, has always been big on pasta meals. Before he met me, he used to eat pasta every single day of his life.
For myself, I have always joked that I am not a good Italian, because I have never really been a big pasta eater, even less so as I got older, because it really likes to stick to certain parts of my body that I really wish it would not. But now, with all these varieties to choose from, I have found healthier versions.

Not all pasta is created equal…

One of my favorites is De Boles. Not only is De Boles organic and all natural, but it offers gluten free and whole grain varieties as well as my favorite, the ones made with half Jerusalem artichoke flour and half semolina flour. This means it has a lower glycemic index. Jerusalem artichokes also contain inulin which is a pre-biotic (not pro-biotic – although those are good too) that stimulates the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract that in turn aids digestion and lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. Texture wise, it is just like regular pasta. You are unable to tell the difference. Take it from the Italian and the Italian American.

When using regular pasta, my favorite brand was always Barilla. It always cooks perfectly and is the preferred brand of most Italian households. The company was founded in Parma, Italy and has for 130 years been family owned and operated. Also in 2007 they were one of the six out of 5,000 globally recognized companies evaluated as “most ethical”. So you can also feel good about eating this pasta. Another reason to feel good about eating Barilla is that they too have some out with new healthier varieties with their Barilla Plus – multigrain line of products. Barilla is also way cheaper than De Boles, so it is often what we have in our pantry.

I wanted to try some different pastas that are not traditionally Italian in taste, to spice things up a bit. So recently I made a curried penne. I had finally found an Indian market near where my mom lives and I picked up some great spice mixtures and had a hankering to try them out. I am a huge yogurt lover, and yogurt (which contains PRO-biotics) is found prominently in Indian cuisine, so an idea for this spicy pasta started coming together. However, I doubt you would ever find this on a menu in any Indian restaurant! It is a Leftover Queen classic ;)
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